Category Archives: adventure

Review of NETGALLEY arc Becoming Crone – Book 1 of The Crone Wars by Lydia M. Hawke #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #BecomingCronebookreview

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Having reached a certain age, I’m always looking out for entertaining fantasy books with older protagonists – and this one caught my eye. Apart from the pretty cover, I also liked the sound of the blurb – would I enjoy the book as much as the premise?

BLURB: For Claire Emerson, there is nothing ordinary about turning sixty. First, there are the crows. Then, a pendant that unlocks a gate to a house in the woods–which comes with a snarky gargoyle, an entirely too-sexy wolf shifter claiming to be Claire’s protector, and a legacy that turns her reality upside down.

Because divorced, menopausal grandmothers with creaky hips and hot flashes? They don’t just randomly discover they’re next in a long line of powerful women protecting the world from the dark magick of Mages.

Claire’s first instinct is to turn tail and run back to the safety of baking cookies and reading bedtime stories. But when it becomes clear the Mages have targeted her, she may have no choice but to accept her calling. There’s just one problem: she never got the lifetime of training she was supposed to have, and her magick is… well, unreliable would be an understatement. With the Mages threatening everything she loves, can Claire learn what she needs to in time to become Crone? Or will she be the one to lose an ancient war—and her life?

REVIEW: I am always delighted to come across heroines of a certain age who feature in fantasy adventure stories, especially as I’ve now also reached that certain age. That said, I’m allergic to the trope whereby they suddenly have access to an elixir that helps them overcome creaking joints and smooths out the wrinkles. Or find themselves wielding a magic sword with the skill and ease of a thirty-something swordmaster. So my track record with this sub-genre is a tad patchy.

I’m delighted to report that Claire is none of the above. In fact, at the start of the book she is hosting her own sixtieth birthday party with nothing much to celebrate. Her ex-husband has left her for a much younger woman with whom he has started a second family, her son and daughter-in-law are increasingly treating her as an elderly nonentity and she feels as if she’s spent her life putting everyone else first with not much to show for it. The problem is – on the cusp of becoming properly old, she has no idea what she really wants for herself… This could have been a really dismal opening, but for Claire’s wry humour which I found very appealing. The story starts quite slowly, something I didn’t mind as it gave me plenty of opportunity to bond with Claire. This is important, as she narrates the tale in first-person viewpoint.

However, once the action does start rolling it quickly picks up speed. I liked the fact that her transition from the normal everyday to the fantastic isn’t smooth or easy. Her attempts at magick are either non-existent or overwhelming to the point of catastrophic and she’s hopeless in any physical fight. Although she does have a gorgeous werewolf protector and a gargoyle assigned to train her. Hawke writes action vividly with some nicely original touches – I’ll never look at a garden gnome in the same way again – and while the shafts of humour continue, there is also loss and heartbreak.

Claire’s journey throughout the book is well handled, so that I believed in the character throughout. I’m keen to continue reading this series to discover what happens next. And the bonus is that the next two books are already available, so I won’t have to wait to tuck into A Gathering of Crones. Highly recommended for urban fantasy fans who enjoy older protagonists. While I obtained an arc of Becoming Crone from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Review of KINDLE arc Sol 2781 – Book 4 of the Drago Tell Dramis series by Janet Edwards #BrainfluffKINDLEbookreview #Sol2781bookreview

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My all-time favourite genre when it’s done well is science fiction – not that you’d know it if you’ve been reading my book reviews during the last two years. And that’s because I’ve been going through a really tough time – and a lot of sci fi is on the grim side. Not so the books of Janet Edwards, so I was delighted when she asked me if I would like a review copy of the latest offering in her enjoyable Drago Tell Dramis series. I’m a solid fan of her writing, see my reviews of of Earth Girl, Earth Star, Earth Flight, Earth and Air, Frontier and her short story collection Earth Prime which are all books set in her Earth Girl series, as well as Telepath, Defender, Hurricane and Borderline in the Hive Mind series, and Scavenger Alliance and Scavenger Blood in the Scavenger Exodus series, which is a spinoff prequel series set in the Earth Girl world. This series featuring disaster magnet Draco Tell Dramis is also set before the Earth Girl books in the same world – but only a few years before we get to meet young Jarra. This series featuring disaster magnet Draco Tell Dramis is also set before the Earth Girl books in the same world – but only a few years before we get to meet young Jarra. I’ve also reviewed Hestia 2781 and Array 2781 in this series, as well as the short story ‘Hera 2781‘, which kicks everything off.

