Category Archives: Book review

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Atlas Alone – Book 4 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman #Brainfluffbookreview #AtlasAlonebookreview

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I was thrilled to get the opportunity to read and review this one – After Atlas was my outstanding book of 2017. In order to get the best out of this book, you don’t have to have read all four books of this fabulous series, but my firm advice is to at least get hold of After Atlas, given that Atlas Alone takes up the story after that amazing ending and features at least a couple of the main characters who appear in After Atlas.

Six months after she left Earth, Dee is struggling to manage her rage toward the people who perpetrated a terrible crime on Earth as they were leaving. She’s trying to find those responsible, and to understand why the ship is keeping everyone divided into small groups, but she’s not getting very far alone. A dedicated gamer, she throws herself into mersives to escape and is approached by a designer who asks her to play test his new game. It isn’t like any game she’s played before. Then a character she kills in the climax of the game turns out to bear a striking resemblance to a man who dies suddenly in the real world at exactly the same time…

I have tweaked and truncated the rather chatty blurb, but you get the idea… This is one of those atmospheric, twitchy narratives where the main character in first person viewpoint is driven by a sense of wrongness after witnessing a terrible crime. Seeing such horror has taken its toll on her and her two closest friends – Travis and Carl. What now drives her is a desire to discover who was responsible, because she knows they are on the ship.

What Newman excels at is writing difficult characters who don’t immediately appeal. I am aware that if I encountered Dee in real life, I would be repelled by her formidable reserve and the social mask she hides behind. That said, it’s made very clear exactly why she is as she is – to her fury. Because while immersed in a game, she finds herself confronted with aspects of her terrible past – and a scarily powerful entity she calls ‘the beast’ is intent on getting her to come to terms with what happened to her. While Dee is equally determined that she’ll do no such thing – over the years as an indentured employee (more like a slave) she has managed to throw up mental defences which she is reluctant to drop. Particularly when feeling so threatened…

And with good reason. When a sudden death in a game is mirrored in real life and Carl’s remarkable investigative skills are let loose on the case, Dee realises she is at risk of being arrested for murder with only the beast’s assurance that she won’t be caught. I found Dee a compelling protagonist, who I loved. So that ending… well – I can’t say much about it – but I didn’t see THAT one coming!

Yet another amazing climactic cliffhanger that leaves me desperate for the next slice in this amazing adventure. This is one of my favourite series at present and Atlas Alone is every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be. Very highly recommended for fans of well-written, character-driven science fiction. The ebook arc copy of Atlas Alone was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Knight: A Chronicle of the Sibyl’s War – Book 2 by Timothy Zahn #Brainfluffbookreview #Knightbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoy Zahn’s writing – see my review of The Cobra Trilogy – so scooped this one up when I saw it on Netgalley. Once again, it appears that I had got hold of the second book of a series where I haven’t read the first – and in fairness to me, it isn’t apparent from either the title or the subtitle that it is the second book, either. Though this time around, I would recommend that you get hold of the first one, The Sibyl’s War, before diving into Knight as initially I found it a tad challenging to work out what exactly was going on – and I regularly crash midway into series.

Nicole Hammond was just trying to survive on the streets of Philadelphia, then she and her partner Bungie were abducted by a race of mysterious moth-like aliens and taken to a strange ship called the Fyrantha. Now she is a Sibyl, a special human that has the ability to communicate with the aliens and their ship, and no one is happy. Competing factions control different parts of the Fyrantha with the humans and other sentient aliens caught in the middle. But Nicole is done being bullied, and now she has a plan to take control of the ship. She just has to outsmart war profiteers and slavers to do it.

I really enjoyed this one. Nicole is accustomed to living by her wits and it’s this attribute that keeps her alive and relatively unscathed. That, and her stubbornness in refusing to lie down and accept the fate that awaits herself, her companions and the rest of Earth… The stakes in this story couldn’t be higher – Earth is at the mercy of a ruthless, technologically advanced race of aliens who are looking to cash in on whatever humanity has to offer in the way of bankable commodities. Up to now, the abducted slaves on the vast ship that has snatched them up, have managed to persuade their masters that humans are useless at fighting, so they have concluded that selling off humans as slave armies to the highest bidder is pointless.

