Category Archives: Book review

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Book review of NETGALLEY arc The Conductors – Book 1 of the Murder and Magic series by Nicole Glover #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheConductorsbookreview

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I saw this one featured on Books, Bones and Buffy and loved the look of it, so requested it and was delighted to be approved. Would it be as enjoyable as I’d hoped?

BLURB: As an escaped slave, Hetty Rhodes helped dozens of people find their own freedom north using her wits and her magic. Now that the Civil War is over, Hetty and her husband, Benjy, still fight for their people by solving the murders and mysteries that the white authorities won’t touch.

When they discover one of their friends brutally murdered in an alley, Hetty and Benjy mourn his loss by setting off to find answers. But the mystery of his death soon brings up more questions, more secrets, more hurt. To solve his death, they will have to not only face the ugly truths about the world but the ones about each other.

REVIEW: This one grabbed me from the first page and wouldn’t let go. This is told in the viewpoint of Hetty, an escaped slave, who helped free others using her magic. As a slave with magical abilities, she’d been forced to wear a collar that not only repressed her magical abilities, but also was used as a means of punishment. I liked the dual timeline; one where we have Hetty and Benjy living in Philadelphia and making a life together within the community of freed slaves; the other timeline in the form of flashbacks to when they were both either escaping, or guiding others to freedom. It worked well, as it gave us vivid scenes of how the pair of them worked together, using magic and their own fighting skills, to save themselves and others, so cut down the amount of explanation that would have otherwise been necessary.

Hetty is a cagey, sharp-edged character who doesn’t quite trust anyone, with the exception of Benjy, who became her companion in desperate situations almost by accident. Once they settle in Philadelphia, they get married to stop any scandal about the fact that their friendship and teamwork means they end up living together. She is also a gifted seamstress and highly talented magical user, using Celestial magic as opposed to Sorcery, which is reserved for whites only. I liked the magic system and didn’t particularly need to have it further explained, as Hetty’s use of the various Celestial symbols when she needed it gave us a ringside seat into the main rules she needed to consider.

I enjoyed the characterisation of Hetty and her relationships with those around her. It becomes apparent during the investigation that while everyone around them is busy moving on with their lives since the war, both Hetty and Benjy are finding it difficult to adapt to their daily routines. The fact that difference is causing rifts in their relationships with their friends and each other is poignant and significant to the plot. Overall, I thought the murder mystery is well handled, with plenty of suspects and a strong sub-plot. However, there is a fair bit of repetition, which slows the pace and slightly silts up the narrative tension.

This is an ambitious book in dealing with the number of plotlines around the themes of of loss and trauma – and how people differ in their handling of it. The storyline around Hetty’s sister felt a bit rushed at the end, and given that this is a series and how much this issue chafes at Hetty, I think the overall pacing would be improved if this plotline was dealt with more thoroughly in the sequel. It seems a bit tacked on at the end – and is why this book didn’t get five stars. Overall, this is an impressive debut and I look forward to reading more about Hetty and Benjy in due course. Recommended for fans of historical fantasy, who enjoy reading about settings other than the usual medieval/early modern European era. While I obtained an arc of The Conductors from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc A Desolation Called Peace – Book 2 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #ADesolationCalledPeacebookreview

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I loved the first book A Memory Called Empire – see my review, which made my Outstanding Reads of 2020, so I was thrilled to be approved to read this one.

BLURB: An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.

In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity. Whether they succeed or fail could change the fate of Teixcalaan forever.

REVIEW: First of all, if you happened to pick this one up without first reading A Memory Called Empire, then put it down and go looking for the first book. This one picks up more or less immediately after the first book finishes, featuring the same characters and continuing the same narrative arc. So you’ll probably flounder and given that the writing style is dense, layered and challenging, you won’t enjoy or appreciate it as you should.

I liked that we got more of Mahit and Three Seagrass, though at the start I was worried in case Three Seagrass wouldn’t feature so much. I love the fact that they are both human, separated by differing cultures that make it very difficult to understand each other. Though at times, it’s easy to forget that – until they are confronted by an alien presence whose thinking and values is utterly different. And devastatingly lethal… That’s all I’m going to say about the plot, as I don’t want to venture into Spoiler territory.

