Category Archives: dragons

Sunday Post – 22nd March, 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.

Like everyone else, I’m reeling at how my world has changed. So far we are keeping well, as are the family, but we both have elderly parents. Mothering Sunday is something we have always celebrated and when we discovered that the Interflora service simply isn’t able to deliver flowers to my mother and mother-in-law – Himself insisted that we deliver them. Fortunately it’s doable, as both sets of parents live within a mile of each other. It’s a bit of a journey, though we made good time as the roads were a lot quieter than usual. We sat in the car and spoke on the phone, facing them through their windows as they opened their cards and admired the flowers. And we were able to blow kisses and tell our mothers how much we honour and love them, looking forward to the time when we can hug them again…

On Friday, my daughter and the family were moving, so Himself and I went to help. It was my job to keep little Eliza entertained in the front room, while furniture and bags of clothes and possessions were being loaded into the van. She is such a sunshine soul, and we had loads of fun together, but towards the end of the day, she was increasingly unhappy at the strangeness of it all – it’s so hard when you can’t explain what is going on. Himself was helping to carry furniture – fortunately they are only moving a short distance away – and reassemble bunk beds, etc. We staggered home around 8 pm, feeling a bit shattered – it’s times like these I realise I’m getting older… Fortunately, I heard from my daughter this morning and they are settling in. Eliza’s first night in the new home went reasonably well, too.

Last week I read:

AUDIOBOOK The Sword of Summer – Book 1 of the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series by Rick Riordan
Magnus Chase has always been a troubled kid. Since his mother’s mysterious death, he’s lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, keeping one step ahead of the police and the truant officers. One day, he’s tracked down by an uncle he barely knows—a man his mother claimed was dangerous. Uncle Randolph tells him an impossible secret: Magnus is the son of a Norse god.
Rick Riordan does this so very well… Magnus is an engaging protagonist – brave, principled and often very funny. The retelling of the pantheon of Norse gods through the lens of a modern, streetwise teenager is entertaining and engrossing, seeing as Riordan’s superpower is also handling excellent action scenes. I’m so glad I’ve more of these books on my Kindle.




No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished – Book 3 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron
When Julius overthrew his mother and took control of his clan, he thought he was doing right by everyone. But sharing power isn’t part of any proper dragon’s vocabulary, and with one seat still open on the new ruling Council, all of Heartstriker is ready to do whatever it takes to get their claws on it, including killing the Nice Dragon who got them into this mess in the first place. To keep his clan together and his skin intact, Julius is going to have to find a way to make his bloodthirsty siblings play fair.
This is shaping up to be one of my very favourite urban fantasy series in a long time… It doesn’t hurt that it features dragons, of course. But I love the progression, whereby at the end of each book some important new questions are raised, while the current story is being wrapped up. Thank goodness there is more Heartstriker awesomeness to dive into.




Interdicted Space – Book 2 of the Interstellar Enforcement Agency by Gillian Andrews
The universe needs saving, but is this makeshift crew really the stuff of superheroes?
Nivala’s first interstellar patrol is interrupted by extremely unwelcome visitors. Mallivan may have to take them on board; he doesn’t have to like it. His vociferous crewmembers certainly don’t. He is right to be concerned. The youngest member of the team is in imminent, grave danger…
While I enjoyed the first book, I loved this one. The story really took off with loads of exciting, well written action featuring characters I cared about. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this series, is that Humanity isn’t behaving at all well – and Mallivan is regarded in some quarters as a traitor to his species…




War of the Maps by Paul McAuley
On a giant artificial world surrounding an artificial sun, one man – a lucidor, a keeper of the peace, a policeman – is on the hunt. His target was responsible for an atrocity, but is too valuable to the government to be truly punished. Instead he has been sent to the frontlines of the war, to use his unique talents on the enemy. So the lucidor has ignored orders, deserted from his job, left his home and thrown his life away, in order to finally claim justice.
I saw this one on Netgalley and immediately requested to read it – McAuley is one of my favourite authors. And this has been a solid joy. The world is under attack from a variety of horribly mutated creatures – and one of the few people who can make inroads on this terrible invasion is also a murdering monster. Do you overlook his crimes and discount his victims for the sake of enlisting his help in a desperate struggle for survival? Which is one of the fascinating issues addressed in this beautifully written, engrossing adventure which deserves a LOT more attention than it’s currently receiving. Review to follow.


My posts last week:

Review of NETGALLEY arc Interdicted Space – Book 2 of the Interstellar Enforcement Agency series by Gillian Andrews

Friday Face-off featuring The Naturalist series by Andrew Mayne

Review of Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

Review of HARDBACK Recursion by Blake Crouch

Sunday Post – 15th March 2020

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

#Lifeathome with #children during #Selfquarantine: more excellent #online and #handsonactivities for #reading, #geography, #science, and #art courtesy of @anneclairewriter https://jeanleesworld.com/2020/03/20/lifeathome-with-children-during-selfquarantine-more-excellent-online-and-handsonactivities-for-reading-geography-science-and-art-courtesy-of-anneclarewriter/ Jean is letting us into her life via her fabulous blog as she has to adjust her daily routine – teaching online, as well as educating and occupying a set of lively twin boys and a clever daughter…

Deadly Companions: a reading list for the pandemic https://earthianhivemind.net/2020/03/20/deadly-companions-a-reading-list-for-the-pandemic/ My personal response is to dive into escapist adventures and shut it all out – but this is for those of you who would like to confront the whole business headon and see what history and excellent fiction has to offer in the way of lessons…

The Ballad of the Dunny Roll https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ia0bfWbOLjY If you want a drop of humour to leaven the misery – this Aussie skit on our inexplicable lust for more toilet paper than we’ll ever need is hilarious…

A shoutout to women over forty! https://rantingalong.blog/2020/03/20/a-shout-out-to-women-over-forty/ This tribute to those of us no longer in the first bloom of youth makes for an enjoyable read, too…

All those deleted drafts. Let’s discuss. https://feedyourfictionaddiction.com/2020/03/all-those-deleted-drafts-lets-discuss.html For the bloggers – does this chime with your experiences?

