Category Archives: family relationships

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Flightless Afternoon – Book 5 of the Ageless Mysteries by Vanessa Nelson #BrainfluffKINDLEbookreview #FlightlessAfternoonbookreview

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Vanessa Nelson is one of the excellent indie authors I’ve discovered since I started my battle with Long Covid. And this book dropped onto my Kindle as I pre-ordered it – something I very rarely do.

BLURB: The unthinkable has happened. One of the Ageless has been killed, their body left in a public space, displayed for all to see. The Archon is furious and threatens to burn the entire city, unless the person responsible is found and turned over to her for justice.

Thea March is called on to investigate again. As little as she wants to turn anyone over to the Archon, she also knows that the Ageless could burn the city to the ground and not care about the death and destruction they cause. Working with Niath, can Thea find the person responsible for the Ageless’ death? And, if she finds them, can she bring herself to turn them over to the Archon?

REVIEW: My first piece of advice – don’t start your Ageless Mysteries experience with the fifth book in the series. While Nelson is far too skilful to allow you to flounder for very long, there is an overarching narrative arc that is worth following by reading these in the correct order. So if you have encountered this one without having had the pleasure of reading the previous four books, instead tuck into Deadly Night, the first book in the series.

While I’m aware there are huge numbers of crime fantasy books out there – Nelson’s take is somewhat different. Her setting is a Medieval/Early Modern era with all sorts of non-human magical beings living in the large city, Accanter, alongside the humans. The world is ruled by the Ageless, long-lived, angel-like beings who inhabit the Citadel and can fly. That said, there’s nothing angelic about their behaviour – they are fearsome warriors and supremely arrogant, who think nothing of savagely punishing other races who get in their way. Our plucky heroine, Thea, works for The Watch, which is Accanter’s equivalent to the police, so it’s her task to track down wrong-doers. Which makes this series an essentially a police procedural set within an epic fantasy world.

I love the dynamic, especially as Nelson does it very well. Thea and her mother have a troubled backstory that is gradually revealed throughout the series, which impacts on her ability to do her job, at times. For Thea doesn’t want to attract the attention of the Ageless, something that becomes increasingly difficult as time goes on. And in this book, that attention becomes lethal as the mentally unstable Archon, supreme ruler of the Ageless and the rest of the world, tasks Thea with discovering who has murdered two of her warriors in two days. Her life will be forfeit if she doesn’t and then the city will burn.

So Thea has a savage double murder to solve against the backdrop of a ticking clock. Fortunately, she also has a loyal team of investigators around her who are equally desperate to solve the case. The pages flew by, even as I tried to eke out the story knowing only too well that I’d end up with a miserable book hangover once I came to the end of this gripping story. And I was right. I love the world, the setting and the characters – particularly Thea’s dogged determination to see justice done for those who cannot help themselves. There are some dangling plotpoints, as the story isn’t wholly resolved and I’m now waiting for the next book in the series. Except, I’m also dreading it, as Nelson has announced it’s the final Ageless Mysteries book. Very highly recommended for fans of fantasy mystery murders.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Peacekeeper – Book 1 of The Good Lands series by B.L. Blanchard #BrainfluffKINDLEbookreview #ThePeacekeeperbookreview

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I read Maddalena’s excellent review of this one at Space and Sorcery – and immediately nipped across and got hold of a copy. I really love the premise as I’m always a sucker for a good whodunit in an unusual setting.

BLURB: North America was never colonized. The United States and Canada don’t exist. The Great Lakes are surrounded by an independent Ojibwe nation. And in the village of Baawitigong, a Peacekeeper confronts his devastating past.

Twenty years ago to the day, Chibenashi’s mother was murdered and his father confessed. Ever since, caring for his still-traumatized younger sister has been Chibenashi’s privilege and penance. Now, on the same night of the Manoomin harvest, another woman is slain. His mother’s best friend. This leads to a seemingly impossible connection that takes Chibenashi far from the only world he’s ever known.
The major city of Shikaakwa is home to the victim’s cruelly estranged family—and to two people Chibenashi never wanted to see again: his imprisoned father and the lover who broke his heart. As the questions mount, the answers will change his and his sister’s lives forever. Because Chibenashi is about to discover that everything about their lives has been a lie.

