Category Archives: dystopian fantasy

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Book Eaters By Sunyi Dean #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheBookEatersbookreview

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Being a huge fan of books, a story about a mysterious race being able to actually eat them seemed an intriguing premise, so I was delighted to be approved to read this one.

BLURB: Out on the Yorkshire Moors lives a secret line of people for whom books are food, and who retain all of a book’s content after eating it. To them, spy novels are a peppery snack; romance novels are sweet and delicious. Eating a map can help them remember destinations, and children, when they misbehave, are forced to eat dry, musty pages from dictionaries.

Devon is part of The Family, an old and reclusive clan of book eaters. Her brothers grow up feasting on stories of valor and adventure, and Devon—like all other book eater women—is raised on a carefully curated diet of fairytales and cautionary stories. But real life doesn’t always come with happy endings, as Devon learns when her son is born with a rare and darker kind of hunger—not for books, but for human minds.

REVIEW: I enjoyed the prospect of reading a book about beings who snacked on books to become their own walking libraries – though the premise that Dean presents is less cosy than the one I envisaged. Essentially, these are vampiric creatures whose superior strength and speed make them formidable opponents. And while they do absorb the knowledge of the books they read, there isn’t a sense that they put it to particularly good use. Indeed, they are portrayed as a dying breed desperately trying to avoid extinction as the handful of surviving Families farm out their rare daughters in arranged marriages to try to ensure the next generation. As for the girls, they are force-fed a diet of fairy tales featuring princesses waiting for their princes in an attempt to make them compliant about their fate.

However, Devon has never been the compliant sort – and when she produces a son with undesirable traits, she refuses to allow the patriarch to tidy him away according to the custom. She is an engaging protagonist – headstrong, courageous and passionate in her loyalty and love. It was refreshing to come across a book where the love story is all about the maternal bond – even if that takes Devon into some very dark places. I am always fascinated by the dynamic of power – who has it, the lengths they go to in order to keep hold of it, and who also craves it. So it was a huge treat for me that one of the major themes of this book is an exploration of power.

This dystopian fantasy proved to be a gripping read, full of tension and drama. But do be warned – it does tip into horror and there is an upsetting scene where a baby is harmed. While it was difficult to read in places, I liked Dean’s unflinching refusal to ever tip into sentimentality regarding the relationship between Devon and her young son, Cai. Highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The Book Eaters from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID – 23

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

This is something of a momentous post. I’ve taken the decision that this will be the final Sunday Post where I’ll be focusing on the Long Covid that I’ve been dealing with since I got sick with Covid-19, back on 6th March 2021. That’s not to say I’m fully recovered. Yesterday, I needed to take it really easy as I suddenly ran out of energy the previous evening. But while I must always take into consideration how I’m feeling – the constant exhaustion that once blanketed me and turned me into a bedridden invalid is no longer defining my life and every single action I take. I will be writing another post, where I’ll sum up my experience with Long Covid and include the things that helped and those that didn’t. But unless I have a catastrophic relapse (fingers crossed that doesn’t happen!!) my regular account of my struggles with the ‘weird beast’, as my doctor calls it, are now ending. I want to thank everyone here. Many of you have been so supportive with encouraging words, while some have even been praying for me. Not being able to leave the house for months meant that all my interactions were online – and your kind comments and the knowledge that you were there and cared at a time when I didn’t know if I’d ever get better often gave me a burst of positivity and courage when I most needed it. Thank you, all of you, for being here and letting me know that you were thinking of me. Book people are the best😊.

We are now busy getting ready for school, as Oscar goes back tomorrow. He’s not looking forward to it, but I’m hoping that once he gets back into the swing of the daily routine, he will find it’s not quite as bad as he thinks. Ethan finished his summer job yesterday and resumes college next week. We are thrilled that he got a Distinction for his final first year project, which is such an achievement given his severe dyslexia.

I’m not quite sure where the summer went – I’m sure that when I was a girl, six weeks lasted a lot longer. Given the shoddy quality of politicians these days, I wouldn’t be surprised if the scallywags in the Government have gone and devalued the length of days behind our backs. It seems the sort of shifty nonsense they’d get up to. While the weather is now pleasantly cooler, we are still seeing plenty of sunshine, with temperatures in the high 60s and low 70s during the day. I just wish we were getting more rain – which is something I never thought I’d say…

Last week I read:-

AUDIOBOOK – Her Majesty’s Royal Coven – Book 1 of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven series by Juno Dawson, narrated by Nicola Coughlan
If you look hard enough at old photographs, we’re there in the background: healers in the trenches; Suffragettes; Bletchley Park oracles; land girls and resistance fighters. Why is it we help in times of crisis? We have a gift. We are stronger than Mundanes, plain and simple.

