Category Archives: family relationships

Friday Faceoff – He who opens a school door closes a prison… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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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 subject this week featuring on any of our covers is SCHOOLS, so I’ve selected Year of the Griffin – Book 2 of the Derkholm series by Diana Wynne Jones.

 

This edition was produced by HarperCollins in September 2012. I really like the wonderful young griffin flying over the magical school in a scene that is full of drama and excitement. I also like the title font, which is elegant and eye-catching that gives a sense of this excellent, funny school story that deserves to be far better known than it is.

 

Published in January 2014 by HarperCollinsChildren’sBooks, this excellent cover leaves me a bit conflicted. I love that wonderful ‘magical’ acid green colour with those eye-catching black silhouettes and the fabulous curling fonts. BUT this is a children’s book – and I think this cover has a strong horror vibe, which is unfortunate as it’s nothing of the sort, being an entertaining school story with lots of humour. Otherwise, this one would have been my favourite.

 

This edition, published by Gollancz in 2001, is another strong cover. That griffin looks magnificent, with the landscaped stretched out below – but again, this cover suggests that this is epic fantasy, rather than a very funny children’s book.

 

Produced by Азбука in 2018, this Russian edition is my favourite. At long last – a well-designed cover that also is genre-appropriate. I love all the students gathered together in the upper part of the cover, while one of the defining scenes features below it. The font is also suitably quirky. While I’m not sure exactly what it says, I do love that tail emerging from the title font and the dear little mouse at the bottom.

 

This Japanese edition, published by Tokyo Sogensha in August 2003, is another strong contender, given it also features the main characters in the very grand school quadrangle. But I do like the artwork, particularly that of the characters – they have a strong sense of a Japanese influence. Which one is your favourite?

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Friday Faceoff – Better to fight and fall than to live without hope… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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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 subject this week featuring on any of our covers is a LONGBOAT, so I’ve selected Half the World – Book 2 of The Shattered Sea series by Joe Abercrombie.

 

This edition was produced by Del Rey in February 2015. I like the design – the huge wave rising out of the sea, with the breaking surf at the crest morphing into edged weapons. However, I don’t like the monochrome treatment – it looks rather drab and gives the impression that the book is a lot darker than it actually is. And other than that small flourish on the tail of the R, the title font is unforgivably boring.

 

Published in February 2015 by Harper Voyager, this cover makes my point. I think this one looks sooo much better than the bleak version above. We can fully appreciate the detailing of all those cool weapons, while the deep green water on the face of the wave gives a sense of the power of the sea, even without the plucky Viking boat fighting up it. And the title font is far more appropriately eye-catching – altogether a much better version. It never fails to surprise me how much changing colours can affect the whole feel and tone of a design. This is my favourite.

 

This edition, published by Harper Voyager in June 2015, is another strong offering. This time around we are on the longship, alongside the heroes as they negotiate a tricky strait. I love the prow of the boat, the back of the protagonist and the ominous sky, giving a sense of tension. The title font is both appropriate and eye-catching – I really like this one.

 

Produced by Arqueiro in January 2017, this Portuguese edition chooses to focus on the characters rather than the setting. While I think it is well executed and I very much approve of the clean, uncluttered look of the cover – and the fact they choose to let us know that it’s the second book in the series. However, I find the stern-faced, armed female protagonist rather generic.

 

This Romanian edition, published by Nemira in April 2016 is another attractive, well-crafted offering. However I think the scale is wrong. The longship is beautiful – that gold edging of the sail looks fabulous – but it’s too small and the grandeur of that epic landscape is simply lost. I’m itching to apply a zoom option to this cover, which has so much going for it… Which one is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Murder Served Cold – Book 6 of the Langham and Dupré Mystery series by Eric Brown #Brainfluffbookreview #MurderServedColdbookreview

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I’ve enjoyed this cosy mystery series that deliberately harks back to the golden era of this genre – see my review of Murder Takes a Turn.