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

Sunday Post – 15th March, 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.

It’s been an up and down week. I’m still not fully recovered, so didn’t feel up to any fitness regime. We treated ourselves to a smart TV, so have been tucking into Picard, The Crossing, The Expanse and Outlander – all of which I’m loving. It seems a very good time to binge-watch escapist adventures, given how terrifyingly interesting Real Life is becoming. My thoughts go out to everyone, hoping you are all remaining safe and well…

On Wednesday, Himself and I went out for lunch at Haskins, enjoying the swathes of daffodils growing on the roadside and on Friday I drove to Brighton to spend the day with my daughter. It was a lovely sunny day and I thoroughly enjoyed watching my granddaughter having her swimming lesson – what a great age to become water confident. Only just walking, she is learning to enjoy putting her head under the water, splash about in the pool and hold onto the side. This morning, I met up with my sister and we had breakfast together at our favourite riverside café, putting the world to rights – which took some doing. I am making the most of getting out and about while I can and spending time with the people I love.

Last week I read:
AUDIOBOOK Longbourn by Jo Baker
In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended.
I’m a bit torn by this one. While the worldbuilding was brilliantly done and I very much appreciated seeing the Bennet family through the lens of the servants, the pacing was too slow in places – and that ending…! Review to follow.



On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999 — and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it — fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.
This was a reread, given I’ve started writing my own How-To book on Characterisation. It was just as enjoyably chatty and informative as I recalled, though some of the advice on how to get your work noticed is outdated.



Minimum Wage Magic – Book 1 of the DFZ series by Rachel Aaron
My name is Opal Yong-ae, and I’m a Cleaner: a freelance mage with an art history degree who’s employed by the DFZ to sort through the mountains of magical junk people leave behind. It’s not a pretty job, or a safe one—there’s a reason I wear bite-proof gloves—but when you’re deep in debt in a lawless city where gods are real, dragons are traffic hazards, and buildings move around on their own, you don’t get to be picky about where your money comes from. You just have to make it work, even when the only thing of value in your latest repossessed apartment is the dead body of the mage who used to live there.
This is a spinoff from the amazing Heartstriker series – though you don’t need to read one to appreciate the other. Seeing as I’m loving the quirky world Aaron has forged, I was happy to dive into this offering. Review to follow.



By the Pricking of Her Thumb – Book 2 of the Real-Town Murders series by Adam Roberts
Private Investigator Alma is caught up in another impossible murder. One of the world’s four richest people may be dead – but nobody is sure which one. Hired to discover the truth behind the increasingly bizarre behaviour of the ultra-rich, Alma must juggle treating her terminally ill lover with a case which may not have a victim.
Another gnarly case for the amazing Alma, set in a dystopian world. I loved the character and the mystery – but Roberts does drift away from the main plot to eulogise about Stanley Kubrick’s films and discuss theories on the role of money in society…

 




The Case of the Missing Servant – Book 1 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
The Case of the Missing Servant shows Puri (“Chubby” to his friends) and his wonderfully nicknamed employees (among them, Handbrake, Flush, and Handcream) hired for two investigations. The first is into the background of a man surprisingly willing to wed a woman her father considers unmarriageable, and the second is into the disappearance six months earlier of a servant to a prominent Punjabi lawyer, a young woman known only as Mary.
This book was part of my Valentine’s pressie from Himself – and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Hall’s depiction of contemporary India is vivid, unflinching, yet without being overly bleak or judgemental. I fell in love with Chubby when I read The Case of the Reincarnated Client and this book has cemented my affection for him.


My posts last week:

Friday Faceoff featuring WWW: Wake Book 1 of the WWW series by Robert Sawyer

February 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Winterbourn Home for Vengeance and Valor by Ally Carter

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Murder Your Darlings – Book 3 of the Francis Meadowes series by Mark McCrum

Sunday Post – 7th March 2020

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

How To Overcome Self Doubt as a Writer https://lorraineambers.com/2020/01/16/how-to-overcome-self-doubt-as-a-writer/ Having taught Creative Writing for 10 years, and written for more years than I care to recall – I’m aware just how crippling self doubt can be…

Women Building Art! https://platformnumber4.com/2020/03/07/women-building-art/ A lovely good news story about women achieving the highest accolade in a largely male-dominated industry…

Paul Brady, Arty McGlynn, Matt Molloy: Crazy Dreams (Hail St Patrick 2) https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2020/03/11/paul-brady-arty-mcglynn-matt-molloy-crazy-dreams-hail-st-patrick-2/ A fabulous article on Irish music from the awesome Thom Hickey

Thursday Doors – Cavan County Museum 5 https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2020/03/09/thursday-doors-cavan-county-museum-5/ Jean takes us back into the past…

