Category Archives: feisty heroine

Review of NETGALLEY arc How to Talk to a Goddess and Other Lessons in Real Magic – Book 2 of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #HowtoTalktoaGoddessbookreview

Standard

Being easily led astray, particularly where books are concerned – I’ll confess it was the gorgeous cover and quirky title that caught my eye, regarding this offering. I was in the mood for an enjoyable, engaging fantasy read that wouldn’t be too grimly dire – and this one seemed to fit the bill…

BLURB: Nora knows she needs to move on. And forget about magic.

She’s back in graduate school, and her life is going surprisingly well. She doesn’t need to think about other worlds, about enchantments and demons, or about magicians—even though she once aspired to become one herself. Most of all, she really should forget the magician Aruendiel, who shared the secrets of magic with her but fiercely guarded the deepest secrets of his heart.

Then a chance encounter gives Nora the opportunity to slip between worlds again—and the next phase of her magical education begins…

REVIEW: I’ve cropped the rather chatty blurb, as the ensuing paragraphs give away far too many plotpoints that are far better experienced within the book, rather than being anticipated.

I’ve read a number of books where protagonists have returned to their everyday, mundane existence after spending time in a dangerous, yet vibrant magical world. This one absolutely nails the mingled sense of relief at being relatively safe again – and the yearning sense of longing for the magic… the love… the excitement of what’s been lost. It’s nicely handled, as Nora could so easily have come across as a discontented whiner, but I found myself bonding with her plight and immediately rooting for her. And as once again, I’ve crashed into this series without reading the first book, this was my first introduction to the main protagonist.

Subsequent events plunge Nora into a situation where those yearnings are once more met – and again, I liked the fact that she finds the change a challenging one. Aruendiel, her powerful mentor, is generally grumpy, aloof and somewhat arrogant – basically your typical entitled sorcerer. And what takes place during their initial meeting had my jaw dropping. This clearly isn’t the romantic, enjoyable interaction Nora had been hoping for… And that is about as much as I can say about the plot without lurching into Spoiler territory.

I really enjoyed the depth of the characterisation and the fact that Barker is a fan of the ‘show, don’t tell’ school of writing, especially where the main characters are concerned. The setting, particularly at the Temple, completely convinced me and I enjoyed the exploration of the nature of faith and at what stage steady devotion becomes poisonous fanaticism. Though I don’t want you going away with the impression that there are pages of exposition describing such issues – Barker is far too smart at writing an enjoyable adventure story to commit such a crime. All in all, this is an engaging and pleasingly different fantasy story, still firmly set within many of the tropes of the epic fantasy tale. I’m guessing I would have enjoyed it even more if I’d read the first book, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic – and Himself, being the solidly marvellous husband that he is, has now bought this one as a gift for me. I’ll be shortly tucking into it – for I’m missing Barker’s world. Highly recommended for fantasy fans. While I obtained an arc of How To Talk to a Goddess and Other Lessons in Real Magic from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Ghost Electricity – Book 1 of the Hawthorn House series by Sean Cunningham #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #GhostElectricitybookreview

Standard

I liked the sound of this one and was in the mood for a strong urban fantasy set in London, so requested this arc.

BLURB: Do you know what happens to ghosts in London?

A girl with a monster in her shadow. A warlock believed dead four years ago. A werewolf outcast from the London packs.

Rob wants a good job, friends to head to the pub with and a solid cage to lock himself in three nights a month. Julian dropped off the face of the Earth four years ago. He’s back and trying to figure out what living looks like. Together they  will face the deadliest of threats hidden in one of the oldest cities in the world.

Fiona has a monster in her shadow but she doesn’t know how it got there. A creature in the shape of a man is on her trail  and he knows things about Fiona she doesn’t know herself. Her ten year old sister Jessica can build machines that defy the  known laws of physics. Accompanied by a brass tortoise and a glass-feathered raven, Jessica will help Fiona unravel the web  of lies that surrounds them both.