BLURB: Major Drago Tell Dramis is celebrating the fact that the saboteur has been caught, and the Earth solar arrays will be safe now. The arrest of a member of the main board of Hospital Earth has consequences though. As Drago hits orbital levels of fury, and declares his own personal war against Hospital Earth, he’s hit by even more unexpected problems.

There’s a joke that says one birth member of the Tell clan attracts trouble, two birth members of the Tell clan invite minor disasters, while three is the critical mass that triggers cataclysmic events. As the danger mounts, the question is whether Drago and his two cousins, Jaxon and Gemelle, can prove an alternative theory. Are three members of the Tell clan really the critical mass that resolves cataclysmic events?

REVIEW: Firstly, if you encounter this book without having read any of the other offerings in the Drago Tell Dramis series – my firm advice would be to track down the first book, which is a novelette. ‘Hera 2781’ gives you an ideal opportunity to work out whether you’ll enjoy Edwards’ writing style and the storyline without having to invest a huge amount of time and money.

As for me – I’ll happily hoover up anything she writes. There is an energy and positivity in Edwards’ writing that I always thoroughly enjoy and is well matched with the young protagonists she portrays. That doesn’t mean they have an easy time of it – far from it. Drago Tell Dramis might come from a high-profile family, with the good looks and advantageous connections that goes with such a background – but Edwards also gives us a clear insight into some of the major snags of being instantly recognisable wherever he goes. Sometimes the consequent scrapes are dangerous, while at other times they are simply hilarious – so long as your name isn’t Drago… It doesn’t help that Drago is also a first-class disaster magnet, particularly when paired up with his cousin, Jaxon. Though Jaxon has problems of his own, given that he is battling with a terrible decision he made years ago, when he was too young to realise the consequences.

The premise could so easily have turned this book into a dark exploration of two conflicted, doom-ridden heroes. In Edwards’ hands, however, there is an optimistic vibe to the writing that gives the story an energy that impels me to keep turning the pages. And though there are tough times and even heartbreak – I always finish one of Edwards’ books feeling uplifted and more cheerful. This time around was no exception, apart from the sense of loss when you get to the end of a series featuring an engaging and enjoyable protagonist. Highly recommended for sci fi fans who appreciate regular dollops of humour alongside their futuristic action.
9/10

SUNDAY POST – 25th September, 2022 #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 they’ve read and share what they have got up to during the last week.

A great deal seems to have happened since I last took part in the Sunday Post. The boys have both started back at school and college respectively. And both have gone down with a nasty viral illness, which saw Oscar unable to resume school last week after the late Queen’s funeral. It definitely wasn’t covid, but was nevertheless very unpleasant. My sister, who works in a pharmacy, says it’s one of the latest infections zapping our rather flappy immune systems. In addition, Ethan needed a course of antibiotics for a nasty cough which he picked up during the summer and hadn’t managed to shift. I hate it when the children aren’t well, so I also found it quite stressful. Thankfully both are recovering – though Ethan still hasn’t shifted the cough as much as I would like.

And of course we had the death of Queen Elizabeth II, which was a terrible shock. If I had been physically stronger, I’d have travelled to London and joined the queues to attend the lying-in state, as Himself and I had attended the Queen Mother’s and it was a wonderful, uplifting experience. My sister joined me on Monday and we watched the funeral together, both weeping at times for the end of an era and the loss of a wonderful leader full of goodness and integrity, who had prevented me from getting too jaded and cynical about those In Charge. It will seem very strange when new stamps, coins and currency start to appear without Queen Elizabeth’s head on them.

Other than that, I keep taking each day as it comes and while I’m often very tired by the end of the day as I’m still horribly unfit – it isn’t the bone-aching, mind-sapping exhaustion that was a feature of the Long Covid I’d endured. If I get to the end of the month without suffering any kind of relapse, I will be applying to our local leisure centre for the offered 12 free sessions for those who have suffered from Long Covid. So fingers crossed!

