Category Archives: Book review

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of HARDBACK Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence by James Lovelock #Brainfluffbookreview #Novacenebookreview

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My lovely mother sent this one to me as a gift after hearing Lovelock’s fascinating interview on Radio Four…

James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia hypothesis and the greatest environmental thinker of our time, has produced an astounding new theory about future of life on Earth. He argues that the anthropocene – the age in which humans acquired planetary-scale technologies – is, after 300 years, coming to an end. A new age – the novacene – has already begun.

And that’s as much of the atrocious blurb that I’m willing to share. This isn’t a long book, but it posits some fascinating views – which are aptly summed up in the most blurting blurb I’ve read in a long time. Unfortunately, I had the bad luck to read it before I was aware I would be gifted the book.

However, I did my best to put the back cover matter out of my head, because as I read the book, I was aware that Lovelock is a one-off. His ideas are genuinely original and while I’m not convinced about all of them – I don’t agree with his stance regarding the existence of aliens, for instance – I did feel that his summary about the crisis surrounding climate change and our treatment of Earth is worth the book alone. To the extent that I am now converted to supporting the nuclear industry as a stopgap before discovering less toxic ways of generating energy, instead of continuing to use fossil fuels in any form.

I found his ideas about the future direction of our species and how hyperintelligence will continue to develop to be fascinating. I hope that governments around the world will listen to his warnings about keeping machine intelligence away from military applications, though I somehow doubt it – these days many major powers seem to led by braindead donkeys…

If I’ve given you the impression that this book is a doom-laden litany of impending disasters, then I need to correct that mistake. At 100 years old, Lovelock is not only still mentally pin-sharp, he is also largely optimistic about humanity’s future, believing that both machine and organic intelligence will need to unite to head off the threat of global warming endangering all life on the planet. Overall, I found this a readable, cogent analysis on the major issues confronting us as a species and Lovelock’s take on how that will probably pan out worth considering. After all, this is the man who explained that our environment worked as a highly complex, interrelated whole, at a time when other experts mocked the idea. We ignore him again at our peril.

Highly recommended.
10/10

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Old Bones – A DCI Bill Slider Case by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles #Brainfluffbookreview #OldBonesbookreview

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In case you are experiencing a slight case of deja vu, yes… this is a book I’ve previously reviewed back in 2017, which I didn’t realise when I requested the arc. There didn’t seem any point in writing a different review, given that when I reread it, nothing new jumped out at me…

‘You can’t upset anyone looking into old bones.’

DCI Bill Slider’s out of favour in the force – for accusing a senior Met officer of covering up an underage sex ring. As a punishment, he’s given a cold case to keep him busy: some old bones to rake through, found buried in a back garden, from a murder that happened two decades ago, and with most of the principal players already dead. Surely Bill Slider can’t unearth anything new or shocking with these tired old bones?

Slider’s desert-dry viewpoint is a joy. He is an old fashioned copper who is heartily sick of all the new management-speak, but nonetheless straight as a dye without being remotely starchy. His irreverent humour bubbles continually away in the background, annoying his superiors and exasperating his subordinates. For a nice change, he isn’t some grizzled loner but has a happy marriage to a professional musician.

I liked the fact that the loss of a little girl isn’t just treated as some dry academic puzzle – there is a real sense of poignancy of a life unfulfilled as Slider and his team try to grapple with who had murdered her and buried her in the back garden. I also enjoyed the fact that we don’t have a CSI-type approach where they have shedloads of forensic evidence to answer all the questions. In fact, there is precious little to go on, except the faulty memories of those involved all those years ago.

As with all the best police procedural mysteries, there are a number of candidates and possibilities, though I did guess one of the major twists well before it was revealed. Not that it mattered all that much – I was too invested in the main characters to mind and besides, there were still some interesting developments. There is a lovely subplot that develops regarding one of Slider’s team and a youngster caught up in the system.

I appreciated the absence of any grisly details, undue violence or gore – but I certainly wouldn’t peg this in the cosy mystery genre. All in all, a thoroughly entertaining read that comes highly recommended.

While I obtained the arc of Old Bones from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

Review of INDIE EBOOK Ascending – Book 1 of the Vardeshi Saga by Meg Pechenick #Brainfluffbookreview #Ascendingbookreview

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Himself picked this one up – and recommended that I read it. After trudging through a couple of hefty fantasy reads, I was yearning for a sci fi space opera adventure and reached for this one…

Twenty-five years ago the Vardeshi came to Earth. Then they vanished without a trace. Graduate student Avery Alcott always knew they would return. When they do, she’s the only one who can speak their language. She’s quickly recruited to join the crew of an 11-man starship on a one-year mission into the depths of space.