Nicole’s skills at communicating with some of the odd, alien components of the ship, such as the moth creatures, give her some vital advantages, but I think Zahn has successfully avoided making her too much of a Mary Sue. I also like the fact that the humans on board don’t all think the same way – some are simply intent on surviving at the expense of everyone else; others think the strategy that Nicole and her companions adopt is simply wrong and yet at least one key character believes that if she betrays her fellow conspirators, she will be rewarded by being freed to return to her family.

All in all, the desperate skirmishes and adventures aboard this extraordinary, vast ship make for gripping reading and I will be backtracking to discover how Nicole came to be aboard the Fyrantha and looking forward to the next slice of the adventure. The ebook arc copy of Knight: A Chronicle of the Sibyl’s War was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Breaking the Lore By Andy Redsmith – Book 1 of the Inspector Paris Mystery series #Brainfluffbookreview #BreakingtheLorebookreview

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I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to read this intriguing fantasy crime adventure – it sounded great fun…

How do you stop a demon invasion… when you don’t believe in magic? Inspector Nick Paris is a man of logic and whisky. So staring down at the crucified form of a murder victim who is fifteen centimetres tall leaves the seasoned detective at a loss… and the dead fairy is only the beginning.

Nick Paris is your average, hard-drinking inspector serving in the murder squad, with amazing deductive powers and a rather arid lovelife – until he’s called out to a murder in the posher part of Manchester, which turns out to be the crucifixion of a fairy. He finds the pathologist on his knees investigating the crime scene, equally amazed. Indeed, the only one who isn’t pole-axed is Sergeant Bonetti, who recalls hearing about talking fish – when it turns out, he’s remembering the plot of Finding Nemo. That opening scene quickly whisks Paris up into a whirlwind adventure where he’s also having to wrap his head around talking crows, dwarves and a rock troll princess seeking political asylum.

This tale is told from Paris’s viewpoint in third person point of view – so we get the full benefit of his perplexed reaction, when years of deductive experience collide full-square with a situation and characters who appear to have leapt out of one of the darker fairy tale books. He retreats into sarky humour to get him through – so there are a number of jokes and puns littering the action, some of which had me laughing aloud.

In addition to Paris, we have his sidekick Sergeant Bonetti (think of the smart, slim Sergeant Hathaway in Lewis – his absolute opposite defines Bonetti) and Cassandra, the magical consultant he somehow acquires. It’s a smart move to have Bonetti and Cassandra completely accepting of the situation, while Paris is still grappling with the concept, because while we get the benefit of his bemusement, it doesn’t hold up the action. Which comes thick and fast as magical creatures pitch up with increasing frequency at the only portal on the planet, situated in a suburban garden. I loved the reaction of the homeowner, who provides a pathway through his house marked with duct-tape in return for dwarven gold…

The pages turned themselves as the story gathered pace and the plot thickened, bristling with nice touches, such as a chain-smoking crow and an excessively polite elf, who turns out to be a lethally effective killer. All in all, this is an entertaining, enjoyable beginning to what promises to be a solidly good urban fantasy series – I’m now waiting with eagerness for the next book. Recommended for fans of enjoyable urban fantasy and those who like their crime on the quirky side. The ebook arc copy of Breaking the Lore was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book
9/10

Review of INDIE EBOOK Under Ordshaw – Book 1 of The Ordshaw series by Phil Williams #Brainfluffbookreview #UnderOrdshawbookreview

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I read this book as Lynn from Lynn’s Book Blog recommended it and I very much liked the look of the cover. I was also in the mood for an entertaining urban fantasy with a twist.