REVIEW: Yes… I do enjoy well-constructed thrillers, yes… I do appreciate complicated protagonists with a whole suite of luggage that skews their attitude towards the world. But for me, the highlight of this book – what makes it memorable and really stand out – is the setting. This is an alternate world, where the likes of Columbus and the hungry tide of conquistadors never landed on the shores of the Americas, so the indigenous people had the opportunity to develop on their own terms, with their own cultures largely intact. And while the inhabitants of the small village where the crimes occur still live in wigwams, this is a contemporary setting, so there are also mobile phones and high-speed trains. However, there is also a regard for the natural world that is woven alongside everyday life and I am delighted that Blanchard gives examples of how that works. I’d LOVE someone to make a film of this book – the twisty plot and anguished protagonist would work well on the big screen, but overwhelmingly, I think seeing Blanchard’s evocation of how modern life could work alongside Nature would be marvellous.

Getting back to the book, I did find it initially something of a challenge. Chibenashi, the main protagonist, isn’t someone I found easy to like – although learning of the terrible events that have destabilised his life did have me warming to him. Necessarily, the pacing at the start is a bit slow as the world also needs a lot of description. That said, I was never tempted to DNF it as the worldbuilding held me throughout.

Watching Chibenashi struggling to cope was also interesting – he isn’t a classic hero by any means and makes some really dodgy decisions – one in particular had me shaking my head at the time. I had guessed the murderer about two-thirds of the way through, but this time around that didn’t bother me all that much. In the event, the denouement was still shocking especially as the fallout was a bit heart-wrenching and messy, contributing towards making this one a very memorable read. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series to find out where it goes next. Highly recommended for fans of murder mysteries with unusual settings.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Alexander X – Book 1 of the Battle for Forever series by Edward Savio #BrainfluffNETGALLEYAUDIObookreview #AlexanderXbookreview

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I thought the premise of this one was intriguing – and when I noticed that Wil Wheaton was the narrator, I immediately requested it.

BLURB: Alexander Grant is about to take his 3000th history test. You know how you feel like you’ve been going to school for a thousand years? Well, he actually has. Although he looks like a normal teenager, no one knows he’s actually 1500 years old. Not the girl he likes. Not his best friend. No one. That is until someone tries to kidnap Alexander and use him as bait to catch his father, the only man capable of stopping a plan that would change humanity forever. And the start of a journey that will take him far from the sleepy town he’s been hiding out in.

REVIEW: This YA adventure thriller starts out tamely enough – our long-suffering protagonist is taking yet another History test. And given that he’s been going to school for a very, very long time, this is actually his three-thousandth test. Savio nicely captures the tone of a perpetual teen, without making him obnoxious which is quite an achievement. It doesn’t hurt that Wil Wheaton does an outstanding job as narrator, so that I even enjoyed the regular rants on how History is wrong. The only time I felt this monologue verged on being a bit self-indulgent and significantly interfered with the ongoing action was the piece about Paul Revere. I also appreciated the explanations on why and how Alexander is ageing so slowly, which made sense and gave a solid reason for the near-immortality of a very small sample of the population.

The story takes a bit of time to get going, which gave me a chance to fully bond with the main character. That’s important, because if I hadn’t cared about Alexander then most of the book wouldn’t have mattered. And once the action kicks off, it’s foot to the floor all the way. Alexander and his hapless companions find themselves facing a number of powerful and determined antagonists who apparently want to capture him to use against his father. Though they don’t seem to worry too much if he’s seriously hurt in the process. It certainly makes for a series of desperate chases in a variety of vividly described settings. Savio writes action well. There is plenty of tension, along with strong pacing so that he continues to up the stakes, other than the occasional monologue about the past – which I would expect from a near-immortal teenager.

The romantic thread is well handled, showing a more vulnerable side to Alexander without derailing the pace or taking over from the overall narrative. All in all, I enjoyed this YA science fantasy thriller and recommend it for fans of the genre, particularly this audiobook version. While I obtained an arc of Alexander X from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Death and Hard Cider – Book 19 of the Benjamin January series by Barbara Hambly #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #DeathandHardCiderbookreview

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The title grabbed my attention – what is hard cider? And after I read the blurb, I was hooked. I like historical whodunits – and what especially snagged my attention with this story is the political backdrop. Set in New Orleans in the febrile period some thirty years before the American Civil War, tensions are rising as French and American interests collide, along with increasing unease regarding the tricky issue of slavery. So freeman Benjamin January has to tread carefully at all times.

