Category Archives: Book review

Review of KINDLE Ebook Six of Crows – Book 1 of the Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo #Brainfluffbookreview #SixofCrowsbookreview

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Yeah – I know, I know… Everyone in the galaxy has read this book and most of them – except the aliens lurking on Io – absolutely loved it. So I hesitated – partly because I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it and partly because I wasn’t sure I’d have anything meaningful to say about it when I came to review it, given all those folks in the galaxy got there before me…

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

I’ll be honest – criminal underworld fantasy heist adventures aren’t my go-to genre. I’ve enjoyed the likes of Scott Lynch’s The Gentleman Bastards Sequence – the first three and a bit, anyhow – and Daniel Polansky’s Low Town series is one of my all-time favourites – see my review of The Straight Razor Cure here. But I’ve begun too many books in this genre, only to abandon them when the filth, abject poverty and violence got too much. However, something about this one – including that amazing cover – was calling to me and I’m so very glad I gave in and eventually listened. It takes technical skill to keep this number of protagonists as viewpoint characters without one of them being skimmed, yet Bardugo pulls off this feat, so that we get to know each main member of the gang – why they’ve ended up as part of Ketterdam’s criminal underclass and what their particular role is supposed to be.

Inevitably, the plan put in place by the cold, calculating Kaz doesn’t run all that smoothly and under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have cared all that much, but I fell for Inej, or the Wraith, which is her gang nickname. I wanted her to be able to move on and resume a better life for herself. And then, once we are pulled right into the heart of the story, Bardugo reveals hidden layers of the main character in the middle of plot – ‘Dirtyhands’ Kaz, himself. It’s very well done. The character development throughout the story is masterfully handled – you only have to read a handful of reviews to realise these characters matter to readers.

And I haven’t even started on the plot, yet. Because for a book in this sub-genre to really work, we need to have a clear idea of what’s at stake, what the plan actually is, how it goes wrong and what happens next… There are any number of places where an author can slip up during the delivery of a novel in a criminal underworld fantasy adventure – and I’m not particularly forgiving of a lot of them. I don’t like it when the plot wanders, or one character takes over, or a romance blossoms right in the middle of what should be an action adventure story, or the major climax isn’t so major after all. So I regularly abandon books which have committed these crimes, unfinished and of course, unreviewed.

Six of Crows deftly skips around all these potential pitfalls as if they don’t exist. Every single requirement is triumphantly nailed such that this one became increasingly difficult to put down. And once I finally finished it, I suffered from book hangover so that I struggled to find something else I wanted to read – this hardly ever happens to me! So, at the risk of sounding like everyone else in the universe, except for those embittered, six-legged critters on Io, this is an excellent read and very highly recommended to… well – anyone with a pulse, really.
10/10

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Book Review of INDIE Ebook Black Holiday – Book 2 of The Black Chronicles by J.M. Anjewierden #Brainfluffbookreview #BlackHolidaybookreview

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I read and enjoyed the first book in the series – see my review of The Long Black – sufficiently to want to track down the next book in the series and discover what happens to Morgan next.

Morgan has finally made it, earning an officer’s slot on S.T.E.V.E., the ancient flagship of the Takiyama Merchant House. She’s survived so much to get here, and isn’t about to let lingering nightmares over those events stop her now. That said, even the toughest mechanics need down time. Grudgingly taking some shore leave, Morgan goes to visit the estate of her friend Emily, Baroness Novan – and gets caught up in trouble that, for once, isn’t of her own making…

I have tweaked the blurb because it tells you exactly what happens next and given that I never read blurbs, I was genuinely shocked at how events overtook her. Morgan is a really likeable character, if a tad on the grumpy side right now – but that’s hardly a surprise given that she is suffering from PTSD. I really like the fact that there is such a fallout from all the adventures that befell her in the first book – and that she isn’t willing to face them.

That didn’t prevent me from really rooting for her as she finds herself facing desperate people who believe they have right on their side. I liked the fact that Anjewierden takes care not to depict all the members of the group dealing with Morgan as having exactly the same viewpoint. Some are certainly nicer than others and in fact, Lanky’s story is a heartbreak in itself, given that he has never been given an opportunity to make up his own mind, having been brainwashed since a child. Morgan’s courage and resourcefulness is still evident without being unbelievable – and once again, kudos to Anjewierden for not resorting to the usual tactic, so popular in this genre, of having someone bashed on the head resume consciousness after a couple of hours with nothing worse than a bad headache and a bit of blurred vision. As the story makes clear – head injuries are always serious and mostly incapacitating, often with long-term problems.

