Category Archives: alien encounter

The Mid-Year Freak Out Book Tag #Brainfluffbookreview #TheMidYearFreakOutBookTag

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I’ve recently thoroughly enjoyed reading this book tag on a number of sites – but the first one was Maddalena, at Space and Sorcery, one of my favourite book bloggers on account of the steady stream of thoughtful, quality reviews that she produces. So I decided to also join in the fun…

Best Book You’ve Read So Far This Year
Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear
Haimey Dz thinks she knows what she wants. She thinks she knows who she is. She is wrong. A routine salvage mission uncovers evidence of a terrible crime and relics of powerful ancient technology. Haimey and her small crew run afoul of pirates at the outer limits of the Milky Way, and find themselves on the run and in possession of universe-changing information.

When authorities prove corrupt, Haimey realizes that she is the only one who can protect her galaxy-spanning civilization from the implications of this ancient technology—and the revolutionaries who want to use it for terror and war. Her quest will take her careening from the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s core to the infinite, empty spaces at its edge.

I found this layered, character-led exploration of a future human, who relies on technology not available to us in order to keep functional, absolutely riveting.

Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far This Year
Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
Telepathy, along with sundry other odd abilities, have landed Stella more than once, in situations at best controversial, at worst life-threatening. But she’s always known; you have to fight your own corner as best you can, no point beating yourself up about it.

Now though, times have changed, different priorities. She’s married, with a baby on the way and a flourishing business. She simply has to deal with a couple of worrying issues and then all should be smooth sailing. But, isn’t it a fact; just when you think you’ve got all your ducks in a row, life can turn right around and bite you on the bottom?

This series is an absolute gem. I love the quirky, humorous tone coupled with the often dark, twisty plot. It should be grim and angsty, but it isn’t. Messik is a wonderful writer and definitely my discovery of the year so far…

New Release You Haven’t Read Yet But Want To
Unconquerable Sun – Book 1 of The Sun Chronicles by Kate Elliott
GENDER-SWAPPED ALEXANDER THE GREAT ON AN INTERSTELLAR SCALE
Princess Sun has finally come of age. Growing up in the shadow of her mother, Eirene, has been no easy task. The legendary queen-marshal did what everyone thought impossible: expel the invaders and build Chaonia into a magnificent republic, one to be respected—and feared.

But the cutthroat ambassador corps and conniving noble houses have never ceased to scheme—and they have plans that need Sun to be removed as heir, or better yet, dead. To survive, the princess must rely on her wits and companions: her biggest rival, her secret lover, and a dangerous prisoner of war.

A retelling of Alexander the Great set in space with a princess as the protagonist – with the great Kate Elliott telling the story… It makes me go weak with longing just thinking about it.

Most Anticipated Release For the Second Half of the Year
A Deadly Education – Book 1 of the Scholomance series by Naomi Novik
A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets. There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere. El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.
I love a great school story and have read one book from another
cracking series this year – so am really looking forward to tucking into this one.

Biggest Disappointment
Q by Christina Dalcher
Every child’s potential is regularly determined by a standardized measurement: their quotient (Q). Score high enough, and attend a top tier school with a golden future. Score too low, and it’s off to a federal boarding school with limited prospects afterwards. The purpose? An improved society where education costs drop, teachers focus on the more promising students, and parents are happy.

Elena Fairchild is a teacher at one of the state’s elite schools. When her nine-year-old daughter bombs a monthly test and her Q score drops to a disastrously low level, she is immediately forced to leave her top school for a federal institution hundreds of miles away. As a teacher, Elena thought she understood the tiered educational system, but as a mother whose child is now gone, Elena’s perspective is changed forever. She just wants her daughter back.

Elena has to be the nastiest protagonist I’ve encountered this year. I kept reading, because I was convinced that at some stage she was going to redeem herself. She didn’t. Check out my review.

Biggest Surprise
You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce
Cassandra Tipp is dead…or is she? After all, the notorious recluse and eccentric bestselling novelist has always been prone to flights of fancy–everyone in town remembers the shocking events leading up to Cassie’s infamous trial (she may have been acquitted, but the insanity defense only stretches so far).
Cassandra Tipp has left behind no body–just her massive fortune, and one final manuscript.

Then again, there are enough bodies in her past–her husband Tommy Tipp, whose mysterious disembowelment has never been solved, and a few years later, the shocking murder-suicide of her father and brother.

This unsettling tale is both horrific and beautiful and has lodged in my memory since I read it early in the year. Fabulous debut novel that makes this author One To Watch. Here is my review.

Favourite New Author
Marilyn Messik
I just wish she would write faster… I suffered terrible book hangover pangs after completing the Strange series! This is my review of Relatively Strange.

Newest Fictional Crush
Hm. Don’t really like the term crush – I’m a very happily married woman. But I rather fell in love with Trouble Dog from Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell. This sentient ship doesn’t know when to quit…

Newest Favourite Character
Stella from the Strange series by Marilyn Messik. Yes, I know it seems that I’ve only read a handful of books this first half of 2020, given the fact that Messik’s books keep surfacing in this roundup, but I was obsessed by Stella – even dreamt about her… That doesn’t happen all that often, these days.

Book That Made You Cry
The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel
England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.

Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?

This was a heartbreaking ending to Cromwell’s long journey from being a brutal, brutalised teenager on the way to becoming part of his father’s criminal gang, to being the most powerful man in England, next to the King. The King who finally killed him… I wept while listening to Cromwell’s death, which was beautifully done.

Book That Made You Happy
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

A book of hope for uncertain times.
Enter the world of Charlie’s four unlikely friends, discover their story and their most important life lessons.

