Category Archives: child protagonist

The Mid-Year Freak Out Book Tag #Brainfluffbookreview #TheMidYearFreakOutBookTag

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I’ve recently thoroughly enjoyed reading this book tag on a number of sites – but the first one was Maddalena, at Space and Sorcery, one of my favourite book bloggers on account of the steady stream of thoughtful, quality reviews that she produces. So I decided to also join in the fun…

Best Book You’ve Read So Far This Year
Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear
Haimey Dz thinks she knows what she wants. She thinks she knows who she is. She is wrong. A routine salvage mission uncovers evidence of a terrible crime and relics of powerful ancient technology. Haimey and her small crew run afoul of pirates at the outer limits of the Milky Way, and find themselves on the run and in possession of universe-changing information.

When authorities prove corrupt, Haimey realizes that she is the only one who can protect her galaxy-spanning civilization from the implications of this ancient technology—and the revolutionaries who want to use it for terror and war. Her quest will take her careening from the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s core to the infinite, empty spaces at its edge.

I found this layered, character-led exploration of a future human, who relies on technology not available to us in order to keep functional, absolutely riveting.

Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far This Year
Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
Telepathy, along with sundry other odd abilities, have landed Stella more than once, in situations at best controversial, at worst life-threatening. But she’s always known; you have to fight your own corner as best you can, no point beating yourself up about it.

Now though, times have changed, different priorities. She’s married, with a baby on the way and a flourishing business. She simply has to deal with a couple of worrying issues and then all should be smooth sailing. But, isn’t it a fact; just when you think you’ve got all your ducks in a row, life can turn right around and bite you on the bottom?

This series is an absolute gem. I love the quirky, humorous tone coupled with the often dark, twisty plot. It should be grim and angsty, but it isn’t. Messik is a wonderful writer and definitely my discovery of the year so far…

New Release You Haven’t Read Yet But Want To
Unconquerable Sun – Book 1 of The Sun Chronicles by Kate Elliott
GENDER-SWAPPED ALEXANDER THE GREAT ON AN INTERSTELLAR SCALE
Princess Sun has finally come of age. Growing up in the shadow of her mother, Eirene, has been no easy task. The legendary queen-marshal did what everyone thought impossible: expel the invaders and build Chaonia into a magnificent republic, one to be respected—and feared.

But the cutthroat ambassador corps and conniving noble houses have never ceased to scheme—and they have plans that need Sun to be removed as heir, or better yet, dead. To survive, the princess must rely on her wits and companions: her biggest rival, her secret lover, and a dangerous prisoner of war.

A retelling of Alexander the Great set in space with a princess as the protagonist – with the great Kate Elliott telling the story… It makes me go weak with longing just thinking about it.

Most Anticipated Release For the Second Half of the Year
A Deadly Education – Book 1 of the Scholomance series by Naomi Novik
A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets. There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere. El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.
I love a great school story and have read one book from another
cracking series this year – so am really looking forward to tucking into this one.

Biggest Disappointment
Q by Christina Dalcher
Every child’s potential is regularly determined by a standardized measurement: their quotient (Q). Score high enough, and attend a top tier school with a golden future. Score too low, and it’s off to a federal boarding school with limited prospects afterwards. The purpose? An improved society where education costs drop, teachers focus on the more promising students, and parents are happy.

Elena Fairchild is a teacher at one of the state’s elite schools. When her nine-year-old daughter bombs a monthly test and her Q score drops to a disastrously low level, she is immediately forced to leave her top school for a federal institution hundreds of miles away. As a teacher, Elena thought she understood the tiered educational system, but as a mother whose child is now gone, Elena’s perspective is changed forever. She just wants her daughter back.

Elena has to be the nastiest protagonist I’ve encountered this year. I kept reading, because I was convinced that at some stage she was going to redeem herself. She didn’t. Check out my review.

Biggest Surprise
You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce
Cassandra Tipp is dead…or is she? After all, the notorious recluse and eccentric bestselling novelist has always been prone to flights of fancy–everyone in town remembers the shocking events leading up to Cassie’s infamous trial (she may have been acquitted, but the insanity defense only stretches so far).
Cassandra Tipp has left behind no body–just her massive fortune, and one final manuscript.

