Category Archives: epic fantasy

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton #Brainfluffbookreview #LadyHotspurbookreview

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It was the blurb that attracted me – a retelling of Shakespeare’s Henry IV sold this one. I studied the play at school and it sank into my soul. What I hadn’t realised is that this is the second book set in this world of Innis Lear as neither Goodreads or Amazon mention it. However, I think reading The Queens of Innis Lear would have helped enormously. So before picking this one up, go and track down the first book.

BLURB: Hal was once a knight, carefree and joyous, sworn to protect her future queen Banna Mora. But after a rebellion led by her own mother, Caleda, Hal is now the prince of Lionis, heir to the throne. The pressure of her crown and bloody memories of war plague her, as well as a need to shape her own destiny, no matter the cost. Lady Hotspur, known as the Wolf of Aremoria for her temper and warcraft, never expected to be more than a weapon. She certainly never expected to fall in love with the fiery Hal or be blindsided by an angry Queen’s promise to remake the whole world in her own image—a plan Hotspur knows will lead to tragedy. Banna Mora kept her life, but not her throne. Fleeing to Innis Lear to heal her heart and plot revenge, the stars and roots of Innis Lear will teach her that the only way to survive a burning world is to learn to breathe fire. These three women, together or apart, are the ones who have the power to bring the once-powerful Aremoria back to life—or destroy it forever.

Unusually, I’ve included the full blurb as it neatly sums up the dynamic of the plot about three young women who were once firm friends, as their relationships change into a more complex dynamic that has consequences not just for them, but for two kingdoms. This long book (600+ pages) is very ambitious, given it claims to be a retelling of one of the Shakespeare history plays. While there are echoes of that dynamic, I wouldn’t get too hung up on that thread, as there are also important differences that occur very quickly.

It took me a bit of time to really bond with the characters, but then I hadn’t appreciated that this was the second book and I recommend you read the first one before tackling Lady Hotspur. The title is actually misleading as the book equally deals with Prince Hal and Bana Mora just as much as Hotspur. It covers their joint and individual journeys extremely well. Gratton is an accomplished author who drew me into a world of complex magic and layered characterisation so that despite the heftiness of the read, I was held throughout. I was all set to give this one a ten, before I got to the final act and that crucial defining battle…

As I don’t want to lurch into Spoiler territory, you’ll have to bear with me if I’m a tad vague. But the trajectory of the book charts the relationships and competing claims, both personal and societal, upon three young women who already had high expectations thrust upon them. I felt Gratton did an outstanding job in making those genuinely gripping and very poignant – the relationship between Hotspur and Hal was particularly well done, I felt. But I was very dissatisfied with the manner in which the story was tied up. I think Gratton committed the unpardonable sin of raising reader expectations for one type of outcome, only to pull a switch that didn’t convince me at all. The conclusion was far too tidy for such a tortuous journey – by the end, I wasn’t even sure why they went to war at all, given the outcome.

The other issue I had was the role of women in the story. This magical tale is set in a late medieval setting when political marriages secured dynasties and land and Might is Right. Why we suddenly have a cadre of highborn, marriageable women, able to fight in battle alongside their male counterparts, is never fully explained. And I mind. It seems to me that you cannot sweep away all the impediments to women’s full equality within a story without addressing these obstacles, or factoring in a different dynamic that will give these women some tangible advantage in hand-to-hand fighting. Because their ability to prevail against fully armoured men due to their unique skill never convinced me. And I’m not prepared to go with the flow on this one – what sort of message does that give generations of us who watched our male work colleagues sail past us simply because of their genitalia? That we’re not strong enough? That we need magic? Or that just reading about a cosy world where it’s all just different is going to make me feel better? Systemic inequality of opportunity for women is far too widespread to be treated in such a flippant manner.

