Category Archives: fantasy

My Top Ten Favourite Reads of 2018 So Far… #Brainfluffbookblog

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Now that we are more than halfway through 2018, what are my standout reads? So far this year, I’ve read 73 books and in no particular order, my top 10 favourites of the year so far are:-

The Stone Sky – Book 3 of The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
This whole series blew me away. The extraordinary viewpoint and the worldbuilding that takes a science fiction premise and pushes it right to the edge. It has an epic fantasy feel with a strong family dynamic and remarkable characters – and perhaps most important, concluded this series with sufficient drama and conviction.

 

 

The Hyperspace Trap by Christopher G. Nuttall
This space opera adventure, set on an intergalactic cruise-ship liner, was an unusual and riveting setting for this alien encounter. I liked the fact that the protagonists came from both the crew and passengers and enjoyed the growing tension as things slid away into a major emergency.

 

 

Blunt Force Magic by Lawrence Davis
I loved this one. A half-trained apprentice with loads of ability and no finesse finds himself having to stand against formidable antagonists. The chippy narrator and gritty take on this well-trodden path made this a memorably enjoyable read.

 

 

The Bitter Twins – Book 2 of The Winnowing Flame trilogy by Jen Williams
I’ve been a fan of Williams’ vibrant, energetic prose since I picked up The Copper Promise, but this one is an awesome braiding of both science fiction and fantasy. No mid-book slump here!

 

 

 

The Cold Between – Book 1 of the Central Corps novels by Elizabeth Bonesteel
This space opera focuses on the characters with ferocious intensity and we get a ringside seat as layered, plausible people grapple with their own lives in amongst the stars. Needless to say, there is also politics, greed and the need for revenge and love blended to make this one unputdownable once I’d started.

 

 

The Green Man’s Heir by Juliet McKenna
This is one of the reading highlights of the year so far. Set in England and steeped in the myths and folklore of this ancient land, the story follows the fortunes of a half-dryad man trying to trace his lineage. Needless to say, he is pitchforked into the middle of something dangerous and old…

 

 

 

Head On – Book 2 of the Lock In series by John Scalzi
I loved the first book in this futuristic crime series, Lock In, where victims of a terrible illness leaving them completely paralysed are able to upload their consciousness into robotic bodies. Our protagonist is now working for the police, investigating the murder of a sporting star, who plays a savage version of American football. Mayhem and action all the way…

 

 

 

Before Mars – Book 3 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman
I’ve loved every one of these stories – and this one charting the fortunes of a woman newly arrived on a Martian outpost is another riveting read. It’s rare that motherhood is examined with any depth in science fiction stories – yet the protagonist has left a baby behind and is grappling with feelings of guilt and inadequacy. There is a terrible twist that those who have read the previous two books are waiting for…

 

Child I by Steve Tasane
You won’t have read anything quite like this one. The cover alone tells you it is something different – and yet I plunged into it, thinking it was set on a near-future, post-apocalyptic Earth. I was devastated to learn it is set right now and based on the testimonies of children alive today…

 

 

 

All Systems Red – Book 1 of the Murderbot Diaries novella series by Martha Wells
Hard enough to write a well-paced novella – writing convincingly as a security robot assigned to keep scientific teams out of harm is far more difficult. Yet Wells triumphantly pulls it off. A marvellous read – I just wish I could afford to read the rest of the series…

 

 

There were other near misses it hurts to omit – Isha Crowe’s quirky Gwithyas: Door to the Void, L.E. Modesitt’s Outcasts of Order and Children of the Shaman by Jessica Rydill to name but three. What about you – what are your favourite reads of the year, so far?

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Teaser Tuesday – 10th July, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog #TeaserTuesday

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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:

Fawkes by Nadine Brandes

30% I burst through the door and out onto the green lawn that sloped down to the banks of the Thames in time to see Father throw a very muddy and bloody Percy into the putrid waters.
I stumbled to his side as Percy emerged with a gasp. “Fawkes, you—”
“Scrub yourself clean, Percy.” Father squatted by the bank. “Before you oust us all. You’ve been a fool this night.”

BLURB: Silent wars leave the most carnage. The wars that are never declared, but are carried out in dark alleys with masks and hidden knives. Wars where color power alters the natural rhythm of 17th century London. And when the king calls for peace, no one listens until he finally calls for death.

But what if death finds him first?

