*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Murder Served Cold – Book 6 of the Langham and Dupré Mystery series by Eric Brown #Brainfluffbookreview #MurderServedColdbookreview

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I’ve enjoyed this cosy mystery series that deliberately harks back to the golden era of this genre – see my review of Murder Takes a Turn.

November, 1956. Lord Elsmere, an old friend of Donald Langham’s literary agent, Charles Elder, is in a pickle – his favourite painting, a Gainsborough, has been stolen from under his nose. What’s more, there’s no evidence of a break-in. The family heirloom was recently re-insured for a hefty price, and Elsmere is struggling financially. Could he have staged the theft, or was it taken by one of the guests? Old Major Rutherford, evasive beauty Rebecca Miles, Dutch war hero Patrick Verlinden, Elsmere’s son Dudley Mariner and his statuesque sculpture fiancée, Esmeralda Bellamy, are all guests at the manor. But who would steal the painting, and why? Private investigators Langham and Ralph Ryland take on the case and soon uncover seething animosities, jealousy, secrets and deception, before events take a shocking turn…

And if this setup seems as comfortingly familiar as a late-night cup of cocoa, then you’re right. This is the classic country-house murder mystery chock-full of likely suspects, with Donald and Ralph slogging through the forest of clues and red herrings to try and make sense of the puzzle, before tracking down the perpetrator. I really enjoyed this one. The murder mystery was intriguing, linked as it was to the theft of the Gainsborough and I particularly liked the denouement as it connected directly with the historical period when this story was set.

Brown’s writing superpower is depicting setting – the landscape he evokes in a future version of Paris in his science fiction adventure Engineman is outstanding and has seeped into my inscape. So having a thoroughly satisfying cosy mystery set in such a strong backdrop, where the social and political issues are taken into account is a real bonus. I’ve found myself thinking about this one several times since I finished it – always a sign of a successful book – and I highly recommend Murder Served Cold to fans of well-written country house murder mysteries.
9/10

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Murder Takes a Turn – Book 5 of the Langham and Dupré Mystery series by Eric Brown #Brainfluffbookreview #MurderTakesaTurnbookreview

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I picked this one up because the author is one I enjoy – as well as writing this historical murder mystery series, he also has written a number of successful science fiction novels. Indeed, Engineman, has one of the most memorable backdrops I’ve encountered in science fiction, outside a C.J. Cherryh novel.

When Langham’s literary agent receives a cryptic letter inviting him to spend the weekend at the grand Cornish home of successful novelist Denbigh Connaught, Charles Elder seems reluctant to attend. What really happened between Elder and Connaught during the summer of 1917, nearly forty years before – and why has it had such a devastating effect on Charles? Accompanying his agent to Connaught House, Langham and his wife Maria discover that Charles is not the only one to have received a letter. But why has Denbigh Connaught gathered together a group of people who each bear him a grudge? When a body is discovered in Connaught’s study, the ensuing investigation uncovers dark secrets that haunt the past of each and every guest – including Charles Elder himself …

And if the cover and tone of the blurb remind you of an Agatha Christie novel, you’re absolutely right. The way the book unfolds is clearly a nod in the direction of the Grand Dame of Crime. I liked the main protagonists – it’s a refreshing change to have a dear old chap like Charles Elder right in the middle of things and his business partner Maria and her husband Donald are the couple who doing the sleuthing on this case. The location – a country house in an isolated part of Cornwall – is classically cosy mystery and the method in which the unfortunate victim dies is suitably macabre.

