Category Archives: contemporary

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #7

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This is my fortnightly update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 10 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

I had hoped to continue to feel better after the uptick in my energy levels once I recovered from my cold at the beginning of January. But last week, it was a struggle to get out of bed before the middle of the afternoon and by the time I’d showered and dressed, it was often getting dark again. While I’m aware it’s important to get outside in the fresh air and whatever sunshine – there didn’t seem much point shuffling around the block in the frigid gloom of a mid-winter late afternoon. So I didn’t bother – for one thing, I can’t move fast enough to get the blood moving to combat the cold, so it’s an exercise in misery.

However this week, I woke up on Monday feeling hugely better. And so far, on Sunday, I’m still feeling better. Though I’m taking it cautiously. I still am dealing with the ongoing nasal drip, which I’m heartily sick of – both the disgusting taste and the resulting tinnitus. And my neck is still very swollen and tender, making it painful to turn my head quickly. But my energy levels, both physical and mental, are much improved. When I saw the Dr last week, he was very reassuring. My liver and kidney functions are normal and while my thyroid is swollen and has a number of nodules, which he thinks is a result of covid, it is also functioning normally. I’m due to have another scan in March to monitor any further changes. But I still don’t manage to get up much before midday and I still struggle to get to sleep at a reasonable hour, even if I go to bed at the right time. Thank goodness for books – if I wasn’t able to put the light on and read in the wee small hours, Life would be a whole lot more challenging.

On the bright side, our car has now been fixed after the minor accident when someone swung into the passenger door – and their insurance accepted the liability. And our grandson came to stay again from Tuesday through to Friday. Having him in the house, travelling back and forth to college on the train, with his bubbling enthusiasm for his college course is a real tonic. So I’m delighted that his staying with us is going to become a regular fortnightly event. Now he is 17, I’m not worried about having to look after him if I’m too ill to get out of bed and he is happy to help around the house.

This week I’ve read:-
The Red King – Book 1 of the Wilde Justice series by Jenn Stark
As the first Justice of the Arcana Council in two hundred years, Tarot-reading Sara Wilde is tasked with taking out the most dangerous magic-wielding criminals on the planet. Her first assignment? A killer known only as the Red King, who’s systematically picking off the world’s most gifted magicians in the rollicking streets and storied canals of Venice, Italy, on the eve of Carnevale.

Amidst the festival’s music, masks, and brightly colored costumes, Sara must unravel the truth about a brutal murderer from Venice’s own murky past, navigate the twisting political currents of magicians who seek to rival her own Council, and keep one costume change ahead of a conjurer whose lethal spells could end Justice–permanently. Good thing the diabolically sexy and deeply powerful Magician of the Arcana Council has Sara’s back…if only he didn’t hold so much of her heart as well.
This was a gripping read – and it didn’t hurt that Stark’s vivid evocation of Venice reminded me of a wonderful family holiday in what seems another life. Sara is a sympathetic protagonist, there were plenty of plot twists that kept the pages turning and I’m delighted to discover there are plenty of books in this spinoff series. 9/10

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
In 1971, Hillary Rodham is a young woman full of promise: Life magazine has covered her Wellesley commencement speech, she’s attending Yale Law School, and she’s on the forefront of student activism and the women’s rights movement. And then she meets Bill Clinton. A handsome, charismatic southerner and fellow law student, Bill is already planning his political career. In each other, the two find a profound intellectual, emotional, and physical connection that neither has previously experienced. In the real world, Hillary followed Bill back to Arkansas, and he proposed several times; although she said no more than once, as we all know, she eventually accepted and became Hillary Clinton.

But in Curtis Sittenfeld’s powerfully imagined tour-de-force of fiction, Hillary takes a different road. Feeling doubt about the prospective marriage, she endures their devastating breakup and leaves Arkansas. Over the next four decades, she blazes her own trail—one that unfolds in public as well as in private, that involves crossing paths again (and again) with Bill Clinton, that raises questions about the tradeoffs all of us must make in building a life.

Brilliantly weaving a riveting fictional tale into actual historical events, Curtis Sittenfeld delivers an uncannily astute and witty story for our times. In exploring the loneliness, moral ambivalence, and iron determination that characterize the quest for political power, as well as both the exhilaration and painful compromises demanded of female ambition in a world still run mostly by men, Rodham is a singular and unforgettable novel.
I’ve included the complete very wordy blurb as it does a good job of setting out the narrative imperative behind this intriguing book. While I’m not completely familiar with the political landscape of the time, Sittenfeld has done a thorough job of depicting it. But what I think is masterly is her evocation of the unthinking sexism and racism running throughout the spheres of influence that not just impacts Hillary, but other women around her. I’ve found myself thinking about it a lot since I finished reading this one, and the main reason why it hasn’t garnered a 10 from me is the unevenness of the pacing in places. 9/10

Immortal in Death – Book 3 of the In Death series by J.D. Robb
When Police Lieutenant Eve Dallas investigates the murder of a top model, she is putting her career on the line, because the prime suspect is her best friend. Eve’s investigations lead her into the glamorous world of high fashion.


Himself has bought all these books, so I’m starting to work my way through them. Set in the near future, the writing is pacy with plenty of romance as Norah Roberts in the guise of J.D. Robb serves up a number of brutal murders for our feisty protagonist to contend with. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK – Kingdoms at War – Book 1 of the Dragon Gate series by Lindsay Buroker
For centuries, wizard kings have ruled the world from their elite sky cities, battling each other to add to their wealth and power, while using normal human beings as pawns. Those without magic struggle to feed their families and live in constant fear of bringing down the wrath of their tyrannical masters. Something must change.

As a cartography student, Jak has always dreamed of finding the lost dragon gate and exploring and mapping distant worlds. Developing magical powers and becoming a powerful wizard? Not a chance. Wizards are cruel and inhumane, warring with each other from their great sky cities and keeping most of humanity enslaved. Jak wants nothing to do with them.
But when he and his archaeologist mother unearth the gate, they attract the attention of the very wizards they sought to avoid. Even more troubling, Jak starts developing magical powers of his own, powers that could rival those of the great rulers. Fate may have given him the opportunity to change the world. But the wizard rulers don’t like change, and when they detect threats, they send their elite assassins to eliminate them.
And if the above blurb sounds like an intriguing situation – you’re absolutely right. I love Buroker’s vivid, three-dimensional worlds. Her settings are always detailed and politically sophisticated and once again, I’ve lost my heart to the main protagonists, Jak and his clever, studious mother. I’m thrilled to discover yet another gripping series by this accomplished author to dive into – Buroker has been one of my major lifelines during my illness! 9/10

The Cruel Stars – Book 1 of The Cruel Stars trilogy by John Birmingham
The galaxy was once terrorized by the Sturm, a group of “species purists” intent on destroying any human with genetic or cybernetic enhancements. Fashioning themselves as the one true “Human Republic,” the Sturm cut a bloody swath across the stars, killing billions before finally being defeated and driven into the far reaches of Dark Space. Centuries of peace bred complacency. Everyone believed the Sturm had died out in the Dark. They were wrong.

