Category Archives: fantasy

Sunday Post – 24th January, 2021 #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.

I was expecting another quiet week, but my daughter was suddenly unwell and needed us to step in and look after the younger two children on Friday morning. As we are part of her support bubble, we were able to do so. To add to the pressure, little Eliza had the previous day been diagnosed with asthma and needed to get to grips with the medication – she’s two… Suddenly I was talking about the birds in the garden… the sun going to bed… our chiming clock – which fascinates Eliza… Basically having a ringside seat as a small person grapples with learning about the world around her. It’s a joy and a privilege, though I do need to get fitter! My steps counter on my phone went from 437 steps on Thursday to over 6,500 on Friday and recorded 15 flights of stairs…

The pics this week are of a bitterly cold trip to the beach on early Saturday morning with little Eliza. Right now we have the eldest, Frank, staying for a couple of days as the younger two went home last night. I’m glad to say that my daughter is now feeling a lot better.

Mantivore Dreams, the first book in my Arcadian Chronicles trilogy, is now free for the rest of the day – just click on the link or the cover in the sidebar, if you’d like a copy. It is an adventure based on a colony planet featuring a teenager whose harsh life is softened by a pretend friend – an ancient alien who offers comfort when things get tough…

Last week I read:

By the Pact – Book 1 of the Pacts Arcane and Otherwise series by Joanna Maciejewska
When Kamira, a once high mage student turned arcanist, discovers an imprisoned demon in underground ruins, she is forced into a pact that grants her powerful magic, but also ties her to the very demon that once devastated the continent… and Veranesh wants his freedom.

With one friend by her side, Veelk, a mage killer bound on protecting her, Kamira will have to outwit the archmages, other demons, and possibly her own demonic benefactor to survive. Her chances are slim, but with Veelk’s ever-present sarcastic repartee, Kamira might just pull through.

Plots and schemes, power and means—sometimes the price for victory is choosing which friend will die, but when you only have one friend, the choice is… easy?
This is a packet of fun! I have a real weakness for good sand and sorcery tales so sniggering at the snark between Veelk and Kamira, while ferocious demons scheme and plot in the background was a wonderful treat. I’m now really looking forward to reading the next book Scars in Stone, which is due to be released later this year.

The Night Parade of 100 Demons – a novel in A Legend of the Five Rings World by Marie Brennan
A thrilling epic fantasy adventure in the astonishing realm of Legend of the Five Rings, as two rival clans join forces to investigate a lethal supernatural mystery

Chaos has broken out in the isolated Dragon Clan settlement of Seibo Mura. During the full moon, horrifying creatures rampage through the village, unleashing havoc and death. When the Dragon samurai Agasha no Isao Ryotora is sent to investigate, he faces even greater danger than expected. To save the village, he must confront his buried past – not to mention an unexpected Phoenix Clan visitor, Asako Sekken, who has his own secrets to hide. The quest to save Seibo Mura will take the two samurai into the depths of forgotten history and the shifting terrain of the Spirit Realms… and bring them face to face with an ancient, terrifying evil.
I hadn’t been aware that this riveting fantasy story in a Japanese setting was also in the world of a popular role play game Legend of the Five Rings until I sat down to write the review. And frankly, I’m only tossing that info-nugget at you as a matter of interest, because as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference. The book is one of the best I’ve read of the year so far, as Brennan weaves her usual magic. Review to follow.

Murder at the Ritz by Jim Eldridge
August 1940. On the streets of London, locals watch with growing concern as German fighter planes plague the city’s skyline. But inside the famous Ritz Hotel, the cream of society continues to enjoy all the glamour and comfort that money can buy during wartime – until an anonymous man is discovered with his throat slashed open.

