Category Archives: fantasy

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley #BrainfluffNEGALLEYbookreview #TheKingdomsbookreview

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I’ve heard good things about this author, and when I saw that the blurb mentioned England as a French colony, I was immediately intrigued and requested the arc. I’m always a sucker for a well-written alternate history…

BLURB: Joe Tournier has a bad case of amnesia. His first memory is of stepping off a train in the nineteenth-century French colony of England. The only clue Joe has about his identity is a century-old postcard of a Scottish lighthouse that arrives in London the same month he does. Written in illegal English—instead of French—the postcard is signed only with the letter “M,” but Joe is certain whoever wrote it knows him far better than he currently knows himself, and he’s determined to find the writer.

The search for M, though, will drive Joe from French-ruled London to rebel-owned Scotland and finally onto the battle ships of a lost empire’s Royal Navy. In the process, Joe will remake history, and himself.

REVIEW: Think of a mash-up of The Time Traveller’s Wife and David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks and you’ll have some idea of what Pulley is aiming for in this highly ambitious novel that dances around different strands within two main times – 1805 and 1898/99. And as the blurb doesn’t give away any spoilers as to why one of those dates, in particular, is significant, then I shan’t do so here.

Both times are very well evoked, particularly just how hard life is – and how cheaply it is held. Particularly the lives of sailors, slaves and soldiers. There are some quite shocking scenes in the book of murder and violence – and as we also have a naval battle portrayed and a ringside scene of the injuries inflicted, this one isn’t for the squeamish. We also see what this does to the main characters in the story, especially Missouri Kite who is scarred both physically and emotionally. He is capable of wonderful leadership that undeniably saves the lives of those in his charge; real tenderness in an age that doesn’t value or regard such an emotion. And absolute, lethal savagery.

I’ve been quite conflicted by this one. Terrible things happen and we are encouraged to feel it’s okay, because at the heart of it all is a love story. And while there is an upbeat ending, I wasn’t convinced that Joe wouldn’t wake up one morning full of longing for someone in a lost time and simply walk away, again, driven to desperately seek her out… But that kernel of uncertainty demonstrates the power of Pulley’s writing, which packs a strong emotional punch, throughout. She portrays Joe’s constant, terrible yearning for someone he can’t quite recall with a visceral vividness that had me wanting to weep at times.

What is undeniable is the technical skill Pulley displays in dealing with the scrambled timelines, the depiction of the historical times and the changes brought about by alternate circumstances. Her handling of those elements is masterful, as is her pacing and the management of a complex plot, complete with a number of twists that kept me paying attention. I saw a couple of them coming – but not the full picture. And that bittersweet ending adds up to a challenging book that has raised some awkward questions it leaves to the reader to figure out. I’m not sure if this is a story demonstrating just what a destructive force love is, for instance. Very highly recommended for fans of alternate historical tales. While I obtained an arc of The Kingdoms from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

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

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Reason #2 why you shouldn’t boast about your own exploits – it provides the wretches with far too much warning as to just how sneakily lethal you can be…

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.

Friday Faceoff – Instinct is the nose of the mind… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffnosecovers

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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 being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with NOSES. I’ve selected The Fifth Elephant – Book 24 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.

Corgi, 2000

This edition was produced by Corgi in 2000, and I love it. It has the zany chaos that features within the Discworld stories, and the joyful expression on the elephant’s face as it blazes across the sky is a delight. Though I could do without that ugly textbox plopped across that glorious artwork…

HarperCollins, April 2001

Published in April 2001 by HarperCollins, this offering isn’t my favourite – but I don’t hate it either. Which is a plus, as I generally loathe most of the Discworld covers that don’t feature the artwork of Josh Kirby and Paul Kidby. But the image of the elephant balancing on a flaming ball is quite quirky – and I really like the uneven font in acidic green. It packs a visual punch and signals that the book is humorous.

Doubleday, November 1999

This edition is my favourite. First published in November 1999 by Doubleday, this is the full image of the first offering and variants of it tend to be the default cover for the book. Quite right, too. It’s fabulous. The roiling red cloud pluming behind the elephant against the blue sky is just gorgeous – and there’s no textbox disfiguring this cover, either😊.

