Category Archives: alien encounter

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Eyes of the Void – Book 2 of The Final Architecture series by Adrian Tchaikovsky #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #EyesoftheVoidbookreview

Standard

I read and really enjoyed Shards of Earth – the first book in this epic space opera adventure, in which Tchaikovsky explores the dynamic of family and the nature of being alien. So I was delighted when I saw this second book pop up on Netgalley.

BLURB: After eighty years of fragile peace, the Architects are back, wreaking havoc as they consume entire planets. In the past, Originator artefacts – vestiges of a long-vanished civilization – could save a world from annihilation. This time, the Architects have discovered a way to circumvent these protective relics. Suddenly, no planet is safe.

Facing impending extinction, the Human Colonies are in turmoil. While some believe a unified front is the only way to stop the Architects, others insist humanity should fight alone. And there are those who would seek to benefit from the fractured politics of war – even as the Architects loom ever closer.

Idris, who has spent decades running from the horrors of his past, finds himself thrust back onto the battlefront. As an Intermediary, he could be one of the few to turn the tide of war. With a handful of allies, he searches for a weapon that could push back the Architects and save the galaxy. But to do so, he must return to the nightmarish unspace, where his mind was broken and remade. What Idris discovers there will change everything.

REVIEW: If you have come across Eyes of the Void without having first had the pleasure of reading Shards of Earth, my firm advice is to put this one back on the shelf and head for the first book. This is a fast-paced, epic adventure where events are unspooling in various locations and features other main characters alongside hapless Idris. Even with the helpful Story So Far and list of Key Characters at the beginning, along with the excellent Timeline of Events at the end – I still think you’d flounder a tad. Apart from anything else, it would be a real shame to miss out on a chunk of this intriguing, layered examination of what it means to be alien.

As a young man, Idris volunteered to become an Intermediary in the face of the planet-wrecking Architects – and was key to stopping them during the terrible battle for survival. Now they are back and this time around, the protection given by mysterious artefacts left behind by Originators no longer work. And when Idris manages to make a connection to the Architect rampaging through the system – he discovers that it isn’t destroying the worlds on some whim, it is being ordered to do so. Which means that unlike the last time, his own pleas go unregarded.

As the situation falls away into a desperate scramble for survival, the precarious peace between the major factions splinters. I loved this particular aspect of the book, which absolutely rings true. I enjoy epic space opera when done well – but it’s difficult to pull off. Inevitably, characters can’t be written with the depth of protagonists featured in smaller settings. So writers have to know and understand all their main characters profoundly well to be able to convey that complexity with a shorter word count – and understandably, that doesn’t always happen. Not so with Tchaikovsky. His writing in this story effortlessly expands in breadth and heft to encompass the big questions hovering behind the adrenaline-fuelled action – exactly what defines difference? Is it the engineered human whose brain now functions so differently? Or is it the vat-grown women warriors designed to protect Earth, whose culture now seems so threatening? Surely, it must be the Architects with their terrifying ability to rework planets… asteroids… space station… into twisted, lifeless caricatures of what they once were? And the mysterious Originators, who appear to have designed the passages through unspace, allowing FTL travel – they are the ultimate aliens, aren’t they? He also examines the nature of family and identity. As worlds fall and humanity faces extinction, how do we ultimately define ourselves when facing our own ending?

While these questions are raised, an epic story of tragedy and ruin, rescue and compassion pulled me in and held me throughout. Though, due to my own fragile health and shaky wellbeing, I needed to take several breaks from the intensity and immensity of the story which is in no way a reflection on the writing. Highly recommended for fans of well-written epic space operas. While I obtained an arc of Eyes of the Void from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #15

Standard

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

It’s been a bit of a torrid time for our family. Poor little Eliza when down with chicken pox so badly she ended up in A & E twice last week with complications. It doesn’t help that she also suffers with severe asthma and is only three years old. Huge kudos to the doctor at the A & E dept at Worthing Hospital who went the extra mile, ringing around the local pharmacies and tracking down the necessary medication to alleviate her pain and discomfort. After nursing Eliza through such a traumatic time my daughter, unsurprisingly, then went down with a kidney infection that needed yet another trip to hospital. Fortunately she didn’t need to stay, but ended up on a course of very strong antibiotics. The upshot was that we ended up looking after our middle grandchild, Oscar, for much longer than originally planned. He went home, then returned to us, Twice. So we called him our Boomerang Boy. In the middle of all this, he started a new school much closer to home, so we also ended up buying the new school uniform, which brought back all sorts of memories. And I saw him off on his first two days, setting the alarm to drag myself out of bed, then crawling back after the taxi came to take him to school.

It was lovely having him to stay. He is a superstar – unfailingly helpful and good tempered – he introduced me to Wordle and we played together most days he was with us. But it did take a bit of a toll on my energy. I unexpectedly hit a wall after climbing the stairs in M & S on our school-shoe buying expedition. No sweating, or being particularly breathless, I just felt that I was wading through treacle and got steadily slower. Then my legs folded under me and I ended up on the floor, after announcing that I needed to sit down. I felt a bit of a fool, but everyone was extremely kind. When Oscar finally went home on Wednesday, the house was sad and quiet without him.

I’ve been struggling with my sleep again and so I’m turning off the TV and computer at least 45 minutes before bedtime and doing a relaxing meditation. I have already noticed a difference to my Deep Sleep scores, which is important as that’s the healing sleep. If only I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night and then struggle to go back to sleep before dawn, I’d be golden😊.

On Friday, Himself met up with his sister and brother and visited his father’s grave, as it was the first year anniversary of my father-in-law’s death. It was a bright sunny day, however I wasn’t able to go as it’s too far away. But in the afternoon, after he returned home, I travelled with him and the children to meet up with my daughter’s former partner and do the handover for the two younger grandchildren. It was the first time since my relapse in August that I’ve managed such a long car journey. So I am making steady progress.

I didn’t read much during Oscar’s stay, so I haven’t managed to get through quite so many books.

This week I’ve read:-

AUDIOBOOK Alexander X – Book 1 of The Battle for Forever series by Edward Savio
Alexander Grant is about to take his 3000th history test. You know how you feel like you’ve been going to school for a thousand years? Well, he actually has. Although he looks like a normal teenager, no one knows he’s actually 1500 years old. Not the girl he likes. Not his best friend. No one.