What an impressive debut! I loved the character of Avery – bookish, quiet and introverted, which doesn’t stop her being driven and single-minded with hidden resources. Which she certainly needs… She is a linguistic student selected by a brilliant college professor to learn the Vardeshi language just in case they return. And then they do – and she is the only person of an eligible age who can speak their language.

The preparation for a mission where she will be travelling on a Vardeshi ship as a member of their crew as part of the cultural exchange is so very well depicted. I found this book hard to put down as Avery finds herself tackling hand to hand combat, learning how to send secret messages and cooking her own meals on portable equipment as no one knew whether alien foodstuffs would be poisonous to humans, or vice versa. I also loved her struggles to acclimatise – finding the lighting, slight gravity differences, the fact that everything around her isn’t designed for a human body – an issue that she has to cope with.

When things begin to escalate, I’ll admit my heart sank for a while, as I had a horrible feeling this was going to slide into a Hollywood scenario where the whole situation would become overblown and unrealistic, after it had started so strongly. Fortunately, I think Pechenick manages to avoid that one. The nightmarish situation Avery finds herself in is, after all, believable – as is the fallout.

I tore through this one, unable to put it down until I reached the end – when I was adrift with longing for more… I’ve just read the next book, Bright Shards, in this series which I will also be reviewing. Very highly recommended for fans of well-written first contact adventures.
9/10

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of NETGALLEY arc The Warehouse by Rob Hart #Brainfluffbookreview #TheWarehousebookreview

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I found this a really, really uncomfortable read – and have been thinking about it a lot since I finished this one. Those of us who have increasingly got into the habit of shopping online in the comfort of our own homes need to think long and hard about the ongoing consequences on not just our local High Street – but the power we are ceding to powerful multi-national companies. This cautionary tale brought that home to me…

Paxton never thought he’d be working for Cloud, the giant tech company that’s eaten much of the American economy. Much less that he’d be moving into one of the company’s sprawling live-work facilities. But compared to what’s left outside, Cloud’s bland chainstore life of gleaming entertainment halls, open-plan offices, and vast warehouses…well, it doesn’t seem so bad. It’s more than anyone else is offering. Zinnia never thought she’d be infiltrating Cloud. But now she’s undercover, inside the walls, risking it all to ferret out the company’s darkest secrets. And Paxton, with his ordinary little hopes and fears? He just might make the perfect pawn. If she can bear to sacrifice him.

In this dystopian world, there has been a widespread collapse of the economy, taking all Government services and a lot of jobs with it. Cloud is still thriving, however – so its employees are hugely grateful for the accommodation, medical services and meals that go with the job. Surely working hard in return makes it a reasonable bargain…

Hart uses three protagonists to demonstrate just how the system works – Paxton, whose own small firm was squeezed out of existence by Cloud, who also took over his own nifty invention for a pittance; Zinnia, who has been employed as an undercover agent; and Gibson, founder and figurehead of Cloud, who has his own reasons for reflecting upon his life’s work.

As I continued to read, I felt a chilly recognition. I happen to be a historian by training and one of my study areas had been the early Industrial Revolution when runaway capitalism stripped workers of any rights and turned them into foundry-fodder. It took years of grinding poverty and degradation before workers in this country were able to band together and win back the dignity of a fair day’s wage in return for a fair day’s work.

Without any kind of political spin or widening the scope of this story, Hart skilfully depicts what happens when there aren’t any checks and balances on any large conglomerate where the profit margin is the sole goal. I couldn’t put this one down as the plausible chain of events led to a state of affairs that seems unstoppably to be just over the horizon. And neither can I forget it. I find myself less enthusiastic about online shopping, these days. The ebook arc copy of The Warehouse was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Heart of the Circle by Keren Landsman #Brainfluffbookreview #TheHeartoftheCirclebookreview

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This one was recommended by one of my book blogging friends, so I scampered across to Netgalley and requested it. I’m so sorry I can’t recall who exactly it was who suggested it – but do please let me know and claim the glory – so I can heartily thank you…

Throughout human history there have always been sorcerers, once idolised and now exploited for their powers. In Israel, the Sons of Simeon, a group of religious extremists, persecute sorcerers while the government turns a blind eye. After a march for equal rights ends in brutal murder, empath, moodifier and reluctant waiter Reed becomes the next target. While his sorcerous and normie friends seek out his future killers, Reed complicates everything by falling hopelessly in love. As the battle for survival grows ever more personal, can Reed protect himself and his friends as the Sons of Simeon close in around them?

