Category Archives: child protagonist

Sunday Post – 28th February, 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.

It’s been another quiet week. Weather-wise, it’s been drier and we have actually had several sunny days, which has been wonderful. I hadn’t realised just how much I’d missed seeing the sun! Himself had Tuesday off, so we went for another lovely walk along the beach, which we both enjoyed. Other than that, it’s been the usual routine.

I don’t often mention my TV viewing, but this week I watched a wonderful programme on BBC 4 – The Secret Life of Waves, which gave all sorts interesting scientific facts about what waves are, which were fascinating enough. But then it widened out into discussing how the life cycle of waves mirrors our own existence in a poetic, philosophical and highly personal way, which I found very moving. If you like that kind of programme, I highly recommend it.

I’ve now finished the first main edit of Flame & Blame and written the opening scene for Council of Dragons. It put up a bit of a fight – I needed three goes at it before I felt I had the right balance of character-bonding, explanation and action. But I’m now happy to continue onwards, so I hope to get going with it during the coming week.

The photos this week are from the walk last Sunday along the beach at very low tide.

Last week I read:
Terra – Book 1 of the Terra series by Mitch Benn
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 …
I thoroughly enjoyed this charming, engrossing book featuring plucky Terra. Benn’s writing style was confiding and accessible, without being patronising – which is harder to achieve than he makes it look.

NOVELLA One Day All This Will Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovsky
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.

Well this is different! Dark, punchy and funny – I think this is exactly the right length. Once again, Tchaikovsky manages to produce something completely different, yet thought provoking and interesting. Review to follow.

A Desolation Called Peace – Book 2 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine
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.
I loved A Memory Called Empire – it was one of my favourite books of last year. So I was thrilled to be able to tuck into this sequel, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Though there was one jarring note… Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK Driving the Deep – Book 2 of the Finder Chronicles
As a professional finder, Fergus Ferguson is hired to locate missing objects and steal them back. But it is rarely so simple, especially after his latest job in Cernee. He’s been recovering from that experience in the company of friends, the Shipmakers of Pluto, experts at crafting top-of-the-line AI spaceships.

The Shipmakers have convinced Fergus to finally deal with unfinished business he’s been avoiding for half his life: Earth. Fergus hasn’t been back to his homeworld since he was fifteen, when he stole his cousin’s motorcycle and ran away. It was his first theft, and nothing he’s stolen since has been anywhere near so easy, or weighed so heavily on his conscience. Many years and many jobs later, Fergus reluctantly agrees that now is the time to return the motorcycle and face his family.
Whatever you do – don’t read the rest of this very chatty blurb, as it goes on to produce a slew of plotpoints which you should be reading within this excellent, action-packed story. Fergus is rapidly becoming one of my favourite protagonists and I’m thrilled the next book in this entertaining series is coming out in May… Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

Series I Completed in 2020 – Part 2

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

Friday Face-off featuring Industrial Magic – Book 4 of the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong

Covet the Covers – Robin Hobb (1)

Review of AUDIOBOOK A Quiet Life in the Country – Book 1 of the Lady Hardcastle series by T.E. Kinsey

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring NOVELLA One Day All This Will Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovsky

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Werewolves of London – Book 3 of the Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox

Tuesday Treasures – 28

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

Sunday Post – 21st January 2021

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

Reading Habits Book Tag https://spaceandsorcery.wordpress.com/2021/02/23/reading-habits-book-tag/ If you’re like me, you’ll be nosily curious as to how other readers approach the books in their life – and this tag answers those questions in a fun way…

The Ultimate Top 100 Book Tags https://nzfnmblog.wordpress.com/2018/10/30/the-ultimate-top-100-book-tags/ And if you’re fond of book tags – either taking part or having fun in browsing what others make of them, then this is THE site to visit…

10 of the Best Short Stories by Charles Dickens https://interestingliterature.com/2021/02/best-charles-dickens-short-stories/ I’ve read a couple of these – but now I’m inspired to track down others. ‘The Signal-Man’ is a creepy masterpiece…