Detective Chief Inspector Coburg is called in to investigate, no stranger himself to the haunts of the upper echelons of society, ably assisted by his trusty colleague, Sergeant Lampson. Yet they soon face a number of obstacles. With the crime committed in rooms in use by an exiled king and his retinue, there are those who fear diplomatic repercussions and would rather the case be forgotten. With mounting pressure from various Intelligence agencies, rival political factions and gang warfare brewing either side of the Thames, Coburg and Lampson must untangle a web of deception if they are to solve the case – and survive.
This was another highly enjoyable read. DCI Coburg is an engaging protagonist battling to do his job during one of the most difficult, stressful times in London’s history. I loved the confident evocation of WWII and the nicely twisty plotting. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of By the Pact – Book 1 of the Pacts Arcane and Otherwise series by Joanna Maciejewska

Friday Face-off featuring Bloodhype – Book 2 of the Pip and Flinx series by Alan Dean Foster

Covet the Covers featuring Robert A. Heinlein

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Black Sun – Book 1 of Between Earth and Sky series by Rebecca Roanhorse

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Murder at the Ritz by Jim Eldridge

Tuesday Treasures – 23

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Shadow in the Empire of Light by Jane Routley

TWO Fantasy Mini-Reviews: A Dragon of a Different Colour by Rachel Aaron and Of Dragons, Feasts and Murder by Aliette de Bodard

Sunday Post – 17th January 2021

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Mantivore Dreams is free today! https://mybook.to/MDJan21 The first book in my Arcadian Chronicles trilogy is free today on a giveaway that ends at midnight. Just click on the universal link above or the cover on the sidebar which will take you to your local Amazon store.

Happy Squirrel Appreciation Day https://bluebirdofbitterness.com/2021/01/21/happy-squirrel-appreciation-day-3/ This is more cartoon nonsense to bring a smile to your face…

Coumshingaun Lough https://inesemjphotography.com/2021/01/18/coumshingaun-lough/ Ireland is one of those places I’ve never been to that is on my bucket list. And these stunning pics, along with Inese’s chatty, informative prose only sharpens that wish…

Samantha by Zoe Sparkes https://soundcloud.com/zoe-ann-sparks/samantha And now for a treat for the ears. Tammy of Book’s Bones and Buffy mentioned her daughter’s new release – it’s beautiful… Swing by and just listen.

Wrap Up: 2020 Reading Statistics… https://ajsterkel.blogspot.com/2021/01/wrap-up-2020-reading-statistics.html?spref=tw As you probably know, I also produce a series of pie charts on my reading year – but AJ’s attention to detail is awesomely impressive!

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog. I hope you had a peaceful, healthy week – and do take care. x

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

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Don’t ever admit to being wrong. Trust me – there will be plenty of wretches lining up to blame you, anyway.

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of INDIE Ebook By the Pact – Book 1 of Pacts Arcane and Otherwise by Joanna Maciejewska #BrainfluffINDIEEbookreview #BythePactbookreview

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Joanna and I have been blogging and writing buddies for a frightening number of years and I have always enjoyed her blog, Sorcery, Swords and Snark, where her artistic talent and engaging personality shines through. She has been working on By the Pact for a while – and I was excited to hear that she was finally publishing it this January, so obviously scampered over to scoop up a copy.

BLURB: High mages lied: Veranesh, the demon who destroyed the continent is still alive. And it’s up to their former student to expose the truth—even if it means another Cataclysm.

When Kamira, a once high mage student turned arcanist, discovers an imprisoned demon in underground ruins, she is forced into a pact that grants her powerful magic, but also ties her to the very demon that once devastated the continent… and Veranesh wants his freedom.

With one friend by her side, Veelk, a mage killer bound on protecting her, Kamira will have to outwit the archmages, other demons, and possibly her own demonic benefactor to survive. Her chances are slim, but with Veelk’s ever-present sarcastic repartee, Kamira might just pull through.

Plots and schemes, power and means—sometimes the price for victory is choosing which friend will die, but when you only have one friend, the choice is… easy?

REVIEW: I’ll be honest, it can be tricky business when a fellow writer, blogger and friend produces their first book and I open it. Because… what if I don’t enjoy it all that much? Worse – what if the reason why I don’t enjoy it all that much is because the writing isn’t any good? It quickly became apparent that all those worries were entirely superfluous. I quickly bonded with prickly, wary Kamira as she copes with a highly dangerous situation in the opening scene. Then forgot I was reading a friend’s book and became immersed in the story.