Pax is one rent cheque away from the unforgiving streets of Ordshaw. After her stash is stolen, her hunt for the thief unearths a book of nightmares and a string of killers, and she stands to lose much more than her home. There’s something lurking under her city. Knowing it’s there could get you killed.
I’m not going to claim that the premise is anything particularly original – it isn’t. Ordshaw is a city with a dark underbelly where lethal creatures inhabit the network of tunnels hidden beneath the streets. Most people, particularly those who are out and about during the day, don’t have any inkling about the battle going on between the creatures and humanity – but those who are largely out at night have more of an idea that something isn’t quite right. Pax falls into this category, given she is a card player who spends most of her time working at night.

However, for me she isn’t the most interesting character in this book. Cano Casaria, an agent for the Ministry of Environmental Energy, in theory should be one of the good guys. In fact, the character seemed very familiar to me – driven by a desire to keep humanity safe; possessing a fanatical loathing of the terrible creatures wreaking havoc; determined to ensure that their agenda doesn’t prevail. In many other hands, Casaria would be the protagonist. But he’s not. While it’s his efforts that initially involve Pax in the whole business, his brutal methods characterised by the end absolutely justifying any means repel her, particularly after she encounters Letty the tiny fairy, whom Casaria cripples.

It is the interplay between these characters that had me turning the pages wanting to know what would happen next. While some of the monsters are definitely unpleasant and there is a great deal we don’t yet know about them, it wasn’t the battle between them and humanity that powered the story, but the rivalries and relationships formed between those who were trying to stop them.

In making this the focus of the story, Williams has succeeded in giving this urban fantasy a fresh twist so that while it started quite slowly, as it gathered pace I found it difficult to put down. Recommended for fans of well-written urban fantasy, who’d appreciate something a little different. While I obtained a review copy of Under Ordshaw from the author, the views I have expressed are my honest opinion of the book.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Day 115 on an Alien Planet – Book 1 of the Settler Chronicles series by Jeanette Bedard #Brainfluffbookreview #Day115onanAlienPlanetbookreview

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It was the cover that caught my eye on this one – and the very nifty title. It didn’t hurt that the author is an indie writer, as I know what a struggle it is to gain sufficient reviews to garner any kind of attention in the ocean that is Amazon.

A dishonourable discharge left Margo unable to find honest work on Earth. Signing onto a colonizing mission heading to a new world promised a fresh start. Or at least that’s what she’d thought. Strapped into a crashing colony ship, she realized how wrong she’d been. They hit the ground and the straight forward colonizing mission becomes a scramble for survival.

As you gather from the slightly shortened blurb, this is a colony world adventure where said colonisation plans have gone very badly wrong from the word go. I’m a sucker for these kinds of tales of survival – basically because it gives the author so much scope to take the story in all sorts of interesting directions. Bedard doesn’t disappoint with her vivid evocation of this bleak, airless environment, which nonetheless has been selected as suitable for this plucky group of pioneers to establish a foothold for humanity. The description and world building is believable and effective in producing a strong sense of reality without holding up the pace.

I really liked Margo as a protagonist. While having a troubled and eventful background, she is not too full of angst to be able to respond effectively in the challenging circumstances around her. There was a particular event that happened about a third of the way into the book that absolutely floored me – to the extent that I nearly stopped reading. However, I had an instinct that if I did, so I’d always wonder what happened next and I’m glad I continued. In the interests of providing a spoiler-free review. I’m not going to say more than that, but if you do happen to pick this one up, do be mindful that this is not the place to stop reading in disgust.

Any niggles? Well, there is just one. Part of the story is told through Margo’s journals, which I found more than a bit confusing because at no time did the viewpoint switch to 1st person and she isn’t the sort of character who would talk or think of herself in the third person. This did bother me for a while but as the tale was so genuinely engrossing and the stakes continued to become ever higher, it wasn’t a dealbreaker.