Holiday of Creativity – Handmade Costumes “Two Trees” for Purim 2021 https://colorfulsisters.com/2021/02/25/holiday-of-creativity-handmade-costumes-two-trees-for-purim-2021/ I love this quirky travelogue site and this particular blog article is my favourite of theirs so far…

A Slightly Different Review: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
https://lynns-books.com/2021/02/25/a-slightly-different-review-daughter-of-the-forest-by-juliet-marillier/ And this is what the blogging community is all about – taking an essentially solitary activity, reading, and sharing ideas and impressions about books with like-minded people! No wonder I love my corner of the internet…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog. I hope you had a peaceful, healthy week – and do take care. x

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

Friday Faceoff – Every great story seems to begin with a snake… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffserpentinecovers

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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 serpentine images. I’ve selected The Reptile Room – Book 2 of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snickett.

Scholastic, September 1999

This edition was produced by Scholastic in September 1999, and is the default cover design for this book. While I like the artwork, as you’ll know if you visit this meme regularly, I have an unreasonable dislike of textboxes. So this cover, where the artwork is squashed into a small box in the middle, bordered by a bleh-beige colour hasn’t endeared itself to me. Given how quirky this series is, that ultra-boring title font doesn’t do it justice, either. In fact, it seems to me that this cover is a study in how to transform a funny, original book into something that looks dutifully boring.

Egmont Books, May 2003

Published in May 2003 by Egmont Books, this is altogether more successful. The intention to make this cover look like one of those old-fashioned photo albums is far clearer in this iteration of the cover. The black border, contrasting with the bright green of the spine, with the red cord is both attractive and eye-catching. The styling of the font also gives a strong hint that this book is humorous, as well as an action adventure tale. I also think the choice of image, focusing on the interaction of the snake and the Baudelaire baby is far more effective. This one is definitely a contender…

HarperCollins, May 2007

This edition, published by HarperCollins in May 2007, had done away with the original cover design and opted for more artwork, which I really like. I’m not a fan of either textbox, although I’ll concede that the top one does the job of successfully featuring the author name, which is the selling point of this series, rather than the title. I certainly like this cover more than the top one.

Egmont Books (UK), 2010

This edition, produced by Egmont Books (UK) in 2010, is my favourite. I like the artwork that takes the original image and redesigns it to focus still further on the dramatic interaction between the deadly serpent and Sunny. I also think the treatment of the author font fits well with the overall design and the series and title information looks as if they have been considered as part of the overall look, rather than simply been plonked across the image, as so often seems to happen. Overall, this is the cover that would persuade me to pick this one off the shelves.

German edition, May 2002

This German edition, published by Distribooks in May 2002, is one of the very few covers that hasn’t referenced the original artwork in some form. This one has departed from the Edwardian feel of the original image, so the colours and style are fresher and more vivid. The result is attractive and eye-catching. My only niggle is that I think the dramatic, gothic treatment of the title is at odds with the artwork, but overall I think this is a successful cover. Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Library of the Dead – Book 1 of the Edinburgh Nights by T.L. Huchu #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheLibraryoftheDeadbookreview

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I found the premise of this one fascinating – a post-apocalyptic Scotland and a young, gutsy protagonist straddling two cultures. And I can’t deny that the cover also blew me away.

BLURB: When a child goes missing in Edinburgh’s darkest streets, young Ropa investigates. She’ll need to call on Zimbabwean magic as well as her Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. But as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?

When ghosts talk, she will listen…

Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker. Now she speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to the living. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children–leaving them husks, empty of joy and life. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honor-bound to investigate. But what she learns will change her world. She’ll dice with death (not part of her life plan…), discovering an occult library and a taste for hidden magic. She’ll also experience dark times. For Edinburgh hides a wealth of secrets, and Ropa’s gonna hunt them all down.

REVIEW: Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Ropa is an engaging protagonist and given the awful circumstances she finds herself battling with, the fact that she is only fourteen worked for me, although I am aware some reviewers had a bit of a problem with her youth. But children in difficult times grow up fast and she still demonstrated that odd mix of maturity and flashes of someone much younger that makes up a teen personality. I thought the characterisation of the protagonist was the main strength of the book, though I also liked the depiction of a civilisation steadily falling apart. It didn’t bother me that I wasn’t aware of exactly why everything was quite so dire – given we are in Ropa’s viewpoint, pages of explanation about the political situation would have been out of character.