Coronavirus and Parenting: What You Need to Know https://www.npr.org/2020/03/13/814615866/coronavirus-and-parenting-what-you-need-to-know-now?utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=social Given the nature of this unfolding emergency, arming our children with the knowledge to help them without overwhelming or terrifying them is a challenge. I thought this article was very helpful…

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

Series I Completed in 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SeriesICompletedin2019

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The High King’s Vengeance – Book 2 of Malessar’s Curse duology by Stephen Poore
The duology takes the classic ingredients of an epic fantasy, gives them a jolly good shake and tips them out… I loved the way we find the protagonist is as much the most convenient fool in the neighbourhood as the special chosen one. And that she discovers in the second book that most of the assumptions she’d made in The Heir to the North were wrong. Disastrously so, as it happens. Both The Heir to the North and The High King’s Vengeance are highly recommended – despite the dodgy covers.

 

The Fall of Dragons – Book 5 of The Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron
This epic fantasy comprises The Red Knight, The Fell Sword, The Dread Wyrm, A Plague of Swords and this concluding book – The Fall of Dragons. This high fantasy swords and sorcery adventure is chockfull of action with the battle scenes being particularly outstanding. Cameron wears armour and takes part in historical martial arts – and his own experience means he writes those aspects very well. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy and brilliant battle scenes.

 

 

Within the Sanctuary of Wings – Book 5 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan
This gave the whole series an enjoyable twist as a huge development occurs in this particular book that is a complete gamechanger. I’ve loved following the feisty Lady Trent through all her adventures, comprising A Natural History of Dragons, The Tropic of Serpents, The Voyage of the Basilisk, In the Labyrinth of Drakes – as well as this final instalment. This is historical fantasy adventure is completely original take on dragons and is very highly recommended.

 

No Going Back – Book 5 of the Jon and Lobo series by Mark L. Van Name
You’re going to think I mostly read five-book series… But once I finished this military sci fi thriller, where a mercenary teams up with a discarded sentient warship, published in 2012 by Baen, I was really sad to see there were no other books featuring these two likeable, battle-scarred characters. The series comprises Jump Twist Gate, an omnibus edition of the first two books – One Jump Ahead and Slanted Jack, Overthrowing Heaven, Children No More and No Going Back – review to follow. Highly recommended if you like your military sci fi on the quirky, thoughtful side.

 

 

The Poison Song – Book 3 of The Winnowing Flame trilogy by Jen Williams
I’ve always enjoyed the sheer mapcap energy that pings off the page with Williams’ writing, but this trilogy is where she showed what she could really do in this genre mash-up, where science fiction and fantasy collide in a magnificent shower of sparks… This series comprises  The Ninth Rain and The Bitter Twins, in addition to The Poison Song. Very highly recommended.

 

 

The Unbound Empire – Book 3 of the Swords and Fire trilogy by Melissa Caruso
I loved these books right from the first line onwards. Caruso pulled me right into the middle of her delightful world, where each magic-user needed to be bound to a controller. So what happens when this happens by accident, rather than by design? The intense, assured writing won me over, and it was with real pain that I took the decision that this one couldn’t make the final cut in my 2019 Outstanding Reads list. This series comprises The Tethered Mage and The Defiant Heir as well as The Unbound Empire. This YA fantasy is very highly recommended.

 

 

AUDIO The Empty Grave – Book 5 of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud
This outstanding children’s alternate fantasy, where people who have died in troubled circumstances turn into feral ghosts who are capable of appearing at night and killing the living. And only children are able to see and fight them… Lucy tells her gripping tale throughout these books, which are funny, poignant and genuinely frightening in places. This series comprises The Screaming Staircase, The Whispering Skull, The Hollow Boy, The Creeping Shadow as well as The Empty Grave. This outstanding series is very highly recommended.

 

 

A Season of Spells – Book 3 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Hunter
It’s the world that Hunter has created here that makes this one stand out. I’ll be honest – I think the first book is the best one. But I’m glad I also read the other two, as they added breadth and depth to this intriguing and complex version of Regency Britain, where Christianity never prevailed, Roman gods are acknowledged and the country is still a patchwork of smaller kingdoms loosely united by treaties. This series comprises The Midnight Queen and Lady of Magick in addition to A Season of Spells – review to follow.

 

 

AUDIO How To Fight a Dragon’s Fury – Book 12 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
Written for reluctant readers, this children’s epic fantasy adventure featuring a small, very ordinary-looking Viking boy, who isn’t all that good at most of the Viking pasttimes. And whose hunting dragon is very small and very, very naughty drew me in from the first by the sheer quality of the characterisation and plotting. I have read these adventures to both children, until they both decided they wanted to complete the books on their own. So I finally finished listening to the last handful of books on my own. Hiccup’s exploits were funny, gripping and ultimately absolutely heart-breaking, so I wept as I listened to the epilogue of this instalment, feeling like I’d lost a cherished friend. This series comprises How To Train Your Dragon, How To Be a Pirate, How To Speak Dragonese, How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse, How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale, A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons, How to Ride a Dragon’s Storm, How to Break a Dragon’s Heart, How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword, How to Seize a Dragon’s Jewel, How to Betray a Dragon’s Hero as well as How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury. Very highly recommended for children of all ages, who believe in dragons ages…

 

The Violent Fae – Book 3 of The Ordshaw series by Phil Williams
Lynn of Lynn’s Book Blog recommended this series – and I thoroughly enjoyed this quirky urban fantasy adventure with a difference. Letty the foul-mouthed fairy who bounces right back became a solid favourite with me. This trilogy comprises Under Ordshaw, Blue Angel as well as The Violent Fae. Recommended for urban fantasy fans who are looking for something different.