It was interesting to further explore some of the characters who had only walk-on parts in A Memory Called Empire – particularly Eight Antidote, the young emperor-in-waiting. Seeing this eleven-year-old desperately trying to live up the expectations of his tutors and the empress Nineteen Adze was both poignant and gave us a ringside seat to the machinations of Teixcalaan politics, which is truly a shark tank of conflicting loyalties and ambitions. I also enjoyed following Nine Hibiscus, now promoted to be the ultimate warleader in charge of the armada of the fleet sent out to engage the alien threat. Her relationship with Twenty Cicada, her loyal No. Two who went through training alongside her is strikingly close – he is probably the only person she completely trusts… Which made the ending bittersweet and left me with a lump in my throat.

The aliens were very well depicted – it’s a big ask to successfully give an effective sense of ‘other’, but Martine triumphantly succeeds in doing so. This isn’t a foot-to-the-floor, action-packed story, as the writing is too dense and layered to move the story along at the usual brisk clip we’re accustomed to seeing with space opera adventures. But I think it works, nonetheless. For me, there was one jarring note that caused me to knock off a point – the steamy sex scene. There were a couple of details too much. I don’t know why we were treated to such a graphic scene, as the first book didn’t tend to linger on the sexuality of the characters in general and it was an unwelcome surprise. However, it isn’t a dealbreaker as I’m aware that although it is only February, this is probably going to be one of the best books I’ll read in 2021. Highly recommended if you enjoy reading space opera featuring beautifully depicted, complicated characters and an amazing world. While I obtained an arc of A Desolation Called Peace from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NOVELLA One Day All This Will Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovsky #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #OneDayAllThisWillBeYoursbookreview

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I’ve been really looking forward to this – a science fiction read by one of my favourite authors featuring a dinosaur on the cover! Yippee! If you’d like a sense of his writing, check out my reviews of Children of Time, Children of Ruin, The Expert System’s Brother, Ironclads, Dogs of War, The Doors of Eden, Firewalkers, The Expert System’s Champion and Bear Head.

BLURB: Welcome to the end of time. It’s a perfect day.
Nobody remembers how the Causality War started. Really, there’s no-one to remember, and nothing for them to remember if there were; that’s sort of the point. We were time warriors, and we broke time. I was the one who ended it. Ended the fighting, tidied up the damage as much as I could.

Then I came here, to the end of it all, and gave myself a mission: to never let it happen again.

REVIEW: One of the wonderful things about Tchaikovsky’s writing is that when I pick up one of his books, I never quite know what to expect. There is only one other author I can think of who is quite so magnificently versatile – Jo Walton – and she isn’t nearly so prolific.

Even so, this one was a complete surprise – especially the magnificently dark humour. I don’t think I’ve ever read a first-person narrator of Tchaikovsky’s with such a persona, I both loved and loathed our hero’s insouciant bounciness as he works unceasingly to keep a very broken world fixed in his own unique fashion… It would be very easy to drop spoilers here that would blunt the reader’s ability to experience this book as the author intended, so I’m going to do my level best NOT to commit that sin. I was mindful that the blurb didn’t let the cat the out of the bag, so neither shall I.

But I will say that all is not what it first appears to be – I was both captivated and horrified by the unfolding events, which also left my brain aching at times. Timey-whimey stuff happens that has major consequences. But I devoured this compelling read in two sessions and surfaced after that ending, mulling over what I’d read. And wondering what I would do in similar circumstances. Highly recommended for science fiction fans who appreciate something a bit different. While I obtained an arc of One Day All This Will Be Yours from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Two SCI FI Mini-reviews: The Last Astronaut by David Wellington & Scardown by Elizabeth Bear #BrainfluffSCIFImini-reviews #TheLastAstronautmini-review #Scardownmini-review

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The Last Astronaut by David Wellington

BLURB: Mission Commander Sally Jansen is Earth’s last astronaut–and last hope–in this gripping near-future thriller where a mission to make first contact becomes a terrifying struggle for survival in the depths of space.

Sally Jansen was NASA’s leading astronaut, until a mission to Mars ended in disaster. Haunted by her failure, she lives in quiet anonymity, convinced her days in space are over.
She’s wrong.

A large alien object has entered the solar system on a straight course toward Earth. It has made no attempt to communicate and is ignoring all incoming transmissions.
Out of time and out of options, NASA turns to Jansen. For all the dangers of the mission, it’s the shot at redemption she always longed for.