I also liked the members of Ropa’s family – her relationship with her younger sister could have so easily become a bit treacly, and I was pleased that it didn’t. The constant friction between the girls over the use of her phone was nicely realistic, having had to step into the middle of similar fights between my grandchildren. Her granny is also an intriguing personality, who taught Ropa the magic she uses, drawing on her Zimbabwean culture to be able to speak to the departed and help them. All this worked really well for me.

However, I wasn’t quite so impressed with the plotting. The story was completely predictable and I guessed (successfully) what was going to happen from about halfway through the book. As you can see from the score, that wasn’t a huge dealbreaker for me as Ropa’s personality made this an entertaining read anyway. I’m not wholly convinced about the library angle of the story, either. To be honest, it felt a tad tacked on, and wasn’t in the same league as Ropa’s characterisation, and the interesting world she is forced to operate in. There are some fabulous magical libraries out there already – ranging from the hilariously dangerous version at the Unseen University in Pratchett’s Discworld with an orangutang for a librarian, through to Genevieve Cogman’s highly successful Invisible Library series. Huchu is going to have to work at making this version really stand out.

That said, I would happily read the second book in this series just to spend a bit more time with Ropa. Recommended for fans who particularly enjoy strong young protagonists operating in difficult circumstances. While I obtained an arc of The Library of the Dead from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK Eating Things on Sticks by Anne Fine #BrainfluffAUDIOBOOKreview #EatingThingsonSticksbookreview

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I found this one on my grandson’s Audible library – and it sounded a bit of fun. So would I enjoy it?

BLURB: Harry is in trouble. He’s burned down the family kitchen so now has to spend a week of his summer hols with his uncle Tristram – who’s heading off to stay with a new girlfriend – Morning Glory – on a tiny British island. Harry doesn’t expect it to be a lot of fun – with just a wacky competition at the end of the week to look forward to. He certainly didn’t expect to discover all the beards. Or the angel on the mountain. Or the helicopters circling overhead all week. And he definitely didn’t think it would be so wet!

REVIEW: Well this is fun! Harry is a disaster magnet, and we know exactly how he is going to grow up, because his Uncle Tristram is the adult version. Yes, it’s a bit daft in places – but I loved the quirky humour and the fact that as the reader, I was well aware of what was going on when Harry didn’t. That can get annoying quite quickly, but the clever pacing and the entertaining characterisation that tripped into the kind of Roald Dahl-like caricature, kept me grinning throughout. It didn’t hurt that there isn’t the darker edge of cruelty that I always find in Dahl’s writing – or that Tom Lawrence’s narration is spot on.

The island isn’t identified, but sounds very much like one of the rainsoaked, windblasted small isles that are dotted around the seas off the Scottish mainland. Harry’s insouciant description of the inhabitants, his take on Morning Glory’s behaviour, the weather and the food on offer had me chuckling throughout and there were times when I sat down to focus better on listening to this little gem. If you have a child between the ages of nine and twelve, particularly a boy, I think he would thoroughly enjoy this one – and if the youngster in your life doesn’t appreciate it, then do yourself a favour and tuck into this one yourself. I loved it.
9/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK Finding the Fox – Book 1 of The Shapeshifter series by Ali Sparkes #Brainfluffaudiobookreview #FindingtheFoxbookreview

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I’m a real fan of Ali Sparkes’ writing – see my reviews for Frozen in Time and Dark Summer – so I was delighted to see this offering was in Frank’s audiobook list.

BLURB: Dax Jones is an ordinary schoolboy – until something extraordinary happens one day. Whilst frightened for his life, he inexplicably changes into a fox. Before long, both a government agent and an ambitious young journalist are on his tail.

REVIEW: And that’s how you do a blurb, people! A brief overview of what the stakes are and the genre to give readers an idea if they’ll like the book – NOT spoiling the first major plotpoints in the book. Right – rant over.