The enemy has returned and, with a brutal and decisive attack, knocks out almost all of humanity’s defenses. Now on the brink of annihilation, humankind’s only hope is a few brave souls who survived the initial attack: Commander Lucinda Hardy, thrust into uncertain command of the Royal Armadalen Navy’s only surviving warship. Booker3, a soldier of Earth, sentenced to die for treason, whose time on death row is cut short when the Sturm attack his prison compound. Princess Alessia, a young royal of the Montanblanc Corporation, forced to flee when her home planet is overrun and her entire family executed. Sephina L’trel, the leader of an outlaw band who must call on all of her criminal skills to resist the invasion. And, finally, Admiral Frazer McLennan, the infamous hero of the first war with the Sturm hundreds of years ago, who hopes to rout his old foes once and for all—or die trying.
This military space opera adventure is full of action and conflict, as well as a number of punchy, well-written protagonists. One of the best written is the terrified child caught up in the middle of a waking nightmare by dint of her birth – Birmingham’s depiction of Alessia is one of the highlights in this enjoyable book. 8/10

Baking Bad – Book 1 of the Beaufort Scales Mysteries by Kim M. Watt
A tranquil village. A poisoned cupcake. A murdered vicar.
A simple case – or it should be. But all clues point to the Toot Hansell Women’s Institute, and Detective Inspector Adams is about to discover there’s much more to the W.I. than bake sales and jam making.

Alice Martin, RAF Wing Commander (Ret.), and current chair of the W.I., knows the ladies of the Women’s Institute are not guilty. But she has a bigger problem. Toot Hansell has a dragonish secret, and she needs to keep the police well away from it. And she’d really rather not be arrested for murder. Again. Meanwhile, Beaufort Scales, High Lord of the Cloverly dragons and survivor of the days of knights and dragon hunts, knows even better than Alice that the modern dragon only survives as long as no one knows they exist. But he also knows friends don’t let friends face murder inquiries alone. Beaufort fully intends to Get Involved.
This investigation is about to take on dragonish proportions.
A cosy murder mystery set in a small English village, accompanied by quantities of tea, cake and dragons… This one sounds almost to be too good to be true. So I was delighted to discover that as well as being genuinely funny with a cast of enjoyable, believable characters – the dragons are also intriguingly different from the general run of scaly monsters we’re used to seeing in our fiction. I will definitely be reading more of this series. 9/10

The Shattered Skies – Book 2 of The Cruel Stars trilogy by John Birmingham
The Sturm, a group of “species purists” intent on destroying any human with genetic or cybernetic enhancements, returned from the far reaches of Dark Space to strike a devastating blow against humanity. Though their victory seemed inevitable, a small group of reluctant heroes managed to beat back the invading force. Now left with the remains of a crippled civilization, they must work together to rebuild–and to stand guard, in case those weren’t the only enemies hiding in the dark…


This Netgalley arc is the second book in this military space opera adventure. Once again our plucky group of misfits are faced with dealing with a lethal and committed enemy. Review to follow.


Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m very aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

SUNDAY POST – CHRISTMAS WITH LONG COVID

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This is an update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 10 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Review.

Like everyone else, my runup to Christmas was full of chores that don’t normally occur, despite my best intentions to dial it right back and make it a much quieter affair. In the event, Christmas Day was lovely, as my sister came over to spend it with us, while Himself cooked a wonderful meal. I’d been able to help by gathering sage from the garden for the stuffing and roll vegan bacon slices around prunes, replacing the stones with almonds. My sister brought along a chicken breast and Himself cooked a nut roast for us. While it wasn’t as nice as the one I usually prepare using fresh chestnuts, the meal was still delicious. And we then collapsed in front of the TV, too full to move. But I woke up the following morning exhausted once more and it took several days to recover – by which time we’d both gone down with a cold. Or maybe it was Omicron. Despite the fact that the lateral flow tests all were negative, given that my daughter and young granddaughter got sick with covid over the Christmas holidays, it had to be a possibility even though they’d stood at the door and not come into the house when we saw them the one time during the Christmas period. Fortunately they recovered without any ill effects, which was a huge relief.

To be safe, I cancelled my reflexology appointment and we stayed in. Until the glorious morning two days into the New Year when I woke up feeling much, much better – and no longer smelling horrible. Since I got sick in March, I’ve been aware that I smell bad – a musty sick smell that I hate. And for two whole days it disappeared. In addition I had much more energy – that wasn’t new, but the absence of that horrible smell was. So… perhaps I’d had Omicron after all, I thought – and like a number of other people, maybe contracting another version of covid actually cured my Long Covid! I felt fantastic – but decided to take it easy… not push myself too much. So I did a couple of two-minute exercise sessions, spent some time working on the timeline for my Castellan stories and actually cleaned the bathroom for the first time in ages. Hm. Turns out I wasn’t cured and had only succeeded in flattening myself allll over again.

Initially, I felt stupid for thinking it would be that easy. Why would I magically get a free pass and be able to skip the tricky slow recovery bit, when I hadn’t been cured by having the booster jab? But looking back, I’ve decided that it wasn’t stupidity – it was hope. And if I lose that, then I really am sunk. So no more beating myself up for wishing I was better, and accept that it isn’t going to work that way. Now I’m back to working on improving my sleep patterns, filling in my activity journal, enforcing my pacing routine, including regular meditations. And trying to hang onto my patience, as I now inconveniently have enough emotional energy to get very frustrated and fed up with the situation – unlike earlier on when I was too tired to care. And also celebrate the bright lights that shine in the gloom, like Himself’s constant caring presence. While he had to work right up to Christmas Eve, he’s been off work now since New Year’s Eve on annual leave, which I’m very grateful for. And our eldest grandson came to stay from Wednesday to Friday this week – which was a huge treat. He’s loving college and it’s a joy to see him blossom in an environment where he’s surrounded by other creative people who understand his enthusiasms. I’d like to send a huge shoutout to the lecturers and teachers out there doing a stellar job in increasingly difficult circumstances – thank you!

A very Happy 2022 to you all. Let’s hope that it is a MUCH better year than the previous two have been.

Since the start of the year I’ve read:-
The Stranger Times – Book 1 of The Stranger Times series by C.K. McDonnell
There are Dark Forces at work in our world (and in Manchester in particular) and so thank God The Stranger Times is on hand to report them. A weekly newspaper dedicated to the weird and the wonderful (but more often the weird) of modern life, it is the go-to publication for the unexplained and inexplicable . . . At least that’s their pitch. The reality is rather less auspicious. Their editor is a drunken, foul-tempered and -mouthed husk of a man who thinks little (and believes less) of the publication he edits, while his staff are a ragtag group of wastrels and misfits, each with their own secrets to hide and axes to grind. And as for the assistant editor . . . well, that job is a revolving door – and it has just revolved to reveal Hannah Willis, who’s got her own set of problems.

