Monthly Archives: March 2022

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman #BrainfluffAUDIOBOOKreview #TheThursdayMurderClubbookreview

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As a fan of Pointless and Richard Osman’s House of Games, I was a bit wary of picking this one up, being rather allergic to celebrities turning out books that inevitably end up being largely ghost-written, because they simply don’t possess the skills necessary to write something readable. And yes… I’m looking at you, Katie Price. But I was aware that Osman is a seriously clever chap and when I heard him discussing the book, it sounded like something I’d enjoy. I was particularly attracted by the fact that the four main protagonists are all in their 70s. I’ve also had the pleasure of reading and reviewing the second book in the series – The Man Who Died Twice, which is a really cracking read.

BLURB: In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet weekly in the Jigsaw Room to discuss unsolved crimes; together they call themselves The Thursday Murder Club. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

When a local developer is found dead with a mysterious photograph left next to the body, the Thursday Murder Club suddenly find themselves in the middle of their first live case. As the bodies begin to pile up, can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer, before it’s too late?

REVIEW: I listened to this one while I was ill, and initially found it a bit heavy-going. Given that it is a murder mystery, I thought the pacing at the beginning was a bit of a trudge. It also took me a while to really bond with any of the characters – but that might have been because I was feeling poorly.

However, once I got into the swing of the book, I particularly liked the characterisation of the four elderly protagonists. It would have been all too easy to have made them out to be old codgers and while there is a bit of humour scattered throughout the book, I’m delighted to report that it isn’t at the expense of ‘the funny old people’. In fact, Osman ensures that we realise getting old doesn’t stop us from feeling just the same as we did when we were younger – but for the fact that our minds and bodies don’t always behave the way we want them to. There are some heartbreakingly poignant moments, in fact.

But the quiet thread of humour running through the story stops this from being too downbeat. In fact, Osman’s stance seems to be that most people do the best they can, often in difficult circumstances – which I think happens to be the case. There are a couple of truly unpleasant characters in the book that come to satisfyingly sticky ends and I really liked the final denouement, which I didn’t see coming.

Overall, I found this an entertaining, well written whodunit with a quirky feel that I enjoyed and I’m looking forward to reading the third book in the series. Recommended for fans of crime fiction with a bit of a difference, who don’t want too much grittiness or gore.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK Roadmarks by Roger Zelazny #BrainfluffNETGALLEYaudiobookreview #Roadmarksbookreview

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This is the first time I had picked up an audiobook arc from Netgalley, and not being of the generation that grew up with all this techie stuff, I was a bit apprehensive as to how easy it would be. But downloading the Netgalley app onto my phone and then listening to the book is actually more straightforward than loading an ebook onto my Kindle. I was also very happy with the clarity and quality my far-from-new iphone produced when listening to it, too.

BLURB: The Road runs from the unimaginable past to the far future, and those who travel it have access to the turnoffs leading to all times and places–even to the alternate time-streams of histories that never happened. Why the Dragons of Bel’kwinith made the Road–or who they are–no one knows. But the Road has always been there and for those who know how to find it, it always will be!

REVIEW: Roger Zelazny is one of those authors that other writers speak of with huge respect and affection, therefore is someone I have always intended to read. So I was delighted to encounter this newly released audiobook, narrated by Matt Godfrey, who does a very good job at portraying the fragmented action and providing a suite of nicely different voices for the character cast.

It took me several goes to get into this one, as initially I assumed I’d begun listening somewhere other than the start of the book. Zelazny drops us right in the middle of the action – in media res if you want the correct literary phrase. It didn’t help that the book starts at Chapter 2 and then moves onto Chapter One. And I had to pay close attention, as the narrative timeline jumped all over the place – and as I was listening, it was quite a hassle to flip back and forth to remind myself exactly where I was. Fortunately the narrator’s recitation speed was on the slower side of normal, for which I was thankful – I frequently slow the narration speed by 0.25 or 0.50, particularly if the reader isn’t using a British accent.

The story is about travellers on a road that takes them through Time as well as Space. There are only two chapters in the book and Chapter One features our main protagonist, Red Dorakeen, who has been on the Road for a long time and is clearly looking for something or someone vital. Zelazny is a writer with talent and the confidence to break all sorts of rules that are designed to help the reader – and a lot of the time, he triumphantly succeeds. I was quickly hooked and quite happy to spend a lot of the time not really sure exactly what was going on. The scene setting, characterisation and fluidity of the writing was sufficiently skilful that it was an enjoyable experience following the fractured timeline and going with the flow. I’m definitely going to be reading more by this talented writer. It didn’t hurt that there are some lovely flashes of snarky and dry humour in amongst the tension and danger.

