Category Archives: family relationships

Review of #Gwithyas: Door to the Void by Isha Crowe #Brainfluffbookreview #book review

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This is another offering from Grimbold Publishers – a quirky, YA fantasy, featuring hapless Zircon Gwithyas, who is the main protagonist.

Zircon Gwithyas just wants to be a normal teenager, preferably one with a girlfriend. If you’re a spotty nerd with glasses as thick as jam jars, that isn’t easy. It’s even harder when you live in a derelict manor on a haunted hill with a bunch of spooky eccentrics for a family, and the object of your affection is an irritable sword-wielding college student. It becomes virtually impossible when you are dragged into a dark, chaotic semi-reality where your moderately-deceased ancestors expect you to save the world from a horde of grotesque demons with a fondness for torture…

I love this one. Zircon’s exasperated view of his life puts an amusing spin on this Gothic tale of overweening ambition, pride, as the terrible consequences reverberate down the generations of this afflicted family. I really like the fact that Zircon is gawky, physically unappealing and unfailingly bad at interacting effectively with the people around him. He doesn’t even want to be a Guardian – in fact, he didn’t realise this was his fate, until circumstances give him a hefty nudge.

Crowe has played with the classic Hero’s Journey, so beloved of screenwriters and SFF authors, by including many of the necessary ingredients, such as the Call to Action as the initial emergency engulfs the family – his initial resistance to said Call is entirely according to the script. But the wise Mentor, whose counsel is supposed to help Zircon on his way, becomes otherwise engaged and Zircon’s trusty sidekick, Joanna, thoroughly despises his physical ineptitude and evident terror. In the end, of course, he tackles the monsters, or there wouldn’t be a story. But it isn’t until well into the book, the reader begins to appreciate exactly what has been going on – and realises just how cleverly Crowe has played with our expectations.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, (no internet!) I’ve been unable to post my review when I scheduled to do so, therefore it’s been a while since I read this one. But it won’t leave my head. I find myself thinking of Zircon rather a lot at times when I should be thinking of something else – it’s special when a book gets under my skin to that degree. Highly recommended for fans of fantasy – this one is a gem.
9/10

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#Friday Faceoff – Clinging and invasive… #Brainfluffbookblog

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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 currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the theme this week is vines. I’ve selected Forest Mage – Book 2 of The Soldier’s Son trilogy by Robin Hobb. I thoroughly enjoyed this intriguing trilogy, which I think is underrated.

 

This edition was produced by Harper Voyager in August 2006. It’s the cover that best fits the brief and also depicts a really disturbing scene in the story. The artwork is beautiful with lots of detail – I’m not sure it looks the best as a thumbnail, but I really love it.

 

Published in November 2007 by Harper Voyager, again, this is another attractive, atmospheric offering though I don’t like it quite as much as the previous one. The burning forest provides some drama and there is plenty of beautiful detail. I’m not sure, however, if it screams ‘Buy Me!’ when placed alongside a host of other covers, as I do feel the title and author fonts are very dull.

 

This edition, published by Voyager in July 2007, is another beautifully crafted effort. The axe biting into the freshly cut tree stump aptly depicts the damage, while the title and author fonts are beautiful and suitably eye-catching.

 

This edition, produced by Voyager in 2006, is my favourite. I love the sheer scale and awesomeness of the vista. The red rock is vibrantly eye-catching as the design beckons us to examine the amazing landscape further, while the distant horseman nicely demonstrates the scale of the view. My only grizzle is that the title font could be less dull – while I’m aware Hobb’s name is what generally sells books, this one is left trailing in the dust in comparison to the care and attention that has been lavished on the author font.

 

This cover, published in 2008 by HarperVoyager, is my least favourite. In fact, it’s outright dreary in comparison to the other versions. I’m aware this look is part of a series brand – but this time around, I feel insufficient attention has been paid to the font. There could also have been some patterning around the border – but while I have really liked some of the covers produced in this series, this isn’t one of them. What about you – which is your favourite?

