Category Archives: contemporary

Review of INDIE Ebook Mistaken Identity Crisis – Book 4 of the Braxton Campus Mysteries by James J. Cudney #BrainfluffINDIEbookreview #MistakenIdentityCrisisbookreview

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I have been working through this entertaining cosy murder mystery series, featuring young single father, Kellen, who is trying to rebuild his life after his wife’s tragic death. This means moving back to be near his family to get help raising his young daughter and get a job teaching at the local college, though his tendency to trip over dead bodies rather gets in the way of things. See my reviews of Academic Curveball, Broken Heart Attack and Flower Power Trip.

BLURB: A clever thief with a sinister calling card has invaded Braxton campus. A string of jewelry thefts continues to puzzle the sheriff, given they’re remarkably similar to an unsolved eight-year-old case, back when Gabriel vanished one stormy night. When a missing ruby, and a body, are discovered at the campus, Kellan must investigate the killer’s motive to protect his brother. As if the latest murder isn’t enough to keep him busy, Kellan partners with April to end the Castigliano and Vargas crime family feud. What really happened to Francesca while all those postcards showed up in Braxton?

REVIEW: It’s been longer than I originally intended, before I became reacquainted with engaging Kellen and his eventful life. It was a delight to jump back into this busy world and get back in touch with not just our rather frayed hero, but many of the other characters that also feature in this charming series. Like many other readers, my personal favourite is Kellan’s feisty grandmother, Nana D, whose peppery comments hide a fierce love for her grandson and his daughter. Now she is local mayor, she is determined to root out any corruption and get things running more smoothly.

However, there are a string of jewellery thefts – and once again, Kellen does his trick of unexpectedly encountering a dead body. Fortunately, his relationship with the local sheriff has now markedly improved, and instead of having to run the gauntlet of her scornful remarks and prickly attitude, she is now prepared to accept his help. So long as it’s on her terms…

Once more, I’m struck at how strong the characterisation is and how very well plotted the mysteries are – both of the jewellery thefts and the murder. And bubbling away in the background is a massive issue that has thrown a shadow over Kellen’s whole life and also very much impacts his daughter’s wellbeing, too. It would have been all too easy for Cudney to have slightly faltered with a loss of momentum, or overlooked a plot hole, while keeping all these narrative arcs moving forward. But his assured, readable writing style rolls the story forward such that I stayed up far later than I’d intended to find out what happened.

The denouement of this one worked particularly well and I thoroughly enjoyed where the story went. Fortunately, I have the next book in this entertaining series already on my ereader – and I won’t be waiting so long before giving myself a treat and tucking into it. Highly recommended for fans of cosy murder mysteries with plenty of plot twists and a cast of likeable characters – though whatever you do, start this series at the beginning – you’ll miss far too much vital backstory and enjoyable shenanigans, otherwise.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Invitation by A.M. Castle #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheInvitationbookreview

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From time to time, I like to leaven my diet of SFF reads with a murder mystery. However, I don’t like anything too grim or gory, so when I read the blurb for this one, it really caught my attention. Especially as I also have a really soft spot for the beautiful county of Cornwall.

BLURB: Thirteen guests. One killer. No escape.

On an island on the coast of Cornwall, cut off from the mainland by the tides for most of the day, thirteen old friends meet at Tregowan Castle for a weekend of revelry. By the next evening only twelve are still alive. Amongst them is a killer – but who? As a storm traps them on the island and past betrayals and grievances are revealed, nerves fray and friendships begin to fracture.

But with no escape and no way of calling for help it’s only a matter of time before the killer strikes again. And when everyone is keeping secrets, anybody could be the next victim…

REVIEW: This one is told from the viewpoint of most of the adults who end up at the fateful Halloween party. It is a classic locked-room mystery, where everyone is trapped in the castle on a small island (think of a fictionalised version of St Michael’s Mount) that is only easily accessible when the tide is low and the weather is fine. Which isn’t the case right now, as (wouldn’t you know it?) there is a massive storm raging, add to the general sense of panic and unease.

Castle does a really good job of giving us an insight into the disparate group of people, who were firm friends back when they were at university together. But a lot happened when they were younger and a lot more reckless – things that have had long-term consequences. And their glamorous and mega-rich hostess has managed to winkle most of the secrets out of each of them, over the years. And during this Halloween party – which is a classier version of the fateful bash she’d thrown at university and changed everything – she is determined to ‘clear the air’ by revealing the secrets that she believes are slowly poisoning their lives and ruining their relationships. Or maybe, she just enjoys the sense of power she gets when throwing everyone’s lives into turmoil… As ever, when you read a multiple viewpoint book, you take your pick of the versions offered up to you.

