Category Archives: family relationships

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 15th January, 20202 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – The Apollo Deception by Mitch Silver

#crime #thriller #whodunit

After China announce a space mission to place their own flag next to the one US astronauts planted during the Apollo 11 mission, few people bat an eyelid. Shortly after this statement Charlie Stephens, a 81-year-old former filmmaker, is murdered. The incident is made to look like an accident, but why? Going through his father’s effects, Gary Stephens – a director of beer and yogurt ads – discovers seven cans of old 35mm film. Dated before the landing, they’re identical to the footage NASA claims was shot by the Apollo 11 crew. The US flag is not and has never been in the Sea of Tranquillity, and only Tricky Dick and a handful of others knew it. Why was the real nature of the Apollo 11 mission kept hidden? And what measures will be taken to keep the secret buried?

Just to make it absolutely clear, I am NOT of the school that believes the Apollo Moon missions were some elaborate hoax – but I thought this looked like a really cool premise for a high-stakes thriller.

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Rules of Magic – prequel to Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman #Brainfluffbookreview #TheRulesofMagicbookreview

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I’ve heard so many good things about this series, so decided to treat myself to the Audible version of this Alice Hoffman book.

BLURB: For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man. Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk. From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

This is such a cool premise and I particularly loved the blurb. I started listening, all set to be blown away by the intensity of the situation, as this skilled, adept writer pulled me right into the middle of this appealing story. And it didn’t happen. Unfortunately, two aspects of Hoffman’s writing really caused me a problem. I am a tad allergic to reams of exposition, where the author sees fit to tell me her version of what is happening, rather than allowing the characters to define the circumstances and explain it through their eyes. The other dealbreaker for me is head hopping and this is also part of Hoffman’s style. In adult fiction, I find it both jarring and irritating as it invariably knocks me out of the story while I work out why I am listening to two viewpoints within the same scene.

Once I realised these traits would continue throughout the book, I had to decide whether my aggravation with the style would result in this book being a DNF – and it is a testament to Hoffman’s writing skill that this didn’t happen. As the excellent narration by Laurence Bouvard gradually pulled me further into the story, I found I wanted to know what happened to Vincent, Franny and Jet. While my enjoyment of the characters was compromised, I cannot fault the worldbuilding and sense of otherness Hoffman manages to evoke with her stylish prose. I particularly liked her continual referencing of the smells around her characters and how they changed depending on what was happening or about to happen – in fact, the richness and sensuality of the writing in general was a huge plus throughout.

The other strength of this interesting book was the narrative arc for each character. As I wasn’t particularly emotionally involved, there were occasions when listening, I wondered if I would ultimately regret my decision to continue with it. Right now, I am not in the mood to listen to an unfurling tragedy, wherein each of these protagonists was going to endure a life of constant loss and grief, and there were times when I thought that would be the case. However, while there are certainly a number of shocking and sad events that take place within the story, it is ultimately an uplifting book and I felt the ending was very well handled. Overall, I am glad I persevered. There is much to admire in this book – I just wish I could have loved it more.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Lady of the Ravens by Joanna Hickson #Brainfluffbookreview #LadyoftheRavensbookreview

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I was feeling in the mood for a historical adventure, when this one caught my eye with that very pretty cover. So I was delighted when I was approved…

BLURB: My baptismal name may be Giovanna but here in my mother’s adopted country I have become plain Joan; I am not pink-cheeked and golden-haired like the beauties they admire. I have olive skin and dark features – black brows over ebony eyes and hair the colour of a raven’s wing…

When Joan Vaux is sent to live in the shadow of the Tower of London, she must learn to navigate the treacherous waters of this new England under the Tudors. Like the ravens, Joan must use her eyes and her senses, if Henry and his new dynasty are to prosper and thrive.

