Category Archives: book series

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Ghost Electricity – Book 1 of the Hawthorn House series by Sean Cunningham #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #GhostElectricitybookreview

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I liked the sound of this one and was in the mood for a strong urban fantasy set in London, so requested this arc.

BLURB: Do you know what happens to ghosts in London?

A girl with a monster in her shadow. A warlock believed dead four years ago. A werewolf outcast from the London packs.

Rob wants a good job, friends to head to the pub with and a solid cage to lock himself in three nights a month. Julian dropped off the face of the Earth four years ago. He’s back and trying to figure out what living looks like. Together they  will face the deadliest of threats hidden in one of the oldest cities in the world.

Fiona has a monster in her shadow but she doesn’t know how it got there. A creature in the shape of a man is on her trail  and he knows things about Fiona she doesn’t know herself. Her ten year old sister Jessica can build machines that defy the  known laws of physics. Accompanied by a brass tortoise and a glass-feathered raven, Jessica will help Fiona unravel the web  of lies that surrounds them both.

And beneath their feet the plague dead of centuries stir in their graves, waiting for the spell that holds them to break…

REVIEW: The thing about urban fantasy that sets it apart, is that it is generally set in a contemporary landscape – usually a city – and then peopled with otherworldly creatures. So a lot of the pleasure is derived from seeing our everyday settings collide with something other. I was immediately held by Cunningham’s opening sequence with Julian in the London Underground, which was very well done. Anyone who has ever stood on a crowded platform waiting for the train to come could visualise only too well how events unspooled. And that repeated question of Julian’s – Do you know what happens to ghosts in London? – was also nicely handled. Too much and that shiver of horror would have disappeared…

Initially, I was a bit fed up when I realised we wouldn’t be in Julian’s head throughout. But I soon found that I had no trouble bonding with the other protagonists, even when I wasn’t fully aware of what was going on. There’s plenty of tension in this urban fantasy adventure, which makes the sudden outbreaks of rather gory violence seem even more shocking. Underneath the bustling normality of London is a brutal world where mages, vampyres and shapeshifters jostle for power and far too often treat the rest of us as recreation and/or fodder. And in a stunning coincidence, Hawthorn House is where a number of these remarkable people pitch up. I liked all the protagonists, but I particularly bonded with poor old Rob, who just wants a nice normal life, where he rubs along with his work mates and can enjoy a night out down at the pub. Somehow, this never quite happens as all sorts of other distractions get in the way.

The rising tension was well paced and I loved a particular vampyre attack – and what happens to the van, afterwards. As with many urban fantasy tales, there are enjoyable shafts of humour that prevent it becoming too grim, which didn’t prevent the stakes rising such that I found this one difficult to put down as it reached its climax. Overall, this was a thoroughly entertaining read – and the good news is that there are two other books and a number of shorter stories already published in the Hawthorn House series. And I’ll certainly be tucking into them in the near future. While I obtained an arc of Ghost Electricity from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Hestia 2781 – Book 1 of the Drago Tell Dramis series by Janet Edwards #BrainfluffARCbookreview #Hestia2781bookreview

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I’m a huge fan of Janet Edward’s books – see my reviews 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. So I was delighted when Janet asked me if I would be interested in reviewing her latest novel, Hestia 2781.

BLURB: Hestia 2781 is the first of two full-length novels set immediately after the short story ‘Hera 2781’.
The year is 2781. Lieutenant Drago Tell Dramis’s first mission as a newly qualified fighter pilot ended with him and his team leader saving one of humanity’s oldest colony worlds, Hera, from destruction. Now he’s discovering that saving a world can be simple compared to living with the consequences.

Both Drago and his team leader and second cousin, Jaxon, are famous now, given rapid field promotions, and are due to be awarded medals. Worryingly, Drago learns Jaxon has a mysterious secret and a past history of erratic behaviour. It’s vital that Drago keeps both of them out of trouble and away from nosy reporters until the medal ceremony, because Jaxon could do or say something that deeply embarrasses both the Military and their Betan clan.