And beneath their feet the plague dead of centuries stir in their graves, waiting for the spell that holds them to break…

REVIEW: The thing about urban fantasy that sets it apart, is that it is generally set in a contemporary landscape – usually a city – and then peopled with otherworldly creatures. So a lot of the pleasure is derived from seeing our everyday settings collide with something other. I was immediately held by Cunningham’s opening sequence with Julian in the London Underground, which was very well done. Anyone who has ever stood on a crowded platform waiting for the train to come could visualise only too well how events unspooled. And that repeated question of Julian’s – Do you know what happens to ghosts in London? – was also nicely handled. Too much and that shiver of horror would have disappeared…

Initially, I was a bit fed up when I realised we wouldn’t be in Julian’s head throughout. But I soon found that I had no trouble bonding with the other protagonists, even when I wasn’t fully aware of what was going on. There’s plenty of tension in this urban fantasy adventure, which makes the sudden outbreaks of rather gory violence seem even more shocking. Underneath the bustling normality of London is a brutal world where mages, vampyres and shapeshifters jostle for power and far too often treat the rest of us as recreation and/or fodder. And in a stunning coincidence, Hawthorn House is where a number of these remarkable people pitch up. I liked all the protagonists, but I particularly bonded with poor old Rob, who just wants a nice normal life, where he rubs along with his work mates and can enjoy a night out down at the pub. Somehow, this never quite happens as all sorts of other distractions get in the way.

The rising tension was well paced and I loved a particular vampyre attack – and what happens to the van, afterwards. As with many urban fantasy tales, there are enjoyable shafts of humour that prevent it becoming too grim, which didn’t prevent the stakes rising such that I found this one difficult to put down as it reached its climax. Overall, this was a thoroughly entertaining read – and the good news is that there are two other books and a number of shorter stories already published in the Hawthorn House series. And I’ll certainly be tucking into them in the near future. While I obtained an arc of Ghost Electricity from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 28th July, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

Standard

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

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – The Rookery – Book 2 of The Nightjar series by Deborah Hewitt – release date 5th August, 2021.

#fantasy #alternate world #London setting #magic #feisty heroine

BLURB: The Rookery, city of secrets, lies and magic, is facing destruction. But does Alice have the power to save her new home?

When Alice discovered this alternate London, her life changed forever. She discovered she was seeing Nightjars – miraculous birds that guard our souls. But her newfound magic has a dark side. So in an effort to protect her friends, Alice is training to wield her rare abilities under House Mielikki – the House of Life. Yet something isn’t right. And after a series of attacks leaves her reeling, it’s clear someone wants her to fail.

Alice must plunge into a world of seductive magic and unimaginable perils to uncover the conspiracy. And when she discovers why Rookery itself is at risk, she realizes the price she must pay to save it.

I read and enjoyed The Nightjar – although there were times when Alice’s choices were a tad daft. But the world is intriguing and I like the magic, so I’m looking forward to tucking into this one. Has anyone else snagged a copy of this offering?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Assassin’s Orbit by John Appel #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AssassinsOrbitbookreview

Standard

That amazing cover caught my eye, as did the intriguing blurb. And as I’m a sucker for good space opera, I immediately requested this one.

BLURB: Murder forces unlikely allies

On the eve of the planet Ileri’s historic vote to join the Commonwealth, the assassination of a government minister threatens to shatter everything. Private investigator Noo Okereke and spy Meiko Ogawa join forces with police chief Toiwa to investigate – and discover clues that point disturbingly toward a threat humanity thought they had escaped. A threat that could destroy Ileri and spark an interplanetary war… unless the disparate team can work together to solve the mystery.

REVIEW: The strapline for this book is: Golden Girls meets The Expanse with a side of Babylon Five… Hm – not sure about that one. The older women that feature in this sci-fi adventure thriller are far tougher and grimmer than the protagonists in Golden Girls. In fact, the only thing they have in common is that they are women of a certain age. I liked both Noo Okereke and Meiko Ogawa very much – though it took me a while to nail the names. The author didn’t do his western readers any favours by insisting on giving us two unfamiliar surnames starting with the same consonant.