It would scored higher if I didn’t feel that the ending was rather sloppily executed. And as I tend to have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about disappointing endings – I have knocked off a point. It wasn’t that it was the wrong ending exactly – but I sensed that by the time he’d got there, Zelazny’s attention and creative energy had been diverted to another project, so he didn’t show the same care and attention in the writing that was evident at the beginning. But I’m still mightily glad I picked this one up and it comes highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Roadmarks from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheKaijuPresevationSocietybookreview

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I enjoyed the quirky originality of Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series and absolutely loved his futuristic crime Lock In series – see my review of Lock In and Head On. And while I’m still unsure about the ending of the series, I also found his Interdependency series an exhilarating read – see my reviews of The Collapsing Empire, The Consuming Fire and The Last Emperox. So I was delighted to be approved for this intriguing standalone adventure.

TRUNCATED BLURB: When COVID-19 sweeps through New York City, Jamie Gray is stuck as a dead-end driver for food delivery apps. That is, until Jamie makes a delivery to an old acquaintance, Tom, who works at what he calls “an animal rights organization.” Tom’s team needs a last-minute grunt to handle things on their next field visit. Jamie, eager to do anything, immediately signs on…

REVIEW: In the Afterword, Scalzi makes it plain that he had a difficult time during the Lockdown wrestling to write a far darker book that was scheduled for release. And he was hit hard by Covid, too. So when this idea popped into his head as a far lighter tale, he went with it. I’m very glad he did. I’ve been in Long Covid hell for the last year and I’m all over anything that provides escape from my daily grind where I’m battling to get well, again.

Jamie is a thoroughly likeable protagonist and as our first-person narrator, he gives a nicely sardonic commentary without coming across as ‘too up himself’ as they say around here. Indeed, it is refreshing to have a main character who is the least qualified person in the story, who doesn’t then go on to reveal that he has some kind of hidden power. Unless it’s the knack of getting along with his co-workers and fitting right in very quickly. But then, he’s had a rough old time of it during the Lockdown and isn’t about to take for granted the basics like warm clean accommodation, food and medical care if he needs it. Or… is our plucky protagonist a she? I really appreciate how Scalzi leaves it up to the reader to decide the gender of this s/hero – after all, that’s the coolest thing about books, isn’t it? That the pictures engendered by the story are sharply personal to each of us.

While the tone is breezy and Scalzi himself talks about this book being a pop song – that doesn’t mean he has skimped on the science. My nerdy side enjoyed reading the discussions about how the ginormous kaiju are possible and I appreciated that the eco-system invented around these huge creatures is detailed and feels plausible throughout. As for the adventure that kicks off when a mother kaiju comes under threat, along with her brood of eggs – parts of that felt cosily familiar in a good way.

Throughout, there are enjoyable shafts of wit and humour. Even our greedy, narcissistic villain refers to his own monologuing as he explains his motives and the full extent of his wrongdoing during the denouement. I was grinning throughout that scene. All in all, this is a delightful piece of escapism that had me wishing it would go on longer. Highly recommended for those who need a break from the ongoing awfulness in our daily News. The ebook arc copy of The Kaiju Preservation Society was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #12

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

This last fortnight has been up and down again. I gave myself a couple of rest days after the busyness of the week when my sister-in-law and niece visited. And was a bit fed up to discover that once I was ready to do more, I once again felt shaky and fragile. There are no words to describe just how MUCH I hate that feeling. Constant tiredness that sleep doesn’t fix and legs that wobble as if I’ve just run a race. Often it’s accompanied by mental exhaustion that means if I try to concentrate on anything, my brain just turns to mush.

The up-side is that the feeling was only with me for a couple of days, before it started to lift again. I haven’t yet put my February figures from my activity journal into a graph yet – but I’m expecting to see more good days and an uptick in my activity figures. And we are also seeing more sun and it’s lovely the way the days are now lengthening – Spring is really beginning to spring, thank goodness😊. When our grandson visited this week, we were able to go to the local garden centre and visit their café where we shared a pot of loose-leaf English Breakfast tea which is a real favourite.

What is worrying is how the infection rates for Covid are climbing again. And now we’re supposed to be ‘learning to live with Covid’ there is no imperative to wear a mask when shopping, though we always do.

This week I’ve read:-

Ogres by Adrian Tchaikovsky
It’s always idyllic in the village until the landlord comes to call. Because the landlord is an Ogre. And Ogres rule the world, with their size and strength and appetites. It’s always been that way. It’s the natural order of the world. And they only eat people sometimes.

