Category Archives: family relationships

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #7

Standard

This is my fortnightly update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 10 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

I had hoped to continue to feel better after the uptick in my energy levels once I recovered from my cold at the beginning of January. But last week, it was a struggle to get out of bed before the middle of the afternoon and by the time I’d showered and dressed, it was often getting dark again. While I’m aware it’s important to get outside in the fresh air and whatever sunshine – there didn’t seem much point shuffling around the block in the frigid gloom of a mid-winter late afternoon. So I didn’t bother – for one thing, I can’t move fast enough to get the blood moving to combat the cold, so it’s an exercise in misery.

However this week, I woke up on Monday feeling hugely better. And so far, on Sunday, I’m still feeling better. Though I’m taking it cautiously. I still am dealing with the ongoing nasal drip, which I’m heartily sick of – both the disgusting taste and the resulting tinnitus. And my neck is still very swollen and tender, making it painful to turn my head quickly. But my energy levels, both physical and mental, are much improved. When I saw the Dr last week, he was very reassuring. My liver and kidney functions are normal and while my thyroid is swollen and has a number of nodules, which he thinks is a result of covid, it is also functioning normally. I’m due to have another scan in March to monitor any further changes. But I still don’t manage to get up much before midday and I still struggle to get to sleep at a reasonable hour, even if I go to bed at the right time. Thank goodness for books – if I wasn’t able to put the light on and read in the wee small hours, Life would be a whole lot more challenging.

On the bright side, our car has now been fixed after the minor accident when someone swung into the passenger door – and their insurance accepted the liability. And our grandson came to stay again from Tuesday through to Friday. Having him in the house, travelling back and forth to college on the train, with his bubbling enthusiasm for his college course is a real tonic. So I’m delighted that his staying with us is going to become a regular fortnightly event. Now he is 17, I’m not worried about having to look after him if I’m too ill to get out of bed and he is happy to help around the house.

This week I’ve read:-
The Red King – Book 1 of the Wilde Justice series by Jenn Stark
As the first Justice of the Arcana Council in two hundred years, Tarot-reading Sara Wilde is tasked with taking out the most dangerous magic-wielding criminals on the planet. Her first assignment? A killer known only as the Red King, who’s systematically picking off the world’s most gifted magicians in the rollicking streets and storied canals of Venice, Italy, on the eve of Carnevale.

Amidst the festival’s music, masks, and brightly colored costumes, Sara must unravel the truth about a brutal murderer from Venice’s own murky past, navigate the twisting political currents of magicians who seek to rival her own Council, and keep one costume change ahead of a conjurer whose lethal spells could end Justice–permanently. Good thing the diabolically sexy and deeply powerful Magician of the Arcana Council has Sara’s back…if only he didn’t hold so much of her heart as well.
This was a gripping read – and it didn’t hurt that Stark’s vivid evocation of Venice reminded me of a wonderful family holiday in what seems another life. Sara is a sympathetic protagonist, there were plenty of plot twists that kept the pages turning and I’m delighted to discover there are plenty of books in this spinoff series. 9/10

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
In 1971, Hillary Rodham is a young woman full of promise: Life magazine has covered her Wellesley commencement speech, she’s attending Yale Law School, and she’s on the forefront of student activism and the women’s rights movement. And then she meets Bill Clinton. A handsome, charismatic southerner and fellow law student, Bill is already planning his political career. In each other, the two find a profound intellectual, emotional, and physical connection that neither has previously experienced. In the real world, Hillary followed Bill back to Arkansas, and he proposed several times; although she said no more than once, as we all know, she eventually accepted and became Hillary Clinton.

But in Curtis Sittenfeld’s powerfully imagined tour-de-force of fiction, Hillary takes a different road. Feeling doubt about the prospective marriage, she endures their devastating breakup and leaves Arkansas. Over the next four decades, she blazes her own trail—one that unfolds in public as well as in private, that involves crossing paths again (and again) with Bill Clinton, that raises questions about the tradeoffs all of us must make in building a life.

Brilliantly weaving a riveting fictional tale into actual historical events, Curtis Sittenfeld delivers an uncannily astute and witty story for our times. In exploring the loneliness, moral ambivalence, and iron determination that characterize the quest for political power, as well as both the exhilaration and painful compromises demanded of female ambition in a world still run mostly by men, Rodham is a singular and unforgettable novel.
I’ve included the complete very wordy blurb as it does a good job of setting out the narrative imperative behind this intriguing book. While I’m not completely familiar with the political landscape of the time, Sittenfeld has done a thorough job of depicting it. But what I think is masterly is her evocation of the unthinking sexism and racism running throughout the spheres of influence that not just impacts Hillary, but other women around her. I’ve found myself thinking about it a lot since I finished reading this one, and the main reason why it hasn’t garnered a 10 from me is the unevenness of the pacing in places. 9/10

Immortal in Death – Book 3 of the In Death series by J.D. Robb
When Police Lieutenant Eve Dallas investigates the murder of a top model, she is putting her career on the line, because the prime suspect is her best friend. Eve’s investigations lead her into the glamorous world of high fashion.