I very quickly bonded with this intelligent, sparky young woman, whose unfashionable looks didn’t bother her all that much, as she had developed a horror of marriage and childbirth. Through her eyes, in first person viewpoint, we get a real sense of her life as an attendant of Elizabeth of York, betrothed to Henry VII, the first Tudor king after years of savage fighting during the Wars of the Roses that tore apart the kingdom. I’d studied this period of history, so knew a lot about the events Hickson covers in the book – but it was a real joy having such a ringside seat to this fascinating time. Through Joan’s eyes, we see Elizabeth’s life unfold as the Yorkist princess, having to put aside her grief for her lost brothers (the princes in the Tower) and her dead father, as it is her place to found a new dynasty.

Hickson’s thorough research builds up a vivid sense of daily life, where Joan is at the beck and call of her royal mistress, learning of events that shake the kingdom through the people at the centre of it all. I knew that childbirth was a major issue for women up until medical advances made it safer, but this book brought home to me the sheer terror of facing such an ordeal with no effective painkillers and a high death toll from the likes of breech births and secondary infections. There was also the heartbreak of losing babies and children, who also were carried off by diseases and infections in very high numbers.

I’m aware that I’ve made this book sound a rather dreary round of catastrophes and death – and it’s nothing of the sort. Joan is a bright, engaging character with plenty of spirit and is strangely drawn to the ravens who roost around The Tower. She is aware of her good fortune, has a loving relationship with her mother and her benefactor, the Lady Margaret who looked after her while her mother was busy at court. It was interesting to see that Tudor working women had the same strains on their personal lives that we experience in modern life.

I’ve noticed that Hickson has written a number of other books centred on this period and I’m going to see if I can get my hands on them. Her deft, lively writing style and detailed knowledge that gave the book such a strong period feel without compromising the pace or narrative arc meant that I found this one difficult to put down. Highly recommended for those who enjoy historical adventures set around the Tudor period. The ebook arc copy of Lady of the Ravens was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 8th January, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #Can’tWaitWednesday

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Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Bone Silence – Book 3 of the Revenger series by Alastair Reynolds

#science fiction #far future #gothic space opera #pirates #YA adventure

Two sisters ran away from home to join the crew of a spaceship. They took on pirates, faced down monsters and survived massacres . . . and now they’re in charge. Captaining a fearsome ship of their own, adventures are theirs for the taking. But Captain Bosa’s fearsome reputation still dogs their heels, and they’re about to discover that, out in space, no one forgives, and no one forgets . . .

I was so thrilled to be approved for this Netgalley arc and am rubbing my hands at the prospect of tucking into this one! I’ve loved the series so far – read my reviews of Revenger and Shadow Captain – and I’m hoping the final instalment will be brought to a triumphant conclusion.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton #Brainfluffbookreview #LadyHotspurbookreview

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It was the blurb that attracted me – a retelling of Shakespeare’s Henry IV sold this one. I studied the play at school and it sank into my soul. What I hadn’t realised is that this is the second book set in this world of Innis Lear as neither Goodreads or Amazon mention it. However, I think reading The Queens of Innis Lear would have helped enormously. So before picking this one up, go and track down the first book.

BLURB: Hal was once a knight, carefree and joyous, sworn to protect her future queen Banna Mora. But after a rebellion led by her own mother, Caleda, Hal is now the prince of Lionis, heir to the throne. The pressure of her crown and bloody memories of war plague her, as well as a need to shape her own destiny, no matter the cost. Lady Hotspur, known as the Wolf of Aremoria for her temper and warcraft, never expected to be more than a weapon. She certainly never expected to fall in love with the fiery Hal or be blindsided by an angry Queen’s promise to remake the whole world in her own image—a plan Hotspur knows will lead to tragedy. Banna Mora kept her life, but not her throne. Fleeing to Innis Lear to heal her heart and plot revenge, the stars and roots of Innis Lear will teach her that the only way to survive a burning world is to learn to breathe fire. These three women, together or apart, are the ones who have the power to bring the once-powerful Aremoria back to life—or destroy it forever.

Unusually, I’ve included the full blurb as it neatly sums up the dynamic of the plot about three young women who were once firm friends, as their relationships change into a more complex dynamic that has consequences not just for them, but for two kingdoms. This long book (600+ pages) is very ambitious, given it claims to be a retelling of one of the Shakespeare history plays. While there are echoes of that dynamic, I wouldn’t get too hung up on that thread, as there are also important differences that occur very quickly.