The conversations of the boy, the mole, the fox and the horse have been shared thousands of times online, recreated in school art classes, hung on hospital walls and turned into tattoos. In Charlie’s first book, you will find his most-loved illustrations and some new ones too.

A fabulous, uplifting book that appears to be very simple, but is so much more. It’s by my side at my computer where I work in these difficult times.

Favourite Book to Film adaptation
Sanditon by Jane Austen
Loved this one – and then got to the end… and – oh my word! THAT was a shock…

Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought This Year
Underland by Robert MacFarlane
In this highly anticipated sequel to his international bestseller The Old Ways, Macfarlane takes us on an extraordinary journey into our relationship with darkness, burial, and what lies beneath the surface of both place and mind. Traveling through “deep time”—the dizzying expanses of geologic time that stretch away from the present—he moves from the birth of the universe to a post-human future, from the prehistoric art of Norwegian sea caves to the blue depths of the Greenland ice cap, from Bronze Age funeral chambers to the catacomb labyrinth below Paris, and from the underground fungal networks through which trees communicate to a deep-sunk “hiding place” where nuclear waste will be stored for 100,000 years to come. Woven through Macfarlane’s own travels are the unforgettable stories of descents into the underland made across history by explorers, artists, cavers, divers, mourners, dreamers, and murderers, all of whom have been drawn for different reasons to seek what Cormac McCarthy calls “the awful darkness within the world.”
This was a present from my lovely sister-in-law. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of tucking into this one – but I fully intend to by the end of the year. That cover is to die for – and the writing is gorgeous. Have you read it?

What Book Do You Need To Read by the End of the Year?
As many as I can – so that I can be thrilled by favourite authors, who go on delivering the goods, and delighted by talented writers I haven’t previously had the pleasure of reading…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The House on Widow’s Hill – Book 9 of the Ishmael Jones mysteries by Simon R. Green #BrainfluffNetgalleybookreview #TheHouseonWidowsHillbookreview

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Anyone who has followed my blog will know that this series is a solid favourite – see my reviews of The Dark Side of the Road, Till Sudden Death Do Us Part, Murder in the Dark, Into the Thinnest of Air, Death Shall Come, Very Important Corpses and Night Train to Murder. So I was delighted to see this latest addition to this paranormal murder mystery series.

BLURB: “That house is a bad place. Bad things happen there . . .”
Set high on top of Widows Hill, Harrow House has remained empty for years. Now, on behalf of an anonymous prospective buyer, Ishmael and Penny are spending a night there in order to investigate the rumours of strange lights, mysterious voices, unexplained disappearances, and establish whether the house is really haunted. What really happened at Harrow House all those years ago? Joined by a celebrity psychic, a professional ghost-hunter, a local historian and a newspaper reporter, it becomes clear that each member of ‘Team Ghost’ has their own pet theory as to the cause of the alleged haunting.


REVIEW: As ever, we have our usual fix of creepy shenanigans going on, as Ishmael and Penny find themselves spending the night in a haunted house. This book follows directly on from Night Train to Murder, so if you haven’t read that one, do be aware – especially at the beginning – there will be some references to events outside the story. I was interested to see this one build more slowly than usual, but given that Green does it well and I know and trust his pacing, I appreciated the general ratcheting up of the tension. It doesn’t hurt that there are the usual dollops of humour that help lighten the tension in the dark, brooding house.

Though the death and denouement rather knocked me for six. I’m still pondering as to whether Green has managed to pull this one off, as it stretched the bounds of my credulity rather. However, I think on balance, I’ll give him a pass. I certainly was never in any danger of putting the book down before getting to the end. All in all, this is an entertaining, page-turning addition to this quirky series.

Recommended for fans of paranormal murder mysteries that doesn’t take itself too seriously. While I obtained an arc of The House of Widow’s Hill from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10


Sunday Post – 7th June, 2020 #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.

Apologies for the grotty appearance of this post. Unless I pay £147 a year, I can no longer use WordPress Classic editor. I am exploring other options, as having to struggle to this degree to get even this unsatisfactory result isn’t feasible – I’ve better things to do with my time…

We’re now into flaming June and our summer weather has abruptly departed. I would be happy to report that we’ve got rain – we haven’t. Gale force winds are savaging the garden and drying it out still further. Oh well.

It has been a busy week as I have been getting Picky Eaters ready to see the light of day – and I’m thrilled at the wonderful cover my mate Mhairi Simpson has produced. Many thanks to her for donating her time to this project. Other than that, more editing and working on Mantivore Warrior. Tonight there is another Zoom family gamesnight which we’re looking forward to joining – hopefully I won’t be smitten with another headache!

Last week I read:

The Obsidian Tower – Book 1 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso
The mage-marked granddaughter of a ruler of Vaskandar, Ryx was destined for power and prestige at the top of Vaskandran society. But her magic is broken; all she can do is uncontrollably drain the life from everything she touches, and Vaskandar has no place for a mage with unusable powers. Then, one night, two terrible accidents befall Ryx, bringing far too much unwanted attention to this small, but strategically vital country – all centred on an ominous ancient tower in the heart of her family’s castle…
I loved the Swords and Fire series – see my review of The Defiant Mage and found the unfolding situation at the start of this gripping tale immediately pulled me into the story. A great start to this spinoff series.

AUDIOBOOK The Naturalist – Book 1 of The Naturalist series by Andrew Mayne
Professor Theo Cray is trained to see patterns where others see chaos. So when mutilated bodies found deep in the Montana woods leave the cops searching blindly for clues, Theo sees something they missed. Something unnatural. Something only he can stop. As a computational biologist, Theo is more familiar with digital code and microbes than the dark arts of forensic sleuthing. But a field trip to Montana suddenly lands him in the middle of an investigation into the bloody killing of one of his former students.
This was great fun – though there were various plot holes large enough to haul a grizzly through, it was well narrated and I really liked Theo Cray, so was happy to go along for the ride.

