Category Archives: family relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Ashes of London – Book 1 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor

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I requested this one after being attracted by the eye-catching cover and reading the premise, which was very intriguing.

London, September 1666. The Great Fire rages through the city, consuming everything in its path. Even the impregnable cathedral of St. Paul’s is engulfed in flames and reduced to ruins. Among the crowds watching its destruction is James Marwood, son of a disgraced printer, and reluctant government informer. In the aftermath of the fire, a semi-mummified body is discovered in the ashes of St. Paul’s, in a tomb that should have been empty. The man’s body has been mutilated and his thumbs have been tied behind his back. Under orders from the government, Marwood is tasked with hunting down the killer across the devastated city. But at a time of dangerous internal dissent and the threat of foreign invasion, Marwood finds his investigation leads him into treacherous waters

So did this live up to my expectations? Oh yes, I thoroughly enjoyed it. As to be expected with a story that starts in the middle of the Great Fire of London, this one starts with a bang. James Marwood watches the destruction of St Pauls Cathedral, with a vivid description of the heat and violence as the fire ripped through the interior and then destroyed the quantities of stationery and books that was stored in the crypt, in the belief that they would be safe.

Taylor has clearly done his research – there is a wealth of historical detail here woven into the everyday lives of the people caught up in the drama and terror. I was interested to learn that the official version – that there was a surprisingly small loss of life, given the ferocity and speed of the flames – is contradicted in this book. As the fire storms across tenements at a speed faster than a man can run, there is a general acceptance that whole families and communities were immolated. The reason why there is no official recognition of this loss of life is simply that the destruction was so thorough, nothing is left of the poor souls caught up in the conflagration but ashes.

That said, most of the action takes place in the days, weeks and months after the fire. I really liked this. That single event has caused havoc in the capital, which is nicely reflected in the political turbulence that is still being played out after the Civil War. Once Charles II regains his throne, one of his missions is to track down the handful of people responsible for executing his father. The young protagonist is caught up in this business – as are a number of other people in the story, even though they were either children or not yet born when the execution occurred.

I am conscious that I have managed to make this book sound as if it is some sort of historical account of the aftermath of both the Civil War and the great Fire of London, when of course, it’s nothing of the sort – it is a murder mystery adventure. That said, after the initial drama, the pace necessarily slows down. We are not in an era of fast car chases, or fast anything for that matter. This mystery reflects the fact that most people walk everywhere and the majority of tasks are still done by hand. So this mystery spools out over a period of time, which gives the denouement an extra kick as it takes place among the shattered remains of St Paul’s Cathedral. There were a number of intriguing twists, with one in particular I certainly didn’t see coming. I am delighted that this is the start of a series featuring James Marwell and I shall certainly be getting hold of the next book. Recommended for fans of historical murder mysteries. While I obtained an arc of The Ashes of London from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Teaser Tuesday – 17th April, 2018

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

Still Me – Book 3 of the Me Before You series by Jojo Moyes

p. 174 The thought of being alone for a few days felt like a little oasis.
‘What would you like me to do while you’re gone?’ I asked.
‘Have some days off!’ she said, smiling. ‘You are my friend, Louisa! I think you must have a nice time while I am away. Oh, I am so excited to see my family. So excited!’ She clapped her hands. ‘Just to Poland! No stupid charity things to go to! I am so happy.’
I remembered how reluctant she had been to leave her husband even for a night when I had arrived. And pushed the thought away.

BLURB: Louisa Clark arrives in New York ready to start a new life, confident that she can embrace this new adventure and keep her relationship with Ambulance Sam alive across several thousand miles. She steps into the world of the superrich, working for Leonard Gopnik and his much younger second wife, Agnes. Lou is determined to get the most out of the experience and throws herself into her new job and New York life.

As she begins to mix in New York high society, Lou meets Joshua Ryan, a man who brings with him a whisper of her past.
Like a fair proportion of the planet, I’ve read the first two books in this series and was delighted when my lovely mother sent me this hardback edition as a pressie. I’m again thoroughly caught up in Lou’s adventures, enjoying this feisty, amusing protagonist and her take on life.

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 11th April, 2018

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40276268 – vintage old pocket watch and book

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 – Obscura – by Joe Hart

#adventure #science fiction #thriller #near future #psychological suspense

She’s felt it before…the fear of losing control. And it’s happening again.

