Category Archives: epic fantasy

Review of NETGALLEY arc The Shadow of the Gods – Book 1 of The Bloodsworn Saga by John Gwynne #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheShadowoftheGodsbookreview

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I’ve had an unread hardback copy of Malice sitting on my bookshelves for far too long. Epecially as a number of bloggers whose opinions I respect are huge fans of Gwynne’s writing, such as Drew at The Tattooed Book Geek. So when I spotted this first book in a new series, I immediately requested it and was delighted to be approved.

BLURB: After the gods warred and drove themselves to extinction, the cataclysm of their fall shattered the land of Vigrið.

Now a new world is rising, where power-hungry jarls feud and monsters stalk the woods and mountains. A world where the bones of the dead gods still hold great power for those brave – or desperate – enough to seek them out.

Now, as whispers of war echo across the mountains and fjords, fate follows in the footsteps of three people: a huntress on a dangerous quest, a noblewoman who has rejected privilege in pursuit of battle fame, and a thrall who seeks vengeance among the famed mercenaries known as the Bloodsworn. All three will shape the fate of the world as it once more falls under the shadow of the gods . . .

REVIEW: After reading the blurb, you won’t be surprised to learn that this is a classic epic fantasy read, although the alternate world has some interesting twists in it, due to the previous apocalyptic event that tore it apart. Those who have survived are tough and resourceful – they have to be.

Gwynne has clearly thoroughly researched Nordic history and mythology and it shows in the immersive writing that gives a strong sense of the world, the clothing, food, weaponry and customs. I really enjoyed picking up these details through character actions and thoughts, rather than pages of information. But if you haven’t encountered this author before, do be aware that he drops in a lot of Norse words for articles of clothing, weaponry and food. If you find this tendency irritating, then this might not be the book for you.

We follow the fortunes of three main protagonists – two women and a man. Orka is a tough, experienced warrior who settled down with the love of her life to raise her son. But that was before a warband came through… Varg was raised as a slave and his beloved sister was the only source of light and love in an otherwise brutal life. Until she was murdered. Now he wants to find the killers and make them pay. Elvar is a young warrior who has risen through the ranks of a warband by her skill and courage, and has an interesting backstory that I won’t Spoil here. But as you can see – this is a brutal world, where might is right.

Gwynne’s plotting, characterisation and worldbuilding are all skilfully done – but what he does superbly well is describe battle scenes. This isn’t so much sword and sorcery, as slash and sorcery – using axes and knives as well as swords means that the close-quarters fighting is bloody and injuries are horrific. During the numerous fights and battles, I always had a ringside seat as to what exactly was going on and how the protagonist was feeling and coping, even as blows, stabbings and slashes were being traded. However, while the fighting was violent and bloody, at no stage was it gratuitous.

All in all, this was an engrossing story that kept me turning the pages until the end. And yes – about that ending… in common with many epic fantasy books, all the major plotpoints were left on a cliffhanger. So I’m hoping the second book won’t take too long to hit the shelves. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy in a Norse setting. While I obtained an arc of The Shadow of the Gods from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Sunday Post – 18th April, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

It’s been a long, miserable week. Until yesterday when the sun came out. My daughter and her family moved house a couple of weeks ago. This time around, we weren’t there to help – in fact I’ve only seen them twice since Christmas and we’re part of their support bubble. But yesterday, she drove over to pick me up, and organised for me to spend part of the day with them, before she dropped me back again. Unfortunately half the country decided they wanted to visit the Littlehampton/Brighton area yesterday so the roads were clogged solid and the journey took over two hours and would have been longer if she hadn’t gone across country. It was wonderful to see the children again, catch up with them all and be shown over the house. They now have a bedroom each and the house is lovely and bright with a real homely feeling. I can now visualise where they are…

Before I went, I hadn’t appreciated just how very down I’d become. After all, I didn’t cry, and though it took some effort and a lot of books – I wasn’t feeling utterly miserable. But that shot of absolute joy on seeing the family again felt like waking up. So this morning we went for a walk along the beach – just a short one, as we don’t have much stamina yet. But it was lovely to get out again!

The photos this week are of our little walk along the beach.

Last week I read:
Traitor’s Blade – Book 1 of the Greatcoats series by Sebastien de Castell
Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike.

Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters. All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…
This is an engaging and action-packed swords and sorcery adventure that packs an emotional punch. It kept me turning the pages to the end, with plenty of surprises along the way. Mini-review to follow.

The Royal Secret – Book 5 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor
Two young girls plot a murder by witchcraft. Soon afterwards a government clerk dies painfully in mysterious circumstances. His colleague James Marwood is asked to investigate – but the task brings unexpected dangers.