Last week I read:-

Sol 2781 – Book 4 of the Drago Tell Dramis series by Janet Edwards
Major Drago Tell Dramis is celebrating the fact that the saboteur has been caught, and the Earth solar arrays will be safe now. The arrest of a member of the main board of Hospital Earth has consequences though. As Drago hits orbital levels of fury, and declares his own personal war against Hospital Earth, he’s hit by even more unexpected problems.

There’s a joke that says one birth member of the Tell clan attracts trouble, two birth members of the Tell clan invite minor disasters, while three is the critical mass that triggers cataclysmic events. As the danger mounts, the question is whether Drago and his two cousins, Jaxon and Gemelle, can prove an alternative theory. Are three members of the Tell clan really the critical mass that resolves cataclysmic events?
I always enjoy Janet Edwards writing – and this one is no exception. She has the knack of writing eventful, vivid and well-depicted space opera adventures with an upbeat vibe, even when her protagonists are going through a really tough time. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK – False Value – Book 8 of the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch
Peter Grant is facing fatherhood, and an uncertain future, with equal amounts of panic and enthusiasm. Rather than sit around, he takes a job with émigré Silicon Valley tech genius Terrence Skinner’s brand new London start up – the Serious Cybernetics Company.
Drawn into the orbit of Old Street’s famous ‘silicon roundabout’, Peter must learn how to blend in with people who are both civilians and geekier than he is. Compared to his last job, Peter thinks it should be a doddle. But magic is not finished with Mama Grant’s favourite son.

Because Terrence Skinner has a secret hidden in the bowels of the SCC. A technology that stretches back to Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, and forward to the future of artificial intelligence. A secret that is just as magical as it technological – and just as dangerous.
This book takes us into different territory, as Peter has struck out into pastures new and is now working as Security in a high-profile tech firm. I loved his wry depiction of modern working practices, along with yet another well-plotted adventure mystery. I also enjoyed the tenderness portrayed in the relationship between heavily pregnant Beverley and Peter. 9/10

Making It Write – Book 3 of A Writer For Hire Mystery Series by Betty Hechtman
As a writer for hire, Veronica Blackstone puts her keyboard to use to help others. That includes writing advertising copy for local businesses or love letters for those with romantic troubles, or helping people publish their memoirs. Maeve Winslow needs the latter.

Maeve is the wife of a famous artist nominated for a prestigious award, and the memoir is to be released ahead of the ceremony. All of Maeve’s notes are given to Veronica but for the final few pages. There’s a huge surprise within those last pages, but Maeve won’t reveal it yet.

When Maeve is found dead at the foot of her stairs it looks like an accident, but Veronica isn’t convinced. Was the scene staged? Was Maeve murdered to keep her silent? Could clues to the surprise, and the identity of the murderer, be hidden within the notes? It’s up to Veronica to figure it out and write the real story.
This was the first time I’d had the pleasure of reading a book in this cosy murder mystery series – but I certainly hope it won’t be the last. I grew to really like Veronica and enjoyed the growing sense of wrongness about Maeve’s death. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK – Deceiver – Book 11 (Sequence 4, Book 2) of the Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh
The civil war among the alien Atevi has ended. Tabini-aiji, powerful ruler of the Western Association, along with Cajeiri, his son and heir, has returned to the Bujavid, his seat of power. But factions that remain loyal to the opposition are still present, and the danger these rebels pose is far from over.

I am loving listening to this highly detailed and tension-filled adventure set on an alien planet, where humanity is in the minority and Bren Cameron, as the sole human representative living among the Atevi, gets sucked into their turbulent politics. 9/10

The Firstborn by Quenby Olson
Sophia has sacrificed everything for her younger sister, Lucy. She has removed them from the only home they ever knew, taken on the care of Lucy’s illegitimate son, George, and even assumed the role of a widow and mother in order to erase all hint of scandal from the boy’s birth. But rumor continues to follow them like the darkest of clouds, and Sophia must adapt to her new existence as a false widow with no prospects beyond the doors of her small cottage.

