Category Archives: Book review

Review of NETGALLEY arc Becoming Crone – Book 1 of The Crone Wars by Lydia M. Hawke #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #BecomingCronebookreview

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Having reached a certain age, I’m always looking out for entertaining fantasy books with older protagonists – and this one caught my eye. Apart from the pretty cover, I also liked the sound of the blurb – would I enjoy the book as much as the premise?

BLURB: For Claire Emerson, there is nothing ordinary about turning sixty. First, there are the crows. Then, a pendant that unlocks a gate to a house in the woods–which comes with a snarky gargoyle, an entirely too-sexy wolf shifter claiming to be Claire’s protector, and a legacy that turns her reality upside down.

Because divorced, menopausal grandmothers with creaky hips and hot flashes? They don’t just randomly discover they’re next in a long line of powerful women protecting the world from the dark magick of Mages.

Claire’s first instinct is to turn tail and run back to the safety of baking cookies and reading bedtime stories. But when it becomes clear the Mages have targeted her, she may have no choice but to accept her calling. There’s just one problem: she never got the lifetime of training she was supposed to have, and her magick is… well, unreliable would be an understatement. With the Mages threatening everything she loves, can Claire learn what she needs to in time to become Crone? Or will she be the one to lose an ancient war—and her life?

REVIEW: I am always delighted to come across heroines of a certain age who feature in fantasy adventure stories, especially as I’ve now also reached that certain age. That said, I’m allergic to the trope whereby they suddenly have access to an elixir that helps them overcome creaking joints and smooths out the wrinkles. Or find themselves wielding a magic sword with the skill and ease of a thirty-something swordmaster. So my track record with this sub-genre is a tad patchy.

I’m delighted to report that Claire is none of the above. In fact, at the start of the book she is hosting her own sixtieth birthday party with nothing much to celebrate. Her ex-husband has left her for a much younger woman with whom he has started a second family, her son and daughter-in-law are increasingly treating her as an elderly nonentity and she feels as if she’s spent her life putting everyone else first with not much to show for it. The problem is – on the cusp of becoming properly old, she has no idea what she really wants for herself… This could have been a really dismal opening, but for Claire’s wry humour which I found very appealing. The story starts quite slowly, something I didn’t mind as it gave me plenty of opportunity to bond with Claire. This is important, as she narrates the tale in first-person viewpoint.

However, once the action does start rolling it quickly picks up speed. I liked the fact that her transition from the normal everyday to the fantastic isn’t smooth or easy. Her attempts at magick are either non-existent or overwhelming to the point of catastrophic and she’s hopeless in any physical fight. Although she does have a gorgeous werewolf protector and a gargoyle assigned to train her. Hawke writes action vividly with some nicely original touches – I’ll never look at a garden gnome in the same way again – and while the shafts of humour continue, there is also loss and heartbreak.

Claire’s journey throughout the book is well handled, so that I believed in the character throughout. I’m keen to continue reading this series to discover what happens next. And the bonus is that the next two books are already available, so I won’t have to wait to tuck into A Gathering of Crones. Highly recommended for urban fantasy fans who enjoy older protagonists. While I obtained an arc of Becoming Crone from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Review of KINDLE arc Sol 2781 – Book 4 of the Drago Tell Dramis series by Janet Edwards #BrainfluffKINDLEbookreview #Sol2781bookreview

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My all-time favourite genre when it’s done well is science fiction – not that you’d know it if you’ve been reading my book reviews during the last two years. And that’s because I’ve been going through a really tough time – and a lot of sci fi is on the grim side. Not so the books of Janet Edwards, so I was delighted when she asked me if I would like a review copy of the latest offering in her enjoyable Drago Tell Dramis series. I’m a solid fan of her writing, see my reviews of of Earth Girl, Earth Star, Earth Flight, Earth and Air, Frontier and her short story collection Earth Prime which are all books set in her Earth Girl series, as well as Telepath, Defender, Hurricane and Borderline in the Hive Mind series, and Scavenger Alliance and Scavenger Blood in the Scavenger Exodus series, which is a spinoff prequel series set in the Earth Girl world. This series featuring disaster magnet Draco Tell Dramis is also set before the Earth Girl books in the same world – but only a few years before we get to meet young Jarra. This series featuring disaster magnet Draco Tell Dramis is also set before the Earth Girl books in the same world – but only a few years before we get to meet young Jarra. I’ve also reviewed Hestia 2781 and Array 2781 in this series, as well as the short story ‘Hera 2781‘, which kicks everything off.