But when the headman’s son, Torquell, dares lift his hand against the landlord’s son, he sets himself on a path to learn the terrible truth about the Ogres, and about the dark sciences that ensured their rule.
This is one of the reading highlights of the week. Tchaikovsky is back to his disturbing best in this thought-provoking novella that packs an almighty punch and has had me thinking about it since I put it down. Review posted. 10/10

AUDIOBOOK The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
A man broken in body and spirit, Cazaril, has returned to the noble household he once served as page, and is named, to his great surprise, as the secretary-tutor to the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is next in line to rule.

It is an assignment Cazaril dreads, for it will ultimately lead him to the place he fears most, the royal court of Cardegoss, where the powerful enemies, who once placed him in chains, now occupy lofty positions. In addition to the traitorous intrigues of villains, Cazaril and the Royesse Iselle, are faced with a sinister curse that hangs like a sword over the entire blighted House of Chalion and all who stand in their circle…
I saw this one on Audible and bought it as I read the print edition back when Noah was knee-high to a hen and while I recalled that I loved the story – I had completely forgotten it. It was a joy to listen to. And while it is listed as part a series, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a complete standalone. Outstanding and utterly gripping. 10/10

The Good Troll Detective – Book 1 of the Mantle and Key Paranormal Agency series by Ramy Vance
Half-troll. Half-human. All badass. Maine doesn’t like her father. It doesn’t help that he’s a troll. As in a literal, lives-under-a-bridge troll. When her father is killed, Maine returns home to settle his estate and learns that he wasn’t any ordinary troll, but the town hero. Seems trolls can be superheroes, too.

When Maine inherited her father’s Mantle, she got more than a demonically possessed magical cape that reveals one’s weakness. She also inherited several busloads of mythical adversaries. Thanks, Dad! Now that she’s inherited the Mantle, her father’s assassins are coming after her. With powerful supernatural beings gunning for her and the Mantle, Maine doesn’t have much time to learn about her magical inheritance. She has a choice to make. Give up her father’s Mantle and return to her mundane, human life, or stay and fight.

With the help of a chihuahua-sized dire wolf, a very sexy wizard, and her father’s Mantle, Maine enters a maze of supernatural mysteries. Will Maine uncover the truth of who her father was and why he was killed? Can she avoid her quest for that truth risking the lives of her and her friends along the way?
I liked the title and thought the blurb sounded quirky and enjoyable. And… it is. But while all the ingredients are there and the story is well-paced and nicely twisty, I kept waiting for the characters to really come to life, but somehow they slightly missed me. It’s not a bad book, however I didn’t like it as much as I expected. 7/10

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi
When COVID-19 sweeps through New York City, Jamie Gray is stuck as a dead-end driver for food delivery apps. That is, until Jamie makes a delivery to an old acquaintance, Tom, who works at what he calls “an animal rights organization.” Tom’s team needs a last-minute grunt to handle things on their next field visit. Jamie, eager to do anything, immediately signs on…

I have only included the first half of the blurb, as it then goes on to be far too chatty in my opinion. This is huge fun, while still managing to make the science sufficiently believable. And I loved the protagonist, Jamie, who lifts heavy things. Review to follow. 9/10

Betrayed – Book 3 of the Taellaneth series by Vanessa Nelson

Settling into her new life in the human world, the last thing Arrow expects is a request for aid from the Erith. The Erith’s favourite war mage is missing and Arrow is asked to investigate.
For the first time in her life, she is allowed into the Erith’s fabled heartland. It does not take long for Arrow to realise that the heartland is like the Erith themselves. Full of wonder, breathtakingly beautiful, and deadly.

Arrow is drawn into investigating a death at the very heart of the Erith’s homeland with the growing sense that there is far more wrong and far more at stake than a simple murder and missing mage.
I’m loving this enjoyable and gripping series. Imagine the High Elves in Warhammar – beautiful, martial and quarrelsome – and you have the Erith. I love the concept that a half-breed is treated with disdain as an abomination. And the whodunit this time around is every bit as twisty and clever as I’ve come to expect from Nelson’s excellent writing. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – Roadmarks by Roger Zelazny
The Road runs from the unimaginable past to the far future, and those who travel it have access to the turnoffs leading to all times and places–even to the alternate time-streams of histories that never happened. Why the Dragons of Bel’kwinith made the Road–or who they are–no one knows. But the Road has always been there and for those who know how to find it, it always will be!

This is the first audiobook I’ve downloaded from Netgalley and it was really easy to do. I’ve never read Zelazny before, but kept meaning to do so. And I can see what all the fuss is about – the man certainly could write. This fractured narrative kept me wondering all the way through. Review to follow. 8/10

This week I have posted:
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of NOVELLA Ogres by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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 NOVELLA arc Ogres by Adrian Tchaikovsky #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Ogresbookreview

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As soon as I saw this was available, I requested it – and was delighted to be approved. Tchaikovsky is a huge talent who deserves to be far more widely read.