This is an ideal summer holiday read, which plenty of twists and turns and an entertaining variety of possible suspects. I did guess the identity of the murderer before the final big reveal – but only because I read all Agatha Christie’s novels longer ago than I care to think. That said, it didn’t put a huge dent in my enjoyment, because this was more about being bathed in the experience of revisiting an imagined past that I’m sure never existed – although I wished it had. Recommended for fans of well written historical cosy mysteries.
8/10

Review of Satan’s Reach – Book 2 of the Weird Space series by Eric Brown

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I happened to be in the library, browsing the shelves when this offering beckoned. I couldn’t resist, given that I enjoy Brown’s writing – see my review of Engineman, which has some of my favourite scene setting of any sci fi novel, ever…

Telepath Den Harper did the dirty work for the authoritarian Expansion, reading the minds of criminals, spies and undesirables. Unable to take the strain, he stole a starship and headed into the unknown, a sector of lawless space known as Satan’s Reach. For five years he worked as a trader among the stars; then discovered that the Expansion had set a bounty hunter on his trail. But what does the Expansion want with a lowly telepath like Harper? Is there validity in the rumours that human space is being invaded by aliens from another realm? Harper finds out the answer to both these questions when he rescues an orphan girl from certain death.

Den is a likeable chap in a tricky situation, which gets steadily trickier as this fast-paced, enjoyable space opera progresses. This is space opera where the universe is heaving with multitudes of aliens and faster-than-light travels occurs such that zipping between planets takes a matter of weeks. That’s okay – I can happily cope with that. Brown evokes a vivid range of worlds with differing climates, customs and lifestyles in amongst the mayhem, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I also liked the very efficient and adaptable spaceship Den has managed to snag for himself.

Initially, I thought it was all a bit too good to be true, but Brown manages to nicely weave into the storyline the reason why said ship is quite so nifty and needless to say, it all ends in tears… I liked the fact that Den’s gift of telepathy comes at a terrible price – he finds it painful to mindread, particularly alien minds so spends most of his time heavily shielded. He is also rather withdrawn, preferring his own company, which I found entirely plausible.

The story development is excellent – just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did so that I read far later into the night when I should have put the book down and got some sleep. Any niggles – I could have done without the romantic element as I thought it out of character for both the protagonists concerned. But as there are two more books in this series, I’m guessing it isn’t all going to run smoothly from hereon in.

Overall, a cracking read from a writer who really knows his craft and if you like your space opera with plenty of excitement and enjoyable worlds, then this one is recommended.
8/10

* NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of EBOOK Morning Star – Book 3 of the Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown

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I picked up the first book, Red Rising – see my review here – last month and was blown away by the full-on action, the twists and turns and the climactic ending. Yes… I’m aware that there is a Hunger Games vibe that runs through it, but given that I thoroughly enjoyed The Hunger Games trilogy anyway, and that Brown’s detailed worldbuilding had the savage winnowing embedded within the culture that Darrow is rebelling against, I didn’t have a problem with it. The second book, Golden Son – see my review here – was equally action-packed, with a similarly cataclysmic ending that had me longing to get hold of the third book.

morning starDarrow would have lived in peace, but his enemies brought him war. The Gold overlords demanded his obedience, hanged his wife, and enslaved his people. But Darrow is determined to fight back. Risking everything to transform himself and breach Gold society, Darrow has battled to survive the cutthroat rivalries that breed Society’s mightiest warriors, climbed the ranks, and waited patiently to unleash the revolution that will tear the hierarchy apart from within.

As it happens, I didn’t have to wait too long, as it was released a few days ago – yippee! Would this final book continue to engross me? To be honest, it did have a slightly sticky start. Brown’s forthright pacey style stuttered, and I found the opening pages a bit of a trudge as it seems to backtrack, rather than plunge headlong into the galloping plot. However, I persevered as I had really enjoyed the first two slices of this adventure, and was very curious to see how it would all pan out. About a quarter of the way in, the book picked up pace as Darrow was busy trying to stay alive, lurching from crisis to crisis as the rebellion kicked off around him.

I like his character. Brown manages to provide the classic, driven alpha male who nonetheless is assailed by doubts and painfully aware of the consequences of some of his actions. I also enjoyed the fact that although there are regular outbreaks of bloody violence throughout the trilogy – this is not one for the squeamish – those deaths continue to impact on the action, both personally and politically. I like the fact that it mattered when some of the characters died – and went on mattering throughout the trilogy.

