Category Archives: audio book

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

Standard


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…

Review of AUDIOBOOK Longbourn by Jo Baker #Brainfluffbookreview #Longbournbookreview

Standard

Like so many other folks, I’m a huge Jane Austen fan – and Pride and Prejudice was my go-to comfort read for several decades. So I was delighted to hear about this retelling from the viewpoint of the servants at Longbourn – and so decided to treat myself to the Audible version, narrated by the wonderful Emma Fielding.

BLURB: ‘If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats,’ Sarah thought, ‘she would be more careful not to tramp through muddy fields.’
It is wash-day for the housemaids at Longbourn House, and Sarah’s hands are chapped and raw. Domestic life below stairs, ruled with a tender heart and an iron will by Mrs Hill the housekeeper, is about to be disturbed by the arrival of a new footman, bearing secrets and the scent of the sea.

This started so very well. I loved Sarah, the intelligent and lively young maid-of-all-work, hired from the Poor House when she was only six years old by Mrs Hill, the housekeeper, after her family died of typhus. Now, as a teenager, she finds the drudgery and sheer monotony of the work, chafes her spirit. She longs for some adventure and a break from the routine of never-ending, back-breaking housework in the days when every cleaning product had to be made by hand and hardly any domestic aids to lighten the load existed. Baker depicts life below stairs so very well, and her characterisation of all the servants, Mrs Hill in particular, is nuanced and detailed.

But as the story wore on, I felt the pacing suffered in the face of all the domestic trivia. Baker had clearly done shedloads of historical research on the clothing, the food, the duties of the servants… Unfortunately, she also got very caught up in regaling her readers with far too much of said detail at the overall expense of the narrative, which meant the book dragged in places, which was a real shame.

Unlike some readers, I didn’t have a problem with Baker’s depiction of the Bennet family – of course Elizabeth wouldn’t come across as particularly lively to the servants, or even all that thoughtful. While she was often preoccupied and forgot a detail particularly important to Sarah, it must remembered that was right in the middle of a tumultuous period in her own life. She also never shouted, or threw things at Sarah, pinched or slapped her, which was also often the lot of a domestic servant. I also enjoyed the interlude right away from Longbourn, when we get a ringside seat at the horrors of the Peninsular Campaign during the Napoleonic Wars. It gave us a bit of a break from the constant domestic round and a real insight into the brutality many working-class men endured, once they joined up.

As for the overall plot – I thought the plotline charting Mrs Hill’s story was stunningly successful, from beginning to end, particularly the way in also encompassed poor Mrs Bennet’s life. If the book had chosen to feature Mrs Hill as the main protagonist, this would have been an outstanding read from me. But it wasn’t – Sarah was the main character featured throughout, until nearly at the end of the book, when she simply disappears, only to make a fleeting and highly unsatisfactory reappearance right at the very end.

I couldn’t believe it. I went back and replayed it, in case I missed a bunch of crucial details – but I hadn’t. I had no idea if she was happy with the life she ended up choosing. And that ending plain didn’t make sense, either. No one dared send any letters for fear of being traced – and then… suddenly that didn’t matter anymore! I can’t say more for fear of Spoilers, but I found the ending contrived and unconvincing. What a shame! There was so much that was well done, but I came away disappointed that this book didn’t fulfil its early promise.
6/10

Sunday Post – 7th June, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

Standard

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.

Three AUDIBLE Fantasy Mini-Reviews – How to Betray a Dragon’s Hero; The Lost Plot; Uprooted #Brainfluffbookreviews #3Audiblemini-reviews

Standard



Here are a series of mini-reviews of books that all fall under the fantasy genre – but couldn’t be more different if they tried… They are also enjoyable, escapist reads which is a great way to round off the wonderful month of Wyrd and Wonder. Thank you to imyril @ There’s Always Room for One More, Lisa @ Dear Geek Place and Jorie Loves a Story for their hard work in making this event such a huge success.

AUDIOBOOK How To Betray a Dragon’s Hero – Book 11 of the How To Train Your Dragon series
BLURB:High up in the Treacherous mists of the Murderous Mountains, Hiccup and the Company of the Dragonmark are in hiding. The witch’s Vampire Spydragons are guarding the shores of Tomorrow — but Hiccup is determined to become King of the Wilderwest. Can Hiccup dodge the dragons and steal back the King’s Things from Alvin before the Doomsday of Yule? And is there a traitor in Hiccup’s camp who, in the end, will betray them all?