Then again, there are enough bodies in her past–her husband Tommy Tipp, whose mysterious disembowelment has never been solved, and a few years later, the shocking murder-suicide of her father and brother.

This unsettling tale is both horrific and beautiful and has lodged in my memory since I read it early in the year. Fabulous debut novel that makes this author One To Watch. Here is my review.

Favourite New Author
Marilyn Messik
I just wish she would write faster… I suffered terrible book hangover pangs after completing the Strange series! This is my review of Relatively Strange.

Newest Fictional Crush
Hm. Don’t really like the term crush – I’m a very happily married woman. But I rather fell in love with Trouble Dog from Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell. This sentient ship doesn’t know when to quit…

Newest Favourite Character
Stella from the Strange series by Marilyn Messik. Yes, I know it seems that I’ve only read a handful of books this first half of 2020, given the fact that Messik’s books keep surfacing in this roundup, but I was obsessed by Stella – even dreamt about her… That doesn’t happen all that often, these days.

Book That Made You Cry
The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel
England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.

Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?

This was a heartbreaking ending to Cromwell’s long journey from being a brutal, brutalised teenager on the way to becoming part of his father’s criminal gang, to being the most powerful man in England, next to the King. The King who finally killed him… I wept while listening to Cromwell’s death, which was beautifully done.

Book That Made You Happy
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

A book of hope for uncertain times.
Enter the world of Charlie’s four unlikely friends, discover their story and their most important life lessons.

The conversations of the boy, the mole, the fox and the horse have been shared thousands of times online, recreated in school art classes, hung on hospital walls and turned into tattoos. In Charlie’s first book, you will find his most-loved illustrations and some new ones too.

A fabulous, uplifting book that appears to be very simple, but is so much more. It’s by my side at my computer where I work in these difficult times.

Favourite Book to Film adaptation
Sanditon by Jane Austen
Loved this one – and then got to the end… and – oh my word! THAT was a shock…

Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought This Year
Underland by Robert MacFarlane
In this highly anticipated sequel to his international bestseller The Old Ways, Macfarlane takes us on an extraordinary journey into our relationship with darkness, burial, and what lies beneath the surface of both place and mind. Traveling through “deep time”—the dizzying expanses of geologic time that stretch away from the present—he moves from the birth of the universe to a post-human future, from the prehistoric art of Norwegian sea caves to the blue depths of the Greenland ice cap, from Bronze Age funeral chambers to the catacomb labyrinth below Paris, and from the underground fungal networks through which trees communicate to a deep-sunk “hiding place” where nuclear waste will be stored for 100,000 years to come. Woven through Macfarlane’s own travels are the unforgettable stories of descents into the underland made across history by explorers, artists, cavers, divers, mourners, dreamers, and murderers, all of whom have been drawn for different reasons to seek what Cormac McCarthy calls “the awful darkness within the world.”
This was a present from my lovely sister-in-law. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of tucking into this one – but I fully intend to by the end of the year. That cover is to die for – and the writing is gorgeous. Have you read it?

What Book Do You Need To Read by the End of the Year?
As many as I can – so that I can be thrilled by favourite authors, who go on delivering the goods, and delighted by talented writers I haven’t previously had the pleasure of reading…

Sunday Post – 5th July, 2020 #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.

Another week has slipped by. Himself is on annual leave and we had a list of chores planned, mostly around painting jobs in the garden, but the weather hasn’t been good enough. The highlight of the week was little Eliza’s birthday party on Tuesday. She was so excited and rushed around shouting, “Two! Twoooo!” We were glad to be able to be there.

Other than that, I’ve been editing and reading, while Himself has been watching motor racing and cricket and wishing they weren’t repeats. We haven’t any plans to go to restaurants, pubs or cafes just yet. For starters, they’ll be far too busy – and not enough folks are being careful.

The pics this week are from a walk we managed along the sea front at Littlehampton on Friday and though it was blowing a hoolie, it wasn’t raining. Here’s hoping you have a peaceful week and stay safe.