At the dawn of their adolescence, on the eve of the summer solstice, four young girls–Helena, Leonie, Niamh and Elle–took the oath to join Her Majesty’s Royal Coven, established by Queen Elizabeth I as a covert government department. Now, decades later, the witch community is still reeling from a civil war and Helena is now the reigning High Priestess of the organization. Yet Helena is the only one of her friend group still enmeshed in the stale bureaucracy of HMRC. Elle is trying to pretend she’s a normal housewife, and Niamh has become a country vet, using her powers to heal sick animals. In what Helena perceives as the deepest betrayal, Leonie has defected to start her own more inclusive and intersectional coven, Diaspora. And now Helena has a bigger problem. A young warlock of extraordinary capabilities has been captured by authorities and seems to threaten the very existence of HMRC. With conflicting beliefs over the best course of action, the four friends must decide where their loyalties lie: with preserving tradition, or doing what is right.
This has been one of the reading highlights of the summer. I’ve been suffering from a real book hangover since I finished listening to this one. The cracking story with plenty of drama and magic, alongside relevant contemporary issues has left me yearning for the next one in the series. Very highly recommended. 10/10

Witchy Reservations: A Paranormal Cozy Mystery – Book 1 of the Mystic Inn Mystery series by Stephanie Damore
There’s nothing practical about magic—which is why I ditched my wand years ago.

Thirteen years, to be exact. The day I left Silverlake.

Except now, a family emergency has called me back home, and quite frankly, I’d rather be anywhere but here. But when my aunt raises her wand to cure a friend and he ends up dead, it becomes abundantly clear I’m not leaving anytime soon.
This cosy murder mystery is escapist fun with plenty of twists and suspects along the way. I liked the engaging protagonist, whose first-person narrative makes the story go with a swing. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK – The Accidental Alchemist – Book 1 of The Accidental Alchemist series by Gigi Pandian, narrated by Julia Motyka
Unpacking her belongings in her new hometown of Portland, Oregon, herbalist and reformed alchemist Zoe Faust can’t help but notice she’s picked up a stowaway. Dorian Robert-Houdin is a living, breathing three-and-half-foot gargoyle – not to mention a master of French cuisine – and he needs Zoe’s expertise to decipher a centuries-old text. Zoe, who’s trying to put her old life behind her, isn’t so sure she wants to reopen her alchemical past… until the dead man on her porch leaves her no choice.

Includes recipes!
This is huge fun. And I loved the fact that the very scrummy-sounding recipes are all vegan😊. Apart from the food, other enjoyable ingredients are a quirky gargoyle, nicely snarky teenagers and a sympathetic protagonist with a long, sad past, who is desperate to escape official notice. I really cared for the characters and enjoyed listening to this one, as Portlanders begin to succumb to mysterious poisoning. 8/10

The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean
Out on the Yorkshire Moors lives a secret line of people for whom books are food, and who retain all of a book’s content after eating it. To them, spy novels are a peppery snack; romance novels are sweet and delicious. Eating a map can help them remember destinations, and children, when they misbehave, are forced to eat dry, musty pages from dictionaries.

Devon is part of The Family, an old and reclusive clan of book eaters. Her brothers grow up feasting on stories of valor and adventure, and Devon—like all other book eater women—is raised on a carefully curated diet of fairytales and cautionary stories.

But real life doesn’t always come with happy endings, as Devon learns when her son is born with a rare and darker kind of hunger—not for books, but for human minds.
This is another reading highlight – I really have had a wonderful reading week. This dark fantasy packs a punch – it grabbed me by the collar and wouldn’t let go. I’ve seen comparisons with The Handmaid’s Tale and while I don’t agree, as there are far too many significant differences, I can see why some readers went there. Review to follow.

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m beginning to be able to visit more sites, although it all depends on whether I’ve enough energy – so I appreciate your patience if you’ve dropped by and I haven’t immediately responded. Take care and have a lovely week.

Review of NETGALLEY arc Absynthe by Brendan Bellacourt #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Absynthebookreview

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For those of you who are interested in such things, Brendan Bellacourt also writes under the name of Bradley Beaulieu. I loved his exciting Sand and Sorcery trilogy The Song of the Shattered Sands – see my reviews of Twelve Kings and Blood Upon the Sand – so I was keen to get hold of this arc when I realised who the author is. Would I enjoy his science fiction writing as much as his fantasy?

BLURB: truncated: Liam Mulcahey, a reclusive, shell-shocked veteran, remembers little of the Great War. Ten years later, when he is caught in a brutal attack on a Chicago speakeasy, Liam is saved by Grace, an alluring heiress who’s able to cast illusions. Though the attack appears to have been committed by the hated Uprising, Grace believes it was orchestrated by Leland De Pere–Liam’s former commander and the current President of the United States.