Once Morning Star found its feet, the plot barrelled forward with Brown’s usual explosive energy. There is also a fair amount of humour running through the story and some moving moments as Darrow strives to hold onto the group of people he has befriended during his roller-coaster progress, though those friendships are constantly threatened by the sense of betrayal they feel at his duplicity. I also enjoyed the dilemma Darrow faces as he becomes the poster boy for the rebellion due to a particular piece of film repeatedly shown to inspire the Reds to rise up for justice. How can he move on from his bereavement and invest in another relationship, when he is defined by his heartbreak and grief?

Not that Brown breaks his stride when presenting his character this particular problem – he is too busy creating yet another crushing problem for Darrow to endure. So, did he accomplish a suitably climactic and convincing ending? Yes, he did. It was a fitting conclusion to a really entertaining and enjoyable read – and if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, don’t start with Morning Star, get hold of Red Rising. Pierce Brown is One To Watch.
8/10

Review of Golden Son Book 2 of the Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown

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I was very impressed with the first book in this series, Red Rising – see my review here – which charts Darrow’s struggles to establish himself after tragedy strikes and he is left for dead. Would I enjoy this second book that takes the story further?

golden sonDarrow is a rebel forged by tragedy. For years he and his fellow Reds worked the mines, toiling to make the surface of Mars habitable. They were, they believed, mankind’s last hope. Until Darrow discovered that it was all a lie…

That is as much of the rather chatty blurb that I’m willing to share, given that you may be inspired to track down the first book. All I will add is that Brown writes with great intensity and pace, so that Darrow and his followers pack an awful lot into this engrossing dystopian, coming-of-age science fiction thriller. I very much like the way the society is structured – after civilisation crashes on Earth, the survivors aspire to rebuild humanity using the precepts of the ancients. So there is slavery with the Reds right down at the bottom of the heap – both literally and metaphorically, and the Golds are the ruling elite with all the genetic gifts, being waited on hand, foot and finger as all the advantages or wealth and power accrue to them.

There is a catch, however. In order to survive as a Gold, you have to fight among your peers to the death, as there is a savage winnowing to ensure the most dangerous and amoral survive. These ruthless killers are the future leaders of this dystopian society, where everyone is rigidly confined within their colour to serve in the capacity preordained by their birth. Moreover it matters little if they are not suited to that task, because if they aren’t, they simply will not live all that long… And if you’re thinking that this setup will inevitably mean this book will contain a degree of violence – you’re absolutely right. This offering is not for the faint-hearted. Limbs are lopped off and people are cut down in a range of savage fights and battles.

This is foot-to-the-floor, full-on adrenaline fuelled action more or less from the first page, right to the startling denouement at the end… Brown is an accomplished storyteller who navigates the twists and turns within this story with deftness and confidence.

Darrow experiences a roller-coaster ride in his fortunes among the Golds, with the tight-knit team he has acquired from his adventures in Red Rising. However, he is also horribly isolated and that loneliness is increasingly weighing heavily on him as he wonders about the point of his mission. I really enjoyed the way Darrow’s character continues to develop throughout this book – he is all the more human and sympathetic for it. And we also need these interludes, in amongst the killing and the mayhem, to allow the reader to rebond with this main protagonist.

For if we don’t care what happens to him, then the whole structure of the book is immediately undermined, as it is the classic embittered hero striving to bring the structure down on the heads of all those around him, while hoping to rebuild something better from the ashes. Brown doesn’t have him slavishly following this path, however. And it is his questioning and doubts that open up the story to a far more interesting set of questions about what he has turned into and whether unleashing this amount of violence upon a lot of innocents, including servants and children, can ever be justified.

And once more – the ending is a doozy. I certainly didn’t see that coming… This is a cracking addition to the trilogy – no middle book slump here. And if you are looking for a new science fiction adventure with plenty of action and excitement, then track down Red Rising.
9/10

Review of Red Rising – Book 1 of The Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown

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I scooped this offering up from the shelves because it was labelled Science Fiction and I liked the cover. As you can see, I’ve all the depth of a pavement puddle when choosing my next read…

redrisingDarrow is a Helldiver, one of a hundred generations of people who live beneath the surface of Mars, spending their lives toiling to mine the precious elements that will allow the planet to be terraformed. Just knowing that once day, people will be able to walk the surface of the planet is enough to justify their sacrifice. The Earth is dying, and Darrow and his people are the only hope humanity has left. Until the day Darrow learns that it is all a lie.