 

 

 

AUDIO The Last Olympian – Book 5 of Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
This children’s re-telling of the Greek myths, updated and made fresh when told through the eyes of young dyslexic half-blood, Percy Jackson. Frankie absolutely loved this series and so I thought I’d better discover what all the fuss was about. This clever, entertaining series comprises Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters, Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse, Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth as well as The Last Olympian. Highly recommended for those who enjoy teenage coming-of-age fantasy adventures. I didn’t review any of these books on my blog, as I felt most of what I had to say had already been covered about this very popular series.

 

 

AUDIO Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Audio Collection by Arthur Conan Doyle, with forewords written and narrated by Stephen Fry
This marvellous collection of the four novels and all the short stories provided over seventy hours of quality listening as I was decorating the bathroom during the summer. I broke it up, listening to other books in between each of the six sections, stretching it out as long as I could – so it was with a real sense of loss that I finally arrived at the last section. Overall, I was impressed at how well much of Conan Doyle’s canon stood the test of time, although there were a handful of horribly racist stories I simply skipped.

These were the series I completed during 2019. I’ll be posting another article charting those I’m intending to continue throughout 2020. What about you – have you read any of these and did you enjoy them, too?

Review of AUDIOBOOK How To Fight A Dragon’s Fury – Book 12 of How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell #Brainfluffbookreview #HowToFightaDragon’s Fury

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So here it is… the very last book in the series, which I started with Frankie way back in 2014. I started reading the books to him, then he wanted to continue listening to them on audio and it wasn’t until the beginning of last year that I was able to access his Audible account and join in the joys of audiobooks, so I could continue listening to this series.

BLURB: The Doomsday of Yule has arrived, and the future of dragonkind lies in the hands of one boy with nothing to show but everything to fight for. Hiccup’s quest is clear…but can he end the rebellion? Can he prove himself to be king? Can he save the dragons? The stakes have never been higher, as the very fate of the Viking world hangs in the balance!

Whatever else happens, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of this delightful, quirky series – don’t start here. It is the culmination of a twelve-book series packed with all sorts of adventures as a small boy, the heir to the Chief of the Hooligan Tribe, struggles to survive and overcome insanely difficult odds. And this current crisis he’s facing is the most insurmountable of the lot. He is fighting for the survival of humanity and/or the dragons as they are set to fight each other to extinction, although given the firepower the dragons are capable of, the outcome is a foregone conclusion… That’s the situation at the beginning of the book – Cowell is better than anyone else I know at providing overwhelming odds and then fantastic ways for her embattled protagonist to beat them. But this time around, I couldn’t see any way that Hiccup and Toothless would survive the end of this adventure unscathed – and I was wary, because people who matter can die in this series.

While I had enjoyed reading the books, the advantage of listening is that David Tennant also sings the songs – and especially in this book, the songs matter. They provide a strong emotional backdrop to the ongoing action, which was every bit as gripping and exciting – more so as I realised this was the last time I’d hear of Hiccup battling the impossible.

Cowell has written an epic. The overarching themes she covers provide morals and mottos that youngsters listening can use as life lessons. I’m aware that some reviewers became a bit exasperated by the way she emphasises these throughout, but I didn’t have a problem with them. Now in my 60s, it’s handy to remind myself that second best is often good enough and loyalty to those you love is important.

And… that ending. Oh my word. I was sitting in the kitchen and weeping as I heard the final epilogue. Perhaps, because I am now coming to a stage of my life when I, too, am starting to consider what I’ve done and whether it’s been good enough, the words particularly resounded with me. And now I’m sad that it’s over, but so very elated and joyful that I’ve had the chance to read and hear it. Very highly recommended. An outstanding series.
10/10

My Outstanding Reads of 2019 #Brainfluffbookblogger #2019OutstandingReads

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I have had another stormingly good reading year. The highlight being my immediate love affair with audiobooks, once I got hold of a Kindle Fire which could cope with the selection I’d already bought my dyslexic grandson to encourage him to keep reading. Needless to say, I’ve added to that list…

During 2019 I read 168 books and wrote 129 full reviews, with 26 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 a 10 – but something about these books has stayed with me and won’t let go, which is why they have made the cut. And none of this top ten rubbish – I can’t possibly whittle down my list any further.

 

Oracle’s War – Book 2 of The Olympus series by David Hair and Cath Mayo
I loved the layered characterisation of Odysseus and his complex relationships in this intelligent and politically aware retelling of events leading up to the Trojan War. This one has stayed in my memory and I’ve found myself often thinking about it. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones
I’d read this book before – but listening to the excellent narration by Jonathan Broadbent brought home the darker side of the story. It certainly isn’t a children’s read – as the exploitation of the magic kingdom takes some shocking turns, and while Wynne Jones doesn’t go into graphic detail, they are still there. Riveting and thought provoking. See my review.

 

Atlas Alone – Book 4 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman
This has been one of the outstanding science fiction series of the last few years for me and this latest slice in the adventure held me to the end. Dee’s driven, edgy character is so compelling – Newman writes these tricky protagonists with amazing skill. See my review.