While my access to the internet is VERY limited (thank you Sky for your glacial response in replacing my storm-damaged router – a three-legged donkey could have delivered it faster…) I have been PROMISED that I will be back online within the next couple of days, when I will respond!

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc #Furyborn – Book 1 of the Empirium series by #Claire Legrand #Brainfluffbookreview #bookreview

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It was the cover that grabbed my attention – and when I read enough of the blurb to realise it was an epic fantasy allll about two powerful women, I wanted to read on…

When assassins ambush her best friend, the crown prince, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing her ability to perform all seven kinds of elemental magic. The only people who should possess this extraordinary power are a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light and salvation and a queen of blood and destruction. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven trials to test her magic. If she fails, she will be executed…unless the trials kill her first.

A thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a mere fairy tale to bounty hunter Eliana Ferracora. When the Undying Empire conquered her kingdom, she embraced violence to keep her family alive. Now, she believes herself untouchable–until her mother vanishes without a trace, along with countless other women in their city. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain on a dangerous mission and discovers that the evil at the heart of the empire is more terrible than she ever imagined.

The blurb above gives a quick overview of the two main protagonists in this fast-paced epic fantasy, full of drama and emotion. Told in third person viewpoint with Rielle and Eliana featuring in alternate chapters, we build up a strong picture of how events lead to the shocking and bloody scene at the start of the story. I am still in two minds as to whether that works. Himself read a couple of chapters and once he realised who exactly Rielle was, he broke off announcing that it wasn’t worth slogging through a whole book when he already knew what had happened to one of the main characters. While I take his point, I am glad that I got swept up into this violent, difficult journey. I found the contrast between both of main characters intriguing. Eliana is definitely the more damaged of the two at the beginning of the book having been trained as an assassin and committed a series of bloody murders to keep her family safe. She is angry and cynical – and at times very funny.

This book would have been a lot less readable without the shafts of humour peppered throughout. At the beginning, Rielle is clearly the softer character, although she has had a tragic start in life by losing her mother in terrible circumstances, when only five years old. But circumstances and destiny push these two young women such, that by the end of the book, it is Rielle, who is the desperate, violent character driven by circumstances beyond her control and Eliana, whose cynical veneer is being stripped away in a desperate hunt to save those she loves.

Legrand can certainly write with the brakes off – an accomplishment that is harder than she makes it look. It would be all too easy to keep writing at full throttle, so that the light and shade is lost in amongst all that heightened emotion. She avoids that by peopling the world with strong supporting characters, so that we see these frightening women at their most vulnerable, as well as in ferocious attack mode. I also appreciated the world, which she effectively filters through the perceptions and knowledge of our main characters without resorting to boring info dumps.

All in all, this is an accomplished, full-on epic fantasy dealing with the themes of power and its corrupting influence, and what makes us human. It is a strong start to what promises to be a gripping series. Highly recommended for all fans of this genre. While I obtained an arc of Furyborn from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook A Pair of Docks – Book 1 of the Derivatives of Displacement by Jennifer Ellis

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I’ll be honest – I’m not quite sure how this book ended up on my Kindle. I have a hunch Himself bought it, but however it got there, I’m really pleased it did.

Fourteen-year-old Abbey Sinclair likes to spend her afternoons in the physics lab learning about momentum and gravitational pull. But her practical scientific mind is put to the test when her older brother, Simon, discovers a mysterious path of stones that allows them, along with Abbey’s twin, Caleb, to travel back and forth between their world and what appears to be…the future. Unfortunately, they’re not the only ones who know about the stones, and they soon realize their lives are in danger from a man known only as Mantis. Abbey, Caleb, and Simon must follow a twisting trail of clues that will lead them from their autistic neighbor, Mark, to a strange professor who claims to know the rules of the stones, and to multiple futures—some of whose inhabitants don’t want to stay put.