Russian edition, 2007

This Russian edition, produced by Эксмо in 2007 is interesting. It shows the elephant plummeting through space towards the Discworld. At first, I didn’t think much of it, as it lacks the fun and impact of the original cover. But it has grown on me – that pop of life and colour within a largely black cover is effective. My main grumble is that the title and author fonts are far too underwhelming and simply disappear in thumbnail mode.

French edition, September 2011

This French edition, published by Pocket in September 2011, is another strong offering. While I don’t like it as much as the original, nonetheless it depicts the action with plenty of chaos and colour – and that gives a solid visual clue as to what lies between the cover. And the lack of textbox is always a major plus for me. Which is your favourite?

Sunday Post – 2nd May, 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.

Here we are at the start of May… When did THAT happen?? Apologies for having been AWOL – last week I was ill again. Another spell of exhaustion, nausea and giddiness meant that I didn’t even open the computer most days – and I certainly wasn’t up to working. Or even getting out of bed… It was only yesterday that I started feeling like me, instead of the doddery old bat who’d insisted on invading my body. And my daughter and small granddaughter popping in to say hallo and pick up a postal label further helped to cheer me up.

Other than that, it’s been a quiet week, only enlivened by falling over when the nice chap came to administer our monthly swab and blood tests. So I also have a spectacular bruise on the side of my knee, where I missed smearing on the arnica cream.

I’m afraid I’ve no photos this week, as I haven’t made it outdoors.

Last week I read:
Ravenwood – Book 1 of the Tanyth Fairport Adventures series by Nathan Lowell
After twenty winters on the road, Tanyth makes one last pilgrimage in her quest to learn all she can about the herbs and medicinal plants of Korlay before settling down to write her magnum opus.

Her journey is interrupted when she stops to help a small village and learns that much of what she knows of the world may not be quite as it seems.
I loved Lowell’s space opera series, which I inhaled during March once I was well enough to read. So was pleased to get my hands on this one. I loved the protagonist, who is a middle-aged woman, who walked out of an abusive marriage and became a healer. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK Necessity’s Child – Book 16 of the Liaden Universe series by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
The kompani see none as an enemy, and yet few as friend. The kompani exist in many places, living quietly in the shadows, thriving off the bounty that others have no wit to secure, nor skill to defend. Their private history is unwritten; their recall rooted in dance and dream.

The Clan Korval is in many ways the opposite of the kompani. The interstellar trading clan is wealthy in enemies, and fortunate in friends. Korval protects itself with vigor, and teaches even its youngest children the art of war. And when representatives of Clan Korval arrive on the planet Surebleak where the kompani has lived, secret and aloof, the lives of three people intersect—Kezzi, apprentice to the kompani’s grandmother; Syl Vor, Clan Korval’s youngest warrior; and Rys, a man without a world, or a past.
I have read a couple of books from this entertaining, well written space opera series that reminds me at times of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. Unfortunately, one of the things they share is a very long backlist whose internal chronology doesn’t line up with the release dates… So I ended up listening to Book 16! That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and it reminded me all over again why I liked this series so much. Review to follow.

Dead in the Water – Book 3 of the Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow
Two crewmen of the crab vessel Avilda are missing—presumed dead—under very suspicious circumstances. The Bering Sea offers ample means and opportunity, but without bodies, a motive, or evidence of foul play, the DA doesn’t have a case. And so, freelancing again for her former employer, Kate Shugak finds herself working undercover in one of Alaska’s most dangerous professions: crab fisherman.

It’s an assignment that will take her from the debauchery of Dutch Harbor to the most isolated of the Aleutians, and if the job itself doesn’t kill her, her unsavory crewmates just might.
I’ve read the first two books in this interesting and unusual crime series, set in the wilds of Alaska. And realised I’ve the rest sitting on my Kindle – so I tucked into this one and thoroughly enjoyed it. Mini-review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK A Fatal Flying Affair – Book 7 of the Lady Hardcastle Mysteries series by T.E. Kinsey
August 1911. Emily Hardcastle and her inimitable lady’s maid Florence Armstrong are enjoying a fine summer until Harry, Lady H’s brother, turns up out of the blue with a mystery for them to solve.