Again, it is something of a shock to realise how much darker this penultimate book is when comparing it to the first two or three in the series. Hiccup and his companions are in a very hard place, and the world they knew has been flamed flat and turned into ruins. Cowell doesn’t pull her punches when depicting the war-torn ravaged remains of the Viking tribes as they struggle to prevail against the might of the Dragon Furious and the Dragon Rebellion.

For all that, there are still shafts of humour, chiefly courtesy of Toothless and the other small dragon that Hiccup has acquired called Hogfly and David Tennent’s fabulous narration ensured both the tension and comedy were brilliantly evoked. As ever, the pacing is perfect and it was difficult to tear myself away as the adventure went on gathering momentum. This book ends on a mighty cliffhanger and whatever you do, don’t pick it up if you haven’t read at least the previous three or four books in the series as it simply won’t make sense. A gripping, enthralling read for Viking fans of all ages.
9/10



AUDIOBOOK The Lost Plot – Book 4 of The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
BLURB: In a 1920s-esque New York, Prohibition is in force; fedoras, flapper dresses, and tommy guns are in fashion: and intrigue is afoot. Intrepid Librarians Irene and Kai find themselves caught in the middle of a dragon political contest. It seems a young Librarian has become tangled in this conflict, and if they can’t extricate him, there could be serious repercussions for the mysterious Library. And, as the balance of power across mighty factions hangs in the balance, this could even trigger war.

Irene and Kai are locked in a race against time (and dragons) to procure a rare book. They’ll face gangsters, blackmail, and the Library’s own Internal Affairs department. And if it doesn’t end well, it could have dire consequences on Irene’s job. And, incidentally, on her life…

I was really entertained by this slice of Prohibition New York, when Irene and Kai find themselves trying to track down a rogue Librarian and a lost book in a world where dragons are playing powergames. The premise is clever, the characters enjoyable – I really love the fact that Irene is a cool, self-contained character who always performs at her best when in a really tight spot. And she spends a great deal of time in those really tight spots…

This was huge fun with gangster molls, hardboiled cops and lethally ambitious dragons trying to foil our plucky duo in their vital mission. The one slightly annoying factor for me was the very dry, low-key narration by Susan Duerdan which didn’t line up all that well with set-piece action scenes. I got AWFULLY fed up with that dropping cadence… However, it wasn’t a dealbreaker as Cogman’s vivid scene-setting, clever plotting and deft characterisation managed to rise above the rather monotonous delivery.
8/10



AUDIOBOOK Uprooted by Naomi Novik

BLURB:“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood. But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

I’ve gone back to read my original review – and realised that I gobbled this one up in two greedy gulps and now, listening to it again some four years later, I’m rather horrified at just how much I’d forgotten. It generally stands up very well to hearing the story unfold and I fell in love with Agnieszka all over again. But I was a bit startled when a very graphic sex scene suddenly appeared right in the middle of all the magical mayhem and seemed very out of place. I’ve discovered it’s a bit more of a hassle to fast-forward through bits you don’t want to hear, than it is when reading them…

Other than that, I loved the narrative drive, the story structure and the ending – though why anyone thought this was a suitable YA read frankly astounds me.
9/10

Sunday Post – 24th May, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

Standard


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

Again no rain, and on Wednesday and Thursday we were back to high summer temperatures and sitting outside. So Himself is trudging around with the watering can. The yarrow is now flowering and here is the first bloom on my elder. I don’t know what the dear little pink fluffy flowers are – I bought the plant because I love the leaves, but they work really well with the rest of the colour scheme in that bed. And the echium spires are now in full flower and have stopped growing – don’t they look fabulous? For reference, I am 5’5″.

I completed my How-To book this week and am really pleased with it. Himself is compiling the bibliography for me, but I’ve added the writing exercises – there are 50 – to help with characterisation, along with the quick check-list. I am now starting the edits to Mantivore Warrior.

Other than that, I had an editing session with my friend Sally, working on the second book about her experiences with Tim. We took our scooters for a run along the sea front. It was hard work scooting against the wind, but great fun and nice to get out. Sadly, I missed the family games evening last night as I had a rotten headache.