Himself has bought all these books, so I’m starting to work my way through them. Set in the near future, the writing is pacy with plenty of romance as Norah Roberts in the guise of J.D. Robb serves up a number of brutal murders for our feisty protagonist to contend with. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK – Kingdoms at War – Book 1 of the Dragon Gate series by Lindsay Buroker
For centuries, wizard kings have ruled the world from their elite sky cities, battling each other to add to their wealth and power, while using normal human beings as pawns. Those without magic struggle to feed their families and live in constant fear of bringing down the wrath of their tyrannical masters. Something must change.

As a cartography student, Jak has always dreamed of finding the lost dragon gate and exploring and mapping distant worlds. Developing magical powers and becoming a powerful wizard? Not a chance. Wizards are cruel and inhumane, warring with each other from their great sky cities and keeping most of humanity enslaved. Jak wants nothing to do with them.
But when he and his archaeologist mother unearth the gate, they attract the attention of the very wizards they sought to avoid. Even more troubling, Jak starts developing magical powers of his own, powers that could rival those of the great rulers. Fate may have given him the opportunity to change the world. But the wizard rulers don’t like change, and when they detect threats, they send their elite assassins to eliminate them.
And if the above blurb sounds like an intriguing situation – you’re absolutely right. I love Buroker’s vivid, three-dimensional worlds. Her settings are always detailed and politically sophisticated and once again, I’ve lost my heart to the main protagonists, Jak and his clever, studious mother. I’m thrilled to discover yet another gripping series by this accomplished author to dive into – Buroker has been one of my major lifelines during my illness! 9/10

The Cruel Stars – Book 1 of The Cruel Stars trilogy by John Birmingham
The galaxy was once terrorized by the Sturm, a group of “species purists” intent on destroying any human with genetic or cybernetic enhancements. Fashioning themselves as the one true “Human Republic,” the Sturm cut a bloody swath across the stars, killing billions before finally being defeated and driven into the far reaches of Dark Space. Centuries of peace bred complacency. Everyone believed the Sturm had died out in the Dark. They were wrong.

The enemy has returned and, with a brutal and decisive attack, knocks out almost all of humanity’s defenses. Now on the brink of annihilation, humankind’s only hope is a few brave souls who survived the initial attack: Commander Lucinda Hardy, thrust into uncertain command of the Royal Armadalen Navy’s only surviving warship. Booker3, a soldier of Earth, sentenced to die for treason, whose time on death row is cut short when the Sturm attack his prison compound. Princess Alessia, a young royal of the Montanblanc Corporation, forced to flee when her home planet is overrun and her entire family executed. Sephina L’trel, the leader of an outlaw band who must call on all of her criminal skills to resist the invasion. And, finally, Admiral Frazer McLennan, the infamous hero of the first war with the Sturm hundreds of years ago, who hopes to rout his old foes once and for all—or die trying.
This military space opera adventure is full of action and conflict, as well as a number of punchy, well-written protagonists. One of the best written is the terrified child caught up in the middle of a waking nightmare by dint of her birth – Birmingham’s depiction of Alessia is one of the highlights in this enjoyable book. 8/10

Baking Bad – Book 1 of the Beaufort Scales Mysteries by Kim M. Watt
A tranquil village. A poisoned cupcake. A murdered vicar.
A simple case – or it should be. But all clues point to the Toot Hansell Women’s Institute, and Detective Inspector Adams is about to discover there’s much more to the W.I. than bake sales and jam making.

Alice Martin, RAF Wing Commander (Ret.), and current chair of the W.I., knows the ladies of the Women’s Institute are not guilty. But she has a bigger problem. Toot Hansell has a dragonish secret, and she needs to keep the police well away from it. And she’d really rather not be arrested for murder. Again. Meanwhile, Beaufort Scales, High Lord of the Cloverly dragons and survivor of the days of knights and dragon hunts, knows even better than Alice that the modern dragon only survives as long as no one knows they exist. But he also knows friends don’t let friends face murder inquiries alone. Beaufort fully intends to Get Involved.
This investigation is about to take on dragonish proportions.
A cosy murder mystery set in a small English village, accompanied by quantities of tea, cake and dragons… This one sounds almost to be too good to be true. So I was delighted to discover that as well as being genuinely funny with a cast of enjoyable, believable characters – the dragons are also intriguingly different from the general run of scaly monsters we’re used to seeing in our fiction. I will definitely be reading more of this series. 9/10

The Shattered Skies – Book 2 of The Cruel Stars trilogy by John Birmingham
The Sturm, a group of “species purists” intent on destroying any human with genetic or cybernetic enhancements, returned from the far reaches of Dark Space to strike a devastating blow against humanity. Though their victory seemed inevitable, a small group of reluctant heroes managed to beat back the invading force. Now left with the remains of a crippled civilization, they must work together to rebuild–and to stand guard, in case those weren’t the only enemies hiding in the dark…


This Netgalley arc is the second book in this military space opera adventure. Once again our plucky group of misfits are faced with dealing with a lethal and committed enemy. Review to follow.


Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m very 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 NETGALLEY arc The Untold Story – Book 8 of The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheUntoldStorybookreview

Standard

I have been a huge fan of this series – see my reviews of The Invisible Library, The Masked City, The Secret Chapter, The Dark Archive and my mini-review of The Lost Plot. So I jumped at the chance to read this latest and last episode in Irene’s adventurous journey.

BLURB: Irene is trying to learn the truth about Alberich-and the possibility that he’s her father. But when the Library orders her to kill him, and then Alberich himself offers to sign a truce, she has to discover why he originally betrayed the Library.

With her allies endangered and her strongest loyalties under threat, she’ll have to trace his past across multiple worlds and into the depths of mythology and folklore, to find the truth at the heart of the Library, and why the Library was first created.

REVIEW: Not only does this story have to deliver yet another interesting and twisty plot featuring Irene and her comrades in her ongoing task to carry out the Library’s wishes – it also has to successfully wrap up this series. Irene has intrigued me, as being admirably self possessed. And throughout all her entanglements with both fae and dragons, she has kept her head and dealt with life-threatening emergencies with a capable coolness. This sets her apart from those heroines, who flap around in a soup of self doubt and end up backing into situations they’re not prepared for.

However, the previous adventure in The Dark Archive finally punctured her confidence, as she was told a shocking fact that has her questioning all her core beliefs. This is the book where she has to deal with the fallout. So Irene sets out on an adventure, with the support of Kai, Vale and Catherine to discover the truth of what is going on. And yes – it’s a somewhat far-fetched story, but Cogman tells it with skill and conviction and I’m quite happy to suspend my disbelief. Partly because in amongst all the adventures and unexpected discoveries, Cogman looks at the human drive to tell stories and how it can affect the way the the world is formed. As I have always been fascinated by the way some small children start weaving imaginative narratives almost before they are able to talk, this theme really chimed with me.

Even more importantly, Cogman brings this series to a successful close. I was happy with the future stretching before Irene and Kai, which doesn’t prevent further adventures, if Cogman wants to revisit the Library again at some stage. Indeed, I hope she does. I’ve loved this series and I’ll particularly miss dashing between worlds alongside Irene, while she sorts out book-related problems. Or mediating between the Fae and dragons. In the meantime, I can always reread this delightful portal fantasy series and if you haven’t yet had the pleasure – it comes highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The Untold Story from Netgalley via the publishers, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc A Spell of Rowans by Byrd Nash #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #ASpellofRowansbookreview

Standard

I saw this one on Netgalley and liked the look of the cover and it didn’t hurt that I’d also thoroughly enjoyed Nash’s romantic retelling of Cinderella. So would this fantasy offering set in the small town of Grimsby have the same fairytale vibe?

BLURB – truncated: As children Mother twisted our magic as part of her games.

My talent for reading other people’s feelings, my sister who could charm men, and my brother who knows with a touch the history of any object.

But when I returned to Grimsby to settle the estate, the police hauled in my autistic brother for questioning. And that hometown boy I dumped way back after high school? He’s in Grimsby and thinks he knows the truth about me.

REVIEW: As you might have gathered from the blurb, this one is told in first person viewpoint by Vic, the middle of the three siblings. And as for their mother, she has to be one of the nastiest villains I’ve encountered for a while. It’s heinous enough when baddies do horrible things to relative strangers – but evil is taken to a whole new level when it’s perpetrated against their own children.

So be warned – there is physical and emotional child abuse in this story, which could have turned this one into a really dark story. But despite all three siblings having been damaged by their mother’s treatment, and without in any way diminishing what happened to them – Nash manages to avoid this becoming overwhelmingly bleak. Indeed, there are moments of farce and humour as Pip, Vic and Liam try to untangle the trail of mayhem that follows their mother’s death. They are well equipped to discover who has done what to whom, given their specific talents.

But I also liked how these so-called gifts are also far more of a hindrance in modern life – particularly poor Vic, whose ability to read people’s feelings means that her love life in non-existent. Just imagine a first date, when you immediately know what your prospective partner is thinking… And Pip’s talent for charming men doesn’t necessarily mean that her choices are ideal, either. Nash’s smart, witty writing quickly turns this paranormal whodunit into something more memorably special than your usual urban fantasy. The characters are all layered and complex, the setting utterly convincing and the writing sufficiently edgy that I wasn’t convinced that the very appealing protagonists were going to prevail.

I read far long than I should have to discover what happens, as the plot twists kept coming, bodies started piling up and exactly what the Rowan’s horrible mother was actually up to gradually becomes clear. I also really enjoyed how Nash handled the denouement and wrapped up the story. All in all, I’m congratulating myself on having discovered yet another talented writer and highly recommend this one to fans of contemporary, paranormal crime. While I obtained an arc of A Spell of Rowans from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc A Marvellous Light – Book 1 of the Last Binding series by Freya Marske #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AMarvellousLightbookreview

Standard

I loved the look of this cover – and the fact it was a historical fantasy was a further inducement. So I was very pleased when I was approved for the arc.

BLURB – truncated: Robin Blyth has more than enough bother in his life. He’s struggling to be a good older brother, a responsible employer, and the harried baronet of a seat gutted by his late parents’ excesses. When an administrative mistake sees him named the civil service liaison to a hidden magical society, he discovers what’s been operating beneath the unextraordinary reality he’s always known.