Last week I read:

The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi
Can you uncover the truth when you’re forbidden from speaking it?
A Sin Eater’s duty is a necessary evil: she hears the final private confessions of the dying, eats their sins as a funeral rite, and so guarantees their souls access to heaven. It is always women who eat sins – since it was Eve who first ate the Forbidden Fruit – and every town has at least one, not that they are publicly acknowledged. Stained by the sins they are obliged to consume, the Sin Eater is shunned and silenced, doomed to live in exile at the edge of town. Recently orphaned May Owens is just fourteen, and has never considered what it might be like to be so ostracized; she’s more concerned with where her next meal is coming from. When she’s arrested for stealing a loaf of bread, however, and subsequently sentenced to become a Sin Eater, finding food is suddenly the last of her worries.
Once I relaxed into the world, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. May is very well depicted – a sympathetic and plausible heroine, who develops throughout the story, which became a gripping mystery. Review to follow.


The Fated Sky – Book 2 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Fated Sky continued the grand sweep of alternate history begun in The Calculating Stars. It is 1961, and the International Aerospace Coalition has established a colony on the moon. Elma York, the noted Lady Astronaut, is working on rotation, flying shuttles on the moon and returning regularly to Earth. But humanity must get a foothold on Mars. The first exploratory mission is being planned, and none of the women astronauts is on the crew list. The international Aerospace Coalition has grave reservations about sending their “Lady Astronauts” on such a dangerous mission…
I loved this one. I have grown very fond of Elma and found this second book in The Lady Astronaut adventure even more gripping than the first one. I loved the progression of the characters and this was one of my outstanding reads of the month. Review to follow.

Ghost Ups Her Game – Book 9 of the Bailey Ruth mysteries by Carolyn Hart
After a busy morning dispatching emissaries from Heaven’s Department of Good Intentions to those in need, Bailey Ruth Raeburn is feeling flush with success. So when an urgent call for help comes through from her old hometown, she can’t resist taking on the mission herself. After all, what could go wrong? With the shouted warning of her boss, Wiggins – “Irregular! Problematic!” – ringing in her ears, she arrives to face a shocking scene: Professor Iris Gallagher leaning over the corpse of her colleague Matt Lambert, the murder weapon clutched in her hand. Bailey Ruth is only sent to help the innocent, but things are looking very black for Iris. With Wiggins breathing down her neck, and her old friend Police Chief Sam Cobb casting doubt on her every theory, Bailey Ruth must uncover the truth – or this could be the last trip to earth she’s ever allowed to make.
A cosy mystery with a difference – the investigator is a ghost on a mission to clear someone wrongly charged. This was an entertaining read that never lost sight of the fact that a murder had been committed, which I appreciated. The murder mystery was well handled and denouement was suitably satisfying. Review to follow.


Embers of War – Book 1 of the Embers of War series by Gareth L. Powell
The warship Trouble Dog was built and bred for calculating violence, yet following a brutal war, she finds herself disgusted by conflict and her role in a possible war crime. Seeking to atone, she joins the House of Reclamation, an organisation dedicated to rescuing ships in distress.

But, stripped of her weaponry and emptied of her officers, she struggles in the new role she’s chosen for herself. When a ship goes missing in a disputed system, Trouble Dog and her new crew of misfits and loners, captained by Sal Konstanz, an ex-captain of a medical frigate who once fought against Trouble Dog, are assigned to investigate and save whoever they can.
This excellent space opera adventure had all the ingredients that I love – but the star has to be Trouble Dog. I just loved that grumpy, clever ship who won’t back down even when faced with overwhelming odds.


The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
Reasons Cara has died:
The emperor of the wasteland wanted to make an example of her mother and started with her
– One of her mother’s boyfriends wanted to cover up what he did to her
– She was born addicted and her lungs didn’t develop
– She was left alone, and a stranger came along
– The runners came for a neighbour and she was in the way
– The runners came for her mother and she was in the way
– The runners came for her boyfriend and she was in the way
– The runners came for no one, serving nothing but chaos and fear, and she was what they found
– Her mother left her alone in a shed while she worked or got high and she fell asleep alone and hungry and forever


Reasons Cara has lived:
– She doesn’t know but there are 8.