There is plenty of tension, along with the action and the story ends with a chilling twist that leaves me determined to get hold of the third book once it becomes available. Recommended for fans of character-led space opera.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Certain Dark Things by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia #Brainfluffbookreview #CertainDarkThingsbookreview

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I encountered this remarkable author when reading The Beautiful Ones – see my review here. My admiration of her writing grew when I read Prime Meridian, so I treated myself to this one, which everyone mentions when talking about her work. Would I, too, enjoy it?

Welcome to Mexico City… An Oasis In A Sea Of Vampires…
Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is busy eking out a living when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life. Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, must feast on the young to survive and Domingo looks especially tasty. Smart, beautiful, and dangerous, Atl needs to escape to South America, far from the rival narco-vampire clan pursuing her. Domingo is smitten.

I’m not adding the rest of this rather chatty blurb, as it ventures into Spoiler territory and this one is far too good to be compromised by unwanted knowledge about future plotpoints. It’s a gem. Moreno-Garcia is superb at getting under the skin of her characters and making you care, even when they aren’t very likeable. Atl is entitled and spoilt – a fact even she acknowledges. She has done terrible things – and yet, like Domingo, I was smitten. I really wanted her to succeed in fleeing Mexico City without be executed by the police, or worse still – fall into the hands of a sadistic young vampire, who has a very valid reason for wanting to torture her. As her story unfolds, along with Domingo’s own life as a street kid, I found myself inhabiting the smelly hideout and eking out a precarious existence, while constantly harried by the inescapable hunger for blood.

I mostly read SFF, so while it isn’t my go-to genre, I’ve read one or three books featuring vampires. This is the one that best depicts their otherness, the differing races, differing customs and what drives them. It clearly lays bare their sense of entitlement and utter lack of humanity, while demonstrating their dangerous ability to mimic those emotions in order to influence the humans around them. I could see all that – and yet I still wanted Atl to prevail. And as for Domingo… sweet, trusting Domingo, who was enchanted by her from the first moment he laid eyes on her. What did I want for him? Well, not to have his throat torn out, obviously. Other than that – I wasn’t sure. He clearly wanted to become part of her life and leave with her when she went on the run. Was that the best thing for him?

I don’t know how Moreno-Garcia manages to worm her characters right into my inscape – I suspect she is a witch, whose books weave an enchantment. But I have yet to read anything of hers where I haven’t passionately cared about her world and the people in it. As for what happens to Atl and Domingo – you’ll have to read the book to find out. Even if you’re sick of reading vampire books, even if you’ve never read a vampire book, pick this one up and give it a go. It is every bit as beautiful and dark as that amazing cover.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Revenant Express by George Mann #Brainfluffbookreview #TheRevenantExpressbookreview

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This is the long-awaited next book in this entertaining steampunk, gothic series featuring our two heroic crime fighters Maurice Newbury and Veronica Hobbes.

Following their bloody encounter with the Executioner, Sir Maurice Newbury’s assistant Veronica Hobbes is close to death. Desperate to save her life, Newbury and Veronica’s sister Amelia board a sleeper train bound for St. Petersburg, in the hope that Gustav Faberge might have the answer. But there are enemies on board, and Newbury and Amelia will need all their strength and cunning to survive the Revenant Express.

This is an action-packed read, given that it is only just over 250 pages long. Mann certainly manages to keep the tempo fast and furious as both Veronica Hobbes and Maurice Newbury are both attempting to tackle a terrible threat. Although I enjoyed the excellent action scenes, particularly on the train – I am a tad concerned about a major anomaly. We are told in the blurb that Veronica is close to death – so I actually reread the opening chapter in which she features, and at no time do we get a sense in her viewpoint that she’s anything other than a tad cold and miserable while standing in the pouring rain. While close to death, she happily goes off to get involved in a demanding case with Sir Charles Bainbridge and doesn’t mention feeling slightly unwell at any stage.

While in the ordinary run of things, this issues would be a dealbreaker, they aren’t this time around, simply because I like the world and the characters so much. It doesn’t hurt that this particular adventure is largely set on a train travelling across Europe, so a lot of the action doesn’t impact the wider story arc. The gruesome nature of the infection causing all sorts of havoc presents a real danger to our trusty protagonists – and has Mann has already demonstrated that he isn’t shy of killing off some main characters, I found myself paying real attention to the very dramatic fights.

That said, something clearly occurred that threw a major spanner in the works regarding Mann’s writing. I hope he is able to get back on track to write the next exciting instalment, but if he can’t or doesn’t – that’s okay, too. I do wince sometimes at the angry impatience of some readers while waiting for the next book. Everyone experiences major upsets in their lives – including authors in the middle of writing a popular series. In the meantime this series is recommended for fans of steampunk adventure with a gothic feel.