Meeting Grace unearths long-buried memories. Liam’s former squad, the Devil’s Henchmen, was given a serum to allow telepathic communication, transforming them into a unified killing machine. With Grace’s help, Liam begins to regain his abilities, but his journey towards self-discovery hits a major roadbump, when he becomes a target for those who are determined to prevent him from learning who he is really is and what he can do.

REVIEW: I’ve tweaked the very chatty blurb and my advice is to give it a miss, as it gives away far too many of the main plotpoints of the story. This is an intriguing world, clearly still fractured and struggling after the terrible events of the Great War. In this alternate United States ended up fighting a desperate war against a coalition of Britain, France, Canada and Germany and only narrowly managed to win, thanks to the valiant intervention of the now-President De Pere. Their technology is far in advance of where we were in the 1920s, as huge strides have been made in the field of virology, so that people can undergo major transformations, both physically and mentally on being injected by serums.

I particularly enjoyed the opening sequences of this book, where we are firmly in Liam’s head and he reluctantly attends a public opening for a new train as a favour to his friend – and it is Liam’s journey that powers this narrative. Personally, I would have preferred it if the narrative had kept with Liam throughout, as there were times when we were with other characters and I was conscious that I was flipping the pages wanting to get back to him.

The fast-moving, twisty plot provides a number of surprises. The worldbuilding was especially well done, so that I was able to visualise the interesting blend of art deco and steampunk, with a helping of speakeasies and vintage cars to add to the richness. This is an ambitious novel that examines the theme of power – who has it, who wants it and what some people will do for it. None of the conclusions are particularly original or world-shattering. But I like the fact that Bellacourt ends up having power as a personification – and that the damage started when initially decent people decided that the means justified the ends when they were in desperate straits.

However, if you’d rather read it as a straightforward 1920s steampunk action adventure story – fans of this genre should find it an entertaining book. While I obtained an arc of Absynthe from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Firesky – Book 2 of The Chronicles of Stratus by Mark de Jager #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Fireskybookreview

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I’m a sucker for dragons – which is rather stating the obvious, given that I’m in the middle of writing a series allll about the trials and tribulations of Castellan the Black. So I loved the cover and the description of this book, and was delighted when I was able to get hold of an arc.

BLURB: Relentless. Unstoppable. Dragon.

Desire burns in Stratus’ soul, powerful like an inferno. With his memory returning, he finally knows who—and what—he is. His is a dragon, brought low by the hand of a dark magician known as the Worm King, separated from his true love, tortured for centuries and now trapped inside the body of a human.

But with the memories of his old life comes a return of his true magic, and with it, his true form is slowly returning. And Stratus wants revenge. Bloody and relentless, he slaughters his way through hordes of the undead to reach his archenemy, fighting not only for his own justice but for the whole of humanity…

REVIEW: I hadn’t appreciated that this was the second book in the series until I went looking for the details, as de Jager does a really good job of giving snippets of Stratus’s eventful backstory when it’s necessary. However, I assume that in order to get the best from this draconic adventure – the ideal would be to go and pick up Infernal before tucking into this offering.

While I did enjoy this book, I will mention that it is on the darker side of the fantasy genre. It is liberally splashed with gore throughout – Stratus has a suitably ferocious appetite and his diet isn’t remotely vegetarian. The magic featured is also particularly nasty, as the villainous wizards are necromancers which means they are up to their necks in death spells. While there are flashes of rather dark humour, I did break off in the middle to read something a bit lighter as I found the relentless violence and constant death a bit difficult to cope with. But do bear in mind that I’m dealing with Long Covid, so I’m not really looking for dark and doomy. That said – at no time was I tempted to stop reading this one.

Stratus is a wonderful character. He is in human form, but de Jager nails the aura of difference that surrounds him. At no stage in this longish book (544 pages) did I ever forget that Stratus is a dragon. It’s well done. Indeed, while de Jager isn’t an elegant writer – there were times when I was yanked out of the story because of the odd sentence construction, particularly in the beginning – he writes with passionate conviction. His descriptions of his apocalyptic settings are gripping and viscerally evoked, given that we see them through the filter of Stratus and his perceptions. The other impressive aspect of Stratus’s characterisation is that although his actions are often brutal and unpleasant, I was always firmly on his side. That’s a tricky balance to achieve – and one that de Jager triumphantly pulls off.

I loved the story arc and the fact that the pace and tension never let up throughout. And I also particularly enjoyed the ending. All in all, this is an entertaining, enjoyable read – and if you are a fan of epic fantasy on the darker side, then give this one a go. Stratus is a character that I shan’t forget in a hurry. While I obtained an arc of Firesky from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #6

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This is my fortnightly update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 9 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Review.