Now Robin must contend with the beauty and danger of magic, an excruciating deadly curse, and the alarming visions of the future that come with it—not to mention Edwin Courcey, his cold and prickly counterpart in the magical bureaucracy, who clearly wishes Robin were anyone and anywhere else…

REVIEW: I’ve cut short the very chatty blurb and my advice is not to read it before tucking into this one. Marske is a talented writer who immediately pulled me into the story right from the beginning with that shocking Prologue – and her assured characterisation of Robin, whose attitude and outlook immediately convinced me that he belongs in this particular era.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the magic. Marske effectively sets up the world where magic is largely hidden by those without any talent. And while her depiction of close-knit magical families who are highly protective of their bloodlines is a familiar device, she manages to weave it within the rigid class system of the time very effectively. There are some delightful touches of humour, particularly when Robin is visiting Edwin’s family home for the first time, where Marske’s writing is vividly sharp and funny. It would have been wonderful if that level of humour continued throughout, but as the stakes kept on getting higher, I wasn’t surprised that the tone became grimmer.

I thought the growing feelings between the two men was beautifully handled. It would have been all too easy to have lost pace and tension with the conflict powering the narrative by focusing on the relationship, which is a pitfall that Marske avoids. Indeed, until about two-thirds of the way into this book, I was rapt as the pages turned themselves – and convinced I was reading another 10/10. And then we hit the first sex scene. I was completely unprepared for the very graphic descriptions of the same-sex encounter, which went on for pages and pages. By the end of it I was a bit fed up.

These days, I’m not particularly interested in books with heavy sexual content – not that I think there’s anything wrong with them. But I’m not at a stage of my life where I find them enjoyable or diverting, so I generally avoid those types of reads. Most of the time, it’s easy – there’s a cover featuring a scantily dressed protagonist pouting in a perfume ad pose. Or the blurb includes words such as steamy, or erotic. I went back to check whether I’d missed those hints – and I hadn’t, because they weren’t there. There’s a thriving sub-genre of historical fantasy adventures with added romance where there isn’t a graphic anything. I know – I’ve been reading a fair number of them during the last year. And I assumed this was yet another of those. But this time around there are three extended, highly detailed sex scenes that I ended up flipping through.

It’s a testament to the quality of the writing that I didn’t DNF the book – but I was hooked on the magical adventure, invested in the characters and wanted to know how it would be resolved. Marske provided some nice twists that brought a satisfying conclusion to the mystery. However, I have knocked a couple of points off my initial score, because the graphic sexual content significantly dented my enjoyment of the overall story and I would have appreciated more warning in the blurb about their existence. While I obtained an arc of A Marvellous Light from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #6

Standard

This is my fortnightly update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 9 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Review.

Life has been very busy this last fortnight. The good news is that I’ve now recovered from the flu jab and am definitely feeling a lot better. However, on the same day both our washing machine and hairdryer died. This is a major problem as Himself immediately changes out of his uniform and puts it straight into the washing machine as soon as he comes home from work, to cut down the risk of infection. We were able to order one online that arrived two days after our defunct washing machine joined the great laundry in the sky. And now we’ve found the express programme, I’m a lot happier with it. But I wasn’t pleased when the wretched thing took over TWO HOURS to deal with a load of delicates on a cold-water wash.

As for the hair dryer, I went with Himself to get a new one at the local Tesco’s. It was the first time I’ve been inside a supermarket for months – and when Himself went off on a hair dryer hunt, I froze. Suddenly terrified by the onslaught of lights… noises… complete sensory overload. And then I was shaking with fury. I’ve battled so damn hard to get to this stage – how dare Long Covid take away my confidence to go wherever I need to! I managed to haul myself together, but I will confess to having a meltdown once we got home. Himself, as ever, was endlessly kind and patient and suggested that we get out of the house more often to do things other than attend medical appointments. Which seems like a solid plan. Although the reality is a bit more challenging…

On Monday, I had a hospital appointment for an ultrasound scan of my thyroid. And given my supermarket experience the day before – I was very focused on getting there and back without being overwhelmed. I wasn’t thinking at all about what they’d find on the scan – so I was rather blindsided to be told that I’ve nodules on my thyroid, one of which is pressing on my windpipe. The specialist is reasonably confident they are all benign and have been there a while. What has changed, courtesy of covid, is that my thyroid is quite swollen, which is why I’m now feeling the pressure in my throat. He was also concerned that one of my lymph glands is not just swollen but also misshapen, but I’m not surprised, given that it’s on the side where my ear is still constantly draining. He wants to see me in three months to monitor the situation and I need to discuss further options with my GP.

On Tuesday I was back at our local surgery for a chat about my blood pressure. The nurse was very reassuring that while my readings were a bit on the high side, they weren’t too bad given that I’m struggling with Long Covid which will be stressing my system anyway. I’m not keen for my BP medication to be increased, as the last time they did so I quickly felt very unwell. Right now, that isn’t a complication that I need. She also mentioned that I needed to make an appointment for another blood test, which I did. And then on Wednesday, I received a text from the surgery to say they want me to make another appointment to talk about my BP results with my GP. It seems like I’ve a bunch of outings ahead of me that will be allll about my health, given that I’ve also got to make an appointment tomorrow for a booster covid jab.