BLURB: Major Drago Tell Dramis is celebrating the fact that the saboteur has been caught, and the Earth solar arrays will be safe now. The arrest of a member of the main board of Hospital Earth has consequences though. As Drago hits orbital levels of fury, and declares his own personal war against Hospital Earth, he’s hit by even more unexpected problems.

There’s a joke that says one birth member of the Tell clan attracts trouble, two birth members of the Tell clan invite minor disasters, while three is the critical mass that triggers cataclysmic events. As the danger mounts, the question is whether Drago and his two cousins, Jaxon and Gemelle, can prove an alternative theory. Are three members of the Tell clan really the critical mass that resolves cataclysmic events?

REVIEW: Firstly, if you encounter this book without having read any of the other offerings in the Drago Tell Dramis series – my firm advice would be to track down the first book, which is a novelette. ‘Hera 2781’ gives you an ideal opportunity to work out whether you’ll enjoy Edwards’ writing style and the storyline without having to invest a huge amount of time and money.

As for me – I’ll happily hoover up anything she writes. There is an energy and positivity in Edwards’ writing that I always thoroughly enjoy and is well matched with the young protagonists she portrays. That doesn’t mean they have an easy time of it – far from it. Drago Tell Dramis might come from a high-profile family, with the good looks and advantageous connections that goes with such a background – but Edwards also gives us a clear insight into some of the major snags of being instantly recognisable wherever he goes. Sometimes the consequent scrapes are dangerous, while at other times they are simply hilarious – so long as your name isn’t Drago… It doesn’t help that Drago is also a first-class disaster magnet, particularly when paired up with his cousin, Jaxon. Though Jaxon has problems of his own, given that he is battling with a terrible decision he made years ago, when he was too young to realise the consequences.

The premise could so easily have turned this book into a dark exploration of two conflicted, doom-ridden heroes. In Edwards’ hands, however, there is an optimistic vibe to the writing that gives the story an energy that impels me to keep turning the pages. And though there are tough times and even heartbreak – I always finish one of Edwards’ books feeling uplifted and more cheerful. This time around was no exception, apart from the sense of loss when you get to the end of a series featuring an engaging and enjoyable protagonist. Highly recommended for sci fi fans who appreciate regular dollops of humour alongside their futuristic action.
9/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc Making It Write – Book 3 of A Writer For Hire Mystery series by Betty Hechtman #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #MakingItWritebookreview

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I have been tucking into a variety of cosy whodunits recently. So when this one caught my eye, I was delighted to be able to get hold of the arc – especially as the author is unknown to me.

BLURB: As a writer for hire, Veronica Blackstone puts her keyboard to use to help others. That includes writing advertising copy for local businesses or love letters for those with romantic troubles, or helping people publish their memoirs. Maeve Winslow needs the latter.

Maeve is the wife of a famous artist nominated for a prestigious award, and the memoir is to be released ahead of the ceremony. All of Maeve’s notes are given to Veronica but for the final few pages. There’s a huge surprise within those last pages, but Maeve won’t reveal it yet. When Maeve is found dead at the foot of her stairs it looks like an accident, but Veronica isn’t convinced. Was the scene staged? Was Maeve murdered to keep her silent? Could clues to the surprise, and the identity of the murderer, be hidden within the notes? It’s up to Veronica to figure it out and write the real story.

REVIEW: I was interested to learn that this was the third book in the series – a fact I only discovered when searching for a copy of the cover after I’d finished the book. So if you are hesitating about plunging into the middle of a series, then don’t be. At no point did I feel I was missing vital information – in fact all the way through this one, I was under the impression that it was the first book in the series.

Part of the reason why I felt I was reading the first book is the pacing. It’s very leisurely – to the point that I’d begun to wonder if there was going to be a murder at all. That said, I enjoyed Hechtman’s smooth, accomplished writing and quickly bonded with the main protagonist, who narrates the story in first-person viewpoint, which meant that I wasn’t too worried. But I will say that if you prefer your murder mysteries to move along at a fair clip with regular dollops of action along the way, then this one might not tick the boxes for you.