A routine parachute test at a local aeroplane factory has gone horribly wrong—with pilot Dickie Dupree plummeting to his death. Harry is certain there is more to this ‘tragic accident’ than meets the eye, having discovered that someone at the airfield is leaking top secret intelligence to foreign rivals.

In between strolls to the Dog & Duck and planning for the annual village show, the daring duo dust off the Crime Board and go undercover at Bristol Aviation. With international powers investing heavily in aeronautics, the stakes are high—sky high—and the suspects soon mount up. Can Lady Hardcastle find the culprit before someone else falls down dead?
I’ve grown very fond of this sparky pair of unconventional women who are now working for His Majesty’s Government as a pair of spies, once again. And the outstanding narration of this latest tale was a delight to listen to when I was too tired to read…

The Wedding Date by Zara Stoneley
When Samantha Jenkins is asked to be the maid of honour at her best friend’s wedding, she couldn’t be happier. There are just three problems…

1) Sam’s ex-boyfriend, Liam, will be the best man.
2) His new girlfriend is pregnant.
3) Sam might have told people she has a new man when she doesn’t (see points 1 and 2 above)

So, Sam does the only sensible thing available to her… and hires a professional to do the job.

Actor Jake Porter is perfect for the role: single, gorgeous and cheap! Sam is certain it’s the perfect solution: no strings, no heartbreak and hopefully no chance of being found out.

But spending a week in the Scottish Highlands with Jake is harder than she imagined. He is the perfect boyfriend, charming, sexy and the hottest thing in a kilt since Outlander! And his dog Harry is quite possibly the cutest things Sam has ever seen!

As the wedding draws closer, Jake plays his part to perfection and everyone believes he is madly in love with Sam. The problem is, Sam’s not sure if Jake is acting anymore…
This was all I could have wanted – an entertaining, funny story told in a chirpy first-person viewpoint, with a guaranteed happy ending. Himself has been reading a slew of these, recently. And I can see why…

Schooled in Magic – Book 1 of The Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
Emily is a teenage girl pulled from our world into a world of magic and mystery by a necromancer who intends to sacrifice her to the dark gods. Rescued in the nick of time by an enigmatic sorcerer, she discovers that she possesses magical powers and must go to Whitehall School to learn how to master them.

There, she learns the locals believe that she is a “Child of Destiny,” someone whose choices might save or damn their world … a title that earns her both friends and enemies. A stranger in a very strange land, she may never fit into her new world …
I’ve always enjoyed Nuttall’s writing and when I was looking for something well written and not too gory – I found this. I’m a sucker for a really enjoyable magic school adventure and this one delivered all sorts of entertaining twists I didn’t expect. As well as some darkly funny moments. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Recollection by Gareth L. Powell

I’m sorry, but as I haven’t been browsing online this last week, I’ve no recommendations. In the meantime, 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 Caring for Grandchildren #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonChildcare #PickyEaters

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Don’t allow the dragonets to play chess using your best set, until they’ve grown past the age where they erupt into a flaming tantrum when they lose. With lords, this might well take them until they’re… On second thoughts – don’t ever let ANY lord near your best chess set!

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.

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

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Fixes for a draconic mid-life crisis #6 – When a pretty young queen catches your eye, ask yourself if you’ll still feel the same about her when she’s wearing half your hoard and insisting on the juiciest parts of your kills.

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.

Two Audiobook FANTASY CHILDREN’S/YA mini-reviews: The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett & Magnus Chase and The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan #BrainfluffFANTASYCHILDRENS/YAmini-reviews #TheWeeFreeMenmini-review #MagnusChaseandtheSwordofSummermini-review

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AUDIOBOOK The Wee Free Men – Book 1 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett

BLURB: Armed only with a frying pan and her common sense, Tiffany Aching, a young witch-to-be, is all that stands between the monsters of Fairyland and the warm, green Chalk country that is her home. Forced into Fairyland to seek her kidnapped brother, Tiffany allies herself with the Chalk’s local Nac Mac Feegle – aka the Wee Free Men – a clan of sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men who are as fierce as they are funny. Together they battle through an eerie and ever-shifting landscape, fighting brutal flying fairies, dream-spinning dromes, and grimhounds – black dogs with eyes of fire and teeth of razors – before ultimately confronting the Queen of the Elves, absolute ruler of a world in which reality intertwines with nightmare. And in the final showdown, Tiffany must face her cruel power alone…