This could so easily have been a rather grim, unrelenting tale of vengeance and bloody murder, as old scores are settled and the demons involved – being demons – aren’t forgiving, compassionate types. However, throughout this adventure we have the strong friendship between Kamira and Veelk that mostly runs on snark and teasing – I liked the fact that their relationship isn’t a romantic one, rather a brother/sister bond. Both are charismatic characters, with a varied, eventful backstory and both are capable at looking after each other. They are also good at handling trouble – just as well, really – because the pair of them are disaster magnets.

While the strong characterisation and relationship between the two main protagonists sets the tone, ensuring there is always the fun of their interchanges in amongst the battle scenes and magical mayhem, there is also the wider story. I particularly enjoyed the magic system in this world. It makes complete sense and accounts for the presence of demons, as well as providing the historical backdrop – with the inevitable winners and losers and giving Kamira a solid reason for walking away from the more reputable career that had once been lined up for her.

Any niggles? Well I was a bit taken aback, when I turned another page – only to find I’d reached the end of the book, because while the initial narrative arc was satisfactorily dealt with, there are a handful of other plotpoints that have been left dangling. However, I am reassured on learning that the next book in the series, Scars of Stone, is due out later in the year. Highly recommended for fans of sand and sorcery fantasy.
9/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Outstanding Reads of 2020 #Brainfluffbookblogger #2020OutstandingReads

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The wonderful books I’ve encountered during this horrible year have, at times, kept my head straight when other pressures have added an extra twist of awfulness due to the pandemic. I have encountered a number of talented authors I’d previously not had the pleasure of reading (I’m looking at you Mary Robinette Kowal, Elisabeth Bear, Marilyn Messik and T. Kingfisher) and managed to complete 11 series, while working my way through 66 other series. I’ll get more nerdy in my post about the stats relating to my 2020 reads, later in the week.

During 2020 I read 184 books and wrote 155 full reviews, with 23 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 them a 10 – but these books have stayed with me, which is why they made the cut. And let’s forget any top ten nonsense – whittling down my list to this paltry number was painful enough!

Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Despite reading this one back in January, I often found myself thinking about brave, clever Emily and what she underwent. That is the mark of a special book – when it won’t leave you alone. I think it’s one of Tchaikovsky’s best, and given the man’s towering talent, that’s saying something. See my review.

AUDIOBOOK Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear
Elizabeth Bear is another wonderful author I discovered this year – and the good news is that she has a pleasingly long backlist. This one was an utter joy to listen to – Haimey’s first-person narrative held me throughout, even though the pacing was somewhat leisurely at times. This book at 500+ pages has it all – vivid action scenes, nail-biting tension, and plenty of plot twists and shocking reveals. And of course a space cat – who could resist that? See my review.

You Let me In by Camilla Bruce
By rights, this shouldn’t have worked for me – I really don’t like books featuring an abused child. But the way Bruce posits this situation is masterfully done, as Cassie narrates her adventures with Pepperman, a grumpy and dangerous fae entity, who draws the small child into the world of the fae. This book has also stayed with me throughout the year. Read my review.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey
This is such a simple book with lots of pictures. The story of four different creatures, who come together to help each other. It could so easily have turned into a treacly, sentimental mess. But it doesn’t. My lovely sister-in-law gave me my copy and it has been beside me ever since. Read my review.

TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier
The opening sequence of this book immediately hooked me and wouldn’t let me go. I enjoy Neumeier’s writing, anyway. But this amazing world and the vividness of her characters still have me regularly thinking about them. In particular, the depiction of being ensorcelled was brilliantly portrayed – I’ve never seen it done better. Read my review.

AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys
This riveting world has left me yearning for more after reading the first book Winter Tide, which made my Outstanding Reads of 2017. So I was thrilled to discover this offering. Aphra is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents, friends and relations when confronted with a new danger. Once more I was pulled into a tense adventure where Lovecraftian monsters were only part of the threat. Read my review.

Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron
This is as much about the celebration of this quirky, enjoyable series, as much as it is about the climactic battle that wraps up the story. Peopled with shape-shifting dragons, a powerful ghost who assumes the shape of a cat and an enraged nature goddess, this urban fantasy reaches epic proportions, with all sorts of surprises and twists along the way. Review to follow.

The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey
I very much enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts, but I liked this even better. Koli is an endearing character with his youth and restless energy that gets him into far too much trouble within his village. This book is set in post-apocalyptic England, where even trees have become feral – but there are welcome shafts of light, too. Read my review.

AUDIOBOOK The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel
This whole series is a tour de force and I loved listening to this extraordinary conclusion to Cromwell’s life, as an embittered Henry VIII becomes ever more difficult to deal with – and Cromwell’s many enemies begin to circle. I wept at the end, which was wonderfully handled – and I’m still trying to work out how Mantel managed to keep me spellbound for so long, when I already knew the outcome before listening to the first chapter. Read my review.

Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
This was one of those books I picked up and couldn’t put down again. Messik’s writing is utterly addictive, as far as I’m concerned and Stella is now my new best friend. I finished this one far too fast and was miserable until I picked up the next one in the series. I think this was the worst book hangover I endured during the year. Review my review.

The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal
This is another of those wonderful authors I discovered this year – and this series just blew me away. I loved Elma York and her battles to gain recognition during the first two books in the series – but when this story introduced me to Nicole, who finds herself trying to track down a saboteur on the Moon, I not only loved every single minute of the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, afterwards. Read my review.

A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Martine Arkady
I tracked down this one, after hearing it compared to the great C.J. Cherryh’s immersive writing style. And I wasn’t disappointed. I loved watching poor Mahit, replacement ambassador to the enigmatic Teixcalaani empire, flounder as she tries to work out just how her predecessor died. This tense murder mystery played out in the far future kept me up far too late as I couldn’t put it down. Read my review.

AUDIOBOOK Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer
I have always enjoyed reading Children’s fiction, because the very best is far too good just to leave to the kids. And this gem certainly falls into that category. A children’s classic that was published in 1969, it is written with depth and sophistication about two schoolgirls who cris-cross into each other’s times. Until something happens to Charlotte… I loved this one. Set in 1918, the period is beautifully portrayed and the bittersweet ending has stayed with me. Read my review.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher
This is another of those books for children, which engrossed and delighted me. Mona is a baker’s apprentice with a small magical talent, who suddenly finds herself caught up in a murder. Events snowball entertainingly – and I found myself thoroughly enjoying Mona’s ingenious creations to try and stay ahead of the baddies. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths
I enjoy Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, so decided to try this latest series and absolutely loved it. There is a tongue-in-cheek Gothic vibe that I found very appealing. Though I have a shocking memory, the twists and turns of this enjoyable murder mystery have stayed with me. Read my review.

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
I was utterly beguiled by Vish when I first encountered him during the fifth book of the series, The Case of the Reincarnated Client earlier in the year and have been eking out the rest of the series ever since. Vish Puri is fond of calling himself the Indian Sherlock Holmes and his energetic attitude and passion for justice are very endearing – even if he does dismiss his clever, streetwise Mummy-Ji, who often takes a close interest in his cases. This book has an extra dimension and Hall is adept at dealing with hefty issues of the painful events around India’s partition in a respectful manner, without making it dreary. Read my review.

While I’d like to think that each one of these books offers some brain fodder, none of them are gloomy, downbeat reads as this year I needed to escape. And my favourite book of 2020? Probably Ancestor Nights, though I’m likely to claim it’s The Relentless Moon if you ask me the same question again tomorrow. And then there’s Relatively Strange, of course…

Sunday Post – 10th January, 2021 #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.