This truncated version of the rather chatty blurb sets up the opening stages of this dystopian science fiction adventure with the strapline: Ender’s Game meets The Hunger Games. Hm. Not sure about that one. While there are definitely elements of The Hunger Games to this adventure, this is grittier.

I love the character of Darrow – his first person narration is punchy and memorable. He has a range of extraordinary talents, yet as he is constantly floundering in amongst a group who know far more about what is going on than he does, he doesn’t come off as too invulnerable. I have strict rules about not verging into spoiler territory, so discussing this particular dystopian fast-paced adventure in any depth immediately poses some challenges. However, I can assure you that one major difference between The Hunger Games and Red Rising is that Darrow isn’t in the middle of a love triangle.

In order for a dystopian science fiction adventure to work, the world has to be convincing; the faultlines within the society have to make sense and the progression into the sorry state the world finds itself also has to be plausible. There also needs to be sufficient complexity to provide plenty of realistic tension to continue giving the protagonist challenges as he struggles to change things in a believable manner. All in all, this is a hefty list – and it is the most common reason why a significant selection of dystopian science fiction offerings go flying across the room, no matter how personable the protagonist.

But Brown manages to tick all the boxes on that score – he has a detailed backstory, with a layered, unequal society and strong, plausible reasons for it to be that way. The description of Darrow’s daily life as a Helldiver in the mines of Mars is extremely well done, providing a vivid insight into what makes him tick, which is really important when he makes some daft decisions later on. But it also meant that I strongly bonded with him – also crucial further on in the book when he takes some dark decisions. All in all, this is a memorable, engrossing read and I’m in the process of tracking down the second book, Golden Son.
9/10

Review of ebook Engineman by Eric Brown

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This Kindle edition of Eric Brown’s interesting offering caught my eye as I enjoyed Brown’s Bengal Station trilogy. The most professionally produced ebook I’ve read so far, I didn’t notice any typos or mistakes and the formatting was flawless. Once I finished the novel, there was an additional collection of short stories, all set in the same world.

Once the Enginemen pushed bigships through the cobalt glory of the nada-continuum. But faster than light isn’t fast enough anymore. The interfaces of the Keilor-Vincicoff Organisation bring planets light years distant a simple step away. Then a man with half a face offers ex-Engineman Ralph Mirren the chance to escape his ruined life and push a ship to an undisclosed destination. The nada-continuum holds the key to Ralph’s future. What he cannot anticipate is its universal importance – nor the mystery awaiting him on the distant colony world.

And there you have it. This isn’t full-on, action-stuffed adventure that whisks you up on page one and doesn’t let you catch your enginemanbreath until the closing sentence. This is an adventure, alright and it steadily gains momentum as the book progresses, but this particular world is an intrinsic part of the story and as such, Brown is at pains to set the scene. Paris is vividly described as a fading city, overrun in parts with alien vegetation as the population continues to move away to more thriving places, both on and off Earth. The previously bustling port and centre of the bigship industry is sliding into inexorable decline – I felt there was a strong comparison to the Port of London after cargo containerisation became the norm. And just as parts of Paris are no longer vital, neither are the Enginemen – those once elite corps of men and women whose brainwaves ‘pushed’ the bigships into the nada-continuum while in a trance-like state called the flux, allowing the ships to travel thousands of light-years in a matter of weeks and months. However, once interfaces were invented so that people could actually walk or drive through to colony planets, the Enginemen were obsolete and unwanted…

The book explores the plight which echoes that of generations of men and women through the ages who have found their skills are suddenly redundant.  Many of these highly skilled people, hungering for the neural high they can only achieve when pushing bigships, take refuge in the religion of the Enginemen – while others cannot manage to grasp at the comfort that this spirituality offers.  This is science fiction at its best – looking at contemporary issues through a futuristic lens…

Brown’s world is so engrossing, the story running through it was almost a distraction and I wasn’t wholly convinced by the ending, which I felt was a bit too unconvincingly upbeat, given the gnarly issues that Brown addresses. However as it got going, it drew me in and I particularly became involved in Ellie’s plotline. I think that Brown’s female protagonists work better than his men – a tendency that is emphasised in the short stories. That said, the characters were all suitably complex and interesting and held my interest throughout.