Of course, the difficulty in raising said stakes is that the climax has to give the reader sufficient reward or having stuck by the story in the expectation that the denouement is going to be worth it. I’m glad to say that Bedard managed to pull it off. This one has stayed with me since I finished reading it and I am keen to return to this isolated outpost of humanity to find out what happens next. So I shall certainly be tracking down the second book in the series. Recommended for fans of science fiction murder mysteries in dangerous settings. While I obtained an arc of Day 115 on an Alien Planet from the author via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Murder Served Cold – Book 6 of the Langham and Dupré Mystery series by Eric Brown #Brainfluffbookreview #MurderServedColdbookreview

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I’ve enjoyed this cosy mystery series that deliberately harks back to the golden era of this genre – see my review of Murder Takes a Turn.

November, 1956. Lord Elsmere, an old friend of Donald Langham’s literary agent, Charles Elder, is in a pickle – his favourite painting, a Gainsborough, has been stolen from under his nose. What’s more, there’s no evidence of a break-in. The family heirloom was recently re-insured for a hefty price, and Elsmere is struggling financially. Could he have staged the theft, or was it taken by one of the guests? Old Major Rutherford, evasive beauty Rebecca Miles, Dutch war hero Patrick Verlinden, Elsmere’s son Dudley Mariner and his statuesque sculpture fiancée, Esmeralda Bellamy, are all guests at the manor. But who would steal the painting, and why? Private investigators Langham and Ralph Ryland take on the case and soon uncover seething animosities, jealousy, secrets and deception, before events take a shocking turn…

And if this setup seems as comfortingly familiar as a late-night cup of cocoa, then you’re right. This is the classic country-house murder mystery chock-full of likely suspects, with Donald and Ralph slogging through the forest of clues and red herrings to try and make sense of the puzzle, before tracking down the perpetrator. I really enjoyed this one. The murder mystery was intriguing, linked as it was to the theft of the Gainsborough and I particularly liked the denouement as it connected directly with the historical period when this story was set.

Brown’s writing superpower is depicting setting – the landscape he evokes in a future version of Paris in his science fiction adventure Engineman is outstanding and has seeped into my inscape. So having a thoroughly satisfying cosy mystery set in such a strong backdrop, where the social and political issues are taken into account is a real bonus. I’ve found myself thinking about this one several times since I finished it – always a sign of a successful book – and I highly recommend Murder Served Cold to fans of well-written country house murder mysteries.
9/10

Review of INDIE Ebook Star Carrier – Book 3 of the Lost Colonies series by B.V. Larson #Brainfluffbookreview #StarCarrierbookreview

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I read the first book in this series, following the exploits of William Sparhawk in Battle Cruiser here for Sci Fi Month and I was hooked. In short order, I read Dreadnaught and now need to know what happens next…

The greatest warships ever constructed in known space rise up one by one, soon dominating our skies. They strike fear into the hearts of every citizen and rebel colonist alike. Captain William Sparhawk, the very man who convinced the secretive Council to build this terrifying fleet, now has doubts about the project. What is their exact mission? How could anyone have built these huge ships so quickly? And most puzzling of all, what’s happening out at the isolated laboratory complex on Phobos, Mars’ lop-sided moon?

I very much like William, which is important as this trilogy is told in first person viewpoint throughout through his point of view. Rather unbending and more than a bit socially awkward, William is partly cloned from his father’s genes, not that it means they get on – they don’t. And due to what happens during this event-filled foray, as William sets off on a mission he isn’t sure he’ll return from, he discovers the chilling reason why his father is so closed off.

There are plenty of ingredients vital to the success of a cracking series – a likeable protagonist with several character flaws that endear me to him; lots of action that has me turning the pages, providing plenty of excitement; sufficient worldbuilding that means I care about the stakes and situation putting the protagonist in peril and sufficient variety in the way in which our plucky character struggles so that it doesn’t become repetitive.

But what sets apart other series – including this one – is that as it progresses, situations and issues the character and reader thought were fact become something else. There are other layers underneath the apparent structure, which gives a completely different angle to what is actually going on. As a result, this is a series you really must read in the right order to get the very best out of it – and for my money, the best is very, very good.