And on Wednesday, on the way back from seeing the reflexologist, we were involved in a minor accident. A lady parked on the left swung out as we were approaching a T-junction and the corner of her bumper scraped down my passenger door, leaving traces of red paint and several dents. Fortunately it all happened at very low speed and no one was hurt. But it’s a hassle we don’t need right now. And it didn’t exactly help my ongoing anxiety about going out and about…

This week, it was my eldest grandson’s birthday – I cannot believe he’s now turned 17, and today it’s my mother’s birthday. Right now, I’m not in a position to see either of them. But I’ve been thinking of them a lot. It’s months since I’ve seen Frank and the last time I saw Mum was on Mothering Sunday back in 2020. That’s one of the hardest things about this situation – it’s kept families apart at a time when we could all do with a hug from those we love.

In the meantime, I am focusing on changing my sleep patterns, continuing with my activity journal, meditations and taking supplements. It’s all low key and repetitive – but if it helps me stay well enough to avoid another major relapse, then that’s what I’ll do.

This week I’ve read:-
The Alchemical Detective – Book 1 of the Riga Hayworth series by Kristen Weiss
Her gargoyle’s got an attitude. Her magic’s on the blink. Alchemy might be the cure… if Riga can survive long enough to puzzle out its mysteries.

Someone’s killing psychics in bucolic Lake Tahoe, and the police think Riga may be connected to the crimes. They could be right. Riga recognizes the sinister hand of a long-dead enemy in the crime scene. Juggling demons, daimons, and a devilish casino owner, can this metaphysical detective catch a killer before she becomes the next target?
I thoroughly enjoyed this twisty, urban fantasy whodunit. Riga is an experienced practitioner who has recently lost her magic, which gives the story an interesting dynamic – and I loved the French gargoyle. I’ll definitely be reading more about Riga’s adventures. 9/10

Dance of Hearts: A Cinderella Regency Romance Retelling by Byrd Nash
In Regency England, 1816, it is not fashionable to display fairy blood.

Melinda Wychwood managed to stay at her family home after her father’s death by working as her cousin’s unpaid housekeeper. But when a childhood friend returns, playing a game of deception, will she be satisfied acting as the dowdy chaperone? Or will her wild fairy heritage and a magical dress finally win her true happiness?

A Cinderella retelling as a historical romance with a touch of fairytale magic and a happily ever after ending.
I’d seen a book on Netgalley by this author and wanted to check out the writing, so downloaded this KU novella. And it’s exactly what it says on the cover – which is often a strength of indie authors. It is also well written and enjoyably paced, and was a welcome break from the gory intensity of the following book. 8/10

Firesky – Book 2 of The Chronicles of Stratus by Mark de Jager
Relentless. Unstoppable. Dragon.
Desire burns in Stratus’ soul, powerful like an inferno. With his memory returning, he finally knows who—and what—he is. His is a dragon, brought low by the hand of a dark magician known as the Worm King, separated from his true love, tortured for centuries and now trapped inside the body of a human.

But with the memories of his old life comes a return of his true magic, and with it, his true form is slowly returning. And Stratus wants revenge. Bloody and relentless, he slaughters his way through hordes of the undead to reach his archenemy, fighting not only for his own justice but for the whole of humanity…
This is definitely on the darker end of epic fantasy with death magic and piles of bodies. But the characterisation of a cornered dragon, who is increasingly out of options in a hostile world, is spot on. Review to follow. 8/10

Magical Midway Paranormal Cozy Mysteries Box Set – Book 4 – Go For the Juggler by Leanne Leeds

A jarring homecoming.
An uncertain fate.
To save everyone, one witch must perform the juggling act of a lifetime

When Charlotte returns home with Gunther, Devana, and Ethel Elkins in tow, she doesn’t think her life can get any more complicated. But when one of her parents’ Animal Shelter volunteers turns up dead, her control begins to slip as her old human life and her new paranormal life collide.

While racing to come up with a plan to defeat the Witches’ Council, Charlotte must defend her family against an intrusive police investigation that risks exposing their true nature to the human world—an act which will condemn them all.
When I saw this Box Set on KU, I immediately snapped it up and have been spacing out this delightful magical circus series of murder mysteries amongst other books. There is a strong, overarching threat running through the series that works particularly well reading them close together. Peopled with a wonderful cast of eccentric, strong characters, this entertaining and poignant instalment was yet another reason why Leanne Leeds has become a solid favourite with me this year. 8/10

A Spell of Rowans by Byrd Nash
Raised by a narcissistic mother, the Rowan children’s magical talents were twisted to fit her needs. When Rachel dies, her children must confront the past to have a future.

Victoria, whose empathic talent knows everyone’s hidden feelings; Philippa, whose glamour can bewitch; and Liam, the brother who touches objects to reveal their secrets, all find themselves in danger.