It’s when tragedy strikes in Hannah’s first week on the job that The Stranger Times is forced to do some serious, proper, actual investigative journalism. What they discover leads them to a shocking realisation: that some of the stories they’d previously dismissed as nonsense are in fact terrifyingly, gruesomely real. Soon they come face-to-face with darker foes than they could ever have imagined. It’s one thing reporting on the unexplained and paranormal but it’s quite another being dragged into the battle between the forces of Good and Evil .
Thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. I laughed aloud throughout this one. McDonnell manages to make his highly eccentric bunch of characters both sympathetic and engaging, while keeping their oddness – which isn’t all that easy to do. The pages turned themselves and it was a wonderful New Year’s treat to start 2022 by reading this offering – I look forward to reading more books from this series in due course. 10/10

A Familiar Sight – Book 1 of the Dr Gretchen White series by Brianna Labuskes

When a high-profile new case lands on Shaughnessy’s desk, it seems open and shut. Remorseless teenager Viola Kent is accused of killing her mother. Amid stories of childhood horrors and Viola’s cruel manipulations, the bad seed has already been found guilty by a rapt public. But Gretchen might be seeing something in Viola no one else does: herself. If Viola is a scapegoat, then who really did it? And what are they hiding? To find the truth, Gretchen must enter a void that is not only dark and cold-blooded, but also frighteningly familiar.
This contemporary murder mystery is a compelling read, made more so by the clever use of a fractured timeline which jumps between the lives of the victims and the investigation. It could have quickly turned into a hot mess, but the deftness of the writing and the strong characterisation instead made this one hard to put down. Highly recommended. 9/10

Spirits and Smoke – Book 2 of the Maddie Pastore series by Mary Miley
December, 1924. Young widow Maddie Pastore feels fortunate to be employed by the well-meaning but fraudulent medium Carlotta Romany. Investigating Carlotta’s clients isn’t work she’s proud of, but she’s proud of how well she does it. Maddie’s talents, however, draw them unwelcome attention: sharp-eyed Officer O’Rourke from the Chicago Police. He doesn’t believe in spiritualism – but in a city packed with mobsters, con artists and criminals, he’ll take any help he can get.

It’s not long before Maddie has a case to bring him. Why did teetotal banker Herman Quillen die of alcohol poisoning? And who is the gold-toothed man claiming to be his brother, and demanding the spirits reveal where Herman hid his money? All Maddie wants is to uncover the truth – but to her horror, she’s soon mixed up in a tangled web of secrets and deception that leads to the heart of Chicago’s violent gangs . . . and she’ll need all her wits about her if she, and her loved ones, are going to make it out again alive.
This historical murder mystery, set in 1920s Chicago, leaps off the page with a strong, sympathetic protagonist and the vivid depiction of the Prohibition era. I enjoyed the first book, The Mystic’s Apprentice, and loved this one. Review to follow.

Blood Trade – Book 6 of the Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter
The Master of Natchez, Mississippi has a nasty problem on his hands. Rogue vampires—those who follow the Naturaleza and believe that humans should be nothing more than prey to be hunted—are terrorizing his city. Luckily, he knows the perfect skinwalker to call in to take back the streets.

But what he doesn’t tell Jane is that there’s something different about these vamps. Something that makes them harder to kill—even for a pro like Jane. Now, her simple job has turned into a fight to stay alive…and to protect the desperately ill child left in her care.
Once again, the sheer quality of the writing shines through as Jane continues her dark journey in the employ of Leo, the Master of the City of New Orleans. While it’s violent and often blood-soaked, I never find the details gratuitious – and there are often amusing interludes as Jane also has a snarky mouth and isn’t afraid to use it. This is a classy series that stand above the rest, and highly recommended. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – Cytonic – Book 3 of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson
Spensa’s life as a Defiant Defense Force pilot has been far from ordinary. She proved herself one of the best starfighters in the human enclave of Detritus and she saved her people from extermination at the hands of the Krell—the enigmatic alien species that has been holding them captive for decades. What’s more, she traveled light-years from home as an undercover spy to infiltrate the Superiority, where she learned of the galaxy beyond her small, desolate planet home. Now, the Superiority—the governing galactic alliance bent on dominating all human life—has started a galaxy-wide war. And Spensa’s seen the weapons they plan to use to end it: the Delvers. Ancient, mysterious alien forces that can wipe out entire planetary systems in an instant. Spensa knows that no matter how many pilots the DDF has, there is no defeating this predator.

Except that Spensa is Cytonic. She faced down a Delver and saw something eerily familiar about it. And maybe, if she’s able to figure out what she is, she could be more than just another pilot in this unfolding war. She could save the galaxy. The only way she can discover what she really is, though, is to leave behind all she knows and enter the Nowhere. A place from which few ever return. To have courage means facing fear. And this mission is terrifying.
I’m not quite sure why this one didn’t hold me as much as Skyward or Starsight, but there were times when I felt the narrative pace slightly dragged. It was never sufficient for me to decide not to listen to the audiobook any more – but I did feel there was a bit too much repetition regarding Spensa’s feelings and her feisty A.I.’s exploration of its new emotions. That said – I was still fascinated to see where Sanderson was taking this story, as the plot delivered plenty of surprises along the way. 7/10

Bloodfire – Book 1 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
Mackenzie Smith has always known that she was different. Growing up as the only human in a pack of rural shapeshifters will do that to you, but then couple it with some mean fighting skills and a fiery temper and you end up with a woman that few will dare to cross. However, when the only father figure in her life is brutally murdered, and the dangerous Brethren with their predatory Lord Alpha come to investigate, Mack has to not only ensure the physical safety of her adopted family by hiding her apparent humanity, she also has to seek the blood-soaked vengeance that she craves.

Mack is certainly short-fused. All sorts of things make her angry, some justifiably and some not so much. Do be warned, though, part of her annoyance is expressed in her colourful swearing. I also liked her glorious disregard for rules, which makes entire sense once we realise exactly what is going on. Cornwall is one of my favourite places in the world and while we weren’t overwhelmed with details of the countryside, there was sufficient for me to be able to clearly visualise what is going on. REREAD 8/10

Bloodmagic – Book 2 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
After escaping the claws of Corrigan, the Lord Alpha of the Brethren, Mack is trying to lead a quiet lonely life in Inverness in rural Scotland, away from anyone who might happen to be a shapeshifter. However, when she lands a job at an old bookstore owned by a mysterious elderly woman who not only has a familiar passion for herbal lore but also seems to know more than she should, Mack ends up caught in a maelstrom between the Ministry of Mages, the Fae and the Brethren.

Now she has to decide between staying hidden and facing the music, as well as confronting her real feelings for the green eyed power of Corrigan himself.
Enjoyable sequel to Bloodfire, taking Mack into more scrapes and adventures while giving us more information about her mysterious origins. A nicely snarky protagonist. Recommended for fans of shape-shifting, paranormal adventures. REREAD 8/10

Bloodrage – Book 3 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
Mack begins her training at the mages’ academy in the hope that, by complying, the stasis spell will be lifted from her old friend, Mrs. Alcoon. However, once there, she finds herself surrounded by unfriendly adults and petulant teenagers, the majority of whom seem determined to see her fail.

Feeling attacked on all fronts, Mack finds it harder and harder to keep a rein on her temper. Forced to attend anger management classes and deal with the predatory attentions of Corrigan, the Lord Alpha of the shapeshifter world, her emotions start to unravel. But when she comes across a familiar text within the walls of the mages’ library, which might just provide the clues she needs to unlock the secrets of her background and her dragon blood, she realises that her problems are only just beginning…
It’s a while since I read the first two books – so I reread them both, thoroughly enjoying once more immersing myself in the problems stacking up for poor old Mack as she struggles to discover exactly who she is and what she does. I do enjoy how characters from previous books keep popping up, allowing us to get to know them better and the oh-so-slow burn romance that is gradually unfurling throughout the series is being very well handled. Given just how short-fused and grumpy Mack is, I liked how her loyalty and bone-headed refusal to compromise her principles regarding those she takes responsibility for balances up against her less likeable attributes – it works well. My main niggle is that I personally would prefer less swearing – it’s a book I’d like to recommend to younger members of the family, but can’t. 9/10

Sigma Protocol: Jane Poole Genesis – Part 1 by Michael Penmore
Disoriented and alone, Sigma wakes from enforced sleep with questions that need to be answered. Who is she? Where is she? How did she end up in this place? With only a cryptic message from the ship’s AI to guide her, the determined survivor sets out on a race against time to uncover the desperate story of Starship Copernicus and its crew. Sigma Protocol is the fast-paced first episode in the Jane Poole Genesis describing the beginnings of Jane Poole, aka Sigma.