Keepers think the Igniters caused the plague. Igniters think the Keepers did. But all Thomas knows is that the Stone Plague infecting his eye is spreading. And if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be a lifeless statue. So when his Keeper father, Guy Fawkes, invites him to join the Gunpowder Plot—claiming it will put an end to the plague—Thomas is in.

I am enjoying this alternate history. The fantasy twist hinges on two different magical factions battling for supremacy in Stuart England during the turbulent times leading up to the Gunpowder Plot.

Review of Ancell’s Quest by Tony Main #Brainfluffbookreview #Ancell’sQuestreview

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I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

To his dismay, Ancell, a timid, dreaming hedgehog, is called to sail in search of someone in terrible trouble, who keeps calling to him in his dreams. Someone whose plight cannot wait – which leads him to the capable sea otter captain of the schooner, Misty Dawn – and a whole series of adventures. At first the frightened landlubber finds life upon the waves difficult, but he soon learns to trust the crew and face the various dangers alongside them…

I was a bit dubious initially, as there was very little preparation to this adventure – one minute we are told that Ancell is plagued by nightmares and the next, we are aboard Misty Dawn and getting to know the crew. It meant that I was bonding with the protagonist whilst in the middle of the adventures – however, despite the uneven pacing and faltering start, as soon as Ancell stepped onto the schooner, the story took off.

It’s apparent that Main has sailing experience as he writes with verve and confidence about life aboard the ship. I found I not only bonded with Ancell, but grew fond of the rest of the crew and enjoyed the humour that their bickering personalities generated. This is an ideal book for children, with lots of action – and consequences. I liked the fact that it didn’t all go smoothly and that one of the main characters suffers a major accident. By the time we hit the halfway stage, I was able to suspend my disbelief about how the adventure started in the first place as the eventful voyage and the interplay between the characters completely beguiled me.

There are plenty of setbacks and once the intrepid voyagers arrived in Australia, I was expecting the rest of the adventure to go like clockwork – but no, the stakes continued to rise and the tension grew. The pirate Laughing Jack and his evil sidekick (I was delighted it was a woman) were very unpleasant and had imprisoned a number of children – it wasn’t made clear what their intended fates were, but it clearly was nothing good. One of my favourite characters has to be Hector, the salt-water crocodile – whose intervention in the story created havoc.

Overall, this is a delightful tale that makes excellent bedtime reading for children – and their parents who probably, like me, stayed up just a bit later with the light on to discover how it all ends.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – The way to heaven is on horseback… #Brainfluffbookblog #Fridayfaceoff

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the theme this week features riders. I’ve selected Green Rider – Book 1 of the Green Rider series by Kristen Britain. I read this one longer ago than I care to recall, but thoroughly enjoyed it.

 

This edition was produced by DAW Books in April 2000. I love this cover – the wealth of detail with all the movement and drama of the galloping horse is beautiful. But I do dislike all that chat at the top which draws the eye away from the author name.

 

Published in April 2011 by Gollancz, this one is my favourite. Yes… I don’t think the horse has wings in the book, but to be honest – I don’t care. The illustration is absolutely stunning and just works. My one niggle is that the title and author fonts could be just a bit more decorative as they are unutterably dull.

 

This German edition, published by Heyne in December 2008, is attractive and eye-catching. And if you are wondering why there isn’t a scrap of green anywhere, the German title translates as The Magic Rider so it makes sense to have a striking red cover featuring a beautiful black stallion galloping through the middle of the cover. At last the font also is suitably dramatic.

 

This Turkish edition, produced by Kalipso Yayinlari is more about the young rider than the horse. When I saw the teeny-tiny version of this one, I confess that I sighed a little, but now it is larger, I like it more than I thought I would – though I’d prefer her to be wearing gauntlets and less eye makeup. But that sword hilt is gorgeous and I love the wonderful title font.

 

This Czech cover, published in 2012 is another strong contender. In fact, if it wasn’t for that amazing Gollancz offering, this would be my favourite. I love the fact that we are seeing the back of the rider and the horse, while that rich border gives it a suitably otherworld flavour. I love the golden light that effectively throws the rider and horse into relief, though I would personally have used a different colour other than yellow in the title font. What about you – which is your favourite?