Lord Finnian Haughton will stop at nothing to prevent the slightest hint of scandal from tainting his family’s name. When he learns of his younger brother’s latest indiscretion-one that leaves a bastard child in his wake-Haughton rushes across the country to offer the boy’s mother a comfortable living in exchange for her silence about the child’s true parentage. But he arrives only to have his generous offer thrown back in his face by Sophia Brixton, a sharp-tongued and sharper-witted woman who proceeds to toss him out of her house. But just because he is banished from her home does not mean he is so easily banished from her life.
I have thoroughly enjoyed Olson’s historical fantasy stories. Indeed, her gripping book about a woman with a talent she’d rather not have, The Half Killed, is one of my standout of reads of the year so far. This enjoyable Regency romance may not have the heft and physicality of that offering, but nevertheless is highly enjoyable. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK – Death Among the Diamonds – Book 1 of the Cressida Fawcett Mystery series by Fliss Chester
Everyone in 1920s London knows the Honourable Cressida Fawcett: fiercely independent (though never apart from her little pug Ruby), lover of martinis and interior designer extraordinaire. She’s solved many crimes of fashion… so how about murder?

Cressida Fawcett is heading to the English countryside for a weekend of cocktails and partying at her friend’s glamorous mansion, the location of a recent diamond heist. But just hours after her arrival, Cressida is woken by an almighty scream. Rushing to the landing, she looks down into the great hall to find a trembling maid standing next to the body of Harry, the friendly young chandelier cleaner.

Everyone believes Harry’s death was an accident. But as Cressida examines the opulent hall and the beautiful grounds, she thinks something darker is afoot. Why clean a chandelier in the early hours of the morning? And who overheard Harry boasting about coming into unexpected wealth? A small piece of torn silk found near the body has Cressida looking at the guests’ elegant clothes with fresh eyes…
I was delighted to get hold of a Netgalley audiobook arc for this entertaining whodunit and was thoroughly looking forward to tucking into this offering. Initially I was a tad disappointed, as I had realised exactly where the diamonds had been hidden – until it turned out they hadn’t… Cressida is suitably headstrong and plucky, while ably assisted by her endearing little dog, Ruby. A thoroughly enjoyable listen! Review to follow.

My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring The Immortality Thief – Book 1 of The Kystrom Chronicles by Taran Hunt

Review of NETGALLEY arc Making It Write – Book 3 of A Writer For Hire Mystery series by Betty Hechtman

Wishing you all a happy, health week😊.

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 21st September, 2022 #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 Immortality Thief – Book 1 of The Kystrom Chronicles by Taran Hunt – release date – 11th October, 2022

#science fiction #space opera #thriller

BLURB: Refugee, criminal and linguist Sean Wren is made an offer he knows he can’t refuse: life in prison, “voluntary” military service – or salvaging data in a long-dead language from an abandoned ship filled with traps and monsters, just days before it’s destroyed in a supernova. Data connected to the Philosopher’s Stone experiments, into unlocking the secrets of immortality.

And he’s not the only one looking for the derelict ship. The Ministers, mysterious undying aliens that have ruled over humanity for centuries, want the data – as does The Republic, humanity’s last free government. And time is running out.

In the bowels of the derelict ship, surrounded by horrors and dead men, Sean slowly uncovers the truth of what happened on the ship, in its final days… and the terrible secret it’s hiding.

It was the title that caught my eye – and then the premise. While I find it difficult to cope with creepy stuff here on Earth – once it’s safely out in space, I find it thoroughly enjoyable. Particularly as the extremely hostile conditions of deep space always make it much harder to simply run awaaay – which is often what I’m urging protagonists who insist on visiting deserted houses with dubious histories… isolated wilderness spots with dodgy characters… or simply getting out of bed to confront the strange noises in the night – who does that??? Anyway, back to this offering – it sounds like there are all sorts of nasties lingering in the shadows and I’m looking forward to tucking into it😊.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna #BrainfluffNETGALLEYAUDIOBOOKreview #TheVerySecretSocietyofIrregularWitchesbookreview

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I have read quite a few fantasy book featuring witches recently in my quest for enjoyable, escapist reads. So I was delighted to see this offering featured and even more chuffed when I was approved for an audio arc.

BLURB: As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon knows she has to hide her magic, keep her head down, and stay away from other witches so their powers don’t mingle and draw attention. And as an orphan who lost her parents at a young age and was raised by strangers, she’s used to being alone and she follows the rules…with one exception: an online account, where she posts videos pretending to be a witch. She thinks no one will take it seriously.