BLURB: It’s always idyllic in the village until the landlord comes to call. Because the landlord is an Ogre. And Ogres rule the world, with their size and strength and appetites. It’s always been that way. It’s the natural order of the world. And they only eat people sometimes.

But when the headman’s son, Torquell, dares lift his hand against the landlord’s son, he sets himself on a path to learn the terrible truth about the Ogres, and about the dark sciences that ensured their rule.

REVIEW: This is Tchaikovsky at his disturbing best. His smooth prose style has a tendency to lull readers into thinking they are reading one kind of book – before he slips in a few sentences that make you realise that this is something else altogether… I was intrigued by the unusual second-person viewpoint – so that the narrator is directly addressing the reader as you, instead of the more common I or s/he. If the author hadn’t been Tchaikovsky, this would have raised warning flags, but I was happy to go along with it in the knowledge that I was in the hands of a capable, experienced writer with a complete mastery of his craft. And I was pleased to see that my faith was justified, as the closing scene makes it clear who is talking so directly – and why.

I’m not sure that I liked poor Torquell all that much, but I completely sympathised with his plight, given how humanity have been so downtrodden by the greedy, entitled ogres. The story is cleverly presented. We have Robyn, the outlaw who lives in the forest surrounding the village, which is an obvious allusion to a major legend. As Torquell experiences other key events that tend to happen to an archetypal hero, which he is shown to be, it gave me a sense that I knew this story arc and where it was going.

Until I didn’t… Because inside the wrapping of this classic underdog heroic tale, other things are also happening. The most devastating of those are who the ogres are and how they ended up ruling over humans. And that was a twist I didn’t see coming until Tchaikovsky revealed it. I was still reeling over that one, until the doozy of an ending once more had my jaw dropping. I’m an experienced reader and writer – and while I get drawn into a story with the best of them, if any plot device is clumsily presented, I’ll spot it a mile away. So to be able to pull off two major plot twists while playing such games with the narrative structure takes skill and deftness. Particularly as the story is also delivered with a wry humour that at times had me grinning, despite the awfulness of the ongoing injustice.

All in all, this short book is a triumph – as well as a strong warning that we need to get our sustainability sorted out urgently. The fact that the message is presented so cleverly made it even more apt. I certainly haven’t stopped thinking about this one since I put it down. Very highly recommended for those who appreciate their science fiction delivered with skill and originality. While I obtained an arc of Ogres from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*RE-RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Small Gods – Book 13 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #SmallGodsbookreview

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Anyone who has spent an amount of time here will know that I’m a HUGE Terry Pratchett fan. That said, it’s a very long time ago since I read the majority of the Discworld series, so when I saw that Small Gods was up on Netgalley, I immediately requested an arc. This was one I remembered with huge affection – would this reread be as much fun?

BLURB: Just because you can’t explain it, doesn’t mean it’s a miracle.’

In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was: ‘Hey, you!’ This is the Discworld, after all, and religion is a controversial business. Everyone has their own opinion, and indeed their own gods, of every shape and size, and all elbowing for space at the top. In such a competitive environment, shape and size can be pretty crucial to make one’s presence felt.

So it’s certainly not helpful to be reduced to appearing in the form of a tortoise, a manifestation far below god-like status in anyone’s book. In such instances, you need an acolyte, and fast: for the Great God Om, Brutha the novice is the Chosen One – or at least the only One available. He wants peace and justice and brotherly love. He also wants the Inquisition to stop torturing him now, please . . .

REVIEW: First things first. If you are new to Pratchett’s writing and that ‘Book 13’ is a problem for you – please feel free to completely ignore it. While Small Gods is set on the Discworld, because the desert location is a long way from Ankh-Morpok, or Lancre where most of the main characters get caught up in adventures, this is essentially a standalone.

This is the book where Pratchett tackles religion and the nature of faith. I suspect that’s why he set it away from the more well-trodden parts of the Discworld and provides us with a completely new cast of characters. The protagonist is endearing Brutha, a novice who is cursed with an infallible memory and is in the lower echelons of a highly aggressive sect that worships the great god Om. Om had decided to make one of his regular transformations – but instead of becoming a huge, powerful ox with steel hooves designed to trample unbelievers into the earth, something went wrong. And three years later he surfaces to discover he’d turned into a tortoise, instead. And he has only one steadfast believer, who is Brutha, a humble novice who works in the garden. Harried by an eagle, he manages to make telepathic contact with Brutha, who protects him.