This book is categorised as a Children’s book, but please don’t let that put you off. Given the complexity of the story, the layering of the characters and the pacing, it feels far more like a YA offering to me. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. The time travel element has been done very well, with the initial hook pulling the reader into the story and then learning the very rich backstory as the adventure continues. The story progression and overall pacing are deftly handled.

Abbey is one of twins, and I enjoyed the fact that the siblings – along with their older brother – get together to try and sort out what is happening. Given they have very busy parents, they are quite a tight-knit unit, although that doesn’t prevent there being strains in their relationship. Ellis has provided a strong protagonist. Nerdy and very clever, Abbey is also observant and people-smart. I did enjoy her awareness, as I have become just a little tired of young protagonists who seem to do nothing but lurch from one major mistake to another.

There is an atmosphere of quiet menace pervading this book, which works very well and had me turning the pages long after I should have put the light out and gone to sleep. As for the antagonists, it was also refreshing to have nuanced, clever villains who are convinced they are doing nothing terribly wrong. In fact, it seemed to me that this book could quite as easily have been written from the viewpoint of at least one of them, desperately trying to search for a lost relative, and have us all terribly sympathetic with him.

The ending was suitably climactic, but left some important questions unanswered, and I am delighted that I have the sequel also on my Kindle as this is a world that won’t leave me alone. Highly recommended for fans of time travel adventures.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc #Crimson Ash by #Haley Sulich #Brainfluffbookreview #bookreview

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I thought this a fascinating premise and am always attracted by a YA dystopian science fiction world as a number of them have proved to be interesting and enjoyable reads.

You may live as a soldier or face death. Choose wisely.
Solanine Lucille wants her little sister back. Eight years ago, the government kidnapped her sister Ember, stole her memories, and transformed her into a soldier. But Solanine refuses to give up. Now that she and her fiancé have located the leader of a rebel group, she believes she can finally bring Ember home. But then the soldiers raid the rebels, killing her fiancé and leaving Solanine alone with her demons and all the weapons needed for revenge.

After raiding a rebel camp, sixteen-year-old Ember doesn’t understand why killing some boy bothers her. She’s a soldier—she has killed hundreds of people without remorse. But after she fails a mission, the rebels hold her hostage and restore her memories. Ember recognizes her sister among the rebels and realizes the boy she killed was Solanine’s fiancé.

As you can see, there are some heavy-duty events along with the resultant emotional cost going on in this story. I had thought the sibling relationship would the at the heart of the story. In the event, because this is an action-led adventure rather than all about the characters, while it is an important part of the plot, it doesn’t particularly drive it forward. Apart from anything else, the sisters spend a significant part of the book at cross-purposes with each other.

To be honest, I’m still not completely sure of my response about this one – there is a great deal of action and the world is bleakly awful, with a psychotic monster running the City of Graven. The consequences of existing within such a dark landscape, pervaded by loss are clearly spelt out – alcoholism and suicide are depicted within the story by some major characters and kudos to Sulich for having the courage to depict protagonists who are not invincibly cheerful in the face of hopeless odds against them.

But I did find the plot looped along a pattern, where something bad happens, one of our protagonists is cast down, painfully rallies to the point of fighting back, only for something else bad to happen so that they are cast down, before rallying… And this happened to most of the main protagonists. Fortunately, the final climax broke free from that.

I found the City of Graven really fascinating and would have liked a bit more insight into exactly how it was set up and why. Overall, it was an action-packed, intense read and is ideal for fans of YA dystopian worlds where it’s all about what happens next.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NEGALLEY arc #Obscura by #Joe Hart #Brainfluffbookreview #book review

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I am a sucker for near future crime and recently there’s been so many excellent examples – so when I read the premise for this offering, I immediately requested it. I’m so glad I did…

In the near future, an aggressive and terrifying new form of dementia is affecting victims of all ages. The cause is unknown, and the symptoms are disturbing. Dr. Gillian Ryan is on the cutting edge of research and desperately determined to find a cure. She’s already lost her husband to the disease, and now her young daughter is slowly succumbing as well. After losing her funding, she is given the unique opportunity to expand her research. She will travel with a NASA team to a space station where the crew has been stricken with symptoms of a similar inexplicable psychosis—memory loss, trances, and violent, uncontrollable impulses.