Furthermore, it’s supposed to be a retelling of a Shakespearean play. He might have been the greatest playwright that ever lived, but he was still a product of his time – so women were never found on the battlefield fighting alongside their men in his stories. If Gratton had wanted to change that aspect after specifically referencing Shakespeare in her worldbuilding, then she needed to spend at least some time and effort demonstrating what made it possible for these women to be able to learn the martial arts and take part in the bloodletting alongside the men. And she doesn’t.

The really aggravating aspect is that it wouldn’t have taken much to have turned this well-written, but slightly flawed effort into an outstanding read, as far as I’m concerned. And despite my real gripes with the book, I am still awarding it a solid eight. But it could have been a ten with just a little bit more thought… The ebook arc copy of Lady Hotspur was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Outstanding Reads of 2019 #Brainfluffbookblogger #2019OutstandingReads

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

During 2019 I read 168 books and wrote 129 full reviews, with 26 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give a 10 – but something about these books has stayed with me and won’t let go, which is why they have made the cut. And none of this top ten rubbish – I can’t possibly whittle down my list any further.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Sunday Post – 3rd November, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

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

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

Last week I read:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

My posts last week:

Review of Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Friday Faceoff featuring Red Moon by Kim Stanley Robinson

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

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

Teaser Tuesday featuring Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Post – 20th October, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

This has been a turbulent week weatherwise, with torrential downpours punctuated by bright spells of weather and over Thursday night and Friday, there were also a couple of thunderstorms. So it’s been hard to get washing dry outside, however the upside is that it is still mild for the time of year and we have also had some lovely rainbows.

I’ve been continuing with my Aerobics and Pilates classes and am gradually getting a bit fitter and less exhausted during and after the sessions. On Wednesday evening, I managed to make Writing Group which was lovely. I hadn’t been for a month and it was great to catch up with everyone and also get some valuable advice on the opening of Mantivore Warrior.

On Thursday, Sally came over and we started work on her second book. Editing is always such an intense business – I looked around twice and the day had gone, though I was absolutely shattered, to the extent that I spent part of Friday morning sleeping because when the alarm went off, I was just too tired to move. When I got up, I felt much better, but this week I must try to get to bed at a reasonable time as I’ve backslid badly. I needed to be sharp, as we collected the grandchildren on Friday after Oscar’s football practice – it was lovely to spend time with them again and catch up on their lives. Yesterday, we had a gathering of the clan at my sister’s flat. My parents and my sister’s sons and daughter-in-law travelled down to view her prospective new home and she also invited the four of us along. So ten of us, plus Darcy – Mum and Dad’s poodle – sat down to a delicious homemade curry lunch in with all the trimmings, while we provided the apple pudding in her compact flat. It was wonderful to catch up with everyone, who we hadn’t seen since David and Hannah’s wedding. For once the weather behaved and we were able to see my sister’s new home in brilliant sunshine and admire the views of Arundel Castle from her driveway.

I am still in the throes of the first draft of Mantivore Warrior and will be writing about my decision to include an extended flashback in tomorrow’s blog post.

Last week I read:

The Hidden Gallery – Book 2 of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood
Thanks to their plucky governess, Miss Penelope Lumley, Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia are much more like children than wolf cubs now. They are accustomed to wearing clothes. They hardly ever howl at the moon. And for the most part, they resist the urge to chase squirrels up trees. Yet the Incorrigibles are not entirely civilized, and still managed to ruin Lady Constance’s Christmas ball, nearly destroying the grand house. So while Ashton Place is being restored, Penelope, the Ashtons, and the children take up residence in London. As they explore the city, Penelope and the Incorrigibles discover more about themselves as clues about the children’s–and Penelope’s own–mysterious past crop up in the most unexpected ways…
I really enjoyed reading this second book in this series, though perhaps not quite as much as the first one. However, I am looking forward to finding out some answers to the thicket of questions surrounding the children and where they came from…

 