It took me a bit of time to really bond with the characters, but then I hadn’t appreciated that this was the second book and I recommend you read the first one before tackling Lady Hotspur. The title is actually misleading as the book equally deals with Prince Hal and Bana Mora just as much as Hotspur. It covers their joint and individual journeys extremely well. Gratton is an accomplished author who drew me into a world of complex magic and layered characterisation so that despite the heftiness of the read, I was held throughout. I was all set to give this one a ten, before I got to the final act and that crucial defining battle…

As I don’t want to lurch into Spoiler territory, you’ll have to bear with me if I’m a tad vague. But the trajectory of the book charts the relationships and competing claims, both personal and societal, upon three young women who already had high expectations thrust upon them. I felt Gratton did an outstanding job in making those genuinely gripping and very poignant – the relationship between Hotspur and Hal was particularly well done, I felt. But I was very dissatisfied with the manner in which the story was tied up. I think Gratton committed the unpardonable sin of raising reader expectations for one type of outcome, only to pull a switch that didn’t convince me at all. The conclusion was far too tidy for such a tortuous journey – by the end, I wasn’t even sure why they went to war at all, given the outcome.

The other issue I had was the role of women in the story. This magical tale is set in a late medieval setting when political marriages secured dynasties and land and Might is Right. Why we suddenly have a cadre of highborn, marriageable women, able to fight in battle alongside their male counterparts, is never fully explained. And I mind. It seems to me that you cannot sweep away all the impediments to women’s full equality within a story without addressing these obstacles, or factoring in a different dynamic that will give these women some tangible advantage in hand-to-hand fighting. Because their ability to prevail against fully armoured men due to their unique skill never convinced me. And I’m not prepared to go with the flow on this one – what sort of message does that give generations of us who watched our male work colleagues sail past us simply because of their genitalia? That we’re not strong enough? That we need magic? Or that just reading about a cosy world where it’s all just different is going to make me feel better? Systemic inequality of opportunity for women is far too widespread to be treated in such a flippant manner.

Furthermore, it’s supposed to be a retelling of a Shakespearean play. He might have been the greatest playwright that ever lived, but he was still a product of his time – so women were never found on the battlefield fighting alongside their men in his stories. If Gratton had wanted to change that aspect after specifically referencing Shakespeare in her worldbuilding, then she needed to spend at least some time and effort demonstrating what made it possible for these women to be able to learn the martial arts and take part in the bloodletting alongside the men. And she doesn’t.

The really aggravating aspect is that it wouldn’t have taken much to have turned this well-written, but slightly flawed effort into an outstanding read, as far as I’m concerned. And despite my real gripes with the book, I am still awarding it a solid eight. But it could have been a ten with just a little bit more thought… The ebook arc copy of Lady Hotspur was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

Sunday Post – 5th January, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

While it has been a lot less hectic, the fun hasn’t stopped. Last Sunday, I went for a spa evening with Sally – we didn’t talk about work, but relaxed in the sauna and the jacuzzi putting the world to rights. It was bliss. New Year’s Eve was lovely – just Himself and I spending it together, which is more special than it sounds, as he frequently has to work, or go to bed early because of his shift pattern. We had lunch together at Haskins on New Year’s Day and afterwards, I spotted a Kipling handbag on sale – irrestistible!  We had a lovely lazy afternoon, lolling on the sofa watching films together, making the most of Himself’s last day of his winter leave.

My sister-in-law drove up to see me the following day – her birthday. So we had a walk along beach and then I took her for lunch at Haskins, which serves a baked potato with roasted vegetables as a tasty veggie lunch, plus cake of course. I hadn’t seen her since our writing retreat in Bexhill, so it was a wonderful treat. Yesterday, I met up with my sister and caught up on her life since Christmas Day when we last saw each other. Inevitably we went shopping together – I came away with two long-sleeved tops and a new pair of trousers in the sales and she got a lovely blouse.