Hostile Takeover – Book 1 of the Vale Investigation series by Cristelle Comby
PI Bellamy Vale’s near-immortality doesn’t give him a moment to rest. Completely worn down as Death’s supernatural detective, he’s starting to think he got the short-end of his do-or-die deal. So when a string of savage attacks grip the city, Vale abandons all hope of sleep and sets out to discover who let the Otherworld beast free…
This was an intriguing dynamic, where poor old Bell finds himself indentured to Lady McDeath, who sends him to sort out the most dangerous and messy tasks popping up around Cold City. I’m glad I have the second book on my Kindle, ready to read when I get the time. Review to follow.

The House on Widows Hill – Book 9 of the Ishmael Jones mysteries by Simon R. Green
Set high on top of Widows Hill, Harrow House has remained empty for years. Now, on behalf of an anonymous prospective buyer, Ishmael and Penny are spending a night there in order to investigate the rumours of strange lights, mysterious voices, unexplained disappearances, and establish whether the house is really haunted. What really happened at Harrow House all those years ago? Joined by a celebrity psychic, a professional ghost-hunter, a local historian and a newspaper reporter, it becomes clear that each member of ‘Team Ghost’ has their own pet theory as to the cause of the alleged haunting.
Yet another quirky paranormal murder mystery – it’s been something of a theme this week – I enjoyed this addition to this entertaining series and will be reviewing it in due course.


My posts last week:

PICKY EATERS – Cover reveal

Friday Face-off featuring Searching for Dragons – Book 2 of the Enchanted Forest series by Patricia C. Wrede

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Obsidian Tower – Book 1 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

May 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL * Review of The Clutter Corpse – Book 1 of The Decluttering Mysteries by Simon Brett

Sunday Post – 31st May 2020


Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Tips to Photograph Bees https://wanderingambivert.com/2020/06/03/tips-to-photograph-bees/ Given that a lot of us are still in lockdown, wandering around the garden, or going for walks might give you the opportunity to take a pic of bees, here is some advice on how to do it well…

A Teacher’s Story #1 https://jenniefitzkee.com/2020/06/03/a-teachers-story-1/ What an inspirational tale…

Talking with Kids about Racism https://platformnumber4.com/2020/05/30/talking-with-kids-about-racism/ Many thanks to Becky for posting this really useful resource. I very highly recommend the article ‘What White Children Need to Know About Race’…

The Last Video Store on Earth https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2020/06/04/guest-post-the-last-video-store-on-earth/ I loved this article…

Kvetch – 22 https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2020/06/03/kvetch-22/ And if you’re in need of a laugh, or two…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

May 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging… #BrainfluffMay2020Roundup

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I recall I said something to the effect that there had never been a month like April in the whole of my life – except that May was exactly the same. Eerily so. Staying at home and seeing no one else, other than Himself. Though we did drive across to my daughter’s house and deliver her bike, so she could also cycle with the children. It was bittersweet seeing them after such a long time and I’m hoping this month, with the easing of the lockdown, I might once more be able to be a regular visitor, again. The weather continues to behave as if we are in July or August, further skewing the sense of abnormality. But thank goodness for books and writing projects!

Reading
I read fifteen books in May, but as I also broke off to read a couple of my own books on editing runs, that did impact on my general reading time. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my selection, so there were no DNFs. They were:

Oranges and Lemons – Book 17 of the Bryant and May: Peculiar Crimes Unit series by Christopher Fowler
The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North – see my review
Hammered – Book 1 of the Jenny Casey series by Elizabeth Bear
The Physicians of Vilnoc – Book 8 of the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold – see my review
Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik – this is my outstanding read of the month
AUDIOBOOK Starsight – Book 2 of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson
The Valhalla Call – Book 4 of the Hayden War Cycle by Evan Currie
Even Stranger – Book 2 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
The City of Brass – Book 1 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakrobarty
The Kingdom of Copper – Book 2 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakrobarty
AUDIOBOOK The Fire Court – Book 2 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor – this is my outstanding audiobook read of the month
Night’s Tooth – Tales of the River Vine novella by Jean Lee
Gravity is Heartless – Book 1 of the Heartless series by Sarah Lahey
The Obsidian Tower – Book 1 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso

Writing
I finished the first draft of my Wordmanship Handbook – How to Write Convincing Characters, which went really well. While I had intended this to be part of a series, I decided that if I found it too much of a trudge, then it would be a standalone, but it ended up being quite a lot of fun to write. So during the year I am hoping to write at least another book in the Wordmanship series. The handbook aspect of it – with a quick checklist so an author can tick off possible issues as they go, either during the writing phase, or during an editing run – ended up being about the right length, too.

I then turned back to Mantivore Warrior to do the first editing pass. This is always slightly nerve-wracking. Once I’ve gained a bit of distance, I can work out whether it’s a hot mess, or if it hangs together. And as it is the first book that I thoroughly plotted before I started, I was keen to see how it held up. And I’m delighted – those fixes I put in last month strengthened the overall narrative, so there was only one major addition and then it was a question of smoothing the prose and looking for mistakes.

So once again, it’s been a wonderful writing month. Overall, I wrote just under 43,000 words in May, with just over 15,500 on the blog, and just under 26,000 on my writing projects.

Blogging
The big event during May was Wyrd and Wonder 2020, which I discovered thanks to Tammy from Books, Bones and Buffy. It was about alll things fantastical and I really enjoyed taking part. Huge thanks go to Imyril of There’s Always Room for One More, Lisa from Dear Geek Place and Jorie Loves a Story for all their hard work and effort throughout May to make this such a success.