That is until someone tries to kidnap Alexander and use him as bait to catch his father, the only man capable of stopping a plan that would change humanity forever. And the start of an journey that will take him far from the sleepy town he’s been hiding out in. Ingenious storytelling. Screenwriter and novelist Edward Savio’s ongoing epic adventure is fresh, funny, and thought-provoking.
This YA teen action adventure, narrated by Wil Wheaton was a welcome contrast to some of the tension-filled science fiction political thrillers I’ve been listening to recently. Lots of action and excitement! Full review to follow. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK Chosen For Power – Book 4 of the Dragon’s Gate series by Lindsay Buroker
Jak and his allies venture through the portal in search of the longevity plant their king demands, but all Jak wants is to find the elder dragons. Some say they’re extinct. Some say they’re in hiding.

If he can’t locate them, there won’t be anyone to teach his hatchling how to fly. Or to protect the dragon eggs preserved within a glacier on another world. Or to help him free his people from the tyrannical rule of the wizards. Jak has no choice. He must find the dragons.
But some ancient secrets were buried for a reason. What he discovers may jeopardize not only Jak and his allies—the survival of the entire species of dragons may be at stake.
I love this adventure about Jak and his scientist mother, who put all these events in motion with their discovery of the portal way back in the first book. As ever, a detailed and interesting world and a plot full of unexpected twists and action, as well as dollops of humour in amongst the ever-present danger. Buroker also writes most satisfyingly nasty villains. The next book hasn’t yet been released as an audiobook – but these stories make such wonderful listening, they are worth the wait. 9/10

Eyes of the Void – Book 2 of The Final Architecture series by Adrian Tchaikovsky
After eighty years of fragile peace, the Architects are back, wreaking havoc as they consume entire planets. In the past, Originator artefacts – vestiges of a long-vanished civilization – could save a world from annihilation. This time, the Architects have discovered a way to circumvent these protective relics. Suddenly, no planet is safe.

Facing impending extinction, the Human Colonies are in turmoil. While some believe a unified front is the only way to stop the Architects, others insist humanity should fight alone. And there are those who would seek to benefit from the fractured politics of war – even as the Architects loom ever closer.

Idris, who has spent decades running from the horrors of his past, finds himself thrust back onto the battlefront. As an Intermediary, he could be one of the few to turn the tide of war. With a handful of allies, he searches for a weapon that could push back the Architects and save the galaxy. But to do so, he must return to the nightmarish unspace, where his mind was broken and remade. What Idris discovers there will change everything.
I loved the first book in this epic space opera series about a lethal, world-killing alien, Shards of Earth. So I was delighted when the arc for this one became available and thrilled to be approved to read it. Tchaikovsky brilliantly charts the ongoing reactions by various groups within humanity and some of the aliens to the dire threat posed by the Architects. I very much appreciated his list of characters and timeline leading up to the events covered by the story, which helped me keep tabs on who was doing what to whom. Full review to follow.

Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons – Book 1 of A Miss Percy Guide series by Quenby Olsen
Miss Mildred Percy inherits a dragon.

Ah, but we’ve already got ahead of ourselves…

Miss Mildred Percy is a spinster. She does not dance, she has long stopped dreaming, and she certainly does not have adventures. That is, until her great uncle has the audacity to leave her an inheritance, one that includes a dragon’s egg.

The egg – as eggs are wont to do – decides to hatch, and Miss Mildred Percy is suddenly thrust out of the role of “spinster and general wallflower” and into the unprecedented position of “spinster and keeper of dragons.” But England has not seen a dragon since… well, ever. And now Mildred must contend with raising a dragon (that should not exist), kindling a romance (with a humble vicar), and embarking on an adventure she never thought could be hers for the taking.
I tucked into this one when the enormity of Tchaikovsky’s alien threat felt a bit overwhelming – which is all about my mindset and in no way a reflection on the writing. I was rooting for Mildred all the way. However, the reader starts this one knowing exactly what the peculiar rock is – there is a picture of him on the cover. So I found the pacing rather slow in places, as the protagonist evidently doesn’t have a clue as to what the peculiar rock is and takes a long time deciding what he is after the hatching. There are times when the author breaks the fourth wall, which I also found a bit jarring. However, overall it’s a charming, enjoyable read with nice shafts of humour throughout. 8/10

This week I have posted:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Prison of Sleep by Tim Pratt

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Stringers by Chris Panatier #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Stringersbookreview

Standard

I’d like to claim that I read the blurb and thought the concept cool and witty. But the two things that induced me to pick it up was the fabulous cover and that Angry Robot are the publishers. I’ve read enough of their offerings to know that I’m generally in for an interesting, well-written read.

BLURB: Knowledge can get you killed. Especially if you have no idea what it means.

Ben is NOT a genius, but he can spout facts about animals and wristwatches with the best of experts. He just can’t explain how he knows any of it. He also knows about the Chime. What it is or why it’s important he couldn’t say. But this knowledge is about to get him in a whole heap of trouble.

After he and his best friend Patton are abducted by a trash-talking, flesh-construct alien bounty hunter, Ben finds out just how much he is worth… and how dangerous he can be. Hopefully Patton and a stubborn jar of pickles will be enough to help him through. Because being able to describe the mating habits of Brazilian bark lice isn’t going to save them.

REVIEW: Panatier is clearly a gifted writer with an unusual way of looking at the world. I haven’t read his debut novel, The Phlebotomist, as my book blogging buddies confirmed that it is on the horror side of dark – and right now, I cannot deal with that. But once I’m better, it’s definitely on my ‘To Read’ list. This one, however, is right up my alley. Poor old Ben is on track to be one of the most unusual of this year’s protagonists that I’ll encounter. He’s afflicted with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the mating habits of insects, along with all sorts of other details regarding their lives. I learnt – thanks to one of the many, many footnotes – about the Australian Peacock spider, known as the ‘sparklemuffin’, which has now become a term of endearment in our household. Look it up – it is the most fantastical little creature.