Meanwhile, architect Cat Hakesby is working for a merchant who lives on Slaughter Street, where the air smells of blood and a captive Barbary lion prowls the stables. Then a prestigious new commission arrives. Cat must design a Poultry House for the woman that the King loves most in all the world.

Unbeknownst to all, at the heart of this lies a royal secret so explosive that it could not only rip apart England but change the entire face of Europe…
This series continues to go from strength to strength. Taylor’s ability to weave real life events into the affairs of his fictional protagonists, James and Cat, is impressive. His depiction of the historical period is masterly and gives a vivid backdrop to the engrossing action that left me slightly reeling by the end. Review to follow.

The Daydreamer Detective – Book 1 of the Miso Cosy Mysteries by Steph Gennaro aka S.J. Pajonas
Mei Yamagawa is out of luck and out of money. After five years in Tokyo, she has little to show for it besides a laundry list of unrealized dreams. Left without a choice, she returns to her rural Japanese hometown, ready to be branded a failure by her relatives and rivals. At the least, she looks forward to seeing her best friend, until Akiko is accused of murdering her own father.

As Mei helps her farmer mother with the crops, she scouts for clues to clear her friend’s name. But during her investigation, she can’t help but notice the celebrity chef looking in her direction. The amateur detective can balance a new love interest and a murder case… can’t she?
I thoroughly enjoyed this charming murder mystery, as poor Mei finds herself having to admit defeat and return home to her mother. I’m sure many young people these days are finding themselves in the same miserable position. But this is also set in Japan, so there is a different slant on family life, and the investigation which was enjoyable to read. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK The House of Hades – Book 4 of the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
Hazel stands at a crossroads. She and the remaining crew of the Argo II could return home with the Athena Parthenos statue and try to stop Camp Half-Blood and Camp Jupiter from going to war. Or they could continue their quest to find the House of Hades, where they might be able to open the Doors of Death, rescue their friends Percy and Annabeth from Tartarus, and prevent monsters from being reincarnated in the mortal world. Whichever road they decide to take, they have to hurry, because time is running out. Gaea, the bloodthirsty Earth Mother, has set the date of August 1 for her rise to power.

Annabeth and Percy are overwhelmed. How will the two of them make it through Tartarus? Starving, thirsty, and in pain, they are barely able to stumble on in the dark and poisonous landscape that holds new horrors at every turn. They have no way of locating the Doors of Death. Even if they did, a legion of Gaea’s strongest monsters guards the Doors on the Tartarus side. Annabeth and Percy can’t exactly launch a frontal assault.

Despite the terrible odds, Hazel, Annabeth, Percy, and the other demigods of the prophecy know that there is only one choice: to attempt the impossible. Not just for themselves, but for everyone they love. Even though love can be the riskiest choice of all.
This book takes our plucky protagonists into some very dark places indeed. And yet, Riordan’s adroit use of humour, without minimising or disrespecting their evident ordeal, managed to allow me to listen to this without finding it unbearable. I shall really miss this series, once I’ve finished it. Review to follow.

Southern Spirits – Book 1 of the Southern Ghost Hunter mysteries by Angie Fox
When out of work graphic designer Verity Long accidentally traps a ghost on her property, she’s saddled with more than a supernatural sidekick—she gains the ability see spirits. It leads to an offer she can’t refuse from the town’s bad boy, the brother of her ex and the last man she should ever partner with.

Ellis Wydell is in possession of a stunning historic property haunted by some of Sugarland Tennessee’s finest former citizens. Only some of them are growing restless—and destructive. He hires Verity to put an end to the disturbances. But soon, Verity learns there’s more to the mysterious estate than floating specters, secret passageways, and hidden rooms. There’s a modern day mystery afoot, one that hinges on a decades-old murder. Verity isn’t above questioning the living, or the dead. But can she discover the truth before the killer finds her?
I like Fox’s upbeat, quirky writing style – and this ghostly murder mystery with a splash of romance was an entertaining read with some real creepy moments and a very satisfying ending. Review to follow.

A Murder at Rosings by Annette Purdey Pugh
When Mr Collins is found stabbed to death in Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s garden, simmering tensions are revealed beneath the elegant Regency surface of the Rosings estate.

The prime suspect is Mr Bennet, who was overheard arguing with Mr Collins over the entail of Longbourn in the days before the murder was committed, and who stands to benefit more than anyone from the Rector’s death.
I’ve omitted the final paragraph in the blurb, which is completely wrong and led me to expect something quite different from what I got. And this clever, enjoyable story set in Jane Austen’s Regency England deserves better than that. Overall, this is classy murder mystery that very much impressed me and I look forward to reading more from this promising writing. Review to follow.