While I obtained an arc of The Revenant Express from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Ebook NOVELLA Knife Children by Lois McMaster Bujold #Brainfluffbookreview #TheKnifeChildrenbookreview

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Those of you who are regular visitors to my blog know that Himself and I are huge fans of Bujold. So it was a given that we had pre-ordered this novella in The Sharing Knife series, which was completed a number of years ago.

Lakewalker Barr Foxbrush returns from two years of patrolling the bitter wilds of Luthlia against the enigmatic, destructive entities called malices, only to find that the secret daughter he’d left behind in the hinterland of Oleana has disappeared from her home after a terrible accusation. The search for her will call on more of Barr’s mind and heart than just his mage powers, as he tries to balance his mistakes of the past and his most personal duties to the future.

Bujold’s claim that this novella can be read as a stand-alone is correct. While I suddenly recalled exactly who Barr was about a quarter of the way in, it really didn’t matter. As ever, Bujold absolutely nails the story. She has written a series of successful novellas, getting the story progression, characterisation and pacing spot on – something the majority of authors who attempt this writing form don’t often achieve in my experience.

I have always had a soft spot for this particular world, where mages a long time ago let loose terrible magical creatures who feast on living energy, growing stronger and evermore powerful with every victim they consume. Theses malices can only be stopped by the death energy of a Lakewalker, who are the descendants of those irresponsible magic-users. Unsurprisingly, there is a gulf between the non-magical community, mostly farmers, who are at major risk from the malices and the Lakewalkers, who are the only people able to kill the malices – but at a very high cost to themselves.

This story, where Barr is forced to confront the consequences of his wild past and try to fix things, drew me in from the first line and wouldn’t let me go until the final full stop. Like most of the other people who have reviewed this book, my main regret was that it ended. However, it was brought to a fitting conclusion that I found unexpectedly emotional. This is Bujold at her awesome best and is highly recommended for any reader with a pulse, particularly if they enjoy well written fantasy.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Endgames – Book 12 of the Imager Portfolio series by L.E. Modesitt Jr #Brainfluffbookreview #Endgamesbookreview

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When I saw this offering on NetGalley, I immediately requested it and was delighted to be approved – see my review of the first book, Imager. No… I haven’t read all eleven of the previous books in this series – I think I got as far as eighth book. However, although I have a few issues with this book the fact that I hadn’t read the previous two in this particular story arc wasn’t a problem.

Solidar is in chaos. Charyn, the young and untested ruler of Solidar, has survived assassination, and he struggles to gain control of a realm in the grip of social upheaval, war, and rioting. Solidar cannot be allowed to slide into social and political turmoil that will leave the High Holders with their ancient power and privilege, and the common people with nothing. But the stakes are even higher than he realizes.

I always enjoy Modesitt’s protagonists and Charyn is no exception. He has the steady good sense and even temperament that is the hallmark of many of this author’s main characters. As ever in a Modesitt book, we get a progression of everyday details alongside the ongoing drama which tends to build slowly. I don’t know anyone else who writes fantasy in quite so much detail and gets away with it. However, the question has to be with this particular offering – is there just too much detail silting up the pace?

Unfortunately, I would have to say yes. While there were still many elements that I enjoyed and I found it difficult to put this book down, I also found myself skipping the love letters that passed between two of the main characters, along with the long-winded philosophical questions they discussed. I don’t dive into a high fantasy adventure to read several pages about the nature of evil being discussed between the protagonists – I would rather it was played out within the action. However, it wasn’t a dealbreaker and at no time was I tempted to DNF the book because I still cared about the characters and I really wanted to know how it was going to work out.

I was surprised at where the story went, with real poignancy during the aftermath of the action. This is one of the aspects that Modesitt handles really well – because we are pulled into his stories by following the day to day routines of his characters, it matters when bad things happen to them. Overall though I enjoyed this one and know that the next time I have an opportunity to get hold of another Modesitt book, I will jump at it. He may not always get the balance absolutely right, but he remains one of my favourite authors.

While I obtained an arc of Endgames from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Headlong – Book 21 of the Bill Slider mysteries by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles #Brainfluffbookreview #Headlongbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the previous book I read in this series, Shadow Play, and was delighted when I saw this offering on Netgalley, so tucked right in…

When one of London’s best-known literary agents is found dead in strange circumstances, having fallen headlong from his office window, DCI Slider is under pressure from the Borough Commander to confirm a case of accidental death. But when the evidence points to murder, Slider and his team find themselves uncovering some decidedly scandalous secrets in the suave and successful Ed Wiseman’s past. An embittered ex-wife. A discarded mistress. A frustrated would-be author. A disgruntled former employee. Many had reason to hold a grudge against the late lamented literary agent. But who would feel strongly enough to kill him?