BLURB: September, 1840. A giant rally is being planned in New Orleans to stir up support for presidential candidate William Henry Harrison: the Indian-killing, hard-cider-drinking, wannabe “people’s president”. Trained surgeon turned piano-player Benjamin January has little use for politicians. But the run-up to the rally is packed with balls and dinner parties, and the meagre pay is sorely needed.

Soon, however, January has more to worry about than keeping his beloved family fed and safe. During an elegant reception thrown by New Orleans’ local Whig notables, the son of a prominent politician gets into a fist-fight with a rival over beautiful young flirt Marie-Joyeuse Maginot – and, the day after the rally is over, Marie-Joyeuse turns up dead. The only black person amongst the initial suspects is arrested immediately: January’s dear friend, Catherine Clisson. With Catherine’s life on the line, January is determined to uncover the truth and prove her innocence. But his adversaries are powerful politicians, and the clock is ticking . . .

REVIEW: Despite this being the nineteenth book in the series, it’s the first time I’ve had the pleasure of reading about Ben’s adventures. And what a ride it was… Hambly’s prose is richly descriptive of the lush, often hedonistic setting that starkly rubs shoulders with utter poverty and deprivation. We see all this through Ben January’s eyes, who was brought up in New Orleans – but then spent time in France, where he trained as a surgeon. So while he is very familiar with the neighbourhood, he isn’t as necessarily as accepting of the ingrained and cultural prejudice as many of his peers. It’s a tricky balance to achieve, but Hambly negotiates it well.

In New Orleans, Ben obviously isn’t able to earn a decent living as a skilled medical man – none of the well-heeled white folks would entertain the notion of being treated by black man. However, he is also a skilled musician and with a series of grand election rallies coming up, he is employed to play at all these events – both the Democrat and Whig functions. Hambly gives us a ringside seat as inflammatory speeches are made, food and drink is handed out to the crowd and rousing songs slurring the reputations of political opponents are sung.

And throughout all the hectic activity, the dark thread of institutional prejudice, exclusion, double-standards and hypocrisy winds across the society. It’s masterfully done – and brought home to me just how much damage slavery wrought. Not only upon those whose lives were shackled to unceasing hard labour with no prospect of anything better – but also to those responsible for it. The story is all the more effective for Ben’s bitter acceptance of such a miserable state of affairs, as Hambly is brilliant at showing, not telling. And since I finished this one, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the situation – particularly as slavery is still going on.

There is also a murder mystery to be solved. Initially, I thought the pacing was a tad slow – but I think that’s because of the rather chatty blurb. If I hadn’t been waiting for a certain key event, I don’t think it would have been an issue. After the murder, consequences roll forward and Ben has to get involved to save the life of someone very dear to him. To be honest, I would have been happy with this book if the whodunit aspect had been averagely good, given the quality of the backdrop and its vivid depiction. But the icing on the cake is that the murder mystery is very well executed, with a brilliant denouement. This might have been the first Ben January mystery I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last.

Very highly recommended for fans of historical murder mysteries. While I obtained an arc of Death and Hard Cider from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK The River of Silver: Tales from the Daevabad Trilogy S.A. Chakraborty #BrainfluffNETGALLEYAUDIOBOOKreview #TheRiverofSilverbookreview

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I’ve recently acquired the Netgalley app on my phone, enabling me to listen to audiobook arcs and so far it’s been a success. I recall reading this Sand and Sorcery trilogy with great fondness – read my reviews of The City of Brass, The Kingdom of Copper and The Empire of Gold – so when I saw that Chakraborty had released an audiobook of stories based in that world, I jumped at the opportunity to tuck into this offering.

BLURB: A prospective new queen joins a court whose lethal history may overwhelm her own political savvy…

An imprisoned royal from a fallen dynasty and a young woman wrenched from her home cross paths in an enchanted garden…

A pair of scouts stumble upon a secret in a cursed winter wood that will turn over their world…

Now together in one place, these stories of Daevabad enrich a world already teeming with magic and wonder. From Manizheh’s first steps towards rebellion to adventures that take place after The Empire of Gold, this is a must-have collection for those who can’t get enough of Nahri, Ali, and Dara and all that unfolded around them.

REVIEW: This collection of shorter tales showcases Chakraborty’s writing chops. It takes more technical skill to craft a successful short story than a novel, because there is less time to pull the reader into your world. And while in a novel-length work, the three pillars of strong storytelling – setting, plot and characterisation – don’t always have to be perfectly balanced, or even fully realised, that isn’t the case when writing shorter fiction.

