Category Archives: contemporary

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Ghost Electricity – Book 1 of the Hawthorn House series by Sean Cunningham #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #GhostElectricitybookreview

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I liked the sound of this one and was in the mood for a strong urban fantasy set in London, so requested this arc.

BLURB: Do you know what happens to ghosts in London?

A girl with a monster in her shadow. A warlock believed dead four years ago. A werewolf outcast from the London packs.

Rob wants a good job, friends to head to the pub with and a solid cage to lock himself in three nights a month. Julian dropped off the face of the Earth four years ago. He’s back and trying to figure out what living looks like. Together they  will face the deadliest of threats hidden in one of the oldest cities in the world.

Fiona has a monster in her shadow but she doesn’t know how it got there. A creature in the shape of a man is on her trail  and he knows things about Fiona she doesn’t know herself. Her ten year old sister Jessica can build machines that defy the  known laws of physics. Accompanied by a brass tortoise and a glass-feathered raven, Jessica will help Fiona unravel the web  of lies that surrounds them both.

And beneath their feet the plague dead of centuries stir in their graves, waiting for the spell that holds them to break…

REVIEW: The thing about urban fantasy that sets it apart, is that it is generally set in a contemporary landscape – usually a city – and then peopled with otherworldly creatures. So a lot of the pleasure is derived from seeing our everyday settings collide with something other. I was immediately held by Cunningham’s opening sequence with Julian in the London Underground, which was very well done. Anyone who has ever stood on a crowded platform waiting for the train to come could visualise only too well how events unspooled. And that repeated question of Julian’s – Do you know what happens to ghosts in London? – was also nicely handled. Too much and that shiver of horror would have disappeared…

Initially, I was a bit fed up when I realised we wouldn’t be in Julian’s head throughout. But I soon found that I had no trouble bonding with the other protagonists, even when I wasn’t fully aware of what was going on. There’s plenty of tension in this urban fantasy adventure, which makes the sudden outbreaks of rather gory violence seem even more shocking. Underneath the bustling normality of London is a brutal world where mages, vampyres and shapeshifters jostle for power and far too often treat the rest of us as recreation and/or fodder. And in a stunning coincidence, Hawthorn House is where a number of these remarkable people pitch up. I liked all the protagonists, but I particularly bonded with poor old Rob, who just wants a nice normal life, where he rubs along with his work mates and can enjoy a night out down at the pub. Somehow, this never quite happens as all sorts of other distractions get in the way.

The rising tension was well paced and I loved a particular vampyre attack – and what happens to the van, afterwards. As with many urban fantasy tales, there are enjoyable shafts of humour that prevent it becoming too grim, which didn’t prevent the stakes rising such that I found this one difficult to put down as it reached its climax. Overall, this was a thoroughly entertaining read – and the good news is that there are two other books and a number of shorter stories already published in the Hawthorn House series. And I’ll certainly be tucking into them in the near future. While I obtained an arc of Ghost Electricity from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Antiques Carry On – Book 15 of A Trash n’Treasures mystery series by Barbara Allan #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AntiquesCarryOnbookreview

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It was the bright yellow cover that caught my eye – and the blurb that promised lots of high jinks and mayhem around a mother and daughter investigative team. The unusual family dynamic and promise of a funny murder mystery meant that I was keen to read this one.

BLURB: Vivian Borne – true-crime author, antiques dealer and ex-sheriff of Serenity, Iowa – is looking forward to meeting her new editor in London. Flying first class, rooms at the Savoy . . . Her long-suffering co-author, daughter Brandy, worries the trip will bankrupt them both, but the alternative – Mother travelling alone – is unthinkable. Brandy’s almost tempted to make her fiance, Tony – Serenity’s Chief of Police – call Scotland Yard and warn them Vivian’s coming. But even Brandy doesn’t predict their vacation will end in murder . . . or that she and Mother will be unceremoniously ejected from the country, with an order to leave things well alone.

Vivian and Brandy need a case to write about, and Mother doesn’t care which one. But as the intrepid sleuths – ably supported by doggy detective Sushi – investigate a promising local prospect, they’re plunged into a complex mystery that stretches right back to London . . . with no choice but to carry on.

REVIEW: I hadn’t appreciated that this was the fifteenth book in the series, when I started reading it – but as it happened, that really didn’t matter all that much. While I’m sure there are all sorts of issues within this one that I would have appreciated more, had I read the series from the start, the entertaining friction between the characters and the ongoing whodunit meant I didn’t flounder in any way.