I did enjoy the social dynamic and the political setup. As this story is character-led, it took a while for the full scope of the world to unfold – but once things started really kicking off, the narrative moved forward at full pelt. It was difficult to put this one down, as the stakes just kept on piling up against our plucky protagonists. Appel writes the action really well – I liked the weaponry and tech toys, as well as the cultural differences between the factions which were well portrayed.

All in all, this is a cracking story, full of incident and tension that works well with a solidly depicted world and strong characters. My main concern is that the story leaves some dangling plotpoints that need to be cleared up – and there’s no indication that this is the first book in a series. I would be very sorry if this turns out to be a standalone. Highly recommended for space opera fans. While I obtained an arc of Assassin’s Orbit from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Sunday Post – 11th July, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

Standard

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

Overall, it’s been a much better week. And thank you so much for all the kind, encouraging comments I received after my rather frustrated rant, last week. They really helped me bounce back to a place where everything doesn’t seem so hopeless😊. Himself and I had a chat about everything, and we realised that I do need to get out more, even if it is only a matter of walking a handful of steps and then returning home. So on Wednesday, Himself and I were able to visit the local garden centre and have a pizza, and on Thursday, we went for a short walk along the river and ended up at the riverside café for a coffee. During the afternoons, I’ve been following the events at Wimbledon – and feel rather smug at correctly predicting that Mateo Berrettini would be playing in the Men’s Final, after watching him play his first match at Queen’s, back in mid-June. The pics this week are more from the garden…

The other bright spot is the fabulous quality of the books I’ve read this week – they are a lifeline by taking me away to another time and place. And one, in particular, has been outstanding…

Last week I read:

Into the Dark – Book 1 of the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland
At fifteen, Alexis Carew has to face an age old problem – she’s a girl, and only a boy can inherit the family’s vast holdings. Her options are few.

She must marry and watch a stranger run the lands, or become a penniless tenant and see the lands she so dearly loves sold off. Yet there may be another option, one that involves becoming a midshipman on a shorthanded spaceship with no other women.
This is a reread. For some reason, I didn’t follow up this series after reading the first book, so I read this one again to ensure that my memory hadn’t played tricks on me and that I definitely wanted to continue reading Alexis’s adventures. Which I certainly do…

Hestia 2781 – Book 1 of the Draco Tell Dramis series by Janet Edwards
Hestia 2781 is the first of two full-length novels set immediately after the short story Hera 2781.

The year is 2781. Lieutenant Drago Tell Dramis’s first mission as a newly qualified fighter pilot ended with him and his team leader saving one of humanity’s oldest colony worlds, Hera, from destruction. Now he’s discovering that saving a world can be simple compared to living with the consequences.

Both Drago and his team leader and second cousin, Jaxon, are famous now, given rapid field promotions, and are due to be awarded medals. Worryingly, Drago learns Jaxon has a mysterious secret and a past history of erratic behaviour. It’s vital that Drago keeps both of them out of trouble and away from nosy reporters until the medal ceremony, because Jaxon could do or say something that deeply embarrasses both the Military and their Betan clan.

The Military is helping by sending their fighter team on a mission somewhere inconspicuously boring until the medal ceremony. That destination definitely won’t be Hestia, the perpetual trouble spot of humanity.
This series is a spinoff from Edwards’ very popular Earth Girl series and I highly recommend that you read the short story ‘Hera 2781’ before tucking into this one, as the events in that story impact on what happens in the book. As ever, I thoroughly enjoyed the upbeat vibe Edwards always manages create in her space opera adventures, and appreciated revisiting this complex, enjoyable world. Review to follow.

Mutineer – Book 2 of the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland
Just as Midshipman Alexis Carew thinks she’s found a place in the Royal Navy, she’s transferred aboard H.M.S. Hermione. Her captain is a tartar, liberal with the cat, who thinks girls have no place aboard ship.

The other midshipmen in the berth are no better. The only advice she’s offered is to keep her head down and mouth shut – things Alexis is rarely able to do.
This was another enjoyable, action-packed read – and a shocking one. This series is essentially Hornblower in Space – and vividly depicted the darker, more brutal side of the Senior Service, by showing what can happen when a sadistic brute ends up running a ship. Sutherland’s notes on the story discloses that many of the events were based on true events that happened on a particular ship. It made for a gripping read.

