Category Archives: family relationships

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Shadow in the Empire of Light by Jane Routley #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #ShadowintheEmpireofLightbookreview

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I was drawn to the appealing cover and rather quirky blurb – would this one provide the upbeat, engrossing escapist read I was looking for?

BLURB: Shine’s life is usually dull: an orphan without magic in a family of powerful mages, she’s left to run the family estate with only an eccentric aunt and telepathic cat for company.

But when the family descend on the house for the annual Fertility Festival, Shine is plunged into intrigue; stolen letters, a fugitive spy and family drama mix with an unexpected murder, and Shine is forced to decide both her loyalties and future…

REVIEW: I’ll be honest – I’ve been a bit bemused by the negative reviews for this entertaining and really different fantasy adventure. But I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of reviewers picked it up because of the allusion to the telepathic cat – and most fantasy adventures with a telepathic pet don’t generally come with steamy sex scenes. So I think this is more of a case of readers opening up this book thinking they were getting one type of story – and instead were confronted with something quite different. While that cover certainly didn’t help, given that it also doesn’t give any clue of the erotic charge running through this adventure.

As for me – I found Shine beguiling and enjoyed the rather claustrophobic, dangerous edge to this adventure as the Family, both mundanes and mages, gather for the annual fertility festival, where consenting adults get together for the purpose of creating more children. Routley’s worldbuilding is impressive as she creates a large family, riven with factions and infighting as the most powerful, entitled mages jockey for the prime positions. Shine is well down the pecking order, as she watches the man she has given her heart to flirt with other girls – and tries to keep away from her more unpleasant, bullying cousins. I kept waiting for her to discover that she had unexpected magical powers… And no, I’m not going to reveal if she does – but this one has lodged in my head and despite the fact that I’ve subsequently completed two other books, it won’t leave me alone.

As for the sex – yes, there are a couple of uncharacteristically raunchy scenes, but I didn’t find them unduly gratuitous. This is a society with a very relaxed attitude towards sex, especially at this time of the Festival, for it is important that there be more female children within the family, as it is female mages with most power. And the fact that Shine is a mundane with an unfortunate bloodline means she is regarded with contempt by many family members – there is nothing cosy about this bunch. But despite the fact it deals with some quite dark subjects, there is a bouncy energy and a lot of snarky humour that stopped it being a bleak read.

I will be reading more from this intriguing author – and if there is a sequel to this book, which feels as if there should be – then I’ll be hunting it down. While I obtained an arc of Shadow in the Empire of Light from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Two FANTASY Mini-Reviews: A Dragon of a Different Colour by Rachel Aaron & Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders by Aliette de Bodard #BrainfluffFANTASYmini-reviews #ADragonofaDifferentColourmini-review #OfDragonsFeastsandMurdersmini-review

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A Dragon of a Different Colour – Book 4 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron

BLURB: To save his family from his tyrannical mother, Julius had to step on a lot of tails. That doesn’t win a Nice Dragon many friends, but just when he thinks he’s starting to make progress, a new threat arrives.

Turns out, things can get worse. Heartstriker hasn’t begun to pay for its secrets, and the dragons of China are here to collect. When the Golden Emperor demands his surrender, Julius will have to choose between loyalty to the sister who’s always watched over him and preserving the clan he gave everything to protect.

As this is a continuation of the story, whatever you do, don’t crash into this series but go back to the beginning – see my reviews of Nice Dragons Finish Last, One Good Dragon Deserves Another and No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished. Once again, we are plunged into the middle of the ongoing crisis, as Julian, now leader of the Heartstriker clan, has to deal with the fallout of the mighty power struggle that toppled his despotic mother.