Last week I read:
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?
Something almost unheard of – I actually read the last two books in this series back to back. It was so much fun – but I am now pining for Stella and hoping that the author has nearly finished the next book! Review to follow.


The City of Brass – Book 1 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty
Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.

But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.
As I had the great good luck to get hold of an arc for The Empire of Gold, I wanted to read The City of Brass, the first book in this series. It was a cracking read that swept me up into this enjoyable Sand and Sorcery tale. Review to follow.


The Kingdom of Copper – Book 2 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty
Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there. Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of the battle that saw Dara slain at Prince Ali’s hand, Nahri must forge a new path for herself, without the protection of the guardian who stole her heart or the counsel of the prince she considered a friend. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her family and one misstep will doom her tribe.
So… reading TWO series back to back?? I must have had a personality transplant! However, after reading the first book I decided I needed to put the second book into context, so reread it before starting the final book, so otherwise I felt I wouldn’t be giving it a fair go. It was also great fun – I’m a sucker for Sand and Sorcery tales…


AUDIOBOOK The Fire Court – Book 2 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor
The Great Fire has ravaged London, wreaking destruction and devastation wherever its flames spread. Now, guided by the incorruptible Fire Court, the city is slowly rebuilding, but times are volatile and danger is only ever a heartbeat away. James Marwood, son of a traitor, is thrust into this treacherous environment when his ailing father claims to have stumbled upon a murdered woman in the very place where the Fire Court sits. Then his father is run down and killed. Accident? Or another murder …? Determined to uncover the truth, Marwood turns to the one person he can trust – Cat Lovett, the daughter of a despised regicide. Marwood has helped her in the past. Now it’s her turn to help him. But then comes a third death … and Marwood and Cat are forced to confront a vicious and increasingly desperate killer whose actions threaten the future of the city itself.
This second book in this classy historical whodunit series took two sympathetic protagonists and wove a wonderful murder mystery around a fascinating time in English history that is oddly neglected in general fiction – the Great Fire of London and its aftermath. Review to follow.


My posts last week:

Review of Witch – Book 2 of the Doppleganger series by Marie Brennan

Friday Face-off featuring Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Shadow in the Empire of Light by Jane Routley

Five 5-Star Books in Five Words – Twice Over

Review of One Good Dragon Deserves Another – Book 2 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron

Sunday Post – 17th May 2020

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

Fiction Writing Contests Worth Your Time in Summer 2020 https://writerunboxed.com/2020/05/22/fiction-writing-contests-worth-your-time-in-summer-2020/ For those of you who on the hunt for competitions – here are a selection…

Photo Prompt Friday: Ethereal https://leighhecking.com/2020/05/22/photo-prompt-friday-ethereal/ Also recommended for those of you who enjoy looking at wonderful photos…

10 of the Best Poems of Remembrance https://interestingliterature.com/2020/05/remembrance-poems/ Another interesting, enjoyable list from this great site…

Senior Moments https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2020/05/20/senior-moments/ I can relate. I want an app that will tell me why I climbed the stairs – because I generally only remember once I’ve gone back down them again…

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover: Celebrating Fantasy Artwork https://onemore.org/2020/05/19/top-ten-fantasy-cover-art/ This is worth a visit to immerse yourself in some stunning covers – and make a note of some awesome reads along the way…

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

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller #Brainfluffbookreview #TheSongofAchillesbookreview #WyrdandWonder2020

Standard


I was blown away by Circe last year, which made my list of Outstanding Reads 2019. So treated myself to the Audible edition of this offering, hoping I’d like it as much. I am including this review in the Wyrd and Wonder 2020 event.

BLURB: Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess…

I’ve truncated the blurb, because I’m not going to assume that everyone who reads this review knows the complete story of the Trojan War and if you don’t, then the second half of the blurb gets far too spoilery, in my view. I loved the narration – Frazer Douglas does a stormingly good job of depicting awkward, sensitive Patroclus, who is the opposite of Achilles in almost every way. I always enjoy a story told in first person viewpoint if it’s done well – and Miller’s writing is sublime. We see, taste and smell ancient Greece without sacrificing any of the narrative drive or characterisation. I particularly loved how Douglas portrays the other characters, such as Chiron, the wise centaur who taught the boys on Mount Peilion, and particularly, smooth-tongued Odysseus.