 

Ascending – Book 1 of the Vardeshi Saga by Meg Pechenick
Alien first contact tales are a staple of science fiction, but rarely have they been covered with such skilled detail, featuring such a self-effacing protagonist as Avery. The second book is also an excellent read. See my review.

 

Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Wildest Horse Race by Lara Prior-Palmer
I picked up this true tale of adventure by accident – and I’m so pleased I did. The author opted to take part on a whim and even at the beginning, was clearly not really prepared for what followed. This fascinating account stayed with me throughout the year. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK Mythos: the Greek Myths retold, written and narrated by Stephen Fry
Listening to this offering while decorating the bathroom sweetened hours of tedious work as Fry’s smooth, chatty manner belied the scholarship and rigor that has gone into this retelling. See my review.

 

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
This is probably the most quirky, extraordinary read of this year’s selection. A series of letters between two protagonists on either side of a savage war – think Romeo and Juliet with knobs on – drives the narrative in this beautiful, desperate book. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK A Room Full of Bones – Book 4 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths
This offering took me completely by surprise. In fact, I’d felt rather fed up with Ruth’s struggles in the previous book – but this story took all the ingredients and ramped up the tension to an unexpectedly heart-rending degree that I still think about… See my review.

 

Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence by James Lovelock
The second non-fiction book in this list, I found Lovelock’s take on our future absolutely fascinating and unexpectedly uplifting. Given he is now over a hundred years old and has been working in a variety of scientific fields until very recently, his opinion is worth reading. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK The Empty Grave – Book 5 of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud
This was an unexpected treat. One of Frankie’s chosen series, I wasn’t prepared for the sheer quality of the characterisation and worldbuilding, although I should have been, after thoroughly enjoying the Bartimaeus Trilogy. This final book brought the outstanding series to a triumphant conclusion. It goes without saying that you MUST read the previous four books first. See my review.

 

Sweep of the Blade – Book 4 of the Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
I find this quirky science fiction/fantasy mash-up just goes on getting better and better. I really suffered a profound book hangover after I finished this one – and that doesn’t happen to me all that often. See my review.

 

Circe by Madeline Miller
I’m conscious there is rather a strong Greek myth theme running through this list – but that just goes to show how well-written these books are. And this one is a total joy. The protagonist isn’t pretty or charismatic, so finetunes her magical skills in an effort to prevail alongside sneering relations. And then it all goes wrong… Fabulous, layered characterisation of a powerful woman who has endured a shedload of suffering without it being bleak or self-pitying. See my mini-review.

 

Akin by Emma Donoghue
In these days of serial monogamy and blended families, this interesting, unsentimental book drills down into what – exactly – makes up family. Brilliantly executed and thought provoking. See my review.

 

Lent by Jo Walton
This author is one of the finest, most talented writers in the SFF genre today, so I was thrilled when this one came out. Settling in to read it, I was happily engrossed in 15th century Florence – until a THING happens that changes the whole dynamic. Brilliantly written and completely engrossing, if you were to force me to choose a single outstanding read this year – you’d be a cruel beast for doing so and I’d probably never speak to you again – it would be this one. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK How To Fight a Dragon’s Fury – Book 12 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
While I’d read a number of these books to the grandchildren, for one reason or another, I’d never reached the end, so when I realised we had the complete series on Audible, I started listening to the wonderful David Tennant’s narration. And then came the end… I was listening to this one with tears pouring down my face, unable to complete my chores. Epic fantasy of this calibre, written for reluctant primary school readers, is a rarity. Review to follow.

 

AUDIOBOOK To Say Nothing of the Dog – Book 2 of the Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis
This quirky, humorous homage to Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat is funny and completely engrossing – a thumping good listen. I loved it and though it isn’t quite as spectacular as her classic, Doomsday Book, that doesn’t prevent it making this list. See my review.

Have you read any of these offerings? What did you think of them? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these books! Wishing everyone a very happy, book-filled 2020…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Secret Chapter – Book 6 of The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman #Brainfluffbookreview #TheSecretChapterbookreview

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I was delighted to be approved to read an arc of this latest slice in Irene’s adventures – see my review of the first book, The Invisible Library. The catch was that I needed to read the previous two books, The Lost Plot and The Mortal Word in something of a hurry so that I got to it in the right order. It turned out to be a blessing – everyday life last week was rather fraught with family illness and these quirky, well-written adventures where just what I needed as an escape. Would The Secret Chapter prove to be as entertaining?

BLURB: A Librarian’s work is never done, and once Irene has a quick rest after their latest adventure, she is summoned to the Library. The world where she grew up is in danger of veering deep into chaos, and she needs to obtain a particular book to stop this from happening. No copies of the book are available in the Library, so her only choice is to contact a mysterious Fae information broker and trader of rare objects: Mr. Nemo. Irene and Kai make their way to Mr. Nemo’s remote Caribbean island and are invited to dinner, which includes unlikely company. Mr. Nemo has an offer for everyone there: he wants them to steal a specific painting from a specific world. He swears that he will give each of them an item from his collection if they bring him the painting within the week.

This latest slice of Irene’s adventures is essentially a heist story. Irene and Kai find themselves having to work alongside a team of rather dodgy characters – something she is far too used to doing. However, this crew are every bit as dangerous as the task they have been set by the shadowy Mr Nemo. I love the way Cogman plays with stereotypes – imagine a James Bond villain, complete with the Caribbean island setting and hungry sharks lurking in a hidden tank beneath their feet.

