Author Archives: sjhigbee

About sjhigbee

Science fiction/fantasy writer & creative writing tutor and book addict. I can't walk past a book shop or library and am considering therapy.

Review of INDIE Ebook The Daydreamer Detective – Book 1 of the Miso Cosy Mysteries by Steph Gennero aka S.J. Pajonas #BrainfluffINDIEbookreview #TheDaydreamerDetectivebookreview

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I’m in an odd mood reading-wise, right now. So I was looking for something a bit gentle and quirky that could pull me into the story – and was delighted when this offering ticked all those boxes.

BLURB: Mei Yamagawa is out of luck and out of money. After five years in Tokyo, she has little to show for it besides a laundry list of unrealized dreams. Left without a choice, she returns to her rural Japanese hometown, ready to be branded a failure by her relatives and rivals. At the least, she looks forward to seeing her best friend, until Akiko is accused of murdering her own father.

As Mei helps her farmer mother with the crops, she scouts for clues to clear her friend’s name. But during her investigation, she can’t help but notice the celebrity chef looking in her direction. The amateur detective can balance a new love interest and a murder case… can’t she?

REVIEW: This one is an interesting mash-up. Yes, there is a murder mystery running through the middle of the narrative, which draws together the narrative. But it isn’t actually the pivot of the ongoing story. At the heart of this one is the fact that Mei, after being a bright, hardworking student and a talented artist, somehow has lost her way.

Instead of finding herself in charge of a project team and going from strength to strength, as she’d confidently expected when moving to the city some five years earlier, Mei has lost three jobs in a row. She has to return to her home town, in debt and rely on her mother’s help to get back on her feet, again. She feels an utter failure – and Pajonas has to tread a tricky path in convincing her readers of her protagonist’s misery and crippling self-doubt, without producing an annoyingly whiny heroine. I think she pulls it off.

What helps to jolt Mei from her own troubles is the news that her best friend’s father has been strangled and Akiko, her best friend since forever, is one of the chief suspects. The town is in the process of being regenerated, thanks to the interest of a large food corporation who are interested in buying up abandoned farms, building greenhouses and a large headquarters, thus providing much welcome jobs. As a consequence, after years of slow stagnation as young people left to seek jobs elsewhere, shops and businesses are now springing up. But there are farmers who don’t want to sell – and Akiko’s father had been one of them.

To be honest, the murder mystery doesn’t produce all that many convincing suspects, so it wasn’t difficult to work out whodunit. But as the Japanese setting was so intriguingly different – and Mei’s assistance is actually welcomed by the police, this detail wasn’t a dealbreaker. I also enjoyed the ongoing romance, which was sweet and well handled. Overall, this was a delightful, engrossing read that was just what I needed at a difficult time. I’ll certainly be reading more of this series.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Royal Secret – Book 5 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheRoyalSecretbookreview

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I’m a solid fan of this series – see my reviews of The Ashes of London, The Fire Court, The King’s Evil and The Last Protector. The first book starts during the Great Fire of London and introduces us to two young people caught up in the drama – Cat Lovett and James Marwood. They both have a shameful past – their fathers were for Oliver Cromwell and against Charles I – and that has impacted on their subsequent fortunes.

BLURB: Two young girls plot a murder by witchcraft. Soon afterwards a government clerk dies painfully in mysterious circumstances. His colleague James Marwood is asked to investigate – but the task brings unexpected dangers.

Meanwhile, architect Cat Hakesby is working for a merchant who lives on Slaughter Street, where the air smells of blood and a captive Barbary lion prowls the stables. Then a prestigious new commission arrives. Cat must design a Poultry House for the woman that the King loves most in all the world.

Unbeknownst to all, at the heart of this lies a royal secret so explosive that it could not only rip apart England but change the entire face of Europe…

REVIEW: I love this series – especially the way that Taylor has woven real historical events into his fiction. This latest book does a wonderful job of bringing both our protagonists into a fascinating area of history, involving Charles II in an intrigue that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond thriller.

Once more we revisit the lives of James Marwood and Cat Hakesby, who have now struck up a steady friendship due to their shared past – though it isn’t without some bumps along the road. Meanwhile a rich merchant who hires Cat to do some work for him has acquired a lion called Caliban. And his daughter-in-law and young granddaughter come to live with him, after a family tragedy. These are the threads that are woven into a wonderful, detailed adventure that had me turning the pages far too late into the early morning to discover what happened.