Each chapter is written in alternate viewpoints between Vivian and Brandy, with comments aimed directly at the reader at regular intervals. It isn’t to everyone’s taste and is easy to overdo such that it becomes annoying. I think Allan has got the balance right – and I certainly enjoyed the difference between the two characters. It is a structure regularly seen in romances, but less common in other genres and worked well here, where Vivian’s larger-than-life attitude to the world contrasted nicely with Brandy’s weary attempts to keep her mother in check. Needless to say, she mostly failed…

All this could have become irritating if the bones of a good whodunit wasn’t also in place – which it was. In the end, I appreciated the denouement, how well the plot held together and why the murders were committed. While I’m not going to go right back to the start of this series and read the previous fourteen – if I encounter another one of these entertaining stories, I wouldn’t hesitate to immediately pick it up and tuck into it. Recommended for fans of quirky murder mysteries. While I obtained an arc of Antiques Carry On from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc Willow – Book 1 of The Pepper Lane Club series by Grace Parks #BrainfluffNETGALLEYreview #Willowbookreview

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Yes… I know, I’m writing a review about a romance – that’s certainly different! Well, I’ve been reading lots and lots of SFF – and the latest military SF adventure was superb, but also a bit grim. And I needed something a little more soothing, so when I saw this one land in my Inbox, I decided to request it and see what happens. I’m glad I did…

BLURB: Willow Lawson is a fun loving social media expert, who helps companies stand out from their competitors. Yet, despite her bubbly personality, her social life is mostly work-related, and her love life is non-existent. That’s when she starts The Pepper Lane Club, a chance to get away once a month from her maddening life and reconnect with her friends. It’s at this very first meeting that she meets Thomas Greer, who owns the café. He’s everything she’s not. He’s serious, unsociable, unfashionable, and dead set against social media. She decides to take him on as a client despite his refusals. She wants the challenge, and she wants to prove to him that he needs her help. He frustrates her, but there’s something about his old fashioned ways that also intrigues her.

REVIEW: In order to thoroughly enjoy a romance, I need to really care about the main protagonist(s). And Parks did a solid job in creating a sympathetic, amusing protagonist with sufficient depth of character to hold me throughout the story – and yet not too much so that it unduly slowed the pace.

Willow is interesting in that she is one of twins – and I liked the fact that for a refreshing change, they came from a loving family, with nice parents. Indeed, Willow looks at her parents’ relationship with some envy. She also has a close relationship with her twin sister, as well as a wide circle of acquaintance and a busy social life. But… how close are those friendships she has fostered online? Other than her family, Willow realises that she is missing a relationship with a group of people she is really close to, outside her Facebook and Instagram accounts – and decides to do something about it.

I thought this aspect of the story was smart, as this is an ongoing dilemma for so many of us, now staggering out of the various lockdowns and grappling with the reality of face-to-face meetings, after having thrown our energy into keeping our social networks going digitally. While Parks doesn’t allude to any of that – this must be a hurdle for so many folks. And Willow’s idea of meeting up once a month for a lovely meal with women she likes and trusts is also a really good one.

I’m conscious that I haven’t said much about the romance. But I also liked that dynamic, too. It wasn’t groundbreakingly original – going along the lines of fake relationship deepening into something more substantial. But Willow’s confusion regarding Thomas worked well, and didn’t get too ridiculously muddled – a common moan I have about romance stories – before resolving into a believable, cute relationship that was founded on a genuine respect and liking for each other. Highly recommended for fans of romance stories. While I obtained an arc of Willow from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 30th June, 2021 #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 – Antiques Carry On – Book 15 of the Trash n’Treasures Mystery series by Barbara Allan – release date 6th July, 2021

#crime #cosy murder mystery #feisty heroines #family relationships

BLURB: Look out London – eccentric antiques dealer Vivian Borne and her daughter Brandy are bringing their own brand of mayhem and mischief to the British capital, in the fifteenth installment of the award-winning Trash ‘n’ Treasures cozy mystery series.

