Category Archives: family relationships

The Mid-Year Freak Out Book Tag #Brainfluffbookreview #TheMidYearFreakOutBookTag

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I’ve recently thoroughly enjoyed reading this book tag on a number of sites – but the first one was Maddalena, at Space and Sorcery, one of my favourite book bloggers on account of the steady stream of thoughtful, quality reviews that she produces. So I decided to also join in the fun…

Best Book You’ve Read So Far This Year
Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear
Haimey Dz thinks she knows what she wants. She thinks she knows who she is. She is wrong. A routine salvage mission uncovers evidence of a terrible crime and relics of powerful ancient technology. Haimey and her small crew run afoul of pirates at the outer limits of the Milky Way, and find themselves on the run and in possession of universe-changing information.

When authorities prove corrupt, Haimey realizes that she is the only one who can protect her galaxy-spanning civilization from the implications of this ancient technology—and the revolutionaries who want to use it for terror and war. Her quest will take her careening from the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s core to the infinite, empty spaces at its edge.

I found this layered, character-led exploration of a future human, who relies on technology not available to us in order to keep functional, absolutely riveting.

Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far This Year
Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
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?

This series is an absolute gem. I love the quirky, humorous tone coupled with the often dark, twisty plot. It should be grim and angsty, but it isn’t. Messik is a wonderful writer and definitely my discovery of the year so far…

New Release You Haven’t Read Yet But Want To
Unconquerable Sun – Book 1 of The Sun Chronicles by Kate Elliott
GENDER-SWAPPED ALEXANDER THE GREAT ON AN INTERSTELLAR SCALE
Princess Sun has finally come of age. Growing up in the shadow of her mother, Eirene, has been no easy task. The legendary queen-marshal did what everyone thought impossible: expel the invaders and build Chaonia into a magnificent republic, one to be respected—and feared.

But the cutthroat ambassador corps and conniving noble houses have never ceased to scheme—and they have plans that need Sun to be removed as heir, or better yet, dead. To survive, the princess must rely on her wits and companions: her biggest rival, her secret lover, and a dangerous prisoner of war.

A retelling of Alexander the Great set in space with a princess as the protagonist – with the great Kate Elliott telling the story… It makes me go weak with longing just thinking about it.

Most Anticipated Release For the Second Half of the Year
A Deadly Education – Book 1 of the Scholomance series by Naomi Novik
A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets. There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere. El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.
I love a great school story and have read one book from another
cracking series this year – so am really looking forward to tucking into this one.

Biggest Disappointment
Q by Christina Dalcher
Every child’s potential is regularly determined by a standardized measurement: their quotient (Q). Score high enough, and attend a top tier school with a golden future. Score too low, and it’s off to a federal boarding school with limited prospects afterwards. The purpose? An improved society where education costs drop, teachers focus on the more promising students, and parents are happy.

Elena Fairchild is a teacher at one of the state’s elite schools. When her nine-year-old daughter bombs a monthly test and her Q score drops to a disastrously low level, she is immediately forced to leave her top school for a federal institution hundreds of miles away. As a teacher, Elena thought she understood the tiered educational system, but as a mother whose child is now gone, Elena’s perspective is changed forever. She just wants her daughter back.

Elena has to be the nastiest protagonist I’ve encountered this year. I kept reading, because I was convinced that at some stage she was going to redeem herself. She didn’t. Check out my review.

Biggest Surprise
You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce
Cassandra Tipp is dead…or is she? After all, the notorious recluse and eccentric bestselling novelist has always been prone to flights of fancy–everyone in town remembers the shocking events leading up to Cassie’s infamous trial (she may have been acquitted, but the insanity defense only stretches so far).
Cassandra Tipp has left behind no body–just her massive fortune, and one final manuscript.

Then again, there are enough bodies in her past–her husband Tommy Tipp, whose mysterious disembowelment has never been solved, and a few years later, the shocking murder-suicide of her father and brother.

This unsettling tale is both horrific and beautiful and has lodged in my memory since I read it early in the year. Fabulous debut novel that makes this author One To Watch. Here is my review.