The trouble is, that from the time he could talk, Ben is driven to share these facts, along with his other hyper-obsession about watches, with anyone and everyone who’ll listen. As well as those who won’t. It doesn’t win him friends, or even make him a particularly nice person. Although, he has got a friend – dear Patton, who has to be one of the kindest people I’ve encountered in a book, without coming across as unbearable. Indeed, Patton insists on accompanying Ben when he goes to meet up with someone who professes to suffer from the same problem. Quite rightly, Patton suspects a trap and wants to be there to look out for his buddy.

It doesn’t come as a massive surprise when they’re abducted by an alien, who is going to sell Ben for the contents in his head. There is also a parallel narrative about an alien pipe-fitter called Naecia, who has suffered the same fate. The resulting adventure takes us on a familiar journey with nasty, destructive aliens and a bunch of plucky protagonists trying to save the galaxy. So far, so familiar. What sets this one apart is Panatier’s quirky writing style, riddled with jokey allusions and footnotes, many of which are genuinely funny. Some… not so much. I enjoyed much of the humour and a lot of the nerdy scientific stuff – this one is on the harder side of sci fi genre – and all of the character development, which is outstanding.

I did feel that the pace stuttered a tad about two-thirds of the way through. Some of the humour by then was a bit annoyingly predictable, while I felt the techie details around what was going wrong and how to fix it got a tad too involved. However, Panatier managed to land the ending in a wonderfully poignant way that will stick in my memory for a very long time. So although this wasn’t a flawless read, it’s one that will definitely stay with me. And I’m looking forward to seeing what this clever, original writer does next. While I obtained an arc of Stringers from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

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

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #12

Standard

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

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

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

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

This week I’ve read:-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Betrayed – Book 3 of the Taellaneth series by Vanessa Nelson

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #11

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

This week I’ve read:-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m very aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #9

Standard

This is my update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 11 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

Overall, it’s been a better week. That black anger that had lifted after my reflexology appointment had the good manners to stay away, which was a huge relief. If I’m battling a miserable mood, I don’t have the option to jump in the car, get lost in my writing, or walk it off along the beach so I was more than pleased to find that I was mostly reasonably upbeat throughout the week.

However, while I’m mentally and emotionally far more energetic, I have been struggling with feeling tired all the time. I wake up still feeling weary and often drop back off to sleep after breakfast. But even if I don’t, it has been a struggle to get out of bed much before mid-afternoon. Once in a while, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but I’ve been concerned that this is becoming a habit. Annoyingly, as the day wears on I tend to gradually feel more lively so that by the evening when I should be winding down again, I’m wide awake which makes going to sleep a real challenge. We had my grandson staying over from Tuesday through to Friday, which is always a treat, but even that didn’t shift my weariness. I had a chat with my reflexologist and we agreed that this coming week, I’ll make it a target to try to get out of bed before midday.

And there was another bit of progress. While I have at times felt well enough to drive short distances over the last 11 months, it’s been a while since I’ve been behind the wheel. So when Himself needed to visit his mother on Thursday, rather than rearrange my reflexology appointment, I decided to drive there. It isn’t very far and I felt well enough to have a go. What I hadn’t realised is that there are three lots of roadworks that have started up between her house and mine! Fortunately, I don’t find driving too draining – although I was very tired by the time I got home again.

So, it’s mostly been a good week. However, I’m no longer naive enough to think that being able to drive again is a major breakthough. I’ve been here before, several times in fact. So while I’m pleased that right now I can manage the occasional short journey, I’m not going to assume that it’s a major sign that I’m the road to recovery. Or start taking Twinkle out on daily runs. Not yet. In the meantime, I’m still pacing my daily activity levels, still keeping my activity journal, still meditating and trying very hard to live each moment with as much acceptance and contentment that I can muster. Thank goodness for books!

This week I’ve read:-

Magic Uncorked – Book 1 of the Midlife Magic Cocktail Club series by Annabel Chase
The only magic word Libbie Stark seems to know these days is ‘ibuprofen’ thanks to a headache-inducing job, two teenagers, one ex-husband, and a deadbeat boyfriend—until the death of a friend brings unexpected consequences. Libbie and the other members of her weekly cocktail club are shocked to discover that their eccentric friend was a witch and that they are the recipients of her magical assets.

Libbie would’ve preferred to inherit an island beach house, especially when her life starts to unravel. With the help of the other Dread Pirate Witches and a handsome lawyer with a head of hair that Fabio would envy, Libbie strives to understand her gift and dig herself out of the hole she’s created, one cocktail at a time. The more her life changes, however, the more Libbie realizes that maybe the end of midlife as she knows it is exactly what she needs.
This enjoyable contemporary read is more about the challenges of dealing with modern life as a woman no longer in the first flush of youth, with a paranormal splash thrown in to help. I enjoyed watching Libbie’s transformation. Although I’m a bit uncomfortable that cocktails seem to play such a key role in creating her new life, having seen at close quarters just what havoc alcoholism can cause. Overall, it’s a largely light-hearted, feel-good story featuring a likeable protagonist. 8/10

Bewitching Bitters – Book 2 of the Midlife Magic Cocktail Club series by Annabel Chase
Kate Golden is living the dream in Lake Cloverleaf—a handsome husband, three wonderful kids, and a career she loves. As a motivational speaker, she devotes her time to helping people achieve their goals, to become the best versions of themselves. Apparently, the best version of Kate now includes being a witch.

Of course, it would be nice if she could actually do magic instead of being a witch in name only. Her best friend Libbie is mixing magical cocktails like she’s Tom Cruise in that bartender movie. So far, the only residual effect of Kate’s cocktail is a hangover. So Kate is thrilled when a magical cocktail recipe finally appears in her book—until she drinks it. Suddenly her run of good fortune takes a left turn and her life begins to spin out of control.
As you can see, despite my misgivings, I immediately picked up the second book in this series as I’m struggling with a really bleak sci fi read. I don’t want to abandon it, so I’m fitting in more light-hearted books alongside. This was a more challenging story with a far less charming protagonist, though I grew to really like her. I found this story took some intriguing turns and I will probably be reading more of this series in due course.
8/10

Scot Mist – Book 4 of the Last Ditch Mystery series by Catriona McPherson
March 2020 and Operation Cocker is a go! The owners of the Last Ditch Motel, with a little help from their friend Lexy Campbell, are preparing to support one another through the oncoming lockdown, offering the motel’s spare rooms to a select few from the local area in need of sanctuary.