Veronica doesn’t have a front row seat as to what is happening – and I did enjoy the fact that the police were in no mood to pour out all the details to her just because she has published a fictional detective story. So her initial sense of wrongness about Maeve’s death is gradually strengthened by the accretion of minor details. I really liked the premise – and the fact that Maeve hasn’t conveniently written down all the major issues surrounding her wish to write a memoir. In the circumstances, that wouldn’t have made sense, given that she knew the huge secret surrounding her husband’s sudden fame and had no reason to think she wouldn’t be in the middle of the project. And the final twist is a doozy – I had considered it fleetingly right at the beginning of the story, but Hechtman nicely redirects us with a strong line-up of plausible suspects. Overall, this is an enjoyable, well-plotted murder mystery featuring a sympathetic heroine. Recommended for fans of murder mysteries that concentrate more on characters and motivations and less on the gore and action. While I obtained an arc of Making It Write from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna #BrainfluffNETGALLEYAUDIOBOOKreview #TheVerySecretSocietyofIrregularWitchesbookreview

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I have read quite a few fantasy book featuring witches recently in my quest for enjoyable, escapist reads. So I was delighted to see this offering featured and even more chuffed when I was approved for an audio arc.

BLURB: As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon knows she has to hide her magic, keep her head down, and stay away from other witches so their powers don’t mingle and draw attention. And as an orphan who lost her parents at a young age and was raised by strangers, she’s used to being alone and she follows the rules…with one exception: an online account, where she posts videos pretending to be a witch. She thinks no one will take it seriously.

But someone does. An unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches how to control their magic. It breaks all of the rules, but Mika goes anyway, and is immediately tangled up in the lives and secrets of not only her three charges, but also an absent archaeologist, a retired actor, two long-suffering caretakers, and…Jamie. The handsome and prickly librarian of Nowhere House would do anything to protect the children, and as far as he’s concerned, a stranger like Mika is a threat. An irritatingly appealing threat. As Mika begins to find her place at Nowhere House, the thought of belonging somewhere begins to feel like a real possibility. But magic isn’t the only danger in the world, and when a threat comes knocking at their door, Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect a found family she didn’t know she was looking for…

REVIEW: It always helps if the narrator is good – and Samara MacLaren’s voice and reading style has become a solid favourite. So it was a bonus to discover her dulcet tones when I first tucked into this enjoyable offering.

Mika is a delightful protagonist. She’s had a tough time as a child. Due to a spell that went wrong several hundred years ago, all witches are orphaned early in their lives so are brought up by guardians instead of their parents. After the horrendous witch burnings of the 16th century, the community of witches scattered and now they only meet up very occasionally. For magic tends to gather around witches, making it easier for them to be discovered. So it’s deemed safer by formidable leaders like Primrose for witches to stay away from each other, making life lonely for adult witches who wish to continue to practise their magic. It would have been all too easy for Mika to have been portrayed as a classically tragic heroine – so I was very pleased to find her resolutely sunny-natured in all but the toughest situations.

Her three charges are funny without being too cute, unrealistically awful or revoltingly good – which is harder to achieve than Mandanna makes it look. There is also a rather sweet love story that unfolds in the middle of all the magical shenanigans, which I also enjoyed. However – there is a warning. The F-word is liberally sprinkled throughout, which didn’t really fit with the overall feel of the story. I certainly didn’t appreciate its use in front of the children, for instance. Apart from that one niggle, this is an enjoyable, often humorous and ultimately uplifting fantasy adventure with a dollop of romance with one steamy scene I fast-forwarded through. While I obtained an arc of The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Book Eaters By Sunyi Dean #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheBookEatersbookreview

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Being a huge fan of books, a story about a mysterious race being able to actually eat them seemed an intriguing premise, so I was delighted to be approved to read this one.

BLURB: Out on the Yorkshire Moors lives a secret line of people for whom books are food, and who retain all of a book’s content after eating it. To them, spy novels are a peppery snack; romance novels are sweet and delicious. Eating a map can help them remember destinations, and children, when they misbehave, are forced to eat dry, musty pages from dictionaries.