Today is the last day of my Christmas break and we’re taking down the Christmas decorations – a chore I hate, as the house always looks so dreary afterwards. But all good things come to an end and I’ve had the best Christmas in years.

Last week I read:

AUDIOBOOK The Last Olympian – Book 5 of the Percy Jackson and the Olympian series by Rick Riordan
All year the half-bloods have been preparing for battle against the Titans, knowing the odds of victory are grim. Kronos’s army is stronger than ever, and with every god and half-blood he recruits, the evil Titan’s power only grows. While the Olympians struggle to contain the rampaging monster Typhon, Kronos begins his advance on New York City, where Mount Olympus stands virtually unguarded. Now it’s up to Percy Jackson and an army of young demigods to stop the Lord of Time.

I’ve enjoyed listening to this entertaining children’s series and was pleased that this concluding adventure wrapped up the narrative really successfully, as well as providing a cracking battle full of action and tension. Review to follow.

 

Witch – Book 2 of the Doppleganger duology by Marie Brennan
When a witch is born, a doppelganger is created. For the witch to master her powers, the twin must be killed. Until now…

Created by the merging of witch and doppelganger, Mirei is a unique being. Her extraordinary magic makes her the most poweful witch alive—and a notorious social outcast. While Satomi, the leader of the witches’ ruling Primes, hails Mirei as a miracle, rival Primes proclaim that Mirei is an evil abomination… and that those who champion her must be destroyed.

This has proved to be a delightful duology – I loved the first book and wanted to find out what would happen next. This offering wasn’t a disappointment as my first ebook read of the decade. Review to follow.

 

AUDIOBOOK The Rules of Magic – prequel to Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
Find your magic

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man. Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

I was expecting to be blown away by this one and I wasn’t. Nonetheless, the worldbuilding and atmospheric writing kept me listening to the excellent narration, despite my other issues with the book. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Review of AUDIOBOOK How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury – Book 12 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

Friday Faceoff featuring The Wee Free Man – Book 1 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett

My 2019 Reading Year – the Statistics

My First Reads of the Decade – Welcome 2020!

My Outstanding Reads of 2019

Review of AUDIOBOOK To Say Nothing of the Dog – Book 2 of the Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis

Sunday Post 29th December 2019

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last few weeks over the Christmas break, in no particular order:

Gavin and Stacey: what that Christmas special cliffhanger ending means for future season https://www.stylist.co.uk/life/gavin-and-stacey-christmas-special-ending-spoilers-future-series-ruth-jones/339367?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=share&utm_campaign=share-buttons
And this one has been niggling at the back of my head since I watched it… I’m a HUGE fan and would LOVE more Gavin and Stacey goodness – but only if it is as marvellous and heartwarming and wonderful as the previous series. Please, please don’t mess it up…

10 Ways to Stay Healthy This Flu Season https://www.michellescrazybusylife.net/index.php/2020/01/03/2739/#.XhHkoPzgrb0 All very good advice, when we still have the coldest, dreariest part of winter still ahead of us…

Reading Challenges to Try in 2020 http://skolion.org/2019/10/06/reading-challenges-to-try-in-2020/ It’s that time of year again, when we all start thinking about the challenges we are going to set ourselves – and this article has some helpful suggestions.

My Personal “Yellow Brick Road” https://laurelrainsnow.wordpress.com/2019/12/22/my-personal-yellow-brick-road/ Laurel’s article highlighting mementoes that had significance for her had me wondering about the things that matter to me, too…

River to Skate Away On https://platformnumber4.com/2019/12/14/river-to-skate-away-on/ Becky’s recollections of childhood winters, complete with photos, brought back a former time.

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week.

Review of AUDIOBOOK How To Fight A Dragon’s Fury – Book 12 of How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell #Brainfluffbookreview #HowToFightaDragon’s Fury

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So here it is… the very last book in the series, which I started with Frankie way back in 2014. I started reading the books to him, then he wanted to continue listening to them on audio and it wasn’t until the beginning of last year that I was able to access his Audible account and join in the joys of audiobooks, so I could continue listening to this series.