It doesn’t hurt to have an accomplished narrator, like Soneela Nankani to bring these stories to life. To the extent that I had to make several starts before I could get through the first very emotional story, which had me in bits. Before each story, Nankani announces whereabouts within the trilogy the events take place and whether it provides a spoiler or not. This useful addition makes the collection an ideal companion read alongside the trilogy, providing extra insights into all the main characters who feature, along with interesting backstories that may have been mentioned within the main trilogy, but now are fully fleshed out.

I think that first wrenching story is my favourite – and it also provides a poignant insight into the suffering of a character whose subsequent anger has a profound effect on Daevabad. More than anything, this collection reminded me all over again just how the enmity within the city affects the main characters and what a claustrophobic, hurtful place it has become. Highly recommended for fans of the Daevabad Trilogy – and it is also worth reading alongside the series, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of immersing yourself in this classy sand and sorcery adventure. While I obtained an audiobook arc of The River of Silver from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Murder Most Vile – Book 9 of the Langham and Dupré series by Eric Brown #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #MurderMostVilebookreview

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Having read other books in this well-written, classy series – see my reviews of Murder at Standing Stone Manor, Murder Takes a Turn and Murder Served Cold – I was delighted to see this next offering. These books are set in 1950s England and have a flavour of the classic English private investigator stories of the time, which I thoroughly enjoy.

BLURB: London. April, 1957. Private investigator Donald Langham is approached by retired businessman Vernon Lombard to find his missing son, Christopher. But what appears to be a simple case of a missing artist becomes far more alarming when Langham realizes there’s more to Christopher’s disappearance than meets the eye, and then makes a terrible discovery.

Meanwhile, Langham’s business partner Ralph Ryland’s search for a missing greyhound forces him to confront a shameful secret from his own past, with terrifying consequences. Can Langham navigate London’s criminal underworld, fascism and deception to track down a killer and save Ralph’s life?

REVIEW: The first thing I need to clear up is the fact that this is the ninth book in the series. While the ongoing storyline gives the reader a ringside seat into the unfolding events in our plucky protagonists’ lives, if you’re looking for the occasional well-crafted murder mystery set in the 1950s, don’t be afraid to crash into the series. Brown is an experienced author who ensures that both steadfast fans and those new to his writing will get plenty of enjoyment from this latest adventure.

I like the fact that despite Langham and Ryland are partners, they see the world through different eyes as they come from such differing backgrounds. Donald Langham is a middle-class author, who enjoys taking part in the investigations as a break from the treadmill of his successful writing career, while Ralph Ryland is a working-class man. This story isn’t quite as cosy as the previous books I’ve read in the series. For starters, it’s set in London rather than the quintessential country house or tucked-away village. And while Langham’s investigation delves into the thickets of family feuds and loyalties – standard fare for classic historical whodunits – Ralph Ryland’s case takes him into far more grittier and murkier territory.

I always enjoy the way Brown sets out his mysteries and steadily spools out the clues and red herrings – and once again he doesn’t disappoint. The denouement is genuinely gripping and had me turning the pages to discover what happens next. And I also enjoyed the fact that despite these events happening some sixty-five years ago, the prejudice and racism uncovered is just as relevant now. Well… I say enjoyed – let’s say appreciated, instead. Because I’d love for the nastier side of tribalism to be a historical quirk, rather than something still alive and ugly in societies around the world. But it certainly makes the story resonate in these times, too. Highly recommended for fans of well-crafted historical whodunits. While I obtained an arc of Murder Most Vile from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #12

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

This last fortnight has been up and down again. I gave myself a couple of rest days after the busyness of the week when my sister-in-law and niece visited. And was a bit fed up to discover that once I was ready to do more, I once again felt shaky and fragile. There are no words to describe just how MUCH I hate that feeling. Constant tiredness that sleep doesn’t fix and legs that wobble as if I’ve just run a race. Often it’s accompanied by mental exhaustion that means if I try to concentrate on anything, my brain just turns to mush.

The up-side is that the feeling was only with me for a couple of days, before it started to lift again. I haven’t yet put my February figures from my activity journal into a graph yet – but I’m expecting to see more good days and an uptick in my activity figures. And we are also seeing more sun and it’s lovely the way the days are now lengthening – Spring is really beginning to spring, thank goodness😊. When our grandson visited this week, we were able to go to the local garden centre and visit their café where we shared a pot of loose-leaf English Breakfast tea which is a real favourite.