Writing multiple viewpoints, so that everyone pings off the page sounding and feeling quite different, is a tall order and it takes experience and skill to successfully pull it off. Evidently Castle possesses plenty of both, because I got to the stage where I only had to read the opening sentence to know whose head I was in. The constant ongoing stream of revelations that added yet another plot twist and dimension to the unfolding drama was well handled and I found myself reading far later into the night than I should have done to discover whodunit.

The denouement was also very skilfully handled – I’m not a fan of getting through a book where the tension is constantly being ratcheted up, only to have the whole thing suddenly descend into ridiculous unbelievability right at the end. And I’ve read more than my fair share of such nonsense, so I was delighted that the Castle absolutely nailed the ending, before I worked out whodunit, or why.

Highly recommended for fans of character-led, locked-room murder mysteries with plenty of tension and pace. While I obtained an arc of The Invitation from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – On the right track but on the wrong train… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceofftraincovers

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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 images of TRAINS. I’ve selected Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith of The Ladies’ No 1 Detective Agency fame. And in case you haven’t encountered this little gem, I wrote a review of it back in 2014 – see my review of Trains and Lovers.

Pantheon, June 2013

This edition was produced by Pantheon in June 2013, and is the original cover design, so has set the tone for the subsequent covers. I actually like it very much. It’s clever and to the point – we see the train speeding past with a series of ardent couples all engaged in various stages of courtship. I like the contrast of the beige background colour and the grey train, which ought to be boring but somehow is not. I also like the title font, particularly the colouring of it, though I would have preferred that it was just a little more bolded to give a bit of extra heft for when it is in thumbnail.

Polygon, November 2012

Published in November 2012 by Polygon, I think this cover is trying just a tad too hard. Heart-shaped clouds if you must, with the sun peeping out – but flowers bouncing around the train wheels and a fluttering in the air. Really?? Apart from anything else, this is giving the completely wrong idea of the overall tone of this book, which is far more nuanced and ambivalent about the business of falling in love and what happens next. So, while I’ll agree that it is an attractive cover, I don’t like it as I think it tips into sentimentality which I LOATHE.

Anchor, December 2013

This edition, published by Anchor in December 2013 is far more sombre in tone, despite the bright red colouring. The seat facing the track with two single people sitting alone gives a sense of loneliness – and the randomness of encountering someone that you bond sufficiently well that you fall in love. This cover is certainly a contender.

Italian edition, April 2014

This Italian edition, produced by Tre60 in April 2014 is back to the theme of the love train. The punchy blue backdrop and high bridge makes the train with its trail of hearts look small and rather fragile. I also like the treatment of the font, which really grabs the eye and stands out well in thumbnail.

Polygon, August 2017

This edition, published by Polygon in August 2017, is my favourite. I love the station scene and the punchy contrast between that saturated blue, which works well as a backdrop to the title font, and the yellow arches. The station clock and flowers act as a pleasing set for the lovers meeting on the station platform. It’s very simple and pared back, as are all the cover designs for this book, but this is the most visually pleasing and works well for this particular book, I think. Which is your favourite?

Sunday Post – 7th March, 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 not been a good week. From Tuesday through to Thursday, I went down with a bug, plagued by a miserable cough – and couldn’t sleep. I had only four hours sleep in 24 by Thursday. Though I established that it definitely wasn’t COVID. And then yesterday, Himself went down with exactly the same symptoms. When I spoke to my sister, she also was ill with the same thing… Not only is it a miserable illness – the inability to sleep is horrible – but it meant I had to cancel having the grandchildren coming to stay this weekend, which is a real blow as I haven’t seen them for a while. I’m better, but still a bit washed out. So that’s why I wasn’t around in the middle of the week. Apologies for not having visited blogs, etc…

The only bright spot in the middle of all this was that I curled up with my trusty Kindles and either read or listened to books throughout. So I’ve read a few more than usual.

The photos this week are from the walk last Sunday, when it was sunny with a brisk wind. As you can see, they’re doing some dredging work on the mouth of the river to ensure the large gravel boats can still enter Littlehampton harbour.