Devon is part of The Family, an old and reclusive clan of book eaters. Her brothers grow up feasting on stories of valor and adventure, and Devon—like all other book eater women—is raised on a carefully curated diet of fairytales and cautionary stories. But real life doesn’t always come with happy endings, as Devon learns when her son is born with a rare and darker kind of hunger—not for books, but for human minds.

REVIEW: I enjoyed the prospect of reading a book about beings who snacked on books to become their own walking libraries – though the premise that Dean presents is less cosy than the one I envisaged. Essentially, these are vampiric creatures whose superior strength and speed make them formidable opponents. And while they do absorb the knowledge of the books they read, there isn’t a sense that they put it to particularly good use. Indeed, they are portrayed as a dying breed desperately trying to avoid extinction as the handful of surviving Families farm out their rare daughters in arranged marriages to try to ensure the next generation. As for the girls, they are force-fed a diet of fairy tales featuring princesses waiting for their princes in an attempt to make them compliant about their fate.

However, Devon has never been the compliant sort – and when she produces a son with undesirable traits, she refuses to allow the patriarch to tidy him away according to the custom. She is an engaging protagonist – headstrong, courageous and passionate in her loyalty and love. It was refreshing to come across a book where the love story is all about the maternal bond – even if that takes Devon into some very dark places. I am always fascinated by the dynamic of power – who has it, the lengths they go to in order to keep hold of it, and who also craves it. So it was a huge treat for me that one of the major themes of this book is an exploration of power.

This dystopian fantasy proved to be a gripping read, full of tension and drama. But do be warned – it does tip into horror and there is an upsetting scene where a baby is harmed. While it was difficult to read in places, I liked Dean’s unflinching refusal to ever tip into sentimentality regarding the relationship between Devon and her young son, Cai. Highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The Book Eaters from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK Her Majesty’s Royal Coven – Book 1 of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven series by Juno Dawson #BrainfluffNETGALLEYaudiobookreview #HerMajestysRoyalCovenbookreview

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I saw the title and cover and immediately requested this one. It seemed like such a very cool premise and with that pink, I was sure I was getting a reasonably light book to listen to. So I was delighted to be approved – however, this one wasn’t what I was expecting…

BLURB: If you look hard enough at old photographs, we’re there in the background: healers in the trenches; Suffragettes; Bletchley Park oracles; land girls and resistance fighters. Why is it we help in times of crisis? We have a gift. We are stronger than Mundanes, plain and simple.

At the dawn of their adolescence, on the eve of the summer solstice, four young girls–Helena, Leonie, Niamh and Elle–took the oath to join Her Majesty’s Royal Coven, established by Queen Elizabeth I as a covert government department. Now, decades later, the witch community is still reeling from a civil war and Helena is now the reigning High Priestess of the organization. Yet Helena is the only one of her friend group still enmeshed in the stale bureaucracy of HMRC. Elle is trying to pretend she’s a normal housewife, and Niamh has become a country vet, using her powers to heal sick animals. In what Helena perceives as the deepest betrayal, Leonie has defected to start her own more inclusive and intersectional coven, Diaspora. And now Helena has a bigger problem. A young warlock of extraordinary capabilities has been captured by authorities and seems to threaten the very existence of HMRC. With conflicting beliefs over the best course of action, the four friends must decide where their loyalties lie: with preserving tradition, or doing what is right.

REVIEW: Looking at the shocking pink cover of the audiobook, I’d assumed that I was getting a reasonably light-hearted exploration of witchcraft and what it means to be a woman in the contemporary world. It’s nothing of the sort. Instead, nested within a cracking story that had me listening far later than I should, is a searing and comprehensive examination of female loyalties and expectations within our modern society. Just because the four young women are imbued with powerful magic, they aren’t insulated from the pressures the rest of us wrestle with on a daily basis. Issues such as dealing with chauvinist and abusive behaviour, racism, juggling work with motherhood, the push/pull of whether to settle down to have a family or prioritise a chosen career are all very recognisable problems also experienced by us non-magical Mundanes. In addition to dealing with these ongoing life decisions – our four protagonists are also still recovering from a savage war within the magical community between those who believed the magically gifted should be ruling the world and those who felt the status quo should prevail. Two of our heroines lost partners in the conflict, while Niamh’s twin sister was also on the opposing side, so the cost was high.