The Military is helping by sending their fighter team on a mission somewhere inconspicuously boring until the medal ceremony. That destination definitely won’t be Hestia, the perpetual trouble spot of humanity.

REVIEW: Janet also helpfully provided me with a copy of her short story ‘Hera 2781’. And I’m very glad she did, as the events that occur in Hestia 2781 immediately follow on from the short story. While I don’t think I’d have been floundering without having read the story, I definitely got a lot more out of the novel by having read it first and my firm advice is to track it down, before tucking into this one.

This offering is set in the same world as Janet’s best-selling and successful Earth Girl series, and provides an intriguing and rather poignant glimpse into Jarra’s background. Jarra – the Earth Girl – is the main protagonist of the series, and I loved this extra raft of information regarding her backstory, even though she doesn’t make an appearance in the book.

The main character who tells the story in first-person viewpoint, is young Drago. He is a Betan, whose culture and traditions revolve around family, honour and service. And the demands that culture makes on its young people is the main theme that is explored in this story – amongst the adventure and action that is also kicking off. Drago and his cousin Jaxon are frankly disaster magnets of the first order – and after their escapades have made them famous across all human-settled worlds, they need to lie low for a while. You won’t be surprised to learn that the plan to keep the pair of them gainfully occupied somewhere they can’t get into further trouble doesn’t work…

I always enjoy Janet’s writing. Her books and short stories radiate a positive, upbeat energy often lacking in science fiction and which right now, I find particularly appealing. That doesn’t prevent her from tackling some gnarly subjects, such as prejudice, terrorism and kidnapping – but she manages to approach these issues without slipping into the world-weary cynicism that often pervades such adventures. As ever, Janet delivers a cracking good read set in a detailed, complex world that I think works particularly well – and I’m very happy to note that there is another planned featuring Drago. While the author provided me with a review copy of Hestia 2781, this hasn’t affected my honest opinion of the book.
9/10

Sunday Post – 25th July, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
At present, it seems to be working out that I’m able to post my weekly roundup more or less every other week. Funnily enough, after my decision to get out more, we ended up having my younger grandson staying over, which meant I have been unable to go anywhere. A classmate of his had tested positive for Covid, so he had to isolate for ten days, although as long as Oscar didn’t go down with the illness, Himself was still able to go to work. And the reason I suggested that Oscar should isolate at our house, is that his three-year-old sister was still recovering from a nasty case of bronchitis and suffers with severe asthma. We really don’t want her going down with Covid if we can possibly avoid it! I felt so sorry for Oscar – as he is in Year 6, he suddenly found himself at home and missing the last week of term. And in September, he’s moving up to a new school, so he and his classmates missed out on being able to say goodbye to the staff and friends he’s made over the last six years. This wretched illness has so many repercussions.

He brought along his computer, and we got him a Kindle as an early birthday present to allow him to listen to audiobooks, so he could keep himself amused. And regularly throughout the day, he and I would play a series of games to give him a break from screen time – and help me with my brain fog. The weather was sunny and warm, which meant we could also sit in the garden for breakfast. He was unfailingly good tempered and upbeat throughout the whole ten-day period, despite not being allowed past the front gates. I’m so proud of his mature attitude and have missed him enormously since he went home on Friday morning. He was excellent company – as well as a fabulous kitchen assistant, helping me get meals prepared and a couple of times taking over when I ran out of energy and had to sit down.

It was a good reading week, although with Oscar here, I didn’t read quite as much as I have been doing. However I had a DNF that rather broke my heart – I simply couldn’t get on with N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became, although I tried so very hard. But at just over 80% I finally had to abandon it. I’m aware that it’s probably more to do with me – and I freely concede the writing is punchy and passionate. But it simply wasn’t for me *sigh*.

Last week I read:

Vanity and Vampyres – Book 4 of the Monster and Manners series by Tilly Wallace
Someone is supping upon young noblemen and it’s up to Hannah and Wycliff to investigate. If only they could agree on how the men are being drained of their life’s blood. Is it a vampyre, known for their impeccable fashion sense, nocturnal roaming, and dislike of rain, who lurks in the shadows of London? Or is some more earthly method at play, like an attack of leeches?