That’s as much of the chatty blurb as I’m prepared to reveal, but the brilliant thing about nefarious scheming on a space ship or station on a planet like Mars – everyone is trapped. Gillian is a brilliant, likeable woman with some profound emotional scars after the tragedy that overwhelmed her family – and unlike most of the others on the ship, she isn’t keen to be in space for a moment longer than is necessary. She takes the decision to stay awake and continue working through the voyage to Mars as she is running out of time to find a solution – when she realises that something isn’t right…

She teeters on the edge of meltdown, as the loneliness, her longing to be back with her sick daughter – and her addiction to the medicine she was taking during her recovery from a serious car crash – all take their toll. So when she begins to feel that someone else is also on the ship, she has to accept the fact that she is losing her mind.

Often, when the intense atmosphere is built up in these types of psychological thrillers, once we learn the reason why our protagonist is in such a lather, the whole episode falls rather flat. It’s why this sub-genre isn’t one my favourites – I’ve been disappointed too often. However, that’s not the case in this tightly constructed, beautifully plotted gem. I loved the whole story arc – including the climactic, action-filled denouement. Plus that final amazing twist… I haven’t read any of Hart’s work before – but I’ll be reading more of it in the future if this is an indication of his writing talent. Highly recommended for fans of futuristic murder mystery thrillers. While I obtained an arc of Obscura from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook #Before Mars – Book 3 of the #Planetfall series by #Emma Newman #bookreview #Brainfluffbookblog

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When done well, there is no genre I love more than science fiction – I’m not sure why except there is something about a cracking well-told tale out in the stars that speaks uniquely to my soul… I loved Planetfall and After Atlas – so would this final instalment live up to the astonishing standard Newman has set so far?

After months of travel, Anna Kubrin finally arrives on Mars for her new job as a geologist and de facto artist-in-residence. Already she feels like she is losing the connection with her husband and baby at home on Earth–and she’ll be on Mars for over a year. Throwing herself into her work, she tries her best to fit in with the team. But in her new room on the base, Anna finds a mysterious note written in her own handwriting, warning her not to trust the colony psychologist. A note she can’t remember writing. She unpacks her wedding ring, only to find it has been replaced by a fake.

Once again what hooked and then held me, is Newman’s nuanced and layered characterisation. I found Anna a deeply poignant character, who ends up on Mars as much because she is escaping her former life, rather than due to the fact that joining the tiny colony has been a lifetime’s achievement. Her struggles to come to terms with her post-natal depression, which prevented her from fully bonding with her baby really held me – it is an issue which isn’t written about nearly enough in SFF. Kudos to Newman for providing such a sympathetic, poignant insight into the struggles some women encounter in the weeks, months and years after having a baby.

I’m conscious that I’ve managed to make this one sound like it’s all about a rather broken woman wandering around and agonising about the baby she has left behind on Earth. While that is a minor story strand – actually, this book is a tense thriller whereby the newest visitor to a small scientific community cannot shake the sense that something is very badly wrong… I had figured out some of what is going on – but as ever, Newman has a number of other twists I didn’t see coming.

In addition, there is a strong supporting cast featuring the other characters who are also on the Mars base alongside Anna. I really appreciate the fact that there are no out and out villains – and the one character who has not behaved particularly well comes across as weak and out of their depth, rather than evil. As ever, after I put this one down, I found myself constantly thinking about it – and wondering how I’d feel in the same situation.