I’m generally not a huge fan of space horror, as it’s often done badly, with scant respect for the actual science part of the fiction. This time, however, Wellington nails it. He has worked hard on his alien, so that the tension-filled build up is worth the wait. I found it hard to put this one down as the situation slithers out of control. And that ending is absolutely brilliant. Highly recommended for fans of first contact adventures.
9/10

Scardown – Book 2 of the Wetwired series by Elizabeth Bear

BLURB: The year is 2062, and after years on the run, Jenny Casey is back in the Canadian armed forces. Those who were once her enemies are now her allies, and at fifty, she’s been handpicked for the most important mission of her life–a mission for which her artificially reconstructed body is perfectly suited. With the earth capable of sustaining life for just another century, Jenny–as pilot of the starship Montreal–must discover brave new worlds. And with time running out, she must succeed where others have failed.

Now Jenny is caught in a desperate battle where old resentments become bitter betrayals and justice takes the cruelest forms of vengeance. With the help of a brilliant AI, an ex—crime lord, and the man she loves, Jenny may just get her chance to save the world. If it doesn’t come to an end first…

I loved the first book, – see my review of Hammered – but found it more of a struggle to get into this one. But I’m also aware that when reading this, I was extremely stressed, so that could have had a bearing on my ability to focus. However, I do think the crucial bonding moment with the main protagonist should have been differently handled. The first two opening scenes ought to have been the other way around. Or merged, so that if – like me – your memory is currently operating at the level of a concussed goldfish, enough of the ongoing story is fed into that initial scene so the reader isn’t scrabbling to make sense of what is going on, instead of relaxing into the strong, engrossing writing. Once I recalled the story and characters, I enjoyed the ongoing adventure and look forward to continuing with this series. If you pick this one up before reading Hammered – whatever you do, go back and find it. Bear’s fast-paced, immersive style doesn’t hang around for the bemused or floundering.
8/10

Déjà vu review – No Humans Involved – Book 7 of the Women of the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong #BrainfluffDéjàvureview #NoHumansInvolvedbookreview

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After discovering the Friday Face-off set of covers for Industrial Magic, it reminded me of this lovely series all over again – so I decided to feature a review of one of my favourite Otherworld characters that I posted back in January 2015…

BLURB: It’s the most anticipated reality television event of the season: three spiritualists gathered together in one house to raise the ghost of Marilyn Monroe. For renowned medium Jaime Vegas there’s just one problem. Unlike her colleagues, Jaime is the real deal: and she knows that the house is truly haunted. Not by dead film stars, but by something even stranger and much more disturbing.

A tragic mystery lurks in the maze of gardens behind the house: trapped spirits that only Jaime can hear. As their whispers grow more frantic, Jaime – along with Alpha werewolf Jeremy Danvers – is forced to embark on an investigation into a shocking underworld of black magic and ritual sacrifice.

REVIEW: This popular and trailblazing series, started back in 2001 with Bitten, features women caught up in the paranormal world one way or another. So while Bitten deals with Elena, a young journalist pitchforked into the middle of werewolf society – in No Humans Involved Jaime has to deal with the sudden appearance of ghosts in ‘I see dead people’ moments. Constantly… Fortunately, she does have coping strategies to prevent her going mad – one of them being that she is very well connected with a number of highly placed and powerful otherworldly characters. As this is the seventh book in the series, these characters have generally already appeared along the way. I really enjoy this feature of Armstrong’s writing – it is always a pleasure to get a different take on a protagonist in another story and she is very good at this technique.

It doesn’t hurt that Jaime, though undoubtedly glamorous and good looking, is also aware that the clock is ticking, her waistline isn’t getting any trimmer and the laughter lines are in danger of turning into crowsfeet… In other words, she reflects many of the anxieties women past a certain age can experience on a daily basis. Obviously, the fact she’s a celebrity means those concerns are heightened, but it is still something of a treat to read an urban fantasy romp that doesn’t feature a fit, perky young thing with all her vitality and good looks before her. I also love her self-deprecating humour. Of all Armstrong’s female heroines, Jaime holds a special place in my heart…

So in this murder mystery, does the story hold up around her? Oh yes. Armstrong quickly pulls us to the centre of this disturbing mystery by also giving us chilling slices in the perpetrator’s viewpoint, without revealing her identity– and it was also an enjoyable extra layer to discover that the baddie is also a woman… Meanwhile, Jaime is juggling the needs of the director, coping with professional jealousy from both her co-stars, while also trying to deal with her feelings about Jeremy Danvers, the Alpha werewolf who takes a vacation to meet her. Question is – does he also reciprocate her feelings? And is there really time for any sort of romance when there are trapped ghosts waiting for Jaime to help them?