BLURB: The Doomsday of Yule has arrived, and the future of dragonkind lies in the hands of one boy with nothing to show but everything to fight for. Hiccup’s quest is clear…but can he end the rebellion? Can he prove himself to be king? Can he save the dragons? The stakes have never been higher, as the very fate of the Viking world hangs in the balance!

Whatever else happens, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of this delightful, quirky series – don’t start here. It is the culmination of a twelve-book series packed with all sorts of adventures as a small boy, the heir to the Chief of the Hooligan Tribe, struggles to survive and overcome insanely difficult odds. And this current crisis he’s facing is the most insurmountable of the lot. He is fighting for the survival of humanity and/or the dragons as they are set to fight each other to extinction, although given the firepower the dragons are capable of, the outcome is a foregone conclusion… That’s the situation at the beginning of the book – Cowell is better than anyone else I know at providing overwhelming odds and then fantastic ways for her embattled protagonist to beat them. But this time around, I couldn’t see any way that Hiccup and Toothless would survive the end of this adventure unscathed – and I was wary, because people who matter can die in this series.

While I had enjoyed reading the books, the advantage of listening is that David Tennant also sings the songs – and especially in this book, the songs matter. They provide a strong emotional backdrop to the ongoing action, which was every bit as gripping and exciting – more so as I realised this was the last time I’d hear of Hiccup battling the impossible.

Cowell has written an epic. The overarching themes she covers provide morals and mottos that youngsters listening can use as life lessons. I’m aware that some reviewers became a bit exasperated by the way she emphasises these throughout, but I didn’t have a problem with them. Now in my 60s, it’s handy to remind myself that second best is often good enough and loyalty to those you love is important.

And… that ending. Oh my word. I was sitting in the kitchen and weeping as I heard the final epilogue. Perhaps, because I am now coming to a stage of my life when I, too, am starting to consider what I’ve done and whether it’s been good enough, the words particularly resounded with me. And now I’m sad that it’s over, but so very elated and joyful that I’ve had the chance to read and hear it. Very highly recommended. An outstanding series.
10/10

My Outstanding Reads of 2019 #Brainfluffbookblogger #2019OutstandingReads

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I have had another stormingly good reading year. The highlight being my immediate love affair with audiobooks, once I got hold of a Kindle Fire which could cope with the selection I’d already bought my dyslexic grandson to encourage him to keep reading. Needless to say, I’ve added to that list…

During 2019 I read 168 books and wrote 129 full reviews, with 26 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give a 10 – but something about these books has stayed with me and won’t let go, which is why they have made the cut. And none of this top ten rubbish – I can’t possibly whittle down my list any further.

 

Oracle’s War – Book 2 of The Olympus series by David Hair and Cath Mayo
I loved the layered characterisation of Odysseus and his complex relationships in this intelligent and politically aware retelling of events leading up to the Trojan War. This one has stayed in my memory and I’ve found myself often thinking about it. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones
I’d read this book before – but listening to the excellent narration by Jonathan Broadbent brought home the darker side of the story. It certainly isn’t a children’s read – as the exploitation of the magic kingdom takes some shocking turns, and while Wynne Jones doesn’t go into graphic detail, they are still there. Riveting and thought provoking. See my review.

 

Atlas Alone – Book 4 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman
This has been one of the outstanding science fiction series of the last few years for me and this latest slice in the adventure held me to the end. Dee’s driven, edgy character is so compelling – Newman writes these tricky protagonists with amazing skill. See my review.

 

Ascending – Book 1 of the Vardeshi Saga by Meg Pechenick
Alien first contact tales are a staple of science fiction, but rarely have they been covered with such skilled detail, featuring such a self-effacing protagonist as Avery. The second book is also an excellent read. See my review.