There was a point in the story, given it is told in Patroclus’s viewpoint, where I wondered how Miller was going to cope with taking the story forward. But she dealt with it extremely well and made it entirely believable. In short, this was another masterful retelling, that had me gripped right to the end. And given that I knew what was going to happen – that’s a huge achievement. This book has garnered a great deal of attention and praise, which is richly deserved. I’m conscious that I’m late to the party, probably only next door’s dog hasn’t yet read this one, but in the unlikely event that you haven’t yet manged to fit it into your reading schedule, I highly recommend it – whether you enjoy Greek myth retellings or not.
10/10






Sunday Post – 3rd May, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

Standard


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

While we needed the rain, I found it really hard to suddenly have to deal with the lower light levels and colder temperatures. Thank goodness I woke up yesterday to find bright sunshine pouring in through the window, so we went out into the garden to do some weeding and move some plants. The fresh, shiny leaves are bursting into life and they look fabulous. I am wrapping my head around the fact that during this terrible time, this has been the most beautiful Spring I can remember. Our echiums just go from strength to strength…

Non-gardening news: I sat in my sister’s garden last weekend more than 6 feet apart from her and caught up – I miss her so… She is still working flat-out at the chemists and returns home each night exhausted, as she finds wearing all the protective clothing hot and stifling – although she is very aware how important it is. Upsettingly, some customers have been incredibly rude. One man told her colleague that she looked ‘ugly and ridiculous in that get-up’ – as if it was some kind of fashion choice! Thank goodness people like that are in the minority…

Last week I read:

AUDIOBOOK 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 has been a complete joy. My only sorrow is that my journey with this wonderfully realised, complex man is now over. Review to follow.


The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing – Book 2 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
Murder is no laughing matter. Yet a prominent Indian scientist dies in a fit of giggles when a Hindu goddess appears from a mist and plunges a sword into his chest. The only one laughing now is the main suspect, a powerful guru named Maharaj Swami, who seems to have done away with his most vocal critic. Vish Puri, India’s Most Private Investigator, master of disguise and lover of all things fried and spicy, doesn’t believe the murder is a supernatural occurrence, and proving who really killed Dr. Suresh Jha will require all the detective’s earthly faculties. To get at the truth, he and his team of undercover operatives—Facecream, Tubelight, and Flush—travel from the slum where India’s hereditary magicians must be persuaded to reveal their secrets to the holy city of Haridwar on the Ganges.
This has been another entertaining read in an excellent series that so far has delivered every time – but I think this one is my favourite so far…


Witch Dust by Marilyn Messik
For Sandra, daughter of illusionists, Adam and Ophelia, life’s never been run of the mill! But when Adam’s wandering eye lights on yet another conquest, it proves a chorus girl too far, and Sandra’s caught in the reverberations of her parents acrimonious parting. Coerced into restoring her depressed Mother to the bosom of a family Sandra never knew existed, she’s sucked into a situation that even for her is unnerving.
From being without a single relative, she suddenly acquires several she’d rather do without, and learns a few home truths she’d prefer not to know.
This was fun! I loved the paranormal hi-jinks that Sandra was plunged into, the humour and real creepy tension was nicely balanced. Review to follow.


Girls of Paper and Fire – Book 1 of Girls of Paper and Fire series by Natasha Ngan
Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.
I enjoyed this lush YA fantasy adventure, though I did feel that perhaps another character would have made a more effective protagonist. Review to follow.




After Seth by Caron Garrod
At Seth Jameson’s funeral, three women gather at the graveside… But they aren’t there to mourn him. Detective Inspector Beatrice (Billie) Nixon is about to retire. Her last job is to investigate whether Seth’s death was misadventure, as previously thought, or murder. As she hears their stories, a different picture of Seth emerges from the one presented to the world.
•Roz – driven to alcoholism after years of physical, mental and financial abuse.
•Eleanor – withdrawn from the world after a terrifying and life changing experience.
•Imogen – obsessed and delusional.
And Beatrice begins to wonder not did anyone kill him, but why did they wait so long? But there were other women in Seth’s life and, as she hears all their experiences, Beatrice discovers a story of strength, friendship and love. And after a lifetime dedicated to the law, she is forced to ask herself… Can murder ever be justified?
It was a wonderful treat to discover that one of my former writing students has released a novel she was working on when attending my class. I have read it to discover how it turned out – and I was so impressed! Review to follow.