The Goblin Emperor – Book 1 of The Goblin Emperior series by Katherine Addison
Maia, the youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favour with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the spectre of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor.
And firstly – a grovelling apology… Someone last week had recommended this one, so I got hold of it and I just want to say – THANK YOU – I just wish I could remember who it was, so I can namecheck you! This wonderful, engrossing read is going to make my Outstanding Reads list of the year. And even better news – I’ve now managed to get hold of an arc of the upcoming sequel – yay!

De Oppresso Liber – Book 6 of the Hayden War Cycle series by Evan Currie
The war may be over, but the fighting continues as SOLCOM learns of an excursion by the Ross’El against an unaffiliated pre-space civilization in the no man’s land between Earth and the Alien Alliance. With always more questions than answers, SOLCOM dispatches a ship to quietly survey the situation and determine what, if any, course of action is best.

Captain Sorilla Aida and her team are the ground element assigned to the task, with the clear understanding that no matter what… they are to remain undetected by the alien overlords now controlling the moon world. Sorilla knows only one thing for certain as she learns more about the situation :
Oppression is universal, Freedom is never free… and this is EXACTLY what she trained for.
De Oppresso Liber…
I once more tucked into this military sci fi adventure series, which has been cleverly developed from the initial flashpoint into a well-rounded world, full of detail and political tensions. Sorilla Aida has also had an interesting journey – and I like how her previous adventures are now affecting her current decisions.

AUDIOBOOK – Prophecy – Book 2 of the Giordano Bruno series by S.J. Parris
A Tudor thriller featuring Giordano Bruno, renegade monk, philosopher and heretic, for fans of C. J. Sansom and The Name of the Rose
Autumn, 1583. Under Elizabeth’s rule, loyalty is bought with blood…
An astrological phenomenon heralds the dawn of a new age and Queen Elizabeth’s throne is in peril. As Mary Stuart’s supporters scheme to usurp the rightful monarch, a young maid of honour is murdered, occult symbols carved into her flesh.

The Queen’s spymaster, Francis Walsingham, calls on maverick agent Giordano Bruno to infiltrate the plotters and secure the evidence that will condemn them to death. Bruno is cunning, but so are his enemies. His identity could be exposed at any moment. The proof he seeks is within his grasp. But the young woman’s murder could point to an even more sinister truth…
Hm. Not sure about the comparison with The Name of the Rose – but this one certainly helped me cope with my C.J. Sansom withdrawal symptoms… Bruno is a likeable, sympathetic character, whose presence in Tudor England on the edges of Elizabeth’s court is convincing and intriguing. Tudor London is beautifully described and the plot worked well as both a mystery and meshed effectively with the historical events of the time. Recommended for fans of historical mysteries. I also really enjoyed Laurence Kennedy’s excellent narration.

Wedding Hells – Book 8 of the Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
After her victory over Master Grey, Emily wants nothing more than to relax and give herself time to recover from the duel. Her magic, pushed to the limits, is no longer reliable, forcing her to learn to control it from scratch. Every time she delays using her magic, she risks headaches … or worse. But she must return to Whitehall to complete her fourth-year exams and bid farewell to those of her friends who are not returning for fifth year. And then, she must return to Zangaria to play her role in Princess Alassa’s wedding to Jade. It seems, if nothing else, a brief diversion before she goes off on a tour of the Allied Lands.