The Case of the Dragon-Bone Engine – Book 1 of the Royal Investigative Service by Galadriel Coffeen
Dynamite couldn’t cause such a big explosion. It must be something worse, Agent Beka Finley is sure of it. As she and her partner investigate the devastating train crash, she’s convinced the train was sabotaged. But everyone seems bent on persuading her it was an accident. Just like the crash that killed her father six years ago.

Determined to protect more lives from the growing unrest between humans and fairies, Beka puts her own life and reputation on the line to find the truth. But that truth might lead to more questions than answers.
This is the industrial revolution played out in a fantasy version of the early Victorian period where fairies live alongside humans, and sell their magical abilities to the factory owners for a pittance. Though Agents Finley and Donovan are more concerned with the catastrophic explosion that has ripped through a new dragon-bone train… I thoroughly enjoyed this difference spin on a period of history I know very well. And the bonus is that the book has a number of beautiful pen and ink drawings executed by the clearly talented author in the style of the period. Review to follow.

Empire of Sand – Book 1 of the Books of Ambha by Tash Suri
The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended of desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember, but whose face and magic she has inherited.

When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda. Should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance…
I acquired this offering as it is on sale – and very good value it has proved to be. I’m always a sucker for a well-told tale of sand and sorcery. Mehr’s journey is full of drama and emotion, and the world she creates along with the magic system, is vivid and enjoyable. Very highly recommended.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

Review of Aftermath – Book 5 of the Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre

Friday Face-off featuring The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring The Recollection: Tenth Anniversary edition by Gareth L. Powell

Tuesday Treasures – 32

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

Sunday Post – 11th April, 2021

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

Music and the Art Show – Part 2 https://jenniefitzkee.com/2021/04/08/the-art-show-part-2/
The biggest problem for teachers is to inspire children to be fearless in their creativity. In our modern world, they never get a chance to see ‘works in progress’. They only ever see the shiny, flawless, final effort and particularly as they get older, they are aware that what they produce can’t possibly rival that – so they often give up before they even get going. Unless they met up with a wonderful teacher like Jennie when they were younger, who inspired them to have a go…

Review: Greek Mythology: The Gods, Goddesses and Heroes Handbook by Liv Albert https://bookfever11.com/2021/04/15/review-greek-mythology-the-gods-goddesses-and-heroes-handbook-by-liv-albert/ I don’t usually include book reviews – but this one by Stephanie at Bookfever went to the trouble of including some of the illustrations and the accompanying text. I realised that it is ideal for those youngsters studying Classical History, as it also references popular films and points out where they have altered the story from the original – so helpful!

Shiver Me Timbers! The 2021 Hugo Finalists – Part One
https://thecaptainsquartersblog.wordpress.com/2021/04/15/shiver-me-timbers-the-2021-hugo-finalists-part-one/ I’ve grown to trust and respect the Cap’s quirky approach to book reviews – and found this overview of the Hugo Finalists both informative and helpful.

The USS Lexington: Aircraft Carrier AND Temporary Power Plant https://thenaptimeauthor.wordpress.com/2021/04/09/the-uss-lexington-aircraft-carrier-and-temporary-power-plant/ Anne has documented a fascinating account of this aircraft carrier’s unusual history – along with some wonderful photos.

Hamlet: Character Analysis List https://interestingliterature.com/2021/04/hamlet-character-list-analysis/ Whether you agree with character summaries or not – it’s is often handy to get a handle on the main protagonists in a complicated and long play before you go to see it. And that is particularly applicable to Shakespeare’s plays…

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Reaper of Souls – Book 2 in the Kingdom of Souls series by Rena Barron #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #ReaperofSoulsbookreview

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I read and reviewed the first book in this African-inspired epic fantasy, Kingdom of Souls – see my review. So when I had the opportunity to read and review this next slice in the adventure, I leapt at the opportunity.

BLURB: After so many years yearning for the gift of magic, Arrah has the one thing she’s always wanted—at a terrible price. Now the last surviving witchdoctor, she’s been left to pick up the shattered pieces of a family that betrayed her, a kingdom in shambles, and long-buried secrets about who she is. Desperate not to repeat her mother’s mistakes, Arrah must return to the tribal lands to search for help from the remnants of her parents’ people. But the Demon King’s shadow looms closer than she thinks. And as Arrah struggles to unravel her connection to him, defeating him begins to seem more and more impossible—if it’s something she can bring herself to do at all.