 

Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Wildest Horse Race by Lara Prior-Palmer
I picked up this true tale of adventure by accident – and I’m so pleased I did. The author opted to take part on a whim and even at the beginning, was clearly not really prepared for what followed. This fascinating account stayed with me throughout the year. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK Mythos: the Greek Myths retold, written and narrated by Stephen Fry
Listening to this offering while decorating the bathroom sweetened hours of tedious work as Fry’s smooth, chatty manner belied the scholarship and rigor that has gone into this retelling. See my review.

 

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
This is probably the most quirky, extraordinary read of this year’s selection. A series of letters between two protagonists on either side of a savage war – think Romeo and Juliet with knobs on – drives the narrative in this beautiful, desperate book. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK A Room Full of Bones – Book 4 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths
This offering took me completely by surprise. In fact, I’d felt rather fed up with Ruth’s struggles in the previous book – but this story took all the ingredients and ramped up the tension to an unexpectedly heart-rending degree that I still think about… See my review.

 

Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence by James Lovelock
The second non-fiction book in this list, I found Lovelock’s take on our future absolutely fascinating and unexpectedly uplifting. Given he is now over a hundred years old and has been working in a variety of scientific fields until very recently, his opinion is worth reading. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK The Empty Grave – Book 5 of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud
This was an unexpected treat. One of Frankie’s chosen series, I wasn’t prepared for the sheer quality of the characterisation and worldbuilding, although I should have been, after thoroughly enjoying the Bartimaeus Trilogy. This final book brought the outstanding series to a triumphant conclusion. It goes without saying that you MUST read the previous four books first. See my review.

 

Sweep of the Blade – Book 4 of the Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
I find this quirky science fiction/fantasy mash-up just goes on getting better and better. I really suffered a profound book hangover after I finished this one – and that doesn’t happen to me all that often. See my review.

 

Circe by Madeline Miller
I’m conscious there is rather a strong Greek myth theme running through this list – but that just goes to show how well-written these books are. And this one is a total joy. The protagonist isn’t pretty or charismatic, so finetunes her magical skills in an effort to prevail alongside sneering relations. And then it all goes wrong… Fabulous, layered characterisation of a powerful woman who has endured a shedload of suffering without it being bleak or self-pitying. See my mini-review.

 

Akin by Emma Donoghue
In these days of serial monogamy and blended families, this interesting, unsentimental book drills down into what – exactly – makes up family. Brilliantly executed and thought provoking. See my review.

 

Lent by Jo Walton
This author is one of the finest, most talented writers in the SFF genre today, so I was thrilled when this one came out. Settling in to read it, I was happily engrossed in 15th century Florence – until a THING happens that changes the whole dynamic. Brilliantly written and completely engrossing, if you were to force me to choose a single outstanding read this year – you’d be a cruel beast for doing so and I’d probably never speak to you again – it would be this one. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK How To Fight a Dragon’s Fury – Book 12 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
While I’d read a number of these books to the grandchildren, for one reason or another, I’d never reached the end, so when I realised we had the complete series on Audible, I started listening to the wonderful David Tennant’s narration. And then came the end… I was listening to this one with tears pouring down my face, unable to complete my chores. Epic fantasy of this calibre, written for reluctant primary school readers, is a rarity. Review to follow.

 

AUDIOBOOK To Say Nothing of the Dog – Book 2 of the Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis
This quirky, humorous homage to Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat is funny and completely engrossing – a thumping good listen. I loved it and though it isn’t quite as spectacular as her classic, Doomsday Book, that doesn’t prevent it making this list. See my review.

Have you read any of these offerings? What did you think of them? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these books! Wishing everyone a very happy, book-filled 2020…

Review of AUDIOBOOK To Say Nothing of the Dog – Book 2 of the Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis #Brainfluffbookreview #ToSayNothingoftheDogbookreview

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I always enjoy this author’s writing – see my review of Crosstalk and her masterful book, the first in this series, Doomsday Book. So when the Cap from Captain’s Quarters reviewed this book in glowing terms – I needed to track it down, and when I saw there was an audio version of it, I promptly bought it. I’m so glad I did…

BLURB: When too many jumps back to 1940 leave 21st century Oxford history student Ned Henry exhausted, a relaxing trip to Victorian England seems the perfect solution. But complexities like recalcitrant rowboats, missing cats, and love at first sight make Ned’s holiday anything but restful – to say nothing of the way hideous pieces of Victorian art can jeopardize the entire course of history.

