Category Archives: family life

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 2nd June, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Loch Down Abbey by Beth Cowan-Erkine – release date 10th June, 2021

#historical cosy country house whodunit

BLURB: It’s the 1930s and a mysterious illness is spreading over Scotland. But the noble and ancient family of Inverkillen, residents of Loch Down Abbey, are much more concerned with dwindling toilet roll supplies and who will look after the children now that Nanny has regretfully (and most inconveniently) departed this life.

Then Lord Inverkillen, Earl and head of the family, is found dead in mysterious circumstances. The inspector declares it an accident but Mrs MacBain, the head housekeeper, isn’t so convinced. As no one is allowed in or out because of the illness, the residents of the house – both upstairs and downstairs – are the only suspects. With the Earl’s own family too busy doing what can only be described as nothing, she decides to do some digging – in between chores, of course – and in doing so uncovers a whole host of long-hidden secrets, lies and betrayals that will alter the dynamics of the household for ever.

I can’t lie – once again it was the cover that caught my attention. And then I read the blurb and I was sold. I’ve been reading a fair number of murder mysteries, particularly historical ones. And this one seems to have more than a nod to our ongoing pandemic, but with a slightly humorous overtone – which suits me down to the ground just now.

Has anyone else got this one on their TBR pile?

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Caring for Grandchildren #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonChildcare #PickyEaters

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Don’t allow the dragonets to play chess using your best set, until they’ve grown past the age where they erupt into a flaming tantrum when they lose. With lords, this might well take them until they’re… On second thoughts – don’t ever let ANY lord near your best chess set!

Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

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

Friday Faceoff – If you want something in Life – reach out and grab it… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffgrabbycovers

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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 that made us want to grab the book. I’ve selected The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel, which I loved – see my review.

Henry Holt & Co, March 2021

This edition was produced by Henry Holt and Co in March 2020, and is attractive and appropriate. I really like the simplicity of the design, with the thorny branches roaming through the title font and the single Tudor rose featured in the middle of the cover. If I hadn’t already immediately lost my heart to another particular cover, then this would have been my favourite. My main niggle with this one is that although Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are both mentioned, nowhere on this cover does it tell us that this is the third book in the series – which I think is vital information that readers need to know.

Picador, May 2021

Expected in May this year by Picador, I have found that this cover has grown on me. Initially I didn’t like it much – turning half the cover into a textbox is never going to find favour with me as I don’t like them. But I appreciate that this cover gives the reader all the necessary details, while that image of Thomas Cromwell, reproduced from the famous portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger, is surprisingly effective. Fracturing it like that gives a sense of a distorted reflection – and a sober foreshadowing of Cromwell’s fate.

Fourth Estate, March 2020

This edition, published by Fourth Estate in March 2020, is my favourite. Yes… I know there is nothing in this design that remotely references the life and times of Thomas Cromwell in any way. And I know that this cover doesn’t bother to tell the read that this is the third book in the series… And that while the author and title fonts are wonderfully clear – rather oddly, they have right-hand justification, rather than being centred. But the minute I laid eyes on this particular design, I yearned to have this book.

HarperCollins, March 2020

This edition, produced by HarperCollins in March 2020, is overwhelmingly dreary. That gradation from funereal black around the edges through to misery blue in the middle gives no sense of the vividness of the prose and the three-dimensional depiction of a cast of extraordinary characters during one of the most interesting and tumultuous periods in English history.

Turkish edition, January 2021

This Turkish edition, published by Alfa Yayınları in January 2021, is another strong offering. I like the fact the artwork features part of a family portrait by Holbein which includes Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. Because in the latter part of his reign, apart from indulging in disastrous and expensive wars, Henry was obsessed with the question of his succession. It shaped both the foreign and domestic policy of the country and ultimately brought about the downfall of Cromwell, though there were also other factors as this book makes clear. I also like the textbox being in the shape of the Tudor rose. Which is your favourite?

Sunday Post – 4th 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.

If you are celebrating, Happy Easter!

I’ve been away for a while, because Himself and I went down with Covid just after my last Sunday Post and we were both very poorly. Himself narrowly escaped being admitted to hospital due to his breathlessness and I was coping with aching joints and slept more or less round the clock. Thank goodness we are now on the road to recovery, though I’m still struggling with my energy levels and Himself has been left with a nasty cough.