REVIEW: I found that the first book quickly came to mind as I began reading this one, and Barron adroitly slides in useful reminders of previous events. However, I would strongly advise that you go hunting for Kingdom of Souls before reading this one. Far too much happens in that first book which directly impacts on events in this one for you to be able to get the most out of Reaper of Souls if you haven’t read it.

Arrah continues to be a sympathetic protagonist as she now finds that trying to put together the world after the havoc wreaked by her sister and mother is a daunting task. It’s always a challenge to portray a very powerful character as sufficiently vulnerable that we care and I was impressed that Barron managed to achieve this, without making her too angsty or much of a victim. The form of magic that is particularly prevalent involves inhabiting another person’s body – it’s deeply unpleasant and once again, Barron’s punchy prose reminded me of just what a revolting intrusion this is. No wonder there are swathes of the population who are convinced that all magic is innately evil. I really enjoyed the fact that Arrah found it difficult to use her magic benevolently. Given the number of enemies she is facing, it’s all too easy to rely on the powerful tribal magic that she is imbued with, to lash out and simply end them.

The characterisation is the ongoing strength of this engrossing epic fantasy tale. Although I wasn’t particularly in the mood to be confronted with a largish tale featuring some really dark magic – nonetheless, I didn’t struggle at all. And that’s down to the quality of the worldbuilding, the strong characters and solidly good writing throughout. If you enjoy fantasy with an African setting, then this series comes highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Reaper of Souls from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – Bears are not companions of men, but children of God… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceofffurrycreaturescovers

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with pictures of furry creatures. I’ve selected Shardik – Book 2 of the Beklan Empire by Richard Adams.

Overlook Duckworth, Nov 2004

This edition was produced by Overlook Duckworth in November 2004, and is one of the default cover designs for this book, which originally came out in May 1974. I really like it – the fact that the bear’s head is made up of the buildings of the main city is spot on, as the story is about what the bear represents to this civilisation. I also appreciate the punchy title and author fonts, which are easily read even in thumbnail. I think this is a successful, eye-catching cover.

Penguin Books, Jan 1976

Published in January 1976 by Penguin books, this is the cover on the book that I owned. It’s one of my most memorable reads – along with the very disturbing The Girl in a Swing – there is something about Adams’ writing that got right under my skin, so it brings back happy memories. I love the image of this bear, huge and savage – just look at the length of those claws. But reluctantly, I don’t like it as much as the previous cover.

Oneworld Books, Nov 2014

This edition, published by Oneworld Books in November 2014, is a reworking of the first cover – and while I like that one, this is my favourite. I think it’s because there is so much here that relates to the story. The profile of the bear in red is apt – Shardik’s appearance triggers a series of violent events. The wooden boards that act as backdrop represents his imprisonment, while I particularly love the fir trees as his teeth in his upper jaw, meeting the cityscape in his lower jaw. Which is a really clever pictorial depiction of the tension between the wilderness and what he represents to the Belden civilisation. I just wish more covers were designed with such respect for the story.

Danish edition, 1977

This Danish edition, produced by Gyldendals Bogklubber in 1977, also features Shardik up on his hind legs trying to outrun the fire that has destroyed the forest where he used to live. Look at the clouds of ash as he moves and the wisping, ashy remains of grass right in the foreground… Again, this is a scene right from the book and works really well as a cover. I like the fact that we are looking up at the bear, emphasising his huge size.

Italian edition, 1976

This Italian edition, published by Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli in 1976 is probably the most attractive of all the covers. The artwork is detailed and beautifully executed, though I don’t get the sense of Shardik’s power and size from this image, unlike the other covers. And it also features an unnecessarily large textbox, which I hate. That said, I still like it even if it isn’t my favourite. Which one do you prefer?

Sunday Post – 7th February, 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 another quiet week. That said, it’s whipped by at dizzying speed. I’ve been mostly writing and reading. On Wednesday evening our Writing Group got together and we had an excellent Zoom meeting. I read the opening of Trouble With Dwarves and received some really helpful advice about tweaking the balance between setting the scene, establishing Castellan’s character and diving into the story – which is always a tricky issue at the beginning of a sequel. I’ve been chatting to Mhairi online, again, which is a lifeline – though we were both a bit shattered when we realised that we haven’t now seen each other for a whole year… In fact the only person I have spoken to face to face this week, other than Himself, was the nice man who came to deliver our monthly COVID test. I’m still trying to work out whether it’s a good or bad thing that it doesn’t bother me all that much. And the reason why I’ve been a bit late getting my Sunday Post out – and why I haven’t been about much on other people’s blogs is because today I completed the first draft of Trouble With Dwarves. Yippee😊.