When a young, traumatised warlock is discovered after a destructive fire, Helena and Niamh initially agree on a course of action. However, as events unfold, the former allies suddenly find themselves on opposing sides of an issue that is also ripping apart Feminists – that of transgenderism. It was brilliant to see this difficult, emotive topic so effectively covered within a gripping tale, where both sides of the argument were so well covered.

I’m conscious that I’ve given the impression that this is a worthy story, full of pertinent issues that affect modern women within Western society. But what I’ve perhaps omitted to tell you is that all this goes on within a wonderful tale full of drama and some fabulous action scenes, shot through with wry humour that occasionally had me laughing aloud. And there was one particular scene that had me close to tears. The book also finishes on a doozy of a plot twist that has me desperate to read the sequel RIGHT NOW – because I’ve got to know my all-time favourite character is alright. In short, this is a fabulous tale that gives us four nuanced, believable characters facing familiar and contemporary problems with an extra, complicating twist of magic that makes the story leap off the page. I can’t wait to get hold of the next book. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an audiobook arc of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheMonstersWeDefybookreview

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It was the cover of this offering that caught my eye – it’s just so very attractive. But then I read the blurb and knew I wanted to read it. I’m a sucker for the 1920s era – and I loved the spiritualist element of this fantasy heist adventure.

BLURB: Washington D. C., 1925

Clara Johnson talks to spirits, a gift that saved her during her darkest moments in a Washington D. C. jail. Now a curse that’s left her indebted to the cunning spirit world. So, when the Empress, the powerful spirit who holds her debt, offers her an opportunity to gain her freedom, a desperate Clara seizes the chance. The task: steal a magical ring from the wealthiest woman in the District.

Clara can’t pull off this daring heist alone. She’ll need help from an unlikely team, from a jazz musician capable of hypnotizing with a melody to an aging vaudeville actor who can change his face, to pull off the impossible. But as they encounter increasingly difficult obstacles, a dangerous spirit interferes at every turn. Conflict in the spirit world is leaking into the human one and along D.C’.s legendary Black Broadway, a mystery unfolds—one that not only has repercussions for Clara but all of the city’s residents.

REVIEW: This is a cracking read. I thoroughly enjoyed Clara’s spiky character. She is short-fused and in the habit of pushing away people, though that doesn’t stop her from helping those who seek her out. Given her gift, she could so easily have been portrayed as a noble, self-sacrificing heroine, brimful of the desire to help her fellows. While that is what she does – because she is so crotchety about it, I found her far more appealing. Especially when those around her make it their business to break through the façade she has erected – and we are shown just how vulnerable she actually is.

As well as Clara being a thoroughly sympathetic protagonist, the pacing was pretty much perfect. In any historical adventure, there is always a balance between giving the reader sufficient period details to make the background believable and ensuring the narrative moves along at a reasonable clip. Penelope nailed it, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve read several books recently featuring a POC protagonist and this was right up there with the best in portraying the casual and unthinking racism that was rife at that time. Indeed, it is part of the ongoing difficulty stacking up against Clara and her associates that a black person finds it hazardous to try and travel to certain parts of the city. Not only does this aid the narrative in upping the stakes – it is a visceral reminder of the extra burden the black community were coping with in their daily lives just because of the colour of their skin. I’d love to think such attitudes were consigned to history – but sadly, daily racist crime shows this isn’t the case, so reading entertaining, well-written fiction that highlights the issue can only help.

The spirit world was also well portrayed. There is a real sense of menace around those who want agency within the mortal world in order to steal human destinies. I liked the way Penelope gradually revealed the enormity of the threat, making this one of those reads that was very difficult to put down. All in all, this was a thoroughly engrossing tale that had me reading far later than I should. Highly recommended for those who like their fantasy within a compelling historical setting. While I obtained an arc of The Monsters We Defy from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Review of NETGALLEY AUDIO arc A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting by Sophie Irwin #BrainfluffNETGALLEYaudiobookreview #ALadysGuidetoFortune-Huntingbookreview

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I have read a number of Regency romances over the last seventeen months in a strong desire for enjoyable escapism, so when I saw this one on Netgalley I immediately requested it and was delighted to be approved.