Blue Angel – Book 2 of the Ordshaw series by Phil Williams
Waking on an unfamiliar floor, Pax is faced with two hard truths. A murderous government agency wants her dead – and monsters really do exist. What’s more, her body’s going haywire, which she desperately hopes isn’t a side-effect of her encounters in the city’s tunnels. To survive, and protect Ordshaw, she’s got to expose who, or what, is behind the chaos – and she can’t do it alone. But with only the trigger-happy Fae to turn to, Pax’s allies might kill her before her enemies do…
This is the sequel to the quirky urban fantasy tale, Under Ordshaw and as Williams is releasing the third book in the series very shortly, I wanted to catch up before I fell further behind. Review to follow.

 

How To Fight a Dragon’s Fury – AUDIOBOOK 12 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
The Doomsday of Yule has arrived, and the future of dragonkind lies in the hands of one boy with nothing to show but everything to fight for. Hiccup’s quest is clear…but can he end the rebellion? Can he prove himself to be king? Can he save the dragons? The stakes have never been higher, as the very fate of the Viking world hangs in the balance!
Very annoyingly, somehow I started listening to Book 11 in the series and switched into this, the final book without realising until near the end… Which was just amazing. I found it very emotional and uplifting – a truly epic fantasy written for children and yet also engrossing for hundreds of adult fans too. Review to follow.

 

First Flyght – Book 1 of The Flyght series by S.J. Pajonas
Vivian Kawabata can’t wait to claim her privileged destiny. But when the heir to the family agricultural empire finds her bank account empty while shopping for expensive shoes, she’s horrified to discover that her own brother has financially stabbed her in the back. To stand a chance of restoring her rightful place in the universe, the honest and rule-following Vivian may have to break a few intergalactic laws.
I thoroughly enjoyed this first book in a space opera adventure about a young woman struggling to earn enough to keep the family business after the betrayal of her shifty and shiftless brother. Vivian is an enjoyable heroine and I will be definitely reading more of her adventures. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Review of Lady of Magick – Book 2 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Izzo Hunter

Friday Faceoff featuring Alien by Alan Dean Foster

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Doing Time – Book 1 of The Time Police by Jodi Taylor

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Empty Grave – Book 5 of Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud

Teaser Tuesday featuring Empire Games – Book 1 of the Empire Games series by Charles Stross

Reblog – Alvin and the area Alert to Literacy Efforts – Monday Memories

Authoring Annals 4 – Tweaking the Outline – Mantivore Warrior – Book 3 of The Arcadian Chronicles series

Sunday Post, 13th October 2019

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

Thursday Doors – Cottage Update https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2019/10/14/thursday-doors-cottage-update/ I followed the previous posts Jean published on the massive restoration of this cottage with interest – so these pics showing the completion of the project were a delight.

How to Train Your Editor Brain https://writerunboxed.com/2019/10/18/how-to-train-your-editor-brain/ Anyone who has attempted to complete a major writing project will know that finishing the first draft is just the start – it’s the editing which makes the difference between a well written, polished read and a muddled mess…

What Counts as Reading? https://emeraldcitybookreview.com/2019/10/what-counts-as-reading.html I thought this article was interesting in that it made me stop and consider my own assumptions on the subject. What do you think?

Waterford Walls 2019 https://inesemjphotography.com/2019/10/13/waterford-walls-2019/ And this is just a joy – what a wonderful way to bring art and beauty into an urban environment and why isn’t every town and city in the land also following this example?

Alvin and the area Alert to Literacy Efforts – Monday Memories https://powerfulwomenreaders.wordpress.com/2019/10/14/alvin-and-area-alert-to-literacy-efforts-monday-memories/ Yes… I know I also reblogged this during the week – something I hardly ever do, but I didn’t want anyone to miss this uplifting, amazing post…

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron #Brainfluffbookreview #KingdomofSoulsbookreview

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There was a lot of excitement about this one and one of my lovely book-blogging friends highly recommended it – so I scampered across to Netgalley and managed to snag an arc – thank you! If you do recognise yourself, please let me know and I will give you a shoutout.