The photos this week were taken a couple of weeks ago when Frank came to stay and we walked along the beach together.

Last week I read:

Reaper of Souls – Book 2 of the Kingdom of Souls series by Rena Barron
After so many years yearning for the gift of magic, Arrah has the one thing she’s always wanted—at a terrible price. Now the last surviving witchdoctor, she’s been left to pick up the shattered pieces of a family that betrayed her, a kingdom in shambles, and long-buried secrets about who she is.

Desperate not to repeat her mother’s mistakes, Arrah must return to the tribal lands to search for help from the remnants of her parents’ people. But the Demon King’s shadow looms closer than she thinks. And as Arrah struggles to unravel her connection to him, defeating him begins to seem more and more impossible—if it’s something she can bring herself to do at all.
This African-inspired epic fantasy has picked up this compelling story and taken it forward. As ever, Arrah leaps off the page as she grapples with the truly terrible magic she has been lumbered with. Gripping and action-packed. Review to follow.

The Prince of Secrets – Book 2 of the Stariel series by A.J. Lancaster
Well-bred women should not be seen kissing their butlers. Even when the butler in question is secretly a fae prince.

Wyn knows falling for Hetta Valstar is a bad idea. She’s not only human but the new magically bonded ruler of Stariel Estate. If their relationship gets out, it’ll cause a scandal that could ruin their attempts to sort out the estate’s crumbling finances. And it doesn’t help that Stariel has decided it doesn’t like him.

But more than jealous sentient estates and Hetta’s good name are at stake. Wyn’s past is coming back to bite him. Ten years ago, he broke an oath and shattered the power of his home court, and the fae have been hunting him ever since. Now they’ve found his hiding place, they won’t rest until he’s dead or the debt is repaid–and they don’t play nicely.
I couldn’t resist jumping back into this delightful series – and once again it swept me along, ending far too soon. I want moooorrreeee!!! Review to follow.

Lines of Departure – Book 2 of the Frontlines series by Marko Kloos
Humanity is on the ropes, and after years of fighting a two-front war with losing odds, so is North American Defense Corps officer Andrew Grayson. He dreams of dropping out of the service one day, alongside his pilot girlfriend, but as warfare consumes entire planets and conditions on Earth deteriorate, he wonders if there will be anywhere left for them to go.

After surviving a disastrous space-borne assault, Grayson is reassigned to a ship bound for a distant colony—and packed with malcontents and troublemakers. His most dangerous battle has just begun.
Himself has been gently nagging me to continue this military sci fi adventure, after I’d read and thoroughly enjoyed the first book way, way back in 2018. So I finally picked up the second instalment and immediately got pulled into this gripping adventure. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Cruel as the Grave – Book 22 of the Bill Slider mysteries by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Friday Face-off featuring A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Night Parade of 100 Demons – a Legend of the Five Worlds novel by Marie Brennan

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Reaper of Souls – Book 2 of the Kingdom of Souls series by Rena Barron

Tuesday Treasures – 25

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Guilt at the Garage – Book 20 of the Fethering Mysteries series by Simon Brett

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Monster MASH – Book 1 of the Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox

Sunday Post – 31st January 2021

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog. I’m very sorry for not having got around to visit as many people this week – but I’ve been working hard on the book. I hope you had a peaceful, healthy week – and do take care. x

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 3rd February, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Reaper of Souls – Book 2 of the Kingdom of Souls series by Rena Barron – release date 18th February, 2021

#epic fantasy #African setting #YA #romance

BLURB: After so many years yearning for the gift of magic, Arrah has the one thing she’s always wanted—at a terrible price. Now the last surviving witchdoctor, she’s been left to pick up the shattered pieces of a family that betrayed her, a kingdom in shambles, and long-buried secrets about who she is.

Desperate not to repeat her mother’s mistakes, Arrah must return to the tribal lands to search for help from the remnants of her parents’ people. But the Demon King’s shadow looms closer than she thinks. And as Arrah struggles to unravel her connection to him, defeating him begins to seem more and more impossible—if it’s something she can bring herself to do at all.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Kingdom of Souls, so was delighted to get hold of this second book in the series. There is something very chilling about the mind-altering magic and the African setting works really well. Is anyone else looking forward to this one?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Black Sun – Book 1 of the Between Earth and Sky series by Rebecca Roanhorse #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #BlackSunbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed Trail of Lightningsee my review – so was delighted to see this pop up and even more delighted to be approved for it. Would I enjoy this epic fantasy?

BLURB: A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun

In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.

Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.