But someone does. An unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches how to control their magic. It breaks all of the rules, but Mika goes anyway, and is immediately tangled up in the lives and secrets of not only her three charges, but also an absent archaeologist, a retired actor, two long-suffering caretakers, and…Jamie. The handsome and prickly librarian of Nowhere House would do anything to protect the children, and as far as he’s concerned, a stranger like Mika is a threat. An irritatingly appealing threat. As Mika begins to find her place at Nowhere House, the thought of belonging somewhere begins to feel like a real possibility. But magic isn’t the only danger in the world, and when a threat comes knocking at their door, Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect a found family she didn’t know she was looking for…

REVIEW: It always helps if the narrator is good – and Samara MacLaren’s voice and reading style has become a solid favourite. So it was a bonus to discover her dulcet tones when I first tucked into this enjoyable offering.

Mika is a delightful protagonist. She’s had a tough time as a child. Due to a spell that went wrong several hundred years ago, all witches are orphaned early in their lives so are brought up by guardians instead of their parents. After the horrendous witch burnings of the 16th century, the community of witches scattered and now they only meet up very occasionally. For magic tends to gather around witches, making it easier for them to be discovered. So it’s deemed safer by formidable leaders like Primrose for witches to stay away from each other, making life lonely for adult witches who wish to continue to practise their magic. It would have been all too easy for Mika to have been portrayed as a classically tragic heroine – so I was very pleased to find her resolutely sunny-natured in all but the toughest situations.

Her three charges are funny without being too cute, unrealistically awful or revoltingly good – which is harder to achieve than Mandanna makes it look. There is also a rather sweet love story that unfolds in the middle of all the magical shenanigans, which I also enjoyed. However – there is a warning. The F-word is liberally sprinkled throughout, which didn’t really fit with the overall feel of the story. I certainly didn’t appreciate its use in front of the children, for instance. Apart from that one niggle, this is an enjoyable, often humorous and ultimately uplifting fantasy adventure with a dollop of romance with one steamy scene I fast-forwarded through. While I obtained an arc of The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Book Eaters By Sunyi Dean #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheBookEatersbookreview

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Being a huge fan of books, a story about a mysterious race being able to actually eat them seemed an intriguing premise, so I was delighted to be approved to read this one.

BLURB: Out on the Yorkshire Moors lives a secret line of people for whom books are food, and who retain all of a book’s content after eating it. To them, spy novels are a peppery snack; romance novels are sweet and delicious. Eating a map can help them remember destinations, and children, when they misbehave, are forced to eat dry, musty pages from dictionaries.

Devon is part of The Family, an old and reclusive clan of book eaters. Her brothers grow up feasting on stories of valor and adventure, and Devon—like all other book eater women—is raised on a carefully curated diet of fairytales and cautionary stories. But real life doesn’t always come with happy endings, as Devon learns when her son is born with a rare and darker kind of hunger—not for books, but for human minds.

REVIEW: I enjoyed the prospect of reading a book about beings who snacked on books to become their own walking libraries – though the premise that Dean presents is less cosy than the one I envisaged. Essentially, these are vampiric creatures whose superior strength and speed make them formidable opponents. And while they do absorb the knowledge of the books they read, there isn’t a sense that they put it to particularly good use. Indeed, they are portrayed as a dying breed desperately trying to avoid extinction as the handful of surviving Families farm out their rare daughters in arranged marriages to try to ensure the next generation. As for the girls, they are force-fed a diet of fairy tales featuring princesses waiting for their princes in an attempt to make them compliant about their fate.

However, Devon has never been the compliant sort – and when she produces a son with undesirable traits, she refuses to allow the patriarch to tidy him away according to the custom. She is an engaging protagonist – headstrong, courageous and passionate in her loyalty and love. It was refreshing to come across a book where the love story is all about the maternal bond – even if that takes Devon into some very dark places. I am always fascinated by the dynamic of power – who has it, the lengths they go to in order to keep hold of it, and who also craves it. So it was a huge treat for me that one of the major themes of this book is an exploration of power.

