Category Archives: Book review

Review of KINDLE Ebook Drifters’ Alliance – Book 1 of the Drifters’ Alliance series by Elle Casey #Brainfluffbookreview DriftersAlliancebookreview

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I was looking for more space opera goodness, when I noticed this offering on my Kindle, courtesy of Himself, so I opened it up and dived in…

One hand of cards and it’s all over but the crying… Cass Kennedy finally gets what she’s been dreaming of for the past ten years: a drifter ship to call her own. All the sim time and battle training is going to pay off in spades as she sets her course for the future. She’ll be living on her own terms, not those of her father. But drifting through deep space with a crew of nutty strangers on the DS Anarchy carries a lot more surprises than she bargained for. Nobody told her that her ship is falling apart, that dead chickens are something you really want to hang on to, and that the OSG has big plans for the universe that don’t necessarily jibe with her plans for herself.

This book plunges straight into a card game with the highest stakes – a nineteen-year-old girl betting her virginity against a ship. I’m not giving too much away when I reveal that she wins. And thus starts this space opera adventure, full of action and excitement as Cass gets to grips with her unusual crew, the quirks of an elderly ship not in the best condition and a very angry ex-captain, intent on retrieving his ship.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Cass makes an engaging protagonist and whilst my eyebrows were initially raised at the idea of a nineteen-year-old having the sheer life experience and street smarts to be able to walk into such a post – Casey ensures we realise that her background uniquely qualifies her. The first person narrative bounces along as Cass’s energetic, can-do personality drives the story forward – and that certainly chimes with her age. All too often, young protagonists are far too cagey and world-weary, more reflecting the experiences of their older, warier authors than the youngsters who they are supposed to portray. Not so in this case. While she has had a harsh, abusive childhood, Cass has the sheer bravado that comes with simply being young and hungry.

There is also a very scary major antagonist in the background, the more so as he doesn’t make an appearance in this book… but one of his underlings does. In amongst all the action and mayhem, there is also a generous dollop of humour. This isn’t a clench-jawed thriller – more of a rollicking adventure, full of incident and quirky characters. Which is not to say there aren’t some moments of high drama – the scene where they are attempting to extract ice to top up their water tanks under the noses of the overbearing intergalactic force, who have just slapped a tax on all water sources, crackles with tension.

All in all, this is a strong start to what promises to be an exciting, entertaining space opera series and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the next book, Drifters’ Alliance – Book 2.
8/10

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Review of KINDLE Ebook Pirate Nemesis – Book 1 of the Telepathic Space Pirates series by Carysa Locke #Brainfluffbookreview #PirateNemesisbookreview

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I got hold of this one on the recommendation of Lola at Lola’s Reviews – and I’m very glad I did.

Killers. Thieves. Pirates. Family. Mercy Kincaid is a fugitive from her own family. Her dangerous telepathic gifts make her a target. So is anyone she gets close to. When her best friend is captured and tortured, Mercy’s only hope is to reunite with the family that tried to murder her as a child. She trusts few among her blood relatives, but finds herself intrigued by an enigmatic and dangerous killer.

Reaper has spent a lifetime watching his people die. He’s vowed to kill anyone who jeopardizes their survival. Mercy’s gifts are the biggest threat they’ve faced in eleven years, since a biological weapon nearly annihilated the pirate colonies. But Reaper realizes her talents can either destroy them, or save them. He must decide if he’s fallen victim to her power, or if he can truly trust the beautiful woman and her compelling abilities. If he makes the wrong choice, everyone dies.

This one starts with a wallop. I love the fact that we are quickly on Mercy’s side as we watch her struggling against a thoroughly unpleasant antagonist. She is brave, twitchy and ultra-suspicious – and quite right too. She has spent her life on the run from her own family and when she finally is confronted by the whole clan, it’s small wonder that she’s overwhelmed.

I liked the fact that despite what Mercy is and represents, she doesn’t turn into a Mary Sue, where all goes before her. That there is damage and mayhem on the way. I also like the fact that we learn the bloodsoaked history of Mercy’s family and why she was being hunted from the time she was a tiny child throughout the book, instead of a large info-dump.

Reaper is the other main character and again, his personality is skilfully handled as his prime instincts to seek out the weakness in everyone he meets – just in case he has to kill them – is convincingly portrayed.
The story moves along at a fair clip towards a chilling climax. I really liked the denouement and am delighted that Himself has got the next book in the series – I’ll definitely be reading it!