I love Dax, who has certainly drawn the short straw when a happy family life was handed out. His mother died when he was four years old and his stepmother dislikes him and makes no secret of the fact. As for his father – he’s away working most of the time and doesn’t make much of an effort to bond with his son, anyway. Is he angry about it? Oh for sure – but Dax has learnt not to show it, so he buries his anger. Until it manifests… differently.

Sparkes is really clever at depicting realistic, rounded characters which is why she is such a firm favourite with me. I was right alongside Dax, rooting for the quiet, wary boy who learnt far too young that the world is often a cruel, uncaring place. But that also gives him an advantage – he isn’t easily taken in. And that distrust gives him a vital edge when someone means him harm. I also liked the supporting cast – this is the start of a six-book series, so part of the task is to establish some of the main characters, such as Gideon, Dax’s new friend and some of the teachers who will clearly be featuring in coming adventures. The denouement of this adventure is genuinely gripping, and instead of carrying on with my chores, I sat down to listen, not willing to miss any of the action. This gripping read is recommended for children, particularly boys, aged 9-11who enjoy fast-paced fiction with a fantasy twist.
9/10

Review of INDIE Ebook A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher #BrainfluffINDIEbookreview #AWizardsGuidetoDefensiveBakingbookreview

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I treated myself to this one with some of my birthday money, after it was recommended to me by one of my book blogging buddies – and I’m so sorry that I cannot recall who! If you do remember my gushing over it, feel free to come and nudge me in the ribs and I’ll namecheck you…

BLURB: Fourteen-year-old Mona isn’t like the wizards charged with defending the city. She can’t control lightning or speak to water. Her familiar is a sourdough starter and her magic only works on bread. She has a comfortable life in her aunt’s bakery making gingerbread men dance. But Mona’s life is turned upside down when she finds a dead body on the bakery floor. An assassin is stalking the streets of Mona’s city, preying on magic folk, and it appears that Mona is his next target. And in an embattled city suddenly bereft of wizards, the assassin may be the least of Mona’s worries…

REVIEW: This one is a solid delight. I absolutely loved it. Mona is such a superb protagonist – having been orphaned and then looked after by her aunt and uncle, her life is jogging along quite nicely. But then the appearance of a dead body in the bakery upsets everything. And from then on, Mona’s life becomes a lot more complicated.

The setting is a medieval city state where most of the subjects are just about coping, though there is widespread poverty. I believed in the world, the politics and the way prejudice against folks with magical ability had been subtly stirred up – it was nicely done. But what makes this book really stand out is the magic. Or rather – Mona’s magic… It’s a joy. Both funny and completely believable, the way Mona’s desperate efforts to save the day made this a gripping read so that I stayed up far too late to discover what happened. And I’ve been mourning the loss of this world ever since I stopped reading it. I even dreamt about it…

I also liked the depth of the supporting characters – as well as Mona’s anger at the adults’ inability to sort things out, so that it’s down to her. Such a natural reaction, but one I don’t see all that often in these sorts of adventures. I very much hope that Kingfisher finds that her lovely heroine won’t leave her alone – and that she, too, misses Mona. Because I’d love to read more about this gutsy, quirky teen.
10/10

My Outstanding Reads of 2020 #Brainfluffbookblogger #2020OutstandingReads

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The wonderful books I’ve encountered during this horrible year have, at times, kept my head straight when other pressures have added an extra twist of awfulness due to the pandemic. I have encountered a number of talented authors I’d previously not had the pleasure of reading (I’m looking at you Mary Robinette Kowal, Elisabeth Bear, Marilyn Messik and T. Kingfisher) and managed to complete 11 series, while working my way through 66 other series. I’ll get more nerdy in my post about the stats relating to my 2020 reads, later in the week.

During 2020 I read 184 books and wrote 155 full reviews, with 23 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give them a 10 – but these books have stayed with me, which is why they made the cut. And let’s forget any top ten nonsense – whittling down my list to this paltry number was painful enough!

Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Despite reading this one back in January, I often found myself thinking about brave, clever Emily and what she underwent. That is the mark of a special book – when it won’t leave you alone. I think it’s one of Tchaikovsky’s best, and given the man’s towering talent, that’s saying something. See my review.