We are part of a study whereby we take a Covid test every month. On Thursday, the monthly event rolled around again – and this time, they also asked us for a blood sample. They want around 5 ml and the catch is that we have to administer the procedure ourselves. It was a hoot stabbing my finger and squeezing the blood out, then encouraging it to drop into the little phial. By the time we got the hang of it, the first little cut had clotted and both of us had to start again with another finger! By the time we’d finished the whole procedure, we were giggling hysterically. Hopefully by next month, we’ll get the hang of it with only one stabbed finger…

I have no photos this week, as sadly, I haven’t yet made it outdoors since I was ill. Maybe next week…

Last week I read:
To Fire Called – Book 8 of the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series by Nathan Lowell

Captain Ishmael Wang finally gets the Chernyakova out of the yard and embarks on a voyage into the Toe-Holds where the Confederated Planets Joint Committee on Trade has no authority. Where the law is whatever you say it is as long as you can enforce it. Where he learns that some will do anything to hide their secrets and everybody has a secret.
This is a space opera series that I tore into while we were ill, which is highly readable and provided escapism without too much darkness or gore. As you see, I found it difficult to leave it alone… Mini-review to follow.

The Invitation by A.M. Castle
Thirteen guests. One killer. No escape. On an island on the coast of Cornwall, cut off from the mainland by the tides for most of the day, thirteen old friends meet at Tregowan Castle for a weekend of revelry. By the next evening only twelve are still alive.

Amongst them is a killer – but who? As a storm traps them on the island and past betrayals and grievances are revealed, nerves fray and friendships begin to fracture.

But with no escape and no way of calling for help it’s only a matter of time before the killer strikes again. And when everyone is keeping secrets, anybody could be the next victim…
I thoroughly enjoyed this locked room murder mystery set on a fictionalised version of St Michal’s Mount. There was plenty of dramatic tension and the denouement was well done – I’ll be reading other books by this accomplished author.

AUDIOBOOK The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
Four septuagenarians with a few tricks up their sleeves
A female cop with her first big case
A brutal murder
Welcome to…
The Thursday Murder Club

In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet weekly in the Jigsaw Room to discuss unsolved crimes; together they call themselves The Thursday Murder Club. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

When a local developer is found dead with a mysterious photograph left next to the body, the Thursday Murder Club suddenly find themselves in the middle of their first live case. As the bodies begin to pile up, can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer, before it’s too late?
While this one took a while to get going, I ended up really enjoying this murder mystery featuring four elderly protagonists. Kudos to Osman for not patronising them in any way, providing plenty of food for thought and some poignant moments, along with the crimes and a mostly thoroughly likeable cast of characters. Review to follow.

The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne – Book 1 of The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne series by Jonathan Stroud
Set in a fragmented future England, The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne introduces us to a world where gunfights and monsters collide, and where the formidable outlaw Scarlett McCain fights daily against the odds. When she discovers a wrecked coach on a lonely road, there is only one survivor – the seemingly hapless youth, Albert Browne. Against her instincts, Scarlett agrees to escort him to safety.

This is a mistake. Soon, new and implacable enemies are on her heels. As a relentless pursuit continues across the broken landscape of England, Scarlett must fight to uncover the secrets of Albert’s past – and come to terms with the implications of her own.
This YA offering set in post-apocalyptic England is a rip-roaring adventure full of drama, with some shafts of humour and lots of tension. I inhaled this one, loved it and am now very much looking forward to the next one. Review to follow.

By Darkness Forged – Book 9 of the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series by Nathan Lowell
Profits. Coffee. Extortion.
All in a day’s work.

When Ishmael takes the Chernyakova back into Toe-Hold space, he finds a lot more than profit. A quick pass through the Telluride system reveals the answer to one question but leaves him docked without a cargo until the owner of Dark Knight Station makes him an offer he can’t refuse.
I’m not sure – but this book has a real feel of the final book of the series. While Lowell doesn’t generally go in for foot-to-the-floor action, this time around there was plenty of tension and danger, which worked really well. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Invitation by A.M. Castle

Friday Face-off featuring Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Fall of Koli – Book 3 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring The Best Thing You Can Steal – a Gideon Sable novel by Simon R. Green

Tuesday Treasures – 30

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

April is Autism Acceptance Month, April 2nd is Autism Awareness Day https://carlalovestoread.wordpress.com/2021/04/02/april-is-autism-awareness-month-april-2-is-autism-acceptance-day/ Carla’s excellent article provides valuable information about this issue. And given that in our daily lives, we are bound to encounter both adults and children on the autism spectrum, it is worth reading.