The first thing that struck me about the book is that although there is a strong, pacy storyline featuring Brutha and the machinations of Vorbis, the ideas around the nature of faith and religion are just as important. It’s no accident that Om spends a fair amount of time trying to get away from an eagle, as the tale of the eagle and the tortoise is one of those foundation fable/myth stories that pops up all over the world and has been around for hundreds of years. Interestingly, the outcome of the classic story varies. Sometimes the tortoise gets eaten by the evil eagle who tricks him, other versions have the tortoise as the discontented grumpy one who insists on being taken up to see the world. Holding onto a stick with his mouth as he soars through the air, he then lets go to moan about something and falls to his death. Pratchett doesn’t go into all these variations – but I love the fact that he chose such a multi-faceted myth as a main reference point.

The other aspect that stood out for me is the violence. I hadn’t remembered just how savage it is – though it makes sense when considering the bloody history of many of the main religions. What I’d loved the first time and also impressed me all over again, is how effectively Pratchett disguises his own views on a really tricky topic. While he clearly dislikes the heavy-handed violence of the Omnians, he also makes some hefty arguments about the need for humanity to have something bigger and better to aspire to. In typical Pratchett fashion, he turns the issue on its head and focuses on the responsibilities that gods have towards their believers. It’s a clever book with lots of apt, witty observations on the nature of faith, including philosophy and the love of knowledge.

Any niggles? I got a bit fed up with the desert version of Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibber, who sells dodgy stuff on sticks at any large religious gathering. The gags were funny the first time, but didn’t really bear the repetitions. And my arc copy didn’t have any hyperlinks to the enjoyable and very funny footnotes, though I’m assuming the published ebook has these in place. Nonetheless, once more I was impressed at the quality of the satire throughout – and moved at the merciful act at the very end. If you have ever wondered about some of the big questions around our existence, reading Pratchett’s take will provide some thought-provoking insights as well as an entertaining story. Highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Small Gods from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Chapel in the Woods – Book 11 of the Jack Haldean Murder Mystery series by Dolores Gordon-Smith #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheChapelintheWoodsbookreview

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I can’t lie – once again, it was the lovely 1920s cover that first caught my eye. And then, skimming the blurb, the phrase ‘intricately-plotted 1920s mystery’ jumped out. I’m a sucker for a well-constructed whodunit and the 1920s setting generally means it won’t be too grisly or grungy. So I requested it and I’m so pleased I was approved for this one…

BLURB:There’s something in those woods that shouldn’t be there . . .”

Enjoying a weekend in the country with his cousin Isabelle, Jack Haldean is intrigued to learn that the neighbouring estate of Birchen Bower has been bought by wealthy Canadian businessman Tom Jago. Determined to restore the place to its former glory, Jago has invited the local villagers to a fete to celebrate the grand re-opening of the 17th century family chapel.

But the afternoon’s entertainment is cut short by the discovery of a body, mauled to death as if by a wild animal. Previously owned by the eccentric Cayden family, Birchen Bower has a long and colourful history, and is rumoured to be haunted. Is there any truth to the ancient family legend of the Jaguar Princess . . . and could she have claimed another victim? And what’s happened to Jago’s employee, Derek Martin and his wife, who have disappeared without trace . . . along with Mrs Jago’s diamonds? Refusing to believe the wild tales of man-eating beasts prowling the grounds, Jack sets out to uncover the truth. But then a second badly-ravaged body is discovered . . . Could the rumours be true after all?

REVIEW: You’ll probably have noticed that I’ve done it again – jumped midway into a series, given this is the eleventh book. And while I’m sure that if I’d have read the previous ten instalments, there would be allusions and plot threads that I’ve missed, but having all that go over my head didn’t stop me appreciating this thumping good murder mystery.

The setup is wonderfully familiar – a small social clique when an acquaintance issues an invitation to our plucky protagonist and his lovely wife and they are confronted with an upsetting and mysterious death. Gordon-Smith has a nice grasp of her characters and writes well in the conventions of the golden age of murder mysteries without sounding forced or tongue-in-cheek. The pages flew by as the initial disappearance and subsequent murders became a real puzzle that flummoxed the protagonists to the extent that I became a bit concerned that the denouement would be unbelievably silly – something I hate. I needn’t have worried – there were a cascade of plot-twisting surprises that suddenly had me rethinking the whole situation. I love it when I find myself flipping back through the book to ensure the author hasn’t cheated.