What I hadn’t appreciated was that this is a short story with only 76 pages. So just as I was starting to relax into the narrative – it came to a sudden, abrupt stop. Which was a shame as I was just beginning to bond with poor old Jane and her problems. 7/10

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

SUNDAY POST – 12th December 2021

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This is my roundup of my reading and blogging week, hosted by Kimberly at the Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s only been the last few days that I’ve appreciated just how quickly Christmas is looming. What with one thing and another – it’s been on the backburner. And when I finally surfaced sufficiently to realise how quickly it is approaching, I also realised that this long weekend is going to be the time when we get it sorted out.

Himself got the decorations down from the loft yesterday. We’re not going to be fully decorating the house – the children’s rooms won’t be touched, for instance. And I’m cutting back on the amount of ornaments going around the lounge and kitchen – but I do want the lights up, the tree decorated and the nativity on display. And of course the kitchen dresser should be decked out, too. It always looks fabulous… Himself will be doing most of it this year. Normally it’s my job, along with the grandchildren. But this year, everything is different – and I refuse to think in terms of it being miserable, or depressing. It’s just a break from the normal run of things.

We are having my sister over for the Christmas meal, so we have sorted out the menu. Himself will be cooking it, which is what usually happens. I won’t be making homemade mince pies, sausage rolls, stuffing or my special Dorset Apple pudding this time around, however.

I’ll talk in more detail about what transpired healthwise, next week. But otherwise, I had a good reading week and enjoyed the books I tucked into. Storm Barra hit us on Monday and Tuesday with torrential rain and galeforce winds, but we were lucky not to have any power cuts or damage. J’s shift meant we weren’t able to get out until Friday, when I had to attend my reflexology appointment. Driving back along the coast on the way home, with the sun setting over the sea was glorious.

This week I’ve read:-
Beltane – Book 1 of The Spellworker Chronicles series by Alys West
When Zoe Rose stays at Anam Cara – a guest house in Glastonbury, a town steeped in magic and myth – she dreams of a handsome stranger. The next day she meets him. Tall with untidy brown hair and grey eyes, Finn is funny and intelligent but doesn’t open up easily. Instantly drawn to him, Zoe doesn’t initially recognise him as the man from her dream. When Finn finds out where Zoe is staying he warns her not to trust Maeve, the healer who owns Anam Cara.

His enigmatic comments fuel Zoe’s growing unease about what’s happening at Anam Cara. What power does Maeve have over the minds of the other guests? Is it coincidence that they become ill after she’s given them healing? Why does the stone table in the garden provoke memories of blood and terror? And how did the Green Man, carved on a tree in the garden, disappear during a thunderstorm?
I loved this one. It is quite slow-paced at the start, after the shocking prologue. But is full of tension and a palpable sense of danger that just goes on growing. While the romance is there, it isn’t the narrative engine of the story and this book has stayed with me since I read it.
10/10

Magical Midway Paranormal Cozy Mysteries Box Set – Book 5 – Irrelephant Omens by Leanne Leeds

Another poisoned ringmaster.
Colliding portents.
As dark forces gather, one witch must break the circus free of fate before destiny destroys them all.

Charlotte is at the end of her tether. With her best friend lecturing her about the past, a mysterious old woman demanding she comply with the future, and signs everywhere pointing in opposite directions, she’s not sure how her argumentative band of misfit carnies will be able to defeat the Witches’ Council.

When her boyfriend’s father, the only other magical Ringmaster, is found unconscious, Charlotte determines that she must unravel the mystery, protect the rival circus and save the cantankerous man–only to be told that to do so would defy the omens that say his death must take place. Will Charlotte rebel and save the dying Ringmaster? Or will she let the rival circus fall and her boyfriend’s father die?
This box set is the gift that keeps on giving. Whenever I feel the need for more of magical circus mayhem, I just dip into another of these entertaining, enjoyable stories. Charlotte’s obstinacy can be a tad annoying, but the rest of the cast of characters make up for it. This was just so much fun.
9/10

Mirror Image – Book 18 of the Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
Years ago, Heart’s Eye, a school built on top of a nexus point, was attacked and captured by a necromancer. The nexus point was snuffed out, the handful of survivors forced to flee and the once-great school turned into a forward base for a necromantic invasion. All seemed lost, until Emily killed the necromancer and retook the school. Now, she intends to lay the building blocks for a university, a place where magical knowledge and mundane technology are brought together for the benefit of all.

But dark secrets lie within the shadowed school. What happened when Heart’s Eye fell? What were the tutors doing when the wards fell and the necromancer invaded the school? And, as power flows back into the school, Emily finds herself caught between power struggles and a threat from the past, a shadow that has walked beside her for the last six years. It might bring about the end of everything. In a school full of mirrors, who knows what they reflect?
It’s been a while since I read the previous book in this entertaining series, which has constantly taken the story in unexpected directions. And this episode was no different. Those mirrors are downright creepy… I loved this story and couldn’t put it down until I found out what happened. Wonderful stuff!
9/10

The Snow Queen box set – Book 1 – Heart of Ice by K.M. Shea
Rakel, a princess by birth, has spent most of her life exiled on a barren mountain, despised because of her powerful snow magic. Though she longs to be accepted, she hides in her ice-castle and lives with the fear that her brother—the King—will one day order her execution.

Her empty life changes forever when an army of magic users—led by the enigmatic Colonel Farrin Graydim—invade her home country and plan to enslave its citizens. Swallowing her fear, Rakel joins forces with her jailers and uses her magic to save the people who scorned her. If Rakel cannot defend her homeland, the country will be lost.
This fairytale retelling is great fun. Full of adventure and excitement, Rakel’s character is convincing as a socially awkward, isolated young woman. So when she’s pitchforked into the middle of a war, all sorts of changes confront her. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and am delighted there is more to come.
9/10

Demons and Dragons: Dragon Reign Box Set – Book 1 – Rivals by Kit Bladegrave
Kate’s whole world just turned upside down. She’s hearing weird things, and seeing weird things. And Mama Lucy is a witch. No, really. Not like a capital B witch, but a capital W witch. And the guys Kate’s just saved from imminent death is part demon. And the guy that’s after her is a dragon. Her life redefines teen drama.

Craig’s a bastard son of a demon king. And he’s a thief. He’s just found the item he’s supposed to appropriate when his cousin stabs him with a poisoned dagger.

Forrest is out to collect the bounty for capturing the bastard son of a demon king. He doesn’t plan to save the girl, or the half-breed demon. He also doesn’t plan to be the one who needs saving. This unlikely trio find themselves chased by enemies, known and unknown as they slip into a different dimension called Burnt World.
This adventure definitely has YA overtones, but I’ve enjoyed the story and particularly like Kate’s feisty narrative. It was a quick, enjoyable read during a night when I was badly struggling to sleep and took me away from a lurid nightmare and teeth-clenching tinnitus.
8/10

AUDIOBOOK – The Corfe Castle Murders – Book 1 of the Dorset Crime series by Rachel McLean
Meet DCI Lesley Clarke. She’s a straight-talking city copper who doesn’t suffer fools gladly… and she’s been transferred to rural Dorset. After being injured in a bomb attack, Lesley is presented with a choice – early retirement, or a period of respite in a calmer location. But things don’t stay calm for long.