Any grizzles? Well… it might be a picky point – but as the world is so carefully constructed, it did somewhat jar that as all this alien vegetation engulfed chunks of Paris, at no point did anyone mention any attempts to control or monitor what was growing. Even in a rundown area, I still think there would be – at sporadic intervals – fully overalled, masked teams stomping through, spraying various noxious substances around the place, probably with a glorious disregard for human health, this being a Brown novel. Even if it wasn’t effective, humanity’s hang-ups about the ‘other’ would not tolerate such a laissez-faire attitude to rampant creepers punching through buildings…  In the scheme of things, though, this is a relatively minor point and despite my misgivings about the ending, I think Engineman is an excellent read, raising some pertinent questions about how technology is constantly stranding groups of people who strained to train to acquire a skill – only to find themselves on the scrapheap a few years further down the line.

Which brings me onto the short stories. As they were set in the same world, often addressing the same themes and echoing some of the plotpoints in the novel, I got the impression that a number of them were written alongside the book, helping Brown ‘write his way’ into the storyline. As a result, I found a number of them were so similar in tone and plot to aspects of the novel, I don’t think they offered very much in the way of extra insights into the world. This is particularly applicable to The Girl Who Died for Art and Lived and the award-winning The Time-Elapsed Man. Both were excellent stories, but I do question whether they should have been at the end of this particular book. However, a couple did break away from this tendency and I found Big Trouble Upstairs and The Pineal-Zen Equation really enjoyable reads.

Overall, I thoroughly recommend this ambitious book, which will leave me pondering some of the ideas it raises for a long time to come.

8/10

Friday Faceoff – Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffpiratecovers

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is PIRATES. I’ve selected How to Be a Pirate – Book 2 of How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell, which is one of my favourite children’s series ever…

Yes, for the second week in a row I’m featuring a children’s book. This year I seem to be reading rather a lot of them – just as I’d given up on making children’s fiction part of my reading challenge as I’d failed to read a reasonable number for the past three years in a row…

 

This edition was produced by Brown, Little and Company in May 2005. It is suitably quirky with a Viking-cum-pirate character clearly somewhat intellectually challenged as the main image on the cover. I like the background of planked wood, the quirky font and – unusually for me – I love the textbox looking like a treasure chest’s key plate and the dagger for the author name. However, that main image is rather unwhelming, I feel.

 

Published in February 2010 by Brown, Little and Company, I think this cover is more visually appealing, while keeping a lot of the successful aspects of the previous cover. I love the more eye-catching teal background colour and the fact that the textboxes are still enjoyably part of the overall design. However that image in the middle actually features a boat, a worried-looking Hiccup and a threatening dragon emerging from the waves… We get a sense that this is a proper adventure as well as being very funny.

 

This edition, published by Hodder Children’s Books in June 2017 was all set to be my favourite. I love the scaled background, the way the Viking longship bursts from the middle of the cover on a surfing wave – so clever and eye-chatching. And then I paused to take in the actual wording of the quirky font. And changed my mind… I’ve been listening to the series recently and frankly, it’s doing my head in. There are twelve books – and not one of the modern covers sees fit to inform the reader where in the series they come. In fact, the actual title of the book is dwarfed by the series name emblazoned across the top – very annoying! It’s a dealbreaker for me – so this isn’t my favourite, after all.

 

This Spanish edition, produced by SM in August 2006, demonstrates what a huge impact changing the backdrop can have. This cover features the same main design of the first cover – but what a difference. I don’t much care for it – that interlinking pattern doesn’t shout Viking to me and tends to give the whole cover a rather cluttered feel, which isn’t a good look for a children’s cover.