I loved the dynamic that continued playing out at the end of Dreadnaught and continues on into this book that provides strong answers to all sorts of questions, such as – why is the political situation on Earth quite so stagnant? Why doesn’t the power structure morph and change into something else? Some of those answers are shocking.

I found it hard to put this one down as I was driven to discover how this plays out, hoping that the ending wouldn’t be a disappointment, after all the tension and adventure. I was enormously relieved – and sad – when Larson successfully tied up all the loose ends and brought the book and trilogy to a triumphant conclusion. Highly recommended.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe – Book 1 of The Salvagers series by Alex White – #Brainfluffbookreview #ABigShipattheEdgeoftheUniverse

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Well this one is a lot of fun! Himself recommended it, as he was drawn in by the unusual cover and then by the book itself…

Boots Elsworth was a famous treasure hunter in another life, but now she’s washed up. She makes her meager living faking salvage legends and selling them to the highest bidder, but this time she might have stumbled on something real–the story of the Harrow, a famous warship, capable of untold destruction. Nilah Brio is the top driver in the Pan Galactic Racing Federation and the darling of the racing world–until she witnesses the murder of a fellow racer. Framed for the murder and on the hunt to clear her name, Nilah only has one lead: the killer also hunts a woman named Boots.

Both of these characters are not particularly likeable – you get the sense that Boots would sell her own grandmother if it would get her a solid fortune, while Nilah, young, cossetted and completely absorbed in her quest to win the Championship, is inevitably self absorbed, with a huge sense of her own importance.

As this book hits the ground running, whipping us along at a breathless pace that doesn’t ever let up, what I particularly enjoyed was that along the way, they both change for the better. Or, particularly in Boots’ case, we get to know exactly why she behaves as she does. While the terrible war that saw worlds die is now over, those caught up in the horrors don’t ever really get over it. However, I don’t want you to get the impression that this is one of those grim, post-apocalyptic adventures dripping with ruin, rust and a miasma of despair. It’s nothing of the sort – far more full-on with gung-ho adventurers who still hold life cheaply, including their own, and are capable of being amusingly snarky in between dodging fire from lethal robots, magically enhanced weaponry and overwhelming odds.

In fact, there was a point about halfway through the book when I had to take a break from the foot-to-the-floor action, as I was just too exhausted to keep up… Fortunately, after a night’s sleep, I was all set to plunge back in again – there was no risk that I wouldn’t finish this one as I cared too much for the protagonists.

Will I be diving into the next instalment? Oh yes, I’ve become far too fond of these characters not to discover what happens next… Recommended for fans of action-packed space opera.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Warriors – Book 3 of The Immortal Dealers by Sarah Fine #Brainfluffbookreview #TheWarriorsbookreview

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I’ve heard good things about Fine’s writing and hadn’t read anything by her, so when I saw this one on Netgalley, I immediately requested it. However, I hadn’t appreciated it was the third book in the series…

Ernestine “Ernie” Terwilliger never intended to live among the Immortal Dealers, much less to be party to an ongoing battle where the fate of humanity is in the draw of a card. And the stakes have gotten only higher now that a shady new Forger has been crowned. Virginia may be in charge of creating the chaos that makes the universe tick, but her assignments have been noble—each one in the aid of strangers. But when Ernie discovers Virginia’s true purpose, she realizes it’s going to take an entirely new kind of play to stop her.

That’s as much of the very chatty blurb I’m prepared to share, but I would add that if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading the previous two books in the series, The Serpent and The Guardian, I would advise you get hold of them first. I regularly plunge into the middle of a series, but starting with the third book in a trilogy is a tad extreme, even for me…

I really liked Ernie, who is a sympathetic protagonist with a lot of power, but at times completely out of her depth – which I liked. It can be difficult to depict a powerful heroine without making her so invulnerable that she isn’t really at any risk of dying or coming to serious harm. There is also a strong supporting cast with an interestingly detailed backstory, some of whom are on her side and some who aren’t. The magic system is an interesting one – as well as having an animal companion that can be animated from a tattoo, which enhances the dealer’s magic, each dealer possesses a deck of cards. Some are defensive, others aggressive and some assist the dealer to access dreams and visions, or heal serious injuries.