Reading this tale, I was glad all over again that I live now, rather than in a time when a woman doing anything else other than domestic chores drew surprise and unwelcome attention – a bit like that hapless lion. Taylor has nailed the period, which is vividly depicted right down to the clothing, the smells of the time, the food and drink. When Cat goes on a journey, it is more of an endurance test, particularly when the weather isn’t playing fair. No wonder everyone wore layers and layers of clothing, if they could afford it.

Meanwhile, Marwood is yanked from his usual duties to perform yet another dangerous, unpleasant task that will derail his career if he is caught, or fails to uncover what is going on. And once again, Cat somehow becomes emboiled in the middle of the nefarious events, so their interests collide – and so often seems to happen to this pair. Taylor’s writing means that I don’t find it difficult to believe how this happens.

The climax of this adventure is shocking – and left me thinking a great deal about this one after I’d finished reading it. All in all, a thoroughly accomplished, gripping historical adventure that comes very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The King’s Secret from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Sunday Post – 2nd May, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Here we are at the start of May… When did THAT happen?? Apologies for having been AWOL – last week I was ill again. Another spell of exhaustion, nausea and giddiness meant that I didn’t even open the computer most days – and I certainly wasn’t up to working. Or even getting out of bed… It was only yesterday that I started feeling like me, instead of the doddery old bat who’d insisted on invading my body. And my daughter and small granddaughter popping in to say hallo and pick up a postal label further helped to cheer me up.

Other than that, it’s been a quiet week, only enlivened by falling over when the nice chap came to administer our monthly swab and blood tests. So I also have a spectacular bruise on the side of my knee, where I missed smearing on the arnica cream.

I’m afraid I’ve no photos this week, as I haven’t made it outdoors.

Last week I read:
Ravenwood – Book 1 of the Tanyth Fairport Adventures series by Nathan Lowell
After twenty winters on the road, Tanyth makes one last pilgrimage in her quest to learn all she can about the herbs and medicinal plants of Korlay before settling down to write her magnum opus.

Her journey is interrupted when she stops to help a small village and learns that much of what she knows of the world may not be quite as it seems.
I loved Lowell’s space opera series, which I inhaled during March once I was well enough to read. So was pleased to get my hands on this one. I loved the protagonist, who is a middle-aged woman, who walked out of an abusive marriage and became a healer. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK Necessity’s Child – Book 16 of the Liaden Universe series by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
The kompani see none as an enemy, and yet few as friend. The kompani exist in many places, living quietly in the shadows, thriving off the bounty that others have no wit to secure, nor skill to defend. Their private history is unwritten; their recall rooted in dance and dream.

The Clan Korval is in many ways the opposite of the kompani. The interstellar trading clan is wealthy in enemies, and fortunate in friends. Korval protects itself with vigor, and teaches even its youngest children the art of war. And when representatives of Clan Korval arrive on the planet Surebleak where the kompani has lived, secret and aloof, the lives of three people intersect—Kezzi, apprentice to the kompani’s grandmother; Syl Vor, Clan Korval’s youngest warrior; and Rys, a man without a world, or a past.
I have read a couple of books from this entertaining, well written space opera series that reminds me at times of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. Unfortunately, one of the things they share is a very long backlist whose internal chronology doesn’t line up with the release dates… So I ended up listening to Book 16! That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and it reminded me all over again why I liked this series so much. Review to follow.

Dead in the Water – Book 3 of the Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow
Two crewmen of the crab vessel Avilda are missing—presumed dead—under very suspicious circumstances. The Bering Sea offers ample means and opportunity, but without bodies, a motive, or evidence of foul play, the DA doesn’t have a case. And so, freelancing again for her former employer, Kate Shugak finds herself working undercover in one of Alaska’s most dangerous professions: crab fisherman.