Recommended for fans of character-led space opera adventure, with a side order of romance.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Garrison Girl – Book 1 of the Attack on Titan! series by Rachel Aaron #Brainfluffbookreview #GarrisonGirlbookreview

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I like Rachel Aaron’s writing – see my reviews of Fortune’s Pawn and Nice Dragons Finish Last – so when I saw her name on this one, I immediately requested it. I had no idea the world was set in a very successful manga series. And frankly, I offer up this nugget of information as a point of interest, because if I hadn’t told you – other than the rather indigestible info-dump right at the beginning, you wouldn’t know.

An original novel, with all-new characters and a new story set in the world of Attack on Titan! Fans of the series and readers alike will enjoy this immersive and engaging experience of the pop culture phenomenon and manga mega-hit.

With the last vestige of the human race threatened by unstoppable carnivorous giants, a brave young woman decides to defy her wealthy family and join the military to fight against humanity’s enemies. But Rosalie Dumarque soon finds out that bloody sword fights with monsters aren’t the only dangers faced by the Wall Rose Garrison. Can she earn the trust of her fellow soldiers, stand up to a corrupt authority, navigate a forbidden romance…and cut her way out of a titan’s throat?

Aaron is accomplished at dropping us into a situation and giving us all the necessary details as we go along, so that rather tedious opening info-dump is out of character. I’m guessing it was a stipulation by the publishers, it certainly feels that way… Once that is out of the way, this one picks up the pace. We are largely in the viewpoint of Rosalie, who has been raised to honour the military tradition of her noble family and is determined to do more than marry and continue the bloodline.

I love the setting of the wall and the steampunk feel to the gizmos that assists the soldiers in the insanely dangerous business of killing the titans. Any other wound the monsters suffer from, they can regenerate – doubtless fuelled by all the human flesh they keep gobbling at any available opportunity.

Rosalie has first to surmount the hurdle of being accepted by her fellow soldiers as she appears in an immaculate dress uniform and far too much luggage, whereas most of her comrades in arms are desperate refugees who watched their friends and family eaten. It makes for a rocky start… I like her idealism and determination to do her duty. It would have been all too easy to make her some heroic, adrenaline-fuelled protagonist who excelled when alongside her poor, commoner companions – and I’m very glad Aaron resisted the urge to do so.

The action scenes are well written, with plenty going on. While I realised early on there would be a romantic thread, it doesn’t impact too much on the gritted struggle to keep the titans at bay. I like Jax, but my favourite supporting characters are Willow and Emmet, who are part of Rosalie’s team. They are a lovely pair of warm-hearted characters with a tragic backstory, who I really cared about.

I had sort of guessed how the climax and denouement would pan out – and I was utterly wrong. It was far more gritty and shocking. The story was wrapped up satisfactorily, but I was left with a lot of questions about the titans, which the book raises but doesn’t remotely answer. I guess that’s okay – it is, after all, the first in the series. Will I be interested in reading more of this world? Absolutely. The world ravaged by ravenous giants makes for page-turning adventures. Recommended for fans of action fantasy with plenty of fighting and a side-order of romance.
8/10

Review of Ebook NOVELLA Anachronism by Jennifer Lee Rossman #Brainfluffbookreview #Anachronismbookreview

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I obtained an advanced reader copy of this novella from the author on the understanding I would provide an honest review. This is another of those quirky offerings from the award-winning Grimbold stable – they certainly have an eye for intriguing reads…

It’s the same old story: Time traveler meets girl, time traveler tells girl she’s the future president, time traveler and girl go on a road trip to prevent a war…

Petra Vincent is at the end of her rope – or rather, the edge of a bridge. Her world is falling apart around her and she sees no way out of the meaningless existence the future has in store. But when stranded time traveler Moses Morgan tells her that she will one day lead the country out of the rubble of a nuclear civil war as President of the United States, she’s intrigued – and when another time traveler starts trying to preemptively assassinate her, she realizes Moses might be telling the truth…

So this is an action-packed story where the main protagonist, Petra, finds her life turned upside down by an encounter with Moses, just at a point in her life where everything is going wrong. I found Petra sympathetic as her problems were immediately believable and contemporary and I also liked the fact that it took her some time and a frightening encounter before she began to accept that he might be back from the future with a very important message.

Unfortunately, his appearance draws down other attention, which is far less welcome. Davenport was a convincing villain and I was really rooting for Petra to survive so that she could become the great leader Moses knows from his history books. As she goes on a desperate road trip to meet her estranged father, this turns into a classic chase. What I hadn’t expected, was the ultimate twist at the end – I certainly didn’t see it coming and it was a doozy. I went back and reread the start just to ensure that Rossman hadn’t cheated in any way – she hadn’t. It’s really clever and memorable and turns the book into something else altogether.