#Friday Faceoff – Just put one foot in front of the other – and keep going… #Brainfluffbookblog

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. It is currently being nurtured by Lynn at Lynn’s Book Blog. This week the theme is a cover featuring footsteps, so I’ve selected Feet of Clay – Book 19 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.

 

This edition was produced by Corgi in May 1997. I love it. I love the brightness, the detail and the quirky oddness that encapsulates what Pratchett’s writing is all about. I’m also conscious that in the world where books are often sold in ebook form these days, it isn’t a cover that does well as a thumbnail. The main reason why this isn’t my favourite is that ugly blue box containing the title and author plonked right in the middle of that glorious artwork.

 

Published in February 2004 by Hartorch, this cover lacks the charm and bustling humour of the previous offering. However, I do like the footprints running up the side and the quirky title font – I just wish that blue wasn’t so drab or the head with glowing eyes didn’t look as if this is horror – Pratchett’s work can be thought provoking but isn’t remotely creepy.

 

This edition, published by Gollancz in June 2014 is another one that looks as if this book is in the horror genre. The dark figure with glowing red eyes and white swirls looks really threatening. I do like how they have handled the title and Pratchett’s name, however.

 

Produced by Turtleback Books in February 2004, this edition certainly gives a sense that this is a humorous novel. I love the bubbles, along with the footprints featured in the centre of the cover. The font is also quirky and offbeat, giving a clue about the genre. This is a better effort than the previous, gloomy offering, I feel.

 

This French cover – which hasn’t any other details on Goodreads – is my favourite. The characters draw on those marvellous Josh Kirby and Paul Kidby covers with some lovely detailed artwork that still looks effective when shrunk down to thumbnail size. The title and author fonts are also well handled. Which is your favourite?

#Teaser Tuesday featuring #Gwithyas: Door to the Void – 23rd May, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog

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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:

Gwithyas: Door to the Void by Isha Crowe
20% Old, yellow paper that crumbles, so I have to hold it carefully. The first words, in elaborate old-fashioned handwriting, are: ‘I will mourn you forever, my love.’
I put it aside. Too labour-intensive to read, and way too depressing. At the moment I don’t want to learn about the miserable fates of my pathetic ancestors. I feel bad enough as it is, and really don’t need to be reminded of how hopeless our situation is, how impossible it is that Mum will ever live in the nice, sunny house she so desires, that my sisters will ever go to school, that Dad will ever smile. Or that I will ever live the life of a normal boy.

BLURB: Zircon Gwithyas just wants to be a normal teenager, preferably one with a girlfriend. If you’re a spotty nerd with glasses as thick as jam jars, that isn’t easy.
It’s even harder when you live in a derelict manor on a haunted hill with a bunch of spooky eccentrics for a family, and the object of your affection is an irritable sword-wielding college student.
It becomes virtually impossible when you are dragged into a dark, chaotic semi-reality where your moderately-deceased ancestors expect you to save the world from a horde of grotesque demons with a fondness for torture…

This is a delightful, quirky read that I’m really enjoying. It reminds me more than a little of Matt Haig’s The Radleys as this teenage boy in the middle of paranormal mayhem is yearning for a normal existence. I have yet to discover if his dream comes true – I’m going to guess it probably doesn’t.

Review of KINDLE Ebook #Scourged – Book 9 of the Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne #Brainfluffbookreview #bookreview

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I’ve followed this series right from the start, thoroughly enjoying the mayhem and the humour that Hearne has created, so it was with some sadness that I picked up this final book in the series – see my review of the first book, Hounded, here.

Unchained from fate, the Norse gods Loki and Hel are ready to unleash Ragnarok, a.k.a. the Apocalypse, upon the earth. They’ve made allies on the darker side of many pantheons, and there’s a globe-spanning battle brewing that ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan will be hard-pressed to survive, much less win.

Granuaile MacTiernan must join immortals Sun Wukong and Erlang Shen in a fight against the Yama Kings in Taiwan, but she discovers that the stakes are much higher than she thought.

Meanwhile, Archdruid Owen Kennedy must put out both literal and metaphorical fires from Bavaria to Peru to keep the world safe for his apprentices and the future of Druidry.

And Atticus recruits the aid of a tyromancer, an Indian witch, and a trickster god in hopes that they’ll give him just enough leverage to both save Gaia and see another sunrise. There is a hound named Oberon who deserves a snack, after all.