Favourite New Author
Marilyn Messik
I just wish she would write faster… I suffered terrible book hangover pangs after completing the Strange series! This is my review of Relatively Strange.

Newest Fictional Crush
Hm. Don’t really like the term crush – I’m a very happily married woman. But I rather fell in love with Trouble Dog from Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell. This sentient ship doesn’t know when to quit…

Newest Favourite Character
Stella from the Strange series by Marilyn Messik. Yes, I know it seems that I’ve only read a handful of books this first half of 2020, given the fact that Messik’s books keep surfacing in this roundup, but I was obsessed by Stella – even dreamt about her… That doesn’t happen all that often, these days.

Book That Made You Cry
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 was a heartbreaking ending to Cromwell’s long journey from being a brutal, brutalised teenager on the way to becoming part of his father’s criminal gang, to being the most powerful man in England, next to the King. The King who finally killed him… I wept while listening to Cromwell’s death, which was beautifully done.

Book That Made You Happy
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

A book of hope for uncertain times.
Enter the world of Charlie’s four unlikely friends, discover their story and their most important life lessons.

The conversations of the boy, the mole, the fox and the horse have been shared thousands of times online, recreated in school art classes, hung on hospital walls and turned into tattoos. In Charlie’s first book, you will find his most-loved illustrations and some new ones too.

A fabulous, uplifting book that appears to be very simple, but is so much more. It’s by my side at my computer where I work in these difficult times.

Favourite Book to Film adaptation
Sanditon by Jane Austen
Loved this one – and then got to the end… and – oh my word! THAT was a shock…

Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought This Year
Underland by Robert MacFarlane
In this highly anticipated sequel to his international bestseller The Old Ways, Macfarlane takes us on an extraordinary journey into our relationship with darkness, burial, and what lies beneath the surface of both place and mind. Traveling through “deep time”—the dizzying expanses of geologic time that stretch away from the present—he moves from the birth of the universe to a post-human future, from the prehistoric art of Norwegian sea caves to the blue depths of the Greenland ice cap, from Bronze Age funeral chambers to the catacomb labyrinth below Paris, and from the underground fungal networks through which trees communicate to a deep-sunk “hiding place” where nuclear waste will be stored for 100,000 years to come. Woven through Macfarlane’s own travels are the unforgettable stories of descents into the underland made across history by explorers, artists, cavers, divers, mourners, dreamers, and murderers, all of whom have been drawn for different reasons to seek what Cormac McCarthy calls “the awful darkness within the world.”
This was a present from my lovely sister-in-law. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of tucking into this one – but I fully intend to by the end of the year. That cover is to die for – and the writing is gorgeous. Have you read it?

What Book Do You Need To Read by the End of the Year?
As many as I can – so that I can be thrilled by favourite authors, who go on delivering the goods, and delighted by talented writers I haven’t previously had the pleasure of reading…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Entangled Secrets – Book 3 of the Northern Circle Coven series by Pat Esden #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #EntangledSecretsbookreview

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I’ll be honest – the cover didn’t do it for me at all. In fact, it probably had the opposite effect, but the opening sentence of the blurb mentioned a single-parent mother as the protagonist and I was suddenly very interested…

BLURB: Pregnant and alone at twenty-one, Chandler Parrish sought refuge within the Northern Circle coven’s secluded complex. Never revealing the identity of her child’s father, Chandler has raised her now eight-year-old son, Peregrine, in peace, and used her talent as an artist and welder to become a renowned metal sculptor. But her world is shaken to the core when Peregrine shows signs of natural faerie sight—a rare and dangerous gift to see through faerie glamour and disguises that could only have come from his father’s genes. Worse yet, the boy has seen a monstrous faerie creature trailing Lionel Parker, a magic-obsessed journalist determined to expose the witching world.

But the very man who threatens the witches’ anonymity may also be key to healing Chandler’s long broken heart. As dangerous desires and shocking secrets entangle, new faerie threats and demonic foes close in on the coven and High Council. Loyalties will be tested. Fierce magics will be called upon. And Chandler will have to face her past to save all she holds dear: her coven, her child—and perhaps even her own soul.