Life has been very busy this last fortnight. The good news is that I’ve now recovered from the flu jab and am definitely feeling a lot better. However, on the same day both our washing machine and hairdryer died. This is a major problem as Himself immediately changes out of his uniform and puts it straight into the washing machine as soon as he comes home from work, to cut down the risk of infection. We were able to order one online that arrived two days after our defunct washing machine joined the great laundry in the sky. And now we’ve found the express programme, I’m a lot happier with it. But I wasn’t pleased when the wretched thing took over TWO HOURS to deal with a load of delicates on a cold-water wash.

As for the hair dryer, I went with Himself to get a new one at the local Tesco’s. It was the first time I’ve been inside a supermarket for months – and when Himself went off on a hair dryer hunt, I froze. Suddenly terrified by the onslaught of lights… noises… complete sensory overload. And then I was shaking with fury. I’ve battled so damn hard to get to this stage – how dare Long Covid take away my confidence to go wherever I need to! I managed to haul myself together, but I will confess to having a meltdown once we got home. Himself, as ever, was endlessly kind and patient and suggested that we get out of the house more often to do things other than attend medical appointments. Which seems like a solid plan. Although the reality is a bit more challenging…

On Monday, I had a hospital appointment for an ultrasound scan of my thyroid. And given my supermarket experience the day before – I was very focused on getting there and back without being overwhelmed. I wasn’t thinking at all about what they’d find on the scan – so I was rather blindsided to be told that I’ve nodules on my thyroid, one of which is pressing on my windpipe. The specialist is reasonably confident they are all benign and have been there a while. What has changed, courtesy of covid, is that my thyroid is quite swollen, which is why I’m now feeling the pressure in my throat. He was also concerned that one of my lymph glands is not just swollen but also misshapen, but I’m not surprised, given that it’s on the side where my ear is still constantly draining. He wants to see me in three months to monitor the situation and I need to discuss further options with my GP.

On Tuesday I was back at our local surgery for a chat about my blood pressure. The nurse was very reassuring that while my readings were a bit on the high side, they weren’t too bad given that I’m struggling with Long Covid which will be stressing my system anyway. I’m not keen for my BP medication to be increased, as the last time they did so I quickly felt very unwell. Right now, that isn’t a complication that I need. She also mentioned that I needed to make an appointment for another blood test, which I did. And then on Wednesday, I received a text from the surgery to say they want me to make another appointment to talk about my BP results with my GP. It seems like I’ve a bunch of outings ahead of me that will be allll about my health, given that I’ve also got to make an appointment tomorrow for a booster covid jab.

And on Wednesday, on the way back from seeing the reflexologist, we were involved in a minor accident. A lady parked on the left swung out as we were approaching a T-junction and the corner of her bumper scraped down my passenger door, leaving traces of red paint and several dents. Fortunately it all happened at very low speed and no one was hurt. But it’s a hassle we don’t need right now. And it didn’t exactly help my ongoing anxiety about going out and about…

This week, it was my eldest grandson’s birthday – I cannot believe he’s now turned 17, and today it’s my mother’s birthday. Right now, I’m not in a position to see either of them. But I’ve been thinking of them a lot. It’s months since I’ve seen Frank and the last time I saw Mum was on Mothering Sunday back in 2020. That’s one of the hardest things about this situation – it’s kept families apart at a time when we could all do with a hug from those we love.

In the meantime, I am focusing on changing my sleep patterns, continuing with my activity journal, meditations and taking supplements. It’s all low key and repetitive – but if it helps me stay well enough to avoid another major relapse, then that’s what I’ll do.

This week I’ve read:-
The Alchemical Detective – Book 1 of the Riga Hayworth series by Kristen Weiss
Her gargoyle’s got an attitude. Her magic’s on the blink. Alchemy might be the cure… if Riga can survive long enough to puzzle out its mysteries.

Someone’s killing psychics in bucolic Lake Tahoe, and the police think Riga may be connected to the crimes. They could be right. Riga recognizes the sinister hand of a long-dead enemy in the crime scene. Juggling demons, daimons, and a devilish casino owner, can this metaphysical detective catch a killer before she becomes the next target?
I thoroughly enjoyed this twisty, urban fantasy whodunit. Riga is an experienced practitioner who has recently lost her magic, which gives the story an interesting dynamic – and I loved the French gargoyle. I’ll definitely be reading more about Riga’s adventures. 9/10

Dance of Hearts: A Cinderella Regency Romance Retelling by Byrd Nash
In Regency England, 1816, it is not fashionable to display fairy blood.