Born into a family of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah yearns for magic of her own. But each year she fails to call forth her ancestral powers, while her ambitious mother watches with growing disapproval. There’s only one thing Arrah hasn’t tried, a deadly last resort: trading years of her own life for scraps of magic. Until the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, and Arrah is desperate to find the culprit. She uncovers something worse. The long-imprisoned Demon King is stirring. And if he rises, his hunger for souls will bring the world to its knees… unless Arrah pays the price for the magic to stop him.

This is essentially African-inspired epic fantasy with a strong POC protagonist in Arrah and an interesting, coherent structure of magical with important differences in tone and effect within the various tribes. I really enjoyed the backdrop, the feel of the book and Barron’s vivid, gritty writing. The supporting characters were also layered – I particularly loved the depiction of Arrah’s mother, who is by far the most interesting, charismatic character for at least the first half of the book. But none of this would have worked if Arrah’s own personality hadn’t pinged off the page in her desperate longing to fulfil the destiny that was well nigh flattening her from the time she was old enough to realise who she was supposed to be. It is often a trope within SFF – a protagonist is lacking that vital talent or magical ability so confidently predicted from their birth. But rarely is that disappointment so acutely experienced as in Kingdom of Souls. It was a real heartbreak to see Arrah’s pain as her mother increasingly distanced herself from her daughter, while her father desperately tried to compensate by providing all the love and companionship she could want – incidentally immersing her in his own blood magic rituals, presumably hoping some of it would rub off…

I loved the fact that family went on mattering to Arrah throughout the length of this twisting plotline – in fact, it’s a major theme that recurs within the narrative arcs of a number of the supporting characters, too. As someone who is fascinated by the family dynamic and also writes a lot about it – this is meat and drink to me.

Do be aware that this is a gritty read including child abduction and death, parental rejection and dark magic – much of which appears in medieval-era fantasy tales as a matter of course, but somehow the more exotic setting and different flavour of magic manages to give a more menacing aspect to these events. I also think that Barron’s intense, sensual writing style packs a punch.

This is a triumphant debut by a very promising author. It’s not perfect – there are places where the pacing could have been tightened up as the description took over at the expense of the action. But given the ambition and breadth of the book, these lapses were relatively few and far between. Highly recommended for fantasy fans who appreciate something different. The ebook arc copy of Kingdom of Souls was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

Sunday Post – 25th August, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

It’s been an intensely busy week as I have been organising the upcoming release of my new book Mantivore Dreams. I’m also working on a major editing project, as well as now editing the next book in the series, Mantivore Prey. On Friday, Himself and I went for a coffee and cake at the Look and Sea Centre, which has now reopened, thank goodness. So we were able to sit at our favourite spot, have a natter while enjoying views of the river as the weather has suddenly become warmer and sunnier again in time for the Bank Holiday weekend. Yay!

Today we will be driving over the Brighton to pick up the children and have them stay over for a few days. It’s a long time since we had Oscar to stay, so we are really looking forward to catching up with them both.

Last week I read:

The Green Man’s Foe – Book 1 of The Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna
When you do a good job for someone, there’s a strong chance they’ll offer you more work or recommend you elsewhere. So Daniel Mackmain isn’t particularly surprised when his boss’s architect brother asks for his help on a historic house renovation in the Cotswolds. Except Dan’s a dryad’s son, and he soon realises there’s a whole lot more going on. Ancient malice is stirring and it has made an alliance in the modern world. The Green Man expects Dan to put an end to this threat. Seeing the danger, Dan’s forced to agree. The problem is he’s alone in a place he doesn’t know, a hundred miles or more away from any allies of his own.

I loved the first book in the series and the sequel is every bit as good. It’s a joy to read a cracking contemporary adventure set in the heart of the English countryside, featuring magical creatures from our own long, colourful history.