Last week I read:
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry
For his entire life, Charley Sutherland has concealed a magical ability he can’t quite control: he can bring characters from books into the real world. His older brother, Rob — a young lawyer with a normal house, a normal fiancee, and an utterly normal life — hopes that this strange family secret will disappear with disuse, and he will be discharged from his life’s duty of protecting Charley and the real world from each other. But then, literary characters start causing trouble in their city, making threats about destroying the world…

I’m a sucker for fantasy books featuring libraries and other book characters – but this one really exceeded by expectations. A delightful, clever read that took the story and used it to highlight sibling relationships in a nuanced, three-dimensional way. Review to follow.

The Transylvania Twist – Book 2 of the Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox
Even during a truce, I have my hands full as a MASH surgeon to an army of warring gods—especially when Medusa herself turns up pregnant. I frankly have no idea what to expect when a Gorgon’s expecting, but I have an even bigger problem when my presumed-dead former-fiancé sneaks into my tent with enough emotional baggage to fill a tank…

Yes… I know I’ve read this series out of order – but it was so much fun, I really wanted to go back and get another fix of Petra Robichaud and this madcap world. Review to follow.

The Conductors – Book 1 of the Murder and Magic series by Nicole Glover
As an escaped slave, Hetty Rhodes helped dozens of people find their own freedom north using her wits and her magic. Now that the Civil War is over, Hetty and her husband, Benjy, still fight for their people by solving the murders and mysteries that the white authorities won’t touch.

When they discover one of their friends brutally murdered in an alley, Hetty and Benjy mourn his loss by setting off to find answers. But the mystery of his death soon brings up more questions, more secrets, more hurt. To solve his death, they will have to not only face the ugly truths about the world but the ones about each other.
While this isn’t a flawless book, nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the world and the main protagonist. Review to follow.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
1940. As England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. Vivacious debutante Osla is the girl who has everything—beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses—but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets. Imperious self-made Mab, product of east-end London poverty, works the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Both Osla and Mab are quick to see the potential in local village spinster Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles, and soon Beth spreads her wings as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts. But war, loss, and the impossible pressure of secrecy will tear the three apart.

1947. As the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip whips post-war Britain into a fever, three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter–the key to which lies buried in the long-ago betrayal that destroyed their friendship and left one of them confined to an asylum…
I loved this historical thriller set in Bletchley Park during WWII. Quinn clearly knows what she is doing, as weaving the stories of three women across two narrative timelines could have so easily descended into a hot mess – and it doesn’t. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK Death Around the Bend – Book 3 of the Lady Hardcastle series by T.E. Kinsey
September 1909, and Lady Hardcastle and her maid, Florence, have been invited to Lord Riddlethorpe’s country estate for a week of motor racing and parties. They both agree that it sounds like a perfectly charming holiday. But when one of the drivers dies in a crash during the very first race, they discover that what seemed like an uncharacteristic error in judgement may have a more sinister explanation…
Closer investigation reveals that the driver’s car was sabotaged—and the driver murdered.

The local constabulary are quick to dismiss the case, but Flo and Lady Hardcastle are determined to find out just who has committed this dastardly act, and why. As the pair begin to make enquiries of Lord Riddlethorpe’s servants and guests, it seems that, below stairs and above, there is more to this case than meets the eye. And, even in the quiet of the countryside, death is always just around the bend.
This entertaining series is becoming a solid favourite of mine. Elizabeth Knowelden’s excellent narration and the thread of humour running through the story makes this a really enjoyable listen. Mini-review to follow.

The Wizard’s Butler by Nathan Lowell
For five grand a month and a million dollar chaser, Roger Mulligan didn’t care how crazy the old geezer is. All he had to do was keep Joseph Perry Shackleford alive and keep him from squandering the estate for a year.

They didn’t tell him about the pixies.
This quirky and unusual urban fantasy tale is unexpectedly gentle and was just what I needed. And the bonus is – this author also writes space opera adventures, too. Given how much I love his writing style, I am delighted to have discovered his work. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of A Desolation Called Peace – Book 2 of the Teixcalaan series by Akady Martine

Cover Share: An Orshaw Facelift by Indie author Phil Williams

Friday Face-off featuring The Eagle of the Ninth – Book 1 in the Dolphin Ring Cycle by Rosemary Sutcliffe

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

Tuesday Treasures – 29

Two Sci Fi mini-reviews: The Last Astronaut by David Wellington & Scardown by Elizabeth Bear