Like the other two books, this one can comfortably be read as a standalone. In fact, I’m not sure it wouldn’t be more satisfactory to do so – after that amazing cliff-hanger ending of After Atlas I kept waiting for the shoe to drop. I generally don’t reread anything – there are too many other fabulous books out there waiting for me. But this is the first time in a long while I’ve been strongly tempted to read through the whole trilogy, one after the other… Highly recommended for anyone who loves a gripping adventure featuring a well written, complex protagonist.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Netgalley arc #Head On – Book 2 of the Lock In series by #John Scalzi #bookreview #bookblogger #Brainfluffbookreview

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I enjoy Scalzi’s books, but the one that blew me away was Lock In – see my review here – his futuristic murder mystery featuring Haden-sufferer, Chris Shane, as his investigative protagonist. It has stayed with me where so many other books have faded into the furniture. Would I enjoy Head On as much?

Hilketa is a frenetic and violent pastime where players attack each other with swords and hammers. The main goal of the game: obtain your opponent’s head and carry it through the goalposts. With flesh and bone bodies, a sport like this would be impossible. But all the players are “threeps,” robot-like bodies controlled by people with Haden’s Syndrome, so anything goes. No one gets hurt, but the brutality is real and the crowds love it. Until a star athlete drops dead on the playing field.

Is it an accident or murder? FBI Agents and Haden-related crime investigators, Chris Shane and Leslie Vann, are called in to uncover the truth—and in doing so travel to the darker side of the fast-growing sport of Hilketa, where fortunes are made or lost, and where players and owners do whatever it takes to win, on and off the field.

So there you have the blurb. This book is designed to be read as a standalone and as it is a fairly complicated setup, where the role of Haden’s Syndrome and how it has impacted on the sufferers and US society in general has to be explained, it takes a while for the story to really get going.

The game of Hilketa initially had me cringing, but I’m not used to watching massively armoured American football players charging at each other with the force of a small truck. Once I factored in the US national sport, this next step of ripping apart the robot avatars didn’t seem so extreme.

As with Lock In, for me, the joy of this book is the worldbuilding. Scalzi’s take on how this terrible syndrome has impacted on society, as well as the individuals who have contracted the illness, is beautifully nuanced. Throughout the book, there is the on-going discussion about the initial, very generous financial support package for Haden’s sufferers – and the effects now that has been drastically scaled back. I love the unforeseen consequences of both the government handouts and what happens to a number of the characters once those payments are suddenly withdrawn.

Chris Shane is an engaging, sympathetic protagonist, with an extra edge. His famous, wealthy father was in vanguard of finding new therapies and road-testing the threeps – the robot bodies that Haden’s patients use in daily life while their biological bodies remain bedbound and apparently unresponsive. So Chris became a posterchild in the political fight for recognition of the Haden’s Syndrome – and even now, he is moderately famous. I’m aware that I’ve been discussing the world rather than commenting on the murder mystery. I enjoyed that every bit as much as the futuristic setting and I particularly appreciated reading about a crime that wouldn’t be able to take place now, because we simply don’t have the technology or those circumstances.

Scalzi’s plotting and pacing is skilful, the mystery is suitably twisty with a satisfying number of suspects and I also liked the denouement and the reasons for the crime. Once again, they are all too plausible. There is plenty of drama with several memorable action scenes featuring these tough robots – I could see this world making a wonderful TV series. Once again, Scalzi has nailed this one and it is highly recommended for fans of futuristic murder mystery adventures.
10/10

Review of Hardback Edition #Still Me by #Jojo Moyes #bookreview #bookblogreview #Brainfluffbookreview

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I loved the first book in the series, Me Before You – see my review here – and when I mentioned to my lovely mother that I hadn’t yet had the pleasure of reading this offering, she sent it to me as a present.

Lou Clark knows too many things . . . She knows how many miles lie between her new home in New York and her new boyfriend Sam in London. She knows her employer is a good man and she knows his wife is keeping a secret from him. What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to meet someone who’s going to turn her whole life upside down. Because Josh will remind her so much of a man she used to know that it’ll hurt. Lou won’t know what to do next, but she knows that whatever she chooses is going to change everything.