I gobbled this book up in a couple of sittings when I should have been sleeping, but once I started reading I simply couldn’t stop. The conclusion was suitably dramatic and climactic, with a couple of surprises along the way. Great fun! And if you haven’t yet treated yourself to any of Armstrong’s keynote series – don’t start with this one, get hold of Bitten and feast on an entertaining, thoroughly enjoyable world.
9/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK A Quiet Life in the Country – Book 1 of the Lady Hardcastle Mysteries by T.E. Kinsey #BrainfluffAUDIOBOOKreview #AQuietLifeintheCountrybookreview

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I had a wonderful audiobook lined up on my Kindle all ready to listen to – and then the world fell on my head and I couldn’t face it. Though excellently written and doubtless a gripping story – I was already aware that it would probably be also somewhat bleak. So Himself proposed that I get hold of this delightful read, instead…

BLURB: Lady Emily Hardcastle is an eccentric widow with a secret past. Florence Armstrong, her maid and confidante, is an expert in martial arts. The year is 1908 and they’ve just moved from London to the country, hoping for a quiet life. But it is not long before Lady Hardcastle is forced out of her self-imposed retirement. There’s a dead body in the woods, and the police are on the wrong scent. Lady Hardcastle makes some enquiries of her own, and it seems she knows a surprising amount about crime investigation… As Lady Hardcastle and Flo delve deeper into rural rivalries and resentment, they uncover a web of intrigue that extends far beyond the village. With almost no one free from suspicion, they can be certain of only one fact: there is no such thing as a quiet life in the country…

REVIEW: So… two women who live together end up solving a crime in the 1900s – it certainly sounds like a female version of Holmes and Watson. However, Lady Hardcastle is a great deal nicer and more charming than Holmes and Flo is far more feisty and less hampered by an overwhelming sense of admiration for her employee.

I really liked the relationship between the women. It transpires that they endured a great deal of danger and trauma together, after Lady H’s husband was killed in China. Essentially they had to go on the run, eventually ending up in India during which numerous attempts were made on their lives. Elizabeth Knowelden does a marvellous job with the narration as the story unfolds in the first-person viewpoint of Flo, who certainly looks after Emily Hardcastle in the capacity of a lady’s maid and housekeeper, but as they are on first-name terms and generally dine together, she is also something a great deal more.

The ensuring murders and mysteries – there is also a stolen jewel that Lady H is tasked with tracking down – certainly keep the two women from relaxing into the quiet life they were looking for. The humour is enjoyable throughout and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the unfolding plot, which provided plenty of twists that made me quite sorry to complete my houseworking chores and have to switch off. All in all, this is a gem that provided a really entertaining escape, as well as a real puzzle as to whodunit. This is one of those stories where the setting, the characters and murder mystery all weave together to provide a satisfying world that I thoroughly enjoyed and am looking forward to returning to. Fortunately, Himself has already loaded the next book in the series – In the Market for Murder – onto my Kindle. No wonder he’s a keeper! Highly recommended for fans of historical murder mysteries.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Book review of NETGALLEY arc Werewolves of London – Book 3 of the Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #WerewolvesinLondonbookreview

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I really enjoyed the first book in this entertaining series – see my review of The Monster MASH – and when I saw this offering pop up on NG, I immediately requested it. Though I was a tad disappointed to see that it was the third, rather than the second book, in the series.

BLURB: In The Heat Of Battle
The hard-won cease-fire between the battling immortals doesn’t last long. In the blink of an eye, human surgeon Dr. Petra Robichaud is back on the frontlines, and starring in yet another of the oracle’s prophesies. As the only healer who can talk to the dead, Petra doesn’t have much choice about her role—even when her breathtaking ex-lover shows up at exactly the wrong time…

REVIEW: The above isn’t all the blurb, as it seemed a tad chatty in the second half, without adding anything the reader needs to know. For starters, anyone who recalls M*A*S*H, the 1970s and 80s hit TV series, will immediately understand the vibe that runs through this entertaining fantasy story. Petra Robichaud is a surgeon who works in a military hospital that patches up humans, gods, monsters and demi-gods fighting in the never-ending war between old and new gods. It so easily could have been a bleak, angsty read – but it isn’t. Without being tasteless or inappropriate, there are plenty of humorous moments that had me grinning in this finale that ties up this entertaining trilogy.