 

Sweep of the Blade – Book 4 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
Once a wife to a powerful vampire knight, Maud and her daughter, Helen, had been exiled for the sins of her husband to the desolate planet of Karhari. Karhari killed her husband, and Maud had spent a year and a half avenging his debts. But now all the debts are paid. Rescued by her sister Dina, Maud had sworn off all things vampire. Except she met Arland, the Marshal of House Krahr. One thing led to another and he asked for her hand in marriage. She declined.

Try as she might, she can’t just walk away from Arland. It doesn’t help that being human is a lot harder for Maud than being a vampire.

Another fabulous read – this has been a wonderful reading week! I treated myself to this one, once I realised how well Mantivore Prey has turned out as a reward from me to me😊

 

Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron
Born into a family of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah yearns for magic of her own. But each year she fails to call forth her ancestral powers, while her ambitious mother watches with growing disapproval.

There’s only one thing Arrah hasn’t tried, a deadly last resort: trading years of her own life for scraps of magic. Until the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, and Arrah is desperate to find the culprit.

She uncovers something worse. The long-imprisoned Demon King is stirring. And if he rises, his hunger for souls will bring the world to its knees… unless Arrah pays the price for the magic to stop him.

This African-inspired epic fantasy is an impressive debut, given it’s ambition and scope and Barron has triumphantly succeeded in depicting a vivid, dangerous world rife with vengeful seers and lethal magic. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Know Your Rites – Book 2 of the Inspector Paris Mysteries

Friday Faceoff featuring Catching Fire – Book 2 of The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

Mantivore Dreams Cover reveal and available arcs

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Novacene by James Lovelock

Teaser Tuesday featuring Sweep of the Blade – Book 4 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Old Bones – A DCI Bill Slider Case by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Sunday Post – 18th August 2019

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

#writers, what #writinginspiration can be found in your #homestate? In #Winsconsin, one #setting to spark your #storytelling is #theHouseontheRock https://jeanleesworld.com/2019/08/22/writers-what-writinginspiration-can-be-found-in-your-homestate-in-wisconsin-one-setting-to-spark-your-storytelling-is-thehouseontherock/ She’s not kidding… This place is UNBELIEVABLE! I’d love, love, love to visit!

Monday Musings https://powerfulwomenreaders.wordpress.com/2019/08/19/monday-musings-5/ Rae is a remarkable lady who has a passion for books and teaching – I loved this article she posted…

Sparoi 2019 https://inesemjphotography.com/2019/08/18/spraoi-2019/ Once again, Inessa’s camera takes me to another place far, far away from my own desk in the corner of my lounge and I love her for it.

Friends Do Lie: Normalization of Lies in Fiction http://melfka.com/archives/16489 Joanna raises a really interesting issue in this thoughtful article…

Monday Chatter: Why Plagiarizing Reviews is Bad (Because Apparently It Needs to be Said)
https://pagesbelowvaultedsky.wordpress.com/2019/08/19/monday-chatter-why-plagiarizing-reviews-is-bad-because-apparently-it-needs-to-be-said/ I was shaken to read this – fortunately I’m aware it’s rare, but it is a real shame that anyone thinks it is acceptable to steal anyone else’s writing – especially when discussing your personal reaction to a book!

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Porpoise by Mark Haddon #Brainfluffbookreview #ThePorpoisebookreview

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Like many others, I thoroughly enjoyed Mark Haddon’s best-seller The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and when I had the opportunity of reading his latest book, I jumped at it…

A newborn baby is the sole survivor of a terrifying plane crash. She is raised in wealthy isolation by an overprotective father. She knows nothing of the rumours about a beautiful young woman, hidden from the world. When a suitor visits, he understands far more than he should. Forced to run for his life, he escapes aboard The Porpoise, an assassin on his tail…

So begins a wild adventure of a novel, damp with salt spray, blood and tears. A novel that leaps from the modern era to ancient times; a novel that soars, and sails, and burns long and bright; a novel that almost drowns in grief yet swims ashore; in which pirates rampage, a princess wins a wrestler’s hand, and ghost women with lampreys’ teeth drag a man to hell – and in which the members of a shattered family, adrift in a violent world, journey towards a place called home.