This is an entertaining, well-written take on the time travelling trope and if you enjoy those types of stories and want a fast-paced read, then I highly recommend this one.
10/10

Review of LIBRARY book The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

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This book was highly recommended by a number of my book blogging friends, so I was delighted to discover a copy at the local library…

One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.

And that is as much as the rather chatty blurb as I’m willing to share, given it goes on to happily give away plotpoints that occur more than a quarter of the way through this hefty read. But the other main protagonist is Angelica Neal, a courtesan trying to find another protector to maintain her lifestyle, now that the duke who looked after her has died.

First, the good news – the writing is absolutely beautiful and the historical period brilliantly realised in a series of lovely scenes that leap off the page. Gowar can certainly write. The plotting is interesting and I enjoyed the fact that just when I thought the story was going in one particular direction, it suddenly took an unexpected turn. This happened a couple of times, especially during the first two-thirds of the story. The theme of the mermaid works well as a device that both powers the plot forward and also as a symbol for the restless striving after novelty and learning that characterised those turbulent times. Though don’t pick up this one because you love the idea of a mermaid character, because that isn’t what this book is about. The first two acts in particular, were full of incident and interest.

However, I wanted to love this one more than I did. For while Gowar is clearly talented and her portrayal of the period is masterful, I didn’t ever bond with any of the characters. The rather fractious nature of the conversations between every single one of the characters left me feeling rather distanced – I found myself wanting to shake them all until their teeth rattled at one stage or another. Angelica’s flighty attitude was off-putting and just when I was beginning to care about her, the events in the third act shut her right down, putting her on the edge of the action and beyond the scope of the main story.

The pacing is also odd – instead of steadily gathering momentum, it takes a while to get going and then during that last act, which is the weakest, it suddenly drops right away again. Hm. That third act – it seems as though Gowar had several main themes that she’d wanted to weave through the story and so bundled them all into that third section, thus bringing the narrative to a juddering halt and entirely disempowering her main protagonists. We have a couple of ugly scenes, presumably to demonstrate just what a nasty time it was for women – particularly if they were black or elderly. The only reason this one didn’t go flying across the room, was the quality of the writing and the fact that I hoped the ending would rescue the story.

In the event, the ending was better than I’d begun to fear, but I just wish a large part of that final act was either cut or rewritten as I think this could have been a great book, rather than a very promising effort by a highly talented writer.
7/10

Review of INDIE EBOOK The Backworlds by M. Pax #Brainfluffbookreview #TheBackworldsbookreview

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The Backworlds is one of the 52 books on offer during the Instafeebie LEGION – Women Authors of Sci-Fi giveaway, which I had the pleasure of reading a while ago. This is my review. Running Out of Space is also part of this giveaway, if you haven’t already got hold of a copy and would like to give it a try.

In the far future, humanity settles the stars, bioengineering its descendents to survive in a harsh universe. After the war with the Foreworlders, Backworlders scatter across the planets left. Competition is fierce and pickings are scant. Scant enough that Craze’s father decides to improve his fortunes by destroying his son. Cut off from family and friends with little money and even less knowledge of the worlds beyond his own, Craze heads into an uncertain future. Boarding the transport to Elstwhere, he vows to make his father regret this day.

The initial couple of chapters pack a real punch – Craze’s hurt and amazement at his father’s double-cross is believable and immediately had me rooting for him. Pax shows her experience in the slick handling of her protagonist – too much fury and resistance would have unduly slowed the pace, while a mere defeated shrug would have still had the reader convinced that his father was a complete ratbag, but would not necessarily have engendered quite as much sympathy for the main character.

After his unpleasant ejection from his village, the story follows a familiar pattern – an inexperienced youngster having to make his way in an innately hostile and uncaring world. This time around, the worlds are hostile with knobs on. In the aftermath of an interplanetary war, no one is particularly welcoming – except for the two aviarmen he encounters on his first journey offworld… And immediately the three of them spin off into an adventure, while trying to find a foothold somewhere to make their fortunes.

The writing is pacy, direct and very readable. Pax knows how to write an interesting, detailed character, provide an entertaining and believable backdrop, while keeping the action coming. I was swept along with the action and particularly enjoyed the colourful dialogue.
9/10

Review of Crossways – Book 2 of the Psi-Tech series by Jacey Bedford #Brainfluffbookreview #Crosswaysbookreview

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When visiting Forbidden Planet earlier in the year, I was delighted to find this offering on the shelves and given it isn’t available as an ebook in this country, I scooped it up with glee and have taken far too long to get around it, given how much I enjoyed the first book, Empire of Dust – see my review here.