Sunday Post – 28th January 2021

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

Covet the Covers – 19 #Brainfluffcovetthecovers #CovetthecoversRachelAaron

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Welcome to another helping of Covet the Covers. This week I’m featuring Rachel Aaron’s covers. Her book Last Dragon Standing made my Outstanding Reads of 2020 – but I’ve enjoyed the whole Heartstrikers series – see my reviews of Nice Dragons Finish Last, One Good Dragon Deserves Another, No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished and my mini-review of A Dragon of a Different Colour. I’ve also read and reviewed the first book in the spinoff series, Minimum Wage Magic and Garrison Girl, in addition to The Spirit Rebellion – Book 2 of the Eli Monpress series. Have you read any of these – and which is your favourite cover?


Review of INDIE Ebook Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron #Brainfluffbookreview #LastDragonStandingbookreview

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I have thoroughly enjoyed this series – see my reviews of Nice Dragons Finish Last and One Good Dragon Deserves Another, No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished and my mini-review of A Dragon of a Different Colour. So last year I decided to get over myself and make an effort to complete more series, as I often delay finishing them.

BLURB: There is no way to write a blurb for this final book without spoiling all of the others. Suffice it to say, mysteries resolve, dragons war, pigeons abound, and Julius must risk himself in ways he never dreamed possible as Bob’s grand plan finally comes to fruition.

But the Great Seer of the Heartstrikers isn’t the only one whose schemes are nearing completion. The Nameless End is coming, and even the machinations of the world’s most brilliant dragon seer might not be enough to stop it. As the world comes crashing down, it’s up Julius to prove what he’s always known: that seers can be wrong, and Nice Dragons don’t always finish last.

REVIEW: The fourth book, A Dragon of a Different Color, essentially sets up the story for the final apocalyptic conflict that takes place throughout the whole of this story – so whatever you do, don’t pick up this one without at least having read that book. Better still, start at the beginning of this series. While there are series you can crash midway and get away with it, this isn’t one of them, as many of the story threads and allusions relate to previous books.

This book deals with the ultimate struggle that has been foreseen by Bob, the dragon seer and The Nameless End. I love the fact that Aaron took her time in lining up all the main characters we’ve got to know and love, to ensure that no one was left dangling. I love the fact that she took time to fully unpack the potential consequences of what would happen if it all went wrong. I also love the fact that in amongst all the apocalyptic events, there are still regular shafts of humour and plenty of snark and chat. After all, this is one of the staple tropes in Urban Fantasy, and is often the aspect that goes out of the window when the action starts to really run hot.

I thought the pacing and the complexity of the magic system was cleverly explored and fully utilised during this final showdown – something else I thoroughly appreciated. I am often disappointed when really cool concepts get rather buried as people start flinging gouts of magic at each other – not so, here. Those concepts and the premise set out within the worldbuilding become part of the weaponry used, which made reading this book an ongoing joy. It isn’t particularly long, but that didn’t matter, because it packs a punch from the first page to the last and gave me the opportunity to see each character’s narrative arc come to a fitting conclusion.

This is one of my favourite urban fantasy series – and I loved the way Aaron brought it safely home. Highly recommended for fans of quirky dragon stories with an interesting, detailed magic system.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Guilt at the Garage – Book 20 of the Fethering Mystery series by Simon Brett #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #GuiltattheGaragebookreview

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I enjoy reading Simon Brett’s writing – see my reviews of Death on the Downs, Mrs Pargeter’s Public Relations, The Liar in the Library, The Killer in the Choir and The Clutter Corpse. Death on the Downs, The Liar in the Library and The Killer in the Choir are all Fethering Mysteries featuring spiky Carol and her far more laidback friend and neighbour, Jude. What is icing on the cake for me, is that Brett lives locally and sets his murders in a fictional village a few miles away from where we live, so that places we know well regularly feature in these entertaining stories.

BLURB: Carole Seddon’s trusty Renault is one of her most treasured possessions. So when it is vandalised, there’s only one person she will entrust with its repair: Bill Shefford has been servicing the vehicles of the good citizens of Fethering for many years. But how could something like this happen in Fethering of all places? Then the note is shoved under Carole’s kitchen door: Watch out. The car window was just the start. It would appear that she has been deliberately targeted. But by whom – and why? Matters take an even more disturbing turn when a body is discovered at Shefford’s Garage, crushed to death by a falling gearbox. It would appear to be a tragic accident. Carole and her neighbour Jude are not so sure. And the more they start to ask questions, the more evidence they uncover of decidedly foul play .