Not only did Gordon-Smith play it absolutely straight, I was then able to see the various clues that she’d seeded throughout that made complete sense now that I understood what was going on. Nicely done! The plotting and whole approach reminded me of Agatha Christie’s writing – and I don’t generally make those kinds of comparisons. All in all, this is cracking whodunit and very highly recommended for fans of the genre. I shall certainly be backtracking and getting hold of more of Jack Haldean’s former adventures. While I obtained an arc of The Chapel in the Woods from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Murder in the Park – Book 1 of the Oak Park Village Mystery series by Jeanne M. Dam #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #MurderintheParkbookreview

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I’m a fan of 1920s historical murder mysteries – and this one caught my attention as I noticed that the heroine had also been affected by the fallout of WWI. The other plus point is that it’s the first book in the series and although one of my hobbies is crashing midway into established series – it’s a habit I’m trying to break.

BLURB: June, 1925. Having been widowed in the First World War, Elizabeth Fairchild lives a quiet life at the home of her wealthy parents in genteel Oak Park village, Illinois. Although she does her best to avoid emotional entanglements, determined never to be hurt again, Elizabeth forms a close friendship with gentle Mr Anthony, who owns the local antiques store.

But tragedy strikes when Mr Anthony is found stabbed to death in the alley behind his shop. Why would anyone murder a mild-mannered antiques dealer who simply loved beautiful things? A robbery gone wrong? A gangland execution? Or could it have something to do with the mysterious customer who bought a gold pocket watch from Mr Anthony on the day he died? When one of her father’s oldest friends is accused of the crime, Elizabeth determines to expose the real killer. But her investigations soon attract unwelcome attention. With gangsters moving into the neighbourhood from nearby Chicago, Oak Park is no longer the safe haven it once was. Could Elizabeth be seriously out of her depth?

REVIEW: It’s always something of a challenge to write a heroine who tends to be rather stoic – she can so easily come across as uncaring. But Dams is an experienced author with the long-running Dorothy Martin series under her belt and that sure-footedness shows in her characterisation of Elizabeth and the dynamic within her family.

I really liked how the shock of the murder within the close-knit community shakes Elizabeth up and causes her to rethink her own attitude towards those around her, as well as hardening her determination to not let a flagrant injustice lie. Dams shows just what a gutsy decision that proves to be, as some unsavoury, dangerous people crawl out of the woodwork to try and intimidate her into piping down and accepting the status quo. It had even more heft as Dam’s painstaking research has uncovered that those elements could easily have been living within Oak Park Village at the time.

The setting is very well established. While the book focuses on Elizabeth’s daily routine as a young, wealthy white woman, Dams is unflinching in also featuring the gulf between the haves and have-nots of the time, which I really liked. Often historical whodunits tend to skate over the societal faultlines of the time and kudos to Dams for not taking that comfortable route. As for the whodunit, I won’t pretend that the solution provides a huge surprise – but that isn’t what powers the story. It’s far more about what unrest this murder stirs up, both societally and personally for Elizabeth, which is depicted really successfully making this a memorable and enjoyable story. Highly recommended for fans of historical murder mysteries with a splash of gentle romance and a very well-researched setting. While I obtained an arc of Murder in the Park from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #11

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

Today is a rather grim anniversary. It’s a year ago today that Himself was notified that he tested positive for Covid-19 – and though we weren’t to know it at the time, from that day on our lives have completely changed. We both went down with the illness hard, though Himself was sicker than I was and avoided going into hospital by a whisker, as his sleep apnea caused some complications. I felt lucky in that I didn’t struggle to breathe, but instead had to cope with muscle pain and complete exhaustion. And unfortunately, once I recovered from the illness itself, those spells of utter fatigue have never left me. I am also suffering a range of other long-lasting symptoms, including nasal drip, tinnitus and a swollen thyroid, but frankly they pale into insignificance against the mind-numbing exhaustion that leaves me scarcely able to move. The worst spell was in the second half of August where I lay in bed for a fortnight feeling like a zombie – and once I felt well enough to get out of bed without shaking, I found that I had lost a great deal of ground. Indeed, I’m still unable to do things that were possible before that episode.

Since then, I’ve been using the Pacing method recommended for ME sufferers, seeing a reflexologist, taking recommended vitamin supplements and being very careful about what what I eat. At times – around Christmas, for example – I’ve made progress when my energy levels seem to be improving, only to be once more struck down for several days when I could barely move out of bed. For the majority of this last year, my main daily achievement has been having a shower and getting dressed, though there have been extended periods when even that was completely beyond me. Thank goodness for books and TV – I think I would have gone mad if I hadn’t had other worlds to escape into.

Fortunately, this last week has been a good one. Our grandson stayed over, which is always a treat – and we were thrilled to hear that he got 74% for his last assignment. He is really enjoying his college course and working hard on the next module – it’s lovely to see him so enthusiastic. On Monday, we visited the local garden centre for a cup of tea and to do some shopping which was another milestone – we hadn’t been there since the beginning of August. I spent Wednesday, Friday and Saturday resting up, as on Thursday my lovely sister-in-law and my niece visited. It was wonderful to see them again, as I hadn’t seen Celia since we were in Bexhill together on our writing retreat back in October 2020. It seems like a lifetime ago.