REVIEW: It is relatively rare to find mothers looking out for their children within urban fantasy, so I was immediately attracted by this dynamic and was delighted to be able to get hold of this one. Which was when I discovered it was the third book in the series… However, while I’m sure that if I’d gone back to the beginning and read these books in the correct order, I would have benefitted from a deeper, richer knowledge of the characters and the ongoing dynamic, Esden has made it possible to crash into this series without readers unduly struggling.

I quickly bonded with gutsy Chandler, who makes things out of metal and is fiercely protective of her young son. There is a strong backstory which has the Northern Circle coven still reeling from the aftereffects and adds to the tension when apparently another threat turns up, perhaps related to the previous trouble.

Overall, this was an entertaining and smooth read with plenty going on, a nice magical system and sympathetic characters. The romantic thread had a bit of heat, but it wasn’t too steamy – while the climactic denouement worked well. I enjoyed the resolution and recommend this urban fantasy adventure to those who enjoy stories involving witchcraft. Though I’d advise you begin with the first book, His Dark Magic. While I obtained an arc of Entangled Secrets from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Review of INDIE Ebook TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier #Brainfluffbookreview #Tuyobookreview

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I’ve loved this author’s writing – her series The Griffin Mage is one of my all-time favourites and still stands out in my memory – see my review – and Black Dog. So I was delighted when the author contacted me and asked if I would provide an honest review, in return for a copy of the book.

BLURB: Raised a warrior in the harsh winter country, Ryo inGara has always been willing to die for his family and his tribe. When war erupts against the summer country, the prospect of death in battle seems imminent. But when his warleader leaves Ryo as a sacrifice — a tuyo — to die at the hands of their enemies, he faces a fate he never imagined. Ryo’s captor, a lord of the summer country, may be an enemy . . . but far worse enemies are moving, with the current war nothing but the opening moves in a hidden game Ryo barely glimpses, a game in which all his people may be merely pawns. Suddenly Ryo finds his convictions overturned and his loyalties uncertain. Should he support the man who holds him prisoner, the only man who may be able to defeat their greater enemy? And even if he does, can he persuade his people to do the same?



REVIEW: Right from the start of this engrossing story, I was pulled right into the middle of Ryo’s plight. He has been left as a sacrifice in the hopes that their enemy will exact his revenge upon the young warrior, allowing the rest of the warband to escape into the wilds of the forest. So we start with Ryo waiting for his fate and wishing he could take back his angry words to his older brother, who’d made the painful decision to leave him. While also hoping that he doesn’t disgrace himself by buckling in the face of torture and trying to prepare himself for the upcoming encounter. However, in the event, he isn’t remotely ready for who he ends up facing…

This thoughtful, beautifully written fantasy adventure explores a clash of cultures and does a fabulous job of fully unpacking what it actually means to be in the hands of a sorcerer capable of going into your mind and altering your mental landscape, seeding false memories and changing your loyalties. While I’ve seen this form of magic used before – I cannot recall such a clever and thorough examination of the consequences of it. I was completely convinced of the threat and genuinely gripped as the stakes continued to be raised. Neumeier’s pacing and handling of her cast of characters, in addition to her wonderful worldbuilding – something she excels at – held me throughout. Very highly recommended for fans of intelligent, well written fantasy that is genuinely different.
10/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK Longbourn by Jo Baker #Brainfluffbookreview #Longbournbookreview

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Like so many other folks, I’m a huge Jane Austen fan – and Pride and Prejudice was my go-to comfort read for several decades. So I was delighted to hear about this retelling from the viewpoint of the servants at Longbourn – and so decided to treat myself to the Audible version, narrated by the wonderful Emma Fielding.

BLURB: ‘If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats,’ Sarah thought, ‘she would be more careful not to tramp through muddy fields.’
It is wash-day for the housemaids at Longbourn House, and Sarah’s hands are chapped and raw. Domestic life below stairs, ruled with a tender heart and an iron will by Mrs Hill the housekeeper, is about to be disturbed by the arrival of a new footman, bearing secrets and the scent of the sea.