But all is not well in Zangaria and the kingdom is fast approaching a major crisis. Junior aristocrats are demanding their rights and titles from the king, while King Randor himself is dangerously unstable and hiding a secret that could spark off a civil war … and the peasants are threatening to revolt. Emily herself is isolated, unsure how to balance her obligations to her closest friends with her belief in freedom, justice and democracy. And, as Emily finds herself used as a political pawn by the different sides in the growing dispute and no longer sure who she can trust, she may find herself confronting a choice between doing the right thing, regardless of the cost…

…And losing everything she’s built over the past four years.
This intriguing magical school adventure has quickly developed into a far more interesting scenario, where a girl from Earth has been dumped into the middle of a medieval society. And then has been very quick to share ideas that are fast transforming the world around her. I enjoyed the ongoing story and was rather shocked at where it ended – though I’m pleased that Himself had got hold of the next book in the series, so I’ll be able to discover what happens next without too much delay…

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Life

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Antiques Carry On – Book 15 of the Trash n’Treasures Mystery series by Barbara Allan

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Ferryman and the Sea Witch by D. Wallace Peach

Sunday Post – 4th July 2021

Unfortunately, I haven’t been online enough to recommend any blogs or articles. And neither have I been visiting my fellow bloggers all that much, either… I’m very sorry. Thank you for those of you who continue to visit and comment – I really do appreciate you taking the time and effort to do so😊. I hope you all have a happy, healthy week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Antiques Carry On – Book 15 of A Trash n’Treasures mystery series by Barbara Allan #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AntiquesCarryOnbookreview

Standard

It was the bright yellow cover that caught my eye – and the blurb that promised lots of high jinks and mayhem around a mother and daughter investigative team. The unusual family dynamic and promise of a funny murder mystery meant that I was keen to read this one.

BLURB: Vivian Borne – true-crime author, antiques dealer and ex-sheriff of Serenity, Iowa – is looking forward to meeting her new editor in London. Flying first class, rooms at the Savoy . . . Her long-suffering co-author, daughter Brandy, worries the trip will bankrupt them both, but the alternative – Mother travelling alone – is unthinkable. Brandy’s almost tempted to make her fiance, Tony – Serenity’s Chief of Police – call Scotland Yard and warn them Vivian’s coming. But even Brandy doesn’t predict their vacation will end in murder . . . or that she and Mother will be unceremoniously ejected from the country, with an order to leave things well alone.

Vivian and Brandy need a case to write about, and Mother doesn’t care which one. But as the intrepid sleuths – ably supported by doggy detective Sushi – investigate a promising local prospect, they’re plunged into a complex mystery that stretches right back to London . . . with no choice but to carry on.

REVIEW: I hadn’t appreciated that this was the fifteenth book in the series, when I started reading it – but as it happened, that really didn’t matter all that much. While I’m sure there are all sorts of issues within this one that I would have appreciated more, had I read the series from the start, the entertaining friction between the characters and the ongoing whodunit meant I didn’t flounder in any way.

Each chapter is written in alternate viewpoints between Vivian and Brandy, with comments aimed directly at the reader at regular intervals. It isn’t to everyone’s taste and is easy to overdo such that it becomes annoying. I think Allan has got the balance right – and I certainly enjoyed the difference between the two characters. It is a structure regularly seen in romances, but less common in other genres and worked well here, where Vivian’s larger-than-life attitude to the world contrasted nicely with Brandy’s weary attempts to keep her mother in check. Needless to say, she mostly failed…

All this could have become irritating if the bones of a good whodunit wasn’t also in place – which it was. In the end, I appreciated the denouement, how well the plot held together and why the murders were committed. While I’m not going to go right back to the start of this series and read the previous fourteen – if I encounter another one of these entertaining stories, I wouldn’t hesitate to immediately pick it up and tuck into it. Recommended for fans of quirky murder mysteries. While I obtained an arc of Antiques Carry On from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Sunday Post – 4th July, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

Standard

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 Fourth of July to all my American friends – I hope you have a lovely day.

It’s been an odd week. On the plus side, we celebrated little Eliza’s birthday on Wednesday – I can’t quite believe that she is already three years old – where has the time gone? My daughter arranged for her to have a session at Outward Bound, where there is a huge soft play area. Her brothers crawled through tunnels with her, helped her up steps and ushered her down slides, while she duly bossed them around and generally had a wonderful time. I was able to drive myself there, as it is only ten minutes up the road from where I live. Now I have a walking stick, I was able to get out of the car and walk across the endless acreage of the car park without any help. Though it’s surprising how much BIGGER everywhere seems when you move at the speed of a dozing snail. It was lovely being able to see the birthday girl and give her a present and card (a batgirl dress in black and gold netting, with mask), and also see the rest of the family, who I really miss. The pics this week show Eliza and her brothers on their birthday outing, and more wilderness scenes from my overgrown garden.