MINI-REVIEW: Listening to this was a complete joy, particularly with Tony Robinson’s storming performance as narrator. I loved reading this one way back when it first came out, then sharing it with my grandchildren – but hearing this version was every bit as much fun. And I’d thought nothing could beat sitting side by side with the children, laughing together at Pratchett’s humour… Very highly recommended for children of all ages.
10/10

AUDIOBOOK Magnus Chase and The Sword of Summer – Book 1 of the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series by Rick Riordan

BLURB: Magnus Chase has seen his share of trouble. Ever since that terrible night two years ago when his mother told him to run, he has lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, staying one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.

One day, Magnus learns that someone else is trying to track him down—his uncle Randolph, a man his mother had always warned him about. When Magnus tries to outmaneuver his uncle, he falls right into his clutches. Randolph starts rambling about Norse history and Magnus’s birthright: a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.

The more Randolph talks, the more puzzle pieces fall into place. Stories about the gods of Asgard, wolves, and Doomsday bubble up from Magnus’s memory. But he doesn’t have time to consider it all before a fire giant attacks the city, forcing him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents. . .

Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die.

MINI-REVIEW: I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Christopher Guetig’s excellent narration very ably depicted the cast of colourful characters who Magnus encounters on his adventures with the pantheon of Norse gods and minor deities. This had all the ingredients I enjoy in a fantasy adventure – plenty of testing encounters with all sorts of intriguing characters, high-stakes action, along with regular splashes of humour that didn’t become too heavy-handed. Riordan manages to make this look far easier than it is. I am delighted that I’ve more audiobooks in this series, waiting to sweep me up and into another world…
8/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc The Case of the Dragon-Bone Engine – Book 1 of the Royal Investigative Service by Galadriel Coffeen #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheCaseoftheDragon-BoneEnginebookreview

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I’ve been reading a lot of murder mysteries recently – particularly those with an SFF element. So when I saw this offering on Netgalley, I was delighted to be approved for it, even though it is already published.

BLURB: Dynamite couldn’t cause such a big explosion. It must be something worse, Agent Beka Finley is sure of it. As she and her partner investigate the devastating train crash, she’s convinced the train was sabotaged. But everyone seems bent on persuading her it was an accident. Just like the crash that killed her father six years ago. Determined to protect more lives from the growing unrest between humans and fairies, Beka puts her own life and reputation on the line to find the truth. But that truth might lead to more questions than answers.

REVIEW: I thoroughly enjoyed this one. The setting is a fantasy world where the industrial revolution is taking off – there are steam-powered trains and cars, but they are being superseded by the new dragon-bone engines. However they require fairies to drive these vehicles as the inherent magic within the dragon bones needs to be controlled by someone with magical ability – and other than a handful of noble families, most humans don’t possess magic. So we have fairies working long hours for low pay, often being exploited and they are becoming increasingly resentful and angry, which is beginning to lead to inter-species conflict. For humans all too often regard fairy magic with suspicion and dismiss them as being stupid and sub-human.

Enter our plucky investigators, Agent Beka Finley, the only woman to date who has succeeded in becoming one of the elite Royal Investigators, and her partner Agent Lester Donovan. They are both interesting characters with fascinating backstories. One of Coffeen’s superpowers is that she keeps the story moving along, without resorting to info-dumps that silt up the narrative. This means we are immediately tipped into the story and learn about our protagonists and the world as the story moves along in Agent Finley’s first-person viewpoint. I very much like this mode of story-telling, but I’m aware it isn’t to everyone’s taste.