While the newbies are settling in, an ambiguous banner appears demanding one of them return home. But who is it for? Lexy and her friends put a plan into action to ward off the perpetrator, but the very next night, a resident disappears and a message scrawled in human blood is found. As California shuts down, the Last Ditchers make another gruesome discovery. They tried to create a haven but now it seems as if everyone’s in danger. Is the motel under attack from someone on the outside? Scary as that is, the alternative is worse by far.
This one was my reading highlight of the week. I loved it. The eccentric found family coping with the gathering catastrophe that is the pandemic makes a memorable backdrop to this quirky murder mystery. I loved the humour and warm-heartedness – though I hasten to add that the murder is treated with appropriate respect and shock, more so than many whodunits I read, these days. Full review to follow. 10/10

Shrill Dusk – Book 1 of the City of Magic series by Helen Harper
Charley is a cleaner by day and a professional gambler by night. She might be haunted by her tragic past but she’s never thought of herself as anything or anyone special. Until, that is, things start to go terribly wrong all across the city of Manchester. Between plagues of rats, firestorms and the gleaming blue eyes of a sexy Scottish werewolf, she might just have landed herself in the middle of a magical apocalypse. She might also be the only person who has the ability to bring order to an utterly chaotic new world.


I’m a huge fan of this author and having just completed one of her fantasy series – I decided to dive into this one. It is certainly a really tense page-turner, with plenty of Harper’s hallmark humour – but watching Manchester becoming engulfed in a magical apocalypse, while still dealing with the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic wasn’t quite the escapist fun I was looking for. So I’m probably going to continue with this series once my life gets easier. 8/10

Ouroboros Episode One– Book 1 of the Galactic Coalition Academy by Odette C. Bell
Have you ever thought “just my luck!” after dropping your communication device for the third time in a week? Cadet Nida Harper, a recruit to the United Galactic Coalition Academy, has – and worse. So imagine her surprise when she is detailed for a mission to the dark and mysterious planet Remus 12. Strange things are afoot on Remus 12, a dust-bowl which according to legend bursts to life once every five thousand years – with deadly consequences for the galaxy.

So join Nida as she deals, using all her accustomed style and flair, with the presence of a strange and uninvited guest in her own head, a commander who is convinced she’s the Coalition’s worst recruit in one thousand years, and an uncomfortably handsome Lieutenant Carson Blake.
There were some moments of real drama in this classic sci fi alien encounter story. However the protagonist is such a clumsy idiot, I cannot believe that she would have made it through a single term of a supposedly elite Academy. And as for her being allowed anywhere near a tricky and important investigation on an alien planet? Nope. Not happening. However, I did enjoy the gathering tension and the setting. 7/10

Black Hat, White Witch – Book 1 of the Black Hat Bureau series by Hailey Edwards
Remember that old line about how the only way out of the organization is in a pine box?
Well, Rue Hollis spent ten years thinking she had escaped the Black Hat Bureau, no coffin required. Then her former partner had to go and shatter the illusion by showing up on her doorstep with grim tidings. As much as Rue wants to kick him to the curb, she agrees to hear him out for old times’ sake, and what he says chills her to the bone.

The Silver Stag was the most notorious paranormal serial killer in modern history, and Rue brought him down. Now a copycat has picked up where the Stag left off, and the Bureau wants her on the case. She beat the Stag once. They think she can do it again. But they don’t know she’s given up black magic, and she’s not about to tell them. White witches are prey, and Rue is the hunter, not the hunted. Always. But can she take down the protégé of the man who almost beat her at her black witch best? If she wants to keep her new town, her new home, her new life, then she has no choice but to find out.
I’m not a huge fan of murder mysteries featuring serial killers, especially those who prey on young girls. But the first person narrative hooked me in, as she’s a black witch trying to reform – and that was different enough to make me read on. And I grew to also appreciate the supporting cast, who are all quirky and eccentric enough to make me want to know more about them. Nicely done. 8/10

Black Arts, White Craft – Book 2 of the Black Hat Bureau series by Hailey Edwards
After a black witch pitched a hissy fit in Hollis Apothecary, Rue got stuck cleaning up his mess. That was the easy part. Repairing the damage he inflicted on Camber and Arden? That makes Rue wish she could bring him back to life just to kill him again. Slower this time.

While Rue is setting her new life back to rights, Clay and Asa are off working a case, but it soon becomes clear that they’ll need her help to catch the vicious creature preying on locals in a small Tennessee town. She’s got her hands full at home, but Rue has no choice. She must report for duty to honor her agreement with the director. Or else. What she discovers leads her deeper down the rabbit hole of Black Hat Bureau corruption and promises that, no matter how grim the past few weeks have been, the worst is yet to come.
Yes… this seems to be a new habit of mine – reading two books back-to-back by the same author. It’s something I hardly ever did before I was ill. But once I finished the first one, I discovered I wanted more of these entertaining characters. I love the slow burn romance as Edwards has managed to bring some unusual aspects into the quirky courtship that makes it both funny and slightly poignant. And sexy… It’s an interesting dynamic. And the ongoing criminal investigations into brutal monsters and their sadistic handlers get increasingly tricky. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – Art of the Hunt – Book 2 of the Dragon Gate series by Lindsay Buroker
Our heroes have escaped with the ancient dragon gate, rekindling their hope of finding allies on other worlds, but powerful enemies are right behind them. Unfortunately, Jak and Jadora must decipher the gate’s secrets before they can use it.

That’s a difficult task with mages from numerous kingdoms hunting them, Lord Malek stalking Jadora through magical dreams, and a new threat lurking deep within the jungle.
Faced by overwhelming odds, Jak and Jadora may be forced to work with the only man who can keep them alive: Malek. But what price will they have to pay for his protection?
This audiobook, at over 20 hours long, represents excellent value – but that didn’t stop me taking only a week to listen to it as I wanted to find out what was happening next. Buroker is a fabulous storyteller – her plots invariably providing plenty of surprising twists and changes of scene, which I love. And this one is no exception. I’m delighted that I’ve also got the next book in the series already lined up on my reading list. 9/10

This week I have posted:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of The Shattered Skies – Book 2 of The Cruel Stars trilogy by John Birmingham

*RE-RELEASE* – Review of Bad Gods – Book 1 of the Babylon Steel series by Gaie Sebold

Sunday Post – Living with Long Covid #8

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m very aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

SUNDAY POST – CHRISTMAS WITH LONG COVID

Standard

This is an update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 10 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Review.