This book is set in Tel Aviv – Landsman is an Israeli author – and the different setting is just one of a range of aspects that sets this book apart. It is set in an alternate dystopian setting where magic-users around the world face a variety of measures designed to limit their freedom. In the US, they are forced to live in ghettos and while apparently Israeli society is more liberal, it doesn’t prevent many attacks on sorcerers, with most police turning a blind eye to such crimes. Reed is one of those fighting for equal rights for the magical community, putting himself at risk as he serves in a coffee bar. I found his edgy character, with his ability to read and diffuse people’s moods, appealing and sympathetic – even when he was being a bit of a prat, which is when you know the author has nailed her protagonist.

There is also a strong cast of supporting characters, notably his flatmate, Daphne, who is a seer. I like the gritty detail that people who can see into the future or become assailed with other people’s strong emotions are prone to depression and mental illness with a high suicide rate among them – it makes sense. I felt that Landsman had thought through carefully what would be the ongoing consequences for someone cursed with such a gift. In the middle of all this turbulence, Reed falls desperately, helplessly in love with another empath. His same-sex relationship with Lee, an American, grows steadily more intense throughout the book and described with passion and tenderness and while this isn’t principally a romance, this relationship plays a pivotal role in the narrative.

I burned through this book in just over two days, staying awake faaar too long to find out what happens next. I like Landsman’s layered characterisation and trick of writing a situation from the inside out – and would happily read anything else she has written. This is one of my favourite reads of the year so far and is highly recommended for anyone who likes reading about magical worlds with a difference. The ebook arc copy of The Heart of the Circle was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Dark Lord of Derkholm – Book 1 of the Derkholm series by Diana Wynne Jones #Brainfluffbookreview #TheDarkLordofDerkholmaudiobookreview

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I had bought this one for my dyslexic grandson back in the day when he relied on his Audible reads to keep in touch with the world of books – but I didn’t have a kindle back then that could cope with audiobooks. I have now…

Everyone – wizards, soldiers, farmers, elves, dragons, kings and queens alike – is fed up with Mr Chesney’s Pilgrim Parties: groups of tourists from the world next door who descend en masse every year to take the Grand Tour. What they expect are all the trappings of a grand fantasy adventure, including the Evil Enchantress, Wizard Guides, the Dark Lord, Winged Minions, and all. And every year different people are chosen to play these parts. But now they’ve had enough: Mr Chesney may be backed by a very powerful demon, but the Oracles have spoken. Now it’s up to the Wizard Derk and his son Blade, this year’s Dark Lord and Wizard Guide, not to mention Blade’s griffin brothers and sisters, to save the world from Mr Chesney’s depredations.

I know this one is advertised as a children’s read – but it certainly didn’t feel that way to me. Mr Chesney’s Pilgrim Parties are portalled in from another, non-magical world (which sounds very much like our own…) where the pilgrims are promised – and expect – the full fantasy experience. Each group has a wizard guide as they are ushered around to take part in various skirmishes with pirates, avian monsters and a final full-scale battle against the forces of the Dark Lord, who they help overthrow. However, all these tours are taking their toll on the fabric and people exposed to this series of tourist incursions. While this is characterised as hilarious, and I found it both clever and witty – I wasn’t all that amused. I kept thinking of how the locals must feel on the Greek islands when they are overrun by hordes of British youngsters looking for loud music and drunken revelry… And they don’t have a Derk to deliver them from the constant, ongoing invasion. That’s only one example – I’m also aware of places like Indonesia where alongside five-star hotels are staff working long, thankless hours for a pittance as most of the income is hoovered up by the large multinational companies exploiting the natural beauty of the location.

Derk struggles to deal with numerous nit-picking organisational problems and as I continued painting the bathroom, I listened to the unfolding muddle, excellently narrated by Jonathan Broadbent. It was yet another joy – I am so enjoying my audiobook experience! This one is very highly recommended for anyone who enjoys intelligent fantasy adventures – but I shan’t be introducing it to my younger nine-year-old grandson, yet. Clever and precocious though he is, he simply won’t be able to fully appreciate the issues Wynne Jones is addressing in this clever, thoughtful book for another of handful of years.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Till Sudden Death Do Us Part – Book 7 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green #Brainfluffbookreview #TillSuddenDeathDoUsPartbookreview

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I was delighted to see this one on Netgalley as I’ve been thoroughly enjoying this paranormal thriller series featuring non-human Ishmael and his attractive sidekick, Penny – see my review of Murder in the Dark. Would I enjoy this latest offering, too?