However, crises just go on piling up as the neighbours are now starting to cause massive problems and the most powerful clan on the planet pitches up on the doorstep, demanding Heartstriker surrender. The best adventures are when you keep turning the pages without having a clue how the gutsy heroes and heroines are going get out of this jam – and this particular denouement is awesome and original. The worldbuilding is exceptional and while the action had to slow a tad in order for the complexity to be fully explained – I was happy to read and wonder. Another cracking read in my favourite urban fantasy series of 2020, as Aaron goes on delivering dragon-shaped delight…
9/10

Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders: A Dominion of the Fallen novella by Aliette de Bodard

BLURB: Lunar New Year should be a time for familial reunions, ancestor worship, and consumption of an unhealthy amount of candied fruit.

But when dragon prince Thuan brings home his brooding and ruthless husband Asmodeus for the New Year, they find not interminable family gatherings, but a corpse outside their quarters. Asmodeus is thrilled by the murder investigation; Thuan, who gets dragged into the political plotting he’d sworn off when he left, is less enthusiastic.

It’ll take all of Asmodeus’s skill with knives, and all of Thuan’s diplomacy, to navigate this one—as well as the troubled waters of their own relationship….

Back in 2016, I read the first book in this series – A House of Shattered Wingssee my review – and thoroughly enjoyed it, so was glad to get hold of this shorter story in the same series. Writing a successful novella takes a different skillset than that needed to write a novel, and I was pleased to see that de Bodard had nailed that. The characterisation and pacing were spot on for the length, as was the narrative arc. And as this was essentially a murder mystery within an alien setting, that took a fair amount of technical skill.

I didn’t particularly bond with Thuan, but as the plotting was also a vital component to this one, that wasn’t the problem it could have been. As for Admodeus and Thuan’s relationship… hm – okay. It takes all sorts – I’m just very glad that I’m not trapped within such a borderline-abusive relationship, but I did find their more intimate moments very uncomfortable and I won’t be reading any more of this series.
7/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK Finding the Fox – Book 1 of The Shapeshifter series by Ali Sparkes #Brainfluffaudiobookreview #FindingtheFoxbookreview

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I’m a real fan of Ali Sparkes’ writing – see my reviews for Frozen in Time and Dark Summer – so I was delighted to see this offering was in Frank’s audiobook list.

BLURB: Dax Jones is an ordinary schoolboy – until something extraordinary happens one day. Whilst frightened for his life, he inexplicably changes into a fox. Before long, both a government agent and an ambitious young journalist are on his tail.

REVIEW: And that’s how you do a blurb, people! A brief overview of what the stakes are and the genre to give readers an idea if they’ll like the book – NOT spoiling the first major plotpoints in the book. Right – rant over.

I love Dax, who has certainly drawn the short straw when a happy family life was handed out. His mother died when he was four years old and his stepmother dislikes him and makes no secret of the fact. As for his father – he’s away working most of the time and doesn’t make much of an effort to bond with his son, anyway. Is he angry about it? Oh for sure – but Dax has learnt not to show it, so he buries his anger. Until it manifests… differently.

Sparkes is really clever at depicting realistic, rounded characters which is why she is such a firm favourite with me. I was right alongside Dax, rooting for the quiet, wary boy who learnt far too young that the world is often a cruel, uncaring place. But that also gives him an advantage – he isn’t easily taken in. And that distrust gives him a vital edge when someone means him harm. I also liked the supporting cast – this is the start of a six-book series, so part of the task is to establish some of the main characters, such as Gideon, Dax’s new friend and some of the teachers who will clearly be featuring in coming adventures. The denouement of this adventure is genuinely gripping, and instead of carrying on with my chores, I sat down to listen, not willing to miss any of the action. This gripping read is recommended for children, particularly boys, aged 9-11who enjoy fast-paced fiction with a fantasy twist.
9/10

Review of INDIE Ebook A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher #BrainfluffINDIEbookreview #AWizardsGuidetoDefensiveBakingbookreview

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I treated myself to this one with some of my birthday money, after it was recommended to me by one of my book blogging buddies – and I’m so sorry that I cannot recall who! If you do remember my gushing over it, feel free to come and nudge me in the ribs and I’ll namecheck you…