The multiverse business is booming, but there’s just one catch: no one can visit a world where their counterpart is still alive.
Enter Cara. Of the 382 realities that have been unlocked, Cara is dead in all but eight. But on this earth, she survived. Born in the wastelands where if a basic lack of resources didn’t kill you, violence would, Cara is happy to reap the benefits of a job and a safe place in the city to call home.
But when one of her eight remaining doppelgangers dies under mysterious circumstances, Cara is plunged into a new world with an old secret. What she discovers will connect her past and future in ways she never could have imagined – and reveal her own role in a plot that endangers not just her world, but the entire multiverse.
I know! Isn’t that a doozy of a blurb?? This proved to be a gem of a read. I enjoyed the tension humming through this gritty, dystopian science fiction multiverse adventure and found it hard to put down until I’d finished. Review to follow.


My posts last week:

June Roundup 2020 – Reading, Writing and Blogging…

Friday Face-off featuring Kraken by China Miéville

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The House on Widows Hill – Book 9 of the Ishmael Jones by Simon R. Green

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Peace Talks – Book 16 of the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Tuesday Treasures – 2

Review of TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier

Sunday Post – 28th June 2020


Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

TBR and Beyond’s July and August 2020 Challenge https://confessionsofayareader.wordpress.com/2020/07/02/tbr-and-beyonds-july-and-august-2020-challenge/ For those of you who like reading challenges, this is a board game you might like to have a go at…

Thursday Doors – Cottage https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2020/07/02/thursday-doors-cottage/ Another escape into the beauty of old buildings…

Funny of the Week https://blogging807.wordpress.com/2020/07/02/funny-of-the-week-2/ For the sheer random weirdness of this one – we were try to figure out ANY circumstance in which this would be possible…

Dancing Duet https://cindyknoke.com/2020/06/27/dancing-duet/ I didn’t know anything about these birds, but the way they sing in concert is magical…

On the Way to Jerusalem https://writerunboxed.com/2020/07/02/on-the-way-to-jerusalem/ While this article is aimed at writers, it seemed to me that many of us can also apply this journey to the progress of our lives.

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

Review of HARDBACK The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey #Brainfluffbookreview, #TheBoytheMoletheFoxandtheHorsebookreview #Moodboostingbook

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This book arrived in the post from my lovely sister-in-law, who took me to Bexhill last year for a writing retreat, while she got on with her thesis on medieval attitudes to depression and depressive illness.

BLURB: A book of hope for uncertain times.
Enter the world of Charlie’s four unlikely friends, discover their story and their most important life lessons. The conversations of the boy, the mole, the fox and the horse have been shared thousands of times online, recreated in school art classes, hung on hospital walls and turned into tattoos. In Charlie’s first book, you will find his most-loved illustrations and some new ones too.

This is a solid delight. It is an apparently very simple book. The drawings are apparently very basic – but it takes real skill to turn a dozen or so squiggly lines into a vulnerable-looking little boy, a small mole, an alert little fox and a horse… Hm – that horse. Such a hard creature to draw really well. If I’d any doubts as to Macksey’s real talent as an artist, it is the drawing of the horse – especially when we come to the climax of the book and the drawings stop being squiggly lines and turn into something awesome and magical that brought tears to my eyes…

So we have lovely pictures on each page, but it’s the prose that turns this book from being a winsome little gem into a book with sufficient heft to want it close to me throughout the day, so I can open it when I’m feeling wobbly. The conversations the boy has with the mole, and the horse, in particular, have given me so much comfort with their truth. The one that has stayed with me the most is this quote:

“What is the bravest thing you ever said?” asked the boy.
“Help,” said the horse.

There is so much profound truth in those two lines. How often do we reach the end of our tether, completely in despair – simply because we lack the resources to help ourselves and paralysed with fear to ask others for help? I could have saved myself such misery as a young woman if I’d taken on board that life lesson…

There are profound things about the role of cake in our lives, too, that mole shares with us… It took about ten minutes to read the book from cover to cover and in the space of that time I laughed aloud and I wept – I’m finding myself a tad more emotional, these days. But I stand by the fact that any book which can make me do both in such a short timespan is remarkable. There is no preaching or judgement – just kindness, acceptance in a chat between a small boy and his animal companions.