I hope everyone is managing to keep well and healthy, both physically and mentally – the situation has been a strain on everyone, not helped by some dodgy decisions by those in charge. Take care and stay safe.x






Sunday Post – 31st May, 2020 #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.

Mantivore Dreams is free for today and tomorrow – just click on the cover in the sidebar, which will take you to your local Amazon outlet to claim a copy…

The weather feels like high summer – long, sunny days and no rain. Except for a bit of a nip in the air. So Himself is still trudging around with the watering can. The bronze and pink bed is looking fabulous and my cordyline has started flowering – the scent is amazing, intense and lily-like. And now my yarrow is looking beautiful.

I have now finished my first major edit of Mantivore Warrior and I’m really pleased and excited at how that is going. Wyrd and Wonder 2020 has just finished and I thoroughly enjoyed taking part. Many thanks to Imyril @ There’s Always Room for Another, Lisa @ Dear Geek Place and Jorie Loves a Story for all their hard work in making the event such a success.

A lot less happily – I had a go at the WordPress block editor option which is about to engulf those of us who haven’t yet switched across during the week and it was a complete car crash. It won’t successfully wrap text around images, the way I’ve doing for years and I don’t find it remotely intuitive. I managed to flip back to Classic, but I know that eventually I’ll have to get to grips with it and I’m dreading it☹. I wasn’t impressed with the quality of the help provided – while the assistant was very friendly, the instructional videos wouldn’t load, the graphic how-to clips moved far too fast for me to follow. And at one point when trying to load yet another non-functioning link they provided – my trusty desktop fizzled to a stop – it never does that! Which was when I broke off asking for help… So my blogging in the coming weeks might be a bit sporadic while I grapple with the misery ahead of me.


Last week I read:
Less than usual, because I started off rereading Mantivore Prey, the second book in my Arcadian Chronicles series, before starting the edit of Mantivore Warrior – but I don’t count that in my reading listings, as it comes under the heading of Editing!

Night’s Tooth NOVELLA by Jean Lee
Mississippi River Valley, 1870s. The white man wields rails and guns to bring law to the land. But there are more than wild animals hiding in the territories, and it will take more than guns to bring them down. Sumac the bounty hunter needs no guns to hunt any bandit with a price on his head, even one as legendary and mysterious as Night’s Tooth. But Sumac didn’t count on other bounty hunters coming along as competition, nor did he expect hunters sharing his own magical gifts. It’s one man against a gang and a mystery, all to protect a train that must cross the territories at all costs…

I love Jean Lee’s immersive, punchy writing style and she completely nailed this gripping shapeshifter Western fanatasy story. Review to follow.


Gravity is Heartless – Book 1 of the Heartless series by Sarah Lahey
The year is 2050: automated cities, vehicles, and homes are now standard, artificial Intelligence, CRISPR gene editing, and quantum computing have become a reality, and climate change is in full swing―sea levels are rising, clouds have disappeared, and the planet is heating up. Quinn Buyers is a climate scientist who’d rather be studying the clouds than getting ready for her wedding day. But when an unexpected tragedy causes her to lose everything, including her famous scientist mother, she embarks upon a quest for answers that takes her across the globe―and she uncovers friends, loss and love in the most unexpected of places along the way. Gravity Is Heartless is bold, speculative fiction that sheds a hard light on the treatment of our planet even as it offers a breathtaking sense of hope for the future.

This was an entertaining action-filled near future adventure that left everything on rather a cliffhanger. Review to follow.


My posts last week:

Three AUDIBLE mini-reviews – How To Betray a Dragon’s Hero; The Lost Plot; Uprooted

Friday Face-off featuring Dark Lord of Derkholm – Book 1 of the Derkholm series by Diana Wynne Jones

Mantivore Dreams – Book 1 of The Arcadian Chronicles is FREE!

Review of Sacred Bride – Book 3 of the Olympus trilogy by David Hair & Cath Mayo

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Grave Secrets: the Lavington Windsor Mysteries – Book 1 by Alice James

Get to Know the Fantasy Reader tag – Wyrd and Wonder 2020

Review of The Zero Curse – Book 2 of The Zero Enigma by Christopher G. Nuttall

Sunday Post – 24th May 2020

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

My Own Sorrow https://thetattooedbookgeek.wordpress.com/2020/05/27/my-own-sorrow/ Some of you might know Drew as an outspoken book blogger, whose forthright views often include rather sweary language – but he also produces poems of wrenching sadness…

It’s Never Too Late: 10 Writers and Artists That Were Late Bloomers https://leighhecking.com/2017/04/04/its-never-too-late-10-writers-artists-that-were-late-bloomers/ As someone who won’t see 60 again, I found this article very encouraging…

10 of the Most Beautiful Poems in the English Language https://interestingliterature.com/2020/05/beautiful-poems-english-language/ Regulars to my Sunday Post will know I’m a fan of this site – but this is a VERY big claim to make. I wholeheartedly agreed with one of these choices and thought a couple more were maybes – what do you think?

Breaking Through Writer’s Block https://writerunboxed.com/2020/05/27/breaking-through-writers-block/ This is a subject that fascinates me, particularly after watching several talented students wrestle with this distressing problem…

Thursday Doors – Castle Saunderson https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2020/05/21/thursday-doors-castle-saunderson/ Somehow I’ve missed out on Jean’s posts recently, so I was delighted to catch with this magical offering…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

Mantivore Dreams – Book 1 of The Arcadian Chronicles is now FREE!