BLURB: Fourteen-year-old Mona isn’t like the wizards charged with defending the city. She can’t control lightning or speak to water. Her familiar is a sourdough starter and her magic only works on bread. She has a comfortable life in her aunt’s bakery making gingerbread men dance. But Mona’s life is turned upside down when she finds a dead body on the bakery floor. An assassin is stalking the streets of Mona’s city, preying on magic folk, and it appears that Mona is his next target. And in an embattled city suddenly bereft of wizards, the assassin may be the least of Mona’s worries…

REVIEW: This one is a solid delight. I absolutely loved it. Mona is such a superb protagonist – having been orphaned and then looked after by her aunt and uncle, her life is jogging along quite nicely. But then the appearance of a dead body in the bakery upsets everything. And from then on, Mona’s life becomes a lot more complicated.

The setting is a medieval city state where most of the subjects are just about coping, though there is widespread poverty. I believed in the world, the politics and the way prejudice against folks with magical ability had been subtly stirred up – it was nicely done. But what makes this book really stand out is the magic. Or rather – Mona’s magic… It’s a joy. Both funny and completely believable, the way Mona’s desperate efforts to save the day made this a gripping read so that I stayed up far too late to discover what happened. And I’ve been mourning the loss of this world ever since I stopped reading it. I even dreamt about it…

I also liked the depth of the supporting characters – as well as Mona’s anger at the adults’ inability to sort things out, so that it’s down to her. Such a natural reaction, but one I don’t see all that often in these sorts of adventures. I very much hope that Kingfisher finds that her lovely heroine won’t leave her alone – and that she, too, misses Mona. Because I’d love to read more about this gutsy, quirky teen.
10/10

Six Favourite Heroes from my 2020 Reading List #Brainfluff6favouriteheroes

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Now that I’ve completed reading my 2020 Reading List, I’ve been delighted with the overall quality of the books I enjoyed throughout this car-crash of a year. Basically they kept my head straight. So who were the standout heroes of the year, who crept into my heart and won’t leave, even now it’s 2021? I’ll tell you…

Daniel Mackmain from the Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna
BLURB: Daniel Mackmain has always been a loner. As a dryad’s son, he can see the supernatural alongside everyday reality, and that’s not something he can easily share. Perhaps visiting East Anglia to stay with Finele Wicken and her family will be different. They have their own ties to the uncanny.

But something is amiss in the depths of the Fens. Creatures Dan has never encountered outside folk tales are growing uneasy, even hostile. He soon learns they have good reason. Can he help them before they retaliate and disaster strikes the unsuspecting locals? Can the Green Man help Dan in a landscape dominated by water for centuries, where the oaks were cut down aeons ago?

A modern fantasy rooted in the ancient myths and folklore of the British Isles.
I loved Daniel from the first book – such a clever blend of old folklore and modern life – and I really like how McKenna has developed his character. All three books – The Green Man’s Heir, The Green Man’s Foe and The Green Man’s Silence – are worth reading, but whatever you do, read them in order.

Penric from The Physicians of Vilnoc – Book 8 of the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold
BLURB:
When a mysterious plague breaks out in the army fort guarding Vilnoc, the port capital of the duchy of Orbas, Temple sorcerer Penric and his demon Desdemona are called upon by General Arisaydia to resurrect Penric’s medical skills and solve its lethal riddle. In the grueling days that follow, Pen will find that even his magic is not enough to meet the challenges without help from dedicated new colleagues—and the god of mischance.
Again, this is a character I’ve been following since the first novella set in Bujold’s Five Gods World, though you don’t have to have ever picked up any of the Chalion books to fall in love with this one. Penric is now a very different character from the inexperienced young man who accidentally ended up hosting an old, powerful demon, in the first book, Penric’s Demon. As a bonus, there was also Masquerade in Lodi, published in October 2020, as well. Read my review of The Physicians of Vilnoc.