And this book is right by my side for the duration. Very highly recommended for anyone who feels a tad overwhelmed or frightened right now…
10/10



Review of INDIE Ebook Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik #Brainfluffbookreview #RelativelyStrangebookreview

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I suffered a real book hangover after reading Witch Dust – see my review – so I was delighted when I discovered this paranormal psi-fi adventure. And right now I had no problem in bouncing it right to the stop of my very long TBR list…

BLURB: “I was five when I discovered I could fly, sixteen when I killed a man.
Both events were unsettling in their own way.”

It’s hard to know what’s normal, if you’re not, and it takes Stella a while to realise she’s in the definitely ‘not’ drawer. But we are who we are and we make adjustments to fit in – most of the time – and it’s only when she finds she’s not quite as unique as she thought, that things begin to acquire a whole new dimension. Forced to call on resources she didn’t know she possessed and thrust headlong into the violence of a situation for which nothing could have prepared her, Stella is suddenly face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences.

REVIEW: As in Witch Dust, it is the strong first-person narrative voice that beguiled me from the first line and held me throughout. It doesn’t hurt that Messik also had the pacing nailed and took us through the very conventional timeline of her infancy, youth and into her early adulthood with a mixture of anecdotes, scenes and humorous asides that pulled me right into her world. This story could have been presented with the emotional tone dialled up to the max, full of angst and pain – Stella has plenty of scary moments that had the capacity to knock her endways, after all. But that gutsy, determined toughness that characterised her grandmother and her great-aunts and their eccentricities has given her resilience and a self-belief nourished by her parents. I completely believed that her family successfully managed to keep her abilities shielded from prying eyes, while persuading her to keep them hidden, without overly daunting her.

The unfolding story of how she discovers that there are those who are far too interested into her and her abilities kept me turning the pages. Stella is a baby-boomer, born in the 1950s, and I completely believed the worldbuilding and historical era – and I’d have known if there had been any false notes, as I was also born just a few years later. The other characters who people this gripping adventure are vividly drawn. And although there are some shocking events, Stella’s narrative voice both manages to effectively depict the seriousness of what happens, yet offer a sense of hope – which I really need in my reading matter, these days.

I also like her trick of producing a number of plot twists that change up the stakes and pull Stella into a rescue mission that will place her in danger to the extent that she is exposed to a fate worse than death. And no – we’re not talking about any kind of sexual encounter – we’re talking about a real fate that would be worse than dying… Hamlet the dog is also awesome, by the way. I’m conscious that in my determination not to provide any kind of Spoiler, I have sold this book short, but the pacing, narrative voice and twisty plot provided one of the most satisfying reads of the year to date – and I’m delighted that I have two more books in this series waiting for me on my Kindle. Highly recommended.
10/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 10th June, 20202 #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 – The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi
– release date, 23rd July, 2020


#historical fiction #thriller #feisty heroine

Isn’t this to die for? No wonder I buckled!

BLURB: For the crime of stealing bread, fourteen-year-old May receives a life sentence: she must become a Sin Eater—a shunned woman, brutally marked, whose fate is to hear the final confessions of the dying, eat ritual foods symbolizing their sins as a funeral rite, and thereby shoulder their transgressions to grant their souls access to heaven.

Orphaned and friendless, apprenticed to an older Sin Eater who cannot speak to her, May must make her way in a dangerous and cruel world she barely understands. When a deer heart appears on the coffin of a royal governess who did not confess to the dreadful sin it represents, the older Sin Eater refuses to eat it. She is taken to prison, tortured, and killed. To avenge her death, May must find out who placed the deer heart on the coffin and why.

Having the depth of a pavement puddle, I cannot deny it – this gorgeous cover bewitched me. Though I was also intrigued by the premise – it sounds both original and plausible in a twisted way. After all, there was a thriving trade in selling pardons to frightened sinners throughout the Middle Ages. So I’m really looking forward to tucking into this one.

Three AUDIBLE Fantasy Mini-Reviews – How to Betray a Dragon’s Hero; The Lost Plot; Uprooted #Brainfluffbookreviews #3Audiblemini-reviews

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Here are a series of mini-reviews of books that all fall under the fantasy genre – but couldn’t be more different if they tried… They are also enjoyable, escapist reads which is a great way to round off the wonderful month of Wyrd and Wonder. Thank you to imyril @ There’s Always Room for One More, Lisa @ Dear Geek Place and Jorie Loves a Story for their hard work in making this event such a huge success.