Petra is struggling to commit to Marcus, the love of her life who she’d mourned – until demi-god Galen crashed into her life. However, he had to return to the front, and because he’d helped her in the first book, his punishment was to be turned into a mortal. They had agreed that their love for each other was probably doomed, so agreed to move on… The romance probably features a bit more in this slice of the adventure – but there is also so much else going on, it didn’t slow the pace and detract from the madcap quality of the humour. It’s always a tricky balance, to successfully pull off comedic moments, without reducing a full-on action adventure story to a farce. However, I think Fox has managed to produce a steady stream of humour – not necessarily laugh-aloud episodes, but certainly they had me grinning throughout – and keep the tension and stakes sufficiently high that the pages flew by as I stayed reading longer than I should to discover what happens next. The only slight niggle I have, is that I’m not sure what the title has to do with anything – this isn’t set in London and while a werewolf certainly features, the main narrative isn’t centred around him. But I’m not going to quibble about it – if Fox wants to use 1970s pop song titles for her books to go with the M*A*S*H theme, that’s fine by me…

All in all, this is an entertaining and satisfying ending to this original, quirky fantasy tale and I’m very glad I picked it up. Recommended for fantasy fans, who like their action-adventure tales accompanied by a dollop of romance and plenty of humour along the way. While I obtained an arc of Werewolves of London from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc Terra – Book 1 of the Terra series by Mitch Benn #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Terrabookreview

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I can’t lie – it was the cover of this one that first drew me – isn’t it lovely? And then I read the blurb and the opening chapter, given this offering was published last November – and I was hooked. Yes – I know it’s a children’s book, but so many books written for them are far too good just to be left to the youngsters in our lives…

BLURB: Abducted from Earth as a baby by a well-meaning alien, Terra has grown up far across the galaxy on planet Fnrr. Terra has always known she was different. Her skin isn’t grey. Her eyes are a weird blue colour. She has … ears. And now Terra is starting high school. A daunting prospect, even without being the only human in class.

There’s lots to like about life on Fnrr. Society is ordered and peaceful; founded on reason, logic and the pursuit of knowledge. However, its inhabitants are blissfully unaware of the impending invasion that could destroy their way of life forever …

REVIEW: I enjoyed Benn’s writing style, which is direct and confiding with slices of omniscient viewpoint, which tends to happen in children’s fiction. But it is also shot through with a wry humour, which is handy in diffusing the horror of some of the more shocking scenes in this book. This is far from being a cosy read – it deals very directly with prejudice on all sorts of levels, guilt, regret and loss. And it doesn’t necessarily offer any comforting answers, which is fine by me. I think that fiction is very good at demonstrating that the world is frequently a violent, messy, unjust place to be – and maybe offering some coping strategies, or clear warnings. That goes for adults as well as children.

What caught me was the poignant passage about Mr and Mrs Bradbury right at the start of this book, which contrasted starkly with Lbbp’s take on what is going on, and leads to him taking the baby home with him. It isn’t a long book and the pace motors along at a good clip, which is what you want for younger readers. If I have any grizzles, I felt Terra was just a bit too calm and up together, given that she is always the exception and oddity – but it wasn’t a dealbreaker. There were moments when I sniggered aloud – particularly at the reaction of the human scientists when they realise there is actually a spaceship headed their way.

Overall, this is a thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining science fiction adventure aimed at pre-teens, though this granny also found it great fun. While I obtained an arc of Terra from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Reaper of Souls – Book 2 in the Kingdom of Souls series by Rena Barron #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #ReaperofSoulsbookreview

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I read and reviewed the first book in this African-inspired epic fantasy, Kingdom of Souls – see my review. So when I had the opportunity to read and review this next slice in the adventure, I leapt at the opportunity.

BLURB: After so many years yearning for the gift of magic, Arrah has the one thing she’s always wanted—at a terrible price. Now the last surviving witchdoctor, she’s been left to pick up the shattered pieces of a family that betrayed her, a kingdom in shambles, and long-buried secrets about who she is. Desperate not to repeat her mother’s mistakes, Arrah must return to the tribal lands to search for help from the remnants of her parents’ people. But the Demon King’s shadow looms closer than she thinks. And as Arrah struggles to unravel her connection to him, defeating him begins to seem more and more impossible—if it’s something she can bring herself to do at all.

REVIEW: I found that the first book quickly came to mind as I began reading this one, and Barron adroitly slides in useful reminders of previous events. However, I would strongly advise that you go hunting for Kingdom of Souls before reading this one. Far too much happens in that first book which directly impacts on events in this one for you to be able to get the most out of Reaper of Souls if you haven’t read it.