This started so very well. I loved Sarah, the intelligent and lively young maid-of-all-work, hired from the Poor House when she was only six years old by Mrs Hill, the housekeeper, after her family died of typhus. Now, as a teenager, she finds the drudgery and sheer monotony of the work, chafes her spirit. She longs for some adventure and a break from the routine of never-ending, back-breaking housework in the days when every cleaning product had to be made by hand and hardly any domestic aids to lighten the load existed. Baker depicts life below stairs so very well, and her characterisation of all the servants, Mrs Hill in particular, is nuanced and detailed.

But as the story wore on, I felt the pacing suffered in the face of all the domestic trivia. Baker had clearly done shedloads of historical research on the clothing, the food, the duties of the servants… Unfortunately, she also got very caught up in regaling her readers with far too much of said detail at the overall expense of the narrative, which meant the book dragged in places, which was a real shame.

Unlike some readers, I didn’t have a problem with Baker’s depiction of the Bennet family – of course Elizabeth wouldn’t come across as particularly lively to the servants, or even all that thoughtful. While she was often preoccupied and forgot a detail particularly important to Sarah, it must remembered that was right in the middle of a tumultuous period in her own life. She also never shouted, or threw things at Sarah, pinched or slapped her, which was also often the lot of a domestic servant. I also enjoyed the interlude right away from Longbourn, when we get a ringside seat at the horrors of the Peninsular Campaign during the Napoleonic Wars. It gave us a bit of a break from the constant domestic round and a real insight into the brutality many working-class men endured, once they joined up.

As for the overall plot – I thought the plotline charting Mrs Hill’s story was stunningly successful, from beginning to end, particularly the way in also encompassed poor Mrs Bennet’s life. If the book had chosen to feature Mrs Hill as the main protagonist, this would have been an outstanding read from me. But it wasn’t – Sarah was the main character featured throughout, until nearly at the end of the book, when she simply disappears, only to make a fleeting and highly unsatisfactory reappearance right at the very end.

I couldn’t believe it. I went back and replayed it, in case I missed a bunch of crucial details – but I hadn’t. I had no idea if she was happy with the life she ended up choosing. And that ending plain didn’t make sense, either. No one dared send any letters for fear of being traced – and then… suddenly that didn’t matter anymore! I can’t say more for fear of Spoilers, but I found the ending contrived and unconvincing. What a shame! There was so much that was well done, but I came away disappointed that this book didn’t fulfil its early promise.
6/10

Three MURDER MYSTERY Mini-reviews: The Case of the Missing Servant; Dying Fall; The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing #BrainfluffMini-reviewsblog

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The Case of the Missing Servant – Book 1 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
BLURB: The Case of the Missing Servant shows Puri (“Chubby” to his friends) and his wonderfully nicknamed employees (among them, Handbrake, Flush, and Handcream) hired for two investigations. The first is into the background of a man surprisingly willing to wed a woman her father considers unmarriageable, and the second is into the disappearance six months earlier of a servant to a prominent Punjabi lawyer, a young woman known only as Mary.

The Most Private Investigator novels offer a delicious combination of ingenious stories, brilliant writing, sharp wit, and a vivid, unsentimental picture of contemporary India. And from the first to the last page run an affectionate humour and intelligent insights into both the subtleties of Indian culture and the mysteries of human behaviour.

Yes, there is a lot of hype and enthusiasm above, but I think that it’s warranted. I loved this murder mystery adventure. Contemporary India is vividly portrayed as Puri endeavours to deal with a couple of important cases. Though, as far as he is concerned, they are all vital. Imagine a portly, more gregarious version of Sherlock Holmes, with the same dogged determination to solve his cases and the same very high opinion of his own abilities. Though instead of Watson, Puri has a team working for him who are skilled at going undercover, as well as a very interfering mother, who is far better at this type of work than Puri wants to acknowledge. This series is definitely an addition to my reading list – I love the characters and the bustling, energetic world skilfully depicted by Hall. Highly recommended for murder mystery fans looking for something different. 9/10


A Dying Fall – Book 5 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths
BLURB: Ruth’s old friend Dan Golding dies in a house fire. But before he died Dan wrote to Ruth telling her that he had made a ground-breaking archaeological discovery. Could this find be linked to his death and who are the sinister neo-Nazi group who were threatening Dan? Ruth makes the trip to Blackpool to investigate, wary of encroaching on DCI Harry Nelson’s home ground. Soon Ruth is embroiled in a mystery that involves the Pendle Witches, King Arthur and – scariest of all – Nelson’s mother.