It’s an assignment that will take her from the debauchery of Dutch Harbor to the most isolated of the Aleutians, and if the job itself doesn’t kill her, her unsavory crewmates just might.
I’ve read the first two books in this interesting and unusual crime series, set in the wilds of Alaska. And realised I’ve the rest sitting on my Kindle – so I tucked into this one and thoroughly enjoyed it. Mini-review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK A Fatal Flying Affair – Book 7 of the Lady Hardcastle Mysteries series by T.E. Kinsey
August 1911. Emily Hardcastle and her inimitable lady’s maid Florence Armstrong are enjoying a fine summer until Harry, Lady H’s brother, turns up out of the blue with a mystery for them to solve.

A routine parachute test at a local aeroplane factory has gone horribly wrong—with pilot Dickie Dupree plummeting to his death. Harry is certain there is more to this ‘tragic accident’ than meets the eye, having discovered that someone at the airfield is leaking top secret intelligence to foreign rivals.

In between strolls to the Dog & Duck and planning for the annual village show, the daring duo dust off the Crime Board and go undercover at Bristol Aviation. With international powers investing heavily in aeronautics, the stakes are high—sky high—and the suspects soon mount up. Can Lady Hardcastle find the culprit before someone else falls down dead?
I’ve grown very fond of this sparky pair of unconventional women who are now working for His Majesty’s Government as a pair of spies, once again. And the outstanding narration of this latest tale was a delight to listen to when I was too tired to read…

The Wedding Date by Zara Stoneley
When Samantha Jenkins is asked to be the maid of honour at her best friend’s wedding, she couldn’t be happier. There are just three problems…

1) Sam’s ex-boyfriend, Liam, will be the best man.
2) His new girlfriend is pregnant.
3) Sam might have told people she has a new man when she doesn’t (see points 1 and 2 above)

So, Sam does the only sensible thing available to her… and hires a professional to do the job.

Actor Jake Porter is perfect for the role: single, gorgeous and cheap! Sam is certain it’s the perfect solution: no strings, no heartbreak and hopefully no chance of being found out.

But spending a week in the Scottish Highlands with Jake is harder than she imagined. He is the perfect boyfriend, charming, sexy and the hottest thing in a kilt since Outlander! And his dog Harry is quite possibly the cutest things Sam has ever seen!

As the wedding draws closer, Jake plays his part to perfection and everyone believes he is madly in love with Sam. The problem is, Sam’s not sure if Jake is acting anymore…
This was all I could have wanted – an entertaining, funny story told in a chirpy first-person viewpoint, with a guaranteed happy ending. Himself has been reading a slew of these, recently. And I can see why…

Schooled in Magic – Book 1 of The Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
Emily is a teenage girl pulled from our world into a world of magic and mystery by a necromancer who intends to sacrifice her to the dark gods. Rescued in the nick of time by an enigmatic sorcerer, she discovers that she possesses magical powers and must go to Whitehall School to learn how to master them.

There, she learns the locals believe that she is a “Child of Destiny,” someone whose choices might save or damn their world … a title that earns her both friends and enemies. A stranger in a very strange land, she may never fit into her new world …
I’ve always enjoyed Nuttall’s writing and when I was looking for something well written and not too gory – I found this. I’m a sucker for a really enjoyable magic school adventure and this one delivered all sorts of entertaining twists I didn’t expect. As well as some darkly funny moments. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Recollection by Gareth L. Powell

I’m sorry, but as I haven’t been browsing online this last week, I’ve no recommendations. In the meantime, thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog. I hope you had a peaceful, healthy week – and do take care. x

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Caring for Grandchildren #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonChildcare #PickyEaters

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Don’t allow the dragonets to play chess using your best set, until they’ve grown past the age where they erupt into a flaming tantrum when they lose. With lords, this might well take them until they’re… On second thoughts – don’t ever let ANY lord near your best chess set!

Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Recollection: Tenth Anniversary Edition by Gareth L. Powell #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheRecollectionbookreview

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I enjoy Powell’s writing – see my reviews of Ack-Ack Macaque and Hive Monkey and my mini-review of Embers of War, the first book in his successful space opera series of the same name. So when I saw this one come up, I jumped at the chance of getting hold of an arc.

BLURB: Four hundred years ago, Ed and Alice Rico threw themselves through a mysterious portal on the London Underground, hunting for Ed’s lost brother—Alice’s husband—Verne.

Now, starship captain Katherine Abdulov embarks on a desperate race against ruthless rival captain—and her former lover—Victor Luciano, to try and earn back her family’s trust.