My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Dark Side of the Road – Book 1 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green

Friday Face-off featuring Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Q by Christina Dalcher

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Set My Heart to Five by Simon Stephenson

Review of INDIE Ebook Bringing Stella Home – Book 1 of the Gaia Nova series by Joe Vasick

Sunday Post – 26th April 2020

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

My crazy challenge to play and sing the whole Cats musical without words or music in one go https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agBiKQm5zbM&feature=youtu.be My student has been finding ways to occupy his musical talent during lockdown…

Wyrd and Wonder: adventurers wanted https://onemore.org/2020/03/01/wyrd-and-wonder-2020/ If you enjoy reading and reviewing or discussing fantasy books of any description – then check this out…

Taking care of others vs taking care of ourselves https://www.michellescrazybusylife.net/index.php/2020/04/28/taking-care-of-others-v-s-taking-care-of-ourselves/#.Xq6u4Jl7kaE Michelle raises an important point here…

The Wee Lassie’s Top Ten Foods that keep your Immune System Healthy https://weewritinglassie.home.blog/2020/04/26/the-wee-lassies-top-ten-foods-that-keep-your-immune-system-healthy/ It’s more important than ever, to keep yourself as fit as possible, given the new information about COVID-19…

The #parenting and #writing #lifeathome: #Music to #write by, #laugh by, and #hope by https://jeanleesworld.com/2020/04/27/the-parenting-and-writing-lifeathome-music-to-write-by-laugh-by-and-hope-by/ Writing buddy Jean suggests uplifting music when you hit that wall of misery…

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

Review of AUDIOBOOK Poirot’s Finest Cases: Eight Full-Cast BBC Radio Dramatisations based upon the books by Agatha Christie #Brainfluffaudiobookreview #PoirotsFinestCasesbookreview

Standard

When browsing in Audible and wanting something completely different, this offering caught my eye. I’ve always enjoyed the dear old Beeb’s Radio 4 productions of Christie’s plays and thought this collection was excellent value for money.

These were a joy. I listened to them back to back, though perhaps in hindsight, I would have appreciated them even more if I’d thought to break them up as I did the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. It was something of a departure for me, as it was the first time I’d bought a full dramatization, rather than a straight narration. However, I needn’t have worried – after all, this is the Beeb and the pulling power they have to acquire the very best actors cannot be overstated.

Indeed, the cast list reads like a Who’s Who of British acting talent of the time – many now departed and sorely missed – John Moffat, Simon Williams, Jill Balcon, Philip Jackson, Hilda Schroder, George Cole, Gemma Saunders, Rosemary Leach, Donald Sinden, Stratford Johns, Sylvia Syms, Sian Phillips, Francesca Anna, Frank Windsor, Peter Polycarpu, and Joss Ackland… All the performances were marvellous – I particularly enjoyed John Moffat’s masterful portrayal of Poirot, which I think is every bit as good as David Suchet.

Listening to these dramatisations reminded me all over again why Christie is regarded so highly and has lived on in popularity as the mistress of the whodunit. The plotting is spot on and in the hands of the very capable cast, the characterisation pulled me into the story so that there were times when I was genuinely surprised. While I knew most of the stories, I did not know or remember the plot of Three Act Tragedy and found the denouement quite a shock.

With the stories that I did know, I was able to listen and appreciate the overall excellence of the production, the acting and the storytelling. Highly recommended for fans of Christie at her best.
10/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK Dark Summer by Ali Sparkes #Brainfluffbookreview #DarkSummerbookreview

Standard

This delightful children’s book was one of the Frankie’s Audible offerings, and given how much I’d enjoyed Sparkes’ Frozen in Time – see my review – I was happy to tuck into it.

BLURB: When Eddie discovers a secret passage in Wookey Hole caves, he just has to find out where it goes. But his amazement quickly turns to horror when he gets lost in the dark. He’s underground, on his own, and nobody knows where he is …Until a hand reaches out of the blackness. A strange, pale girl helps Eddie get back to the surface, but she can’t seem to leave the caves herself. Who is she? Or rather …what is she? And what other secrets is she hiding? Only one thing is certain – this is a summer Eddie will never forget.