All this makes for an action-packed story with a lot of skirmishes. However, Fine nicely ramps up the stakes when dealers find that a situation they are involved in turns into something far worse. Ernie is convinced they have to work in concert to overthrow the menace threatening the world, but dealers are an ornery, individualistic lot. Some are very old – think of grumpy old people with lethal powers – and you’ll get a sense of her problems.

I liked the story arc very much, though if I have a niggle, it’s that I felt Ernie was too far ahead of the others when she felt there was something really wrong which meant I had a good idea where the story was going and wasn’t at all shocked by the reveal. It was shame, because if our heroine had been more willing to believe what she was being told, that surprise would have packed far more punch. However, it wasn’t a dealbreaker and I really enjoyed this action-packed fantasy adventure. Recommended for fans of urban fantasy.

The ebook arc copy of The Warrior was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

Review of INDIE Ebook Ichor Well – Book 3 of the Free Wrench series by Joseph R. Lallo #Brainfluffbookreview #IchorWellbookreview

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Himself recommended this series as an enjoyable steampunk romp – however, I picked up the third book by mistake!

Ever since Nita Graus left her homeland and joined the crew of the Wind Breaker, the reputation of the airship and its crew has been growing. The destruction of the mighty dreadnought, the escape from the legendary Skykeep, and the inexplicable ability to remain hidden from the ever-watchful eye of the Fug Folk have combined to make her and her fellow crew the stuff of legend. Alas, legendary heroes cannot exist for long without attracting a worthy villain. Luscious P. Alabaster strives to be just that foe.

Although I crashed mid-way into this series, I can report that not only did I manage to pick up all the relevant plotpoints without any undue floundering – I also finished this book with a firm resolve to go back and read the first two books. This is a world riven by political conflict since a catastrophic pollution event covered part of the planet’s surface with the fug – a purple-tinged smog that changes all who first came into contact with it. Those who live within the fug regard everyone else with contempt and arrogance as their own intellectual abilities have been boosted – not that it makes them any more likeable or wiser…

Unchanged humanity still manages to survive. Some eke out a living below ground in subterranean communities and others live above the pollution in airships, plying trade and destroying those who come looking for them. Those on the Wind Breaker are hardily accustomed to the continual freezing winds and the cold conditions the accompany high altitudes, but they are confronted with another major problem – it is becoming increasingly impossible to get hold of the fuel that powers the airship. I enjoyed the relationship amongst the crew – there were friction points and the Captain, in particular, makes a point of being grumpy. But then he regularly has to helm for several days and nights in a row without any sleep as no one else has his instincts when the going gets tough. However, there is also plenty of enjoyable snark and some unexpressed feelings that make the mix of strong characters entertaining and readable.

Meanwhile, Luscious P. Alabaster is determined to make a name for himself. Blessed with untold wealth and great family connections, he is convinced that destiny has chosen him to become the most famous man, ever. The man who destroys the infamous Wind Breaker – so he puts in place a cunning plan to snare the airship and her despicable crew. I loved this outrageously pompous antagonist, which is unusual, because generally anti-heroes and antagonist-based stories aren’t my thing. However, Lallo’s depiction of this character is a mixture of pantomime villain and a real drive to be remembered for this daring deed that certainly worked for me.

The denouement was an exciting page-turner as the plan took several unexpected twists, with some lovely reveals about the world, turning some of the previous information on its head – I love it when that happens… I’m looking forward to reading the other books in this entertaining series, which is highly recommended for fans of enjoyable steampunk adventure.
8/10