Before she’s even started her new job, Lesley is dragged into investigating a murder at one of England’s most iconic landmarks, the imposing Corfe Castle. Lesley must hit the ground running. Can she get along with her new partner DS Dennis Frampton, a traditionalist who doesn’t appreciate her style? How will she navigate the politics of a smaller force where she’s a bigger, and less welcome, fish? And most importantly, can she solve the murder before the killer strikes again?
This was another lifesaver during a miserable night. I listened to this one when I ran out of energy to read – and the twisting police procedural tale was a very welcome break. Particularly as I know the ruins of Corfe Castle quite well. I’m looking forward to reading more in this enjoyable series.
8/10

The Night Hawks – Book 13 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths
The Night Hawks, a group of metal detectorists, are searching for buried treasure when they find a body on the beach in North Norfolk. Ruth is more interested in the treasure, a hoard of Bronze Age weapons.

Nelson is called to an apparent murder-suicide of a couple at the isolated Black Dog Farm. Local legend talks of the Black Shuck, a spectral hound that appears to people before they die. All roads lead back to this farm in the middle of nowhere, but the place spells serious danger for anyone who goes near. Ruth doesn’t scare easily. Not until she finds herself at Black Dog Farm …
I’ve significantly edited the very blabby blurb which gives away far too many plot twists. This is a series that I’ve been enjoying for a long time and regard many of the main characters as old friends, so while I thoroughly appreciated the murder mystery – it was also a treat being reacquainted with them all over again.
9/10

The Untold Story – Book 8 of The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
Irene is trying to learn the truth about Alberich-and the possibility that he’s her father. But when the Library orders her to kill him, and then Alberich himself offers to sign a truce, she has to discover why he originally betrayed the Library.

With her allies endangered and her strongest loyalties under threat, she’ll have to trace his past across multiple worlds and into the depths of mythology and folklore, to find the truth at the heart of the Library, and why the Library was first created.
It was with mixed feelings that I picked this arc up, as this is the last book in the series. I’ve always enjoyed my visits to the Invisible Library, accompanied by disaster magnet Irene. And this finale was suitably gripping, as well as bringing the series to a satisfying and emotional end. Review to follow.
10/10

The reviews I’ve posted this week:-
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of A Marvellous Light – Book 1 of the Last Binding series by Freya Marske

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Firesky – Book 2 of The Chronicles of Stratus by Mark de Jager

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Risen – Book 12 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Risenbookreview

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I’ve followed the increasingly dire fortunes of poor old Alex Verus since the beginning – see my reviews of Fated (Book 1), Veiled (Book 6), Burned (Book 7), Bound (Book 8), Fallen (Book 10) and Forged (Book 11). So I was delighted to be able to get a Netgalley arc for this, the final book in the series, Risen.

BLURB: Alex’s girlfriend, the life mage Anne, has fallen fully under the control of the deadly djinn she made a bargain with, and it is preparing to create an army of mages subject to its every whim. Alex, the Council, and the Dark mage Richard Drakh agree to call a truce in their war, and plans are made for a joint attack. Alex knows that it’s only a matter of time before Drakh and the Council turn on each other . . . and neither cares about keeping Anne alive. Can Alex figure out a way to stop Anne and to free her from possession before time runs out for the people he loves?

REVIEW: In addition to being the twelfth book in the series, this is also the final instalment of Alex’s adventures. So as well as providing yet another gripping adventure, Risen has to provide a fitting and satisfactory ending to this popular, long-running series. I would add that if for any reason you haven’t read any of the books, or have missed out a few – please don’t tuck into this one unless you’ve at least read Fallen and Forged, or you won’t fully appreciate the enormity of what Alex has gone through. Unlike many books in a series, I cannot claim that you won’t understand what is happening – Jacka is very adept at ensuring the reader does know some of the backstory to what is going on. And as a result, this one took a bit of time to get going.

I didn’t find this a problem, as I felt this was also in line with Alex’s character development. After all, he is facing his imminent death due to a lethal magical infection – so it makes sense that he is thinking about how he got to this stage and who is responsible for the mess he’s in. I’ve always been impressed with Jacka’s characterisation of Alex as a divination mage – the way his ability to see into the future very rapidly wanes as the possibilities multiply is spot on. And while it does give him some advantages in a fight, given he often has lacked the weaponry of other mages, avoidance and nudging others into making mistakes has generally been his only way to survive. So how can this play out in a massive pitched battle against some truly terrifying beings – his former girlfriend being one of the most lethal adversaries?

By now, Alex has become equipped with some mighty tools of his own. And his first-person narration as someone who now has the ability to wreak revenge upon the disturbingly long list of people who have badly twisted his life in the past, is masterful. Alex has never been the cuddliest of protagonists – and this time around, his aloof persona that tries to keep everyone at a distance rings absolutely true. So that by the time it all kicked off, I was completely invested in the story and desperate for Alex to be able to succeed – though that seemed to be an impossible dream.

I was also very aware that Jacka doesn’t flinch from killing off established characters, if it serves the story – and there are losses during the battle that made me wince. So in addition to providing a gripping, action-filled plot – does Jacka also bring this series to a fitting conclusion? Yep. It completely works for me. I’m sorry to see the end of this classy, well-written urban fantasy series – but so glad to see the story safely landed. Very highly recommended for fans of the series. While I obtained an arc of Risen from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of ARC Given to Darkness – Book 2 of the Ikiri duology by Phil Williams #BrainfluffARCreview #GiventoDarknessbookreview

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I enjoy Phil’s quirky writing – see my reviews of his Ordshaw series – Under Ordshaw, Blue Angel and The Violent Fae. So I was delighted to also tuck into the first book in this duology last year, Kept in Cages and when Phil contacted me and asked if I’d like a review copy of Given to Darkness, I was delighted.

BLURB: Ikiri demands blood. Whose will it be?

A malevolent force stirs from the heart of the Congo. One child can stop it – but everyone wants her dead. Reece Coburn’s gang have travelled half the world to protect Zipporah, only to find her in more danger than ever. Her violent father is missing, his murderous enemies are coming for them, and her brother’s power is growing stronger. Entire communities are being slaughtered, and it’s only getting worse.

They have to reach Ikiri before its corruption spreads. But there’s a long journey ahead, past ferocious killers and unnatural creatures – and very few people can be trusted along the way.
Can two criminal musicians, an unstable assassin and a compromised spy reach Ikiri alive? What will it cost them along the way?

REVIEW: I’m aware the cover and the blurb make this one sound really dark. And while I cannot deny that there is a lot of mayhem and death – there is also a madcap energy running through the book that means it isn’t an unduly bleak, depressing read. Partly, the lighter tone is down to the magnificently eccentric characters. Of course the classic trope of talented child with awesome powers is personified in Zip – but in this book, she is also shown to be more vulnerable. As her father disappears off, leaving her without a backward glance, it’s down to the American musicians, Leigh-Ann and Reece, to look after her. And then, there’s Katryzna, the Russian assassin – who is now trying to adapt within this group brought together while trying to fight a terrible evil.