 

This German edition, published in June 2014, has decided to feature the dragon – I love that fantastic image of those two dragon eyes, snout and fangs peering out at a small Viking boy, presumably Hiccup. BUT that large title across the top of the cover is the series title – and once again there is no indication that this is Book 2. Without these issues, this would be my favourite alongside the Hodder edition – but this is such a major omission, I am going to have to plump for that second cover, which gives all the necessary details for a reader. Which is your favourite? Do you mind if a cover doesn’t provide all these details, so long as it looks good? I’d love to get your opinion on this issue!

Friday Faceoff – If there’s no chocolate in Heaven, I’m not going… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week SOMETHING SWEET has to feature on any of our covers, so I’ve selected Friends, Lovers, Chocolate – Book 2 of Isabel Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall Smith.

 

This edition was produced by Pantheon Books in September 2005. I like the design – the colourful shop front and pavement café looks delightfully enticing. But that horrid textbox slapped across the top blocks out far too much of the design – and given the café is at a slight angle and the textbox isn’t, the resulting clash of perspectives is jarring. If only it hadn’t been there – this one would definitely have been my favourite… *sigh*.

 

Published in August 2006 by Anchor Books, this cover is harking back to the past. The plain bright yellow really pops and I like the contrast with the chocolate brown for the borders, artwork and text, which gives it a classic feel. The touch of tartan and the dramatic hand dropping the cup of chocolate all give appropriate clues as to what the book is about. I really like this one.

 

This edition, published by Abacus in July 2006 has also gone for the vintage vibe. The bold, blocky artwork, strong primary colours and clear, capitalised text all refer back to the mid-20th century and the heyday of the whodunit. This is another strong candidate for this week’s favourite – I really like this one.

 

Produced by Little Brown in 2005, this is my favourite. I love the artwork, the chocolate drink, the rather natty glove draped over The Scotsman newspaper – all very nicely done. The lavender sprigs down the side also provide further eye appeal.

 

This French edition, published by Editions des Deux Terres in September 2013 is another strong contender. I love the image of the delicious chocolate cake with the single bite taken out of it – somehow more effective than a pristine slice. And while I’m not a fan of plain white backgrounds, this time it really works. I also think the lettering, both of the author and title is attractive and effective. Which is your favourite?

Friday Faceoff – Blue oblivion, largely lit, smiled and smiled at me… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week at least one of our covers has to be BLUE, so I’ve selected Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Book 1 of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor.

 

This edition was produced by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in September 2011. The monochrome face with that fantastic blue feathered mask is very eye-catching and I also really love the title font, which is both striking and effective. This one is so very nearly my favourite…

 

Published in August 2015 by Fischer Taschenbubh, this German cover is another strong contender. I love the shades of blue patterns backlighting the Prague cityscape. The girl looks otherworldly with the treatment to her eyes and the title font is also stylish and eye-catching. Yet another well designed and beautiful cover, wholly appropriate in tone and mood for this enjoyable fantasy adventure.

 

This edition, published by Hodder & Stoughton in September 2011, is my favourite. I love, love, LOVE those fabulous feathers with the iridescent sheen in all the shades of a sunlit starling. My choice might be influenced by the fact that this is the cover of the book that I read – I also think the title font is very well done.

 

Produced by De Boekerij in April 2013, this Dutch edition is yet another superb effort, being a variation on the design of the first cover. The mask is beautifully designed and the colours shading the title font replicate those colours, intensifying the lovely effect with the clever repetition. Another accomplished and appropriate cover for this book.

 

This Indonesian edition, published by Gramedia Pustaka Utama in September 2012, is yet another well-designed cover. If this had been a different book, I would be raving more about the restraint… the clever, subtle blue shading around the edge of the single feather… the way that colour is picked up and reflected in the stylish title font. But there are so many wonderful, classy covers for this particular book, it is just added to the list – lucky, lucky Laini Taylor! Which one is your favourite?