With her best friend’s wedding imminent, Hannah is determined that the event be untouched by murder or mayhem. To ensure a magical fairytale event they must catch the murderer before the big day. Wycliff must seek the assistance of a man who raises his hackles and Hannah struggles with her growing feelings toward her guarded husband. This pursuit will unearth long buried secrets that could have fatal consequences for those dearest to Hannah.
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying this alternate historical fantasy series with a nicely original take on zombies. Once more this quirky murder mystery provides plenty of possible suspects and an interesting denouement, while watching the slow burn romance continuing to blossom provides an extra bonus.

The Daydreamer Detective Braves the Winter – Book 2 of the Miso cosy mystery series
by Steph Gennera, aka P.J. Pajonas

December has set in and just when the rural town of Chikata is recovering from one murder, Mei and her new boyfriend, Yasahiro, find their friend, Etsuko, dead in her apartment. Etsuko was sweet and talented, and now everyone suspects her longtime boyfriend killed her. Mei doesn’t believe it, though, and she vows to help solve the crime.

But Mei has more to think about than murder. With the barn gone and their vegetable stores destroyed, she and her mother are down to their last canned goods and no money for heat. Mei’s mom is fortunate to find work, but Mei must fend for herself, get a job, and keep their financial situation a secret from Yasahiro. In pursuit of paying work, she stumbles onto a new witness to the crime, and before long, the dead woman’s secret life unravels before everyone’s eyes. Half-starving and out of her element, Mei is on thin ice, and it’s going to take a whole lot of ingenuity and quick thinking to solve the crime before the killer gets to her as well…
I managed to read this one and Book 3 out of sequence, but I’m really glad I stopped and went back. Pajonas writes with a pleasing upbeat energy and constant shafts of gentle humour – but I was struck at how rarely real poverty is portrayed in cosies. Pajonas manages to show just how devastating it is, without pulling the mood down too much. Which is a very neat trick to pull off. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK – First Strike by Christopher G. Nuttall
Starting a war with an enemy a hundred times stronger is insane. It’s desperate. And it’s Earth’s only hope.

A massive alien power looms over humanity, claiming Earth as its territory and humanity as its slaves. The Hegemony has already taken over one colony, yoking hundreds of thousands under their brutal rule. Every tactical exercise, every wargame and every simulation gives humanity zero chance in a defensive campaign. Earth’s only chance to win the coming war – is by striking first.
This epic military space opera adventure was an entertaining listen with all sorts of twists and turns and very ably narrated by Jeffrey Kafer, although his Brit accent is a tad peculiar. And I enjoyed listening to a cracking space opera read that is a standalone, for a change.

AUDIOBOOK – The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
1883. Thaniel Steepleton returns home to his tiny London apartment to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the mysterious timepiece saves his life, drawing him away from a blast that destroys Scotland Yard.

At last, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, a kind, lonely immigrant from Japan. Although Mori seems harmless, a chain of unexplainable events soon suggests he must be hiding something. When Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist, unwittingly interferes, Thaniel is torn between opposing loyalties.
And the reason why these two audiobooks are back to back, is that I’ve been dipping in and out of this one. I LOVED The Kingdoms, which is why I picked up this one. But I have to say that I was a bit disappointed. While the strangeness of Mori and the relationship between him and Thaniel is beautifully written, the plot became increasingly odd and unbelievable as the book wore on. And I wasn’t remotely convinced by Grace on any level. However, I’m aware that my opinion is in the minority regarding this one, as I know it’s a real favourite with many readers.

Ghost Electricity – Book 1 of the Hawthorn House series by Sean Cunningham
Do you know what happens to ghosts in London?

A girl with a monster in her shadow. A warlock believed dead four years ago. A werewolf outcast from the London packs.

Rob wants a good job, friends to head to the pub with and a solid cage to lock himself in three nights a month. Julian dropped off the face of the Earth four years ago. He’s back and trying to figure out what living looks like. Together they  will face the deadliest of threats hidden in one of the oldest cities in the world.