Like everyone else, my runup to Christmas was full of chores that don’t normally occur, despite my best intentions to dial it right back and make it a much quieter affair. In the event, Christmas Day was lovely, as my sister came over to spend it with us, while Himself cooked a wonderful meal. I’d been able to help by gathering sage from the garden for the stuffing and roll vegan bacon slices around prunes, replacing the stones with almonds. My sister brought along a chicken breast and Himself cooked a nut roast for us. While it wasn’t as nice as the one I usually prepare using fresh chestnuts, the meal was still delicious. And we then collapsed in front of the TV, too full to move. But I woke up the following morning exhausted once more and it took several days to recover – by which time we’d both gone down with a cold. Or maybe it was Omicron. Despite the fact that the lateral flow tests all were negative, given that my daughter and young granddaughter got sick with covid over the Christmas holidays, it had to be a possibility even though they’d stood at the door and not come into the house when we saw them the one time during the Christmas period. Fortunately they recovered without any ill effects, which was a huge relief.

To be safe, I cancelled my reflexology appointment and we stayed in. Until the glorious morning two days into the New Year when I woke up feeling much, much better – and no longer smelling horrible. Since I got sick in March, I’ve been aware that I smell bad – a musty sick smell that I hate. And for two whole days it disappeared. In addition I had much more energy – that wasn’t new, but the absence of that horrible smell was. So… perhaps I’d had Omicron after all, I thought – and like a number of other people, maybe contracting another version of covid actually cured my Long Covid! I felt fantastic – but decided to take it easy… not push myself too much. So I did a couple of two-minute exercise sessions, spent some time working on the timeline for my Castellan stories and actually cleaned the bathroom for the first time in ages. Hm. Turns out I wasn’t cured and had only succeeded in flattening myself allll over again.

Initially, I felt stupid for thinking it would be that easy. Why would I magically get a free pass and be able to skip the tricky slow recovery bit, when I hadn’t been cured by having the booster jab? But looking back, I’ve decided that it wasn’t stupidity – it was hope. And if I lose that, then I really am sunk. So no more beating myself up for wishing I was better, and accept that it isn’t going to work that way. Now I’m back to working on improving my sleep patterns, filling in my activity journal, enforcing my pacing routine, including regular meditations. And trying to hang onto my patience, as I now inconveniently have enough emotional energy to get very frustrated and fed up with the situation – unlike earlier on when I was too tired to care. And also celebrate the bright lights that shine in the gloom, like Himself’s constant caring presence. While he had to work right up to Christmas Eve, he’s been off work now since New Year’s Eve on annual leave, which I’m very grateful for. And our eldest grandson came to stay from Wednesday to Friday this week – which was a huge treat. He’s loving college and it’s a joy to see him blossom in an environment where he’s surrounded by other creative people who understand his enthusiasms. I’d like to send a huge shoutout to the lecturers and teachers out there doing a stellar job in increasingly difficult circumstances – thank you!

A very Happy 2022 to you all. Let’s hope that it is a MUCH better year than the previous two have been.

Since the start of the year I’ve read:-
The Stranger Times – Book 1 of The Stranger Times series by C.K. McDonnell
There are Dark Forces at work in our world (and in Manchester in particular) and so thank God The Stranger Times is on hand to report them. A weekly newspaper dedicated to the weird and the wonderful (but more often the weird) of modern life, it is the go-to publication for the unexplained and inexplicable . . . At least that’s their pitch. The reality is rather less auspicious. Their editor is a drunken, foul-tempered and -mouthed husk of a man who thinks little (and believes less) of the publication he edits, while his staff are a ragtag group of wastrels and misfits, each with their own secrets to hide and axes to grind. And as for the assistant editor . . . well, that job is a revolving door – and it has just revolved to reveal Hannah Willis, who’s got her own set of problems.

It’s when tragedy strikes in Hannah’s first week on the job that The Stranger Times is forced to do some serious, proper, actual investigative journalism. What they discover leads them to a shocking realisation: that some of the stories they’d previously dismissed as nonsense are in fact terrifyingly, gruesomely real. Soon they come face-to-face with darker foes than they could ever have imagined. It’s one thing reporting on the unexplained and paranormal but it’s quite another being dragged into the battle between the forces of Good and Evil .
Thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. I laughed aloud throughout this one. McDonnell manages to make his highly eccentric bunch of characters both sympathetic and engaging, while keeping their oddness – which isn’t all that easy to do. The pages turned themselves and it was a wonderful New Year’s treat to start 2022 by reading this offering – I look forward to reading more books from this series in due course. 10/10

A Familiar Sight – Book 1 of the Dr Gretchen White series by Brianna Labuskes

When a high-profile new case lands on Shaughnessy’s desk, it seems open and shut. Remorseless teenager Viola Kent is accused of killing her mother. Amid stories of childhood horrors and Viola’s cruel manipulations, the bad seed has already been found guilty by a rapt public. But Gretchen might be seeing something in Viola no one else does: herself. If Viola is a scapegoat, then who really did it? And what are they hiding? To find the truth, Gretchen must enter a void that is not only dark and cold-blooded, but also frighteningly familiar.
This contemporary murder mystery is a compelling read, made more so by the clever use of a fractured timeline which jumps between the lives of the victims and the investigation. It could have quickly turned into a hot mess, but the deftness of the writing and the strong characterisation instead made this one hard to put down. Highly recommended. 9/10

Spirits and Smoke – Book 2 of the Maddie Pastore series by Mary Miley
December, 1924. Young widow Maddie Pastore feels fortunate to be employed by the well-meaning but fraudulent medium Carlotta Romany. Investigating Carlotta’s clients isn’t work she’s proud of, but she’s proud of how well she does it. Maddie’s talents, however, draw them unwelcome attention: sharp-eyed Officer O’Rourke from the Chicago Police. He doesn’t believe in spiritualism – but in a city packed with mobsters, con artists and criminals, he’ll take any help he can get.