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From today and throughout the weekend, Mantivore Dreams is FREE. Just click on the cover below, or the cover in the sidebar and it will take you to your Amazon outlet.



BLURB: On a colony planet, in a hot, dusty village where no one wants to live, is someone who was exiled there a long time ago. Someone who stole something so precious, others are prepared to lie, kidnap and murder to get it back.

Drawn into this web of deceit is Kyrillia, a teenager who dreams of running the village’s branch of the Node, the planetwide organic information system, but instead drudges for her mother…

Seth, member of the disgraced Priest family who can read and write, but instead toils as a day labourer on the smelliest, most thankless jobs in the village, in exchange for scraps of food and temporary shelter…

And Vrox, an ancient, sentient alien who lives only in Kyrillia’s imagination, or so she thinks…

When Kyrillia sneaks into the Node and opens up a forbidden site, she triggers a chain of events that not only rips through her own life, but affects those living thousands of miles away in the capital. For when something so precious goes missing, others will stop at nothing to get it back.

What inspired me to write this series were a couple of ideas that I wanted to explore. I have always been interested in the concept of power – who wants it; who thinks they have it; and who actually has it. Most stories are about power, I think. This time, I wanted to put it right at the forefront of the narrative, because it is often disguised as something else.

Another notion that fascinates me is what defines an alien – and the answer ultimately has to be their difference. But what if they aren’t quite as different as we all thought they were? Particularly if that alien species is telepathic and can lock onto human thoughts under special circumstances, especially those of young children. And what if a vulnerable child comes to rely on the comfort and love provided by an elderly alien who lives half a world away? What if she grows up as a Cinderella figure? And her Prince Charming isn’t someone who can whisk her away from the drudgery and shield her from the danger, because he, too, has fallen through the cracks that are supposed to keep youngsters safe.

So that is the dynamic I started with, which is why this story is something of a mash-up. It’s not a classic alien story, but neither does the romance power the narrative – it’s about someone powerful hunting for something they want. However the answer is far more complicated and tricky than they know. Than anyone knows…