There are forces at work in the town that that threaten all that Ruth holds dear. But, in the final showdown on Blackpool Pleasure Beach, it is Cathbad who faces the greatest danger of all.
This is a well-written entertaining continuation of this police procedural murder mystery series. I loved the progression of the main characters that we have all come to know – particularly Ruth’s ongoing struggle to continue working with a very small child. And it struck me how rarely we see the protagonist coping with the ongoing challenge of holding down a demanding job with having a small child. BUT I was struck by an anomaly… In the last book, Ruth takes a painful decision not to see someone who badly needed her, due to the possible risk to Kate. And yet, despite threatening emails, she is happy to take her off to Blackpool for a combined holiday and investigation? Hm. I have knocked off a point for that inconsistency – but other than that, I loved it. Griffiths is really hitting her stride with this series, I feel.
8/10


The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing – Book 2 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
BLURB: Murder is no laughing matter. Yet a prominent Indian scientist dies in a fit of giggles when a Hindu goddess appears from a mist and plunges a sword into his chest.

The only one laughing now is the main suspect, a powerful guru named Maharaj Swami, who seems to have done away with his most vocal critic. Vish Puri, India’s Most Private Investigator, master of disguise and lover of all things fried and spicy, doesn’t believe the murder is a supernatural occurrence, and proving who really killed Dr. Suresh Jha will require all the detective’s earthly faculties. To get at the truth, he and his team of undercover operatives—Facecream, Tubelight, and Flush—travel from the slum where India’s hereditary magicians must be persuaded to reveal their secrets to the holy city of Haridwar on the Ganges.

I enjoyed the first book so much, I was almost afraid to dive back into the bustling crowded world that Vish Puri inhabits, just in case this book didn’t deliver on the colour, diversity and sheer exuberance of modern Indian society depicted by Hall. Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed – once again not only did I thorough enjoy the vivid backdrop, there were two wonderful crimes for Puri and his mother to unravel. Up to this point, while the investigations have been well crafted and enjoyable – it is in this book that I was completely gripped by the crimes. Highly recommended for all fans of murder mysteries – especially if you are looking for something different.
9/10


PICKY EATERS is now available! #PickyEatersshortstory #Moodboostingshortstory #PickyEaters4thebattleagainstmentalillness

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And here it is! Picky Eaters is now available as an ebook and in print. Click on the cover below or in the sidebar to be linked to your nearest Amazon store.

As lockdown clamped across my life, along with everyone else, I wanted to do something to help. But all I do these days is write… So I dusted off one of my favourite characters, Casta the Grey. He’d got into a real pickle looking after those pesky grandchildren of his, but what happened next? I decided to find out – and that’s how this longer version came into being. It’s funny and quirky and hopefully will take you away from some of the big, scary stuff going on around us for a while. And I am donating all proceeds from Picky Eaters for the duration of its publication to mental health charities.

Click on cover to take you to your nearest Amazon store

BLURB: This tale about family life, dragon-style, is escapist fun for adults. All proceeds to go to mental health charities.

Castellan the Black, now better known as Casta the Grey, has led an eventful life, but these days he’s content to live alone in his mountaintop lair, fending off occasional attacks from the food and waiting to die. At least, that’s what he tells himself.

Babysitting his young grandchildren is definitely not on his to do list. Sammy Jo doesn’t care that the world used to cower before Casta’s wrath. She doesn’t want barbecued knight in armour – it’s tinned food – and that’s that. Sadly, her little brother Billy Bob is more inclined to follow her lead than his grandfather’s, and what’s a grumpy old dragon to do with two such intransigent youngsters?