It’s not long before Maddie has a case to bring him. Why did teetotal banker Herman Quillen die of alcohol poisoning? And who is the gold-toothed man claiming to be his brother, and demanding the spirits reveal where Herman hid his money? All Maddie wants is to uncover the truth – but to her horror, she’s soon mixed up in a tangled web of secrets and deception that leads to the heart of Chicago’s violent gangs . . . and she’ll need all her wits about her if she, and her loved ones, are going to make it out again alive.
This historical murder mystery, set in 1920s Chicago, leaps off the page with a strong, sympathetic protagonist and the vivid depiction of the Prohibition era. I enjoyed the first book, The Mystic’s Apprentice, and loved this one. Review to follow.

Blood Trade – Book 6 of the Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter
The Master of Natchez, Mississippi has a nasty problem on his hands. Rogue vampires—those who follow the Naturaleza and believe that humans should be nothing more than prey to be hunted—are terrorizing his city. Luckily, he knows the perfect skinwalker to call in to take back the streets.

But what he doesn’t tell Jane is that there’s something different about these vamps. Something that makes them harder to kill—even for a pro like Jane. Now, her simple job has turned into a fight to stay alive…and to protect the desperately ill child left in her care.
Once again, the sheer quality of the writing shines through as Jane continues her dark journey in the employ of Leo, the Master of the City of New Orleans. While it’s violent and often blood-soaked, I never find the details gratuitious – and there are often amusing interludes as Jane also has a snarky mouth and isn’t afraid to use it. This is a classy series that stand above the rest, and highly recommended. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – Cytonic – Book 3 of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson
Spensa’s life as a Defiant Defense Force pilot has been far from ordinary. She proved herself one of the best starfighters in the human enclave of Detritus and she saved her people from extermination at the hands of the Krell—the enigmatic alien species that has been holding them captive for decades. What’s more, she traveled light-years from home as an undercover spy to infiltrate the Superiority, where she learned of the galaxy beyond her small, desolate planet home. Now, the Superiority—the governing galactic alliance bent on dominating all human life—has started a galaxy-wide war. And Spensa’s seen the weapons they plan to use to end it: the Delvers. Ancient, mysterious alien forces that can wipe out entire planetary systems in an instant. Spensa knows that no matter how many pilots the DDF has, there is no defeating this predator.

Except that Spensa is Cytonic. She faced down a Delver and saw something eerily familiar about it. And maybe, if she’s able to figure out what she is, she could be more than just another pilot in this unfolding war. She could save the galaxy. The only way she can discover what she really is, though, is to leave behind all she knows and enter the Nowhere. A place from which few ever return. To have courage means facing fear. And this mission is terrifying.
I’m not quite sure why this one didn’t hold me as much as Skyward or Starsight, but there were times when I felt the narrative pace slightly dragged. It was never sufficient for me to decide not to listen to the audiobook any more – but I did feel there was a bit too much repetition regarding Spensa’s feelings and her feisty A.I.’s exploration of its new emotions. That said – I was still fascinated to see where Sanderson was taking this story, as the plot delivered plenty of surprises along the way. 7/10

Bloodfire – Book 1 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
Mackenzie Smith has always known that she was different. Growing up as the only human in a pack of rural shapeshifters will do that to you, but then couple it with some mean fighting skills and a fiery temper and you end up with a woman that few will dare to cross. However, when the only father figure in her life is brutally murdered, and the dangerous Brethren with their predatory Lord Alpha come to investigate, Mack has to not only ensure the physical safety of her adopted family by hiding her apparent humanity, she also has to seek the blood-soaked vengeance that she craves.

Mack is certainly short-fused. All sorts of things make her angry, some justifiably and some not so much. Do be warned, though, part of her annoyance is expressed in her colourful swearing. I also liked her glorious disregard for rules, which makes entire sense once we realise exactly what is going on. Cornwall is one of my favourite places in the world and while we weren’t overwhelmed with details of the countryside, there was sufficient for me to be able to clearly visualise what is going on. REREAD 8/10

Bloodmagic – Book 2 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
After escaping the claws of Corrigan, the Lord Alpha of the Brethren, Mack is trying to lead a quiet lonely life in Inverness in rural Scotland, away from anyone who might happen to be a shapeshifter. However, when she lands a job at an old bookstore owned by a mysterious elderly woman who not only has a familiar passion for herbal lore but also seems to know more than she should, Mack ends up caught in a maelstrom between the Ministry of Mages, the Fae and the Brethren.

Now she has to decide between staying hidden and facing the music, as well as confronting her real feelings for the green eyed power of Corrigan himself.
Enjoyable sequel to Bloodfire, taking Mack into more scrapes and adventures while giving us more information about her mysterious origins. A nicely snarky protagonist. Recommended for fans of shape-shifting, paranormal adventures. REREAD 8/10

Bloodrage – Book 3 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
Mack begins her training at the mages’ academy in the hope that, by complying, the stasis spell will be lifted from her old friend, Mrs. Alcoon. However, once there, she finds herself surrounded by unfriendly adults and petulant teenagers, the majority of whom seem determined to see her fail.

Feeling attacked on all fronts, Mack finds it harder and harder to keep a rein on her temper. Forced to attend anger management classes and deal with the predatory attentions of Corrigan, the Lord Alpha of the shapeshifter world, her emotions start to unravel. But when she comes across a familiar text within the walls of the mages’ library, which might just provide the clues she needs to unlock the secrets of her background and her dragon blood, she realises that her problems are only just beginning…
It’s a while since I read the first two books – so I reread them both, thoroughly enjoying once more immersing myself in the problems stacking up for poor old Mack as she struggles to discover exactly who she is and what she does. I do enjoy how characters from previous books keep popping up, allowing us to get to know them better and the oh-so-slow burn romance that is gradually unfurling throughout the series is being very well handled. Given just how short-fused and grumpy Mack is, I liked how her loyalty and bone-headed refusal to compromise her principles regarding those she takes responsibility for balances up against her less likeable attributes – it works well. My main niggle is that I personally would prefer less swearing – it’s a book I’d like to recommend to younger members of the family, but can’t. 9/10

Sigma Protocol: Jane Poole Genesis – Part 1 by Michael Penmore
Disoriented and alone, Sigma wakes from enforced sleep with questions that need to be answered. Who is she? Where is she? How did she end up in this place? With only a cryptic message from the ship’s AI to guide her, the determined survivor sets out on a race against time to uncover the desperate story of Starship Copernicus and its crew. Sigma Protocol is the fast-paced first episode in the Jane Poole Genesis describing the beginnings of Jane Poole, aka Sigma.