Vivian Borne – true-crime author, antiques dealer and ex-sheriff of Serenity, Iowa – is looking forward to meeting her new editor in London. Flying first class, rooms at the Savoy . . . Her long-suffering co-author, daughter Brandy, worries the trip will bankrupt them both, but the alternative – Mother travelling alone – is unthinkable. Brandy’s almost tempted to make her fiance, Tony – Serenity’s Chief of Police – call Scotland Yard and warn them Vivian’s coming.
But even Brandy doesn’t predict their vacation will end in murder . . . or that she and Mother will be unceremoniously ejected from the country, with an order to leave things well alone.

Vivian and Brandy need a case to write about, and Mother doesn’t care which one. But as the intrepid sleuths – ably supported by doggy detective Sushi – investigate a promising local prospect, they’re plunged into a complex mystery that stretches right back to London . . . with no choice but to carry on.

I liked the dynamic of mother and daughter solving these crimes together – especially as they clearly don’t always see eye to eye when doing so. And yes… it’s the 15th book in the series, but I’m not expecting to flounder too much as it’s a murder mystery. Has anyone else snagged a copy of this offering?

Review of INDIE Ebook The Daydreamer Detective – Book 1 of the Miso Cosy Mysteries by Steph Gennero aka S.J. Pajonas #BrainfluffINDIEbookreview #TheDaydreamerDetectivebookreview

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I’m in an odd mood reading-wise, right now. So I was looking for something a bit gentle and quirky that could pull me into the story – and was delighted when this offering ticked all those boxes.

BLURB: Mei Yamagawa is out of luck and out of money. After five years in Tokyo, she has little to show for it besides a laundry list of unrealized dreams. Left without a choice, she returns to her rural Japanese hometown, ready to be branded a failure by her relatives and rivals. At the least, she looks forward to seeing her best friend, until Akiko is accused of murdering her own father.

As Mei helps her farmer mother with the crops, she scouts for clues to clear her friend’s name. But during her investigation, she can’t help but notice the celebrity chef looking in her direction. The amateur detective can balance a new love interest and a murder case… can’t she?

REVIEW: This one is an interesting mash-up. Yes, there is a murder mystery running through the middle of the narrative, which draws together the narrative. But it isn’t actually the pivot of the ongoing story. At the heart of this one is the fact that Mei, after being a bright, hardworking student and a talented artist, somehow has lost her way.

Instead of finding herself in charge of a project team and going from strength to strength, as she’d confidently expected when moving to the city some five years earlier, Mei has lost three jobs in a row. She has to return to her home town, in debt and rely on her mother’s help to get back on her feet, again. She feels an utter failure – and Pajonas has to tread a tricky path in convincing her readers of her protagonist’s misery and crippling self-doubt, without producing an annoyingly whiny heroine. I think she pulls it off.

What helps to jolt Mei from her own troubles is the news that her best friend’s father has been strangled and Akiko, her best friend since forever, is one of the chief suspects. The town is in the process of being regenerated, thanks to the interest of a large food corporation who are interested in buying up abandoned farms, building greenhouses and a large headquarters, thus providing much welcome jobs. As a consequence, after years of slow stagnation as young people left to seek jobs elsewhere, shops and businesses are now springing up. But there are farmers who don’t want to sell – and Akiko’s father had been one of them.

To be honest, the murder mystery doesn’t produce all that many convincing suspects, so it wasn’t difficult to work out whodunit. But as the Japanese setting was so intriguingly different – and Mei’s assistance is actually welcomed by the police, this detail wasn’t a dealbreaker. I also enjoyed the ongoing romance, which was sweet and well handled. Overall, this was a delightful, engrossing read that was just what I needed at a difficult time. I’ll certainly be reading more of this series.
8/10

Sunday Post – 2nd May, 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.

Here we are at the start of May… When did THAT happen?? Apologies for having been AWOL – last week I was ill again. Another spell of exhaustion, nausea and giddiness meant that I didn’t even open the computer most days – and I certainly wasn’t up to working. Or even getting out of bed… It was only yesterday that I started feeling like me, instead of the doddery old bat who’d insisted on invading my body. And my daughter and small granddaughter popping in to say hallo and pick up a postal label further helped to cheer me up.

Other than that, it’s been a quiet week, only enlivened by falling over when the nice chap came to administer our monthly swab and blood tests. So I also have a spectacular bruise on the side of my knee, where I missed smearing on the arnica cream.

I’m afraid I’ve no photos this week, as I haven’t made it outdoors.