Tomorrow, all their lives will be thrown together by disaster, as an ancient evil stirs among the stars, threatening the survival of all life…

REVIEW: The thing about dual narratives is that just as I’m getting into the swing of the story, I find myself yanked away and into another scenario with a completely different set of characters. It means that I need to bond closely and quickly with the main protagonists so that I don’t find being pulled between two storylines too jarring. And initially, I didn’t care all that much about either Ed or Katherine. So it took me a while to get into the story.

However, as the action kicked off and they both got caught up in different elements of the narrative, I also became invested and was able to relax into the world. I really liked the idea of the arches and why they suddenly appeared. Powell ensured that we were immersed in the worlds he spun, providing a vivid backdrop to the characters. And this is important as the stakes stack up, because these worlds are put in major peril.

I can’t claim that you’ll get the quirky originality of the Ack-Ack Macaque series – the tropes Powell explores in this space opera adventure are as cosily familiar as a late-night cup of cocoa. However, the story is written with flair and conviction, so that by the time we arrive at the climactic denouement, I didn’t want to put this one down. I’m intrigued to discover if this is going to continue as a standalone, or if Powell has plans to make it the beginning of a series – there is certainly plenty of depth in the worldbuilding that would sustain several more books with these characters. Either way, this is a solidly entertaining science fiction space opera adventure recommended for fans of the genre. While I obtained an arc of The Recollection from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Life #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonLife #PickyEaters

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Fixes for a draconic mid-life crisis #6 – When a pretty young queen catches your eye, ask yourself if you’ll still feel the same about her when she’s wearing half your hoard and insisting on the juiciest parts of your kills.

Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

Two Audiobook FANTASY CHILDREN’S/YA mini-reviews: The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett & Magnus Chase and The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan #BrainfluffFANTASYCHILDRENS/YAmini-reviews #TheWeeFreeMenmini-review #MagnusChaseandtheSwordofSummermini-review

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AUDIOBOOK The Wee Free Men – Book 1 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett

BLURB: Armed only with a frying pan and her common sense, Tiffany Aching, a young witch-to-be, is all that stands between the monsters of Fairyland and the warm, green Chalk country that is her home. Forced into Fairyland to seek her kidnapped brother, Tiffany allies herself with the Chalk’s local Nac Mac Feegle – aka the Wee Free Men – a clan of sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men who are as fierce as they are funny. Together they battle through an eerie and ever-shifting landscape, fighting brutal flying fairies, dream-spinning dromes, and grimhounds – black dogs with eyes of fire and teeth of razors – before ultimately confronting the Queen of the Elves, absolute ruler of a world in which reality intertwines with nightmare. And in the final showdown, Tiffany must face her cruel power alone…

MINI-REVIEW: Listening to this was a complete joy, particularly with Tony Robinson’s storming performance as narrator. I loved reading this one way back when it first came out, then sharing it with my grandchildren – but hearing this version was every bit as much fun. And I’d thought nothing could beat sitting side by side with the children, laughing together at Pratchett’s humour… Very highly recommended for children of all ages.
10/10

AUDIOBOOK Magnus Chase and The Sword of Summer – Book 1 of the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series by Rick Riordan

BLURB: Magnus Chase has seen his share of trouble. Ever since that terrible night two years ago when his mother told him to run, he has lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, staying one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.

One day, Magnus learns that someone else is trying to track him down—his uncle Randolph, a man his mother had always warned him about. When Magnus tries to outmaneuver his uncle, he falls right into his clutches. Randolph starts rambling about Norse history and Magnus’s birthright: a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.

The more Randolph talks, the more puzzle pieces fall into place. Stories about the gods of Asgard, wolves, and Doomsday bubble up from Magnus’s memory. But he doesn’t have time to consider it all before a fire giant attacks the city, forcing him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents. . .

Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die.

