Category Archives: contemporary

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

Two MURDER MYSTERY Mini-reviews: The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne, and The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths #Brainfluffmurdermysterymini-reviews #TheNaturalistmini-review #TheGhostFieldsmini-review

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AUDIOBOOK The Naturalist – Book 1 of The Naturalist series by Andrew Mayne

BLURB: Professor Theo Cray is trained to see patterns where others see chaos. So when mutilated bodies found deep in the Montana woods leave the cops searching blindly for clues, Theo sees something they missed. Something unnatural. Something only he can stop.

As a computational biologist, Theo is more familiar with digital code and microbes than the dark arts of forensic sleuthing. But a field trip to Montana suddenly lands him in the middle of an investigation into the bloody killing of one of his former students. As more details, and bodies, come to light, the local cops determine that the killer is either a grizzly gone rogue… or Theo himself. Racing to stay one step ahead of the police, Theo must use his scientific acumen to uncover the killer. Will he be able to become as cunning as the predator he hunts—before he becomes its prey?

Ably narrated by Will Damron, who sounded exactly how I imagined Theo Cray would be like, I particularly enjoyed the opening where we were introduced to Theo, which was cleverly and originally handled. Overall, this was enjoyable, although the pernicky part of me was a tad annoyed at some of the plot holes and inaccuracies which could have been avoided with a bit more care. The progression of the story worked well, with some nice plot twists and a well-handled denouement. Highly recommended for murder mystery thriller fans, who like their protagonists nerdy and a bit too clever for their own good.
7/10

The Ghost Fields – Book 7 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths

BLURB: Norfolk is experiencing a July heatwave when a construction crew unearths a macabre discovery – a buried WWII plane with the pilot still inside. Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway quickly realizes that the skeleton couldn’t possibly be the pilot, and DNA tests identify the man as Fred Blackstock, a local aristocrat who had been reported dead at sea. When the remaining members of the Blackstock family learn about the discovery, they seem strangely frightened by the news…

Once again, Griffiths delivers a really strong, engaging murder mystery that manages to involve Ruth. A growing part of the enjoyment of this unfolding series is to catch up with the strong cast of characters who are alongside Ruth – and there are a couple of plotlines here that I followed with bated breath with probably more anticipation and interest than the unfolding murder mystery, if I’m honest. That said, the investigation once again ticks all the boxes with a suitably exciting denouement. Recommended for fans of murder mysteries that fall between the cosy kind – and those that are grittily drenched in gore, but whatever you do, don’t crash into the series here – go back and start with The Crossing Places.
8/10


Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 9th December, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Inherit the Shoes by E.J. Copperman – release date – 5th January 2021

#cosy murder mystery #defence attorney protagonist

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 . . .

After all the fun and excitement of Sci Fi Month, I’m now widening my reading to encompass another love of mine – murder mysteries. And I thought this one looked like fun! The bonus is that it is either a standalone, or the start of a new mystery series. Anyone else got this one on their wish list?



*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Forged – Book 11 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Forgedbookreview

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I have recently got back into reading this smart, cleverly written, Brit-based urban fantasy, featuring divination mage Alex Verus, after enjoying this series over a number of years – read my reviews of Fated, Veiled, Burned, Bound and Fallen. So I was delighted to be approved to read the new release of the penultimate adventure planned for this series – Forged.

BLURB: To protect his friends, Mage Alex Verus has had to change–and embrace his dark side. But the life mage Anne has changed too, and made a bond with a dangerous power. She’s going after everyone she’s got a grudge against–and it’s a long list. In the meantime, Alex has to deal with his arch-enemy, Levistus. The Council’s death squads are hunting Alex as well as Anne, and the only way for Alex to stop them is to end his long war with Levistus and the Council, by whatever means necessary. It will take everything Alex has to stay a step ahead of the Council and stop Anne from letting the world burn.

REVIEW: I only recently finished reading Fallen, so had no problem picking up the action which continues straight on from the previous book. Alex, after being subjected to an intolerable choice in the previous book, took a fateful decision which has very much altered his view on things.

There is a lot of action in this book – as The Council goes on hunting for him, Alex ends up in a series of confrontations. The battles are done very well – Jacka writes the action and Alex’s reaction to it throughout without any loss of pace, the fight scenes between battling mages grippingly portrayed. But this book is, necessarily, quite a lot darker and I missed some of the characters who used to provide some light relief. They are much less in evidence as the pace is more relentless and the stakes go on rising.