This book features the three main protagonists listed in the blurb above and I’m very grateful to the author for providing a ‘story so far’ summary covering the whole series. I just wish other authors writing long-running series would provide similar assistance to their readers. Some of us have the memory of a goldfish…

I started this one with some trepidation – after all, the stakes are high. I have followed this series for the previous eight books and was concerned that if Hearne fumbled this one, it would spoil my experience of the complete Iron Druid series. In the event, I’d need not have worried. All three main characters still are appealing in quite different ways – my personal favourite is Owen, who started out as the archetypal grumpy old man and has considerably mellowed as he continues getting to grips with the modern world. While the apocalyptic Ragnarok loomed across the book – as well it should – there were a whole series of delightful interludes with my favourite being Owens new best friend, Slomo the sloth.

What appears to have split opinion amongst readers is the manner in which the book ends. As for Granuaile’s decision, I was really pleased. I felt it showed her increasing confidence and desire to extend her druidic skills and had a real ring of reality about it which I thoroughly welcome. As for the Iron Druid, Atticus, what befalls him is a real shock, but given the weight of prophecy promising bad things happening to him, I can’t see how this could have ended any better without compromising a major plot point throughout the latter half of the series.

All in all, I think Hearne has produced a thoroughly satisfactory conclusion to an excellent series which I particularly enjoyed as – unlike so many others – it didn’t become unbearably bleak by the end. Recommended for fans of godpunk and epic fantasy with a strong contemporary twist.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook #Talon – Book 1 of the Talon series by #Julie Kagawa #Brainfluffbookreview #bookreview

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It was the fabulous cover of this book that first caught my eye – and the fact it was about dragons, so when I had some money in my hot little hand to spend on books, it was a no-brainer that I would get hold of this offering.

Long ago, dragons were hunted to near extinction by the Order of St. George, a legendary society of dragon slayers. Hiding in human form and growing their numbers in secret, the dragons of Talon have become strong and cunning, and they’re positioned to take over the world with humans none the wiser. Ember and Dante Hill are the only sister and brother known to dragonkind. Trained to infiltrate society, Ember wants to live the teen experience and enjoy a summer of freedom before taking her destined place in Talon. But destiny is a matter of perspective, and a rogue dragon will soon challenge everything Ember has been taught. As Ember struggles to accept her future, she and her brother are hunted by the Order of St. George.

The first thing to say about this one is that it is YA through and through – including a love triangle. So you have the first person viewpoint of a teenage protagonist who is very conflicted. That said, I think she’s probably entitled to be a tad more conflicted than many young heroines in that she is a shape-shifting dragon, who has come to the end of a long and testing training programme designed to allow her to fight an underground war with humanity against the elite Order of St. George. Ember and her twin brother are ostensibly on a beach holiday and mixing with other teenagers who are completely unsuspecting about the true identity of the attractive couple.

Ember is a sympathetic protagonist, despite being a rebel and a rule breaker, because the people looking after her don’t show any affection or compassion. The only person who cares about her is Dante, her brother, who is equally concerned on building a successful career within Talon. I think I would be sneaking out until midnight under those circumstances, too.

I liked the way Kagawa introduces the hidden world of dragonkind within the story. It is deftly done without compromising the pace and is added in bits and pieces as we need to know so that by the end of the book, we have a clear picture of how the dragons operate without humanity mostly being aware of them. For me, the highlight of the book has to be when Ember shifts and flies the coast – an extremely forbidden act. Kagawa’s prose really took off at this point, and I could easily imagine the beauty and power of the flight. Once I was well into the story, I was more or less able to predict where it would end up. There was a twist near the end that I didn’t see coming, but the writing packs a punch and the ending is sufficiently dramatic. Recommended for YA fans who enjoy shape-shifting dragons with some romance.
8/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 2nd May, 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 – Furyborn – Book 1 of the Empirium Claire Legrande

#YA #adventure #fantasy

When assassins ambush her best friend, the crown prince, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing her ability to perform all seven kinds of elemental magic. The only people who should possess this extraordinary power are a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light and salvation and a queen of blood and destruction. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven trials to test her magic. If she fails, she will be executed…unless the trials kill her first.

I severely curtailed the blurb in this YA offering – but that dramatic cover caught my eye and I really liked the idea of trials and a scarily strong protagonist, who may well find that strength as much as curse as a blessing… I’m looking forward to reading this one.

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