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

I picked this one up because I like sci fi thrillers and crime – and I thought this premise looked intriguing. Again, I’ve cut the blurb in half – I thoroughly dislike the modern need to tell readers the first quarter of a book’s main plotpoints on the back cover – and I’m looking forward to tucking into this one very shortly.

Cover reveal – Dying for Space – shiny, new and more appealing!

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As you may know, I changed the covers for the first two books in the Sunblinded trilogy. Immediately, I noticed an improvement in my sales for Running Out of Space. However, as we sat down and looked at the last six months, cover maven, Mhairi and I realised that the new cover for Dying for Space had absolutely no impact. Not a single person felt drawn to buy it after the initial flurry died down after the book launch blog tour.

 

I wondered whether this one looked a bit ‘death mask’ and that was putting off potential readers, given the title is Dying for Space. Mhairi speculated that with the pink tint and her closed eyes, Lizzy looked as though she was… um… having a very nice time. And as I haven’t been targetting a readership interested in erotic fiction in space, Mhairi thought the possibility might be disuading readers from giving this one a go.

 

So she’s come up with this one, instead. It definitely still has the same branding as the first book, with the advantage that Lizzy is clearly alive if a tad pensive – and there is no possibility that this can mistaken for anything other than a space opera adventure featuring a heroine, whose action scenes take place outside the bedroom… This one is going live on Thursday, but I thought I’d share it with you all, first.

Do let me know what you think!

Running Out of Space is Free Today!

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No… you don’t have to go on a bread and water diet to afford the princely sum of 99 cents or 99p – you can keep your hard-earned cash AND acquire a bit of space opera goodness in your life, as Running Out of Space, Book 1 of the Sunblinded trilogy is free today.

 

The blurb…

Lizzy Wright has yearned to serve on the space merchant ship Shooting Star for as long as she can remember – until one rash act changes everything…

Lizzy and her friends weren’t looking for trouble – all they’d wanted was to prove that fertile English girls could handle themselves when on shore leave without being accompanied by a sour-faced chaperone and armed guard. Looking back, maybe taking a jaunt off-limits on Space Station Hawking wasn’t the best idea – but no one could have foreseen the outcome. Or that the consequences of that single expedition would change the lives of all four girls, as well as that of the stranger who stepped in to save them.

Now Lizzy has more excitement and danger than she can handle, while confronting lethal shipboard politics, kidnapping, betrayal. And murder.

The opening…

Yeah, I know – Basement Level on Space Station Hawking – what were we thinking? But penned up on punishment duty with only the prospect of one chaperoned shopping trip had driven us to it. Though the charms of Basement Level wore thin as soon as we set off from the lift. One light in four was working – and then only in Dim mode. The corridors were half the width of the upper levels; a big problem as I’ve seen sewage tanks more wholesome than those walls. You wouldn’t want to brush against them wearing anything other than shipwear throwaways, while keeping off the walls was harder than you’d think, because we were wading ankle-deep in… stuff.

Jessica punched my arm. “Must be homely for you, Lizzy. Floor looks like your cribicle after you done tidying.”

Alisha and Sonja started sniggering.

“’Cept the smell isn’t as vile as your boots,” I replied.

Our laughter bounced around the filthy corridor, easing the mood for a couple of minutes but did nothing about the putrid smell. We struggled on a bit longer, until a grimy woman scuttled past, forcing us far too close to the walls. She didn’t even look our way, let alone thank us for making sufficient room.

Sonja and Alisha stopped.

“Let’s turn round. Unblocking the heads is more fun than this.” Sonja wrinkled her nose at the empty tunnel ahead. “Even the natives got sense enough to be someplace else.”

 

Review of KINDLE Ebook Children of the Shaman – Book 1 of the Children of the Shaman series by Jessica Rydill

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This cool cover caught my eye a while ago, and as Rydill is also a Grimbold author, I added it to my Kindle. And there it stayed for far too long until I needed some fantasy in my life.