Last week I read:
Ravenwood – Book 1 of the Tanyth Fairport Adventures series by Nathan Lowell
After twenty winters on the road, Tanyth makes one last pilgrimage in her quest to learn all she can about the herbs and medicinal plants of Korlay before settling down to write her magnum opus.

Her journey is interrupted when she stops to help a small village and learns that much of what she knows of the world may not be quite as it seems.
I loved Lowell’s space opera series, which I inhaled during March once I was well enough to read. So was pleased to get my hands on this one. I loved the protagonist, who is a middle-aged woman, who walked out of an abusive marriage and became a healer. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK Necessity’s Child – Book 16 of the Liaden Universe series by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
The kompani see none as an enemy, and yet few as friend. The kompani exist in many places, living quietly in the shadows, thriving off the bounty that others have no wit to secure, nor skill to defend. Their private history is unwritten; their recall rooted in dance and dream.

The Clan Korval is in many ways the opposite of the kompani. The interstellar trading clan is wealthy in enemies, and fortunate in friends. Korval protects itself with vigor, and teaches even its youngest children the art of war. And when representatives of Clan Korval arrive on the planet Surebleak where the kompani has lived, secret and aloof, the lives of three people intersect—Kezzi, apprentice to the kompani’s grandmother; Syl Vor, Clan Korval’s youngest warrior; and Rys, a man without a world, or a past.
I have read a couple of books from this entertaining, well written space opera series that reminds me at times of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. Unfortunately, one of the things they share is a very long backlist whose internal chronology doesn’t line up with the release dates… So I ended up listening to Book 16! That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and it reminded me all over again why I liked this series so much. Review to follow.

Dead in the Water – Book 3 of the Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow
Two crewmen of the crab vessel Avilda are missing—presumed dead—under very suspicious circumstances. The Bering Sea offers ample means and opportunity, but without bodies, a motive, or evidence of foul play, the DA doesn’t have a case. And so, freelancing again for her former employer, Kate Shugak finds herself working undercover in one of Alaska’s most dangerous professions: crab fisherman.

It’s an assignment that will take her from the debauchery of Dutch Harbor to the most isolated of the Aleutians, and if the job itself doesn’t kill her, her unsavory crewmates just might.
I’ve read the first two books in this interesting and unusual crime series, set in the wilds of Alaska. And realised I’ve the rest sitting on my Kindle – so I tucked into this one and thoroughly enjoyed it. Mini-review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK A Fatal Flying Affair – Book 7 of the Lady Hardcastle Mysteries series by T.E. Kinsey
August 1911. Emily Hardcastle and her inimitable lady’s maid Florence Armstrong are enjoying a fine summer until Harry, Lady H’s brother, turns up out of the blue with a mystery for them to solve.

A routine parachute test at a local aeroplane factory has gone horribly wrong—with pilot Dickie Dupree plummeting to his death. Harry is certain there is more to this ‘tragic accident’ than meets the eye, having discovered that someone at the airfield is leaking top secret intelligence to foreign rivals.

In between strolls to the Dog & Duck and planning for the annual village show, the daring duo dust off the Crime Board and go undercover at Bristol Aviation. With international powers investing heavily in aeronautics, the stakes are high—sky high—and the suspects soon mount up. Can Lady Hardcastle find the culprit before someone else falls down dead?
I’ve grown very fond of this sparky pair of unconventional women who are now working for His Majesty’s Government as a pair of spies, once again. And the outstanding narration of this latest tale was a delight to listen to when I was too tired to read…

The Wedding Date by Zara Stoneley
When Samantha Jenkins is asked to be the maid of honour at her best friend’s wedding, she couldn’t be happier. There are just three problems…

1) Sam’s ex-boyfriend, Liam, will be the best man.
2) His new girlfriend is pregnant.
3) Sam might have told people she has a new man when she doesn’t (see points 1 and 2 above)

So, Sam does the only sensible thing available to her… and hires a professional to do the job.

Actor Jake Porter is perfect for the role: single, gorgeous and cheap! Sam is certain it’s the perfect solution: no strings, no heartbreak and hopefully no chance of being found out.

But spending a week in the Scottish Highlands with Jake is harder than she imagined. He is the perfect boyfriend, charming, sexy and the hottest thing in a kilt since Outlander! And his dog Harry is quite possibly the cutest things Sam has ever seen!