AUDIOBOOK Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear
Elizabeth Bear is another wonderful author I discovered this year – and the good news is that she has a pleasingly long backlist. This one was an utter joy to listen to – Haimey’s first-person narrative held me throughout, even though the pacing was somewhat leisurely at times. This book at 500+ pages has it all – vivid action scenes, nail-biting tension, and plenty of plot twists and shocking reveals. And of course a space cat – who could resist that? See my review.

You Let me In by Camilla Bruce
By rights, this shouldn’t have worked for me – I really don’t like books featuring an abused child. But the way Bruce posits this situation is masterfully done, as Cassie narrates her adventures with Pepperman, a grumpy and dangerous fae entity, who draws the small child into the world of the fae. This book has also stayed with me throughout the year. Read my review.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey
This is such a simple book with lots of pictures. The story of four different creatures, who come together to help each other. It could so easily have turned into a treacly, sentimental mess. But it doesn’t. My lovely sister-in-law gave me my copy and it has been beside me ever since. Read my review.

TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier
The opening sequence of this book immediately hooked me and wouldn’t let me go. I enjoy Neumeier’s writing, anyway. But this amazing world and the vividness of her characters still have me regularly thinking about them. In particular, the depiction of being ensorcelled was brilliantly portrayed – I’ve never seen it done better. Read my review.

AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys
This riveting world has left me yearning for more after reading the first book Winter Tide, which made my Outstanding Reads of 2017. So I was thrilled to discover this offering. Aphra is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents, friends and relations when confronted with a new danger. Once more I was pulled into a tense adventure where Lovecraftian monsters were only part of the threat. Read my review.

Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron
This is as much about the celebration of this quirky, enjoyable series, as much as it is about the climactic battle that wraps up the story. Peopled with shape-shifting dragons, a powerful ghost who assumes the shape of a cat and an enraged nature goddess, this urban fantasy reaches epic proportions, with all sorts of surprises and twists along the way. Review to follow.

The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey
I very much enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts, but I liked this even better. Koli is an endearing character with his youth and restless energy that gets him into far too much trouble within his village. This book is set in post-apocalyptic England, where even trees have become feral – but there are welcome shafts of light, too. Read my review.

AUDIOBOOK The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel
This whole series is a tour de force and I loved listening to this extraordinary conclusion to Cromwell’s life, as an embittered Henry VIII becomes ever more difficult to deal with – and Cromwell’s many enemies begin to circle. I wept at the end, which was wonderfully handled – and I’m still trying to work out how Mantel managed to keep me spellbound for so long, when I already knew the outcome before listening to the first chapter. Read my review.

Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
This was one of those books I picked up and couldn’t put down again. Messik’s writing is utterly addictive, as far as I’m concerned and Stella is now my new best friend. I finished this one far too fast and was miserable until I picked up the next one in the series. I think this was the worst book hangover I endured during the year. Review my review.

The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal
This is another of those wonderful authors I discovered this year – and this series just blew me away. I loved Elma York and her battles to gain recognition during the first two books in the series – but when this story introduced me to Nicole, who finds herself trying to track down a saboteur on the Moon, I not only loved every single minute of the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, afterwards. Read my review.

A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Martine Arkady
I tracked down this one, after hearing it compared to the great C.J. Cherryh’s immersive writing style. And I wasn’t disappointed. I loved watching poor Mahit, replacement ambassador to the enigmatic Teixcalaani empire, flounder as she tries to work out just how her predecessor died. This tense murder mystery played out in the far future kept me up far too late as I couldn’t put it down. Read my review.

AUDIOBOOK Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer
I have always enjoyed reading Children’s fiction, because the very best is far too good just to leave to the kids. And this gem certainly falls into that category. A children’s classic that was published in 1969, it is written with depth and sophistication about two schoolgirls who cris-cross into each other’s times. Until something happens to Charlotte… I loved this one. Set in 1918, the period is beautifully portrayed and the bittersweet ending has stayed with me. Read my review.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher
This is another of those books for children, which engrossed and delighted me. Mona is a baker’s apprentice with a small magical talent, who suddenly finds herself caught up in a murder. Events snowball entertainingly – and I found myself thoroughly enjoying Mona’s ingenious creations to try and stay ahead of the baddies. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths
I enjoy Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, so decided to try this latest series and absolutely loved it. There is a tongue-in-cheek Gothic vibe that I found very appealing. Though I have a shocking memory, the twists and turns of this enjoyable murder mystery have stayed with me. Read my review.