AUDIOBOOK How To Betray a Dragon’s Hero – Book 11 of the How To Train Your Dragon series
BLURB:High up in the Treacherous mists of the Murderous Mountains, Hiccup and the Company of the Dragonmark are in hiding. The witch’s Vampire Spydragons are guarding the shores of Tomorrow — but Hiccup is determined to become King of the Wilderwest. Can Hiccup dodge the dragons and steal back the King’s Things from Alvin before the Doomsday of Yule? And is there a traitor in Hiccup’s camp who, in the end, will betray them all?

Again, it is something of a shock to realise how much darker this penultimate book is when comparing it to the first two or three in the series. Hiccup and his companions are in a very hard place, and the world they knew has been flamed flat and turned into ruins. Cowell doesn’t pull her punches when depicting the war-torn ravaged remains of the Viking tribes as they struggle to prevail against the might of the Dragon Furious and the Dragon Rebellion.

For all that, there are still shafts of humour, chiefly courtesy of Toothless and the other small dragon that Hiccup has acquired called Hogfly and David Tennent’s fabulous narration ensured both the tension and comedy were brilliantly evoked. As ever, the pacing is perfect and it was difficult to tear myself away as the adventure went on gathering momentum. This book ends on a mighty cliffhanger and whatever you do, don’t pick it up if you haven’t read at least the previous three or four books in the series as it simply won’t make sense. A gripping, enthralling read for Viking fans of all ages.
9/10



AUDIOBOOK The Lost Plot – Book 4 of The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
BLURB: In a 1920s-esque New York, Prohibition is in force; fedoras, flapper dresses, and tommy guns are in fashion: and intrigue is afoot. Intrepid Librarians Irene and Kai find themselves caught in the middle of a dragon political contest. It seems a young Librarian has become tangled in this conflict, and if they can’t extricate him, there could be serious repercussions for the mysterious Library. And, as the balance of power across mighty factions hangs in the balance, this could even trigger war.

Irene and Kai are locked in a race against time (and dragons) to procure a rare book. They’ll face gangsters, blackmail, and the Library’s own Internal Affairs department. And if it doesn’t end well, it could have dire consequences on Irene’s job. And, incidentally, on her life…

I was really entertained by this slice of Prohibition New York, when Irene and Kai find themselves trying to track down a rogue Librarian and a lost book in a world where dragons are playing powergames. The premise is clever, the characters enjoyable – I really love the fact that Irene is a cool, self-contained character who always performs at her best when in a really tight spot. And she spends a great deal of time in those really tight spots…

This was huge fun with gangster molls, hardboiled cops and lethally ambitious dragons trying to foil our plucky duo in their vital mission. The one slightly annoying factor for me was the very dry, low-key narration by Susan Duerdan which didn’t line up all that well with set-piece action scenes. I got AWFULLY fed up with that dropping cadence… However, it wasn’t a dealbreaker as Cogman’s vivid scene-setting, clever plotting and deft characterisation managed to rise above the rather monotonous delivery.
8/10



AUDIOBOOK Uprooted by Naomi Novik

BLURB:“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood. But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

I’ve gone back to read my original review – and realised that I gobbled this one up in two greedy gulps and now, listening to it again some four years later, I’m rather horrified at just how much I’d forgotten. It generally stands up very well to hearing the story unfold and I fell in love with Agnieszka all over again. But I was a bit startled when a very graphic sex scene suddenly appeared right in the middle of all the magical mayhem and seemed very out of place. I’ve discovered it’s a bit more of a hassle to fast-forward through bits you don’t want to hear, than it is when reading them…

Other than that, I loved the narrative drive, the story structure and the ending – though why anyone thought this was a suitable YA read frankly astounds me.
9/10

Get to Know the Fantasy Reader Tag #Brainfluffbookblog #GettoKnowtheFantasyReaderTag #WyrdandWonder2020

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I saw this featured as part of the Wyrd and Wonder 2020 month and thought I’d also like to take part…


1. What is the first fantasy novel you read?

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis and I mourned for days afterwards, because there wasn’t any way of getting to Narnia at the back of my wardrobe…


2. If you could be the hero/heroine in a fantasy novel, who would be the author and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?