Be warned – if you pick this one looking for more of the same regarding The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, then you’ll be disappointed. This is nothing like it, particularly the immersive first-person viewpoint that made Christopher sing off the page. This book is told throughout in omniscient viewpoint – the storyteller’s point of view. While we do spend short periods in the head of various characters, they are not what powers this story – and we are regularly given information that they are not privy to. I’ll be honest, if the story hadn’t been very well told and one that I hadn’t known, then I don’t think I’d have got through it. This is my least favourite viewpoint and it is a tribute to Haddon’s skill that once I relaxed into the rhythm of the writing and the cadences of the story, not dissimilar to those ancient Greek legends upon which aspects of this is based, I enjoyed it.

This story is a dual narrative, covering two timelines separated by thousands of years. We start with a plane crash that leaves a motherless newborn baby to be brought up by her very wealthy, doting father. And here comes my next warning – this book covers incest and child abuse, and though there are no graphic scenes, Angelica’s plight would certainly be a trigger for anyone affected. As her initial chance for escape disappears and her would-be rescuer flees for his life, the story abruptly jumps back in time.

Is this Angelica’s imaginings taking her to a different place? Or a mirroring of the same plight through the prism of time? We are never told and it’s left for the reader to make up her mind. But the blurb nails it in the second paragraph – the rest of the book plunges us into an adventure full of lost love, storms, pirates and perilous escape, in sharp contrast to the slow passing of time for Angelica as she tries to escape her father’s attentions.

That ending is both shattering and unexpected and has had me musing on this one long after I finished reading it. I’ve come away from this book with mixed feelings – I found it a gripping, unexpected adventure, but also quite disturbing. It has certainly wormed itself inside my head – recommended for readers who enjoy unusual, challenging stories where the ending doesn’t necessarily leave everything neatly tied up.

The ebook arc copy of The Porpoise was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Middlegame by Seanan McGuire #Brainfluffbookreview #Middlegamebookreview

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I was intrigued by the Hand of Glory featured on the cover and I also liked the premise, so requested this one and was delighted when I was approved.

Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story. Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math. Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet. Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.

Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.

And that’s the blurb. Reed is definitely the villain you love to hate – he is completely amoral and fully focused on attaining the highest power that all alchemists are seeking. He has created several sets of twins, who are designed to perfectly complement each other’s strengths. Some are brought up together in the laboratory where they were created, while others are split and brought up separately until they grow into their powers. Roger and Dodger fall into the second tranche.

However, they manage to find each other, even though they are both very young and living hundreds of miles apart. Once their connection is discovered, they are split up again – causing anger and trauma to both… Initially, the viewpoint jumps around a bit as McGuire establishes the stakes and demonstrates just what the hapless twins are up against. But once the action centres on Roger and Dodger and we follow their highs and lows as they grow up, I was pulled into the story and became engrossed in the unfolding action.

I liked both of them – Dodger is the more sensitive and brittle personality, who grows up holding people at arm’s length, while Roger is more comfortable in his own skin. I enjoyed watching their development – and the various twists as first they are separated and then get together.
Meanwhile Reed is always lurking in the background, monitoring their progress and comparing it with his other experiments… And yes, the Hand of Glory features throughout the book. Because we get to know the characters well, I really cared and found this one difficult to put down once it hit its stride. I’m not sure that opening section is necessary as I found it distracting while waiting for that particular shoe to drop, which I think interfered with my enjoyment somewhat.

However, the climax was suitably convincing and brought this epic story to a strong conclusion – although there is potential for another book in this world. While I obtained an arc of Middlegame from the author via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10