I am not going into any details as it would be a real shame to spoil this entertaining, twisty story packed with incidents and surprises. Cogman is very adept at creating an action-packed adventure without losing the overall impetus of the story, which is a harder trick to pull off than she makes it look. Once again, we learn more about the closed world of dragon society and just how dangerous they can be when crossed. I love the way in which Cogman reveals extra details about the world in which she has set the Invisible Library with each successive book. It isn’t a new trick, as all good series do the same thing – but she is particularly good at delivering new facts that suddenly change the reader’s perception of what is going on. I love it when that happens.

I ended up reading the last three books in this series back to back, which is something I generally don’t do. And it is a testament to Cogman’s writing skill and mastery of plot development that by the end of The Secret Chapter I was still thoroughly entertained and sorry when the book came to an end.

This classy series just goes on delivering and is highly recommended for fans of good-quality portal fantasies. The ebook arc copy of The Secret Chapter was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10

Sunday Post – 17th November, 2019 #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 a horrible week. Himself sustained a shoulder injury, and has been in a great deal of pain throughout the week, despite a visit to the doctor and two physio sessions. Looking back, I realised that he has increasingly been unable to fully move his neck for a while but because he wasn’t suffering any pain, I didn’t do anything more about it. I wish I had. He is signed off work until Wednesday but barring a miracle I can’t see him returning. I hate seeing him suffer so much despite heat packs, cold compresses, Voltarol rubs, arnica oil massages, exercises, painkillers and using the trusty TENS machine.

To add to the general fun, that wretched headache I’d suffered last Friday hung around until Wednesday, as welcome as a bad smell, leaving me still exhausted and drained. I’ve missed writing group, the monthly West Sussex Writers’ Club meeting, and had to cancel a one-day Poetry Day I was supposed to be running yesterday.

Last week I read:

The Mortal Word – Book 5 of The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
A corrupt countess. A spy in danger. And an assassin at large.
Peace talks are always tricky . . . especially when a key diplomat gets stabbed. This murder rudely interrupts a top-secret summit between the warring dragons and Fae, so Librarian-spy Irene is summoned to investigate. In a version of 1890s Paris, Irene and her detective friend Vale must track down the killer – before either the peace negotiations or the city go up in flames. Accusations fly thick and fast. Irene soon finds herself in the seedy depths of the Parisian underworld on the trail of a notoriously warlike Fae, the Blood Countess. However, the evidence against the Countess is circumstantial. Could the assassin – or assassins – be closer than anyone suspects?
Cogman manages to successfully evoke the claustrophobic sense of closing timescales as problems multiply when deaths, kidnapping attempts and deadly attacks on the hotel holding the talks all stack up. I love the way we learn a little bit more about both the Fae and the dragon worlds with each book.

 

The Secret Chapter – Book 6 of The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
As Irene tries to manage a fraught Fae–dragon truce and her overbearing parents, she’s given a hot new mission. The world where she grew up is in danger and only one book can save it. This is held by Mr Nemo, secretive Fae villain and antique dealer, so Irene and Kai travel to his Caribbean retreat to strike a deal. But in return for the book, they must steal a painting from twenty-first-century Vienna. They’ll join a team of dragons, Fae gamblers and thieves, so their greatest challenge may be one another. And some will kill to protect this painting, which hides an extraordinary secret from a past age.
Yet another full-on adventure in this excellent paranormal series. I love the varying settings this portal fantasy provides, with a sympathetic, clever protagonist and wonderful pacing. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Review of Sweep of the Blade – Book 4 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews

Friday Faceoff featuring Robots and the Empire – Book 4 of the Robot series by Isaac Asimov

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Body Tourists series by Jane Rogers

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Starship Alchemon by Christopher Hinz

Teaser Tuesday featuring Mantivore Prey – Book 2 of The Arcadian Chronicles by S.J. Higbee

Review of Bright Shards – Book 2 of the Vardeshi Saga by Meg Pechenick

Sunday Post 10th November 2019

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

What happens when a bot writes your blog posts https://thisislitblog.com/2019/11/16/what-happens-when-a-bot-writes-your-blog-posts/ Shruti wondered whether she was replaceable as a blogger – the result is hilarious…

Linguistic Interventions (et tu Bayer?) https://writerunboxed.com/2019/11/15/this-is-not-why-we-scribe-bayer/ How much does the mangling of our language irritate you? Or don’t you care? Porter certainly does…

November 15th, “I Love to Write Day” https://literacyletters.wordpress.com/2019/11/15/november-15th-i-love-to-write-day/ Rae throws out the question – why do YOU love to write? Are you up for answering?

Non-Fiction November: Become an Expert… on Gender! https://rathertoofondofbooks.com/2019/11/11/non-fiction-november-become-the-expert-on-gender/ Hayley has decided to read a series of books on this complicated subject. What a cool way to investigate a tricky issue!

Ways to cope with a character death (and other unfortunate scenes) https://bookwyrmingthoughts.com/ways-to-cope-with-a-character-death-and-other-unfortunate-scenes/ Have you ever been traumatised by a character death? Sophia suggests ways of coping…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week.

Sunday Post – 3rd November, 2019 #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.

Last week I was travelling home from Bristolcon and as our train was delayed and in order to avoid a bus trip for the last leg, Himself drove to Southhampton to pick us up, we got home later than we had planned and I was frankly too exhausted to sit down and write a post.
I won’t be saying too much about Bristolcon here, because I do want to write a separate post about it.