Fiona has a monster in her shadow but she doesn’t know how it got there. A creature in the shape of a man is on her trail  and he knows things about Fiona she doesn’t know herself. Her ten year old sister Jessica can build machines that defy the  known laws of physics. Accompanied by a brass tortoise and a glass-feathered raven, Jessica will help Fiona unravel the web  of lies that surrounds them both.

And beneath their feet the plague dead of centuries stir in their graves, waiting for the spell that holds them to break…
Underneath the bustling normality of London is a brutal world where mages, vampyres and shapeshifters jostle for power and far too often treat the rest of us as recreation and/or fodder. And in a stunning coincidence, Hawthorn House is where a number of these remarkable people pitch up. I really enjoyed how Cunningham weaves his story – despite there being quite a bit of violence in this full-on action adventure. Review to follow.

The King of Faerie – Book 4 of the Stariel series by A.J. Lancaster
The fae are real, and Hetta Valstar is trying her best to marry one. If Hetta and Wyn ever manage to marry, it will be the first union between Faerie and Mortal since the Iron Law was revoked. The mortal Queen has given them her blessing—sort of. Now, Wyn needs permission from the fae High King. There’s an intensely personal reason why they need to tie the knot as soon as possible, and time is not on their side.

The clock is ticking. Except in Wyn’s home court, which is trapped under magical stasis. To break the spell will mean venturing into the deepest realms of Faerie, where even fae princes—and definitely human lords—fear to tread. Unfortunately, the fae problems aren’t limited to Faerie.

Public tension is rising, and the reveal of Wyn’s true identity makes him and Hetta the centre of the storm. On top of this, Stariel’s magic is going haywire, and Hetta is struggling with her intensifying powers—and she might not be the only one affected.The High King might be the only one who can help, since he’s responsible for the fae returning to the Mortal Realm in the first place.

If only they knew where he was.
I’ve absolutely LOVED this series – and this latest instalment in this delightful alternative 1920s fantasy adventure was my favourite read of the week. It was one of those books that I was burning through far too fast – while at the same time, I never wanted it to end, as every time I put down a Stariel book, I yearn for another one. I also loved where this one ended. The good news is that Lancaster is going to be writing a spinoff adventure featuring Marius – yay😊! Review to follow.

My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Witness for the Dead – Book 2 of The Goblin Emperor series by Katherine Addison

Tuesday Treasures – 35

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Assassin’s Orbit by John Appel

Unfortunately, I haven’t been online enough to recommend any blogs or articles. And neither have I been visiting my fellow bloggers all that much, either… I’m very sorry. Thank you for those of you who continue to visit and comment – I really do appreciate you taking the time and effort to do so😊. I hope you all have a happy, healthy week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Witness for the Dead – Book 2 of The Goblin Emperor series by Katherine Addison

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I recently had a conversation with a couple of my book blogging friends, who were enthusing about The Goblin Emperor – one of them being the Cap of The Captain’s Quarters. When the Cap mentioned it was one of his all-time favourite fantasy reads, then I knew I had to spend some of my birthday money on it. I’m so very glad I did – it was a marvellous read. And in a stunning gift of coincidence, I also discovered that this offering was available on Netgalley.

BLURB: When the young half-goblin emperor Maia sought to learn who had killed his father and half-brothers, he turned to an obscure resident of his Court, a Prelate of Ulis and a Witness for the Dead. Thara Celehar found the truth, though it did him no good to discover it.

Now Celehar lives in the city of Amalo, far from the Court though not exactly in exile. He has not escaped from politics, but his position gives him the ability to serve the common people of the city, which is his preference. He lives modestly, but his decency and fundamental honesty will not permit him to live quietly.

REVIEW: The strapline mentions that this sequel is a standalone read – and I would endorse that. While I’m delighted to have read The Goblin Emperor for the sheer joy of having experienced such a layered, complex world – you definitely don’t need to have tucked into it in order to appreciate this one. Although there are a couple of apparently throwaway references that will especially resonate if you have read The Goblin Emperor.