Of course, coping with the monsters and constant danger facing them is a major part of the book. But for me, the highlight was watching the members of the group become closer as they end up trying to protect each other. The character forced to make the greatest change is former lone killer, Katryzna. Now aware that she needs to take into account the needs of the other team members, she often ends up having loud arguments with her conscience – a character named Rurik. The dynamic is often very funny as well as poignant, without tipping into caricature. It’s a fine line and Phil walks it well.

There is also the tragedy of what has happened to Zip’s shattered family, which looms over the book in a dark counterpoint, making this one hard to put down. As ever, the action scenes pop and the vivid depiction of the dark evil crawling through the African landscape as they get ever closer to Ikiri nicely winds up the tension. And the climactic denouement doesn’t disappoint. All in all, I really enjoyed this series – Williams’ accomplished writing spins a story full of light and dark, good and evil without ever trying to be moralistic. A memorable read that is highly recommended for fantasy readers looking for something different. The author provided me with a review copy, which in no way has compromised my honest opinion of Given To Darkness.
9/10

Sunday Post – 31st October, 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 very quiet week, as I continue to work towards recovering from Long Covid. There have been some developments, but I will talk about those in more detail next week. A major breakthrough is that I am now able to consistently edit my work, which is a huge deal as it gets me back in touch with my writing again. It’s been a joy to be able to spend time with Castellan, my dragon protagonist, as I’ve been going through Flame and Blame and tightening up my writing. I’ve also been reading a lot, as I’m spending a great deal of time in bed…

Last week I read:

Raven Cursed – Book 4 of the Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter
The vampires of Asheville, North Carolina, want to establish their own clan, but since they owe loyalty to the Master Vampire of New Orleans they must work out the terms with him. To come up with an equitable solution, he sends an envoy with the best bodyguard blood money can buy: Jane Yellowrock.

But when a group of local campers are attacked by something fanged, Jane goes from escort to investigator. Unless she wants to face a very angry master vampire, she will have to work overtime to find the killer. It’s a good thing she’s worth every penny.
This urban fantasy series, featuring shapeshifter Jane Yellowrock, stands out for the sheer quality of the writing. I’ve enjoyed every twisting adventure and Jane’s chippy attitude so far. And once again, this adventure doesn’t disappoint.
9/10

Dark Knight Station: Origins by Nathan Lowell
Three Men
Two Brothers
One Failing Station

When Edgar Vagrant down checks Verkol Kondur’s mining barge, Kondur gets swept up in station politics in spite of his best efforts to avoid them. When Edgar pushes his elder son, Malachai, into working on the station’s freighter, Malachai decides to take matters into his own hands. With Malachai gone, his brother Zachary gets to pick up the pieces of a management structure that he had no hand in making, no authority to control, and no wish to continue. When mysterious dark sun graffiti appears all over the station, it seems clear that the situation has attracted someone’s attention. The question is whose?
When I was in still suffering with Covid-19, back in March, Himself picked up this author. I started reading his linked series following a merchant apprentice in space and absolutely loved it. Lowell’s ability to keep me riveted while describing everyday details is unusual. I was yearning for more Lowell goodness, when I discovered this offering. And once again, I inhaled this one until I came to the end…
9/10

Knot of Shadows – Book 11 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold
When a corpse is found floating face-down in Vilnoc harbor that is not quite as dead as it seems, Temple sorcerer Penric and his chaos demon Desdemona are drawn into the uncanny investigation.

Pen’s keen questions will take him across the city of Vilnoc, and into far more profound mysteries, as his search for truths interlaces with tragedy.
This author is one of a handful that we tend to automatically buy as they come available. So it wasn’t a surprise to find that I quickly became immersed in this unusual murder mystery, featuring Penric and his unusual gifts – thanks to his demon, Desdemona. Though this one has a rather heartbreaking ending…
9/10

Poison in Paddington – Book 1 of the Cassie Coburn mysteries by Samantha Silver
After a car accident ended her medical career before it even started, Cassie moved to London on a whim, expecting to see the sights and live the typical tourist backpacker lifestyle. Instead she finds herself accompanying a French private detective, Violet Despuis, as they attempt to find out who poisoned four people in the middle of London.

Cassie’s life soon includes this crazy detective, an ancient landlady with a curious past, a mischeivous orange cat who likes going for walks on a leash, and a super hot pathologist that Cassie is sure is out of her league. And they haven’t even found the murderer yet…
This Sherlock Holmes-style murder mystery was just the ticket. Pacy and well written, with an appealing Watsonesque protagonist in the form of Cassie, I was charmed by this London-based cosy crime adventure.
8/10

The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling
Nine years ago, Vivienne Jones nursed her broken heart like any young witch would: vodka, weepy music, bubble baths…and a curse on the horrible boyfriend. Sure, Vivi knows she shouldn’t use her magic this way, but with only an “orchard hayride” scented candle on hand, she isn’t worried it will cause him anything more than a bad hair day or two.

That is until Rhys Penhallow, descendent of the town’s ancestors, breaker of hearts, and annoyingly just as gorgeous as he always was, returns to Graves Glen, Georgia. What should be a quick trip to recharge the town’s ley lines and make an appearance at the annual fall festival turns disastrously wrong. With one calamity after another striking Rhys, Vivi realizes her silly little Ex Hex may not have been so harmless after all.

Suddenly, Graves Glen is under attack from murderous wind-up toys, a pissed off ghost, and a talking cat with some interesting things to say. Vivi and Rhys have to ignore their off the charts chemistry to work together to save the town and find a way to break the break-up curse before it’s too late.
I was a bit surprised at the steamy romance – but couldn’t resist the seasonal charms of this witchy mystery set around Halloween.

Brother’s Ruin – Book 1 of the Industrial Magic series by Emma Newman
The year is 1850 and Great Britain is flourishing, thanks to the Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts. When a new mage is discovered, Royal Society elites descend like buzzards to snatch up a new apprentice. Talented mages are bought from their families at a tremendous price, while weak mages are snapped up for a pittance. For a lower middle class family like the Gunns, the loss of a son can be disastrous, so when seemingly magical incidents begin cropping up at home, they fear for their Ben’s life and their own livelihoods.

But Benjamin Gunn isn’t a talented mage. His sister Charlotte is, and to prevent her brother from being imprisoned for false reporting she combines her powers with his to make him seem a better prospect. When she discovers a nefarious plot by the sinister Doctor Ledbetter, Charlotte must use all her cunning and guile to protect her family, her secret and her city.
Newman is a wonderful writing talent and the pages turned themselves in this tense, atmospheric read. There is another book in this series – and I’ll definitely be reading that one, too. Charlotte is a wonderful protagonist and I love the world and the dynamic around magic that has been set up here…
9/10

A Ghost to Haunt Her: A Romance – Book 2 of The Ghosts of Riverside County by Alessa Winters
When a tremor rattles the spirit world, ghosts experience changes. Some are stuck in an endless loop. Others receive strange new powers. A few find themselves in forbidden places.
Heather, a ghost sensitive psychic, helps the dead achieve peace. She thought she had seen it all until she investigates a spector who believes he’s still alive.