The rest of the week, I’ve been watching Wimbledon and trying – and failing – to do more than move between the bed and the settee. I’m aware that I’ve so much to be grateful for – but this week, I’ve found it tough. My life is on hold and I’ve no idea when I will become well enough to resume my former busy schedule. Or if I will ever recover sufficiently to do so. I need to cling to the fact that I am able to occasionally write reviews and post them. Though depressingly my wordage for June didn’t even make 10,000 words, which is the lowest I’ve recorded since I started keeping track of my annual wordcount in 2013. When is a writer not a writer – when she doesn’t write!! Thank goodness for books. If I couldn’t regularly escape between the covers of a variety of lovely reads, I’d be a gibbering wreck by now.

Last week I read:

Patterns in the Dark – Book 4 of the Dragon Blood series by Lindsay Buroker
Everyone knows dragons have been extinct for over a thousand years. Everyone is wrong. At least one dragon remains, and military scientists from the Cofah Empire are experimenting with its blood, using the magical substance to power deadly new weapons that could be used to bring the world to its knees.

That’s a concern for Zirkander, Cas, and the rest of the Iskandians, but all Tolemek wants is to find his missing sister. The last time he saw her, their father had locked her in an asylum because of a mental illness with no cure. Now the military has taken her. What use the Cofah have for her, Tolemek can only guess, but he is certain she is in danger. He must save her before it’s too late. But her fate is inexplicably tied to the dragon’s, and he must find it to find her.
I’m working my way through this series far too fast! And that’s because it’s becoming addictive, as Buroker keeps on delivering books full of action, enjoyable characters and quirky humour. The big bonus in this one is that we finally come face to face with a dragon – yay! Unsurprisingly, Buroker is now one of my favourite authors – and I’m delighted to see that she’s written a LOT😊.

Assassin’s Orbit by John Appel
On the eve of the planet Ileri’s historic vote to join the Commonwealth, the assassination of a government minister threatens to shatter everything. Private investigator Noo Okereke and spy Meiko Ogawa join forces with police chief Toiwa to investigate – and discover clues that point disturbingly toward a threat humanity thought they had escaped.

A threat that could destroy Ileri and spark an interplanetary war… unless the disparate team can work together to solve the mystery.
This was another enjoyable, action-packed read, full of incident and appealing characters. I loved the nuanced, political world. And I really loved that the main characters were of a certain age – though still willing and able to mix it up with the wrong-headed youngsters. Review to follow.

Paladin’s Grace – Book 1 of The Saint of Steel series by T. Kingfisher
Stephen’s god died on the longest day of the year…

Three years later, Stephen is a broken paladin, living only for the chance to be useful before he dies. But all that changes when he encounters a fugitive named Grace in an alley and witnesses an assassination attempt gone wrong. Now the pair must navigate a web of treachery, beset on all sides by spies and poisoners, while a cryptic killer stalks one step behind…

And yet, ANOTHER lovely, entertaining read – this one had me howling with laughter during some of the romance scenes. I love it when an author successfully highlights just how funny passion can be😊. And yet, there is also plenty of adventure and tension, too. And I’m delighted to note that there are two more books in this series, so I now know where some of my birthday money is going…

The Daydreamer Detective Opens a Tea Shop – Book 3 of the Miso Cosy Mystery series by Steph Gennaro
Mei Yamagawa’s bad luck is almost at an end…

Her tea shop is a week away from opening, she and Yasahiro have planned a trip away, and the future is looking bright and hopeful. But when Yasahiro’s ex-fiancée, Amanda, shows up unexpectedly, demanding his time and presence, all of their plans dissolve…
Annoyingly, it wasn’t until I’d nearly finished this one that I realised I’d read Books 2 and 3 out of sequence. However, that didn’t prevent me from thoroughly enjoying this cosy contemporary murder mystery set in Japan. I really like Mei’s character – and I’ve edited the blurb somewhat, because I didn’t bother to read it before tucking into the book. And got a real shock when I discovered who exactly had been murdered… A charming, engrossing read that has me keen to return to this quirky and different world. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Life