This is a classic police procedural, where the focus of the story revolves around the main protagonist, Bill Slider, who heads up the murder squad. As the investigation progresses, we discover more facts about the dead man and his life. And along the way, we also get a ringside seat into Bill Slider’s life, too. I like the fact that he is married with a small son and between them, they sometimes struggle with childcare when work builds up. I also like the fact that he is happily married and a concerned boss who tries to do the best for the team working under him. He isn’t magnificently defiant to his irritable bosses, either. He keeps his head down and his sour thoughts to himself, which nonetheless make entertaining reading.

At the heart of the story is the murder, of course. And Harrod-Eagles once more delivers a nicely twisty mystery with all sorts of plausible suspects that give us interesting glimpses into the publishing world. I didn’t see the resolution coming, but it made absolute sense and I was also very taken with the sudden domestic bombshell that emerged at the end of the book, too.

Any niggles? Well, just one – there were some rather flashy noirish phrases in the early stages of the book that caught my attention, until they completely disappeared around the halfway mark. There should be either more of them, or none at all. That said, I’m conscious that this is an arc, so this issue may have been fixed by the time this book comes to publication. Recommended for fans of intelligent, well-written murder mysteries with not too much gore.

While I obtained an arc of Headlong from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Review of NOVELLA Ebook The Expert System’s Brother by Adrian Tchaikovsky #Brainfluffbookreview #TheExpertSystem’sBrotherbookreview

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Anyone who has spent the odd moment or two glancing at my blog will know I’m a huge fan of Adrian Tchaikovsky – see my review of Children of Time here. So when I realised faaar too late that Himself had treated us to this novella, I immediately tucked into it…

After an unfortunate accident, Handry is forced to wander a world he doesn’t understand, searching for meaning. He soon discovers that the life he thought he knew is far stranger than he could even possibly imagine. Can an unlikely saviour provide the answers to the questions he barely comprehends?

This is another of Tchaikovsky’s interesting offerings where he provides us a rich, well-developed world through the eyes of Handry in an immersive first-person viewpoint. I really liked Handry – what happened to him was clearly very wrong and somehow the fact that it took a long time before the inevitable happened made it somehow worse… This is classic Tchaikovsky – what happens when an injustice occurs? How does this future colony cope with a victim of circumstance? For starters, you begin to see that Handry isn’t the only one on the raw end of a bad outcome – humanity is clearly struggling on a planet that was never designed for animals with our DNA. And over time, the increasingly beleaguered colony found a biological option to help humankind survive – hence the ghosts, a form of parasitic infestation that syncs the brain of the host with a skillset and knowledge that is no longer available to the average colonist.

And then he encounters Sharskin… I have read several reviews where the readers felt this was a predictable story. While I got a sense of exactly what we were looking at once they arrived at Sharkin’s settlement, I didn’t foresee what would happen next and the way in which Handry’s loyalty and sense of humanity would be tested. Because at the end of the day, this novella is all about one of Tchaikovsky’s major themes – a question he keeps coming back to in a variety of fascinating forms and forces his readers to ask – what does it mean to be human? What is the price you pay for your adherence to your code of behaviour? What happens when you turn your back on that code? What defines you, then?

I thoroughly enjoyed this clever, thought-provoking story and have found myself thinking about it quite a lot since I finished reading it, which surprised me rather. There’s something about Tchaikovsky’s writing that always gets into my inscape, leaving me pondering those questions he raises while telling a cracking story. Highly recommended for fans of colony adventures.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook An Easy Death – Book 1 of the Gunnie Rose series by Charlaine Harris #Brainfluffbookreview #AnEasyDeathbookreview

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I’m a fan of Harris’s writing – see my review of Midnight Crossroad here. So when a steady trickle of enthusiastic reviews turned into a stream, I alerted Himself, who decided to treat both of us to this offering. Our book budget for this year hasn’t been busted – more like broken beyond repair…

Set in a fractured United States, in the southwestern country now known as Texoma. A world where magic is acknowledged but mistrusted, especially by a young gunslinger named Lizbeth Rose. Battered by a run across the border to Mexico Lizbeth Rose takes a job offer from a pair of Russian wizards to be their local guide and gunnie.