The engine that drives this narrative is essentially a murder mystery. And as someone who can communicate with the dead, Celehar finds himself embroiled in a couple of investigations that start attracting unwelcome attention. In a world where an instinct for political niceties is a very useful survival trait, Celehar’s inconvenient tendency not to bend his moral compass to go with the flow gets him into a lot of trouble. As with The Goblin Emperor, The Witness for the Dead provides us with an engaging protagonist, who is on the outside and needs to tread carefully in order to get any kind of result.

Addison’s rich, detailed world of goblins and elves, where there are unspoken and unacknowledged frictions, is wonderfully portrayed. This isn’t a book you can speed through – the tricky names, the nuances and careful accretion of small, yet significant details meant that I had to slow right down and pay attention throughout. And even as I did so, I dreaded finishing this one, as reading it was an immersive, slow-burning delight that I didn’t want to end.

Of course, it’s all well and good building up a wonderful mystery that is freighted with plenty of tension and high stakes – but then, the denouement has to be sufficiently strong so that there isn’t that horrible sinking feeling of a fumbled ending that doesn’t live up to the thrill of the investigation. And fortunately, Addison delivers that, too, with a thoroughly satisfying finale that had me sighing with pleasure as I came to the end. All in all, this is a worthy addition to the series – and I’d pre-order another one of these in a heartbeat, which is something I very rarely do. Very highly recommended to fans of excellent fantasy. While I obtained an arc of The Witness for the Dead from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Antiques Carry On – Book 15 of A Trash n’Treasures mystery series by Barbara Allan #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AntiquesCarryOnbookreview

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It was the bright yellow cover that caught my eye – and the blurb that promised lots of high jinks and mayhem around a mother and daughter investigative team. The unusual family dynamic and promise of a funny murder mystery meant that I was keen to read this one.

BLURB: Vivian Borne – true-crime author, antiques dealer and ex-sheriff of Serenity, Iowa – is looking forward to meeting her new editor in London. Flying first class, rooms at the Savoy . . . Her long-suffering co-author, daughter Brandy, worries the trip will bankrupt them both, but the alternative – Mother travelling alone – is unthinkable. Brandy’s almost tempted to make her fiance, Tony – Serenity’s Chief of Police – call Scotland Yard and warn them Vivian’s coming. But even Brandy doesn’t predict their vacation will end in murder . . . or that she and Mother will be unceremoniously ejected from the country, with an order to leave things well alone.

Vivian and Brandy need a case to write about, and Mother doesn’t care which one. But as the intrepid sleuths – ably supported by doggy detective Sushi – investigate a promising local prospect, they’re plunged into a complex mystery that stretches right back to London . . . with no choice but to carry on.

REVIEW: I hadn’t appreciated that this was the fifteenth book in the series, when I started reading it – but as it happened, that really didn’t matter all that much. While I’m sure there are all sorts of issues within this one that I would have appreciated more, had I read the series from the start, the entertaining friction between the characters and the ongoing whodunit meant I didn’t flounder in any way.

Each chapter is written in alternate viewpoints between Vivian and Brandy, with comments aimed directly at the reader at regular intervals. It isn’t to everyone’s taste and is easy to overdo such that it becomes annoying. I think Allan has got the balance right – and I certainly enjoyed the difference between the two characters. It is a structure regularly seen in romances, but less common in other genres and worked well here, where Vivian’s larger-than-life attitude to the world contrasted nicely with Brandy’s weary attempts to keep her mother in check. Needless to say, she mostly failed…

All this could have become irritating if the bones of a good whodunit wasn’t also in place – which it was. In the end, I appreciated the denouement, how well the plot held together and why the murders were committed. While I’m not going to go right back to the start of this series and read the previous fourteen – if I encounter another one of these entertaining stories, I wouldn’t hesitate to immediately pick it up and tuck into it. Recommended for fans of quirky murder mysteries. While I obtained an arc of Antiques Carry On from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc Willow – Book 1 of The Pepper Lane Club series by Grace Parks #BrainfluffNETGALLEYreview #Willowbookreview