Ben Benjamin, psi-tech Navigator, and Cara Carlinni, Telepath, can never go home again. To the Trust and Alphacorp alike, they are wanted criminals. Murder, terrorism, armed insurrection, hijacking, grand theft, and kidnapping are just the top of a long list of charges they’ll face if they’re caught. So they better not get caught…

That’s as much of the rather chatty blurb I’m willing to share, as it gives away far too many plotpoints relating to the first book for my liking and if you are going to get the best out of Crossways, I recommend that you first get hold of Empire of Dust.

This is another action-packed offering featuring Ben and Cara, who have gone up against two of the major corporations running humanity, both in space and on the colonies scattered through space. Faster-than-lightspeed travel is possible by travelling through the Void by using jumpships. There are a couple of major snags to this technology, though. The first is that you need highly trained jumpship pilots, who can mentally visualise their destination and using their neural energy, pull the ship through the Void without being distracted by the monsters swimming through voidspace conjured up by their imagination. And the other problem is that jumpships need platinum to work, always a rare commodity.

I really like the fact that Ben and Cara are thoroughly ensnared by these two issues – the first novel focuses on what happens when a large deposit of platinum is discovered in a very inconvenient place and the crimes some people are prepared to commit to get their hands on it. In this book, while the antagonist is clearly ambitious and greedy, there is an ongoing problem – what will happen to farflung colonies and the rule of law if jumpships run critically short of this vital fuel?

The other issue is what happens in the Void – this was touched upon in Empire of Dust, but Bedford further examines just how lethal travelling by jumpship can be. There is a steady stream of ships that never make it out of the Void, including the one carrying Ben’s own parents when he was a child. His own experiences within the Void are increasingly causing him to question what he was told in his training – that those monsters he sees swimming through the hull of his ship while in the Void are products of his imagination and that he is to ignore them at all costs. Because if he makes the mistake of trying to interact with them, there is a likelihood he will be distracted, and given it is his mental focus that pulls the jumpship free of the Void, that could spell disaster for everyone on board.

These issues are unpacked in amongst a foot-to-floor action-packed adventure, where Ben and Cara are struggling to stay alive, while a number of the most powerful organisations in the galaxy want them dead. I am delighted to report that I have also got the third book in this trilogy, Nimbus, and I will be tucking into it very soon. This is a thoroughly enjoyable, well written space opera and highly recommended for fans of the genre.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY Arc Like Never and Always by Anne Aguirre #Brainfluffbookreview #LikeNeverandAlwaysbookreview

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I was looking for something just a bit different, when I read of this premise during Can’t-Wait Wednesday (thank you who recommended it – and sorry for not name-checking you, but I simply cannot remember). So I was delighted when I was approved for the Netgalley arc.

On a hot summer night, a screech of brakes and shattering glass changes two lives forever. Liv wakes in the hospital, confused when they call her Morgan. She assumes it’s a case of mistaken identity, yet when the bandages come off, it’s not her face in the mirror anymore. It’s her best friend Morgan’s. Morgan always seemed to have the perfect life, yet Liv must navigate endlessly disturbing secrets of the criminal and murderous variety—and a romance that feels like a betrayal. Torn between the boy she loved as Liv and the boy she’s grown to love as Morgan, Liv still has to survive Morgan’s last request.

It’s an interesting premise – and that intriguing title comes from a Pablo Neruda poem. So does this YA thriller live up to the promise of a cracking read? Oh yes. I enjoy Aguirre’s writing, particularly her excellent space opera adventure featuring adrenaline-junkie pilot Sirantha Jax – see my review of Grimspace. The dramatic beginning hooked me in and I slummucked in bed, reading this offering in one greedy gulp. Liv’s first-person narrative is well realised. Although she suffers serious physical injuries and keeps encountering nasty discoveries of the knee-buckling sort, Aguirre manages to avoid her becoming some put-upon victim. Given the nature of some of the secrets that float to the surface, as she continues investigating Morgan’s life, that is harder to pull off than you might think.

I found myself rooting for Liv throughout and was even able to endure the dreaded love triangle. In fact, it actually made sense within the story’s premise. The character progression also works well and I was also pleased to see that while Liv initially dreads getting any kind of professional counselling, when it becomes crucial she does avail herself of it. I would have liked to see her make more use of it – and have her still attending some ongoing counselling sessions for the foreseeable future.