What is worrying is how the infection rates for Covid are climbing again. And now we’re supposed to be ‘learning to live with Covid’ there is no imperative to wear a mask when shopping, though we always do.

This week I’ve read:-

Ogres by Adrian Tchaikovsky
It’s always idyllic in the village until the landlord comes to call. Because the landlord is an Ogre. And Ogres rule the world, with their size and strength and appetites. It’s always been that way. It’s the natural order of the world. And they only eat people sometimes.

But when the headman’s son, Torquell, dares lift his hand against the landlord’s son, he sets himself on a path to learn the terrible truth about the Ogres, and about the dark sciences that ensured their rule.
This is one of the reading highlights of the week. Tchaikovsky is back to his disturbing best in this thought-provoking novella that packs an almighty punch and has had me thinking about it since I put it down. Review posted. 10/10

AUDIOBOOK The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
A man broken in body and spirit, Cazaril, has returned to the noble household he once served as page, and is named, to his great surprise, as the secretary-tutor to the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is next in line to rule.

It is an assignment Cazaril dreads, for it will ultimately lead him to the place he fears most, the royal court of Cardegoss, where the powerful enemies, who once placed him in chains, now occupy lofty positions. In addition to the traitorous intrigues of villains, Cazaril and the Royesse Iselle, are faced with a sinister curse that hangs like a sword over the entire blighted House of Chalion and all who stand in their circle…
I saw this one on Audible and bought it as I read the print edition back when Noah was knee-high to a hen and while I recalled that I loved the story – I had completely forgotten it. It was a joy to listen to. And while it is listed as part a series, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a complete standalone. Outstanding and utterly gripping. 10/10

The Good Troll Detective – Book 1 of the Mantle and Key Paranormal Agency series by Ramy Vance
Half-troll. Half-human. All badass. Maine doesn’t like her father. It doesn’t help that he’s a troll. As in a literal, lives-under-a-bridge troll. When her father is killed, Maine returns home to settle his estate and learns that he wasn’t any ordinary troll, but the town hero. Seems trolls can be superheroes, too.

When Maine inherited her father’s Mantle, she got more than a demonically possessed magical cape that reveals one’s weakness. She also inherited several busloads of mythical adversaries. Thanks, Dad! Now that she’s inherited the Mantle, her father’s assassins are coming after her. With powerful supernatural beings gunning for her and the Mantle, Maine doesn’t have much time to learn about her magical inheritance. She has a choice to make. Give up her father’s Mantle and return to her mundane, human life, or stay and fight.

With the help of a chihuahua-sized dire wolf, a very sexy wizard, and her father’s Mantle, Maine enters a maze of supernatural mysteries. Will Maine uncover the truth of who her father was and why he was killed? Can she avoid her quest for that truth risking the lives of her and her friends along the way?
I liked the title and thought the blurb sounded quirky and enjoyable. And… it is. But while all the ingredients are there and the story is well-paced and nicely twisty, I kept waiting for the characters to really come to life, but somehow they slightly missed me. It’s not a bad book, however I didn’t like it as much as I expected. 7/10

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi
When COVID-19 sweeps through New York City, Jamie Gray is stuck as a dead-end driver for food delivery apps. That is, until Jamie makes a delivery to an old acquaintance, Tom, who works at what he calls “an animal rights organization.” Tom’s team needs a last-minute grunt to handle things on their next field visit. Jamie, eager to do anything, immediately signs on…

I have only included the first half of the blurb, as it then goes on to be far too chatty in my opinion. This is huge fun, while still managing to make the science sufficiently believable. And I loved the protagonist, Jamie, who lifts heavy things. Review to follow. 9/10

Betrayed – Book 3 of the Taellaneth series by Vanessa Nelson

Settling into her new life in the human world, the last thing Arrow expects is a request for aid from the Erith. The Erith’s favourite war mage is missing and Arrow is asked to investigate.
For the first time in her life, she is allowed into the Erith’s fabled heartland. It does not take long for Arrow to realise that the heartland is like the Erith themselves. Full of wonder, breathtakingly beautiful, and deadly.