Ian’s reality is shattered. Only one person, a strange girl, can hear and interact with him. Somehow he must rely on her to learn about this bizarre new land that he can barely understand. But he wants her to stop calling him a ghost. He’s not dead…right?
This author is another fabulous find. I was riveted by awkward, socially inept Heather, whose affinity with ghosts means she struggles with the everyday world. So when she discovers Ian, whose sudden appearance has caused havoc – she has to convince him that he is really a ghost. This story has stayed with me – and I’m delighted to find that this is Book 2, because that means there is also a Book 1 – yay!
9/10

Every Sky A Grave – Book 1 of The Ascendance series by Jay Posey
Mankind has spread out and conquered the galaxy by mastering the fundamental language of the universe. With the right training, the right application of words, truth itself can be rearranged. Language is literally power. Peace reigns now. Order reigns.

For if a planet deviates too far from what the authorities plan, an agent is sent out to correct that. To quietly and with great skill, end that world. One such agent is Elyth – a true believer. But on a clandestine mission to stop an uprising before it can truly begin, Elyth comes to realise she hasn’t been told the whole truth herself. There’s so much she doesn’t know. How can there be people whose truth is different to that of the authorities? Elyth’s faith in the powers that be is shaken just when she needs it most. While on her mission, a dark and unknown presence makes itself known at the edges of the galaxy – and it cannot be controlled, for nobody knows its name…
I reread this classy, action-fuelled science fiction thriller that I first encountered last year, as I’ve had the great good fortune to have been approved for the second book. Here is my review 9/10

Shifting Dreams – Book 1 of the Cambio Dreams series by Elizabeth Hunter
Somedays, Jena Crowe just can’t get a break. Work at her diner never ends, her two boys are bundles of energy, and she’s pretty sure her oldest is about to shift into something furry or feathery. Added to that, changes seem to be coming to the tiny town of Cambio Springs—big changes that not everyone in the isolated town of shapeshifters is thrilled about.

Caleb Gilbert was looking for change, and the quiet desert town seemed just the ticket for a more peaceful life. He never counted on violence finding him, nor could he have predicted just how crazy his new life would become.

When murder rocks their small community, Caleb and Jena will have to work together. And when the new Chief of Police isn’t put off by any of her usual defenses, Jena may be faced with the most frightening change of all: lowering the defenses around her carefully guarded heart.
While I loved the world, and the writing is strong and atmospheric – I wasn’t a huge fan of Caleb, who is waaay too forceful and pushy for my taste. I’m aware that this is a very personal take and if you like strong-willed passionate male protagonists, then this is probably right up your street.
7/10

Given To Darkness – Book 2 of the Ikiri duology by Phil Williams
Ikiri demands blood. Whose will it be?

A malevolent force stirs from the heart of the Congo. One child can stop it – but everyone wants her dead. Reece Coburn’s gang have travelled half the world to protect Zipporah, only to find her in more danger than ever. Her violent father is missing, his murderous enemies are coming for them, and her brother’s power is growing stronger. Entire communities are being slaughtered, and it’s only getting worse.

They have to reach Ikiri before its corruption spreads. But there’s a long journey ahead, past ferocious killers and unnatural creatures – and very few people can be trusted along the way.
Can two criminal musicians, an unstable assassin and a compromised spy reach Ikiri alive? What will it cost them along the way?
I began this rollicking fantasy adventure last year with Kept in Cagessee my review. Phil kindly offered me a review copy of this second half of the series, which I happily accepted. Review to follow.
9/10

Bombing in Belgravia – Book 2 of the Cassie Coburn series by Samantha Silver
When an ambassador’s children are killed in a deliberate gas explosion in the middle of the night, Violet Despuis is on the case.

Right from the start, not everything is as it seems, as Cassie confirms at the crime scene that one of the victims had been poisoned beforehand. What Cassie expects to be an open-and-shut case ends up becoming a case of international intrigue and suspicion, with MI5 doing their best to stop Violet and Cassie from pursuing the case.
This is another cosy murder mystery adventure in the Sherlock Holmes-type series, where Cassie is a lovely version of dear old John Watson – and Violet is every bit as patronisingly brilliant as Sherlock… The murder mystery was enjoyable, too.
8/10

My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Quicksilver Court – Book 2 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso

Sunday Post – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #3

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now that it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be in a position to start to reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheExHexbookreview

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I was browsing through Netgalley again, now I’m starting to feel just a little bit stronger – and came across this offering. It looked like a packet of fun, so I requested an arc and was delighted to be approved.

BLURB: Nine years ago, Vivienne Jones nursed her broken heart like any young witch would: vodka, weepy music, bubble baths…and a curse on the horrible boyfriend. Sure, Vivi knows she shouldn’t use her magic this way, but with only an “orchard hayride” scented candle on hand, she isn’t worried it will cause him anything more than a bad hair day or two.

That is until Rhys Penhallow, descendent of the town’s ancestors, breaker of hearts, and annoyingly just as gorgeous as he always was, returns to Graves Glen, Georgia. What should be a quick trip to recharge the town’s ley lines and make an appearance at the annual fall festival turns disastrously wrong. With one calamity after another striking Rhys, Vivi realizes her silly little Ex Hex may not have been so harmless after all. Suddenly, Graves Glen is under attack from murderous wind-up toys, a pissed off ghost, and a talking cat with some interesting things to say. Vivi and Rhys have to ignore their off the charts chemistry to work together to save the town and find a way to break the break-up curse before it’s too late.

REVIEW: For those of you who may be interested, Erin Sterling also writes YA witchy adventures under the pen name of Rachel Hawkins. I hadn’t come across any of her work before – but was quickly drawn into this entertaining paranormal romance by the very funny drunken scene at the beginning. A word of warning though – there is a fair amount of swearing and steamy sex scenes in this one. So if you’re looking for a paranormal adventure with a bit of romance thrown in as a side order – this won’t be for you. The romance features heavily throughout, and although there is a real mystery to solve, the narrative engine of the story really is the relationship between Vivienne and Rhys.

Despite it not being exactly what I’d expected, I was charmed by the second-chance romance. Partly because I’m a sucker for that dynamic, anyway – and partly because I found both main characters to be genuinely likeable. And that’s high praise from me. I’m not generally a huge fan of lantern-jawed heroes. But Rhys fully acknowledges that he’d thoroughly messed up, has a lovely sense of humour and is really in love with Vivi. The fact there is plenty of humour throughout and while the couple have to work through their issues, it doesn’t get too angsty or miserable was a huge plus. I also enjoyed Vivi’s hilarious cousin, Gwyn – who has no time at all for Rhys. And the talking cat…

All in all, the pages pretty much turned themselves as the story progresses onto a wholly satisfactory ending. I’d be happy to read more books set in this quirky community. While I obtained an arc of The Ex Hex from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Buried Memories – Book 10 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #BuriedMemoriesbookreview

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Anyone who has spent much time visiting this blog will know that I enjoy Green’s writing – see my reviews of the other books in this series – The Dark Side of the Road, Very Important Corpses, Death Shall Come, Into the Thinnest of Air, Murder in the Dark, Till Sudden Death Do Us Part, Night Train to Murder, The House on Widow’s Hill and my review of his fantasy heist adventure, The Best Thing You Can Steal and The Man With the Golden Torc – so I was delighted to see the latest book in this paranormal murder mystery series.