November, 1956. Lord Elsmere, an old friend of Donald Langham’s literary agent, Charles Elder, is in a pickle – his favourite painting, a Gainsborough, has been stolen from under his nose. What’s more, there’s no evidence of a break-in. The family heirloom was recently re-insured for a hefty price, and Elsmere is struggling financially. Could he have staged the theft, or was it taken by one of the guests? Old Major Rutherford, evasive beauty Rebecca Miles, Dutch war hero Patrick Verlinden, Elsmere’s son Dudley Mariner and his statuesque sculpture fiancée, Esmeralda Bellamy, are all guests at the manor. But who would steal the painting, and why? Private investigators Langham and Ralph Ryland take on the case and soon uncover seething animosities, jealousy, secrets and deception, before events take a shocking turn…

And if this setup seems as comfortingly familiar as a late-night cup of cocoa, then you’re right. This is the classic country-house murder mystery chock-full of likely suspects, with Donald and Ralph slogging through the forest of clues and red herrings to try and make sense of the puzzle, before tracking down the perpetrator. I really enjoyed this one. The murder mystery was intriguing, linked as it was to the theft of the Gainsborough and I particularly liked the denouement as it connected directly with the historical period when this story was set.

Brown’s writing superpower is depicting setting – the landscape he evokes in a future version of Paris in his science fiction adventure Engineman is outstanding and has seeped into my inscape. So having a thoroughly satisfying cosy mystery set in such a strong backdrop, where the social and political issues are taken into account is a real bonus. I’ve found myself thinking about this one several times since I finished it – always a sign of a successful book – and I highly recommend Murder Served Cold to fans of well-written country house murder mysteries.
9/10

Review of INDIE Ebook Star Carrier – Book 3 of the Lost Colonies series by B.V. Larson #Brainfluffbookreview #StarCarrierbookreview

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I read the first book in this series, following the exploits of William Sparhawk in Battle Cruiser here for Sci Fi Month and I was hooked. In short order, I read Dreadnaught and now need to know what happens next…

The greatest warships ever constructed in known space rise up one by one, soon dominating our skies. They strike fear into the hearts of every citizen and rebel colonist alike. Captain William Sparhawk, the very man who convinced the secretive Council to build this terrifying fleet, now has doubts about the project. What is their exact mission? How could anyone have built these huge ships so quickly? And most puzzling of all, what’s happening out at the isolated laboratory complex on Phobos, Mars’ lop-sided moon?

I very much like William, which is important as this trilogy is told in first person viewpoint throughout through his point of view. Rather unbending and more than a bit socially awkward, William is partly cloned from his father’s genes, not that it means they get on – they don’t. And due to what happens during this event-filled foray, as William sets off on a mission he isn’t sure he’ll return from, he discovers the chilling reason why his father is so closed off.

There are plenty of ingredients vital to the success of a cracking series – a likeable protagonist with several character flaws that endear me to him; lots of action that has me turning the pages, providing plenty of excitement; sufficient worldbuilding that means I care about the stakes and situation putting the protagonist in peril and sufficient variety in the way in which our plucky character struggles so that it doesn’t become repetitive.

But what sets apart other series – including this one – is that as it progresses, situations and issues the character and reader thought were fact become something else. There are other layers underneath the apparent structure, which gives a completely different angle to what is actually going on. As a result, this is a series you really must read in the right order to get the very best out of it – and for my money, the best is very, very good.

I loved the dynamic that continued playing out at the end of Dreadnaught and continues on into this book that provides strong answers to all sorts of questions, such as – why is the political situation on Earth quite so stagnant? Why doesn’t the power structure morph and change into something else? Some of those answers are shocking.

I found it hard to put this one down as I was driven to discover how this plays out, hoping that the ending wouldn’t be a disappointment, after all the tension and adventure. I was enormously relieved – and sad – when Larson successfully tied up all the loose ends and brought the book and trilogy to a triumphant conclusion. Highly recommended.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Warriors – Book 3 of The Immortal Dealers by Sarah Fine #Brainfluffbookreview #TheWarriorsbookreview

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I’ve heard good things about Fine’s writing and hadn’t read anything by her, so when I saw this one on Netgalley, I immediately requested it. However, I hadn’t appreciated it was the third book in the series…

Ernestine “Ernie” Terwilliger never intended to live among the Immortal Dealers, much less to be party to an ongoing battle where the fate of humanity is in the draw of a card. And the stakes have gotten only higher now that a shady new Forger has been crowned. Virginia may be in charge of creating the chaos that makes the universe tick, but her assignments have been noble—each one in the aid of strangers. But when Ernie discovers Virginia’s true purpose, she realizes it’s going to take an entirely new kind of play to stop her.