Arrow is drawn into investigating a death at the very heart of the Erith’s homeland with the growing sense that there is far more wrong and far more at stake than a simple murder and missing mage.
I’m loving this enjoyable and gripping series. Imagine the High Elves in Warhammar – beautiful, martial and quarrelsome – and you have the Erith. I love the concept that a half-breed is treated with disdain as an abomination. And the whodunit this time around is every bit as twisty and clever as I’ve come to expect from Nelson’s excellent writing. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – Roadmarks by Roger Zelazny
The Road runs from the unimaginable past to the far future, and those who travel it have access to the turnoffs leading to all times and places–even to the alternate time-streams of histories that never happened. Why the Dragons of Bel’kwinith made the Road–or who they are–no one knows. But the Road has always been there and for those who know how to find it, it always will be!

This is the first audiobook I’ve downloaded from Netgalley and it was really easy to do. I’ve never read Zelazny before, but kept meaning to do so. And I can see what all the fuss is about – the man certainly could write. This fractured narrative kept me wondering all the way through. Review to follow. 8/10

This week I have posted:
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of NOVELLA Ogres by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Chapel in the Woods – Book 11 of the Jack Haldean Murder Mystery series by Dolores Gordon-Smith #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheChapelintheWoodsbookreview

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I can’t lie – once again, it was the lovely 1920s cover that first caught my eye. And then, skimming the blurb, the phrase ‘intricately-plotted 1920s mystery’ jumped out. I’m a sucker for a well-constructed whodunit and the 1920s setting generally means it won’t be too grisly or grungy. So I requested it and I’m so pleased I was approved for this one…

BLURB:There’s something in those woods that shouldn’t be there . . .”

Enjoying a weekend in the country with his cousin Isabelle, Jack Haldean is intrigued to learn that the neighbouring estate of Birchen Bower has been bought by wealthy Canadian businessman Tom Jago. Determined to restore the place to its former glory, Jago has invited the local villagers to a fete to celebrate the grand re-opening of the 17th century family chapel.

But the afternoon’s entertainment is cut short by the discovery of a body, mauled to death as if by a wild animal. Previously owned by the eccentric Cayden family, Birchen Bower has a long and colourful history, and is rumoured to be haunted. Is there any truth to the ancient family legend of the Jaguar Princess . . . and could she have claimed another victim? And what’s happened to Jago’s employee, Derek Martin and his wife, who have disappeared without trace . . . along with Mrs Jago’s diamonds? Refusing to believe the wild tales of man-eating beasts prowling the grounds, Jack sets out to uncover the truth. But then a second badly-ravaged body is discovered . . . Could the rumours be true after all?

REVIEW: You’ll probably have noticed that I’ve done it again – jumped midway into a series, given this is the eleventh book. And while I’m sure that if I’d have read the previous ten instalments, there would be allusions and plot threads that I’ve missed, but having all that go over my head didn’t stop me appreciating this thumping good murder mystery.

The setup is wonderfully familiar – a small social clique when an acquaintance issues an invitation to our plucky protagonist and his lovely wife and they are confronted with an upsetting and mysterious death. Gordon-Smith has a nice grasp of her characters and writes well in the conventions of the golden age of murder mysteries without sounding forced or tongue-in-cheek. The pages flew by as the initial disappearance and subsequent murders became a real puzzle that flummoxed the protagonists to the extent that I became a bit concerned that the denouement would be unbelievably silly – something I hate. I needn’t have worried – there were a cascade of plot-twisting surprises that suddenly had me rethinking the whole situation. I love it when I find myself flipping back through the book to ensure the author hasn’t cheated.

Not only did Gordon-Smith play it absolutely straight, I was then able to see the various clues that she’d seeded throughout that made complete sense now that I understood what was going on. Nicely done! The plotting and whole approach reminded me of Agatha Christie’s writing – and I don’t generally make those kinds of comparisons. All in all, this is cracking whodunit and very highly recommended for fans of the genre. I shall certainly be backtracking and getting hold of more of Jack Haldean’s former adventures. While I obtained an arc of The Chapel in the Woods from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of For the Murder – Book 1 of The Murder series by Gabrielle Ash #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #FortheMurderbookreview

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The title first caught my attention and then the blurb, when I realised the murder they were talking about wasn’t a crime, but the collective noun as in a murder of crows. So I was really pleased when I was approved for an arc, especially as I haven’t read anything else by this author.

TRUNCATED BLURB: A lone crow is a dead crow.

That’s what Diana Van Doren, exiled crow shifter, has always believed. The last murder of crow shifters known to exist wouldn’t accept her into the flock, leaving her vulnerable. Worse, her kleptomaniacal father’s schemes put them in a demon’s crosshairs. Without the support of the murder, Diana fears death will come all too quickly. So when an opportunity to steal a rare blade that can kill anything—even demons—crosses their path, she decides to play her father’s games one last time.