BLURB: Kitty Talbot needs a fortune. Or rather, she needs a husband who has a fortune. Left with her father’s massive debts, she has only twelve weeks to save her family from ruin. Kitty has never been one to back down from a challenge, so she leaves home and heads toward the most dangerous battleground in all of England: the London season.

Kitty may be neither accomplished nor especially genteel—but she is utterly single-minded; imbued with cunning and ingenuity, she knows that risk is just part of the game. The only thing she doesn’t anticipate is Lord Radcliffe. The worldly Radcliffe sees Kitty for the mercenary fortune-hunter that she really is and is determined to scotch her plans at all costs, until their parrying takes a completely different turn…

REVIEW: This is huge fun. I immediately bonded with dear Kitty, whose parents recently died leaving her and her four sisters with a mountain of debt that will shortly see them homeless, if she can’t very quickly find a rich husband. I’ve read a number of Regency romances over the years – and what made this one stand out from the crowd is Kitty’s unabashed approach to the whole business. She is under no illusion that she needs to make a match with a wealthy man and resorts to all sorts of ploys to ensure she gets introduced to prospective husbands, ranging from dropping her kerchief, shedding a shoe and feigning an injury right through to the tried and tested tactic of fainting at his feet. Indeed, had Kitty been written into a Jane Austen romance, she would have been described with lip-curling disapproval and thoroughly cut down to size by a series of Austenesque humorous comments on her clothes and pushy manners. But she’s desperate. Determined not to see her family on the streets, Kitty will go to almost any lengths to ensure their future is secure – even if it is at the expense of her own future happiness.

I really enjoyed the tension and increased stakes swinging on the end of this entertaining romance. After all, this dynamic is always there in Austen’s work, too – think of Charlotte Lucas and her explanation to Lizzie when she accepts Mr Collins’ proposal in Pride and Prejudice. But I’ve not seen it stated quite so baldly before and I think Irwin makes it work really effectively. It doesn’t hurt that Eleanor Tomlinson’s narration is excellent.

Indeed, I would have given this one a 10, if it hadn’t been for a couple of anomalies – one in particular irritated me. Apparently, although she is literate and educated, Irwin represents Kitty as not being acquainted with the Bible – and given the historical era in which this is set, that’s nonsense. While her parents were clearly unorthodox, they had settled in a country district and were regarded as respectable by the local gentry, which means they must have regularly attended the local church along with their family. The other slip I noticed was a mention of Kitty packing her suitcase – an item which didn’t appear until the later stages of the 19th century. Other than those mistakes, I thoroughly enjoyed the story and it comes highly recommended for those who enjoy Regency romances featuring a strong-minded, feisty heroine. While I obtained the audiobook arc of A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Daughter of Dr Moreau By Silvia Moreno Garcia #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheDaughterofDrMoreaubookreview

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I am a fan of Moreno-Garcia’s writing – see my reviews of Mexican Gothic, Gods of Jade and Shadow, Certain Dark Things, The Beautiful Ones, Prime Meridian and Velvet Was the Night. So when I saw this one appear on Netgalley, I immediately requested it and was delighted to be approved.

BLURB: Carlota Moreau: a young woman, growing up in a distant and luxuriant estate, safe from the conflict and strife of the Yucatán peninsula. The only daughter of either a genius, or a madman.

Montgomery Laughton: a melancholic overseer with a tragic past and a propensity for alcohol. An outcast who assists Dr. Moreau with his scientific experiments, which are financed by the Lizaldes, owners of magnificent haciendas and plentiful coffers.

The hybrids: the fruits of the Doctor’s labor, destined to blindly obey their creator and remain in the shadows. A motley group of part human, part animal monstrosities.

All of them living in a perfectly balanced and static world, which is jolted by the abrupt arrival of Eduardo Lizalde, the charming and careless son of Doctor Moreau’s patron, who will unwittingly begin a dangerous chain reaction. For Moreau keeps secrets, Carlota has questions, and in the sweltering heat of the jungle, passions may ignite.

REVIEW: Silvia Moreno-Garcia is very comfortable writing across an impressive range of genres and styles. The one common theme throughout all her books is that they either feature Mexican protagonists, or they are set in or around Mexico – and this one is no exception. While the original story by H.G. Wells is set on an island, this version is set on the Yucatán Peninsula on an isolated estate well off the beaten track. Moreno-Garcia is masterful at scene-setting and the world-building in this story is no exception. Through both protagonists, we get a vivid sense of the intense, humid heat, vegetation and creatures inhabiting the estate – particularly when in Carlota’s viewpoint as she loves the place with a deep-seated abiding sense of belonging. And as the story progresses, we begin understand just why she is so very comfortable living in the heart of the wilderness.