Below is a sneak peek at the beginning of CHAPTER ONE…

I held my breath. At last! I’d begun to think I’d never track down this music site. A picklist unfolded and I gawked at the strange words. Classical. Youth Cultures. Popular Cultures. Devotional. Ethnic.
What did they mean? Surely music was just a dance tune, or a song? I jabbed at the first one. Yet another picklist unpeeled onto the mat. Much longer. The words tasted strange as I sounded the musicians’ names aloud. “Beethave- no -hoven… Mozz-art…Ta-ch— simply don’t have the time to sound that one out.” I went for a short name – Bach. What did his Family do, to earn a Name like that?
My eyes slid down the picklist of his tunes and found a piece about organs with something about a minor D. Probably a comedy. I hoped so – I could do with a laugh.
“Play.” I breathed in the thick, sweet smell, storing up the sensation of Facs-mining on the Node – something I didn’t do nearly enough. Looking across at the bubbling organi-packs glowing in their transparent tanks, I wished I could spend more time here, rather than snatch these forbidden stints when Mother was away.
The sound pealed out. What was the instrument? The notes seemed to stop, then to stack up on each other as they roared around the room, making Mother’s flower vases buzz on the stone floor. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard. Torrents of melody attacked, drowning me in a rush of yearning. Everything seemed bright, and achingly beautiful.
The final crashing chord faded into silence.
Vrox sways, crooning with delight…
“Again.” I closed my eyes as the monumental music thundered around me. I was Tranced by Vrox’s joy as his emotion rolled through me, swept along by the reverberating climax—
I was stunned by a hard blow. And another. My hurt-hot ear rang with the impact. My cheek felt numb and heavy; my mouth filled with blood.
Vrox rears up, startled – sorry he hadn’t noticed her approach…
“Turn it off! Turn it off!” Mother shrieked over the music. Her distorted face shivered in my vision for a shock-stalled eternity. Snatches of her rant filtered through Bach’s bone-buzzing crescendo, making her fury seem even worse, “…-icked girl… -ways think you know best… –dare to override my passwor…” The organ tune stopped abruptly, just as she screamed, “…ate you! I hate you…
Her words echoed horribly in the small room.
I jerked to my feet. She’s finally admitted it. Axe-sharp hurt immediately snuffed out the flicker of relief, that I’d been right all these years. “Think I don’t know?” My voice shook, on the edge of tears. But grown girls of seventeen shouldn’t cry in front of their mothers. I spun round, stumbling over a vase, and ran. Out into the hot sunlight. Past the stable, whose sharp smell reminded me I still hadn’t mucked out the camel stall or goat pens. I scrabbled at the keycode on the sidegate, my shaking fingers making a hash of it.
She ran after me, yelling my name. Her panting echoed between the house and high fence, getting closer. Finally, as Vrox focused, I got the sequence right. The gate snicked open as she grabbed for my arm. I twisted away, the burn of her nails raking my skin. Skidding through the gate, I slammed it shut in her face. I sprinted across the front yard and past the first startled Node enquirer of the day, over the village courtyard, heading for Westgate. Heat settled like a greasy coat as I raced down Main Street, dust clotting my nose and throat.
At Westgate, Cupert Peaceman, the village security guard, dodged out of the way. Just as well, because I wasn’t stopping for him, or anyone else. Ignoring several calls, driven by the need to get away, I finally slowed, winded and hurting, on the open road where the verges were widened to discourage hostile wildlife. The sun beat down in a suffocating sheet.
Haven’t got a sunscreen – better find some shade. I tottered along on chewed-string legs, coughing up dust. Mother would say it was my punishment. The thought of her pushed me on.
Turning onto Mantivore Way was a relief. The palm tree clumps offered shade and the smell of the water strengthened my legs. I pushed through the shoulder-high reeds, which used to swish over my head, swallowing me whole. Moist leaves slapped against my sore legs. I broke off a brown-brittled stem, whipping it around and stamping noisily to frighten off any lone jaspers or nemmets sheltering from the sun. River silt seeped through my sandals, soothing my feet as I paddled in the murky water. Reaching my sanctuary – a stranded treetrunk – I sat down and rested my eyes on the river.
Sunslit water glitters through the swaying stalks. Scents of river ooze and crushed leaves tickle Vrox’s nostrils. Wind rocks the reeds with a sighing rattle…
See? I was right. She really hates me… For once Vrox, my imaginary childhood companion, was wrong. He reckoned mothers found their daughters annoying, but that, deep down, they cared.
Vrox croons comfort noises, his vari-colour scales flickering in shades of green and blue.
His image flashed on my inscape, while his sympathy finally broke my resolve not to cry. I buried my face in my hands and sobbed until no more tears would come, while the mantivore paced and huffed his sympathy. Finally, I wiped my eyes, blew my nose and stared across the river, where a cargo boat laden with olives throbbed downstream, headed for Reseda. I watched it disappear around the bend, wishing I was on the deck. But then I’d forfeit my right to be Brarian. Waste Uncle Osmar’s painful effort. Besides, I wanted the job – the Node was the only place I felt truly happy. Other than this place. I stared hungrily at the peaceful patterning of light and water. If I came here more often maybe life would seem worth the effort it takes to breathe.
Vrox churrs a strong agreement…
A swishing of reeds warned me, so he faded from my consciousness before I heard the voice. “Kyrillia?”
I relaxed. “Here, Onice.”
“You braced?”
“I’ve been better.”
She high-stepped into the small space surrounding the treetrunk, and carefully sat on the trunk, lifting her skirts clear of the muddy water. “Saw you pelting down the road, so I figured you’d be here.” Handing me a sunscreen, she added, “You’d better borrow this.”
Typical of Onice to worry about me getting fried to a greasy spot. “Oh! Many thanks. I’ll get it back to you tomorrow.”
“She on to you, again?” Onice’s forehead creased in concern.
Grabbing at a reed stem, I rolled it between my fingers.
I hate you… Mother’s wrath-reddened face blazed through my mind as I opened my mouth to frame the words. And closed it. What could I say? I’d watched Onice bask in her parents’ affection with shocked envy ever since I’d been old enough to understand it. She knew that Mother and I fought – she regularly tangled with her own father. But she’d never make sense of Mother’s loathing for me.
And if she did, maybe she’d realise I wasn’t worth her friendship. I stared at the river. “Found that Music site on the Node and played a song. That was when she caught me.”
Onice clicked her tongue. “Bet what had her steaming was you breaking through her passwords and sneaking onto the Node. Again.”
“Hm.” The reed stem mashed to a papery pulp between my fingers. Onice never understood why I persisted in using the Node, despite Mother’s strict ban. But then, I hadn’t told her about Vrox and his constant longing for the Node, either.
“There’s talk about restarting an inter-village apprentice network, Da says. Some girl drowned herself last month in Pistacia cos of her family’s beatings. Maybe you could get yourself signed up for it.” So Onice figures I’ve angered Mother to breaking point.
I hate you… I pushed the memory away, trying to think straight.
“And if I get apprenticed away from here, what happens to Uncle Osmar? She wouldn’t take proper care of him.” I tore at another reed stem.
Onice shrugged. “You got to live your own life. Your Uncle’s had his chances.”
I sighed. It seemed a hard way to treat the old man, especially after all he’d taught me. But it was a sharp-edged situation and if there’d been an easy option I’d already have taken it.

Sunday Post – 17th May, 2020 #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.

It’s been a lot colder and cloudier, but we only had a bit of rain last Sunday and since then, despite high winds, it’s been dry. The garden is desperate for some rain… Himself managed to cut back the shrubs – a job we normally do much earlier in the year. The escalonia is now in full bloom, along with the pretty little fuschia. I love the bright yellow leaves contrasting with the deep pink flowers. My bronze fennel is sprouting, and those echiums just keep growing and blooming. The bees love the flowers so much, you can hear their hum from across the garden.

Last weekend’s writing retreat went really well. I am now in touching distance of the end of my How-To book, which is good, because I want to start editing Mantivore Warrior this coming week.

The other success last weekend was the family’s Sunday get-together to celebrate my sister’s birthday. It went so well, my nephews are organising an online games session for next Saturday night via Zoom – something to really look forward to. I might even dress up!


Last week I read:
The Physicians of Vilnoc – Book 8 of the Penric and Desdemona NOVELLA series by Lois McMaster Bujold
When a mysterious plague breaks out in the army fort guarding Vilnoc, the port capital of the duchy of Orbas, Temple sorcerer Penric and his demon Desdemona are called upon by General Arisaydia to resurrect Penric’s medical skills and solve its lethal riddle. In the grueling days that follow, Pen will find that even his magic is not enough to meet the challenges without help from dedicated new colleagues—and the god of mischance.
The series is always a high spot for us – and this latest addition was no exception. Although I had my doubts when I saw it was all about a mysterious plague. But I needn’t have worried – this author handled the whole subject really well.



Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
“I was five when I discovered I could fly, sixteen when I killed a man.
Both events were unsettling in their own way.”