However, I’m glad that despite all the killing, there is no sense that people’s lives don’t matter. We end up being a bit appalled at the violence, because we are alongside Verus, who is also affected by the trail of destruction left in his wake. There is a defining battle near the end of the book that I found particularly poignant, in amongst all the chaos and mayhem. Especially if you compare the main antagonist with a version of themselves only a couple of books earlier… As ever, Jacka wraps up the ongoing problem within this story so I wasn’t left feeling unsatisfied with the ending. Though there are a couple of massive plotpoints still waving in the wind…

I am looking forward to the next, final book, where all these issues will be satisfactorily concluded. And I’m crossing my fingers – and toes – that at least a couple of the main characters, as well as Verus, will emerge relatively unscathed. Which surely tells you how invested I’ve become in the narrative arcs of the protagonist and his followers while following their fortunes throughout this tumultuous and well-crafted series. While I obtained an arc of Forged from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Fallen – Book 10 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka #Brainfluffbookreview #Fallenbookreview

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I have enjoyed the Alex Verus series, following the fortunes (or is it misfortunes) of hapless divination mage Alex Verus – see my reviews of Fated (Book 1), Veiled (Book 6), Burned (Book 7), Bound (Book 8). So I was pleased to catch up with Fallen as I’m trying to make an effort to continue onwards with series I’ve enjoyed.

BLURB: Once Alex Verus was a diviner trying to live quietly under the radar. Now he’s a member of the Light Council who’s found success, friends…and love. But it’s come with a price–the Council is investigating him, and if they find out the truth, he’ll lose everything. Meanwhile, Alex’s old master, Richard Drakh, is waging a war against the Council, and he’s preparing a move that will bring Alex and the life mage, Anne, under his control. Caught between Richard and the Council, Alex’s time is running out. To protect those he cares for, Alex will have to become something different. Something darker…

REVIEW: Like a number of the long-running, urban fantasy adventure series I’ve been following, such as the Harry Dresden series, the overall tone has steadily got darker as the series continues. And in this one, Alex finds himself caught between a rock in a hard place. As it had been a while since I’d picked up one of these book – once again, I was struck by just what an unpleasant experience it was to find yourself with any magical ability in Jacka’s alternate world. Immediately practitioners have to choose between being Light or Dark mages – something which Alex has tried to avoid. While many of the Dark mages are just plain nasty, the Light mages are not as advertised, either. Judgemental, with draconian punishments for anyone who doesn’t see the world through the same lens, they aren’t all that much better. And Alex has made some powerful enemies on The Council.

There were a couple of incidents in the middle of this one that took the story to another level. A character who has appeared throughout the books and helped Alex a great deal suddenly was subjected to a shocking attack. It was cleverly done, because I found I was very angry at what had been done – to the extent that when Alex makes a momentous decision, I’m right alongside him, hoping this gives him sufficient power to keep himself, and those around him properly safe. That said, there are still moments of humour that I enjoyed – the little elemental he relies on for transport is amusingly unreliable at times. The pages zipped by and I found I’d reached the end with real regret there wasn’t more.

However, I’m comforted by the knowledge that I’ve more Alex Verus goodness waiting for me – I have an arc of the new release. For those of you who have also let this adventure lapse for whatever reason, I can confirm the narrative arc takes Alex in a different, challenging direction. And Jacka is a master at depicting thrilling magical battles. Highly recommended for fans of well-written urban fantasy adventures set in London.
9/10

Sunday Post – 15th November, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

We weren’t around last Sunday, hence my absence. It’s been a busy week. On Tuesday night we helped celebrate my grandson’s 11th birthday – I can’t quite believe it… Where has the time gone? My writing club had a Zoom get-together on Wednesday, where I read out my very lame lyrics of an imaginary 1980s pop song, and we chatted about our writing projects. And tried to recall what it was like when we used to sit around a real kitchen table, eating cake and downing mugs of tea. On Thursday, I gave a short presentation via Zoom, again, to the West Sussex Writers’ meeting on the results of the Non-Fiction Competition, which I’d been judging. It was lovely to see many familiar faces, including a number of former Creative Writing students. And on Friday, I went over to look after little Eliza while my daughter listened to a lecture on… you guessed it – Zoom! We brought the boys back here to stay overnight and took them back home yesterday.

I am loving Sci Fi Month – thank you so much to Imyril at There’s Always Room for One More and Lisa at Dear Geek Place for hosting this marvellous event. On the writing front, I’m still working on Picky Eaters 2 – though it’s turning out to be rather too long to be a quick, easy read, so I’m probably going to be splitting up Castellan’s adventures.

My photos this week are from a rather soggy garden…


Last week I read:

The Thief on the Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas
The Kendrick family have been making world-famous dolls since the early 1800s. But their dolls aren’t coveted for the craftmanship alone. Each one has a specific emotion laid on it by its creator. A magic that can make you feel bucolic bliss or consuming paranoia at a single touch. Though founded by sisters, now only men may know the secrets of the workshop.