That’s as much of the very chatty blurb I’m prepared to share, but I would add that if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading the previous two books in the series, The Serpent and The Guardian, I would advise you get hold of them first. I regularly plunge into the middle of a series, but starting with the third book in a trilogy is a tad extreme, even for me…

I really liked Ernie, who is a sympathetic protagonist with a lot of power, but at times completely out of her depth – which I liked. It can be difficult to depict a powerful heroine without making her so invulnerable that she isn’t really at any risk of dying or coming to serious harm. There is also a strong supporting cast with an interestingly detailed backstory, some of whom are on her side and some who aren’t. The magic system is an interesting one – as well as having an animal companion that can be animated from a tattoo, which enhances the dealer’s magic, each dealer possesses a deck of cards. Some are defensive, others aggressive and some assist the dealer to access dreams and visions, or heal serious injuries.

All this makes for an action-packed story with a lot of skirmishes. However, Fine nicely ramps up the stakes when dealers find that a situation they are involved in turns into something far worse. Ernie is convinced they have to work in concert to overthrow the menace threatening the world, but dealers are an ornery, individualistic lot. Some are very old – think of grumpy old people with lethal powers – and you’ll get a sense of her problems.

I liked the story arc very much, though if I have a niggle, it’s that I felt Ernie was too far ahead of the others when she felt there was something really wrong which meant I had a good idea where the story was going and wasn’t at all shocked by the reveal. It was shame, because if our heroine had been more willing to believe what she was being told, that surprise would have packed far more punch. However, it wasn’t a dealbreaker and I really enjoyed this action-packed fantasy adventure. Recommended for fans of urban fantasy.

The ebook arc copy of The Warrior was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

Review of INDIE Ebook Dreadnought – Book 2 of the Lost Colonies series by B.V. Larson #Brainfluffbookreview #Dreadnoughtbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this entertaining series, Battle Cruiser, and was keen to read the second book, hoping that it would be as good…

Captain William Sparhawk flies Earth’s single starship on a voyage of exploration. His crew of veteran spacers begins the mission with high hopes and the best of intentions, but the universe has other plans. Instead of space merchants and potential allies, they discover Earth’s impending doom. Sparhawk must decide whether to hunt down enemy scouts to keep Earth’s new starship a secret, or to head home to warn Star Guard of the danger. Either way, he’s ignited an interstellar war.

I really enjoy William Sparhawk’s first person narration of his amazing adventures – his rather stiff-necked approach in the first book has significantly loosened up during this book. He continues his command of Defiant and after his escapades in the first book, I did wonder if Larson could sustain the level of risk, along with the skin-of-his-teeth vibe and the bounciness and regular shafts of humour that run through the book. And the answer is – he can.

On this crucial mission, William is taking the Defiant on a historic voyage of discovery to colonies that were cut off over one hundred and fifty years ago. In the face of a lethal threat discovered out among the stars, Earth now desperately needs powerful allies to help from being invaded. Can William’s mission find those allies?
The catch is that William’s mission is also being overseen by political forces on Earth as they are unwilling to allow him free rein – and to his utter dismay, the person they have nominated to act as ambassador, outranking him on the diplomatic side of his mission, is his very elderly aunt, the Lady Grantholm.

This twist in the story meant that throughout this demanding voyage, William continually finds himself not only having to deal with a range of dangerous columnists, none of whom have any fond feelings towards Earth, but also his aunt, who regularly appears on the bridge at the most inconvenient moments. This nicely ups the stakes as well as providing some humour.

And the other source of amusement are William’s occasional romantic attachments. I thought they were hilarious, especially when he becomes entangled with crew members. Larson provides a nicely nuanced hero, playing on the typical lantern-jawed version we are all familiar with, yet also giving our brave protagonist, one or two wrinkles that the likes of Captain Picard doesn’t possess. That said, I’ve become very fond of William Sparhawk and I’m delighted to note that this is part of a trilogy – so there is more Sparhawk goodness to enjoy with Star Carrier. Recommended for fans of character-led military science fiction.
9/10

Review of PAPERBACK Nimbus – Book 3 of the Psi-Tech series by Jacey Bedford #Brainfluffbookreview #Nimbusbookreview

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This is the third book in the Psi-Tech series, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. See my review of Empire of Dust and Crossways.

In a galaxy where the super-powers are the megacorporations, and ambitious executives play fast and loose with ethics in order to secure resources, where can good people turn for help? The megacorps control the jump gates and trade routes. They use psi-techs, implant-enhanced operatives with psionic abilities, who are bound by unbreakable contracts.