Those who have come to Moreno-Garcia’s writing after having read Mexican Gothic or Certain Dark Things might have found this a slightly frustrating read. While readers who have also read Velvet Was the Night or Prime Meridian will be aware that the author is equally capable of delivering a slow-burn story full of pent tension and an increasing sense of wrongness as she is of providing full-on action. That said, there is action – an explosion of violence that I found all the more shocking due to the slow build-up. I enjoyed the manner in which the climax also provides answers regarding Dr Moreau, which expose him for the real monster in this story.

The characterisation of both main protagonists is pitch perfect. Each of them is flawed and trapped. I was rooting for both of them to find a way out of the murky wrongness caused by Moreau’s poisonous influence – and was also relieved that Moreno-Garcia didn’t go down the predictable route that I feared she would. Their relationship is beautifully nuanced, complicated and utterly believable. As ever, the pages turned themselves in this lush, memorable read and is highly recommended for those who like their historical science fiction adventures finely written in a vivid setting shot through with tension. While I obtained an arc of The Daughter of Dr Moreau from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Last Feather by Shameez Patel Papathanasiou #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheLastFeatherbookreview

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I always love feathers on book covers – and when I stopped to read the blurb, I thought this one sounded intriguing. So I was delighted to be approved.

BLURB: Twenty-two-year-old Cassia’s sister is dying, and she doesn’t know why. Soon after, Cassia wakes up in another realm, not only does she find her missing best friend, Lucas, but he knows how to save her sister.

Meanwhile Lucas is part of a community of Reborns, people who were born on earth and after death, were reborn in this realm with magical abilities. The original beings of the realm, the Firsts, rule over them.

But, to keep the Reborn numbers manageable, the king of the Firsts releases a curse to cull them and Cassia finds herself in the middle of it. She needs to break the curse before her time runs out, otherwise she will be trapped there forever.

REVIEW: Firstly, despite Cassia being twenty-two and having taken responsibility for caring for her ailing younger sister, she often behaves more like a mid-teen than a twenty-something. This sets the tone for the book, which reads like a YA adventure, with the emotions dialled high and many of the characters still unsure of who they are and their role in life. This isn’t in the way of a criticism – I regularly read and enjoy YA fantasy adventures, but it is important for other readers to know whether this is one they’d enjoy, or not.

I very much liked the poignancy of the separation between Lucas and Cassia at the beginning of the novel, which is powerfully written. So I assumed that the developing romance would feature the two of them – and it came a nice surprise when this wasn’t the case. Given that this is the relationship that drives the narrative throughout the book, I was delighted that it came from an enduring, close-knit bond that didn’t evolve into smouldering looks and all the sensations around physical attraction. Although there is all of that going on – it is far more confusing and difficult and fortunately for me, it didn’t upstage the ongoing issue of Cassia’s urgent task while in the magical realm.

Overall, I enjoyed the story. Plenty is going on throughout, with lots of action and drama and while at times I found Cassia annoyingly stubborn and self-centred – they were flaws I could live with. However there were aspects of the world that I did find irritating. Because of the ongoing pace of events, people need to be able to move around fast in a world where there is no mechanised transport. The author has decided to use a magical strain of wolf which are ridden and can travel very fast. Having chosen such a quirky form of transport, she then proceeds to treat these strong, powerful creatures like cars. They promptly bound up and allow anyone at all to clamber on board, they don’t appear to get tired, or ever act up. And once at the destination, everyone jumps down and they politely wait around for the return journey. Just like a car… I find it inconceivable that such apex predators would tamely submit to such treatment and it bugged me throughout the book.

That said, I did get caught up in the story and was sorry when it came to an end. There isn’t any mention on Goodreads or Amazon of a sequel – and there should be, because there are far too many dangling plotpoints waving in the wind. I, for one, want to know what happens next. Recommended for fans of YA portal fantasy adventures featuring a headstrong and plucky heroine. While I obtained an arc of The Last Feather from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10