This dystopian fantasy proved to be a gripping read, full of tension and drama. But do be warned – it does tip into horror and there is an upsetting scene where a baby is harmed. While it was difficult to read in places, I liked Dean’s unflinching refusal to ever tip into sentimentality regarding the relationship between Devon and her young son, Cai. Highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The Book Eaters from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID – 23

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

This is something of a momentous post. I’ve taken the decision that this will be the final Sunday Post where I’ll be focusing on the Long Covid that I’ve been dealing with since I got sick with Covid-19, back on 6th March 2021. That’s not to say I’m fully recovered. Yesterday, I needed to take it really easy as I suddenly ran out of energy the previous evening. But while I must always take into consideration how I’m feeling – the constant exhaustion that once blanketed me and turned me into a bedridden invalid is no longer defining my life and every single action I take. I will be writing another post, where I’ll sum up my experience with Long Covid and include the things that helped and those that didn’t. But unless I have a catastrophic relapse (fingers crossed that doesn’t happen!!) my regular account of my struggles with the ‘weird beast’, as my doctor calls it, are now ending. I want to thank everyone here. Many of you have been so supportive with encouraging words, while some have even been praying for me. Not being able to leave the house for months meant that all my interactions were online – and your kind comments and the knowledge that you were there and cared at a time when I didn’t know if I’d ever get better often gave me a burst of positivity and courage when I most needed it. Thank you, all of you, for being here and letting me know that you were thinking of me. Book people are the best😊.

We are now busy getting ready for school, as Oscar goes back tomorrow. He’s not looking forward to it, but I’m hoping that once he gets back into the swing of the daily routine, he will find it’s not quite as bad as he thinks. Ethan finished his summer job yesterday and resumes college next week. We are thrilled that he got a Distinction for his final first year project, which is such an achievement given his severe dyslexia.

I’m not quite sure where the summer went – I’m sure that when I was a girl, six weeks lasted a lot longer. Given the shoddy quality of politicians these days, I wouldn’t be surprised if the scallywags in the Government have gone and devalued the length of days behind our backs. It seems the sort of shifty nonsense they’d get up to. While the weather is now pleasantly cooler, we are still seeing plenty of sunshine, with temperatures in the high 60s and low 70s during the day. I just wish we were getting more rain – which is something I never thought I’d say…

Last week I read:-

AUDIOBOOK – Her Majesty’s Royal Coven – Book 1 of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven series by Juno Dawson, narrated by Nicola Coughlan
If you look hard enough at old photographs, we’re there in the background: healers in the trenches; Suffragettes; Bletchley Park oracles; land girls and resistance fighters. Why is it we help in times of crisis? We have a gift. We are stronger than Mundanes, plain and simple.

At the dawn of their adolescence, on the eve of the summer solstice, four young girls–Helena, Leonie, Niamh and Elle–took the oath to join Her Majesty’s Royal Coven, established by Queen Elizabeth I as a covert government department. Now, decades later, the witch community is still reeling from a civil war and Helena is now the reigning High Priestess of the organization. Yet Helena is the only one of her friend group still enmeshed in the stale bureaucracy of HMRC. Elle is trying to pretend she’s a normal housewife, and Niamh has become a country vet, using her powers to heal sick animals. In what Helena perceives as the deepest betrayal, Leonie has defected to start her own more inclusive and intersectional coven, Diaspora. And now Helena has a bigger problem. A young warlock of extraordinary capabilities has been captured by authorities and seems to threaten the very existence of HMRC. With conflicting beliefs over the best course of action, the four friends must decide where their loyalties lie: with preserving tradition, or doing what is right.
This has been one of the reading highlights of the summer. I’ve been suffering from a real book hangover since I finished listening to this one. The cracking story with plenty of drama and magic, alongside relevant contemporary issues has left me yearning for the next one in the series. Very highly recommended. 10/10

Witchy Reservations: A Paranormal Cozy Mystery – Book 1 of the Mystic Inn Mystery series by Stephanie Damore
There’s nothing practical about magic—which is why I ditched my wand years ago.

Thirteen years, to be exact. The day I left Silverlake.

Except now, a family emergency has called me back home, and quite frankly, I’d rather be anywhere but here. But when my aunt raises her wand to cure a friend and he ends up dead, it becomes abundantly clear I’m not leaving anytime soon.
This cosy murder mystery is escapist fun with plenty of twists and suspects along the way. I liked the engaging protagonist, whose first-person narrative makes the story go with a swing. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK – The Accidental Alchemist – Book 1 of The Accidental Alchemist series by Gigi Pandian, narrated by Julia Motyka
Unpacking her belongings in her new hometown of Portland, Oregon, herbalist and reformed alchemist Zoe Faust can’t help but notice she’s picked up a stowaway. Dorian Robert-Houdin is a living, breathing three-and-half-foot gargoyle – not to mention a master of French cuisine – and he needs Zoe’s expertise to decipher a centuries-old text. Zoe, who’s trying to put her old life behind her, isn’t so sure she wants to reopen her alchemical past… until the dead man on her porch leaves her no choice.