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
I was utterly beguiled by Vish when I first encountered him during the fifth book of the series, The Case of the Reincarnated Client earlier in the year and have been eking out the rest of the series ever since. Vish Puri is fond of calling himself the Indian Sherlock Holmes and his energetic attitude and passion for justice are very endearing – even if he does dismiss his clever, streetwise Mummy-Ji, who often takes a close interest in his cases. This book has an extra dimension and Hall is adept at dealing with hefty issues of the painful events around India’s partition in a respectful manner, without making it dreary. Read my review.

While I’d like to think that each one of these books offers some brain fodder, none of them are gloomy, downbeat reads as this year I needed to escape. And my favourite book of 2020? Probably Ancestor Nights, though I’m likely to claim it’s The Relentless Moon if you ask me the same question again tomorrow. And then there’s Relatively Strange, of course…

Six Favourite Heroines from my 2020 Reading List #Brainfluff6favouriteheroines

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Now I’ve completed reading my 2020 Reading List, I’m a bit awed at the consistently high standard of the books I enjoyed throughout an otherwise catastrophic year. Thank goodness for reading! So who were my standout heroines of the year? In no particular order, here they are…

Emily Marshwic from Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky
BLURB: The first casualty of war is truth . . .
First, Denland’s revolutionaries assassinated their king, launching a wave of bloodshed after generations of peace. Next they clashed with Lascanne, their royalist neighbour, pitching war-machines against warlocks in a fiercely fought conflict. Genteel Emily Marshwic watched as the hostilities stole her family’s young men. But then came the call for yet more Lascanne soldiers in a ravaged kingdom with none left to give. Emily must join the ranks of conscripted women and march toward the front lines…
I loved Emily’s gritted courage and gutsy attitude throughout. I really appreciated that she doesn’t come across as one of those Teflon-coated heroines who are simply too tough to really care about. This wonderful read had me rooting for her throughout – and I particularly loved the scene near the end of the adventure… Read my review.

Cassandra Tripp from You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce
BLURB: Everyone knew bestselling novelist Cassandra Tipp had twice got away with murder. Even her family were convinced of her guilt. So when she disappears, leaving only a long letter behind, they can but suspect that her conscience finally killed her. But the letter is not what anyone expected. It tells two chilling, darkly disturbing stories. One is a story of bloody nights and magical gifts, of children lost to the woods, of husbands made from twigs and leaves and feathers and bones . . . The other is the story of a little girl who was cruelly treated and grew up crooked in the shadows . . . But which story is true? And where is Cassie now?
This is one of my outstanding reads of the year – and though I read it relatively early in the year, it has haunted me ever since. Cassie both inspired me and broke my heart. This is a wrenching story on many levels, as it explores the very worst that family life has to offer – and yet it is also beautiful, full of magical, wonderful moments. Read my review.

Stella from Relatively Strange, Even Stranger and Stranger Still by Marilyn Messick
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.
This fabulous series has been one of my reading highlights of the year. In one review I announce that Stella is now my new best friend – and I mean it. I inhaled the trilogy, addicted to the terrifying adventures that she blunders into, both holding my breath and howling with laughter at the sharp, clever humour. The book hangover I suffered when I came to end of this reading delight was profound – and I still dream of her… Read my review of Relatively Strange.

Elma York from The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky – Books 1 & 2 of The Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal
BLURB:
On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process. Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too. Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.
This series has been another shining jewel that has shone out from the 184 books I read in 2020 – and I particularly loved Elma’s journey. She, amongst a group of highly talented female mathematicians, were part of the NASA team back in the day before they had computers to crunch the numbers. And Kowal has taken this historical fact and woven an alternate story featuring these women in a clever, moving way, as they battle against racism and sexism. Read my review of The Calculating Stars.