It would be by Jo Walton, who would write me as an intelligent, sympathetic woman of a certain age, who was able to magically make everyone able to read and write. I’d had a promising young apprentice who was supposed to be the Chosen One, but when the foolish girl eloped with a passing hedge wizard, the job of being Chosen devolved to me. After all, I wasn’t going to be eloping anywhere…


3. What is a fantasy you’ve read this year, that you want more people to read?

You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce – a fabulous unreliable narrator who may or may not have encountered a controlling powerful fae character. Disturbing and memorable.
Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky – another wonderful standalone read by an author at the height of his powers.
And the Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold – the eighth book was recently released. Each book is a gem, as Penric, who is ridden by an old and powerful demon, ends up having all sorts of adventures. This series deserves to be far better known than it is.


4. What is your favourite fantasy subgenre? What subgenre have you not read much from?

I’m a sucker for crime fantasy of all sorts, but you won’t find me reading any grimdark or horror. I’m too prone to nightmares.

 

5. Who are your auto-buy fantasy authors?

Jo Walton, Lois McMaster Bujold, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Kevin Hearne, Melanie Rawn
Sebastien de Castell, Marilyn Messik, Ilona Andrews, Juliet E. McKenna.

 

6. How do you typically find fantasy recommendations? (Goodreads, Youtube, Podcasts, Instagram…)

Mostly from excellent book bloggers, and Netgalley.



7. What upcoming fantasy releases are you excited about?

The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso
Afterland by Lauren Beukes
The Empire of Gold – Book 3 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty
Mexican Gothic by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia

 

8. What is one misconception about fantasy you would like to lay to rest?

That it is either a genre weighed down by great big tomes allll about various political factions magically slaughtering each other, or fluffy make-believe. It can be both those things – but it can also be every bit as searing and relevant as anything else you pick up on the contemporary bookshelves, too.

 

9. If someone had never read a fantasy before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books that come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?

Uprooted by Naomi Novik – a twist on a classic fairy story
The Radleys by Matt Haig – the funniest and most poignant contemporary take on vampires
Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton – Dragons do Anthony Trollop…


10. Who is the fantasy reading content creator you’d like to shoutout?

Tammy from Books, Bones and Buff, Lynn from Lynn’s Books, Maddalena from Space and Sorcery, Mogsy from The Bibliosanctum and the Cap from The Captain’s Quarters.

They are all wonderful book bloggers who provide a steady output of excellent reviews and recommendations and whose opinions I trust and respect. They have all provided me with a lot of cracking reads over the years and are probably mostly responsible for my swollen TBR…



Review of INDIE Ebook The Zero Curse – Book 2 of The Zero Enigma by Christopher G. Nuttall #Brainfluffbookreview #TheZeroEnigmabookreview #Wyrd and Wonder 2020

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I was looking for something entertaining and escapist, given the current situation, so was delighted to find this one nestling in my TBR, as I particularly enjoyed the first book – see my review of The Zero Blessing. I enjoy Nuttall’s writing as his space opera adventure The Hyperspace Trap made my list of Outstanding Reads of 2018. I am linking this review to Wyrd and Wonder 2020.

BLURB: Caitlyn Aguirre is no magician … But that doesn’t make her useless. After discovering her true talent and uncovering the long-lost secret behind Objects of Power, Cat returns to school – intent on showing everyone what she can do. But her mere existence is a threat to the balance of power, convincing some to befriend her, some to try to use her … and some to remove her. And when she and her closest friends become the target of a deadly plot, she must use all her wits to save them and escape before she becomes the first casualty in a deadly war.

I thoroughly enjoy well-told fantasy school adventures and Nuttall’s first book in this series, The Zero Blessing, was an excellent start. If you haven’t yet read it, I recommend you go back and pick that one up before going any further, as there is a chunk of important backstory you’re missing. Caitlyn won’t make much sense to you if you don’t do so… Given the major twist at the end of the first book, I really liked the direction in which this one went – compared to the Molly Harper series, I think the sudden change in the dynamic is far more adroitly handled here.

While I wasn’t completely surprised when the shoe dropped and the stakes were abruptly raised, but I was impressed and gripped by the way the adventure then got a whole lot darker. I’m aware Nuttall is capable of killing off important supporting characters, so was on my toes throughout. As ever, I found it difficult to put this one down until it was over. I will definitely be continuing with this series during the year. He is an accomplished author, whose books are excellent value and this one is highly recommended for fans of exciting magical school adventures.