However, she isn’t the only one hoping to take the blade. Sasha Sokolov, a clairvoyant, has been forced from childhood to serve the very demon hunting Diana and her family. After two decades of service, his boss finally offers him what he can’t refuse: freedom. All he has to do is bring in the knife and the Van Dorens, and his bloodline will be free from serving the demon forever…

REVIEW: This is an intriguing urban fantasy, where Diana is a crow shapeshifter who has been exiled from the murder she was born into through no fault of her own. This is a disaster for her as crows are highly sociable birds and being alone not only is emotionally damaging, but crow magic works best in concert. Worse, she is in thrall to her uncaring, abusive parents who are far too caught up in their own woes to waste any time worrying about their daughter. An unsuccessful con merchant, her father also has a bad habit of seriously upsetting very powerful, dangerous beings. Diana’s vulnerability and fragility is well portrayed without tipping over into pitiful victimhood, which would have made me lose patience with her. I was always rooting for Diana to survive throughout, which didn’t feel as if it was a guarantee.

I also liked Sasha, the lethal fixer for demon-general Madame. His uncaring façade and world-weary acceptance of the vicious deeds he is forced to commit comes over well. So the initial encounter and growing relationship between the two main protagonists is intriguing and mostly well handled. However, I do have a niggle that knocked off a point – there were times when I felt the pace stuttered as Ash reiterated, yet again, how much Sasha worried about his mother/the odd sensations he’s experiencing since first meeting Diana, while she is goes on reeling at the odd sensations she’s experiencing since first meeting Sasha and wondering whether to tell him why. The book would have been a more satisfying read if some of those internal musing were edited out, especially as the reader learnt nothing new in the process.

That said, this is an enjoyable world. The general nastiness is graphically conveyed in some gripping and brutal action scenes that are all the more shocking as a contrast to the delicate and nuanced characterisation. Ash is clearly an accomplished writer with a strong, individual writing style and I kept turning the pages to discover what happened next. I look forward to reading the next book in the series in due course. Highly recommended for fans of urban fantasy who enjoy a convincing, dangerous world, unusual characters and strong romantic thread running through the story. While I obtained an arc of For the Murder from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #10

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This is my update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 11 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

I haven’t been here for a while. There are several reasons. I’ve had spells of feeling extremely tired again, which means I haven’t done much of anything – except sitting on the settee and watching TV. Thank goodness for the Winter Olympics which I loved. I have also been battling with back pain again, which means sitting at the computer isn’t something I felt like doing. And there were times when I had a bit more energy and my back was fine, but to be honest – I couldn’t see the point in bothering. With anything, really. I’m aware that is probably a sign of depression – I certainly struggle to get out of bed at times, even when I’ve got sufficient energy. I think I’m just battle weary as it was at the end of the first week last March that I got sick with Covid-19 and my busy, happy life disappeared. It now feels like it belonged to someone else.

We are trying to get out and about more. After a tumultuous week when we were battered by three storms in five days, this week there has actually been some sunshine. On Thursday after my reflexology appointment we went out for a coffee at a favourite river-side café. It wasn’t a total success, as I had underestimated the anxiety of ordering my own coffee, aggravated when their machine wouldn’t accept my debit card. And yesterday and the day before, we went for a walk down by the beach, getting down onto the sand as the tide was out. It was lovely. We weren’t there for long, but it was glorious to stand by the sea once again.

This week I’ve read:-

The Last of the Moon Girls by Barbara Davis
Lizzy Moon never wanted Moon Girl Farm. Eight years ago, she left the land that nine generations of gifted healers had tended, determined to distance herself from the whispers about her family’s strange legacy. But when her beloved grandmother Althea dies, Lizzy must return and face the tragedy still hanging over the farm’s withered lavender fields: the unsolved murders of two young girls, and the cruel accusations that followed Althea to her grave.