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Stranding by Kate Sawyer

Friday Face-off featuring Dragonfly in Amber – Book 2 of the Outlander series by Diane Gabaldon

Review of NETGALLEY arc Willow – Book 1 of The Pepper Lane Club by Grace Parks

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Antiques Carry On – Book 15 of the Trash n’Treasures series by Barbara Allan

Tuesday Treasures – 34

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Artifact Space by Miles Cameron

Unfortunately, I haven’t been online enough to recommend any blogs or articles. And neither have I been visiting my fellow bloggers all that much, either… I’m very sorry. Thank you for those of you who continue to visit and comment – I really do appreciate you taking the time and effort to do so😊. I hope you all have a happy, healthy week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Stranding by Kate Sawyer #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheStrandingbookreview

Standard

To be honest, I’m still not quite sure why I decided to go ahead and request this one, given that I’ve been in quite a dark place. Except that some of my decisions have been a tad skewed, what with one thing and another. However, I’m glad that on one of my spells of energy, I got sufficiently carried away to get hold of this one, as it has provided me with one of the reading highlights of the year…

BLURB: Ruth lives in the heart of the city. Working, drinking, falling in love: the rhythm of her vivid and complicated life there is set against a background hum of darkening news reports from which she deliberately turns away.

As a new relationship becomes increasingly claustrophobic, and the discussions of impending political crisis are harder to avoid, she starts to dream of water; of escaping entwining tentacles through deep blue seas. She sets out to the other side of the globe to find that vision of freedom, and to decide who she wants to be when she returns. But when she arrives at her destination, she finds instead that the world, and life, she left behind no longer exists.

REVIEW: I won’t deny that there’s a devastating event that occurs right at the heart of this book. It’s tied up with the whale in an unusual way and sets the tone for what happens to Ruth during the rest of her life. If it had been written differently, it could have been unbearable to read. But Sawyer’s beautiful, poetic prose does exactly what literary writing should do – it supports the story by deepening the emotional impact and giving us an immersive, sensory experience. This isn’t instead of a cracking plot and well depicted, believable characters, which happens all too often when the writing is at such a wonderful standard – it’s in addition to those other vital ingredients.

The result is a stunning book that hooked me in and had me reading till my eyes ached. There were times when I cried and times when I held my breath – until I finally surfaced, feeling lightheaded and slightly euphoric. Though with that familiar sense of loss that there was no more time to spend in this story. I don’t want to say too much about the plot, as while the blurb gives a sense of what happens – there is so much more that the reader should discover on Sawyer’s terms. Her crafting of this plot worked perfectly for me – and I loved how I increasingly came to be more and more in Ruth’s corner as the story wore on. And if you pick this one up and find that in the beginning, you don’t like her all that much – do persevere for a bit longer. I promise that she will grow on you…

This is a remarkable book by an author who knows exactly what she is doing. It’s an ambitious book – to define the life of a character through such a major event and I don’t know many that could pull it off. Sawyer does more than that – she has created a highly memorable read that will stay with me for a very long time. And although we are only just over halfway through the year, I do know The Stranding has already made my list of Outstanding Reads of 2021. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The Stranding from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – I’ll take the high road and you take the low road… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceofflandscapecovers

Standard

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 looking at covers featuring LANDSCAPES WE’D LIKE TO VISIT. My father was a Scot and I’ve always wanted to visit the Scottish Highlands, so I’ve selected Dragonfly in Amber – Book 2 of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.

Portuguese edition – 1, May 2016

This Portuguese edition was produced by Nemira in May 2016, and shows the wonderful Scottish landscape stretching out behind Jamie Fraser – who is also somewhat easy on the eye… I love the quality of the light suffusing the backdrop, with the sun low in the sky seeming to explode across the mountaintops, also throwing the character into a partial silhouette. It’s nicely done and this one is my favourite.