Other than that quibble, I thoroughly enjoyed this YA adventure, which had me turning the pages to find out what happens next. It’s an entertaining thriller that delivers plenty of surprises featuring a well-realised, sympathetic protagonist. Recommended for fans of family-based mystery thrillers. While I obtained an arc of Like Never and Always from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Review of The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah #Brainfluffbookreview #TheGreatAlonebookreview

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I have to thank my lovely mother for sending me the print copy of this amazing book – the cover is beautiful and so is the story…

Alaska, 1974. Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed. For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival. Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown.

We are mostly in Leni’s viewpoint throughout this book, which takes us through Leni’s growing up years until she is a woman. I loved her character. Hannah’s writing is lyrical, intense and passionate, allowing us to get right inside the character of this sensitive, observant child. And of course she is hyperaware of the adults around her – with such an unstable family dynamic, it’s the only way she can survive…

I also love Hannah’s depiction of Alaska, which is clearly a remarkable place that attracts remarkable people. And you need something about you that finds modern life in busy cities with all the trappings of civilisation inherently uncomfortable – or you wouldn’t be able to cope in such a challenging environment. The historical flavour of the time is also well captured – having lived through it, I do recall the sense that everything was sliding away. While we didn’t have the draft and a savage war to deal with in the UK, we did have strikes, the 3-day week and the oil crisis.

This one was impossible to put down, once I started to read. The way the family dynamic worked was very well portrayed – it would have been so easy to have depicted her parents as uncaring or complete monsters. But they were nothing of the sort – they were people caught up in events and dealing with the fallout without any support – it’s been well documented elsewhere just what disgraceful treatment the Vietnam veterans endured once they returned home, often traumatised and unable to work.

As for the climax of the novel – I wasn’t sure about the ultimate ending, to be honest. I think it was just a bit too upbeat, given what had happened. But overall, this is an amazing read that I will recall with great pleasure. Highly recommended for fans of books based on recent history and family-based adventure.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Tethered Mage – Book 1 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso #Brainfluffbookreview #TheTetheredMagebookreview

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I had some tokens and after reading a number of really enthusiastic reviews about this one, I decided to get hold of it. The marvellous cover influenced me, too…

Zaira has lived her life on the streets to avoid this fate, hiding her mage-mark and thieving to survive. But hers is a rare and dangerous magic, one that threatens the entire empire. Lady Amalia Cornaro was never meant to be a Falconer. Heiress and scholar, she was born into a treacherous world of political machinations. But fate has bound the heir and the mage.

Amalia Cornaro lives in the shadow of her powerful, politically effective parent – and for a change, said parent is La Contessa. We don’t hear very much about Amalie’s father – it’s all about her trying to live up to her mother’s expectations. As the only child, those expectations weigh heavily. Especially as Amalia is more comfortable studying the art of magic and how to manufacture spells, even though she isn’t mage-touched. Because if she were, she wouldn’t be living in her mother’s palace – she would be residing in the fortified Mews with other magically-gifted individuals, wearing a small bracelet which would allow an ungifted companion to control her magical ability – her Falconer.

The story is about one such gifted individual, Zaira, whose magical gift is the ability to create balefire – a blue-flamed conflagration which feeds on the flesh of its victims and very quickly turns into a firestorm. Most balefire mages don’t make it past childhood without killing themselves. But Zaira has managed to eke out a living in the Tallows, the slums of Raverra – until an attempted kidnap draws her to the attention of the authorities running the Mews and she finds herself braceleted and carted off to live in luxury. The only catch being, she’s not free…

This approach to the whole issue of magic-users is a really intriguing one. I love the idea that they either run amok, becoming the entitled, despotic overlords – or the tools of the state, working for the greater good, while being magically tethered by their bracelets, or jesse. It’s a clever term, with its overtones of falconry, where the birds of prey are shackled by leather straps called a jesse.

I haven’t mentioned the story, or the plotting or even said much about the characters. And I should – because it’s a cracking tale, full of incident and adventure, narrated by Amalia, who is an engaging protagonist. While I enjoyed her character, my attention was inevitably drawn to Zaira – I thought it was a bold touch to have the main protagonist the less charismatic, gifted character, and it works very well. I also liked the fact that this world has a number of powerful women, alongside the men, who have agency.

I’m delighted I bought this one and look forward to reading the next book in the series, The Defiant Heir. Highly recommended for fantasy fans.
9/10