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Yes… I know, I’m writing a review about a romance – that’s certainly different! Well, I’ve been reading lots and lots of SFF – and the latest military SF adventure was superb, but also a bit grim. And I needed something a little more soothing, so when I saw this one land in my Inbox, I decided to request it and see what happens. I’m glad I did…

BLURB: Willow Lawson is a fun loving social media expert, who helps companies stand out from their competitors. Yet, despite her bubbly personality, her social life is mostly work-related, and her love life is non-existent. That’s when she starts The Pepper Lane Club, a chance to get away once a month from her maddening life and reconnect with her friends. It’s at this very first meeting that she meets Thomas Greer, who owns the café. He’s everything she’s not. He’s serious, unsociable, unfashionable, and dead set against social media. She decides to take him on as a client despite his refusals. She wants the challenge, and she wants to prove to him that he needs her help. He frustrates her, but there’s something about his old fashioned ways that also intrigues her.

REVIEW: In order to thoroughly enjoy a romance, I need to really care about the main protagonist(s). And Parks did a solid job in creating a sympathetic, amusing protagonist with sufficient depth of character to hold me throughout the story – and yet not too much so that it unduly slowed the pace.

Willow is interesting in that she is one of twins – and I liked the fact that for a refreshing change, they came from a loving family, with nice parents. Indeed, Willow looks at her parents’ relationship with some envy. She also has a close relationship with her twin sister, as well as a wide circle of acquaintance and a busy social life. But… how close are those friendships she has fostered online? Other than her family, Willow realises that she is missing a relationship with a group of people she is really close to, outside her Facebook and Instagram accounts – and decides to do something about it.

I thought this aspect of the story was smart, as this is an ongoing dilemma for so many of us, now staggering out of the various lockdowns and grappling with the reality of face-to-face meetings, after having thrown our energy into keeping our social networks going digitally. While Parks doesn’t allude to any of that – this must be a hurdle for so many folks. And Willow’s idea of meeting up once a month for a lovely meal with women she likes and trusts is also a really good one.

I’m conscious that I haven’t said much about the romance. But I also liked that dynamic, too. It wasn’t groundbreakingly original – going along the lines of fake relationship deepening into something more substantial. But Willow’s confusion regarding Thomas worked well, and didn’t get too ridiculously muddled – a common moan I have about romance stories – before resolving into a believable, cute relationship that was founded on a genuine respect and liking for each other. Highly recommended for fans of romance stories. While I obtained an arc of Willow from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 30th June, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Antiques Carry On – Book 15 of the Trash n’Treasures Mystery series by Barbara Allan – release date 6th July, 2021

#crime #cosy murder mystery #feisty heroines #family relationships

BLURB: Look out London – eccentric antiques dealer Vivian Borne and her daughter Brandy are bringing their own brand of mayhem and mischief to the British capital, in the fifteenth installment of the award-winning Trash ‘n’ Treasures cozy mystery series.

Vivian Borne – true-crime author, antiques dealer and ex-sheriff of Serenity, Iowa – is looking forward to meeting her new editor in London. Flying first class, rooms at the Savoy . . . Her long-suffering co-author, daughter Brandy, worries the trip will bankrupt them both, but the alternative – Mother travelling alone – is unthinkable. Brandy’s almost tempted to make her fiance, Tony – Serenity’s Chief of Police – call Scotland Yard and warn them Vivian’s coming.
But even Brandy doesn’t predict their vacation will end in murder . . . or that she and Mother will be unceremoniously ejected from the country, with an order to leave things well alone.

Vivian and Brandy need a case to write about, and Mother doesn’t care which one. But as the intrepid sleuths – ably supported by doggy detective Sushi – investigate a promising local prospect, they’re plunged into a complex mystery that stretches right back to London . . . with no choice but to carry on.

I liked the dynamic of mother and daughter solving these crimes together – especially as they clearly don’t always see eye to eye when doing so. And yes… it’s the 15th book in the series, but I’m not expecting to flounder too much as it’s a murder mystery. Has anyone else snagged a copy of this offering?