Mhairi stayed over for the week, which was a real treat and left on Friday to go on a writing retreat with some friends. We had plenty of time to catch up with what each other is doing, and acknowledge the fact that we badly miss each other’s support and advice on a day-to-day basis. I was still able to continue with Fitstep and Pilates and as luck would have it, it was half term here, so I didn’t have any lessons to eat into my time with Mhairi. It was just a shame about the weather as we had planned to go for walks along the beach in between the writing. It didn’t happen on account of the rain.

Last week I read:

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz
A notorious anti-patent scientist who has styled herself as a Robin Hood heroine fighting to bring cheap drugs to the poor, Jack’s latest drug is leaving a trail of lethal overdoses across what used to be North America—a drug that compels people to become addicted to their work. On Jack’s trail are an unlikely pair: an emotionally shut-down military agent and his partner, Paladin, a young military robot, who fall in love against all expectations. Autonomous alternates between the activities of Jack and her co-conspirators, and Elias and Paladin, as they all race to stop a bizarre drug epidemic that is tearing apart lives, causing trains to crash, and flooding New York City.
This thought-provoking read raises some interesting issues regarding the dynamic of power both in society at large and more interestingly, at an individual level in relationships.

 

How To Betray a Dragon’s Hero – AUDIOBOOK 11 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
High up in the Treacherous mists of the Murderous Mountains, Hiccup and the Company of the Dragonmark are in hiding. The witch’s Vampire Spydragons are guarding the shores of Tomorrow — but Hiccup is determined to become King of the Wilderwest. Can Hiccup dodge the dragons and steal back the King’s Things from Alvin before the Doomsday of Yule? And is there a traitor in Hiccup’s camp who, in the end, will betray them all?
Annoyingly, I managed to skip this one before reaching the end of the series. But I didn’t want to miss out on any Hiccup goodness, so I’ve backtracked to listen to this slice of the adventure, in order to put off the inevitable heartache of admitting that I’ve finally come to the end of this marvellous, marvellous series.

 

The Mermaid and the Bear by Ailish Sinclair
Isobell needs to escape. She has to. Her life depends on it. She has a plan and it’s a well thought-out, well observed plan, to flee her privileged life in London and the cruel man who would marry her, and ruin her, and make a fresh start in Scotland. She dreams of faery castles, surrounded by ancient woodlands and misty lochs… and maybe even romance, in the dark and haunted eyes of a mysterious Laird. Despite the superstitious nature of the time and place, her dreams seem to be coming true, as she finds friendship and warmth, love and safety. And the chance for a new beginning… Until the past catches up with her.
After enjoying her blog and learning that she has a book recently published, I decided to check it out. It is an enchanting historical romance with a lovely, large-hearted protagonist, who nonetheless has a hard time of it… Review to follow.

 

Journaled to Death by Heather Redmond
Divorced single mom Mandy Meadows scrapes by working as a barista and receiving payments from her cousin, Ryan, who rents her basement apartment. At night, she and her teenage daughter Vellum run a successful home business creating journaling content on their popular social media channels. But Mandy’s carefully organized world is about to come crashing down. While filming their latest journaling tutorial, Mandy and Vellum hear a loud noise on the basement stairs, and Mandy makes a horrifying discovery…
I’ve tweaked the rather spoilery blurb to this rather twisty whodunit. I’m not sure I’d classify this one as a cosy murder mystery. While it isn’t drenched in gore or horrific action scenes, Mandy’s life is frankly a slog while she struggles to balance two jobs and the needs of a teenager, living a hand-to-mouth existence. I really enjoyed the overall story, though, and will be reviewing it.

My posts last week:

Review of Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Friday Faceoff featuring Red Moon by Kim Stanley Robinson

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

Review of The Mysterious Howling – Book 1 of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood

Teaser Tuesday featuring Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

Review of Fall of Dragons – Book 5 of The Traitor Son by Miles Cameron

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

SciFi Month 2019: Plot Your Course https://onemore.org/2019/10/17/scifimonth-2019-plot-your-course/ This is running throughout November and as a big fan of science fiction, I’ve been reading and writing reviews I hope to feature during the month. And read plenty of other folks’ too😊

Jerpoint Abbey Tour https://inesemjphotography.com/2019/09/14/jerpoint-abbey-tour/ It’s always a treat when Inessa features another picture tour on her wonderful blog – and this one is just magical…

The Perils and Pitfalls of Research https://writerunboxed.com/2019/10/30/the-perils-and-pitfalls-of-research/ If you need to research some additional material before starting the novel – at what point do you decide you have enough? Some really good advice here…

The Best Poems for November https://interestingliterature.com/2019/10/30/the-best-poems-for-november/ As ever, another interesting article from this invaluable site – I would just add that the Thomas Hood poem ‘November’ has a longer form, vividly describing the seasonal smogs that regularly used to envelope the larger cities at this time of year.

The Evolution of Dragons in Western Literature: A History by Yvonne Shiau https://www.tor.com/2019/10/23/the-evolution-of-dragons-in-western-literature-a-history/ I stumbled across this article by accident and loved it. I hope you do, too…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week.