Melinda Wychwood managed to stay at her family home after her father’s death by working as her cousin’s unpaid housekeeper. But when a childhood friend returns, playing a game of deception, will she be satisfied acting as the dowdy chaperone? Or will her wild fairy heritage and a magical dress finally win her true happiness?

A Cinderella retelling as a historical romance with a touch of fairytale magic and a happily ever after ending.
I’d seen a book on Netgalley by this author and wanted to check out the writing, so downloaded this KU novella. And it’s exactly what it says on the cover – which is often a strength of indie authors. It is also well written and enjoyably paced, and was a welcome break from the gory intensity of the following book. 8/10

Firesky – Book 2 of The Chronicles of Stratus by Mark de Jager
Relentless. Unstoppable. Dragon.
Desire burns in Stratus’ soul, powerful like an inferno. With his memory returning, he finally knows who—and what—he is. His is a dragon, brought low by the hand of a dark magician known as the Worm King, separated from his true love, tortured for centuries and now trapped inside the body of a human.

But with the memories of his old life comes a return of his true magic, and with it, his true form is slowly returning. And Stratus wants revenge. Bloody and relentless, he slaughters his way through hordes of the undead to reach his archenemy, fighting not only for his own justice but for the whole of humanity…
This is definitely on the darker end of epic fantasy with death magic and piles of bodies. But the characterisation of a cornered dragon, who is increasingly out of options in a hostile world, is spot on. Review to follow. 8/10

Magical Midway Paranormal Cozy Mysteries Box Set – Book 4 – Go For the Juggler by Leanne Leeds

A jarring homecoming.
An uncertain fate.
To save everyone, one witch must perform the juggling act of a lifetime

When Charlotte returns home with Gunther, Devana, and Ethel Elkins in tow, she doesn’t think her life can get any more complicated. But when one of her parents’ Animal Shelter volunteers turns up dead, her control begins to slip as her old human life and her new paranormal life collide.

While racing to come up with a plan to defeat the Witches’ Council, Charlotte must defend her family against an intrusive police investigation that risks exposing their true nature to the human world—an act which will condemn them all.
When I saw this Box Set on KU, I immediately snapped it up and have been spacing out this delightful magical circus series of murder mysteries amongst other books. There is a strong, overarching threat running through the series that works particularly well reading them close together. Peopled with a wonderful cast of eccentric, strong characters, this entertaining and poignant instalment was yet another reason why Leanne Leeds has become a solid favourite with me this year. 8/10

A Spell of Rowans by Byrd Nash
Raised by a narcissistic mother, the Rowan children’s magical talents were twisted to fit her needs. When Rachel dies, her children must confront the past to have a future.

Victoria, whose empathic talent knows everyone’s hidden feelings; Philippa, whose glamour can bewitch; and Liam, the brother who touches objects to reveal their secrets, all find themselves in danger.

When her autistic brother is arrested, Vic needs to discover the truth to set him free. A successful art restorer in the big city, Vic’s made a career of ignoring her past and hiding her strange powers. But with Rachel’s death, she must gamble away her secrets to face down forces determined to destroy her and her siblings. And that hometown boy she dumped way back? He’s in Grimsby, and knows the truth about her.
This is a gripping paranormal murder mystery where the family dynamic is at the heart of much unhappiness and lethal violence. It’s also very well done – and while it’s twisty and full of surprises, it isn’t too dark. I thoroughly enjoyed reading something so very different from the romance novella earlier in the week. Nash is clearly an accomplished and experienced author. Review to follow. 9/10

What the Lady’s Maid Knew – Book 1 of The Riftmagic Saga by E.E. Holmes
Imagine a London where magic is real… real, but feared. This is Eliza Braxton’s London, and she has always accepted her place in it gladly. As one of the Riftborn, her magic has relegated her to the servant class, where she dutifully serves as the lady’s maid in one of the most powerful households in the country. There, she uses her remarkable powers of persuasion to keep Elder Hallewell’s rebellious daughter in the path to an arranged match of power and prosperity. Eliza has never questioned her loyalty… until now.

Currents of discontent are roiling beneath the city’s surface, and Eliza’s comfortable existence is about to be caught up in the tide. A resistance is building, a resistance that covets Eliza’s talents above all else. But can Eliza betray everything she’s ever known for things she never dared to dream?
Think of the class struggle that emerged in the middle of the Industrial Revolution with a magical spin. It’s been done before, but I really enjoyed the below stairs perspective of this dystopian fantasy. A punchy, memorable read. Review to follow. 9/10

Reviews Published Since my Last Sunday Post:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Necropolis Empire: A Twilight Imperium novel – Book 2 of the Twilight Imperium series by Tim Pratt

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Array 2781 – Book 2 of the Draco Tell Dramis Tell series by Janet Edwards

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of World’s Edge – Book 2 of The Tethered Citadel series by David Hair

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The King of Koraha – Book 3 of the Archives of the Invisible Sword series by Maria V. Snyder

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

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

Sunday Post – 31st January, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

It was a quiet week. Frank stayed over until Monday evening which was a joy. He is always such very good company. We had a lazy morning in our PJ’s chatting about Life, the World and everything – as you do with a sixteen-year-old and then went for a walk along Littlehampton beach.