REVIEW: In many ways, this epic fantasy adventure treads very familiar ground. There is a Chosen, whose destiny weighs heavily upon his young shoulders and who has had to endure much in the long, arduous training for his Task. There is another Chosen, whose appointment was rather an unwelcome surprise to those who find themselves serving her. And there is an ominous prophesy. So far, so good and reasonably predictable. I never have a problem with that – after all, if I wanted something completely different from the main genre conventions, I wouldn’t be reading Fantasy.

But what does make this one stand out is the setting. Because it isn’t set within a late medieval/Early Modern European historical backdrop, like so many epic Fantasy adventures – this one is nested within the pre-Columbian American civilisation, which gives everything a fresh spin. As Roanhorse is an experienced writer, whose characters ping off the page and whose narratives produce plenty of twists and adventures, that difference works really well. I particularly liked that the currency is cacao beans, for instance, while the religion, the clothing and general customs give an enjoyable sense of originality and freshness.

My favourite character is Xiala, a Teek sea captain. Her particular sea-calming magic means she is tolerated by an all-male crew, even though they generally don’t like women aboard ships. I love her robust attitude to life, and her very straightforward view of things, which contrasts well with Serapio, whose whole outlook has been skewed by the fact he has been prepared for a particular day and a particular time since his birth. Overall, the pacing works well, although there were times when I felt it could have moved a little faster in the earlier stages of the story. But as we approached the Big Day, the action and pacing picked up nicely. I’m not a fan of being left with a cliff-hanger ending, so I very much hope that Roanhorse has the second book well on the way, because I certainly want to know what happens next.

Recommended for fans of epic fantasy adventures, especially with a fresh setting. While I obtained an arc of Black Sun from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

My Outstanding Reads of 2020 #Brainfluffbookblogger #2020OutstandingReads

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The wonderful books I’ve encountered during this horrible year have, at times, kept my head straight when other pressures have added an extra twist of awfulness due to the pandemic. I have encountered a number of talented authors I’d previously not had the pleasure of reading (I’m looking at you Mary Robinette Kowal, Elisabeth Bear, Marilyn Messik and T. Kingfisher) and managed to complete 11 series, while working my way through 66 other series. I’ll get more nerdy in my post about the stats relating to my 2020 reads, later in the week.

During 2020 I read 184 books and wrote 155 full reviews, with 23 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give them a 10 – but these books have stayed with me, which is why they made the cut. And let’s forget any top ten nonsense – whittling down my list to this paltry number was painful enough!

Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Despite reading this one back in January, I often found myself thinking about brave, clever Emily and what she underwent. That is the mark of a special book – when it won’t leave you alone. I think it’s one of Tchaikovsky’s best, and given the man’s towering talent, that’s saying something. See my review.

AUDIOBOOK Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear
Elizabeth Bear is another wonderful author I discovered this year – and the good news is that she has a pleasingly long backlist. This one was an utter joy to listen to – Haimey’s first-person narrative held me throughout, even though the pacing was somewhat leisurely at times. This book at 500+ pages has it all – vivid action scenes, nail-biting tension, and plenty of plot twists and shocking reveals. And of course a space cat – who could resist that? See my review.

You Let me In by Camilla Bruce
By rights, this shouldn’t have worked for me – I really don’t like books featuring an abused child. But the way Bruce posits this situation is masterfully done, as Cassie narrates her adventures with Pepperman, a grumpy and dangerous fae entity, who draws the small child into the world of the fae. This book has also stayed with me throughout the year. Read my review.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey
This is such a simple book with lots of pictures. The story of four different creatures, who come together to help each other. It could so easily have turned into a treacly, sentimental mess. But it doesn’t. My lovely sister-in-law gave me my copy and it has been beside me ever since. Read my review.

TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier
The opening sequence of this book immediately hooked me and wouldn’t let me go. I enjoy Neumeier’s writing, anyway. But this amazing world and the vividness of her characters still have me regularly thinking about them. In particular, the depiction of being ensorcelled was brilliantly portrayed – I’ve never seen it done better. Read my review.

AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys
This riveting world has left me yearning for more after reading the first book Winter Tide, which made my Outstanding Reads of 2017. So I was thrilled to discover this offering. Aphra is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents, friends and relations when confronted with a new danger. Once more I was pulled into a tense adventure where Lovecraftian monsters were only part of the threat. Read my review.

Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron
This is as much about the celebration of this quirky, enjoyable series, as much as it is about the climactic battle that wraps up the story. Peopled with shape-shifting dragons, a powerful ghost who assumes the shape of a cat and an enraged nature goddess, this urban fantasy reaches epic proportions, with all sorts of surprises and twists along the way. Review to follow.