It’s been an unexpectedly busy week. On Tuesday we were supposed to be doing the handover of the grandsons, when my daughter got in touch to say that she was running a temperature and covered in a rash. So I said we’d keep the boys until she felt well enough and knew it wasn’t COVID. They stayed with us until Friday, which was an unexpected treat. We were able to take them for walks on the beach and play games, in between Frank’s online lessons. We even managed to play a hilarious game of Playdohionary (like Pictionary, but using Playdoh instead) and I taught Frank knockout whist. The pictures are from our walk on the beach last Thursday when the weather was glorious for the time of year, without a breath of wind…

On Saturday, I spent the morning working on my father-in-law’s memoirs – we worked on a document together using Shared Docs in OneDrive, which made the whole process so much easier. And then I caught up with writing some of my end of year blogs. As you may have gathered, not much writing of Trouble With Dwarves got done – but hopefully I can get back to work in the coming week.

Last week I read:

Black Sun – Book 1 of Between Earth and Sky series by Rebecca Roanhorse
A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun

In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.

Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.
This was a thoroughly entertaining epic fantasy that hit all the main tropes within the genre – with one stunning exception… it’s set in a civilisation based on pre-Columbian America. That gave it a verve and freshness that was very welcome. Review to follow.

Nikoles – Book 2 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier
For generations the Ugaro of the winter country have traded peacefully with the Lau of the summer lands. But now a fatal mistake has created bitterness and hatred on both sides of the river, threatening to destroy a peace that has become tenuous.

Nikoles Ianan realizes, too late, that he should have prevented his own people’s unforgivable trespass – he should at least have tried. Now it seems impossible for a single Lau soldier to do anything to prevent the escalating tragedy … until the most famous scepter-holder of the summer country arrives.
I loved TUYO, the first book in this series – see my review – which has made my Outstanding Reads of 2020 list. So I picked this one up with huge anticipation. While it didn’t quite hit the heights of the first book, it nonetheless proved to be a gripping read and a very welcome addition to this classy fantasy series. Review to follow.

DNF – The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell
As the age of the photograph dawns in Victorian Bath, silhouette artist Agnes is struggling to keep her business afloat. Still recovering from a serious illness herself, making enough money to support her elderly mother and her orphaned nephew Cedric has never been easy, but then one of her clients is murdered shortly after sitting for Agnes, and then another, and another… Why is the killer seemingly targeting her business?

Desperately seeking an answer, Agnes approaches Pearl, a child spirit medium lodging in Bath with her older half-sister and her ailing father, hoping that if Pearl can make contact with those who died, they might reveal who killed them.

But Agnes and Pearl quickly discover that instead they may have opened the door to something that they can never put back…
This is one that I couldn’t get through, despite being very well written and the plotting and characters are beautifully portrayed. But… I had somehow assumed that Agnes would be one of those blithe, crinolined heroines who is full of derring-do, and undaunted by anything. She isn’t – this is a whole lot darker and more sombre and I simply couldn’t cope with the more serious tone. So I’m featuring it as there is no criticism of the writing, just the wrong book at the wrong time…

My posts last week:

December 2020 Roundup: Reading, Writing and Blogging…

Friday Face-off featuring The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Bear Head – Book 2 of the Dogs of War series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring The Night Parade of 100 Demons – a Legend of the Five Rings novel by Marie Brennan

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Inherit the Shoes – a Jersey Girl Legal Mysery series by E.J. Copperman

Six Favourite Heroes from my 2020 Reading List

Sunday Post – 3rd January 2021

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

The Art of Recycling https://masonsmenagerie.wordpress.com/2021/01/07/the-art-of-recycling/ I loved the blend of art, poetry and practical tips in a post that manages not to be preachy about this issue…

Thursday Doors – the first of 2021 https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2021/01/07/thursday-doors-first-of-2021/ Regular visitors will know that I make a habit of featuring this quirky weekly post of Jean’s that shows her talent for the unusual and visually arresting…

Escapist Landscapes – Pt 1 https://cindyknoke.com/2020/12/12/escapist-landscapes-pt-1/ And if you are in the mood for more wonderful places to gaze at, then you’ve come to the right place…

Hoping for Snow https://platformnumber4.com/2020/12/18/hoping-for-snow/ I absolutely loved this article – Becky has a way of bringing the past alive…

THE CONFESSIONS TAG https://spaceandsorcery.wordpress.com/2021/01/05/the-confessions-tag/ We are all accustomed to sharing our reads in a variety of book blogging tags – but what about the books we didn’t read/passed over/plain disliked?