Lizzy wants nothing more than to sell the farm and return to her life in New York, until she discovers a journal Althea left for her—a Book of Remembrances meant to help Lizzy embrace her own special gifts. When she reconnects with Andrew Greyson, one of the few in town who believed in Althea’s innocence, she resolves to clear her grandmother’s name.
I really enjoyed this atmospheric story. It captures the strengths and weaknesses of a small community and I enjoyed watching a wary, aloof protagonist riven with far too much resentment try to come to terms with her troubled childhood. In amongst a page-turning story, there are strong messages we can all use in our lives – no wonder this one was a best-seller when it first came out. 8/10

For the Murder – Book 1 of The Murder series by Gabrielle Ash
A lone crow is a dead crow.
That’s what Diana Van Doren, exiled crow shifter, has always believed. The last murder of crow shifters known to exist wouldn’t accept her into the flock, leaving her vulnerable. Worse, her kleptomaniacal father’s schemes put them in a demon’s crosshairs. Without the support of the murder, Diana fears death will come all too quickly. So when an opportunity to steal a rare blade that can kill anything—even demons—crosses their path, she decides to play her father’s games one last time.

However, she isn’t the only one hoping to take the blade. Sasha Sokolov, a clairvoyant, has been forced from childhood to serve the very demon hunting Diana and her family. After two decades of service, his boss finally offers him what he can’t refuse: freedom. All he has to do is bring in the knife and the Van Dorens, and his bloodline will be free from serving the demon forever.
This intriguing shapeshifting urban fantasy adventure is alluding to the collective noun for crows – as in a murder of crows. The main protagonist is very well drawn and the slow-burn romance well handled. Full review to follow. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK – Rogue Prince – Book 1 of the Sky Full of Stars series by Lindsay Buroker
Starseer, pilot, and animal lover Jelena Marchenko wants to prove to her parents that she’s ready to captain her own freighter and help run the family business. When she finally talks them into getting a second ship and letting her fly it, it doesn’t faze her that the craft is decades old and looks like a turtle. This is the chance she’s craved for years.

But it’s not long before the opportunity to rescue mistreated lab animals lures her from her parentally approved cargo run and embroils her in a battle between warring corporations. To further complicate matters, her childhood friend Thorian, prince of the now defunct Sarellian Empire, is in trouble with Alliance law and needs her help. Torn between her duty to her family and doing what she believes is honorable, Jelena is about to learn that right and wrong are never as simple as they appear and that following your heart can get you killed.
Once again, I quickly was pulled into this entertaining space opera adventure by one of my favourite authors. The added bonus is that this is a spinoff series from Fallen Empire, which I’d read last year, so I already knew some of the characters. The action was non-stop and as ever, I found myself listening far longer than I intended to hear what happens next… 9/10

Monster by C.J. Skuse
At sixteen Nash thought that the fight to become Head Girl of prestigious boarding school Bathory would be the biggest battle she’d face. Until her brother’s disappearance leads to Nash being trapped at the school over Christmas with Bathory’s assorted misfits. As a blizzard rages outside, strange things are afoot in the school’s hallways, and legends of the mysterious Beast of Bathory – a big cat rumoured to room the moors outside the school – run wild. Yet when the girls’ Matron goes missing it’s clear that something altogether darker is to blame – and that they’ll have to stick together if they hope to survive.

This was recommended to me by one of my Creative Writing students in another lifetime and I decided to finally get hold of it. I love the opening scene, which really held me. The tension was well sustained – my only main grizzle was that Nash didn’t seem to have any long-term friends she could rely on and that seemed rather unrealistic. However, this thriller whodunit got me through a wretched night when I couldn’t sleep. 8/10

Scot on the Rocks – Book 3 of the Last Ditch series by Catriona McPherson
A community is devastated when the bronze statue of local legend Mama Cuento is stolen on Valentine’s Day. When Lexy Campbell arrives on the scene, a big bronze toe is found along with a ransom note – Listen to our demands or you will never see her again. There are nine more where this came from.

Then, Lexy’s ex-husband Bran turns up begging for help to find his wife, Brandee, who has disappeared. Lexy agrees to pitch in, but when she shows up at Bran’s house he has just discovered one of Brandee’s false nails and another ransom note with the same grisly message. Are the two cases linked or is a copycat on the loose? Who would want to kidnap a bronze statue or, come to that, Brandee? And can Lexy put aside her hatred for Bran long enough to find out?
I loved the fourth book in this series, so it was a joy to backtrack and get more Lexy goodness and a few more laughs at the confusion that her Scot’s dialogue poses for her American friends – and her surprise at everyone’s reaction when she mentions buying Della’s small son a rubber to take to school… Meanwhile the mystery is also delightfully whacky, too. 9/10

This week I have posted:
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of This Charming Man – Book 2 of The Stranger Times by C.K. McDonnell

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of The This by Adam Roberts

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