The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey
I very much enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts, but I liked this even better. Koli is an endearing character with his youth and restless energy that gets him into far too much trouble within his village. This book is set in post-apocalyptic England, where even trees have become feral – but there are welcome shafts of light, too. Read my review.

AUDIOBOOK The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel
This whole series is a tour de force and I loved listening to this extraordinary conclusion to Cromwell’s life, as an embittered Henry VIII becomes ever more difficult to deal with – and Cromwell’s many enemies begin to circle. I wept at the end, which was wonderfully handled – and I’m still trying to work out how Mantel managed to keep me spellbound for so long, when I already knew the outcome before listening to the first chapter. Read my review.

Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
This was one of those books I picked up and couldn’t put down again. Messik’s writing is utterly addictive, as far as I’m concerned and Stella is now my new best friend. I finished this one far too fast and was miserable until I picked up the next one in the series. I think this was the worst book hangover I endured during the year. Review my review.

The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal
This is another of those wonderful authors I discovered this year – and this series just blew me away. I loved Elma York and her battles to gain recognition during the first two books in the series – but when this story introduced me to Nicole, who finds herself trying to track down a saboteur on the Moon, I not only loved every single minute of the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, afterwards. Read my review.

A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Martine Arkady
I tracked down this one, after hearing it compared to the great C.J. Cherryh’s immersive writing style. And I wasn’t disappointed. I loved watching poor Mahit, replacement ambassador to the enigmatic Teixcalaani empire, flounder as she tries to work out just how her predecessor died. This tense murder mystery played out in the far future kept me up far too late as I couldn’t put it down. Read my review.

AUDIOBOOK Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer
I have always enjoyed reading Children’s fiction, because the very best is far too good just to leave to the kids. And this gem certainly falls into that category. A children’s classic that was published in 1969, it is written with depth and sophistication about two schoolgirls who cris-cross into each other’s times. Until something happens to Charlotte… I loved this one. Set in 1918, the period is beautifully portrayed and the bittersweet ending has stayed with me. Read my review.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher
This is another of those books for children, which engrossed and delighted me. Mona is a baker’s apprentice with a small magical talent, who suddenly finds herself caught up in a murder. Events snowball entertainingly – and I found myself thoroughly enjoying Mona’s ingenious creations to try and stay ahead of the baddies. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths
I enjoy Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, so decided to try this latest series and absolutely loved it. There is a tongue-in-cheek Gothic vibe that I found very appealing. Though I have a shocking memory, the twists and turns of this enjoyable murder mystery have stayed with me. Read my review.

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
I was utterly beguiled by Vish when I first encountered him during the fifth book of the series, The Case of the Reincarnated Client earlier in the year and have been eking out the rest of the series ever since. Vish Puri is fond of calling himself the Indian Sherlock Holmes and his energetic attitude and passion for justice are very endearing – even if he does dismiss his clever, streetwise Mummy-Ji, who often takes a close interest in his cases. This book has an extra dimension and Hall is adept at dealing with hefty issues of the painful events around India’s partition in a respectful manner, without making it dreary. Read my review.

While I’d like to think that each one of these books offers some brain fodder, none of them are gloomy, downbeat reads as this year I needed to escape. And my favourite book of 2020? Probably Ancestor Nights, though I’m likely to claim it’s The Relentless Moon if you ask me the same question again tomorrow. And then there’s Relatively Strange, of course…

Sunday Post – 10th 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’s been an unexpectedly busy week. On Tuesday we were supposed to be doing the handover of the grandsons, when my daughter got in touch to say that she was running a temperature and covered in a rash. So I said we’d keep the boys until she felt well enough and knew it wasn’t COVID. They stayed with us until Friday, which was an unexpected treat. We were able to take them for walks on the beach and play games, in between Frank’s online lessons. We even managed to play a hilarious game of Playdohionary (like Pictionary, but using Playdoh instead) and I taught Frank knockout whist. The pictures are from our walk on the beach last Thursday when the weather was glorious for the time of year, without a breath of wind…

On Saturday, I spent the morning working on my father-in-law’s memoirs – we worked on a document together using Shared Docs in OneDrive, which made the whole process so much easier. And then I caught up with writing some of my end of year blogs. As you may have gathered, not much writing of Trouble With Dwarves got done – but hopefully I can get back to work in the coming week.

Last week I read:

Black Sun – Book 1 of Between Earth and Sky series by Rebecca Roanhorse
A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun

In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.

Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.
This was a thoroughly entertaining epic fantasy that hit all the main tropes within the genre – with one stunning exception… it’s set in a civilisation based on pre-Columbian America. That gave it a verve and freshness that was very welcome. Review to follow.