Although he hasn’t seen Robert Bergin for 40 years, Ishmael feels duty bound to respond when his old friend calls for help. Robert’s daughter Gillian is about to be married, and he is afraid she’ll fall prey to the ancient family curse. Arriving in rural Yorkshire, Ishmael and his partner Penny learn that the vicar who was to perform the ceremony has been found dead in the church, hanging from his own bell rope. With no clues, no evidence and no known motive, many locals believe the curse is responsible. Or is someone just using it as a smokescreen for murder? With the wedding due to take place the following day, Ishmael has just a few hours to uncover the truth. But his investigations are hampered by sudden flashes of memory: memories of the time before he was human. What is it Ishmael’s former self is trying to tell him …?

The main ingredients I’ve grown to enjoy were still in place – Ishmael’s rather grumpy, over-developed sense of responsibility; the tongue-in-cheek humour; the solid teamwork between Ishmael and Penny; the creepy sense of tension; the sudden, shocking deaths… I did like the poignant aspect of him being confronted with his former partner, now an old, rather frail man while he is still in his prime. And in this offering there is a doozy of a death that had me spluttering into my breakfast cup of tea with horrified hilarity.

However, we had more of an insight into who or what Ishmael actually is as his non-human side is starting to emerge after some sixty years. It was a nice touch – while he has to be constantly alert that he doesn’t give away his heightened senses and unnatural strength, those attributes do mean that not much can actually threaten him. So the idea that the alien monster within is stirring – and Ishmael has no idea exactly what that entails gives a nicely creepy spin on the story. I particularly liked the part where Penny is feeling a tad wounded because Ishmael appears to be distancing her, where in actual fact he is trying to protect her from whatever is struggling to surface – and he doesn’t know if she is safe in his company.

The tale is brought to a suitably satisfactory ending, although I will be surprised if Ishmael’s issues with his alien persona are over. This series is one of my solid favourites and at no stage have I felt let down or disappointed by any of the books – and this latest addition is no exception. I’m aware that with seven books in the series, you might be wary of jumping midway into all the mayhem, but while some events in the backstory are given a mention, it really isn’t necessary to read all the books to appreciate the unfolding action.

Highly recommended for fans of paranormal whodunits with a slightly OTT gothic twist. The ebook arc copy of Till Sudden Death Do Us Part was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of INDIE Ebook Whom Shall I Fear? by Anne Clare #Brainfluffbookreview #WhomShallIFearbookreview

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I know Anne Clare as a book blogger and when – belatedly – I realised her debut novel had been released, I nicked across to Amazon to pick up a copy, especially after reading Jean Lee’s excellent interview when I discovered Clare had written about the WWII Italian campaign. My grandfather had also endured the fighting at Monte Casino…

All that Sergeant James Milburn wants is to heal. Sent to finish his convalescence in a lonely village in the north of England, the friends he’s lost haunt his dreams. If he can only be declared fit for active service again, perhaps he can rejoin his surviving mates in the fight across Sicily and either protect them or die alongside them.

All that Evie Worther wants is purpose. War has reduced her family to an elderly matriarch and Charles, her controlling cousin, both determined to keep her safely tucked away in their family home. If she can somehow balance her sense of obligation to family with her desperate need to be of use, perhaps she can discover how she fits into her tumultuous world.

All that Charles Heatherington wants is his due. Since his brother’s death, he is positioned to be the family’s heir with only one step left to make his future secure. If only he can keep the family matriarch happy, he can finally start living the easy life he is certain he deserves. However, when James’s, Evie’s and Charles’s paths collide, a dark secret of the past is forced into the light, and everything that they have hoped and striven for is thrown into doubt.

Yes… it’s a rather long blurb – but for once I haven’t been forced to tweak or cut it – kudos to Clare for keeping it spoiler-free. What it does do is give you a feel for the three main characters and their priorities. This is an interesting book – set during WWII, the unfolding romance powers some of the narrative, but I hesitate to call it a wartime romance. While I think the love story is well handled and I was convinced by the growing feelings between the two characters, it is the depiction of the desperate fighting that lodges in my memory. Clare gets right under the skin of her main character and gives us a ringside seat into his reaction as he is pushed right to the edge of his emotional and physical limits during the brutal campaign.

There is also an unfolding situation back at home with Evie, so we aren’t given any opportunity to relax when we are in her viewpoint, either. I felt that Clare caught the earnestness and strong faith many women of the time used to get through such a tough time. Evie could have easily become a two-dimensional little mouse, given her sheltered upbringing and her domineering aunt’s insistence that she stay close – and it is a testament to Clare’s writing skill that she doesn’t.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this one, which had me staying up later than I should have to see what happens during that dramatic climax. Highly recommended for fans of books with WWII setting and a strong domestic drama.
9/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK Truckers – Book 1 of the Bromeliad trilogy by Terry Pratchett and and narrated by Stephen Briggs #Brainfluffaudiobookreview #Truckersaudiobookreview

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I read a print version of this book longer ago than I care to think, so when I encountered the audiobook edition that I’d bought for my granddaughter three years ago, I tucked in…

“Outside! What’s it like?” Masklin looked blank. “Well,” he said. “It’s sort of big.”