Things go from bad to worse when he wakes up from a nap to find they’ve been hunting for more appealing treats. Organic, free-range lunch was exactly what they needed, according to a very proud Sammy Jo. He’s never seen the food so upset, and now it’s coming up the hill, armed with spears and bows, hell bent on revenge.

Things go from bad to worse when he has to move in with the rest of the family. Whoever said family life was boring hasn’t lived alongside these two pesky lizards. Keeping his grandkids out of trouble might be more of a challenge than this over the mountain warrior can handle.

Hayley of Far too Fond of Books says: I don’t normally read fantasy but this short story is so lovely. The descriptions of the dragons are fab and it reminded me of books I loved when I was a child and made me wonder why I never reach for the genre anymore. 5 stars

Sneak peek…
He came to with a sudden awareness that he must have dozed off, which was happening more often these days. Still, no harm done… He stretched and yawned, choosing to ignore the patter of dirt falling from his crusted scales. Only as he started to curl up, ready to turn the nap into a proper mid-morning snooze, did he recall he was supposed to be babysitting his pesky grandchildren. Where’d they got to?
Once he located the youngsters huddled in the corner, he decided Billy Bob and Sammy Jo were up to something, so he tip-taloned across the cavern, before whispering, “What are you doing?” in Billy Bob’s ear.
The small dragon shot straight into the air with a shrill squeal, while his sister crouched lower over whatever-it-was in the gloom, gobbling it up in a couple of hurried gulps.
An irritated wisp of smoke leaked from his nostrils. “And why are you eating between meals?”
“’Um unngree…” she mumbled, still chewing.
The delicious whiff of a meaty something didn’t improve his temper. “If you’d eaten all your breakfast, you wouldn’t be wanting something, now!”
“Sorry, Granddad,” Billy Bob whimpered, his wings drooping submissively.
But young Sammy Jo was made of sterner stuff. Her wings remained neatly folded across her back as she announced, “Didn’t like breakfast.”
Impudent little piece! Why, when he was a dragonet, if he’d spoken to a lord so insolently, he’d have been walking around with singed scales for a month. Smoke now was trickling steadily from his nostrils, as he growled, “And what does like have to do with anything? Answer that one, miss! There’s sub-Saharan dragons who’d give their wings for a tasty morsel like the one I picked out for you.”
“They can have it, then,” Sammy Jo said sulkily. “It tasted funny.”
The rank ingratitude! His temper flared, and a gout of flame belched out of his mouth with his roar, “Ahh!”
She dodged his fiery blast with ease. “You can’t singe us, Granddad. It’s not allowed.” Sammy Jo stretched her neck in an unmistakeably female way. “If we’ve been bad, we have to sit on the naughty crag and think about what we’ve done wrong and how to make a-mends.”
He regarded her with smouldering annoyance. “You sound just like your grandmother.”



Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 17th June, 20202 #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 – Entangled Secrets – Book 3 of the Northern Circle Coven series by Pat Esden – release date, 7th July, 2020

#fantasy series #witchcraft #feisty heroine

BLURB: Pregnant and alone at twenty-one, Chandler Parrish sought refuge within the Northern Circle coven’s secluded complex. Never revealing the identity of her child’s father, Chandler has raised her now eight-year-old son, Peregrine, in peace, and used her talent as an artist and welder to become a renowned metal sculptor. But her world is shaken to the core when Peregrine shows signs of natural faerie sight—a rare and dangerous gift to see through faerie glamour and disguises that could only have come from his father’s genes. Worse yet, the boy has seen a monstrous faerie creature trailing Lionel Parker, a magic-obsessed journalist determined to expose the witching world.

But the very man who threatens the witches’ anonymity may also be key to healing Chandler’s long broken heart. As dangerous desires and shocking secrets entangle, new faerie threats and demonic foes close in on the coven and High Council. Loyalties will be tested. Fierce magics will be called upon. And Chandler will have to face her past to save all she holds dear: her coven, her child—and perhaps even her own soul.