Nikoles – Book 2 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier
For generations the Ugaro of the winter country have traded peacefully with the Lau of the summer lands. But now a fatal mistake has created bitterness and hatred on both sides of the river, threatening to destroy a peace that has become tenuous.

Nikoles Ianan realizes, too late, that he should have prevented his own people’s unforgivable trespass – he should at least have tried. Now it seems impossible for a single Lau soldier to do anything to prevent the escalating tragedy … until the most famous scepter-holder of the summer country arrives.
I loved TUYO, the first book in this series – see my review – which has made my Outstanding Reads of 2020 list. So I picked this one up with huge anticipation. While it didn’t quite hit the heights of the first book, it nonetheless proved to be a gripping read and a very welcome addition to this classy fantasy series. Review to follow.

DNF – The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell
As the age of the photograph dawns in Victorian Bath, silhouette artist Agnes is struggling to keep her business afloat. Still recovering from a serious illness herself, making enough money to support her elderly mother and her orphaned nephew Cedric has never been easy, but then one of her clients is murdered shortly after sitting for Agnes, and then another, and another… Why is the killer seemingly targeting her business?

Desperately seeking an answer, Agnes approaches Pearl, a child spirit medium lodging in Bath with her older half-sister and her ailing father, hoping that if Pearl can make contact with those who died, they might reveal who killed them.

But Agnes and Pearl quickly discover that instead they may have opened the door to something that they can never put back…
This is one that I couldn’t get through, despite being very well written and the plotting and characters are beautifully portrayed. But… I had somehow assumed that Agnes would be one of those blithe, crinolined heroines who is full of derring-do, and undaunted by anything. She isn’t – this is a whole lot darker and more sombre and I simply couldn’t cope with the more serious tone. So I’m featuring it as there is no criticism of the writing, just the wrong book at the wrong time…

My posts last week:

December 2020 Roundup: Reading, Writing and Blogging…

Friday Face-off featuring The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Bear Head – Book 2 of the Dogs of War series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring The Night Parade of 100 Demons – a Legend of the Five Rings novel by Marie Brennan

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Inherit the Shoes – a Jersey Girl Legal Mysery series by E.J. Copperman

Six Favourite Heroes from my 2020 Reading List

Sunday Post – 3rd January 2021

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

The Art of Recycling https://masonsmenagerie.wordpress.com/2021/01/07/the-art-of-recycling/ I loved the blend of art, poetry and practical tips in a post that manages not to be preachy about this issue…

Thursday Doors – the first of 2021 https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2021/01/07/thursday-doors-first-of-2021/ Regular visitors will know that I make a habit of featuring this quirky weekly post of Jean’s that shows her talent for the unusual and visually arresting…

Escapist Landscapes – Pt 1 https://cindyknoke.com/2020/12/12/escapist-landscapes-pt-1/ And if you are in the mood for more wonderful places to gaze at, then you’ve come to the right place…

Hoping for Snow https://platformnumber4.com/2020/12/18/hoping-for-snow/ I absolutely loved this article – Becky has a way of bringing the past alive…

THE CONFESSIONS TAG https://spaceandsorcery.wordpress.com/2021/01/05/the-confessions-tag/ We are all accustomed to sharing our reads in a variety of book blogging tags – but what about the books we didn’t read/passed over/plain disliked?

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

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 6th January, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – The Night Parade of 100 Demons – a Legend of the Five Rings novel by Marie Brennan – release date 2nd February, 2021.

#epic Japanese fantasy

BLURB: Chaos has broken out in the isolated Dragon Clan settlement of Seibo Mura. During the full moon, horrifying creatures rampage through the village, unleashing havoc and death. When the Dragon samurai Agasha no Isao Ryotora is sent to investigate, he faces even greater danger than expected. To save the village, he must confront his buried past – not to mention an unexpected Phoenix Clan visitor, Asako Sekken, who has his own secrets to hide. The quest to save Sebo Mura will take the two samurai into the depths of forgotten history and the shifting terrain of the Spirit Realms… and bring them face to face with an ancient, terrifying evil.

I am a huge fan of Marie Brennan, loving The Memoirs of Lady Trent series – see my reviews of A Natural History of Dragons, The Tropic of Serpents, The Voyage of the Basilisk, and Within the Sanctuary of Wings and the first book the spinoff series, Turning Darkness into Light. Also her intriguing historical fantasy The Onyx Court series – see my reviews of Midnight Never Come and In Ashes Lie, as well as the novella Cold-Forged Flame. So I was delighted to see another series – and to be approved for an arc. This is definitely one of my most anticipated reads of 2021… Is anyone else going to be tucking into this one soon?