Arrah continues to be a sympathetic protagonist as she now finds that trying to put together the world after the havoc wreaked by her sister and mother is a daunting task. It’s always a challenge to portray a very powerful character as sufficiently vulnerable that we care and I was impressed that Barron managed to achieve this, without making her too angsty or much of a victim. The form of magic that is particularly prevalent involves inhabiting another person’s body – it’s deeply unpleasant and once again, Barron’s punchy prose reminded me of just what a revolting intrusion this is. No wonder there are swathes of the population who are convinced that all magic is innately evil. I really enjoyed the fact that Arrah found it difficult to use her magic benevolently. Given the number of enemies she is facing, it’s all too easy to rely on the powerful tribal magic that she is imbued with, to lash out and simply end them.

The characterisation is the ongoing strength of this engrossing epic fantasy tale. Although I wasn’t particularly in the mood to be confronted with a largish tale featuring some really dark magic – nonetheless, I didn’t struggle at all. And that’s down to the quality of the worldbuilding, the strong characters and solidly good writing throughout. If you enjoy fantasy with an African setting, then this series comes highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Reaper of Souls 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 Galaxy, and the Ground Within – Book 4 of the Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheGalaxyandtheGroundWithinbookreview

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This has been one of my most keenly anticipated reads of 2021 – even though I’m aware that said anticipation is something of a poisoned chalice. For if it doesn’t blow me away as the previous three books have – see my reviews of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, A Closed and Common Orbit and my mini-review of To Be Taught, If Fortunate – then I’ll be very disappointed. But I’m aware that it’s not reasonable to expect an author to produce four books in a row that all blow me away…

BLURB: With no water, no air, and no native life, the planet Gora is unremarkable. The only thing it has going for it is a chance proximity to more popular worlds, making it a decent stopover for ships traveling between the wormholes that keep the Galactic Commons connected. If deep space is a highway, Gora is just your average truck stop. At the Five-Hop One-Stop, long-haul spacers can stretch their legs (if they have legs, that is), and get fuel, transit permits, and assorted supplies. The Five-Hop is run by an enterprising alien and her sometimes helpful child, who work hard to provide a little piece of home to everyone passing through.

When a freak technological failure halts all traffic to and from Gora, three strangers—all different species with different aims—are thrown together at the Five-Hop. Grounded, with nothing to do but wait, the trio—an exiled artist with an appointment to keep, a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, and a mysterious individual doing her best to help those on the fringes—are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they are, or could be, to each other.

REVIEW: I needn’t have worried – once again, Chambers weaves her magic. We are drawn into the lives of these disparate individuals as they are temporarily trapped at a small stop-over. Each one of these characters are aliens with very different bodies, customs and cultures – Roveg is a Quelin, though exiled from his homeworld; Speaker is an Akarak, frantic at being separated from her twin, and Pei is the one character who links us back to the first book, as he is Ashby’s lover. Their needs are being catered by a Ouloo and her adolescent child Tupo, who both captured my heart more than any of the other characters. That said, each one of them have their own challenges and simply do the best to get by – which resonated with me.

What leapt off the page was everyone’s striving to do their best to be accommodating and polite, despite finding themselves stranded in quite difficult circumstances. Which was often in stark contrast to what has been unfolding during 2020, while we grapple with our own difficult circumstances… Nonetheless there are cultural tensions – and they flare one evening when at least one of the characters has had too much to drink. And it is Ouloo’s response that brought tears to my eyes when she announces that she knows that what has happened to both Pei’s and Speaker’s people is completely unacceptable – but there is nothing that she can do about that. She is simply overwhelmed by the complexity of the arguments on both sides. What she can do is try to help people feel at home and relaxed when they stop off for supplies – and serve desserts they find delicious.

I am conscious that I’ve made this story sound rather sappy and Pollyanna-ish and it’s nothing of the sort. Despite the relative gentleness of Chambers’ writing, she doesn’t shy away from some gnarly subjects our small band of aliens are encountering – sexual and cultural prejudice, and the plight of refugees who through no fault of their own have no planet with no imminent hope of being allocated one because they fall outside the accepted norms in appearance… I’m aware my review hasn’t begun to adequately describe the magic of Chambers’ writing – probably because I’m not really sure how she does it.

However, I urge you to go looking for this one if you’re scratching your head at my inane attempt to try and sum up this book – and try it for yourself. If you fall under her spell, chances are, you’ll be thanking me if you do. It’s made my Outstanding Reads of 2021, that’s for sure. While I obtained an arc of The Galaxy, and the Ground Within from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10