Arrow Books – 1, March 1994

Published in March 1994 by Arrow Books, this offering also features the distant mountains and the edge of a loch – this time with Brianna as the main character. But then they plonk a grey textbox right across the middle of the vista and wreck the mood and feel of the cover. What a shame – this could have been a contender, otherwise.

Arrow Books -2, March 1004

Also produced in March 1994 by Arrow Books, this offering is far more successful. I love the sweeping vista of the Scottish landscape, with the small figures giving a sense of the epic scale of their surroundings. This one is so very nearly my favourite – my niggle is that the colour is too hectic for my taste and I find it offputting.

Portuguese edition – 2, November 2014

This is another classy effort by a Portuguese publisher, produced by Saída de Emergência in November 2014. It is a variation on the first cover – and the deciding factor for me, is that I prefer the position and body language of Jamie on the first cover. I think this one looks a bit posed – but I’m aware that’s a personal niggle and I still think it’s a fine offering. It certainly makes me want to be there, roaming around the Scottish hills…

Spanish edition, 1995

This Spanish edition, published by Salamandra in 1995, features a castle stronghold – though the fortifications on top of the mountain are largely hidden behind the author font. It is certainly a dramatic rendering of the Scottish landscape, reminding me of the 19th century paintings of Scotland that became so fashionable – and aptly captures the historical tone of the book. However, I don’t like the positioning or styling of the title and author fonts. Which is your favourite, and have you ever visited the Scottish Highlands?

Review of NETGALLEY arc Willow – Book 1 of The Pepper Lane Club series by Grace Parks #BrainfluffNETGALLEYreview #Willowbookreview

Standard

Yes… I know, I’m writing a review about a romance – that’s certainly different! Well, I’ve been reading lots and lots of SFF – and the latest military SF adventure was superb, but also a bit grim. And I needed something a little more soothing, so when I saw this one land in my Inbox, I decided to request it and see what happens. I’m glad I did…

BLURB: Willow Lawson is a fun loving social media expert, who helps companies stand out from their competitors. Yet, despite her bubbly personality, her social life is mostly work-related, and her love life is non-existent. That’s when she starts The Pepper Lane Club, a chance to get away once a month from her maddening life and reconnect with her friends. It’s at this very first meeting that she meets Thomas Greer, who owns the café. He’s everything she’s not. He’s serious, unsociable, unfashionable, and dead set against social media. She decides to take him on as a client despite his refusals. She wants the challenge, and she wants to prove to him that he needs her help. He frustrates her, but there’s something about his old fashioned ways that also intrigues her.

REVIEW: In order to thoroughly enjoy a romance, I need to really care about the main protagonist(s). And Parks did a solid job in creating a sympathetic, amusing protagonist with sufficient depth of character to hold me throughout the story – and yet not too much so that it unduly slowed the pace.

Willow is interesting in that she is one of twins – and I liked the fact that for a refreshing change, they came from a loving family, with nice parents. Indeed, Willow looks at her parents’ relationship with some envy. She also has a close relationship with her twin sister, as well as a wide circle of acquaintance and a busy social life. But… how close are those friendships she has fostered online? Other than her family, Willow realises that she is missing a relationship with a group of people she is really close to, outside her Facebook and Instagram accounts – and decides to do something about it.

I thought this aspect of the story was smart, as this is an ongoing dilemma for so many of us, now staggering out of the various lockdowns and grappling with the reality of face-to-face meetings, after having thrown our energy into keeping our social networks going digitally. While Parks doesn’t allude to any of that – this must be a hurdle for so many folks. And Willow’s idea of meeting up once a month for a lovely meal with women she likes and trusts is also a really good one.

I’m conscious that I haven’t said much about the romance. But I also liked that dynamic, too. It wasn’t groundbreakingly original – going along the lines of fake relationship deepening into something more substantial. But Willow’s confusion regarding Thomas worked well, and didn’t get too ridiculously muddled – a common moan I have about romance stories – before resolving into a believable, cute relationship that was founded on a genuine respect and liking for each other. Highly recommended for fans of romance stories. While I obtained an arc of Willow from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10