BLURB: As long-buried memories from his hidden past begin to resurface, Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny feel compelled to return to the small country town where Ishmael crash-landed in 1963; the place where his memories began. Norton Hedley is no ordinary town. Apparitions, sudden disappearances, sightings of unusual beasts: for centuries, the place has been plagued by a series of inexplicable events. Ishmael’s first task is to track down local author Vincent Smith, the one man he believes may have some answers.

Ishmael and Penny aren’t the only ones seeking the mysterious Mr Smith. When their search unearths a newly-dead body in the local mortuary – a body that’s definitely not supposed to be there – Ishmael becomes the prime suspect in the ensuing murder investigation. His only hope of discovering the truth about his origins lies in exposing a ruthless killer.

REVIEW: I thoroughly enjoy Green’s clever mix of real tension and creepiness, along with touches of dark humour that at times have me laughing out loud. Ishmael is not human – he’s an alien that crashed to Earth in 1963 and has been trying to stay under the radar ever since. This has very much affected his choice to work for a number of shady organisations and consequently he mixes with some very dangerous people. These books could have been gritty and bleak – but Ishmael has been lucky enough to fall in love with the adorable Penny, who is now his sidekick and her company considerably lightens his violent adventures. Their teamwork and snarky interchanges particularly brightened things up during this creepy exploration into Ishmeal’s past. I was especially pleased to pick this one up, as Buried Memories addresses Ishmael’s origins on Earth. Due to the damage sustained by his spaceship, his memories of that time are very fragmentary. But he now believes that he wasn’t the only survivor and feels impelled to try to find his companion and learn more of why they visited Earth in the first place.

I think it’s really clever to have left his origin story so late in the series, as I’m now thoroughly invested in dear old Ishmael and Penny. So I was brimming with curiosity to discover exactly where he came from and why. It also is a nifty entry point if you haven’t had the pleasure of the previous adventures, which is always helpful for readers in a long-running series. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. As well as the spooky parody of the idyllic English village, peopled with some nicely eccentric characters, I very much appreciated the additional insights into what makes Ishmael tick. Recommended for fans of quirky paranormal creepiness that doesn’t take itself too seriously. While I obtained an arc of Buried Memories from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Battle Ground – Book 17 of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #BattleGroundbookreview

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I’ve read and enjoyed all the books in this series so far – see my reviews of Peace Talks, Skin Game, Ghost Story and Turn Coat – and was delighted when I saw Battle Ground pop up on Netgalley.

BLURB: Harry has faced terrible odds before. He has a long history of fighting enemies above his weight class. The Red Court of vampires. The fallen angels of the Order of the Blackened Denarius. The Outsiders.

But this time it’s different. A being more powerful and dangerous on an order of magnitude beyond what the world has seen in a millennium is coming. And she’s bringing an army. The Last Titan has declared war on the city of Chicago, and has come to subjugate humanity, obliterating any who stand in her way. Harry’s mission is simple but impossible: Save the city by killing a Titan. And the attempt will change Harry’s life, Chicago, and the mortal world forever.

REVIEW: First things first – whatever you do, don’t pick this one up if you haven’t already at least read Peace Talks and preferably Skin Game before that. All three books run straight on from one another, with no recap or handy reminders about what happened before. So if you just happen to pick up this one on the grounds that you recall Harry with fondness from some of the earlier books, put it back on the shelf until you’ve read the other two.

Book titles generally relate to the contents in some way, although that can often be metaphorical, or slightly oblique. But in this case, Butcher has been literal as the whole book revolves around a single major battle in the middle of Harry’s home turf, Chicago. The earlier chapters cover the battle preparations, with Harry desperately trying to prepare for the worst – and the second half of the book, which isn’t short, covering that battle. I’ve read one other book that covered a single battle in a similar fashion – Last Dragon Standing by Rachel Aaron and overall, I think that one is more successful than Battle Ground.

Butcher is hampered by Battle Ground being narrated in limited first-person viewpoint, which means that Harry has to be in the middle of whatever action is going down. While we have the advantage of seeing everything through the filter of his laconic, dryly amusing characterisation, it also means that every encounter has his trademark fighting style, along with whoever is accompanying him. And although he has a number of different companions battling beside him throughout the night, inevitably a pattern develops. That said, almost anyone who has featured throughout the series puts in an appearance during this vital encounter. I was particularly delighted to see dear old Butters acquitting himself with such distinction as he’s a huge favourite of mine. There are major losses, too. A key character dies during one of the opening skirmishes – and I was more than a bit rocked to see them go. It rocked poor old Harry, too.

Having a full-on battle throughout the book also means there isn’t an opportunity for the reader to get a breather. I frequently put the book down simply because I needed a break from the bloody action and emotional intensity that came with it. And during the latter stages, I became a bit numbed by it all, so that I ended up rereading the ending just to get a more accurate sense of the emotional tenor around the ending.

That said, I don’t want you to go away with the impression that this is a poor book. The action scenes are gripping and immersive. Butcher portrays Harry’s experiences during the battle with vividness and emotion that packs a punch. And I’m fascinated to discover exactly how he’ll take the series forward from here. It was a calculated risk to split the original book in two, which I think Butcher has mostly pulled off. Recommended for fans of the Harry Dresden series who have at least read the previous two books. The ebook arc copy of Battle Ground was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* The Man Who Died Twice – Book 2 of The Thursday Murder Club series by Richard Osman #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheManWhoDiedTwicebookreview

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I finally picked up a copy of The Thursday Murder Club back in April. Initially, I found it slow-going as the story took a while to hit its stride. But I ended up being impressed with the depth of characterisation, the humour and well-handled moments of real poignancy. So when I saw this one available on Netgalley, I was thrilled to be approved.

BLURB: It’s the following Thursday. Elizabeth has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with whom she has a long history. He’s made a big mistake, and he needs her help. His story involves stolen diamonds, a violent mobster, and a very real threat to his life.

As bodies start piling up, Elizabeth enlists Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron in the hunt for a ruthless murderer. And if they find the diamonds too? Well, wouldn’t that be a bonus? But this time they are up against an enemy who wouldn’t bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can The Thursday Murder Club find the killer (and the diamonds) before the killer finds them?

REVIEW: If you haven’t yet read the first book, don’t worry about picking this one up as I don’t think it matters all that much. Osman effectively introduces the main four seventy-somethings, who are every bit as likeable as when I first met them. We swing straight into the story – Osman has really found his feet with this one and it shows.

The pacing, plot twists and overall structure are spot on. And while there were a few amusing moments in the first book, I found myself laughing out loud with this one on a regular basis throughout. There is a Dickensian, slightly larger-than-life feel about all the characters that never lurches into caricature – and I like Osman’s evident respect for his protagonists. Now I’m of a certain age, I get fed up with TV programmes and books that poke fun at older characters. Once again Elizabeth drives the story – someone with a busy, somewhat dark past, who is still able to run rings around everyone else. And yet, she also has her vulnerabilities.

I read a fair number of murder mysteries and it’s a tricky balance not to get blasé about the murder victims, particularly when there are humorous moments in the mix. Osman never falls into that trap. Without getting too dark and intense, he always makes it clear that someone dying before their time is a very big deal. In fact, there is a strong sense of right and wrong throughout the story that I really appreciated. The plot is delightfully twisty and the ending is masterfully handled – that last line is superb. You may have gathered that I loved this one – and you’d be right. If you’re looking for an outstanding contemporary murder mystery with plenty of humour and packed full of memorable characters, this one comes very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The Man Who Died Twice from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10