What I hadn’t appreciated was that this is a short story with only 76 pages. So just as I was starting to relax into the narrative – it came to a sudden, abrupt stop. Which was a shame as I was just beginning to bond with poor old Jane and her problems. 7/10

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #3

Standard

This is my fortnightly (hopefully) Sunday Post update – hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer – on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 8 months since I first got ill . And as usual, it’s been a bit up and down. My wonderful sister suggested that I see a reflexologist as I felt I’d got a bit stuck. So I went ahead and found Laura – a lovely lady, who lives only a fifteen-minute drive from where I live, which is really important. Right now, I don’t have the energy for a long journey. We discovered that we both taught at the same Junior school back in the 1990s and I immediately liked and trusted her. I’ve had a couple of sessions so far and it’s going well.

During our first consultation, Laura suggested that I get my thyroid checked out, as she is concerned at the pressure I feel at the base of my throat, particularly when I’m tired. So I phoned up the Dr last week – and was given an immediate face-to-face appointment that morning. I saw a very sympathetic Dr, who suggested that I have a scan to check out my thyroid and arranged a blood test. Though she did warn me that in all likelihood, it will come back entirely normal, as Long Covid generally doesn’t present many symptoms during such investigations.

Having the reflexology appointment on the Friday, the Dr’s appointment on the following Monday and a blood test on Wednesday pretty much wiped me out for the rest of the week. Though I didn’t end up bedridden again, and all but one of the days, I was still well enough to shower – so I take that as a win. Himself had some annual leave this week and I really appreciated it. As I’m feeling more alert, I miss him when he’s working. Normally, I’m busy writing or blogging, or out and about so I am too occupied to sit around, wondering what he’s doing. Not so these days.

One of my lovely Creative Writing students suggested that I start writing haikus, as she was very concerned to learn that I have currently lost the ability to write my novels. I thought it an excellent idea – the Japanese three-line, seventeen-syllable poetry form seemed something that I should be able to manage. However, while the first one was reasonably positive – the next five I spent the early hours of the morning writing were so filled with rage and pain that I realised I couldn’t do this anymore. To be honest – it was a shock. I hadn’t appreciated all those feelings were lurking under the surface and while I need to sort them out at some stage, this isn’t the time. Not while I’m battling so hard to get better.

Thank goodness for fabulous books and gripping TV series! They’re a life-saver as they allow me to simply escape from the whole situation when I need to. Yay for The Gilmore Girls, which I loved – and I’m now up to date with Chesapeke Shores. I’ve also found meditation a huge help throughout the day to rest and relax both my body and mind. It also helps me keep a positive mindset.

Thank you so much. I really appreciate the stream of good wishes for my recovery that I have received since I started posting about Long Covid. I can’t have many visitors as I don’t have the energy to sustain much of a conversation. Though it was wonderful when Frank, our eldest grandson, popped in yesterday afternoon to catch up. It was such a relief to find that he’s settling in really well on his animation course at college and thoroughly enjoying it.

This week I’ve read:-

HMS Nightingale – Book 4 of the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland
For Lieutenant Alexis Carew, it should be the perfect assignment — a command of her own and a chance to return to her home star system.

What she finds is a surly crew, the dregs of every frigate and ship of the line to pass through on the way to the war’s front, a first officer who thinks the command should have been his, and colonial worlds where they believe a girl’s place is somewhere very different than command of a Queen’s starship. Add to that the mysterious disappearances of ships vital to the war effort and an old enemy who seems intent on convincing her he’s changed. Then there’s the mongoose with an unnatural affinity for her boots.
I’ve really enjoyed this series so far – the ‘Hornblower in space’ scenario works well, which is largely down to the feisty character of Alexis Carew. She is a pleasing mix of aggression and vulnerability, without too much angst. That said, I’m also pleased to see symptoms of PTSD in this instalment as she’s been through some heavy-duty action. Good to see a strong protagonist who isn’t Teflon-coated with invincibility.
9/10

Buried Memories – Book 10 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green
As long-buried memories from his hidden past begin to resurface, Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny feel compelled to return to the small country town where Ishmael crash-landed in 1963; the place where his memories began. Norton Hedley is no ordinary town. Apparitions, sudden disappearances, sightings of unusual beasts: for centuries, the place has been plagued by a series of inexplicable events. Ishmael’s first task is to track down local author Vincent Smith, the one man he believes may have some answers.

Ishmael and Penny aren’t the only ones seeking the mysterious Mr Smith. When their search unearths a newly-dead body in the local mortuary – a body that’s definitely not supposed to be there – Ishmael becomes the prime suspect in the ensuing murder investigation. His only hope of discovering the truth about his origins lies in exposing a ruthless killer.
Another enjoyable offering in this intriguing and quirky series, where a disguised alien ends up trouble-shooting for a shadowy, undercover organisation tasked with keeping creepy things under control. These stories so easily could be a violent, dark, action-fuelled gore-fest – but while it is often dark, action-fuelled and more than a tad gory, it’s often also funny. I loved learning more about Ishmael’s origin story in this latest episode.
8/10

Inborn Magic – Book 1 of the Hidden Coven series by Kim McDougall
It should have been a simple spell…
Light into heat, heat into flame.
How did it all go so wrong?
Paralyzed … magic drained … Bobbi lies wondering …
Only the Mistress of the Hidden Coven can save her, but Quinn doesn’t want to let a stranger past the coven wards. It’s his job to keep strangers out. Especially when a demon is hell-bent on stealing their most precious resource—magic.


Can Quinn lower his shields enough to let Bobbi in?
Can Bobbi trust these witches to help her tame the wild magic inside her?
No one can stand alone against the coming darkness.
No witch can hide any longer.
This novella packs a punch with a gripping opening sequence that really showcases the author’s writing chops. I enjoyed where the story is going and despite being shorter than I usually like, I definitely will be reading the next book in the series.
8/10

Madrenga by Alan Dean Foster
A vital message. A desperate queen. A hero in the making.

He is plainly too young and too inexperienced for the mission, but on the advice of her aged adviser Natoum, and with her husband off at war, the Queen reluctantly assigns the task of delivery to…

Madrenga.