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog. I hope you had a peaceful, healthy week – and do take care. x

Six Favourite Heroes from my 2020 Reading List #Brainfluff6favouriteheroes

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas Cromwell from The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy by Hilary Mantel
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England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.

Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?
This fabulous series came to an end in 2020 with The Mirror and the Light and I felt I’d lost a friend. Yes, Cromwell is a bully… yes, he can be brutal, unyielding and confrontational. But he is also kind to animals and compassionate with women in an age where they are generally treated as lesser beings. I was also aware that this book didn’t just feature one complicated difficult man – but was in many ways a character study of Henry VIII, another complicated and difficult man… Mantel managed to do something extraordinary with this series and if I ever had a personality change and decided to start rereading books (I don’t) this would probably be the series I’d start with. To try to see how she did it… Read my review of The Mirror and the Light.

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

Ryo inGara from TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier
BLURB:
Raised a warrior in the harsh winter country, Ryo inGara has always been willing to die for his family and his tribe. When war erupts against the summer country, the prospect of death in battle seems imminent. But when his warleader leaves Ryo as a sacrifice — a tuyo — to die at the hands of their enemies, he faces a fate he never imagined.

Ryo’s captor, a lord of the summer country, may be an enemy . . . but far worse enemies are moving, with the current war nothing but the opening moves in a hidden game Ryo barely glimpses, a game in which all his people may be merely pawns. Suddenly Ryo finds his convictions overturned and his loyalties uncertain. Should he support the man who holds him prisoner, the only man who may be able to defeat their greater enemy? And even if he does, can he persuade his people to do the same?
Ryo captured my heart from the opening sequence when he is tied to a post and waiting to be killed – and wretched with guilt because he’d been angry with his brother for leaving him as a sacrifice. This book deserves to be far better known – it’s an amazing, immersive read and the bonus – I discovered the second book is now available when I looked up the blurb for this post😊. Read my review.

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

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

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

Sunday Post – 3rd January, 2021 #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.

A very Happy New Year to everyone! I’m conscious I’ve been AWOL over the Christmas break. We had planned to have a quiet Christmas with just Himself, my sister and me. But because of the introduction of the Tier system, my daughter and grandchildren were unable to spend the Christmas break with their other grandparents. And that meant we were buzzing around like blue-bottomed flies trying to organise a Christmas Day suitable for seven, with the youngest being two, instead of the low-key, relaxed affair we’d been expecting. We managed it and everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves, which is the important bit.

And we’ve also had the grandchildren to stay since then, this time around, it’s included little Eliza, who has never stayed overnight with us before. It is always full-on when there is a lively toddler in the house – but she is an absolute poppet, very even tempered and coped well without her mother.

Last week I read:

Doors of Sleep by Tim Pratt
Every time Zax Delatree falls asleep, he travels to a new reality. He has no control over his destination and never knows what he will see when he opens his eyes. Sometimes he wakes up in technological utopias, and other times in the bombed-out ruins of collapsed civilizations. All he has to live by are his wits and the small aides he has picked up along the way – technological advantages from techno-utopias, sedatives to escape dangerous worlds, and stimulants to extend his stay in pleasant ones.

Thankfully, Zax isn’t always alone. He can take people with him, if they’re unconscious in his arms when he falls asleep. But someone unwelcome is on his tail, and they are after something that Zax cannot spare – the blood running through his veins, the power to travel through worlds…
This multiverse adventure is great fun and while the narrative is fairly straightforward – what sets this apart is the sheer variety and originality of alll those worlds poor old Zax ends up visiting. Review to follow.