To the thousands of tiny nomes who live under the floorboards of a large department store, there is no outside. Things like day and night, sun and rain are just daft old legends. Then a devastating piece of news shatters their existence and it’s up to Masklin, one of the last nomes to come into the Store, to mastermind an unbelievable escape plan that will – somehow – ensure the nomes’ safety…

I have taken liberties with this very chatty blurb – because once again, it revealed far too many plotpoints. But it does feature the main protagonist, Masklin, who struggles to keep his small group fed and I fell in love with him all over again. Pratchett, at his best, specialises in struggling protagonists who are filled with self-doubt, although it’s apparent to the reader and most other characters that they are someone rather special – and so it is with Masklin. He has a wonderful supporting cast, including Torlin, who is in charge of The Thing; Grimma – the harassed female equivalent of Masklin, maybe more so as she spends her time cooking and cleaning for the old folks – including Granny Morky…

As well as the enjoyable relationships between the nomes and Masklin’s delightfully sharp-edged commentary about the people and places they encounter – we also have an ongoing insight into what the nomes have recorded in the Book of Nome. Without being remotely preachy, Pratchett explores prejudice, the way myths, culture and lore accretes over long periods of time – and I’ll be honest, I’ll be mightily impressed if the children who read and enjoy this story actually register and absorb this aspect of Pratchett’s writing. However, it’s a delightful bonus for the adults who encounter this gem – and like all Pratchett’s writing, I loved it. I particularly appreciate the way this fantasy story morphs into a science fiction adventure along the way.

Stephen Briggs’ masterly narration pulled me into the story and I found the utterances from the Book of Nome hilarious in a way that I don’t recall them being that funny as I read the print edition. All in all, this was a real treat and has only confirmed my ongoing love affair with audiobooks, which make all the boring household chores far more palatable. Highly recommended for fans of quirky adventure stories with a difference.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of INDIE NOVELLA The Orphans of Raspay – Book 7 of the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold #Brainfluffbookreview #TheOrphansofRaspaybookreview

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This series is one of our auto-buys as Lois McMaster Bujold is one of those handful of authors that we both absolutely love. But as the series wears on, will I continue to find it as engrossing as it was when it first started?

When the ship in which they are traveling is captured by Carpagamon island raiders, Temple sorcerer Penric and his resident demon Desdemona find their life complicated by two young orphans, Lencia and Seuka Corva, far from home and searching for their missing father. Pen and Des will need all their combined talents of mind and magic to unravel the mysteries of the sisters and escape from the pirate stronghold. This novella follows about a year after the events of The Prisoner of Limnos.

Penric, now happily married, is an increasingly reluctant traveller but is once more sent off on a mission – and during a sea voyage the ship he’s on falls prey to pirates, looking for passengers to sell into slavery. I really like the dynamic between Penric and the main demon living inside him, who he has named Desdemona. Recalling how horrified he initially was when the demon leapt into his body in the first book – Penric’s Demon, it is enjoyable to see just how well they now work as a team. In order to get the best from this one, you really need to have at least read the first book, although it is sufficiently well paced and constructed that if you do happen to crash midway into this series, I don’t think you would flounder all that much.

This is a world where the gods actually intercede in the affairs of humans, despite there being an ongoing war over a theological schism where one group believe there are five gods (the sect Penric belongs to) and those who don’t accept or believe in the Bastard God. This is important to remember when a particular plotpoint occurs, so that you don’t feel it is too convenient.

I like the fact that Bujold has managed not to make Penric too overwhelmingly powerful, despite his formidable talent – and there is a cost to his magic. What also seriously hampers him in this story is that he has taken two young girls under his wing. While getting off the island as a fit, determined young man possessed of serious magic would present an achievable challenge, it becomes a far more difficult task when he has to take into account the limitations posed by two malnourished young children.

As ever, the pacing and plotting is excellently judged. Bujold is completely in charge of this shorter form in the way that many authors aren’t and though I was sorry when the story came to an end, the conclusion was entirely satisfactory and expected. I do hate it when a novella-length adventure scurries to an abrupt end leaving me off-balance and expecting something more. This whole series is highly recommended for fans of well written character-led novella-length adventures.
9/10