When her autistic brother is arrested, Vic needs to discover the truth to set him free. A successful art restorer in the big city, Vic’s made a career of ignoring her past and hiding her strange powers. But with Rachel’s death, she must gamble away her secrets to face down forces determined to destroy her and her siblings. And that hometown boy she dumped way back? He’s in Grimsby, and knows the truth about her.
This is a gripping paranormal murder mystery where the family dynamic is at the heart of much unhappiness and lethal violence. It’s also very well done – and while it’s twisty and full of surprises, it isn’t too dark. I thoroughly enjoyed reading something so very different from the romance novella earlier in the week. Nash is clearly an accomplished and experienced author. Review to follow. 9/10

What the Lady’s Maid Knew – Book 1 of The Riftmagic Saga by E.E. Holmes
Imagine a London where magic is real… real, but feared. This is Eliza Braxton’s London, and she has always accepted her place in it gladly. As one of the Riftborn, her magic has relegated her to the servant class, where she dutifully serves as the lady’s maid in one of the most powerful households in the country. There, she uses her remarkable powers of persuasion to keep Elder Hallewell’s rebellious daughter in the path to an arranged match of power and prosperity. Eliza has never questioned her loyalty… until now.

Currents of discontent are roiling beneath the city’s surface, and Eliza’s comfortable existence is about to be caught up in the tide. A resistance is building, a resistance that covets Eliza’s talents above all else. But can Eliza betray everything she’s ever known for things she never dared to dream?
Think of the class struggle that emerged in the middle of the Industrial Revolution with a magical spin. It’s been done before, but I really enjoyed the below stairs perspective of this dystopian fantasy. A punchy, memorable read. Review to follow. 9/10

Reviews Published Since my Last Sunday Post:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Necropolis Empire: A Twilight Imperium novel – Book 2 of the Twilight Imperium series by Tim Pratt

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Array 2781 – Book 2 of the Draco Tell Dramis Tell series by Janet Edwards

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of World’s Edge – Book 2 of The Tethered Citadel series by David Hair

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The King of Koraha – Book 3 of the Archives of the Invisible Sword series by Maria V. Snyder

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Risen – Book 12 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m very 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 NETGALLEY arc World’s Edge – Book 2 of The Tethered Citadel series by David Hair #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #World’sEdgebookreview

Standard

Over the last few years, I’ve become a solid fan of Hair’s writing – see my reviews of the Olympus trilogy, Athena’s Champion, Oracle’s War and Sacred Bride which he co-wrote with Cath Mayo. I was also fortunate enough to be approved to read an arc of the first book in this adventure, Map’s Edgesee my review here.

BLURB: Chasing a dream of wealth and freedom, Raythe Vyre’s ragtag caravan of refugees from imperial oppression went off the map, into the frozen wastes of the north. What they found there was beyond all their expectations: Rath Argentium, the legendary city of the long-vanished Aldar, complete with its fabled floating citadel.

Even more unexpectedly, they encountered the Tangato, the remnants of the people who served the Aldar, who are shocked to learn that they’re not alone in the world – and hostile to Raythe’s interlopers. What awaits Raythe’s people in the haunted castle that floats above them, the lair of the last Aldar king? Everlasting wealth – or eternal damnation?

REVIEW: Firstly, if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the first book, Map’s Edge, I strongly advise that you do so before tucking into this one. The action picks up right where Map’s Edge left off and you’ll probably be floundering at the start. That said, if you did read the first book a while ago and can’t quite recall all the important details, Hair has thoughtfully provided a very useful ‘Story So Far’ which handily jogs the memory. However, I don’t recommend that you rely on it instead of reading the first book – you’ll lose far too much of the detail, nuances and sheer energy of this cracking fantasy adventure for that to be a remotely satisfactory substitute for the actual book.

Once again, we are plunged into the middle of the unfolding emergency as two cultures collide. One group is on the run from a powerful regime committed to stamping their own way of doing things onto the subjects of a recently defeated nation, while the other group is the remnant of a mighty magical people responsible for the environmental catastrophe that has overtaken the planet. Hair explores this fascinating dynamic through a number of vivid, well written characters whose adventures and experiences had me reading far later than I’d intended. And at a climactic part of the story, my stomach was churning as I kept turning the pages – which doesn’t happen all that often.

I loved the directions in which the story went – and while there are some villains in the story that I loved to hate, I could understand why they made the choices they did. It takes a storyteller with power and charisma to provide that depth of characterisation and clarity of vision within a narrative crammed with action. I’ve found myself thinking a lot about this one since I put it down – the powerful characters and the discovery of a lost civilisation has resonated with me. Very highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy full of memorable characters, a riveting setting and a twisting plot full of action. While I obtained an arc of World’s Edge from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Array 2781 – Book 2 of the Drago Tell Dramis series by Janet Edwards #BrainfluffNEWRELEASEreview #Array2781bookreview

Standard

I’m a huge fan of Janet Edward’s books – see my reviews of Earth Girl, Earth Star, Earth Flight, Earth and Air, Frontier and her short story collection Earth Prime which are all books set in her Earth Girl series, as well as Telepath, Defender, Hurricane and Borderline in the Hive Mind series, and Scavenger Alliance and Scavenger Blood in the Scavenger Exodus series, which is a spinoff prequel series set in the Earth Girl world. This series featuring disaster magnet Draco Tell Dramis is also set before the Earth Girl books in the same world – but only a few years before we get to meet young Jarra.