As the wedding draws closer, Jake plays his part to perfection and everyone believes he is madly in love with Sam. The problem is, Sam’s not sure if Jake is acting anymore…
This was all I could have wanted – an entertaining, funny story told in a chirpy first-person viewpoint, with a guaranteed happy ending. Himself has been reading a slew of these, recently. And I can see why…

Schooled in Magic – Book 1 of The Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
Emily is a teenage girl pulled from our world into a world of magic and mystery by a necromancer who intends to sacrifice her to the dark gods. Rescued in the nick of time by an enigmatic sorcerer, she discovers that she possesses magical powers and must go to Whitehall School to learn how to master them.

There, she learns the locals believe that she is a “Child of Destiny,” someone whose choices might save or damn their world … a title that earns her both friends and enemies. A stranger in a very strange land, she may never fit into her new world …
I’ve always enjoyed Nuttall’s writing and when I was looking for something well written and not too gory – I found this. I’m a sucker for a really enjoyable magic school adventure and this one delivered all sorts of entertaining twists I didn’t expect. As well as some darkly funny moments. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Recollection by Gareth L. Powell

I’m sorry, but as I haven’t been browsing online this last week, I’ve no recommendations. In the meantime, thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog. I hope you had a peaceful, healthy week – and do take care. x

Two Audiobook FANTASY CHILDREN’S/YA mini-reviews: The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett & Magnus Chase and The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan #BrainfluffFANTASYCHILDRENS/YAmini-reviews #TheWeeFreeMenmini-review #MagnusChaseandtheSwordofSummermini-review

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AUDIOBOOK The Wee Free Men – Book 1 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett

BLURB: Armed only with a frying pan and her common sense, Tiffany Aching, a young witch-to-be, is all that stands between the monsters of Fairyland and the warm, green Chalk country that is her home. Forced into Fairyland to seek her kidnapped brother, Tiffany allies herself with the Chalk’s local Nac Mac Feegle – aka the Wee Free Men – a clan of sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men who are as fierce as they are funny. Together they battle through an eerie and ever-shifting landscape, fighting brutal flying fairies, dream-spinning dromes, and grimhounds – black dogs with eyes of fire and teeth of razors – before ultimately confronting the Queen of the Elves, absolute ruler of a world in which reality intertwines with nightmare. And in the final showdown, Tiffany must face her cruel power alone…

MINI-REVIEW: Listening to this was a complete joy, particularly with Tony Robinson’s storming performance as narrator. I loved reading this one way back when it first came out, then sharing it with my grandchildren – but hearing this version was every bit as much fun. And I’d thought nothing could beat sitting side by side with the children, laughing together at Pratchett’s humour… Very highly recommended for children of all ages.
10/10

AUDIOBOOK Magnus Chase and The Sword of Summer – Book 1 of the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series by Rick Riordan

BLURB: Magnus Chase has seen his share of trouble. Ever since that terrible night two years ago when his mother told him to run, he has lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, staying one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.

One day, Magnus learns that someone else is trying to track him down—his uncle Randolph, a man his mother had always warned him about. When Magnus tries to outmaneuver his uncle, he falls right into his clutches. Randolph starts rambling about Norse history and Magnus’s birthright: a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.

The more Randolph talks, the more puzzle pieces fall into place. Stories about the gods of Asgard, wolves, and Doomsday bubble up from Magnus’s memory. But he doesn’t have time to consider it all before a fire giant attacks the city, forcing him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents. . .

Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die.

MINI-REVIEW: I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Christopher Guetig’s excellent narration very ably depicted the cast of colourful characters who Magnus encounters on his adventures with the pantheon of Norse gods and minor deities. This had all the ingredients I enjoy in a fantasy adventure – plenty of testing encounters with all sorts of intriguing characters, high-stakes action, along with regular splashes of humour that didn’t become too heavy-handed. Riordan manages to make this look far easier than it is. I am delighted that I’ve more audiobooks in this series, waiting to sweep me up and into another world…
8/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLURB: Thirteen guests. One killer. No escape.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with images of TRAINS. I’ve selected Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith of The Ladies’ No 1 Detective Agency fame. And in case you haven’t encountered this little gem, I wrote a review of it back in 2014 – see my review of Trains and Lovers.

Pantheon, June 2013

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

Polygon, November 2012

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

Anchor, December 2013

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

Italian edition, April 2014

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

Polygon, August 2017

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