Charlotte Makepeace from Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer
BLURB:
It’s natural to feel a little out of place when you’re the new girl, but when Charlotte Makepeace wakes up after her first night at boarding school, she’s baffled: everyone thinks she’s a girl called Clare Mobley, and even more shockingly, it seems she has traveled forty years back in time to 1918. In the months to follow, Charlotte wakes alternately in her own time and in Clare’s. And instead of having only one new set of rules to learn, she also has to contend with the unprecedented strangeness of being an entirely new person in an era she knows nothing about. Her teachers think she’s slow, the other girls find her odd, and, as she spends more and more time in 1918, Charlotte starts to wonder if she remembers how to be Charlotte at all. If she doesn’t figure out some way to get back to the world she knows before the end of the term, she might never have another chance.
This is one of those unique, amazing reads that crawls under your skin and lodges within your head and heart. It is supposed to be a children’s book – but is written with sophistication and a depth of characterisation that many adult books don’t get close to. I still find myself pondering that bittersweet ending… Read my review.

Mahit Dzmare from A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine BLURB: Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court. Now, Mahit must discover the truth about her predecessor’s death, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.

I picked up this book when I heard comparisons to the mighty C.J. Cherryh and I wasn’t disappointed. From the opening lines, I was hooked into the story by the immersive, taut writing and Mahit’s dilemma. I’m very much looking forward to reading the sequel this year. Read my review.

Review of AUDIOBOOK Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer #BrainfluffAUDIOBOOKreview #CharlotteSometimesbookreview

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I’ve resumed reading more Children’s fiction since I’ve been listening to audiobooks, as I’ve been working my way through my grandson’s list. And I’m so glad, because it’s brought me some really lovely reads this year. But this one has capped them all and is going to be one of my all-time favourites…

BLURB:  It’s natural to feel a little out of place when you’re the new girl, but when Charlotte Makepeace wakes up after her first night at boarding school, she’s baffled: everyone thinks she’s a girl called Clare Mobley, and even more shockingly, it seems she has traveled forty years back in time to 1918. In the months to follow, Charlotte wakes alternately in her own time and in Clare’s. And instead of having only one new set of rules to learn, she also has to contend with the unprecedented strangeness of being an entirely new person in an era she knows nothing about. Her teachers think she’s slow, the other girls find her odd, and, as she spends more and more time in 1918, Charlotte starts to wonder if she remembers how to be Charlotte at all. If she doesn’t figure out some way to get back to the world she knows before the end of the term, she might never have another chance.

REVIEW: This is time travel with spikes on – Charlotte and Clare find themselves alternately cris-crossing each other, spending one day in their own time zone – and the next in each other’s. There isn’t any real explanation as to why this is happening, but the effect on Charlotte is beautifully described. This is a sophisticated book, written for children with a precocious understanding of how surroundings and loss can impact on someone, so they somehow keep going.

There aren’t any major outbursts in this book. It isn’t a tale of horrendous persecution – though one child is singled out in a distressing manner and nothing much is done about it, reminding me that back in the day, children were expected to cope if they were being victimised. Because this is a book that was first published in 1969, though other than some of the attitudes, the density and pacing – it hasn’t particularly dated, because it is set in the past. It very much reminded me of my own childhood, as I was brought up by my grandparents  in a house full of large, dark furniture. Though we had a television, long days were spent amusing myself with toys such as solitaire, spillikins and, of course, books…

I loved this one. Charlotte is in the middle of an ongoing nightmare on one level. And yet she also makes friends and strong connections with other people in the 1918 timeline. The exquisite prose, beautifully narrated by the wonderful Hannah Gordon, produces a wonderful, nuanced portrayal of her experience. It’s simply a recommended read for anyone interested in a child’s view of 1918 – because it’s one of those magical books that might have been written with children in mind, but due to Farmer’s layered writing, it can also be thoroughly enjoyed by adults, too. I particularly recommend the audiobook version and am rather devastated to discover that this is the only story in the series that has been turned into an audiobook.

10/10