When their aunt is taken ill, thirteen-year old Annat and her brother are sent from their small coastal town to live with their unknown father. Like Annat, Yuda is a Shaman; a Wanderer with magical powers, able to enter other worlds. As Annat learns more about her powers, the children join their father on a remarkable train journey to the frozen north and find a land of mystery and intrigue, threatened by dark forces and beset by senseless murders that have halted construction of a new tunnel.

That’s as much as I’m prepared to share of the rather chatty blurb, which gives the impression that it is a children’s book, due to the young protagonist. However, to be honest, that isn’t how it read. It doesn’t even have a YA vibe. Young Annat is extremely precocious – and like many youngsters growing up in difficult places at difficult times – very observant of the adults around her. Thus we get a sharp-edged look at tangled, often painful adult relationships through the eyes of someone not yet fully able to understand the power and misery of doomed love affairs.

I really enjoyed this perspective. Annat’s unfolding relationship with her formally estranged father is extremely well handled and certainly rings true to someone who also had an absent father when growing up. I am also impressed at the way Rydill approaches the shifting dynamic between Annat and her older brother. Previously, when they were both living with her aunt, her brother is the special one as he is singled out for his academic cleverness. However, once they are tipped into the middle of this adventure with their charismatic, unstable and magically gifted father, who drags them along on a journey filled with physical hardship and constant danger – it is Annat’s growing powers and stoical toughness that gets the paternal approval, while he merely sighs over her brother’s timidity and clumsiness.

I’m aware I may have given the impression that this is all about relationships within a family dynamic – perhaps clustered around the kitchen table. In reality, it is nothing of the sort. This book is full of adventure, ranging from action surrounding a steam train to a castle stronghold controlled by a fanatical lord, intent on executing anyone who doesn’t share his beliefs. Once I opened it up, it was always difficult to put this one down again. And since I have finished reading it, I have found myself thinking about those cleverly nuanced characters and wondering how I would have coped in those circumstances.

The good news is that this is the first in a series and I won’t be leaving it too long before once more getting back in touch with Annat and her family. Highly recommended for fans of quality fantasy.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of INDIE Ebook The Green Man’s Heir by Juliet McKenna

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I’m a solid fan of this author’s work – see my review of The Hadrumal Crisis – and have always enjoyed the politically aware worldbuilding and sharp characterisation of her epic fantasy novels, all set in the same world. This one, however, is a complete break from her former body of work. This is, in effect, a very Brit take on the urban fantasy sub-genre, where the supernatural world interacts with the human version in trying to get to the bottom of a crime. But instead of grimy city streets, the setting is an English stately home and instead of the usual fare of vampires and werewolves, we have dryads, boggats and wyrms…

A hundred years ago, a man with a secret could travel a few hundred miles and give himself a new name and life story. No one would be any the wiser, as long as he didn’t give anyone a reason to start asking questions. These days, that’s not so easy, with everyone on social media, and CCTV on every street corner. So Daniel Mackmain keeps his head down and keeps himself to himself. But now a girl has been murdered and the Derbyshire police are taking a closer look at a loner who travels from place to place, picking up work as he goes. Worse, Dan realises the murder involves the hidden world he was born into. When no one else can see the truth, who will see justice done?

A modern fantasy rooted in the ancient myths and folklore of the British Isles.

And she has absolutely nailed it. This is a complete and utter joy. I loved the character of Daniel, part-dryad, who is desperate to meet up with others in his situation and when he finally tracks down someone who can help – it doesn’t end well… He is a sympathetic protagonist with a few chips on his shoulder – not surprising given his heritage and how it has caused him problems. He is tall, well-built and innately attracts women. While that might sound like dream attributes, in reality it has caused him a lot of problems with annoyed boyfriends and brought unwelcome attention from the police, when such incidents turn into brawls.

I love the setting of a country district – McKenna has got the social faultlines running through modern England spot on. While the beautiful setting, juxtaposed with the grim threat reaching back into history and now posing a possibility of creating havoc all over again, works beautifully. This one grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go until I put it down in the wee small hours, drained and slightly giddy.

The book hangover I’ve had since has been painful, because despite reading perfectly enjoyable, well written adventures, they haven’t been this world, with these characters. I want them back. I want more. And I’m hoping, fervently, that McKenna has plans to make this a series, because I’m already addicted.

Recommended for fans of urban fantasy and murder stories with a very cool paranormal twist.
10/10