Once he went home, the rest of the week has been all about reading, working with my father-in-law on his memoir and getting the first draft of Trouble With Dwarves sorted out. Himself is now on his long weekend, so we went for a walk this morning along the beach. We are allowed to leave home to exercise, but we are being strongly encouraged to stay as close as home as possible for said exercise, hence the pics – once again – of Littlehampton beach and our bracing walk. As you can see, the sea was quite rough…

Last week I read:

Defending the Galaxy – Book 3 of the Sentinels of the Galaxy by Maria V. Snyder
Year 2522. Oh. My. Stars.
Junior Officer Ara Lawrence here, reporting for duty. Again. It’s situation critical for the security team and everyone in the base – including my parents – with a new attack from the looters imminent, a possible galaxy-wide crime conspiracy and an unstoppable alien threat. But this all pales in the face of my mind-blowing discovery about the Q-net. Of course, no one believes me. I’m not sure I believe me. It could just be a stress-induced delusion. That’s what my parents seem to believe…

Their concern for me is hampering my ability to do my job. I know they love me, but with the Q-net in my corner, I’m the only one who can help the security team beat the shadowy aliens from the pits we discovered. We’re holding them at bay, for now, but the entire Milky Way Galaxy is in danger of being overrun. With battles on too many fronts, it’s looking dire. But one thing I’ve learned is when people I love are in jeopardy, I’ll never give up trying to save them. Not until my dying breath. Which could very well be today…
This is a wonderful finale to a very entertaining, action-packed space opera series. I’ve rarely seen subjects like quantum entanglement and time dilation dealt with so entertainingly, yet effectively. And Ara’s character simply bounces off the page. But whatever you do, read the other two books first… Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK Tombland – Book 7 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom
Spring, 1549. Two years after the death of Henry VIII, England is sliding into chaos…
The king, Edward VI, is eleven years old. His uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, rules as Protector. Radical Protestants are conducting all out war on the old religion, stirring discontent among the people. The Protector’s prolonged war with Scotland is proving a disastrous failure. Worst of all, the economy is in collapse, inflation rages and rebellion is stirring among the peasantry.

Since the old King’s death, Matthew Shardlake has been working as a lawyer in the service of Henry’s younger daughter, the Lady Elizabeth. The gruesome murder of the wife of John Boleyn, a distant Norfolk relation of Elizabeth’s mother – which could have political implications for Elizabeth – brings Shardlake and his young assistant Nicholas Overton to the summer assizes at Norwich. There they are reunited with Shardlake’s former assistant Jack Barak. The three find layers of mystery and danger surrounding the death of Edith Boleyn, as more murders are committed. During their investigation, a peasant rebellion breaks out across the country. Yeoman Robert Kett establishes a vast camp outside Norwich and leads a force of thousands to overthow the landlords. Soon the rebels have taken over the city, England’s second largest.
This monster of a book (800+ pages) was wonderfully narrated and has held me throughout most of January. I have been a fan of this series for years – and I’m so glad that one of my reading targets last year was to catch up with those series that somehow slipped through the cracks. For this book is a tour de force and already, I have one of the books that will make my Outstanding Reads of 2021… Review to follow.

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell
Ancillary Justice meets Red, White & Royal Blue in Everina Maxwell’s exciting debut.
While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control.

But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other.
This was a lovely surprise! I’m not sure what I was expecting – but it wasn’t this lovely adventure, coupled with a slow-burn same-sex romance that was handled beautifully. Which didn’t swamp the fascinating political dynamic and I’m very much hoping that this is the first in a series. Review to follow.

The Monster MASH – Book 1 of the Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox
Ancient gods. Modern war. And a star-crossed couple who could use some divine intervention.

The day I was drafted into the army of the gods, all I knew about being a MASH surgeon was what I’d learned from Hawkeye Pierce and Hot Lips Houlihan. Now here I am, Dr. Petra Robichaud, in the middle of an immortal war, assigned to a MASH camp with a nosy sphinx, a vegetarian werewolf, and an uptight vampire who really needs to get a life.