Shadow in the Empire of Light by Jane Routley
Shine’s life is usually dull: an orphan without magic in a family of powerful mages, she’s left to run the family estate with only an eccentric aunt and telepathic cat for company. But when the family descend on the house for the annual Fertility Festival, Shine is plunged into intrigue; stolen letters, a fugitive spy and family drama mix with an unexpected murder, and Shine is forced to decide both her loyalties and future…
I’d seen a number of critical reviews for this one – but it turned out to be a delightful surprise, despite a couple of rather steamy sex scenes. However, I loved the character, the worldbuilding and the plotting. Review to follow.

Spirited by Julie Cohen
Viola has an impossible talent. Searching for meaning in her grief, she uses her photography to feel closer to her late father, taking solace from the skills he taught her – and to keep her distance from her husband. But her pictures seem to capture things invisible to the eye. . .

Henriette is a celebrated spirit medium, carrying nothing but her secrets with her as she travels the country. When she meets Viola, a powerful connection is sparked between them – but Victorian society is no place for reckless women.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, invisible threads join Viola and Henriette to another woman who lives in secrecy, hiding her dangerous act of rebellion in plain sight.

Faith. Courage. Love. What will they risk for freedom?
This love story teeters on the edge of sentimentality – but there is an underlying core of grittiness that prevents it from descending into mush, thank goodness. That said, it is well written, the characters ping off the page and the ending worked well. Review to follow.

I Shall Wear Midnight – Book 4 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett
It starts with whispers.

Then someone picks up a stone.

Finally, the fires begin.

When people turn on witches, the innocents suffer. . .

Tiffany Aching has spent years studying with senior witches, and now she is on her own. As the witch of the Chalk, she performs the bits of witchcraft that aren’t sparkly, aren’t fun, don’t involve any kind of wand, and that people seldom ever hear about: She does the unglamorous work of caring for the needy.

But someone or something is igniting fear, inculcating dark thoughts and angry murmurs against witches. Aided by her tiny blue allies, the Wee Free Men, Tiffany must find the source of this unrest and defeat the evil at its root before it takes her life. Because if Tiffany falls, the whole Chalk falls with her.
This is an utter joy. I laughed and wept with this one, as I listened while rushing around getting the house toddler-proofed and cranking Christmas up several gears to give the grandchildren a worthwhile day to remember. Review to follow.


My posts last week:

Friday Face-off featuring The One by John Marrs

Six Favourite Heroines from my 2020 Reading List

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Black Sun – Book 1 of Between Earth and Sky series by Rebecca Roanhorse

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

Covet the Covers featuring Mary Robinette Kowal


Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Grateful for a New Year, One Writer Plots New Goals With Old Stories And Old Friends https://jeanleesworld.com/2021/01/01/grateful-for-a-newyear-one-writer-plots-newgoals-with-oldstories-and-oldfriends/ This post both inspired me and had me in tears…

Reading Bingo 2020 https://rathertoofondofbooks.com/2020/12/31/reading-bingo-2020/ I love this time of year when I get to see what books stood out for my fellow readers – and this is such an entertaining way of doing it. I was also delighted and surprised to see that a certain dragon made an appearance…

Writers – Feed Your Brain https://aurorajalexander.wordpress.com/2020/12/17/writers-feed-your-brain/ It’s not only writers whose brains need jump-starting at this time of the year – I think we all need to sharpen up a bit, after all the food and drink we’ve been consuming and quaffing…

Tuesday Teaser https://powerfulwomenreaders.wordpress.com/2020/12/29/tuesday-teaser-82/ My lovely reading buddy, Rae, summed up in this specific quote about happiness what made last year so uniquely horrible, worldwide…

Best Books of 2020 https://booksbonesbuffy.com/2020/12/29/best-books-of-2020/ Many book bloggers post articles highlighting their best reads of the year (I haven’t got around to mine, yet – but there will be one!). However, I’ve yet to read one that is as comprehensive…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog. I hope you had a peaceful, happy holiday – and whatever is going on in your life, let’s hope 2021 is MUCH better than 2020! Take care. x