And that is as much of the very chatty blurb that I’m prepared to share. I would add that the States is very different to our version, as it also includes a Russian enclave in this alternate history where the Romanov dynasty didn’t die in a basement in a hail of bullets, but instead survived to flee across the Atlantic accompanied by their magic-user, Rasputin. As for Texoma, think Wild West complete with bandits. It’s an interesting world, where life is cheap, travel exceedingly dangerous and luxuries such as electricity tend to be erratic. Each settlement or town seems to have its own set of laws that those passing through need to know.

I really liked the character of Lizbeth Rose, whose tough, self-reliant attitude helps her bounce back after the initial devastating incident at the start of the book, which puts her in the path of the two Russian wizards. Harris is good at making us care for her protagonists and I was quickly invested in Lizbeth prevailing against the odds. This dystopian, broken-backed landscape where the remains of metalled roads and ruins of houses pock the countryside should have given this book a more downbeat feel, but Lizbeth’s first-person narrative rescued this from being a grim, post-apocalyptic exploration of a destroyed civilisation. While she mentions such features, she’s matter-of-fact about the whole business, which happened before she was born. And besides, she’s too busy trying to keep herself and her clients alive to spend too much time brooding about the past.

Harris perfectly paces this adventure, so that we have plenty of time to appreciate what is at stake, before the situation flips around to heighten said stakes and once more Lizbeth is engulfed in yet more life-threatening action. It became physically impossible to put this one down, as I kept turning the pages as if my life depended upon it – and once I reached the end of the story, I felt drained and a tad shaky, suffering a real book hangover, which doesn’t happen very often to me, these days.

If you like your fantasy with a sideorder of wild west action and backdrop, then track this one down. I’m looking forward to seeing how this one plays out on TV, too…
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Gilded Wolves – Book 1 of The Gilded Wolves series by Roshani Chokshi #Brainfluffbookreview #TheGildedWolvesbookreview

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I’m a real fan of Chokshi’s writing – see my review of her stunning debut The Star-Touched Queen – and when I requested an arc of this one, I was prepared for more of the same – a rich, lushly told fantasy story shot through with eastern allusions. But this one is completely different…

Paris, 1889: The world is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. In this city, no one keeps tabs on secrets better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier, Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. But when the all-powerful society, the Order of Babel, seeks him out for help, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance. To find the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin will need help from a band of experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian who can’t yet go home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in all but blood, who might care too much. Together, they’ll have to use their wits and knowledge to hunt the artifact through the dark and glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the world, but only if they can stay alive.

Yes – this is a fantasy criminal heist adventure and if I’d realised that, I might not have so enthusiastically requested it, as I have DNF’d far too many third-rate copies of Scott Lynch’s gentlemen bastards and their adventures. But I’m very glad I did get my hands on this one. I’ve seen the constant comparison to Six of Crows and while the story has some similarities – a heist adventure featuring a team of misfits – there are also vital differences.

The setting is an alternate Paris where magical artefacts are used to assist the ruling families stay in power. While there is a team involved in a mission-impossible type of heist, the leader and arch-planner is Séverin, who yearns for the future he lost aged seven, when what should have been his induction into the golden circle of ruling families was abruptly snatched from him in a plot that falsely claimed he wasn’t his father’s true heir. After that he was passed around a series of abusive step-fathers, each one mistreating or using him in some nefarious fashion. Along the way, he teamed up with Tristen, who had the misfortune to be the actual son of one of these nasty characters.

Chokshi’s prose style comes into its own as she gives us a vivid insight to each of these characters and what matters to them, which meant that when it all hits the fan I really cared about each one. It also meant that I didn’t ever find myself muddled or confused as to who was who doing what to whom. I like the fact there is real racial and sexual diversity among the characters, which is presented in a nicely matter-of-fact manner as their energies are engaged in trying to track down a magical ‘thing’ which will change everything.

The pacing works well. While this story starts fairly slowly, before winding up to the mayhem that ensues as the adventure goes awry, Chokshi also effectively manages the aftermath, which could have dragged into something a lot more downbeat and depressing. With this story, I get the sense that Chokshi has fully matured as a writer, gaining confidence to set her stories and characters outside the eastern backdrop that fuelled her previous adventures. One of the reasons why I regularly DNF fantasy heist adventures featuring a team of misfits, is that it is very difficult to write well. But when it all comes together, as it does here, it is a powerful, emotional read. I staggered away from this intense story with my head full of Séverin, Tristan, Hypnos, Zofia, Laila and Enrique – and hoping I don’t have to wait too long to discover what happens next…

The ebook arc copy of The Gilded Wolves was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10