#WriterProblems: #StoryEndings and #LooseEnds (Also, a Defense of #EarwigandtheWitch)
https://jeanleesworld.com/2021/04/01/writerproblems-storyendings-and-looseends-also-a-defense-of-earwigandthewitch/ Jean Lee once more provides us with excellent writing advice, in one of her wonderful, quirky articles. It was lovely reading this after have been away so long…

Author Interview: Ilona Andrews https://lynns-books.com/2021/03/22/author-interview-ilona-andrews/ I am a huge fan of the Innkeeper Chronicles and have always been fascinated to discover how this husband and wife writing team work together. So this was a solid treat – especially as the questions and answers are excellent…

Book Buying Habits Tag https://spaceandsorcery.wordpress.com/2021/03/30/book-buying-habits-tag/ Maddalena has once again provided one of her lovely book tags. I’m always intrigued to find out how other book addicts manage their habit, so this was a must-read for me…

Top Ten Tuesday – Books Set in Places I’d Love to Live https://thebookishlibra.com/2021/03/30/top-ten-tuesday-books-set-in-places-id-love-to-live/ Now that we’re all stuck in one place, especially as Himself and I have been self-isolating for a chunk of March, I find myself increasingly dreaming of other places with longing – and books are a great way to escape. So I really enjoyed this article…

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

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Caring for Grandchildren #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonGrandchildren #PickyEaters

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Treats and bribes work better than flame and blame when enforcing discipline – after all, you’ll be handing them back at the end of the day…

Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Book review of NETGALLEY arc The Conductors – Book 1 of the Murder and Magic series by Nicole Glover #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheConductorsbookreview

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I saw this one featured on Books, Bones and Buffy and loved the look of it, so requested it and was delighted to be approved. Would it be as enjoyable as I’d hoped?

BLURB: As an escaped slave, Hetty Rhodes helped dozens of people find their own freedom north using her wits and her magic. Now that the Civil War is over, Hetty and her husband, Benjy, still fight for their people by solving the murders and mysteries that the white authorities won’t touch.

When they discover one of their friends brutally murdered in an alley, Hetty and Benjy mourn his loss by setting off to find answers. But the mystery of his death soon brings up more questions, more secrets, more hurt. To solve his death, they will have to not only face the ugly truths about the world but the ones about each other.

REVIEW: This one grabbed me from the first page and wouldn’t let go. This is told in the viewpoint of Hetty, an escaped slave, who helped free others using her magic. As a slave with magical abilities, she’d been forced to wear a collar that not only repressed her magical abilities, but also was used as a means of punishment. I liked the dual timeline; one where we have Hetty and Benjy living in Philadelphia and making a life together within the community of freed slaves; the other timeline in the form of flashbacks to when they were both either escaping, or guiding others to freedom. It worked well, as it gave us vivid scenes of how the pair of them worked together, using magic and their own fighting skills, to save themselves and others, so cut down the amount of explanation that would have otherwise been necessary.

Hetty is a cagey, sharp-edged character who doesn’t quite trust anyone, with the exception of Benjy, who became her companion in desperate situations almost by accident. Once they settle in Philadelphia, they get married to stop any scandal about the fact that their friendship and teamwork means they end up living together. She is also a gifted seamstress and highly talented magical user, using Celestial magic as opposed to Sorcery, which is reserved for whites only. I liked the magic system and didn’t particularly need to have it further explained, as Hetty’s use of the various Celestial symbols when she needed it gave us a ringside seat into the main rules she needed to consider.

I enjoyed the characterisation of Hetty and her relationships with those around her. It becomes apparent during the investigation that while everyone around them is busy moving on with their lives since the war, both Hetty and Benjy are finding it difficult to adapt to their daily routines. The fact that difference is causing rifts in their relationships with their friends and each other is poignant and significant to the plot. Overall, I thought the murder mystery is well handled, with plenty of suspects and a strong sub-plot. However, there is a fair bit of repetition, which slows the pace and slightly silts up the narrative tension.