BLURB: Array 2781 is the second of three full-length novels set immediately after the short story ‘Hera 2781’.

Drago has now learned the secret that his Betan clan has been hiding for almost a decade. He’s currently alternating between moods of pitying his second cousin and fighter team leader, Jaxon, and wanting to strangle him.

They both have to put their feelings aside though, and concentrate on using lumbering solar array transport ships to help with the repairs of the five Earth solar arrays, because Earth is critically short of power. Fortunately, repairing solar arrays is perfectly routine work, so Drago definitely can’t get into trouble.

REVIEW: I’ve had the pleasure of reading both the short story ‘Hera 2781’ and Hestia 2781 see my review – which deal with events leading up to this book. And while I definitely recommend that you get hold of both of these books as they are stormingly good reads, if you did happen upon this one and decided to dive in without having read the previous books, I don’t think you’d flounder. Edwards does an excellent job of giving sufficient information without silting up the pace.

Picking up this one reminded me all over again just how much I enjoy Edwards’ bouncy, upbeat writing style. There is an energy and optimism in her work that is so often missing in sci fi writing, which often deals with the worst-case scenarios. That isn’t to say there aren’t disasters and action adventure within this book – they’re there, alright. But it is far more about the people who strive to do the best in difficult circumstances, rather than concentrating on those who are only out for themselves.

The main protagonist, Draco, could so easily have come across as a bit of a Gary Stu – he comes from a rich, well-connected family, can charm the stars out of their solar systems and is classically handsome. But without having him seem unduly victimised or whiny – Edwards also demonstrates that those traits can also be a major disadvantage. It’s cleverly done and a lot harder to achieve than Edwards makes it look. She is also adept at providing all sorts of details about the solar array that powers Earth in 2781, without any of it coming across as remotely boring. It reminds of when she took us on all those futuristic archaeological digs in Earth Girl, which had me rapt. As I read this one the pages turned themselves, until I was approaching the final chapter with dread as I didn’t want the adventure to end – which is always a sure sign I’m reading a well crafted story with charismatic characters, moments of humour and a cracking plot.

Very highly recommended for science fiction fans who appreciate science fiction that isn’t painted in shades of dread. I was provided with a review copy of Array 2781 by the author, which in no way has influenced my honest, unbiased opinion.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of ARC Given to Darkness – Book 2 of the Ikiri duology by Phil Williams #BrainfluffARCreview #GiventoDarknessbookreview

Standard

I enjoy Phil’s quirky writing – see my reviews of his Ordshaw series – Under Ordshaw, Blue Angel and The Violent Fae. So I was delighted to also tuck into the first book in this duology last year, Kept in Cages and when Phil contacted me and asked if I’d like a review copy of Given to Darkness, I was delighted.

BLURB: Ikiri demands blood. Whose will it be?

A malevolent force stirs from the heart of the Congo. One child can stop it – but everyone wants her dead. Reece Coburn’s gang have travelled half the world to protect Zipporah, only to find her in more danger than ever. Her violent father is missing, his murderous enemies are coming for them, and her brother’s power is growing stronger. Entire communities are being slaughtered, and it’s only getting worse.

They have to reach Ikiri before its corruption spreads. But there’s a long journey ahead, past ferocious killers and unnatural creatures – and very few people can be trusted along the way.
Can two criminal musicians, an unstable assassin and a compromised spy reach Ikiri alive? What will it cost them along the way?

REVIEW: I’m aware the cover and the blurb make this one sound really dark. And while I cannot deny that there is a lot of mayhem and death – there is also a madcap energy running through the book that means it isn’t an unduly bleak, depressing read. Partly, the lighter tone is down to the magnificently eccentric characters. Of course the classic trope of talented child with awesome powers is personified in Zip – but in this book, she is also shown to be more vulnerable. As her father disappears off, leaving her without a backward glance, it’s down to the American musicians, Leigh-Ann and Reece, to look after her. And then, there’s Katryzna, the Russian assassin – who is now trying to adapt within this group brought together while trying to fight a terrible evil.

Of course, coping with the monsters and constant danger facing them is a major part of the book. But for me, the highlight was watching the members of the group become closer as they end up trying to protect each other. The character forced to make the greatest change is former lone killer, Katryzna. Now aware that she needs to take into account the needs of the other team members, she often ends up having loud arguments with her conscience – a character named Rurik. The dynamic is often very funny as well as poignant, without tipping into caricature. It’s a fine line and Phil walks it well.