It wasn’t the cover that attracted me this time – to be honest, I don’t like it all that much. It was the fact that a mother is at the heart of this story. Young, unattached heroines are ten a penny in fantasy fiction, mothers looking out for their children are far less common. Though I appear to have once again crashed midway into a series. Let’s hope this time I fare better than I did with the Daevabad trilogy, where I had to backtrack to fully appreciate the full scope of the unfolding story! Have you got this one on your TBR?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Empire of Gold – Book 3 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheEmpireofGoldbookreview

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I take a bit of persuading to get immersed into a High Fantasy epic series, these days – but when it comes to a tale of sand and sorcery, I’m allll over it. The typically lush prose, desert landscapes and vicious magic centred around huge crocodiles, flying creatures and djinn are irresistible. I’ve loved the first two books in this series – The City of Brass and The Kingdom of Copper. So would this final book in the trilogy safely bring this wide-ranging, ambitious tale of lethal magic and betrayed peoples to a satisfactory conclusion?

BLURB: Daevabad has fallen. After a brutal conquest stripped the city of its magic, Nahid leader Banu Manizheh and her resurrected commander, Dara, must try to repair their fraying alliance and stabilize a fractious, warring people. But the bloodletting and loss of his beloved Nahri have unleashed the worst demons of Dara’s dark past. To vanquish them, he must face some ugly truths about his history and put himself at the mercy of those he once considered enemies.

REVIEW: Chakraborty does a cracking job in progressing this tale, producing yet another breathtaking round of adventures and plot twists, before winding it up in a way that left a lump in my throat. A word of warning – if you happen upon either The Kingdom of Copper or The Empire of Gold without having first had the pleasure of tucking into The City of Brass, then restrain yourself and go looking for that first book. This is, in effect, a single narrative arc that has been broken into three parts and when I attempted to crash midway into the series, I had to backtrack to The City of Brass, then reread The Kingdom of Copper to really appreciate what was going on. I regularly make a hobby of crashing into series – and mostly get away with it. Not so, this time.

I’m really glad I made the effort to reread the second book, before plunging into this doorstop of a book, which is something over 700 pages long. Though it really didn’t feel like it. This series, with its cast of vivid, often violent and vengeful characters swept me up and held me throughout. It was Nahri’s story that I cared most about, but the amazing being, Dara, the fabled warrior brought back to life with such a bloody past, also held my heart. The characterisation was superb. Nahri could have so easily turned into a bit of a Mary Sue, but her sharp edges and inability to trust anyone kept her from being too cosy, or too much of a victim. And as for Dara – where to begin? A single terrible episode, when he trusted too easily, defined the rest of his very long life and for which he paid a terrible price. And goes on paying it throughout most of this book, too…

George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series was a game-changer in ensuring all factions were guilty of some bloody deed – and Chakraborty has continued that dynamic throughout this trilogy. The city of Daevabad was founded by an act of invasion, and throughout it has been riven by injustice and simmering hatred for one group against the other. I was both curious and concerned as to how Chakraborty would manage to find a realistic solution. The worldbuilding throughout has been exceptional. I’ve loved the descriptions of the various landscapes, particularly of the magical city – and found the transformations it undergoes once the magic has left, very moving.

CONCLUSION: I’m not going into any kind of detail as to how she manages it, but I was completely satisfied with the denouement and felt it worked both within the world and as a suitable conclusion.All in all, Chakraborty has magnificently pulled off a true epic fantasy that hits all the tropes within the sand and sorcery sub-genre, providing a wonderful addition to the canon and a magnificent read that took me away from everyday life for hours at a stretch. I couldn’t ask for more. The ebook arc copy of The Empire of Gold was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10


Review of KINDLE Ebook The City of Brass – Book 1 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty #Brainfluffbookreview #TheCityofBrassbookreview

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I have already read The Kingdom of Copper, the second book in this classy sand and sorcery series, which is good enough that I wanted to backtrack and get hold of this one, before reading the final book, in order to do real justice to the series. I’m so glad I did…

BLURB: Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles. But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.