The other bright spot has been the quality of the books I’ve been reading this week – they have all been exceptional and come very highly recommended.

This week I’ve read:-

AUDIOBOOK – The Clifftop Murders – Book 2 of the Dorset Crime series by Rachel McLean
DCI Lesley Clarke is settling into her new job in Dorset’s Major Crimes Unit, and becoming accustomed to a slower pace of life. But then she’s called in to solve the murder of a woman with links to Lesley’s new girlfriend.

Has Lesley made a grave error of judgement? Can she track down the killer or does she already know her? And how will Lesley’s new colleagues react when she tells them she’s dating a suspect?
I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, and once again I was quickly drawn into the story. The bonus is that as I was born and brought up in the area, I know all the place names that get sprinkled around, which gives me a clear picture of the setting. 8/10

The Face of the Enemy – Book 23 of the Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
The Necromantic Wars are over, but there is no peace. In the aftermath of the struggle, long-held grudges are boiling over and conflicts are breaking out. The monarchs want to settle border disputes, the aristocrats want to impose their will on monarchs and peasants alike, the commoners want freedom and justice and the magical communities want to rule all or else separate themselves from the mundanes. And most of this chaos is being orchestrated by Emily’s mentor, the sorcerer Void. He believes the only path to salvation for the Allied Lands is to make himself the undisputed ruler of the world.

After discovering the truth – too late – Emily is on the run, blamed for the disorder by friend and foe alike. With a handful of allies by her side, Emily must find a safe place to gather herself and strike back before it is too late to save what remains of the Allied Lands. And yet, as she flees through lands plagued by civil wars and rebellious nobility, hunted by powerful sorcerers, aristocrats and rebels who want to kill her or use her for their own purposes, she is forced to accept it may not be possible to save everything and to realize, as much as she might wish to deny it, that her mentor might be right. And yet, she also knows the path to hell is paved with good intentions…
This is the penultimate book in this wide-ranging series that has given me a ringside seat into a politically complicated world that has been rocked by Emily’s inventions. I continue to be impressed at how deftly Nuttall manages to produce a very powerful heroine, who nonetheless has real vulnerabilities so that she is often at real risk. And I’m putting off reading the final book in this adventure, as I’ve become very fond of her. 9/10

Assassin’s Noon – Book 4 of the Ageless Mysteries series by Vanessa Nelson
One of the city’s wealthiest and most powerful residents is found dead in his own home. Murder is suspected, but the house was supposed to be absolutely secure against any intruder. Thea is faced with a hostile group of household servants inside the house and demands for swift justice outside its walls.

Working with Mage Niath, it doesn’t take long to realise that it’s not a straightforward death and the dead man has ties to opponents they have faced before. Can Thea uncover the truth of the death before the tensions in the city spill over and more deaths occur?
I pre-ordered this one – something I don’t do very often. But Vanessa Nelson is now one of my favourite authors, thanks to this classy fantasy. A police procedural set in a medieval city where young Thea slakes her thirst for justice by joining the Watch – and puts her unique talents to work in catching killers and law breakers. And once again, this one didn’t disappoint. 10/10

The Chapel in the Woods – Book 11 of the Jack Haldean Murder Mystery series by Dolores Gordon-Smith

Enjoying a weekend in the country with his cousin Isabelle, Jack Haldean is intrigued to learn that the neighbouring estate of Birchen Bower has been bought by wealthy Canadian businessman Tom Jago. Determined to restore the place to its former glory, Jago has invited the local villagers to a fete to celebrate the grand re-opening of the 17th century family chapel.

But the afternoon’s entertainment is cut short by the discovery of a body, mauled to death as if by a wild animal. Previously owned by the eccentric Cayden family, Birchen Bower has a long and colourful history, and is rumoured to be haunted. Is there any truth to the ancient family legend of the Jaguar Princess . . . and could she have claimed another victim? And what’s happened to Jago’s employee, Derek Martin and his wife, who have disappeared without trace . . . along with Mrs Jago’s diamonds? Refusing to believe the wild tales of man-eating beasts prowling the grounds, Jack sets out to uncover the truth. But then a second badly-ravaged body is discovered . . . Could the rumours be true after all?
I enjoy a good murder mystery, especially one set in the 1920s – and this is one is a cut above the average by quite a way. The plotting and steady unspooling of clues that make sense after the denouement put me in mind of Agatha Christie – and I don’t sling around those comparisons lightly. Full review to follow. 10/10

AUDIOBOOK – Invader – Sequence 1, Book 2 of the Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh
Nearly two centuries after the starship Phoenix disappeared, leaving an isolated colony of humans on the world of the atevi, it unexpectedly returns, threatening the stability of both atevi and human governments. With the situation fast becoming critical, Bren Cameron, the brilliant, young paidhi to the court of the atevi is recalled from Mospheira where he has just undergone surgery. Upon his return to the mainland, he Cameron finds that his government has sent in his paidhi-successor, Deana Hanks—representative of a dangerous faction on Mospheira who hate the atevi.