At least they’re all too busy with their own dramas to discover my secret: I can see the dead. It’s a forbidden gift, one that can get me killed, so I haven’t told a soul. Until the arrestingly intense Galen arrives on my operating table, half-dead and totally to-die-for. When his spirit tries to slip out of his fatally wounded body, I impulsively slip it back in. Call it a rash resurrection. One I’ll live to regret.
A delightfully quirky read with a nice line in humour that prevents this being a bleak read. As a huge fan of the MASH TV series, I was pleased to see that this fantasy homage got the tone more or less spot on. Review to follow.

NOVELLA The Expert System’s Champion – Book 2 of The Expert System series by Adrian Tchaikovsky
It’s been ten years since Handry was wrenched away from his family and friends, forced to wander a world he no longer understood. But with the help of the Ancients, he has cobbled together a life, of sorts, for himself and his fellow outcasts.

Wandering from village to village, welcoming the folk that the townships abandon, fighting the monsters the villagers cannot—or dare not—his ever-growing band of misfits has become the stuff of legend, a story told by parents to keep unruly children in line. But there is something new and dangerous in the world, and the beasts of the land are acting against their nature, destroying the towns they once left in peace.
When I didn’t get a review copy of this one, I pre-ordered it, being a solid Tchaikovsky fan. And I’ve still to write the review of this one, as my feelings about it are a tad tangled. It was one of my most anticipated reads of 2021 and it didn’t quite live up to my very high expectations of it – though that didn’t prevent it being a solidly good book. Review to follow.

The Lord of Stariel – Book 1 of the Stariel series by A.J. Lancaster
The Lord of Stariel is dead. Long live the Lord of Stariel. Whoever that is.

Everyone knows who the magical estate will choose for its next ruler. Or do they? Will it be the lord’s eldest son, who he despised? His favourite nephew, with the strongest magical land-sense? His scandalous daughter, who ran away from home years ago to study illusion?

Hetta knows it won’t be her, and she’s glad of it. Returning home for her father’s funeral, all Hetta has to do is survive the family drama and avoid entanglements with irritatingly attractive local men until the Choosing. Then she can leave. But whoever Stariel chooses will have bigger problems than eccentric relatives to deal with.
Another solid delight! Himself strongly recommended this one and I read waaay into the night as I found it impossible to put down. I’ve a couple of Netgalley reads to get through – but just as soon as I can, I’ll be tucking into the next book in the series! Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

AUDIOBOOK Review of Eating Things on Sticks by Anne Fine

Friday Face-off featuring To Say Nothing of the Dog – Book 2 of the Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis

Covet the Covers featuring Maria V. Snyder

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Murder at the Ritz by Jim Eldridge

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

Tuesday Treasures – 24

Review of Chasing the Shadows – Book 2 of the Sentinels of the Galaxy by Maria V. Snyder

Sunday Post – 24th January 2021

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

Isandlwana https://robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com/2021/01/22/thursdaydoors-isandlwana/ Thursday Doors is a quirky weekly photo blog and I loved this contribution…

2020 First-Time Foraging Experiences Around Leeuwarden https://operationxblog.wordpress.com/2020/12/30/2020-first-time-foraging-experiences/ It was a terrible year on so many levels, but it did give some folks an opportunity to try new things…

Hope Blooms https://cindyknoke.com/2021/01/22/hope-blooms/ Cindy’s amazing photos regularly feature on this spot – but this particular post may well chime with a number of you…

18 Amazing Things You Can’t Miss on Your Trip to Zanzibar https://colorfulsisters.com/2021/01/26/18-amazing-things-you-cant-miss-on-your-trip-to-zanzibar-things-to-do/ While we are in lockdown, unable to go anywhere other than exercise or when supporting the family in our support bubble, I find blogs like this such a comfort…

FROM THE GREAT STATE OF TEXAS https://powerfulwomenreaders.wordpress.com/2021/01/30/from-the-great-state-of-texas/ Rae is a wonderful inspirational teacher who I have had the privilege of meeting online and she also takes part in the marvellous My Little Free Library and this article features on the books that turned up, here…

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

Review of KINDLE Ebook Girls of Paper and Fire – Book 1 of the Girls of Paper and Fire series by Natasha Ngan #Brainfluffbookreview #GirlsofPaperandFirebookreview

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I cannot recall quite why this one turned up on my TBR pile, but the cover is rather gorgeous and I liked the sound of a PoC protagonist with a same-sex romance…

BLURB: In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.

REVIEW: Do be aware – this book has an abduction, with the theme of non-consensual sex running through it and there is a rape scene, though it isn’t detailed.