Persephone Kendrick longs to break tradition and learn the family craft, and when a handsome stranger arrives claiming doll-making talent and a blood tie to the Kendricks, she sees a chance to grasp all she desires.
This quirky fantasy with a difference was an engrossing, enjoyable read, while the story went off in unexpected directions.


Angel Six Echo by Robert Appleton
Armed with a fabled combat suit left to her by a dying warrior race, Gabby Rojas enters the deadliest standoff of the war as a rogue sniper with one goal: to keep her husband alive at all costs. Dalton is a high school teacher, not a soldier, but he’s volunteered to fight for the good of the colonies, against her advice. Gabby, on the other hand, is a black-ops prodigy who turned her back on the military years ago. The consequences of re-entering the fray alone like this, wielding the power of her extraordinary armoured suit, could tip the balance of power in the galaxy.
This military sci fi adventure, featuring a super-soldier wife who goes rogue to rescue her clever, geeky husband, who ill-advisedly joins up, is an entertaining, action-packed read. I just couldn’t figure out exactly why happily married Dalton wanted to join up in the first place… Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK The Son of Neptune – Book 2 of The Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan
PERCY IS CONFUSED. When he awoke from his long sleep, he didn’t know much more than his name. His brain fuzz is lingering, even after the wolf Lupa told him he is a demigod and trained him to fight with the pen/sword in his pocket. Somehow Percy manages to make it to a camp for half-bloods, despite the fact that he has to keep killing monsters along the way. But the camp doesn’t ring any bells with him. The only thing he can recall from his past is another name: Annabeth.

HAZEL IS SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD. When she lived before, she didn’t do a very good job of it. Sure, she was an obedient daughter, even when her mother was possessed by greed. But that was the problem—when the Voice took over her mother and commanded Hazel to use her “gift” for an evil purpose, Hazel couldn’t say no. Now because of her mistake, the future of the world is at risk. Hazel wishes she could ride away from it all on the stallion that appears in her dreams.

FRANK IS A KLUTZ. His grandmother says he is descended from heroes and can be anything he wants to be, but he doesn’t see it. He doesn’t even know who his father is. He keeps hoping Apollo will claim him, because the only thing he is good at is archery—although not good enough to win camp war games. His bulky physique makes him feel like an ox, especially in front of Hazel, his closest friend at camp. He trusts her completely—enough to share the secret he holds close to his heart.

Beginning at the “other” camp for half-bloods and extending as far as the land beyond the gods, this breathtaking second installment of the Heroes of Olympus series introduces new demigods, revives fearsome monsters, and features other remarkable creatures, all destined to play a part in the Prophesy of Seven.
This spinoff from the Percy Jackson series delivers the same witty, action-packed adventures that made the original series so much fun to listen to – and I’m delighted we’ve more Riordan goodness stored on my Kindle. Mini-review to follow.


My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

Review of Hammered – Book 1 of the Wetwired series by Elizabeth Bear

Friday Face-off featuring Synners by Pat Cadigan

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Thief on the Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas

Covet the Covers featuring the Vorkosigan Saga covers by Lois McMaster Bujold

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring The Expert System’s Champion by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Review of INDIE Ebook Even Stranger – Book 2 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik

Tuesday Treasures – 19

Review of The Fated Sky – Book 1 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Griffiths


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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Thief on the Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheThiefontheWingedHorsebookreview

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I was very impressed by the quality of writing in Mascarenhas’s novel The Psychology of Time Travel see my review. So when I saw this one and realised it was by the same author, I requested it.

BLURB: The Kendrick family have been making world-famous dolls for over 200 years. But their dolls aren’t coveted for the craftmanship alone. Each one has a specific emotion laid on it by its creator. A magic that can make you feel bucolic bliss or consuming paranoia at a single touch. Though founded by sisters, now only men may know the secrets of the workshop. Persephone Kendrick longs to break tradition and learn the family craft, and when a handsome stranger arrives claiming doll-making talent and a blood tie to the Kendricks, she sees a chance to grasp all she desires. But then, one night, the family’s most valuable doll is stolen. Only someone with knowledge of magic could have taken her. Only a Kendrick could have committed this crime…

REVIEW: This book may be fantasy, rather than science fiction, but there were a couple of aspects of the writing that I recognised in common with The Psychology of Time Travel. The main protagonists were women and they weren’t innately likeable. However, that didn’t stop me bonding with both Hazel and, in particular, Persephone. Mostly because she has had a very raw deal.