Friday Faceoff – I’m so dizzy… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffdizzycovers

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with dizzying images. I’ve selected Dead Astronauts – Book 2 of the Bourne series by Jeff VanderMeer.

Fourth Estate, December 2019

This edition was produced by Fourth Estate in December 2019 and it’s certainly eye-catching. And has the sense of surrealism and power that runs through VanderMeer’s writing. I love the swirling colour and glorious difference – I just wish the title and author fonts were less wussy and more visible.

MCD, December 2019

Published in December 2019 by MCD, someone must have heard my grizzle about the previous cover. Because this time around, we get the psychedelic colours AND the emphatic title and text – in eye-blurring detail, actually. But you certainly can’t miss them… And I take my hat off in tribute to the cover art designers – this book pushes all sorts of boundaries in regards to narrative, use of language and story conventions. New Weird aptly sums it up. And it’s a testament to the skill and imagination of the designers that this offering and the previous cover gives the potential reader a very strong clue as to what they’re getting into.

Subterranean, 2020

This edition was published in 2020 by Subterranean. It couldn’t be more different to the other offerings for this book – but is still beautiful, for all that. My main reservation is that I’m not sure it adequately conveys the sheer oddness of the book.

Turkish edition, March 2021

This Turkish edition, produced by Alfa Yayınları in March 2021, is my favourite. I love the Mandelbrot fractal designs – a strong clue to the challenging nature of the book, as well as being beautiful and very easy on the eye. And the addition of the fox outline introduces another main character who features in the book, which is always a plus for me. Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Mystic’s Accomplice by Mary Miley Theobold #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheMysticsAccomplicebookreview

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I’ve read a 1929s murder mystery by this author writing as Mary Miley and thoroughly enjoyed – see my review of Renting Silence. So when this first book in a new series caught my eyes, I was delighted to be able to get hold of it.

BLURB: It’s 1924, and Maddie Pastore has it made. A nice house, a loving husband with a steady job – even if it is connected to Chicago’s violent Torrio-Capone gang – and a baby on the way. But then Tommy is shot dead, and she learns her husband had a secret that turns her life upside down. Penniless and grieving, Maddie is only sure of two things: that she will survive for the sake of her baby, and that she’ll never turn to the mob for help.

So when she’s invited to assist a well-meaning but fraudulent medium, she seizes the chance. She’s not proud of her work investigating Madam Carlotta’s clients, but she’s proud of how well she does it. When Maddie unearths potential evidence of a dark crime, however, she faces a terrible dilemma: keep quiet and let a murderer go unpunished, or follow the trail and put herself and her baby in mortal danger . . .

REVIEW: Poor Maddie’s life disastrously falls apart at the start of this book. Bad enough to suddenly find herself suddenly widowed and pregnant – but when she then loses everything, she’s desperate. Fortunately, she’s blessed with a lovely nature that people warm to and while she doesn’t want to be a charity case, Maddie is on the receiving end of a lot of genuine kindness. Though once Baby Tommy is born, she needs to find a job so she can keep a roof over their heads and feed herself – and it’s a huge struggle. She is caught in the all-too familiar dilemma facing working women with children, especially as she is breastfeeding him.

No… this book isn’t all about that. But I’m glad to see one of the plot threads running throughout the story is Maddie’s constant worry about how she will keep Baby Tommy safely cared for while she holds down a job. It certainly means that once she has a measure of financial security while helping Madam Carlotta gain information about her clients, she can’t easily find another position. Even though she is uneasy about what she is doing at times.

I was aware that in the wake of the Great War and the terrible Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, there was a huge upsurge of interest in spiritualists on both sides of the Atlantic. Millions of grieving relatives struggled to come to terms with the loss of far too many young people well before their time and turned to spiritualists for comfort. So Madam Carlotta feels she is called upon by a higher power to help people. And there are occasions when she clearly has flashes of genuine insight that can’t be explained away. However they are infrequent and fleeting. Therefore Maddie finds out as much as she can about the clients who book in advance to attend a séance, so Madam Carlotta can drop these details in. And it is when she discovers one family who have been particularly afflicted with more than one death that it occurs to her that the latest tragedy may not have been natural.