Thomas Cromwell from The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy by Hilary Mantel
BLURB:
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 fabulous series came to an end in 2020 with The Mirror and the Light and I felt I’d lost a friend. Yes, Cromwell is a bully… yes, he can be brutal, unyielding and confrontational. But he is also kind to animals and compassionate with women in an age where they are generally treated as lesser beings. I was also aware that this book didn’t just feature one complicated difficult man – but was in many ways a character study of Henry VIII, another complicated and difficult man… Mantel managed to do something extraordinary with this series and if I ever had a personality change and decided to start rereading books (I don’t) this would probably be the series I’d start with. To try to see how she did it… Read my review of The Mirror and the Light.

Vish Puri from The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
BLURB:
Vish Puri is as fond of butter chicken as the next Punjabi. So when it’s served at the Delhi Durbar hotel at an India Premier League cricket match dinner, he’s the first to tuck in. Faheem Khan, father of Pakistani star cricketer Kamran Khan, can’t resist either. But the creamy dish proves his undoing. After a few mouthfuls, he collapses on the floor, dead…
I first encountered Vish when I read the Netgalley arc for the fifth book and I was absolutely delighted by this shrewd, eccentric man, his passion for justice and his method of solving cases. Along the way, we are also treated to a slice of the vividness that is India into the bargain. I’ve read the first three books and am hoping that if I leave it long enough before diving into the fourth book, Tarquin Hall will have a sixth ready for me. Read my mini-review of The Case of the Missing Servant.

Ryo inGara from TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier
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?
Ryo captured my heart from the opening sequence when he is tied to a post and waiting to be killed – and wretched with guilt because he’d been angry with his brother for leaving him as a sacrifice. This book deserves to be far better known – it’s an amazing, immersive read and the bonus – I discovered the second book is now available when I looked up the blurb for this post😊. Read my review.

Al MacBharrais from Ink & Sigil – Book 1 of the Ink & Sigil series by Kevin Hearneine
BLURB:
Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails – and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae.

But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his personal life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse.

But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective – while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice’s death will take him through Scotland’s magical underworld, and he’ll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he’s to survive.
I’ve now reached a time in my life where I generally don’t expect to encounter protagonists in my age group. So it was a solid joy to find a protagonist who grumbled at times about his joints and isn’t necessarily the last thing in athletic fitness. I also found him amusing, clever and genuinely original. I’m very much looking forward to reading more about Al later this year. Read my review.

Six Favourite Heroines from my 2020 Reading List #Brainfluff6favouriteheroines

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Now I’ve completed reading my 2020 Reading List, I’m a bit awed at the consistently high standard of the books I enjoyed throughout an otherwise catastrophic year. Thank goodness for reading! So who were my standout heroines of the year? In no particular order, here they are…

Emily Marshwic from Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky
BLURB: The first casualty of war is truth . . .
First, Denland’s revolutionaries assassinated their king, launching a wave of bloodshed after generations of peace. Next they clashed with Lascanne, their royalist neighbour, pitching war-machines against warlocks in a fiercely fought conflict. Genteel Emily Marshwic watched as the hostilities stole her family’s young men. But then came the call for yet more Lascanne soldiers in a ravaged kingdom with none left to give. Emily must join the ranks of conscripted women and march toward the front lines…
I loved Emily’s gritted courage and gutsy attitude throughout. I really appreciated that she doesn’t come across as one of those Teflon-coated heroines who are simply too tough to really care about. This wonderful read had me rooting for her throughout – and I particularly loved the scene near the end of the adventure… Read my review.