REVIEW: I thoroughly enjoyed Nahri as the main protagonist when I encountered her in The Kingdom of Copper, but discovering how she became that wary, stifled consort was a gripping journey that had me reading way into the early morning. I am a real sucker for this sub-genre, which tends to have a lethal set of magic around djinns and ghouls, a fast-paced story that often encompasses poetic descriptions of the desert and the fabulous cities that exist by life-giving rivers. Chakraborty hits every one of those necessary tropes and knocks them out of the field, by giving her own spin on the world, including a bloody backstory and long-lived demons with longer memories, who aren’t inclined to forgive and forget.

Who, or what, Nahri is becomes a major focus of the story. Yep – that trope, again… But there is nothing remotely clichéd or tired in Charkaborty’s treatment of this enjoyable, chippy character. I quickly bonded with her and found the ensuing adventure across the desert with Dara entertaining, though I did feel they should have arrived at the city just a bit sooner than they did. The steady growth of their relationship felt realistic and I was pleased the romantic thread wasn’t the driving force in this story.

I did find myself initially skimming some of the palace scenes with Ali, the conflicted younger brother, who is unhappy at having to witness the daily injustices inflicted on the half-human population in Daevabad. Idealistic and inexperienced, we realise that he is being manipulated by those around him, while still in his viewpoint, which is a tricky thing to pull off.

CONCLUSION: As I read on, I become more invested in the politics in Daevabad and once Nahri arrived, the pace picked up again and so did the momentum of the story. I didn’t see that ending though… And am now rereading The Kingdom of Copper, before I pick up The Empire of Gold – highly recommended for those who enjoy their epic fantasy gritty with sand and suffused with djinn magic.
9/10



*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Gravity is Heartless – Book 1 of the Heartless series by Sarah Lahey #Brainfluffbookreview #GravityisHeartlessbookreview

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I’ll be honest – it was the cover that drew my attention to this offering, as it looked so quirky and space-age, though that is rather ironic, given that it is set on Earth in the near future…

BLURB: The year is 2050: automated cities, vehicles, and homes are now standard, artificial Intelligence, CRISPR gene editing, and quantum computing have become a reality, and climate change is in full swing―sea levels are rising, clouds have disappeared, and the planet is heating up. Quinn Buyers is a climate scientist who’d rather be studying the clouds than getting ready for her wedding day. But when an unexpected tragedy causes her to lose everything, including her famous scientist mother, she embarks upon a quest for answers that takes her across the globe―and she uncovers friends, loss and love in the most unexpected of places along the way.

It took me a little while to get into this one, which is set only thirty years into the future. Now, I’m aware that writing near-future sci fi is incredibly difficult, but I did feel that the world changing beyond all recognition in such a radical manner was rather a big ask. I was also not wholly convinced by the characterisation – all the cast, including Quinn, felt a bit unnatural. However, I was sufficiently intrigued by the premise and that initial catastrophe to want to read on.

This wasn’t a difficult book to read, as the action never lets up. While it is mostly in Quinn’s viewpoint, I didn’t ever fully bond with her. It’s always a tricky business, writing socially awkward protagonists, because there is a higher likelihood they won’t click with the reader. I was particularly repelled by her unpleasant treatment of the merecat, whose programming meant it was powerless to do anything other than respond in a kindly and positive manner and she effectively bullied and belittled it. I wasn’t all that convinced by the ‘love’ story, either, as it was essentially more about lust than anything else. However, at no stage was I tempted to put this one down, as the plotting was suitably action-filled and unpredictable and I was happy to see where the story went.

But that is the major problem for me – there isn’t a single plotpoint completed within this story. Every important element is left hanging, and every single character we encounter who has any impact on the action is facing a major change or challenge by the end of the story. While I appreciate that in a series, you do want to leave a few dangling plot points – I came away feeling a tad short-changed, as the point of this whole book is to set up the ongoing narrative. So while it is a reasonably entertaining read, overall I also found it a rather frustrating experience. Recommended for readers who enjoy action-led, near-future adventures and ongoing stories. The ebook arc copy of Gravity is Heartless was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
7/10
28.5.20