There is also the tragedy of what has happened to Zip’s shattered family, which looms over the book in a dark counterpoint, making this one hard to put down. As ever, the action scenes pop and the vivid depiction of the dark evil crawling through the African landscape as they get ever closer to Ikiri nicely winds up the tension. And the climactic denouement doesn’t disappoint. All in all, I really enjoyed this series – Williams’ accomplished writing spins a story full of light and dark, good and evil without ever trying to be moralistic. A memorable read that is highly recommended for fantasy readers looking for something different. The author provided me with a review copy, which in no way has compromised my honest opinion of Given To Darkness.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Quicksilver Court – Book 2 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheQuicksilverCourtbookreview

Standard

I love Caruso’s writing – see my reviews of her Sword and Fire series – The Tethered Mage, The Defiant Mage and The Unbound Empire. So last year, lockdown in June became less fraught when I got hold of the first book in this spinoff series – The Obsidian Tower. Would I enjoy The Quicksilver Court too?

BLURB: Ryxander, Warden of Gloamingard, has failed. Unsealed by her blood, the Door hidden within the black tower has opened. Now, for the first time since the age of the Graces, demons walk the world.

As tensions grow between nations, all eyes-and daggers are set on Morgrain, fallen under the Demon of Discord’s control. In an attempt to save her home from destruction, Ryx and the Rookery set out to find a powerful artifact. But powerful enemies are on the hunt and they’re closing in fast.

REVIEW: First things first – if you happen to pick up this offering without having read The Obsidian Tower, then put it back on the shelf and track down the first book. This one follows immediately on from the climactic ending, and you’ll struggle far too long trying to work who is doing what to who – and the plot doesn’t hang around.

I love this world. Caruso’s vivid depiction of this extraordinary place, where beauty is all too often lethal and people regularly die in horrible ways drew me in and held me entranced throughout. At 480 pages, it’s not a short book – but I tore through it as I was unable to put it down. I fell deeply in love with Ryx from the first time I encountered her and her heartbreakingly terrible magic – if she comes into contact with any living thing, it dies. Ways are found to halter her magical power, so that eventually she is able to touch plants, animals and people without harming them. But those long years when she couldn’t has left scars. At the end of The Obsidian Tower, I was left with some mighty big questions – and I’m delighted to say The Quicksilver Court answers them.

Ryx’s desperate gratitude that at last she has friends and allies who really care for her makes her wonderfully vulnerable, which works well in a character with such powerful magic. And the magical group she belongs to – the Rookery – all have complicated and desperate backstories that we learn about in amongst the plotting, politicking and mayhem that ensues. But… oh my goodness – I didn’t begin to guess the big plot twist that comes about three-quarters into the book. What a doozy! I was tempted to rush back to reread The Obsidian Tower and look for the clues and see what I’d missed. Though of course, I didn’t. But it literally changes the whole dynamic, ramping up the stakes and danger to the world – and of course, to Ryx. Caruso writes with power and commitment that makes all her main characters larger than life – particularly her antagonists. The demon, Nightmare, is really a satisfying villain I loved to hate.

This was one of the most intense, emotional reads of the year and I finished it with a sigh – because there is also a whopping big cliff-hanger right at the end. You may have gathered that I enjoyed this one – indeed, it’s made my Outstandings Reads of the Year list. Very highly recommended for those who like their fantasy swathed in mystery, vivid settings and charismatic characters possessed with murderous magic. While I obtained an arc of The Quicksilver Court from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Haunted Homecoming – Book 10 of the Southern Ghosts series by Angie Fox #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheHauntedHomecomingbookreview

Standard

I’ve done it again… I thoroughly enjoyed Angie Fox’s Monster M*A*S*H series – see my reviews of The Monster MASH, The Transylvania Twist and Werewolves of London. So during lockdown, I also tucked into the first couple of books in this engaging Southern Ghosts series and was delighted to find new release, The Haunted Homecoming, appear on Netgalley. What I hadn’t appreciated was that it was the tenth book! Would I be able to enjoy it anyway?

BLURB: Apple cider, bonfires, football, and—ghosts.

It’s homecoming weekend in Sugarland, Tennessee and ghost hunter Verity Long is tickled to see so many souls—living and dead—back in town to celebrate. But not all reunions are happy ones, and when Verity stumbles upon a dead body by the football field, it appears someone has already evened the score.

REVIEW: Despite having missed out books 3-9 in this delightfully warm-hearted, cosy murder mystery, I don’t think newcomers to this series would have any difficulty in crashing into this series, as Verity’s enjoyable first-person narration sweeps up the reader and draws them into Sugarland’s festivities. Right now, I particularly appreciate dollops of humour along with my urban fantasy shenanigans – and Fox provides just the right amount of snark and delightful moments of comedy. I particularly relished getting to know Verity’s mother, who returns to Sugarland for Homecoming Week, along with her husband. The tension between mother and daughter was both funny and, at times, poignant. Humour can often have a cruel edge – but Fox’s exuberant, upbeat writing style doesn’t go there.

For all the excitement and loving descriptions of lots of sugar-laden treats – I wouldn’t recommend this book if you’re trying to diet – Fox also has a sharp eye for small-town friction. We have a good spread of suspects with strong reasons for wanting Ashley to keep quiet. Although I was pleased to see that the perpetrator wasn’t someone I had initially suspected. All in all, this was a really enjoyable read and I look forward to going back and catching up with more of Verity’s adventures. While I obtained an arc of The Haunted Homecoming from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10