In the meantime, we get a vivid insight into a vibrant Chicago where Prohibition is in full swing and speakeasys and illegal gin joints have sprung up on every street. This gives the major crime families a licence to print money, by getting involved in the production of illegal liquor and distributing it. Gang warfare is simmering just below the surface – and given that Tommy was driving for one of the major outfits, Maddie needs to tread very carefully if she is going to keep herself and her newborn son free of their pernicious influence.

The story rattles along full of incident and suffused with Maddie’s gutsy can-do attitude, which I found very endearing. While the murder mystery is enjoyable and well done, it isn’t the narrative engine that powers this story – that is Maddie’s struggle to regroup after two devastating blows take everything, other than her child, away from her. That’s fine by me – the pages more or less turned themselves as I was fascinated to discover what happens next. And I’m definitely going to be looking out for the next book in this enjoyable series. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction, particularly 1920s America. While I obtained an arc of The Mystic’s Accomplice from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Murder at Beaulieu Abbey – Book 11 of the Abbess of Meux series by Cassandra Clark #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #MurderatBeaulieuAbbeybookreview

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I’ve been reading some excellent historical murder mysteries recently, so this offering on Netgalley caught my eye. As usual, I didn’t research it properly before requesting it. So I was slightly surprised to discover it was Book 11 of a long-running series. Oh well – it’s been a while since I crashed midway into a series with such style!

BLURB: February, 1390. The Church seethes with rebellion. Newly elected Pope Boniface faces a challenger: the anti-pope Clement, who sows discord from his power base in France.

The quarrel threatens the very survival of the Cistercian Order. So when suspicions grow that distant Beaulieu Abbey may turn traitor, Hildegard’s prioress summons her with a mission she can’t refuse: travel to the isolated royal abbey and spy out their true allegiance. The public reason for Hildegard’s trip is more prosaic. A young Cornish heiress, promised in marriage to the son of local aristocrat Sir William, needs escorting to her new home. It’s not often Hildegard joins a betrothal party, and she’s looking forward to meeting the girl.

But little does Hildegard know, death and danger wait at Beaulieu – and even the protection of her travelling companions, the monks militant Brother Gregory and Brother Egbert, may not be enough to keep her safe from harm . . .

REVIEW: As luck would have it, I know this part of the world rather well. In another life, we owned a yacht and Beaulieu River was a favourite destination when cruising up and down The Solent. So I was especially keen to read this murder mystery set in this beautiful, atmospheric part of the world.

Hildegard is a sympathetic protagonist, who is clearly intelligent and courageous. I also liked the fact that she is a widow with grown children that brought a steadiness and experience she demonstrated throughout. It makes a nice change to have a female protagonist who is a bit older and past her physical prime. However, this murder mystery is clearly action led, despite being told from the viewpoint of a single protagonist. There are so many twists and turns and so much going on that at times Hildegard’s thoughts and reactions – other than those about the mystery – aren’t apparent, so by the end of the book I didn’t know her as well as I wanted. While she is in some very dangerous situations. I didn’t ever get the sense of her real fear, or her ongoing dialogue with God, which would have been the case in those days.

However, Clark’s depiction of the surroundings, infrastructure and all the topographical features are spot on. Once I realised the limits of the characterisation, I was perfectly happy to relax into the story and appreciate the plotting, which was very well done. Though three- quarters in, I was a bit dismayed to have worked out exactly what was going on – until the denouement when I realised that I was completely wrong. And that is always the mark of a cracking good plot. Checking back, I realised that Clark has not cheated her reader in any way while achieving such a volte-face, which is the mark of an experienced, skilled writer.

All in all, this whodunnit is a thoroughly enjoyable, well-crafted read. Though I would have preferred more insight into the character, it certainly wasn’t a dealbreaker and I would happily go on to read more books in this entertaining series. While I obtained an arc of Murder at Beaulieu Abbey from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10