This is a complete joy, perfectly narrated by Stephen Crossley. Poor Ned finds himself on a river trip that borrows a lot from Jerome K Jerome’s wonderful classic Three Men in a Boat – to the extent that Ned even has a fleeting meeting between the characters featured in the book and himself. Humour is highly subjective and I’m always a bit hesitant when the blurb blithely assures me I will find this book hilarious, as far too often I find it just annoying. But Willis’s lovely humour runs through this book in a rich vein without ever expecting it to prop up the story or be an adequate replacement for a decent plot – something far too many comedic books try to do. In fact, the plotting of this offering is one of its major strengths. Lady Sharples has tasked Ned to find a piece of artwork called The Bishop’s Bird Stump, which is supposed to have survived the WWII bombing of Coventry Cathedral. While boating up the Thames, Ned finds himself caught up in an entanglement caused by another historian who manages to save a cat and bring it forward in time – something not supposed to happen. Time travelling can be problematical as a plot device, but I really like the fact there are strict rules regarding what can and cannot happen in this version of time travel.

Events spiral out of control as there is one muddle and misunderstanding after another, all perfectly paced so that I didn’t get tired or fed up with any type of improbability. Apart from anything else, the characters are all the joy with their quirky eccentricity and sheer likeability. All in all, this is one of my favourite reads of the year and gave me some wonderful shafts of humour at a time when I really needed it. I love it when books do that.

Very highly recommended for fans of time travelling stories, or anyone with a fondness for Three Men in Boat.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of INDIE arc Borderline – Book 4 of the Hive Mind series by Janet Edwards #Brainfluffbookreview #Borderlinebookreview

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Janet Edwards, author of the successful Earth Girl series – see my reviews of Earth Girl, Earth Star and Earth Flight – is now one of my favourite science fiction authors. Her writing has a bounce and vividness that I thoroughly enjoy, while her young protagonists are invariably engaging and likeable. This intriguing crime-fighting series featuring Amber, who tracks down wrong-doers by reading their minds, is set in a far future where humans live in highly structured mega-cities underground. See my reviews of Telepath, Defender and Hurricane which are the previous books in the series. I was delighted when Edwards contacted me and asked if I’d like an arc copy of Borderline to read and review. This review is my honest opinion of the book and in no way affected by receipt of a copy by the author.

BLURB: Being a telepath means your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness.
Eighteen-year-old Amber is the youngest of the five telepaths who protect the hundred million citizens of one of the great hive cities of twenty-sixth century Earth. Her job is hunting down criminals before they commit their crimes, but this time she must face multiple challenges.

The blurb continues for another paragraph, but to be honest, I don’t think the extra information is necessary. Amber is now established as one of the foremost telepaths in this huge hive city, but also increasingly under pressure as one of the other telepaths now needs to take a prolonged leave of absence while requiring urgent medical treatment. Edwards is very adept at communicating the rules for her world, without holding up the pace or indulging in info-dumps. The first-person narration works well, as Amber is at the heart of the story and we learn about the stresses on her, as touching minds full of violence and misery leave aftershocks that can destabilise her if they aren’t dealt with.

There is a strong supporting cast of well developed characters who operate as part of Amber’s team and I also love the shifting dynamic and growing amount of information we learn about the other, rather shadowy telepaths. It’s refreshing to see the stable, happy relationship between Amber and her partner – YA reads are notorious for providing lots of angst around the romance thread, but Edwards doesn’t choose to go down that route. I tucked into this one and the pages flew by as I was pulled along by Amber’s bouncy narrative and the action-packed story that held me right until the final sentence. And there was a doozy of a surprise near the end which I certainly didn’t see coming – I love it when that happens!

This one is very highly recommended for fans of sci fi crime and future worlds. Though this book can be enjoyed as a standalone, my advice would be to read the first three books first as this series is too good to read out of sequence.
9/10