It’s hard to know what’s normal, if you’re not, and it takes Stella a while to realise she’s in the definitely ‘not’ drawer. But we are who we are and we make adjustments to fit in – most of the time – and it’s only when she finds she’s not quite as unique as she thought, that things begin to acquire a whole new dimension.
That’s only part of the very chatty blurb. But this one blew me away. There are some authors I just fall for – hook, line and sinker… it doesn’t happen very often. But Marilyn Messik is one of them. I will recall May 2020 through the prism of this series. Review to follow.



AUDIOBOOK Starsight – Book 2 of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson
All her life, Spensa has dreamed of becoming a pilot. Of proving she’s a hero like her father. She made it to the sky, but the truths she learned about her father were crushing. Spensa is sure there’s more to the story. And she’s sure that whatever happened to her father in his starship could happen to her. When she made it outside the protective shell of her planet, she heard the stars–and it was terrifying. Everything Spensa has been taught about her world is a lie. But Spensa also discovered a few other things about herself–and she’ll travel to the end of the galaxy to save humankind if she needs to.
This second book in this entertaining space opera series took the initial premise and world and then gave it a good shaking and changed it up. I am very much looking forward to reading the next book in the series.


The Valhalla Call – Book 4 of the Hayden War Cycle by Evan Currie
Newly minted Lieutenant Sorilla Aida has a new mission and new allies, gear, and support as she is tasked with a job that could ensure that the human race stands a chance of reaching a technical parity with the mysterious alien alliance. Humans and SOLCOM are not the only ones making moves, however, and the Alliance has brought up their varsity to end the little side war before it gets out of hand. Are they really interested in humanity or human worlds, however, or is something more at play?
Currie has nailed battles in space – nobody does it better. And this addition to the series brought some game-changing twists I’m keen to find out about. Review to follow.



Even Stranger – Book 2 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
With the swinging sixties staggering, shamefaced and flustered, into the slightly staider seventies, life for Stella, isn’t going as smoothly as she’d like. As an ordinary person, who happens to have some extraordinary abilities, it’s frustrating to find that something as simple as holding down a job, throws up unexpected hurdles. She’d be a darn sight better off if she could ditch the conviction she knows best which, together with a chronic inability to keep her mouth shut and her nose out of other people’s business, has led her more than once off the straight and narrow into the dodgy and dangerous. Plans for a safer future, include setting herself up in business, squashing her over-active conscience and steering clear of risky and unpleasant. Unfortunately, the best laid plans can lead to the darkest places.
Yes – I broke my rule of never reading a series too close together. I was pining for more Marilyn Messik goodness, and this adventure alongside my new best friend, Stella, didn’t disappoint. Review to follow.


My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Physicians of Vilnoc – Book 8 of the Penric and Desdemona NOVELLA series by Lois McMaster Bujold

Friday Face-off featuring Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

April 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging…

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Ghost Ups Her Game – Book 9 of the Bailey Ruth series by Carolyn G. Hart

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Firewalkers by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Sunday Post – 10th May 2020

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Top 5 Writing Hacks to Distract You From the Nightmare of Your Daily Life https://writerunboxed.com/2020/05/16/top-writing-hacks-to-distract-you-from-the-nightmare-of-your-daily-life/ Bill Ferris always worth reading – but his humour is especially welcome in the current situation…

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #9: Sewing Up Memories https://platformnumber4.com/2020/05/09/fantastic-find-at-the-bookstore-9-sewing-up-memories/ Becky once again has nailed it with this lovely trip into the past…

Liars, manipulators, tyrants, misogynists… top worst rulers… in books! Top 5 Tuesday http://bewareofthereader.com/liars-manipulators-tyrants-misogynistics-top-worst-rulers-in-books-top-5-tuesday/ I loved this one! So… who would be your worst rulers? In books, of course… let’s keep it escapist, people!

FRIDAY SMILES https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2020/05/08/friday-smiles/ We all need more smiles in our lives…

Ten of the Best Twentieth Century Books Everyone Should Read https://interestingliterature.com/2020/05/twentieth-century-novels/ This is a list all readers probably have an opinion on. Do you agree with it? Personally, I’m not big on everyone HAVING to read anything – I think we should all read what we love to read. And there’s a couple missing from here, as far as I’m concerned…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

Friday Faceoff – Pink isn’t just a colour – it’s an attitude, too… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffdogcovers

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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 being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring PINK covers. I’ve selected Borne by Jeff VanderMeer – see my review.



This offering was produced by Macmillan in April 2017. This is the default cover for this book – and is… extraordinary. You keep looking at it and seeing something else every time. I think this has to be one of the weirdest designs I’ve ever featured – and not remotely like any other PINK book cover I’ve encountered. I love this one – it’s so clever and original.

 

Published in April 2017, by the publisher Fourth Estate, this cover is a bit more traditional. It is also beautiful. The rainbow-coloured background is lovely and I love how dear little Borne is wriggling through the title font. Another creative, clever design that grabs your attention and makes you want to pick this one up.

 

This Italian edition, published by Einaudi in February 2018, is another amazing offering, though I can make sense of this one. This is Borne, as he is found in amongst the fur of the bear, Mord. I love that beautiful iridescent eye and the lovely glowing colours punching out of the dark grey. And yes, I know the title and author fonts are rather underwhelming, but I do love this one. It is my favourite.

 

This Russian edition, published in January 2018 by Эксмо: fanzon, is another unusual offering. We have Borne in all his odd glory staring out at the reader. This one is enjoyably quirky and the colour glows against the dark brown background – presumably against Mord’s bulk. I really like the treatment of the title and author font on this one.

 

This Dutch edition (I think!) published by Bezige Bij b.v., Uitgeverij De in July 2018, once again depicts Borne living in Mord’s coat. This time we get to see the ruined city in the background through the thick, pink haze of the toxic pollution, which is disturbingly pretty. I love the elegant simplicity of the design and how the lettering is white against Mord’s fur and black against the pink air. That bee is just a lovely little detail, as it Borne himself becoming the O of the title. This one was so nearly a contender – in fact this week I found it very hard to choose. Which is your favourite?