I love Sparkes punchy, readable prose which pulled me right into the middle of this adventure from the first word. It didn’t hurt that the narration by Tom Lawrence was excellent and Eddie is a thoroughly likeable boy. He’s in a hard place at the start of the book – sent off to stay with his aunt while his mother recovers from a gruelling round of chemotherapy. Sparkes doesn’t go into major details about the treatment, but during the course of the book there are enough clues for us to draw that conclusion. I like the fact she didn’t spell out exactly what the illness was, giving parents and carers the option of going into more detail if the young reader is at all curious. It doesn’t help that his cousin, Darren is a bullying thug who thinks nothing of regularly beating Eddie up, mostly because of his ginger hair. Eddie is an only child who is close to his parents, and you get the sense that he is highly intelligent and probably more comfortable with adults than with his peers.

A peculiar and slightly scary encounter during an outing to Wookey caves leaves Eddie with a season ticket and a need to return to find out whether it had all been some weird waking dream. It wasn’t. I don’t want to go into the plot too much more, because it would be a real shame to spoil this tightly structured, clever story which gripped me throughout. All the characters rang true – something that doesn’t always happen in children’s fiction – and most were doing their best under difficult circumstances. There are also flashes of humour throughout, which help defuse some of the darker elements, without whitewashing them.
The villain in the story was chillingly normal. I do get fed up with pantomime baddies that so often occur in children’s fiction, and I think does them a real disservice. Sparkes’ antagonist is very plausible, who manages to persuade most people that she is just trying to do her “Christian duty”.

While the overall pacing starts off being reasonably measured, as the story progresses, the action ramps up along with the tension, so that by the end I was finding it difficult to turn this one off and walk away when my chores were done. The ending works really well and I found it unexpectedly moving. All in all, this is another stormingly good read by an excellent author who deserves to be far better known.
10/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater, narrated by Steve West and Fiona Hardingham #Brainfluffaudiobookreview #TheScorpioRacesbookreview

Standard

I was browsing through the Audible catalogue, when I came across this book on special offer and as I’d heard good things about the author, I decided to give it a go…

BLURB: It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die. At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them. Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

As you may have gathered by the blurb, this book is structured as a dual narrative. The main protagonists are Sean Kendrick and Park Connelly. When done well, this structure is one of my favourites, but the risk is that one character calls to me more than the other, so I end up skimming one of the main sections of the book. When listening as an audiobook, this isn’t an option, and I’m glad I didn’t have that choice because Sean’s voice was so much sharper and his storyline just that bit more gripping. I think I may have been tempted to do so. And if I had, I would have missed some important nuances about life on Thisby, which could only be accessed through Puck’s viewpoint.

The world building and atmosphere that Steifvater manages to achieve in this story is outstanding. The description of the island, the water horses, the sea and the hardship experienced when living on such a place was brilliantly depicted without any loss of pace or tension. Likewise, the characterisation was also exceptional. Sean in particular leapt off the page and although it took me a little while longer to properly bond with her, in the end I was able to get through Puck’s irritability and sharp edges to properly care about her too. However, there is a price to pay when an author produces such a fabulous world peopled by such outstanding characters – and that is the plotting and storyline have to be able to match it and I don’t think this particular story quite lived up to the awesomeness of the place. That said, I am aware that Steifvater is a victim of her own success. If she had not produced such a strong response in me to her marvellous setting and those magical horses which I could smell and touch, then this wouldn’t be a grizzle.

There was a slight anomaly for me and it will be difficult to address in this review without lurching into spoiler land, but I’ll do my best. Sean works for a highly manipulative and successful man and his son happens to be the main antagonist in this story. There is a particularly nasty incident that occurs in his yard with his full knowledge that was both shocking and barbaric. All the staff must have known about it – and yet, the perpetrator apparently gets off completely unscathed. Given that love of horses permeates the whole island and the culture, I cannot believe this incident would have been allowed to go by, unregarded in the way that it appears to have been. This jarred sufficiently to yank me out of the story and make me question the power dynamic within the book. I also wasn’t totally convinced by the ending, which I felt was just a little bit to tidy for such a gritty read.

However, you will see by my final mark that this one got right under my skin. I wandered around in something of daze, a bit emotional and strung out after I’d finished the book. I’ll definitely be hunting down more books by this author, because while maybe this story didn’t tick all my boxes, that amazing setting, those fabulous water horses and tough, sturdy Sean Kendrick stole my heart when I wasn’t looking. Highly recommended for fans of powerfully written fantasy worlds.
9/10