Ironically, although the founders of the Kendricks famous doll-making business were all women, these days it is the men who get to be Sorcerers and take the key roles for themselves. Persephone is convinced that she is destined to become a doll-maker – including adding the vital magical ingredient that is denied all the women now working within the business, no matter how talented they are. However, she is only permitted to work in the shop and when she isn’t, it is taken for granted by the rest of the Family that she will, somehow, keep her embittered and drunken father, Briar, in check. The gamechanger is the sudden appearance of a handsome stranger, who claims to be the long-lost descendant of the sister who was thought to have died in childbirth.

Larkin is taken on, though treated with great suspicion by the current CEO of Kendricks, and is expected to work on more mundane tasks while he proves his worth. I love the accumulation of incidents and details – until a certain event crashes across this small, close-knit community with the force of a grenade. I was thoroughly caught up by the fallout and stayed up far too late to discover what happened next – and no… Whatever else this book is, it isn’t remotely predictable.

I loved the passion and ambition exhibited by the two main female protagonists. Persephone is socially awkward – the last person you’d want to be the face of Kendricks – but she is tenacious, clever and doggedly persistent. All the characters in this intriguing, different story ping off the page with their almost Dickensian vividness. I’m going to remember this one for a very long time – an accomplished story which went in an unexpected direction and took me to a surprising ending, that nonetheless was very satisfying. Highly recommended for fans of unusual fantasy tales in a contemporary setting. While I obtained an arc of The Thief on the Winged Horse from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10



Tuesday Treasures – 19 #Brainfluffbookblog #LightintheLockdown

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In this week’s Tuesday Treasures, I’m back to Bexhill, where I was on a writing retreat with my sister in law at the end of September/beginning of October. These were a number of pictures I took throughout our stay. And in the final morning, before we started packing to leave, we had breakfast on the balcony, watching the sunrise as a final farewell from Bexhill to us…

The rosa ragosa is part of the planting scheme – just look at the hips on them…
And these sedums also are part of the plants growing behind the benches on the sea front.
This flock of starlings roosted on our roof – the numbers are too small to be a full murmuration – but watching them wheel together was always a delight
I was struck at just how well this young seagull blended into the shingle beach
Our last morning and the final gift from Bexhill…
The blaze of light is the reflection of the rising sun on the windows of the art deco De La Warr Pavillion


*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Dead Lies Dreaming – Book 1 of the Dead Lies Dreaming series by Charles Stross #BrainfluffNEGALLEYreview #DeadLiesDreamingbookreview

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This book is set in the world of The Laundry Files and is a spinoff. I love this series – see my reviews of The Fuller Memorandum and The Apocalypse Codex. So you don’t need to have read any of the former books, as the character cast is completely different – though the scenario where an ancient monster is currently in charge at No. 10 Downing Street, still applies…

BLURB: In a world where magic has gone mainstream, a policewoman and a group of petty criminals are pulled into a heist to find a forbidden book of spells that should never be opened.

A new adventure begins in the world of the Laundry Files.

REVIEW: I’d wanted to get right up to date with The Laundry Files series, thinking that this book was also set within that world and that I’d need to know what was going on. In the event I didn’t – but that meant I read two of Stross’ books back to back, which is something I generally avoid doing.

Therefore, I found it a tad difficult to initially get into this one – the world is a bit bleak and grungy and the protagonists, although sympathetic and well written, were clearly very much the underdogs. While there was humour, it came from the snark between the Imp’s ragtag band of misfits – which I didn’t initially find as appealing as Bob Howard’s magnificently dry delivery. However, they did grow on me and as the first major action scene unspooled, there were some very funny moments in amongst all the tension and danger, which I thoroughly appreciated.

Eve is a difficult character to initially bond with – she is an assistant to one of most truly horrible antagonists I’ve met for quite a while. And therefore, has to also become unpleasant – so I didn’t appreciate how much of a victim she actually was until well into the book. There was a particular bonding moment when I had a lump in my throat when reading about a scene with her parents – it was beautifully handled.

In amongst Rupert Bigge’s scramble to the top and Imp and his little gang trying to eke a living while illegally squatting in what used to be his old family home – there are also some lovely touches of magic. The time-travelling scenes back to Whitechapel Road, back in the Victorian era were genuinely creepy and vividly depicted. I loved the way the narrative played out and very much hope we get to see more of Imp, Game Boy, Del, Doc and Wendy – and of course, Eve – in future adventures. This is a cracking start to a new series that is set in contemporary Britain, where the monsters are in charge…

Highly recommended for SFF fans, who enjoy their urban fantasy with a sardonic twist and something a bit different. You don’t need to read The Laundry Files to enjoy this one. While I obtained an arc of Dead Lies Dreaming via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10