April 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging… #BrainfluffApril2020Roundup

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I’m conscious that I’ve never experienced a month like it in the whole of my life – and I’m not sure I ever will again… Or perhaps I will. Perhaps May and June will continue being in social isolation with lots of handwashing and staying at home. But what has kept my head straight is my love of reading and writing – thank goodness for both! I’ve also loved the wonderful sunny weather – it’s been a joy being able to sit in the garden and watch Spring springing… I’m conscious that I am very blessed. And given that none of us can guarantee if we will survive this, I’ve determined to be as thankful for every coming day as I can be. So despite everything, this has been a very precious April.

Reading
I read eighteen books in April, which isn’t quite as marvellous as it sounds, as one of those was a short story and another was a novella. This is the list:

The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey
The Last Emperox – Book 3 of the Interdependency series by John Scalzi
Shorefall – Book 2 of The Founders Trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett
Scythe – Dimension Drift prequel NOVELLA #1 by Christina Bauer
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. This is my EBOOK read of the month
Dead Eye – Book 1 of the Tiger’s Eye Mystery series by Alyssa Day
Arkadian Skies – Book 6 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker
Q by Christina Dalcher
The Hedgeway SHORT STORY by Vivienne Tuffnell
A Little Bit Witchy – Book 1 of the Riddler’s Edge series by A.A. Albright
The Dark Side of the Road – Book 1 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green
Firewalkers by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel. This is my AUDIOBOOK read of the month
The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing – Book 2 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
The Palm Tree Messiah by Sarah Palmer – manuscript read
Witch Dust – Book 1 of the Witch series by Marilyn Messik
Girls of Paper and Fire – Book 1 of Girls of Paper and Fire series by Natasha Ngan
After Seth by Caron Garrod

Writing
I continued working on my Creative Writing How-To Book on Characterisation and I’m pleased with the progress, but I woke up on 11th April with an epiphany about some issues that had been niggling me with Mantivore Warrior – so I dropped my How-To book and immediately dived back into the manuscript to fix it. I’ve learnt from hard experience not to ever put those kinds of moments off – otherwise they pass and I forget!

I have also been working on another project that I’m hoping to be able to discuss in another couple of weeks. I don’t normally flit between so many different writing projects – but right now everything is extraordinary. So it makes sense that my writing patterns would suddenly go AWOL, too… Overall, I wrote just over 43,000 words in April, with just under 17,000 words on my blog and just under 25,500 words going towards my writing projects, which brings my yearly total to just under 180,000 words so far.

Blogging
I have found keeping up with my blog such a source of comfort and encouragement – I know social media can be responsible for some dark acts, but I happen to be fortunate enough to inhabit a really lovely corner, where I meet some of the nicest people on the planet. But that’s not a surprise, because they are readers, or writers, or both. I hope May is a good month for you and that you stay safe. Take care.xxx






*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Dark Side of the Road – Book 1 of the Ishmael Jones series #Brainfluffbookreview #TheDarkSideoftheRoadbookreview

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I am a fan of this series – see my reviews of Very Important Corpses, Death Shall Come, Into the Thinnest of Air, Murder in the Dark, Till Sudden Death Do Us Part and Night Train to Murder – but as I’d crashed midway into this series (a hobby of mine…), I’ve never got around to reading the first book. Until now😊. I was delighted when I spotted this offering on Netgalley, as I am pre-approved by this lovely publisher.

BLURB: Ishmael Jones is someone who can’t afford to be noticed, someone who lives under the radar, who drives on the dark side of the road. He’s employed to search out secrets, investigate mysteries and shine a light in dark places. Sometimes he kills people. Invited by his employer, the enigmatic Colonel, to join him and his family for Christmas, Ishmael arrives at the grand but isolated Belcourt Manor in the midst of a blizzard to find that the Colonel has mysteriously disappeared. As he questions his fellow guests, Ishmael concludes that at least one of them not least Ishmael himself – is harbouring a dangerous secret, and that beneath the veneer of festive cheer lurk passion, jealousy, resentment and betrayal. As a storm sets in, sealing off the Manor from the rest of the world, Ishmael must unmask a ruthless murderer they strike again.

I was expecting some sort of Genesis story here, whereby we learn more about Ishmael and the adventures he had in his long, eventful life on Earth, before he started working for the Organisation. However, that didn’t happen. In fact, if I hadn’t been told that this was the first book in the series, I wouldn’t have guessed. Initially, I was a bit disappointed – but on reflection I think it probably is a strength of this series. Once more, Ishmael is plunged into a tricky situation whereby he is a suspected outsider, looking on a group who all have strong reasons to want to see the back of at least one of their companions. Attending a Christmas party at the urgent request of his boss, Ishmael finds himself driving through one of the worst snowstorms on record. He ends up at a country house in the middle of Cornwall, more cut-off than the moon from any outside help, when it all starts to kick off.

There are a series of gory murders and Ishmael is confronted with trying to discover who the perpetrator is. Green presents us with a series of twists – though I had already guessed who the perpetrator was. Though in this case, it wasn’t a question of finding out who so much as trying to discover how to stop the murderer. I liked the fact that superstrong and inhumanly fast Ishmael had met his match. While there wasn’t quite so much humour in this first offering, there was still enough to make me grin in amongst the mayhem, and it was clear to see the foundations of what has made this series so successful. Recommended for fans of paranormal suspense that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The ebook arc copy of The Dark Side of the Road was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10