9/10

Five 5-Star Books in Five Words – Twice Over #five5-starbooksin5wordsx2 #BrainfluffWyrdandWonderChallenge2020

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The aim of this one is to select five of your all-time favourite books and sum each one up in five words as part of this year’s Wyrd and Wonder challenges. I read this fun challenge on one of my fellow blogger’s site (sorry – I made a note of who it was, then lost it…) and decided that I really, really wanted to have a bash at it. Then Himself also wanted a go and so I’ve added his choices, too.

My Selection

 

Among Others by Jo Walton
Battle-scarred schoolgirl seeking solace.
See review…

 

How to Train Your Dragon – Book 1 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
Naughty dragon trains small Viking.
See review…

 

Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Heroic quest – or is it?
See review…

 

Small Gods – Book 13 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Pratchett does religion. Profound silliness.

 

The Fifth Season – Book 1 of The Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin
Mother’s mission – rescue her daughter.
See review…



Himself’s Selection

 

Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkein
The first, greatest epic fantasy

 

The Curse of Chalion – Book 1 of the World of the Five Gods series by Lois McMaster Bujold
Tattered hero dies three times.

 

Night Watch – Book 29 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Vimes’ timeloop saves his family.

 

Furies of Calderon – Book 1 of the Codex Alera by Jim Butcher
Powerless hero surviving powerful world.

 

Dead Heat – Book 4 of the Alpha and Omega series by Patricia Briggs
Ancient werewolf visits old friend.

Review of AUDIOBOOK Dark Summer by Ali Sparkes #Brainfluffbookreview #DarkSummerbookreview

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This delightful children’s book was one of the Frankie’s Audible offerings, and given how much I’d enjoyed Sparkes’ Frozen in Time – see my review – I was happy to tuck into it.

BLURB: When Eddie discovers a secret passage in Wookey Hole caves, he just has to find out where it goes. But his amazement quickly turns to horror when he gets lost in the dark. He’s underground, on his own, and nobody knows where he is …Until a hand reaches out of the blackness. A strange, pale girl helps Eddie get back to the surface, but she can’t seem to leave the caves herself. Who is she? Or rather …what is she? And what other secrets is she hiding? Only one thing is certain – this is a summer Eddie will never forget.

I love Sparkes punchy, readable prose which pulled me right into the middle of this adventure from the first word. It didn’t hurt that the narration by Tom Lawrence was excellent and Eddie is a thoroughly likeable boy. He’s in a hard place at the start of the book – sent off to stay with his aunt while his mother recovers from a gruelling round of chemotherapy. Sparkes doesn’t go into major details about the treatment, but during the course of the book there are enough clues for us to draw that conclusion. I like the fact she didn’t spell out exactly what the illness was, giving parents and carers the option of going into more detail if the young reader is at all curious. It doesn’t help that his cousin, Darren is a bullying thug who thinks nothing of regularly beating Eddie up, mostly because of his ginger hair. Eddie is an only child who is close to his parents, and you get the sense that he is highly intelligent and probably more comfortable with adults than with his peers.

A peculiar and slightly scary encounter during an outing to Wookey caves leaves Eddie with a season ticket and a need to return to find out whether it had all been some weird waking dream. It wasn’t. I don’t want to go into the plot too much more, because it would be a real shame to spoil this tightly structured, clever story which gripped me throughout. All the characters rang true – something that doesn’t always happen in children’s fiction – and most were doing their best under difficult circumstances. There are also flashes of humour throughout, which help defuse some of the darker elements, without whitewashing them.
The villain in the story was chillingly normal. I do get fed up with pantomime baddies that so often occur in children’s fiction, and I think does them a real disservice. Sparkes’ antagonist is very plausible, who manages to persuade most people that she is just trying to do her “Christian duty”.

While the overall pacing starts off being reasonably measured, as the story progresses, the action ramps up along with the tension, so that by the end I was finding it difficult to turn this one off and walk away when my chores were done. The ending works really well and I found it unexpectedly moving. All in all, this is another stormingly good read by an excellent author who deserves to be far better known.
10/10