Haunted by the threat of assassination, Bren realizes his only hope may be to communicate with the Phoenix as the spokesman of the atevi—an action which may cut him off for good from his own species. Yet if he doesn’t take this desperate action, he may be forced to witness the destruction of the already precarious balance of world power.
There are books which I’ve found make riveting listening – and this extraordinary series is one of them. The writing is dense and at times, when Bren is stressed, his thoughts can whirl in circular patterns – which is very realistic. But when reading them off the page can get a tad tedious. Daniel May Thomas’s brilliant narration brings all that tension and crisis to life so that I’ve been absolutely rapt listening to this adventure. Very highly recommended if you like your sci fi nuanced and layered. 10/10

The Battle of Hollow Jimmy – Book 2 of Shoot the Humans First series by Becky Black
Maiga wants to vanish. She wants to leave Hollow Jimmy before someone recognises her and remembers her part in the events that led to the human race being all but wiped out. Though the station is a sanctuary, she knows there’s a new home elsewhere in the darkness. But others have plans too, for Maiga and for Hollow Jimmy. Their fates are about to be intertwined.

Captain Bara wants revenge. Perhaps that will silence the noises only she can hear aboard her ship, the Trebuchet. A ship whose name is becoming a curse to those who would like to see humanity finished off once and for all. For Bara, Hollow Jimmy is not a sanctuary. It’s a fortress. It’s a place for her to start a war.
This space station adventure is another gem in a duology that deserves to be far better known. I was left reeling after the twist ending of Shoot the Humans First – and gave myself a bit of time to process it before diving into this one. It is a tense page-turner that has stayed in the memory. Black’s super-power is writing awkward yet sympathetic protagonists – and I liked the fact that the villain was also a woman. Highly recommended. 10/10

This week I have posted:
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of For the Murder – Book 1 of The Murder series by Gabrielle Ash

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 For the Murder – Book 1 of The Murder series by Gabrielle Ash #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #FortheMurderbookreview

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The title first caught my attention and then the blurb, when I realised the murder they were talking about wasn’t a crime, but the collective noun as in a murder of crows. So I was really pleased when I was approved for an arc, especially as I haven’t read anything else by this author.

TRUNCATED BLURB: 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…

REVIEW: This is an intriguing urban fantasy, where Diana is a crow shapeshifter who has been exiled from the murder she was born into through no fault of her own. This is a disaster for her as crows are highly sociable birds and being alone not only is emotionally damaging, but crow magic works best in concert. Worse, she is in thrall to her uncaring, abusive parents who are far too caught up in their own woes to waste any time worrying about their daughter. An unsuccessful con merchant, her father also has a bad habit of seriously upsetting very powerful, dangerous beings. Diana’s vulnerability and fragility is well portrayed without tipping over into pitiful victimhood, which would have made me lose patience with her. I was always rooting for Diana to survive throughout, which didn’t feel as if it was a guarantee.

I also liked Sasha, the lethal fixer for demon-general Madame. His uncaring façade and world-weary acceptance of the vicious deeds he is forced to commit comes over well. So the initial encounter and growing relationship between the two main protagonists is intriguing and mostly well handled. However, I do have a niggle that knocked off a point – there were times when I felt the pace stuttered as Ash reiterated, yet again, how much Sasha worried about his mother/the odd sensations he’s experiencing since first meeting Diana, while she is goes on reeling at the odd sensations she’s experiencing since first meeting Sasha and wondering whether to tell him why. The book would have been a more satisfying read if some of those internal musing were edited out, especially as the reader learnt nothing new in the process.

That said, this is an enjoyable world. The general nastiness is graphically conveyed in some gripping and brutal action scenes that are all the more shocking as a contrast to the delicate and nuanced characterisation. Ash is clearly an accomplished writer with a strong, individual writing style and I kept turning the pages to discover what happened next. I look forward to reading the next book in the series in due course. Highly recommended for fans of urban fantasy who enjoy a convincing, dangerous world, unusual characters and strong romantic thread running through the story. While I obtained an arc of For the Murder from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10