Cassandra Tripp from You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce
BLURB: Everyone knew bestselling novelist Cassandra Tipp had twice got away with murder. Even her family were convinced of her guilt. So when she disappears, leaving only a long letter behind, they can but suspect that her conscience finally killed her. But the letter is not what anyone expected. It tells two chilling, darkly disturbing stories. One is a story of bloody nights and magical gifts, of children lost to the woods, of husbands made from twigs and leaves and feathers and bones . . . The other is the story of a little girl who was cruelly treated and grew up crooked in the shadows . . . But which story is true? And where is Cassie now?
This is one of my outstanding reads of the year – and though I read it relatively early in the year, it has haunted me ever since. Cassie both inspired me and broke my heart. This is a wrenching story on many levels, as it explores the very worst that family life has to offer – and yet it is also beautiful, full of magical, wonderful moments. Read my review.

Stella from Relatively Strange, Even Stranger and Stranger Still by Marilyn Messick
BLURB: “I was five when I discovered I could fly, sixteen when I killed a man.
Both events were unsettling in their own way.”
It’s hard to know what’s normal, if you’re not, and it takes Stella a while to realise she’s in the definitely ‘not’ drawer. But we are who we are and we make adjustments to fit in – most of the time – and it’s only when she finds she’s not quite as unique as she thought, that things begin to acquire a whole new dimension. Forced to call on resources she didn’t know she possessed and thrust headlong into the violence of a situation for which nothing could have prepared her, Stella is suddenly face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences.
This fabulous series has been one of my reading highlights of the year. In one review I announce that Stella is now my new best friend – and I mean it. I inhaled the trilogy, addicted to the terrifying adventures that she blunders into, both holding my breath and howling with laughter at the sharp, clever humour. The book hangover I suffered when I came to end of this reading delight was profound – and I still dream of her… Read my review of Relatively Strange.

Elma York from The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky – Books 1 & 2 of The Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal
BLURB:
On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process. Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too. Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.
This series has been another shining jewel that has shone out from the 184 books I read in 2020 – and I particularly loved Elma’s journey. She, amongst a group of highly talented female mathematicians, were part of the NASA team back in the day before they had computers to crunch the numbers. And Kowal has taken this historical fact and woven an alternate story featuring these women in a clever, moving way, as they battle against racism and sexism. Read my review of The Calculating Stars.

Charlotte Makepeace from Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer
BLURB:
It’s natural to feel a little out of place when you’re the new girl, but when Charlotte Makepeace wakes up after her first night at boarding school, she’s baffled: everyone thinks she’s a girl called Clare Mobley, and even more shockingly, it seems she has traveled forty years back in time to 1918. In the months to follow, Charlotte wakes alternately in her own time and in Clare’s. And instead of having only one new set of rules to learn, she also has to contend with the unprecedented strangeness of being an entirely new person in an era she knows nothing about. Her teachers think she’s slow, the other girls find her odd, and, as she spends more and more time in 1918, Charlotte starts to wonder if she remembers how to be Charlotte at all. If she doesn’t figure out some way to get back to the world she knows before the end of the term, she might never have another chance.
This is one of those unique, amazing reads that crawls under your skin and lodges within your head and heart. It is supposed to be a children’s book – but is written with sophistication and a depth of characterisation that many adult books don’t get close to. I still find myself pondering that bittersweet ending… Read my review.

Mahit Dzmare from A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine BLURB: Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court. Now, Mahit must discover the truth about her predecessor’s death, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.

I picked up this book when I heard comparisons to the mighty C.J. Cherryh and I wasn’t disappointed. From the opening lines, I was hooked into the story by the immersive, taut writing and Mahit’s dilemma. I’m very much looking forward to reading the sequel this year. Read my review.

Review of AUDIOBOOK Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer #BrainfluffAUDIOBOOKreview #CharlotteSometimesbookreview

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I’ve resumed reading more Children’s fiction since I’ve been listening to audiobooks, as I’ve been working my way through my grandson’s list. And I’m so glad, because it’s brought me some really lovely reads this year. But this one has capped them all and is going to be one of my all-time favourites…

BLURB:  It’s natural to feel a little out of place when you’re the new girl, but when Charlotte Makepeace wakes up after her first night at boarding school, she’s baffled: everyone thinks she’s a girl called Clare Mobley, and even more shockingly, it seems she has traveled forty years back in time to 1918. In the months to follow, Charlotte wakes alternately in her own time and in Clare’s. And instead of having only one new set of rules to learn, she also has to contend with the unprecedented strangeness of being an entirely new person in an era she knows nothing about. Her teachers think she’s slow, the other girls find her odd, and, as she spends more and more time in 1918, Charlotte starts to wonder if she remembers how to be Charlotte at all. If she doesn’t figure out some way to get back to the world she knows before the end of the term, she might never have another chance.