The gripping opening scene, where Lei is snatched from her village immediately drew me in. It had lots of drama and I think that at point, the character jumps off the page and works well as a protagonist. However, although it is a gradual process, from the moment Lei arrives at the Palace, I began to have doubts about her characterisation. She seems to spend too much time making a point of being different. I wasn’t convinced that I was in the head of the first person pov, who is genuinely terrified of the consequences, despite those dire consequences being set out very clearly. She certainly creates a whole nest of problems for herself by behaving more like a bored schoolgirl, than a slave. And the trance scene, which is supposed to foreshadow Lei’s special role in coming events, felt as if it had been added to persuade the reader that she is, indeed, important.

It was a shame, because Ngan writes with passion and commitment. I thought the growing romance between the two girls was tender, but again – far too reckless and obvious, given the circumstances. And about two-thirds of the way into the story, I had the growing conviction that the wrong girl was the main protagonist – that should have been Wren, whose backstory was far more intriguing. And Ngan’s efforts to depict it via Lei grew increasingly clumsy.

That said, there is still a lot I enjoyed. At no point was I tempted to put the book down as the descriptions of the Court life and the beautiful costumes were well depicted and I liked the political undercurrents and sense of control slipping away. I also liked the fact that all the girls trapped as concubines had varying reactions to what was going on around them. But my overall enjoyment was hampered by my misgivings around the main character.
6/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Two AUDIOBOOK Mini-reviews: Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch, and The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross #Brainfluffaudiobookmini-reviews #LiesSleepingaudiobookreview #TheDeliriumBriefaudiobookreview

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Lies Sleeping – Book 7 of the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch
This is another of those series that I have let slip through my fingers – but I was reminded of how enjoyable I found it and decided to catch up. Here are my reviews of previous books in the series – Rivers of London, Whispers Underground, Foxglove Summer and The Hanging Tree.

BLURB: Martin Chorley, aka the Faceless Man, wanted for multiple counts of murder, fraud, and crimes against humanity, has been unmasked and is on the run. Peter Grant, Detective Constable and apprentice wizard, now plays a key role in an unprecedented joint operation to bring Chorley to justice.

But even as the unwieldy might of the Metropolitan Police bears down on its foe, Peter uncovers clues that Chorley, far from being finished, is executing the final stages of a long term plan. A plan that has its roots in London’s two thousand bloody years of history, and could literally bring the city to its knees.

REVIEW: It was great fun to get up to speed with this entertaining series, particularly listening to the fabulous rendition of Peter Grant and all his adventures by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith’s narration. It absolutely nailed Peter’s character and I loved the blend of action, humour and quirky mix of myth and contemporary cool this series offers. There was plenty going on and I’m looking forward to getting hold of the next book in the series after the bombshell that Peter was presented with at the end of this adventure…

The Delirium Brief – Book 8 of The Laundry Files by Charles Stross
This is another of those series that somehow slipped through my fingers, and I was delighted to get back into, because I just love Bob and Mo. And the whole premise of this series has entertained me from the start – see my reviews of The Fuller Memorandum, The Apocalypse Codex, The Rhesus Chart, The Annihilation Score and The Nightmare Stacks.

BLURB: Bob Howard’s career in the Laundry, the secret British government agency dedicated to protecting the world from the supernatural, has involved brilliant hacking, ancient magic and combat with creatures of pure evil.

Now the Laundry’s existence has become public, and Bob is being trotted out on TV to answer pointed questions about elven asylum seekers. What neither Bob nor his managers have foreseen is that their organisation has earned the attention of a horror far more terrifying than any demon: a government looking for public services to privatise. There are things in the Laundry’s assets that big business would simply love to get its hands on….

REVIEW: Jack Hawkins does a brilliant job of narrating this one, capturing Bob’s world-weary tone with the flashes of dark humour extremely well, as well as producing a pleasing range of different voices for the other characters. I’d forgotten just how engrossing and dark the overall storyline was – as well as just how exhausted and battle-weary the main protagonists are becoming.

Covet the Covers – 9 #Brainfluffcovetthecovers #CovetthecoversCharlesStross

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Welcome to another helping of Covet the Covers, aka Cover Love. This week I’m featuring some of Charles Stross’ covers in honour of his release of Dead Lies Dreaming, a novel of The Laundry Files series. If you are interested in learning more about this unique series, here are my reviews of The Fuller Memorandum, The Apocalypse Codex, The Rhesus Chart, The Annihilation Score, and The Nightmare Stacks. I have also provided reviews of Glasshouse, a standalone time-travelling adventure and The Family Trade, Book 1 of his portal fantasy, The Merchant Princes, which I recall absolutely loving – and I want to revisit this series and complete it. My reviews of The Labyrinth Index and Dead Lies Dreaming will shortly be available. I’ve chosen the Brit covers, because I think they absolutely rock and I love the unique branding they provide for this series. Which is your favourite?