This is an ambitious book in dealing with the number of plotlines around the themes of of loss and trauma – and how people differ in their handling of it. The storyline around Hetty’s sister felt a bit rushed at the end, and given that this is a series and how much this issue chafes at Hetty, I think the overall pacing would be improved if this plotline was dealt with more thoroughly in the sequel. It seems a bit tacked on at the end – and is why this book didn’t get five stars. Overall, this is an impressive debut and I look forward to reading more about Hetty and Benjy in due course. Recommended for fans of historical fantasy, who enjoy reading about settings other than the usual medieval/early modern European era. While I obtained an arc of The Conductors from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Life #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonLife #PickyEaters

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Fixes for a draconic mid-life crisis #5 – Announce to everyone who’ll listen that you’re off to teach those pesky humans their proper place in the scheme of things. Though don’t follow through on this one unless you’re really tired of life.

Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Family Life #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonFamilyLife #PickyEaters

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If suffering from flame-bowel disorder, it’s vital you don’t fly over anything flammable – or anyone you care about…

Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

Series I Completed in 2020 – Part 2 #Brainfluffbookblog #SeriesICompletedPt2blog

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One of my ongoing major reading targets is to pick up and continue with book series that I started and enjoyed, only to let fall along the wayside, due to the ongoing lure of the new and shiny (thank you Netgalley!). I am now aware that I need to make a concerted effort to go looking for those series and authors I’ve previously loved, so I can continue in their wonderful worlds, until the series is finished. I made a really good start in the first half of last year – see my article Series I Competed in 2020 So Far – so did I continue to be successful?

The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel
England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves. Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?

This remarkable series is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Mantel takes one of the bogeymen of history and turns him into a sympathetic, likeable character, while completely ignoring everything any respectable How-To book advises on how to write viewpoint… I listened to this one and wept at the end. Partly because of the emotion that Mantel’s writing engendered, but partly because I’d reached the end of one of the most extraordinary reading experiences of my life. Read my review.

The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and sabotage plague the space program. The IAC’s goal of getting as many people as possible off Earth before it becomes uninhabitable is being threatened.

Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President.

I absolutely loved this trilogy and am hoping to start her Glamourist fantasy series sometime this year, so long as I’ve completed another couple of series I’ve got on my list. And virtue is its own reward – while I loved the first two book, this one is my particular favourite. Read my review.

Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron
Dear Reader,
There is no way to write a blurb for this final book without spoiling all of the others. Suffice it to say, mysteries resolve, dragons war, pigeons abound, and Julius must risk himself in ways he never dreamed possible as Bob’s grand plan finally comes to fruition. But the Great Seer of the Heartstrikers isn’t the only one whose schemes are nearing completion. The Nameless End is coming, and even the machinations of the world’s most brilliant dragon seer might not be enough to stop it. As the world comes crashing down, it’s up Julius to prove what he’s always known: that seers can be wrong, and Nice Dragons don’t always finish last.

This series proved to be so much fun! Not only does this entertaining urban fantasy feature shape-shifting dragons and some marvellous foot-to-the-floor action scenes – it also has plenty of humour, which is just what I needed during this testing year. Read my review.

Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
“Bending over me solicitously, was a porcelain-headed, laughing policeman; wide-mouthed with mirth he leaned closer, tilting his head in a parody of concern. Eyeless he watched me, tongueless he chanted, I knew the chant and my mind couldn’t help but chant with him, ‘Oh, I wish, I wish, I wish I knew, exactly what to do with you.’”

Telepathy, along with sundry other odd abilities, have landed Stella more than once, in situations at best controversial, at worst life-threatening. But she’s always known; you have to fight your own corner as best you can, no point beating yourself up about it. Now though, times have changed, different priorities. She’s married, with a baby on the way and a flourishing business. She simply has to deal with a couple of worrying issues and then all should be smooth sailing. But, isn’t it a fact; just when you think you’ve got all your ducks in a row, life can turn right around and bite you on the bottom?

I absolutely LOVED this series and there is a hint that this might not be the final book in this gem of a series that deserves to be far more widely known. But as it is still published as a trilogy, then I’m counting it as a completed series. Though no one will be happier than I if it proves to be false – this was one of the major reading highlights of my year. Read my review.

I’m aware that it doesn’t look all that impressive, only four series completed, but that meant that over the whole year, I’d finished eleven series. I’ll take that as a solid result. I’m also making an effort to catch up with other series that I’ve let lapse. Have you recently completed or caught up with any series?