But something alien is stirring in the depths of foldspace. Something bigger than the squabbles between megacorporations and independents. Foldspace visions are supposed to be a figment of the imagination. At least, that’s what they teach in flight school. Ben Benjamin knows it’s not true. Meeting a void dragon was bad enough, but now there’s the Nimbus to contend with. Are the two connected? Why do some ships transit the Folds safely and others disappear without a trace?

Space opera needs some kind of faster-than-light propulsion system to make it work – something that makes all those huge distances workable. Many fans will give authors a pass if they choose not to focus on that aspect – after all, how many air passengers actually know the engineering theory behind the jet engines that carry them around the world? But there are a group of writers in the genre who meet the problem of ftl travel head-on and create a world where the manner of travel is actually part of the story. I very much enjoyed this aspect of Bedford’s world. The existence of foldspace, where pilots navigate by their implant-enhanced visualisation of access points via jump gates, such as the one close to Space Station Crossways, makes vast distances and interstellar trading feasible.

The two main protagonists in this story – Cara and Ben, are once again confronting what happens in foldspace. Ben’s whole life has been shaped by this issue, as he was a young boy when his parents disappeared without a trace on a passenger liner – while his older brother vowed never to go into space and stayed dirtside as a farmer, Ben resolved to face down his fears and go into space. Perhaps there might even be a chance that he might discover what happened to his parents… However the steady stream of mysterious disappearances are sharply increasing to a point that the megacorps can no longer keep it quiet. While Ben is constantly plagued by terrible nightmares after his encounter with the Nimbus.

I very much enjoyed this final slice in Cara and Ben’s adventures. There is the usual action and adventure I’ve come to expect from Bedford, featuring her likeable, sympathetic protagonists, while I also appreciated the ongoing changes in the cast of characters. I particularly liked that people who have been through harrowing experiences go on struggling – no Teflon-coated heroes here. The denouement and climax satisfactorily wraps up not only this book, but also the whole series.

Highly recommended for fans of character-led space opera.
8/10

Review of PAPERBACK Satellite by Nick Lake #Brainfluffbookreview #Satellitebookreview

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This is another book I hauled last summer with my birthday money – and yes… I can’t lie, it was allll about that stunning cover.

He’s going to a place he’s never been before: home. Moon 2 is a space station that orbits approximately 250 miles above Earth. It travels 17,500 miles an hour, making one full orbit every ninety minutes. It’s also the only home that fifteen-year-old Leo and two other teens have ever known. Born and raised on Moon 2, Leo and the twins, Orion and Libra, are finally old enough and strong enough to endure the dangerous trip to Earth. They’ve been “parented” by teams of astronauts since birth and have run countless drills to ready themselves for every conceivable difficulty they might face on the flight.

That’s part of the blurb. But what is interesting is that if blurbs are supposed to be a taster for what is inside the book, then this back-book matter should be written in text-speak because Lake has taken the brave decision to write this near-future adventure in this format, complete with no capitals except for names. It took me a couple of pages to get comfortable with this format, but I’ve read a string of reviews from indignant readers who simply couldn’t cope. That’s a real shame, because they missed a cracking story as a result. And to be honest, I’m not sure this step was worth it, given it certainly posed an additional barrier to accessing the story.

Leo is a rather self-contained character, who is always an outsider – he’s bound to be given he is raised in a space station alongside a set of twins. When he sees his mother, which is infrequently, she never shows him any affection – not so much as a hug, let alone playing games and reading to him like Orion and Libra’s mother during her visits. At fifteen, Leo tells himself that he has become used to her attitude, while readying himself for his return to Earth. I loved his personality, which is important as this tale is told in first person viewpoint. Lake managed to denote his emotions, while we are also aware he doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve. Given the nature of his upbringing, he is wary of people and their motives, which stands him in good stead once he finds himself back on Earth.

Leo’s wonder at the beauty he encounters is wonderfully conveyed as he begins to acclimatise to gravity while living on his grandfather’s cattle ranch. But all too soon, his life there becomes disrupted. Earth is in trouble. Water and food are running out as global warming is drying up farmland and turning swathes of the landmass into desert. There are dangerous factions abroad who would like to get their hands on one of the famous space-born children…

As events stack up and the story turns a whole lot darker, I found it hard to put this one down. The scenario portrayed is chillingly plausible, which sharpened the sense of distress at the children’s plight. However, after carefully building up a realistic sense of the near-future, this adventure suddenly takes a sharp left-turn into a plotpoint more suited to Hollywood silliness. I wouldn’t have minded so much, but I could easily visualise an alternative scenario that wouldn’t have entailed all that nonsense and still given more or less the same ending.