MINI-REVIEW: I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Christopher Guetig’s excellent narration very ably depicted the cast of colourful characters who Magnus encounters on his adventures with the pantheon of Norse gods and minor deities. This had all the ingredients I enjoy in a fantasy adventure – plenty of testing encounters with all sorts of intriguing characters, high-stakes action, along with regular splashes of humour that didn’t become too heavy-handed. Riordan manages to make this look far easier than it is. I am delighted that I’ve more audiobooks in this series, waiting to sweep me up and into another world…
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The King’s Evil – Book 3 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor #BrainfluffKINDLEbookreview #TheKing’sEvilbookreview

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I’d read The Ashes of London, which is a gripping murder mystery set during the Great Fire of London, and thoroughly enjoyed it, so when I got the chance to pick up the Netgalley arc of The Last Protector, I jumped at it. Though I was a tad startled to find out that it was the fourth book in the series, so last year I decided to go back and get hold of an audiobook edition of The Fire Court and Himself bought me this one – The King’s Evil as a birthday present.

BLURB: London 1667. In the Court of Charles II, it’s a dangerous time to be alive – a wrong move may lead to disgrace, exile or death. The discovery of a body at Clarendon House, the palatial home of one of the highest courtiers in the land, could therefore have catastrophic consequences. James Marwood, a traitor’s son, is ordered to cover up the murder. But the dead man is Edward Alderley, the cousin of one of Marwood’s acquaintances. Cat Lovett had every reason to want her cousin dead. Since his murder, she has vanished, and all the evidence points to her as the killer.

Marwood is determined to clear Cat’s name and discover who really killed Alderley. But time is running out for everyone. If he makes a mistake, it could threaten not only the government but the King himself…

REVIEW: This Restoration murder mystery series is one I’ve come to love. James Marwood and Cat Lovett are both under a cloud, as their fathers were known sympathisers of Oliver Cromwell and both have had a tough time of it. And once again, Cat’s troubled past rises up
to destabilise the precarious life she has managed to carve out for herself. As she goes on the run, James Marwood finds himself caught up in the affair, as it appears Edward Alderley was on the fringes of a power struggle between the Duke of Buckingham and Lord Clarendon. His body is discovered in a well in Lord Clarendon’s grounds and immediately there is an arrest warrant out for Cat Lovett, who was known to hate her cousin – and with good reason.

As with most murder mysteries, this one can be read as a standalone. However, I strongly recommend that you read the previous books in this series, as you’ll better understand the main protagonists and their motivations if you do so. Taylor’s vivid writing successfully brings this turbulent period to life, such that I easily envisaged and smelt Restoration London and also enjoyed reading of Marwood’s journey to the fenlands of Norfolk on a special mission for His Majesty. Taylor is not only masterful at recreating the period, he is also extremely good at spinning a twisting plot where all sorts of events caught me unawares. I was particularly struck by the final twist, which has stayed with me – and made me mightily grateful not to have been born into that time.

If you enjoy your whodunits set in a vividly described historical backdrop, then this one comes very highly recommended – it’s every bit as good as C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series.
10/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 21st April, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – The Royal Secret – Book 5 of the Marwood and Lovett series – release date 29th April, 2021.

#historical adventure #Charles II’s reign #murder mystery

BLURB: Two young girls plot a murder by witchcraft. Soon afterwards a government clerk dies painfully in mysterious circumstances. His colleague James Marwood is asked to investigate – but the task brings unexpected dangers.

Meanwhile, architect Cat Hakesby is working for a merchant who lives on Slaughter Street, where the air smells of blood and a captive Barbary lion prowls the stables. Then a prestigious new commission arrives. Cat must design a Poultry House for the woman that the King loves most in all the world.

Unbeknownst to all, at the heart of this lies a royal secret so explosive that it could not only rip apart England but change the entire face of Europe…

I have been a fan of this series since the first riveting book, charting a gripping adventure set against the backdrop of the Great Fire of London in 1666. Each subsequent book as continued to impress me with the vividness with which Taylor evokes Stuart London and the twists and turns in James and Cat’s lives. See my reviews of Ashes of London, The Fire Court, and The Last Protector. I shall be featuring the third book in the series tomorrow, The King’s Evil, as I ended up reading them slightly out of sequence.

Tuesday Treasures – 33 #Brainfluffbookblog

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This week on Tuesday Treasures, some of the photos are from our beach walk on Sunday and some from the garden. As I didn’t have the energy to spend much time on a long walk, or an extended ramble around the garden, I didn’t get to take many pics. But the sun was shining and it was lovely to walk on the sands for the first time since February!