Accompanied only by a runt of a pony and a scrap of a pup, he sets off to transport the royal message to its destination. No matter what it might take. But things are not always what they seem. Heroes are sometimes made of the strangest stuff, and love is to be found in the most unexpected places. If one doesn’t die while treading the lethal path…
Himself bought this standalone fantasy quest adventure last year, so I tucked into it. And thoroughly enjoyed the twists and turns – as well as discovering exactly what or who Madrenga really is. It takes a writer with skill and experience to pull off an ongoing mystery that hooks readers throughout the book with such panache. But then, that’s who Alan Dean Foster is…
8/10

Magic’s a Hoot – Book 3 of the Owl Star Witch series by Leanne Leeds
Astra assumed every person the Star Card told her to save would be…well, worth saving. But when sister Ami turns over the glowing goddess card during Gloria Fisher’s reading on her perpetually drunk—and targeted for death—husband, William? The witch realizes the gods move in mysterious ways.
As she delves deep into the man’s complicated life, Astra’s investigation devolves into chaos when a painting William Fisher insured goes missing. What’s even worse? The police think he was in on the scheme.


Can Astra find the painting, clear the man, and keep his whole life policy in force? Or will William’s accidental death insurance have to pay out?
I’ve enjoyed the first two books in this well-written series, where the plotting is twisty and there is plenty of humour – but this is the one that really ramps up the stakes. Friendship and family feature heavily in this series, and while I enjoyed the mystery, it’s the interaction between siblings and friends that had me continuing to turn the pages. And a very grumpy owl, who is rapidly becoming my favourite sentient creature…
9/10

The Noose of a New Moon – Book 1 of the Wolfbrand series by Helen Harper

Devereau Webb is in uncharted territory. He thought he knew what he was doing when he chose to enter London’s supernatural society but he’s quickly discovering that his new status isn’t welcome to everyone. He’s lived through hard times before and he’s no stranger to the murky underworld of city life. But when he comes across a young werewolf girl who’s not only been illegally turned but who has also committed two brutal murders, he will discover just how difficult life can be for supernaturals – and also how far his own predatory powers extend.
This spinoff series fills in the gaps for those of us also following Harper’s very successful and enjoyable Firebrand series, set in London. I’m a real fan of this author, and this latest book didn’t disappoint. Devereau is an awesome protagonist, whose undeniable power doesn’t mean he’s invincible.
9/10

The Quicksilver Court – Book 2 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso
Ryxander, Warden of Gloamingard, has failed. Unsealed by her blood, the Door hidden within the black tower has opened. Now, for the first time since the age of the Graces, demons walk the world.

As tensions grow between nations, all eyes-and daggers are set on Morgrain, fallen under the Demon of Discord’s control. In an attempt to save her home from destruction, Ryx and the Rookery set out to find a powerful artifact. But powerful enemies are on the hunt and they’re closing in fast.
This is a fabulous read – but whatever you do – read The Obsidian Tower first if you haven’t already had the pleasure. This one follows straight on from the events that take place – and Caruso doesn’t hang around to catch you up. The book creaks with tension as the stakes are high – and then go on ramping up. A twisty plot, captivating characters and brilliantly evocative writing – this is one of my outstanding reads of the year so far. Review to follow.
10/10

Reviews published since my last Sunday Post:-

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of The Green Man’s Challenge – Book 4 of The Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of Buried Memories – Book 10 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Battle Ground – Book 17 of the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Last Graduate – Book 2 of the Scholomance series by Naomi Novik

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m very aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be in a position to start to reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Buried Memories – Book 10 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #BuriedMemoriesbookreview

Standard

Anyone who has spent much time visiting this blog will know that I enjoy Green’s writing – see my reviews of the other books in this series – The Dark Side of the Road, Very Important Corpses, Death Shall Come, Into the Thinnest of Air, Murder in the Dark, Till Sudden Death Do Us Part, Night Train to Murder, The House on Widow’s Hill and my review of his fantasy heist adventure, The Best Thing You Can Steal and The Man With the Golden Torc – so I was delighted to see the latest book in this paranormal murder mystery series.

BLURB: As long-buried memories from his hidden past begin to resurface, Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny feel compelled to return to the small country town where Ishmael crash-landed in 1963; the place where his memories began. Norton Hedley is no ordinary town. Apparitions, sudden disappearances, sightings of unusual beasts: for centuries, the place has been plagued by a series of inexplicable events. Ishmael’s first task is to track down local author Vincent Smith, the one man he believes may have some answers.

Ishmael and Penny aren’t the only ones seeking the mysterious Mr Smith. When their search unearths a newly-dead body in the local mortuary – a body that’s definitely not supposed to be there – Ishmael becomes the prime suspect in the ensuing murder investigation. His only hope of discovering the truth about his origins lies in exposing a ruthless killer.

REVIEW: I thoroughly enjoy Green’s clever mix of real tension and creepiness, along with touches of dark humour that at times have me laughing out loud. Ishmael is not human – he’s an alien that crashed to Earth in 1963 and has been trying to stay under the radar ever since. This has very much affected his choice to work for a number of shady organisations and consequently he mixes with some very dangerous people. These books could have been gritty and bleak – but Ishmael has been lucky enough to fall in love with the adorable Penny, who is now his sidekick and her company considerably lightens his violent adventures. Their teamwork and snarky interchanges particularly brightened things up during this creepy exploration into Ishmeal’s past. I was especially pleased to pick this one up, as Buried Memories addresses Ishmael’s origins on Earth. Due to the damage sustained by his spaceship, his memories of that time are very fragmentary. But he now believes that he wasn’t the only survivor and feels impelled to try to find his companion and learn more of why they visited Earth in the first place.

I think it’s really clever to have left his origin story so late in the series, as I’m now thoroughly invested in dear old Ishmael and Penny. So I was brimming with curiosity to discover exactly where he came from and why. It also is a nifty entry point if you haven’t had the pleasure of the previous adventures, which is always helpful for readers in a long-running series. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. As well as the spooky parody of the idyllic English village, peopled with some nicely eccentric characters, I very much appreciated the additional insights into what makes Ishmael tick. Recommended for fans of quirky paranormal creepiness that doesn’t take itself too seriously. While I obtained an arc of Buried Memories from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10