REVIEW: This is time travel with spikes on – Charlotte and Clare find themselves alternately cris-crossing each other, spending one day in their own time zone – and the next in each other’s. There isn’t any real explanation as to why this is happening, but the effect on Charlotte is beautifully described. This is a sophisticated book, written for children with a precocious understanding of how surroundings and loss can impact on someone, so they somehow keep going.

There aren’t any major outbursts in this book. It isn’t a tale of horrendous persecution – though one child is singled out in a distressing manner and nothing much is done about it, reminding me that back in the day, children were expected to cope if they were being victimised. Because this is a book that was first published in 1969, though other than some of the attitudes, the density and pacing – it hasn’t particularly dated, because it is set in the past. It very much reminded me of my own childhood, as I was brought up by my grandparents  in a house full of large, dark furniture. Though we had a television, long days were spent amusing myself with toys such as solitaire, spillikins and, of course, books…

I loved this one. Charlotte is in the middle of an ongoing nightmare on one level. And yet she also makes friends and strong connections with other people in the 1918 timeline. The exquisite prose, beautifully narrated by the wonderful Hannah Gordon, produces a wonderful, nuanced portrayal of her experience. It’s simply a recommended read for anyone interested in a child’s view of 1918 – because it’s one of those magical books that might have been written with children in mind, but due to Farmer’s layered writing, it can also be thoroughly enjoyed by adults, too. I particularly recommend the audiobook version and am rather devastated to discover that this is the only story in the series that has been turned into an audiobook.

10/10

Review of INDIE Ebook End Game – Book 8 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker #Brainfluffbookreview #FallenEmpirebookreview

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After following this entertaining series and Alisa Marchenko’s search for her daughter for over a year now, here I am at the last book. See my reviews of Star Normad, Honor’s Flight, Cleon Moon and Perilous Hunt. As with all enjoyable series, I reach this point with very mixed feelings, which is why I often put off reading the final book – I don’t want the adventure to end. But as I know there’s now a spinoff series available and I have far more new series stacking up than I can possibly read, it’s time to get practical…

BLURB: Alisa Marchenko has reunited with her daughter, and even though she hasn’t figured out how to get Jelena to accept Leonidas yet, she dreams of the three of them starting a new life together. They can return the Star Nomad to its original purpose of running freight and staying out of trouble (mostly). Before that can happen, Alisa must fulfill the promise she made to Jelena: that she and her crew will retrieve young Prince Thorian, the boy who has become Jelena’s best friend. But Thorian was kidnapped by the rogue Starseer Tymoteusz, the man who wants to use the Staff of Lore to take over the entire system—and the man who may have the power to do it. Alisa doesn’t know why he kidnapped Thorian, but Tymoteusz once promised to kill the prince, so she fears they don’t have much time. Unfortunately, Tymoteusz hasn’t left a trail of breadcrumbs. Finding him will be difficult, and even if they’re successful, facing him could be suicidal. To have a chance of surviving, Alisa will have to come up with her greatest scheme yet.

REVIEW: Whatever you do – don’t crash into this series here. By now far too much has happened, and as this book picks up pretty much where Perilous Hunt left off, you’ll be floundering in a welter of names and places, before you figure out who is doing what to whom. Besides, it would be a crying shame to so short-change such a funny, entertaining series by such a talented author.