REVIEW: These books come under the heading of ‘cosy mysteries’ but I’m not convinced that ‘cosy’ is a suitable adjective for the dynamic that Brett has set up here. Carole Sedden has to be one of the most prickly protagonists I’ve encountered. Unsociable, snobbish, judgemental and narrow-minded, I find her difficult to like. But she is also desperately insecure, horribly lonely and rather vulnerable. I also find it appealing that when her car is vandalised, she doesn’t immediately set to and try to discover the perpetrator – but rushes to get it repaired and cover up the event, because she is obscurely ashamed that such a thing has happened to her…

As ever, I was glad when Jude made an appearance. She is the opposite of Carole in so many ways and far more agreeable – they make an ideal Holmes and Watson pairing. Jude needs Carole’s obsessive tenaciousness and Carole needs Jude’s people skills. The garage murder worked well. I enjoyed the dynamic and learning more about a kindly man who took pride in his work. Brett’s take on the way the social fabric of this country is being strained, with everyone decamping to their own political and class echo chamber, is well depicted without becoming a rant.

Any niggles? Well, the trouble with setting up a hook, like the attack of a protagonist’s car, for instance – is that the denouement has to pay off. And in this case, I felt it was rather contrived and didn’t really satisfy. But because the main action was so well handled and crafted, this didn’t turn out to be a dealbreaker – more of a minor disappointment. I’ll certainly be getting hold of the next book, given there seems to be a major change in the air… Recommended for fans who like their murder mysteries with intelligent and sharp-edged observations on modern society, along with the dead bodies. While I obtained an arc of Guilt at the Garage 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

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…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Inherit the Shoes – Book 1 of a Jersey Girl Legal Mystery series by E.J. Copperman #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreviw #InherittheShoesbookreview

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Real life only goes on getting grimmer, so I was in dire need of some reasonably light-hearted escapist reading – and came upon this cheerful cover and breezy blurb. So I went for it – would I regret my off-the-cuff decision?

BLURB: New Jersey prosecutor Sandy Moss is tired of petty criminals, and a new job at a glitzy Los Angeles law firm seems the perfect career move. Putting 3,000 miles between her and her ex-boyfriend is just an added bonus. But on Sandy’s first morning as a family attorney, she inadvertently kills her new career stone dead when she offends her boss during a meeting with the firm’s top celebrity client, charismatic TV star Patrick McNabb. But that’s not as dead as Patrick’s soon-to-be ex-wife, Patsy, is that evening, when she’s discovered shot by an arrow, her husband standing over her. Did Patrick really kill his wife in a dispute over a pair of shoes? All signs point to yes. But Patrick is determined to clear his name, using all the legal skills he’s learned from playing a lawyer on TV, and to Sandy’s deep dismay, she’s the only person he’ll allow to help . . .

REVIEW: It was very soon apparent that Copperman is no novice – the slick introduction that had me rooting for gutsy Sandy within a handful of pages, and the perfect pacing indicated a writer with experience and talent. I enjoyed the initial twist that got Sandy emboiled in the business of trying to defend a client who is deluded into thinking he can get himself out of the unholy mess he finds himself in, because he’s an actor.

Inevitably, while strong characterisation and a well described backdrop are always important, the vital ingredient in a well-told murder mystery is the plotting. It has to be nicely twisty, with several enjoyable surprises along the way, and the final denouement giving one final revelation that neatly ties up the case, leaving the reader satisfied with the ending. That’s the ideal, anyway. Often enough, I’ll happily settle with a cast of intriguing characters, or interesting setting and give the author a pass on the rather ordinary, straightforward murder mystery. However I didn’t have to rein in any expectations regarding Inherit the Shoes – there were all sorts of surprises along the way. And one, in particular, still gives me a buzz of pleasure whenever I think about it.

In the middle of a rather harrowing court case where Sandy has been thrown in at the deep end, she is also struggling to find her feet as a new arrival to the area. I enjoyed her sense of disorientation as she tries to grapple with a different road network and far more traffic, making even the drive to work more of a challenge. All in all, I came away from this story with a real sense of enjoyment at a really well-crafted murder mystery peopled with strong and memorable characters. This classy start to a very promising series is highly recommended for fans of the genre, who like their murder mysteries with plenty of entertaining twists. While I obtained an arc of Inherit the Shoes from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10