Includes recipes!
This is huge fun. And I loved the fact that the very scrummy-sounding recipes are all vegan😊. Apart from the food, other enjoyable ingredients are a quirky gargoyle, nicely snarky teenagers and a sympathetic protagonist with a long, sad past, who is desperate to escape official notice. I really cared for the characters and enjoyed listening to this one, as Portlanders begin to succumb to mysterious poisoning. 8/10

The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean
Out on the Yorkshire Moors lives a secret line of people for whom books are food, and who retain all of a book’s content after eating it. To them, spy novels are a peppery snack; romance novels are sweet and delicious. Eating a map can help them remember destinations, and children, when they misbehave, are forced to eat dry, musty pages from dictionaries.

Devon is part of The Family, an old and reclusive clan of book eaters. Her brothers grow up feasting on stories of valor and adventure, and Devon—like all other book eater women—is raised on a carefully curated diet of fairytales and cautionary stories.

But real life doesn’t always come with happy endings, as Devon learns when her son is born with a rare and darker kind of hunger—not for books, but for human minds.
This is another reading highlight – I really have had a wonderful reading week. This dark fantasy packs a punch – it grabbed me by the collar and wouldn’t let go. I’ve seen comparisons with The Handmaid’s Tale and while I don’t agree, as there are far too many significant differences, I can see why some readers went there. Review to follow.

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m beginning to be able to visit more sites, although it all depends on whether I’ve enough energy – so I appreciate your patience if you’ve dropped by and I haven’t immediately responded. Take care and have a lovely week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheMonstersWeDefybookreview

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It was the cover of this offering that caught my eye – it’s just so very attractive. But then I read the blurb and knew I wanted to read it. I’m a sucker for the 1920s era – and I loved the spiritualist element of this fantasy heist adventure.

BLURB: Washington D. C., 1925

Clara Johnson talks to spirits, a gift that saved her during her darkest moments in a Washington D. C. jail. Now a curse that’s left her indebted to the cunning spirit world. So, when the Empress, the powerful spirit who holds her debt, offers her an opportunity to gain her freedom, a desperate Clara seizes the chance. The task: steal a magical ring from the wealthiest woman in the District.

Clara can’t pull off this daring heist alone. She’ll need help from an unlikely team, from a jazz musician capable of hypnotizing with a melody to an aging vaudeville actor who can change his face, to pull off the impossible. But as they encounter increasingly difficult obstacles, a dangerous spirit interferes at every turn. Conflict in the spirit world is leaking into the human one and along D.C’.s legendary Black Broadway, a mystery unfolds—one that not only has repercussions for Clara but all of the city’s residents.

REVIEW: This is a cracking read. I thoroughly enjoyed Clara’s spiky character. She is short-fused and in the habit of pushing away people, though that doesn’t stop her from helping those who seek her out. Given her gift, she could so easily have been portrayed as a noble, self-sacrificing heroine, brimful of the desire to help her fellows. While that is what she does – because she is so crotchety about it, I found her far more appealing. Especially when those around her make it their business to break through the façade she has erected – and we are shown just how vulnerable she actually is.

As well as Clara being a thoroughly sympathetic protagonist, the pacing was pretty much perfect. In any historical adventure, there is always a balance between giving the reader sufficient period details to make the background believable and ensuring the narrative moves along at a reasonable clip. Penelope nailed it, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve read several books recently featuring a POC protagonist and this was right up there with the best in portraying the casual and unthinking racism that was rife at that time. Indeed, it is part of the ongoing difficulty stacking up against Clara and her associates that a black person finds it hazardous to try and travel to certain parts of the city. Not only does this aid the narrative in upping the stakes – it is a visceral reminder of the extra burden the black community were coping with in their daily lives just because of the colour of their skin. I’d love to think such attitudes were consigned to history – but sadly, daily racist crime shows this isn’t the case, so reading entertaining, well-written fiction that highlights the issue can only help.