I really liked how finding Jelena has switched Alisa’s priorities. Her burgeoning romance with hunky cyborg Leonidas pretty much slides to a halt, as they are both aware that Jelena’s telepathic abilities could read their frustrated longing for each other, and as Jelena is only eight and already afraid of Leonidas, that would prove to be… awkward. Not that is the only thing Alisa has to focus on. Once again, Star Nomad, her clunky little freighter, finds itself up to its star drives in more trouble than it can cope with – so ditto the crew. I love the way that in the middle of all the risk of imminent death and destruction, there are still laugh-aloud moments of humour. Mica, Alisa’s long-suffering engineer is particularly hilarious.

But given that this is the final book in the series, the burning issue has to be – does it satisfactorily bring all that angst, romantic longing, humour and page-turning adventure to a fitting conclusion? Absolutely. Buroker nails it. As I haven’t read her books before, I am so impressed at how she managed to tie everything up without making it seem too tidy, or unrealistically cosy – yet at the same time not leaving any stray strands waving in the wind to niggle at me. It takes skill and experience to achieve such an outcome – and means I’ll certainly be looking out for this author, again. It’s one thing to bring a single book to a satisfying ending – it takes another order of ability to do the same with an eight-book series. Highly recommended for fans of action-packed space opera with a splash of humour and romance thrown in for good measure.
9/10

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

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Of course you shouldn’t harbour a grudge. That’s not treating it with anything like enough respect – a grudge should be nurtured, pampered and fostered… Until it turns into satisfying revenge!

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

Two MURDER MYSTERY Mini-reviews: The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne, and The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths #Brainfluffmurdermysterymini-reviews #TheNaturalistmini-review #TheGhostFieldsmini-review

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AUDIOBOOK The Naturalist – Book 1 of The Naturalist series by Andrew Mayne

BLURB: Professor Theo Cray is trained to see patterns where others see chaos. So when mutilated bodies found deep in the Montana woods leave the cops searching blindly for clues, Theo sees something they missed. Something unnatural. Something only he can stop.

As a computational biologist, Theo is more familiar with digital code and microbes than the dark arts of forensic sleuthing. But a field trip to Montana suddenly lands him in the middle of an investigation into the bloody killing of one of his former students. As more details, and bodies, come to light, the local cops determine that the killer is either a grizzly gone rogue… or Theo himself. Racing to stay one step ahead of the police, Theo must use his scientific acumen to uncover the killer. Will he be able to become as cunning as the predator he hunts—before he becomes its prey?

Ably narrated by Will Damron, who sounded exactly how I imagined Theo Cray would be like, I particularly enjoyed the opening where we were introduced to Theo, which was cleverly and originally handled. Overall, this was enjoyable, although the pernicky part of me was a tad annoyed at some of the plot holes and inaccuracies which could have been avoided with a bit more care. The progression of the story worked well, with some nice plot twists and a well-handled denouement. Highly recommended for murder mystery thriller fans, who like their protagonists nerdy and a bit too clever for their own good.
7/10

The Ghost Fields – Book 7 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths

BLURB: Norfolk is experiencing a July heatwave when a construction crew unearths a macabre discovery – a buried WWII plane with the pilot still inside. Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway quickly realizes that the skeleton couldn’t possibly be the pilot, and DNA tests identify the man as Fred Blackstock, a local aristocrat who had been reported dead at sea. When the remaining members of the Blackstock family learn about the discovery, they seem strangely frightened by the news…

Once again, Griffiths delivers a really strong, engaging murder mystery that manages to involve Ruth. A growing part of the enjoyment of this unfolding series is to catch up with the strong cast of characters who are alongside Ruth – and there are a couple of plotlines here that I followed with bated breath with probably more anticipation and interest than the unfolding murder mystery, if I’m honest. That said, the investigation once again ticks all the boxes with a suitably exciting denouement. Recommended for fans of murder mysteries that fall between the cosy kind – and those that are grittily drenched in gore, but whatever you do, don’t crash into the series here – go back and start with The Crossing Places.
8/10