I enjoyed the previous two books in this series – particularly that first amazing book, so does this one live up to the dazzlingly high bar set by the worldwide success, Me Before You? Frankly, no. But that doesn’t mean to say that it isn’t a thoroughly enjoyable, worthwhile read anyway. Let’s face it, Me Before You is an extraordinary tour de force and it’s unreasonable to expect many of those to the pound from a writer even as talented as Moyes.

Lou, as ever, leaps off the page in all her quirky oddness, working in New York as an assistant, waiting hand, foot and finger on Agnes, the second wife of Leonard Gopnik, an insanely rich banker. It was a fascinating ringside seat into the world of the super-rich as Lou scurries around to smooth Agnes’s way as she struggles to negotiate the social scene where wealthy wives are expected to spend their days attending charity events. As you may expect, given this is Lou, the job and her long-distance relationship with the gorgeous Sam doesn’t go according to plan…

Once again, I found this remarkably difficult to put down as Moyes provides a warm-hearted insight into the faultlines of modern life – this time on the other side of the Pond – without any sentimentality. Indeed, her observations on social injustice and the inherent indignity of growing old in a society where youth and beauty are highly prized, are sharply pointed. Lou once more finds herself thrown back on her own resources when it all hits the fan and her plans fall in a heap. One of the refreshing aspects of this series is the strength and comfort that Lou’s family provides, even when they are unable to support her materially in any way.

As for the romance threading through the story, it is both funny and touching by turns as you’d expect from Moyes. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and I’m hoping that in due course, Moyes gives us another instalment from Lou Clarke’s life. Recommended for fans of contemporary life and romance.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The King’s Name – Book 2 of the Tir Tanagiri series by Jo Walton

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I read the first book, The King’s Peace, in this superb series the Christmas before last – and it has taken far too long to track down this second book in this wonderful retelling of the Arthurian legend.

“The peace of the nation of Tir Tanagiri had been bitterly won. But after years of fighting against rival kingdoms and Jarnish invaders, the warrior Sulien ap Gwien and her lord, King Urdo, had finally won it, through great strength of arms – and greater strength of vision. For Sulien was inspired by Urdo’s dream of a kingdom ruled by justice, whose subjects all were equal under a single code of law. But where many see a hopeful new future for the land, others believe they sense the seeds of a new tyranny.”

Soon the land faces the terrible blight of civil war, and Sulien ap Gwien must take up arms again. But where once her enemies were barbarian invaders and unrepentent usurpers, now they are former comrades and loved ones. And as the conflict tears her country and her family apart, and life-long friends go to meet their destinies, Sulien must fight harder and harder to hold on to Urdo’s shining dream. Sulien is now older, though still a mighty warrior and now a Lord who has a settlement to protect and administer. Her son is now grown. This should be a time when the hardwon Peace carved out from years of bitter fighting and enforcement against the lawless banditry that had prevailed should be enjoyed. But Urdo has implacable enemies – and some of them are far closer than they should be…

Once again I was pulled into this tale of Sulien, the woman warrior, who has devoted her life to protecting the weak against the strong. Walton’s prodigious talent is once more evident as this tale of betrayal and scheming slides inexorably once more into warfare. Sulien, writing her memoirs years later, is devastated. I love her character as her sense of hurt rings off the page when Urdo’s attempts to broker a council to reach an agreement between the different factions fail and the country is braced once more for war. I was absolutely gripped even though I had a fairly good idea what happens. Walton’s version of the court of Camelot is layered with Sulien’s forthright views on the nobility along with conjecture and gossip. If you have ever read any of the Arthurian legends and become fascinated with that particular time, then this is a joy. I particularly like her take on Urdo’s wife, Elenn.

I finished this book with a lump in my throat as once again, Walton magnificently succeeds in creating a wonderful, magical time that has passed into our folklore and legends. And this retelling is right up there with the best of them.
10/10