So while I coped with the text-prose, I have marked this down from a five-star rating to a four-star novel, because I strongly felt that one final action scene at the end was entirely unnecessary and distracted from some of the hard ethical questions this thoughtful story raises. But don’t that discourage you from reading this one – it’s a gripping story with a hard-hitting message and left me with a lump in my throat, notwithstanding that final act.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Survivor in Death – Book 20 of the In Death series by R.D. Robb #Brainfluffbookreview #SurvivorinDeathbookreview

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I’ve tried one of these near-future murder mysteries written by the very successful Nora Roberts under her pen name J.D. Robb, but it didn’t really do it for me. I decided to give the series another go and this time asked Himself for one of the best books – and he recommended this one…

The only thing that kept young Nixie Swisher from suffering the same fate as her parents, brother, housekeeper, and young sleepover companion was the impulsive nine-year-old’s desire for an illicit orange fizzy at 2 a.m. Taking the bereft girl under her wing, Eve is determined to make sure the killers don’t get the chance to finish their lethal job. From the first, however, the investigation is baffling. The Swishers were a nice family, living on the Upper West Side in a house with an excellent security system. Ordinary almost to a fault, they seemed unlikely victims for this carefully planned and executed crime. Valuables at the scene were left untouched, there was no sign of vandalism — just the corpses of five people murdered in their sleep.

Firstly, don’t worry about crashing midway into this series. I didn’t need to break a sweat to figure out who was doing what to whom – and Robb provides plenty of information about Eve Dallas and her backstory, given this particular crime also resonates unpleasantly with her. I really liked Eve, who is a typical, gritty cop wedded to restoring some kind of order onto the street of 2059 New York. I also liked the fact that she is very happily married to bad-boy-turned-good Roarke – do be warned that this isn’t one to leave around for the younger teens to read as there are a couple of steamy sex scenes and the language is somewhat salty at times.

That said, while the home invasion is horrible, Robb is careful not to tip into gratuitous violence – or sentimentality. I was impressed that the little girl’s plight is also depicted with restraint and some understanding of how children cope with trauma.

There had to be some suspension of belief over the fact that Eve scoops the little mite up and takes her home – but Robb manages to just about bring it off, I think. In amongst the investigation to discover who perpetrated this terrible crime and why, there is a steady stream of cop humour which I found very welcome. This book had me hooked right to the end, also believing that Nixie would eventually find happiness again – which mattered. And I now understand why this series is a firm favourite with so many folks, Himself included…
9/10

Review of The Kingdom of Copper – Book 2 of the Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty #Brainfluffbookreview #TheKingdomofCopperbookreview

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I was delighted when I was approved to read this one – I have a real weakness for sand and sorcery adventures…

Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabadand quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there. Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of the battle that saw Dara slain at Prince Ali’s hand, Nahri must forge a new path for herself, without the protection of the guardian who stole her heart or the counsel of the prince she considered a friend. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her familyand one misstep will doom her tribe.

I hadn’t read the first book and I’m sorry about that – not because I was floundering at any stage – but because this one was such a thumping good read, I wish that I had started the adventure in the right place in order to get the maximum enjoyment from it. As it was, crashing into the series in the wrong place wasn’t a problem. Chakraborty not only ensured that any previous details necessary to make sense of the story were already included, there is also a very helpful glossary and cast of characters at the back, giving helpful details of the world and the complicated rivalries that run it.

I really liked Nahri, which was important. But what particularly impressed me in this sweeping story were the inclusion of the history of bloodshed and atrocities on both sides that powered everyone’s current mindset. It was a grimly realistic take on the politics and gave an explanation for the violence perpetrated, if not the justification.

I’m aware that I have given the impression that this is a gritty book full of anger and angst. While there is plenty of tension and plotting going on, there are also lovely descriptions of the world, and plenty of light and colour in amongst the excellent action scenes. I can now see what all the fuss was about regarding the first book, The City of Brass, which I will definitely be getting hold of and I look forward to also reading the final book, The Empire of Gold, in this excellent trilogy. Highly recommended for fans of sword and sorcery stories.

While I obtained an arc of The Kingdom of Copper from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10