Review of LIBRARY book The Fall of Dragons – Book 5 of The Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron #Brainfluffbookreview #TheFallofDragonsbookreview

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I’d read the previous books in this series and enjoyed them – see my review of The Dread Wyrm, The Red Knight and The Fell Sword – then somehow this one slipped through the cracks, so when I saw it on the library shelves, I scooped it up, despite blanching at the prospect of reading 600+ pages of reasonably small print…

BLURB: In the climax of the Traitor Son Cycle, the allied armies of the Wild and the Kingdoms of men and women must face Ash for control of the gates to the hermetical universe, and for control of their own destinies. But exhaustion, treachery and time may all prove deadlier enemies. In Alba, Queen Desiderata struggles to rebuild her kingdom wrecked by a year of civil war, even as the Autumn battles are fought in the west. In the Terra Antica, The Red Knight attempts to force his unwilling allies to finish the Necromancer instead of each other. But as the last battle nears, The Red Knight makes a horrifying discovery… all of this fighting may have happened before.

One of the reasons why I’d hesitated in getting hold of this one, was my concern that I would have forgotten too many details about the series that would make getting back into this world something of a struggle. In the event, that didn’t prove to be a problem. Cameron’s smooth writing and delivery ensured that I was quickly brought up to speed where necessary, and at no time did I flounder in trying to work out what was going on. This is a feat on his part, because just like in George RR Martin’s a Song of Ice and Fire series, the action takes place in a variety of locations and the viewpoint shifts between a wide cast of characters. I often find this structure to be annoying, as my preferred scenarios tend to play out in tightly confined backdrops featuring a small number of well-developed and highly nuanced characters to get the depth of story that I really appreciate.

Given that most of the book is concerned with an ongoing war, wherein an increasing number of skirmishes lead up to a large set-piece battle, this clearly wasn’t going to happen. Yet I was pulled into the book almost from the first page and found the pages turned themselves as I was swept along by the action, identifying with each character’s motives.

One of the reasons why this worked so well was Cameron’s mastery of the pacing. Just as I was beginning to wonder what would be filling the rest of the book, there was a sudden twist in the story that gave the whole world a completely different dimension. I’m not going to say more on the grounds that it would be a real spoiler, but it certainly worked well and added an extra layer of poignancy to the current struggle. One of my difficulties with epic fantasy is that it frequently lacks that layer of emotional connection that I particularly enjoy – hardly a surprise when the action is often the driving force in the narrative with each character playing a relatively small piece in the overarching battle plan. Cameron manages to make his characters matter to the extent that one of the reasons why those pages kept turning was that I really cared about a number of his cast and was keen to see what would happen to them. Inevitably, in this war scenario a number of them don’t make it – something else that I generally heartily dislike. And yet this time around I took a deep breath and just kept on reading.

Of course, the catch in this form of writing is that the final battle has to deliver with plenty of heart-stopping action and a huge climax that also packs an emotional punch sufficient to satisfy the reader who has slogged through the previous 600+ pages to get here. Again, Cameron triumphantly succeeds. I finished this book with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes, feeling hollowed out by the resultant drama. This book is a marvellous end to a really high-quality series. Recommended for fans of epic and high fantasy.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Forgotten Palace: An adventure in Presadia by Luke Aylen #Brainfluffbookreview #TheForgottenPalacebookreview

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I can’t lie – once again it was the cover with that amazing dragon’s eye peering through the castle window that sucked me into requesting this one. Much to my surprise, this year I seem to have read a number of children’s books – would I enjoy this one?

BLURB: Deep in the heart of Presadia’s Great Forest lie many secrets, including the ancient ruins of a once-magnificent palace. A chance encounter with a bedraggled stranger and the discovery of broken shards of a magical mirror lead Antimony, an unusually tall dwarf, on a journey of discovery.

The blurb continues for another couple of paragraphs, busily letting drop a number of plotpoints I think would be better for the reader if they encountered them in the book, rather than waiting for them to happen. I like fourteen-year-old Luke, who is unusually tall for a dwarf with a flair for problem-solving and design and impatiently waiting for his beard to start growing. It was a refreshing change to find he comes from a close-knit community and has a loving mother who provides staunch support throughout, rather than the classic child protagonist without any positive adult in his life.

I did struggle a bit at the start of the book, even though I’m very used to being tipped sideways into adventures owing to my habit of crashing midway into series. Unhelpfully, neither Amazon, Goodreads, or the cover give any indication of the previous book The Mirror and the Mountain where we follow the fortunes of two children who have fallen through a portal into this medieval-type society. My advice would be to get hold of the first book before embarking on this one, as while I did sort out what was going on before it spoilt the story for me, I’m an experienced reader. It wouldn’t be fair to expect a youngster to pick their way through the various references to previous events and characters that they never meet.

Once I gathered exactly what was going on, I was able to relax into the story. Aylen writes an old-school epic fantasy, where Good and Evil are personified by the characters within the story and adventures are there to test their mettle.

I did like the way all the different races came together to rebuild the palace, despite the evident tensions between them. I would have liked a bit more discussion on how the task would provide all those toiling to rebuild it with protection and shelter, rather than focusing on how much the King wanted it rebuilt so he could fix the land. While this is clearly epic fantasy, there were times when the emphasis on the grand ambitions of peace and renewal gave this book a slightly old-fashioned feel and I’m intrigued to find out how today’s modern youngsters react to it.

That said, I enjoyed the characters and the story and would recommend it for independent readers from ten/eleven years old and upward – the battle scenes might be a bit too gory for younger readers. The ebook arc copy of The Forgotten Palace: An adventure in Presadia was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10