The spirit world was also well portrayed. There is a real sense of menace around those who want agency within the mortal world in order to steal human destinies. I liked the way Penelope gradually revealed the enormity of the threat, making this one of those reads that was very difficult to put down. All in all, this was a thoroughly engrossing tale that had me reading far later than I should. Highly recommended for those who like their fantasy within a compelling historical setting. While I obtained an arc of The Monsters We Defy from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 31st August, 2022 #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 – Unraveller by Frances Hardinge – release date – 1st September, 2022 – (tomorrow, in fact…)

#YA #fantasy

BLURB: In a world where anyone can cast a life-destroying curse, only one person has the power to unravel them.
Kellen does not fully understand his unique gift, but helps those who are cursed, like his friend Nettle who was trapped in the body of a bird for years. She is now Kellen’s constant companion and his closest ally.
But the Unraveller carries a curse himself and, unless he and Nettle can remove it, Kellen is a danger to everything—and everyone—around him….
Just look at this fabulous cover! Hardinge’s covers are always fabulous – and after reading the wonderful Deeplight, which for some reason was aimed at children, I am really looking forward to getting to this one. Right now, I’m a tad behind with my Netgalley reads – but if you’re keen to get hold of a quality fantasy adventure featuring interesting young protagonists, then this offering is available tomorrow.

Review of NETGALLEY AUDIO arc A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting by Sophie Irwin #BrainfluffNETGALLEYaudiobookreview #ALadysGuidetoFortune-Huntingbookreview

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I have read a number of Regency romances over the last seventeen months in a strong desire for enjoyable escapism, so when I saw this one on Netgalley I immediately requested it and was delighted to be approved.

BLURB: Kitty Talbot needs a fortune. Or rather, she needs a husband who has a fortune. Left with her father’s massive debts, she has only twelve weeks to save her family from ruin. Kitty has never been one to back down from a challenge, so she leaves home and heads toward the most dangerous battleground in all of England: the London season.

Kitty may be neither accomplished nor especially genteel—but she is utterly single-minded; imbued with cunning and ingenuity, she knows that risk is just part of the game. The only thing she doesn’t anticipate is Lord Radcliffe. The worldly Radcliffe sees Kitty for the mercenary fortune-hunter that she really is and is determined to scotch her plans at all costs, until their parrying takes a completely different turn…

REVIEW: This is huge fun. I immediately bonded with dear Kitty, whose parents recently died leaving her and her four sisters with a mountain of debt that will shortly see them homeless, if she can’t very quickly find a rich husband. I’ve read a number of Regency romances over the years – and what made this one stand out from the crowd is Kitty’s unabashed approach to the whole business. She is under no illusion that she needs to make a match with a wealthy man and resorts to all sorts of ploys to ensure she gets introduced to prospective husbands, ranging from dropping her kerchief, shedding a shoe and feigning an injury right through to the tried and tested tactic of fainting at his feet. Indeed, had Kitty been written into a Jane Austen romance, she would have been described with lip-curling disapproval and thoroughly cut down to size by a series of Austenesque humorous comments on her clothes and pushy manners. But she’s desperate. Determined not to see her family on the streets, Kitty will go to almost any lengths to ensure their future is secure – even if it is at the expense of her own future happiness.

I really enjoyed the tension and increased stakes swinging on the end of this entertaining romance. After all, this dynamic is always there in Austen’s work, too – think of Charlotte Lucas and her explanation to Lizzie when she accepts Mr Collins’ proposal in Pride and Prejudice. But I’ve not seen it stated quite so baldly before and I think Irwin makes it work really effectively. It doesn’t hurt that Eleanor Tomlinson’s narration is excellent.

Indeed, I would have given this one a 10, if it hadn’t been for a couple of anomalies – one in particular irritated me. Apparently, although she is literate and educated, Irwin represents Kitty as not being acquainted with the Bible – and given the historical era in which this is set, that’s nonsense. While her parents were clearly unorthodox, they had settled in a country district and were regarded as respectable by the local gentry, which means they must have regularly attended the local church along with their family. The other slip I noticed was a mention of Kitty packing her suitcase – an item which didn’t appear until the later stages of the 19th century. Other than those mistakes, I thoroughly enjoyed the story and it comes highly recommended for those who enjoy Regency romances featuring a strong-minded, feisty heroine. While I obtained the audiobook arc of A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10