There is an interesting dynamic in this Victorian-type society, where manners and dress conventions are formal and social mobility is clearly not easy, while Agent Finley is from a much humbler background than Donovan. As the rebel son who walked away from his powerful and rich noble family, we get a ringside seat into some of the pressure points within the class system and the inter-species prejudice – not to mention the general lack of enthusiasm to towards women working in anything other than a domestic setting. This could have turned into a glib commentary on social inequality that is becoming an increasingly popular sub-plot within modern SFF. But what saves it from making the usual facile judgements is the strong characterisation. Yes, Agent Finley has to work twice as hard as her male colleagues – but I get the sense that she would do, anyway, given her driven nature. And I also like the fact that our protagonist isn’t all that sympathetic to the outbreaks of violence and demonstrations from an increasingly beleaguered fairy workforce. She’s a law enforcement officer – of course she thinks they should find another way to express their dissatisfaction. Though she starts to reconsider her opinion after having seen first-hand just what a raw deal a particular fairy family are undergoing.

The murder mystery is well handled, with plenty of potential suspects, a steady increase in the stakes involved and a dramatic climactic denouement. I was impressed with the overall quality of writing – and as a bonus, there are a series of beautiful pen and ink illustrations in a 19th century style drawn by the author. After this impressive debut, I’ll certainly be looking out for the next book in the series.
9/10

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

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Reason #1 why you shouldn’t boast about your own exploits – it generally bores the youngsters, who are too young and ignorant to appreciate just what you actually faced. Which means you have to go to the trouble of teaching them to pay attention…

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 NETGALLEY arc The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheMidnightBargainbookreview

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I was looking for some escapism when I encountered the blurb for this offering, so I was delighted to be approved for a copy of this one.

BLURB: Beatrice Clayborn is a sorceress who practices magic in secret, terrified of the day she will be locked into a marital collar that will cut off her powers to protect her unborn children. She dreams of becoming a full-fledged Magus and pursuing magic as her calling as men do, but her family has staked everything to equip her for Bargaining Season, when young men and women of means descend upon the city to negotiate the best marriages. The Clayborns are in severe debt, and only she can save them, by securing an advantageous match before their creditors come calling. In a stroke of luck, Beatrice finds a grimoire that contains the key to becoming a Magus, but before she can purchase it, a rival sorceress swindles the book right out of her hands. Beatrice summons a spirit to help her get it back, but her new ally exacts a price: Beatrice’s first kiss . . . with her adversary’s brother, the handsome, compassionate, and fabulously wealthy Ianthe Lavan.

The more Beatrice is entangled with the Lavan siblings, the harder her decision becomes: If she casts the spell to become a Magus, she will devastate her family and lose the only man to ever see her for who she is; but if she marries—even for love—she will sacrifice her magic, her identity, and her dreams. But how can she choose just one, knowing she will forever regret the path not taken?

REVIEW: Beatrice is a desperate young woman, who dreads losing her magical power once she is married and forced to wear a collar that will subjugate her abilities in order to protect her unborn children. Her dream is to become a ‘thornback’ – a spinster who will keep in touch with her magic so that she can advise her father in his investments and help him regain the family fortune that he recklessly squandered on an ill-advised get-rich scheme to popularise orchids. However, her father’s idea is to take advantage of her sorcerous talent and set her up to make an advantageous match that will help restore the family and open more doors for her ambitious younger sister, Harriet. And he won’t hear of Beatrice’s alternative ideas that will allow her to keep in touch with her magic.

She isn’t alone in her yearning to hold onto her talent – Ysbeta Lavan is in a similar hard place and when they find themselves vying for the same information, Beatrice undertakes to help Ysbeta attain the same skills that she has managed to finesse. Unlike Beatrice, Ysbeta’s mother is wholly unsympathetic to her daughter’s hopes. Beatrice, in particular, takes some jaw-dropping risks that pulls down some unwelcome attention. I teetered on the edge of continuing, as I began to feel that the story was becoming unrealistic with some of the stunts she pulls. But fortunately Polk managed to bring the story to a suitable conclusion. The pacing is a tad uneven, particularly near the end, where it suddenly speeds up. But I enjoyed the ending, which wrapped everything up satisfyingly, and found the world and the magic wholly convincing. I just wished I’d liked Beatrice more, but some of the risks she took were stupid and monumentally selfish, as she wasn’t just risking her own life – but also pulling others into harm’s way.

That said, I found the story engrossing and largely enjoyable and I’ll definitely be tracking down more of Polk’s writing. Recommended for fans of Regency-style fantasy romances. While I obtained an arc of The Midnight Bargain from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10