Category Archives: feisty heroine

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik – Book 2 of the Scholomance series #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheLastGraduatebookreview

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I am a fan of Novik’s writing – see my reviews of Spinning Silver, Uprooted and Victory of Eagles, Tongues of Serpents, Crucible of Gold, Blood of Tyrants and League of Dragons of the Temeraire series. So when I saw that she’d written a school-based fantasy, I immediately pre-ordered the first book, A Deadly Education and was thrilled to be able to get hold of this second one via Netgalley. Would I enjoy it as much?

BLURB: At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year—and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules…

REVIEW: I’m not sure if it’s because I was a teacher, but the magical schools sub-genre is a favourite and I thoroughly enjoyed A Deadly Education. Though I was a bit fed up with the cliff-hanger at the end – and I’m warning you now, there’s another at the end of The Last Graduate.

El isn’t such a hardcore, in-your-face character this time around. For starters, she now has a loyal group of friends, and other alliances with a handful of enclave kids who have far more resources and protections than those without that kind of advantage. And it’s just as well she’s got more going for her as this year, as the School has become a lot more aggressive – with El apparently a prime target. Novik writes action scenes really well and has a glorious suite of delightfully revolting monsters that squish satisfyingly when they meet their messy end. This series would make a wonderful TV series.

However, if you were one of those who found the descriptions of the magic and the world outside a tad tedious in A Deadly Education (I didn’t…), then you won’t fare any better in this offering. El has a lot to say about the political situation, the history of the school and the very complex magic system, particularly in the first half of the book. It didn’t bother me, partly because we need to know all the information, partly because I found it fascinating anyway. I’m a huge fan of El, who has a natural talent for horrific destruction but has had it dinned into her by her adorable mother, that she can’t afford to give into those instinct at all. And Novik manages to depict her absolutely following the rules without her coming off as sickeningly good.

El is bad-tempered, overly cynical, far too touchy and apt to push away those who genuinely want to befriend her – but despite that, she is rigid in trying to avoid doing harm. I really like the fact that she isn’t the overwhelmed, put-upon victim doing the best she can in awful circumstances, either. She’s far too powerful for that. That doesn’t stop her from becoming increasingly trapped in a terrible situation, where the right thing to do is plain terrifying. I also enjoyed the humour, albeit a tad dark-edged, that runs through this story. And I am impressed with Novik’s successful portrayal of a Brit main character, complete with the sardonic street-wise dialogue.

While there is plenty of action throughout, the pace and tension really picks up in the second half of the book, which was difficult to put down once it hit its stride. I was glad Himself had warned me about that ending, though – otherwise I think it would have gone flying across the room. Which is why I’ve passed the warning on. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining read – and I’m very much looking forward to the third book in the series. The ebook arc copy of The Last Graduate was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #2

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In my previous article, I wrote about the run-up to the crisis that had me in despair, which happened just after my last major relapse in the third week of August. In this Sunday Post, hosted by Kimberly, the Caffeinated Reviewer, I’ll talk about what I discovered when I was well enough to be able to go online and search for more information.

The first couple of times I’d searched, I’d found some rather generic advice and a couple of accounts by other sufferers. But there was nothing specific that I could actually use to help me form any kind of coherent recovery plan. The doctor had organised a blood test, which discovered that I was slightly deficient in vitamin D, which I promptly fixed by ordering the recommended dose of tablets. However, that didn’t appear to make any difference. This time around, my online searching hit the jackpot.

Almost immediately, I came across an article recommending that Long Covid sufferers struggling with chronic fatigue get hold of a book – Classic Pacing: For a Better Life with ME by Ingebjørg Midsem Dahl, which I immediately ordered. I went for the print version, which is a bit of a beast, but I use a bookstand so I’m not holding it and I think it’s by far the better option. There are tables and lists, which are much easier to read on a real page, rather than on an ebook. At long last, I had a measure of the extent of my condition and – even more importantly – a strategy to try and stabilise my symptoms, so that I wasn’t trapped in this miserable pattern of recovery and relapse. The book recommends that I gauge my energy levels, then attempt to operate below my limit to ideally avoid becoming bedridden again.

That said, I was a bit chastened when I realised just how limited my life would be – no more quick trips to the beach for the foreseeable future. But we reckoned it was worth it if it helps my ultimate recovery from Long Covid. It also recommends that I take advantage of any equipment to enable me to rest – like using a bath stool to sit while showering, for example. This has meant I’m able to shower more frequently, which helps my mental health. When I am too weak to shower, most days I can still manage a quick wash while sitting at the sink. I went to the physio to get a set of very gentle exercises I can do lying down, on my good days, to try and stop my body becoming a flabby blob. Though fortunately, so far I haven’t put on any weight. On really good days, I take a walk around the block with Himself, using my walking staff as support to help with my balance issues. I think I’m getting a bit quicker, but a dozing snail could still overtake me with ease.

The other major recommendation was to rest frequently during the day, after each task. This prospect would have left me dismayed – but for the fact that someone online had recommended using meditation. Not only does it assist in resting the mind and body, it also teaches calmness and focus. When I mentioned this to my son, he immediately pointed me towards Headspace, an app I could upload onto my phone. This has been a huge help in helping me rest mindfully, but also to meditate on getting better, keeping positive and being kinder to myself. There are also sleepcasts and meditations to help relax before bedtime, which is important as I have a dysfunctional relationship with sleep that goes back years.

I now keep an activity journal, where I write down what I do every day and give each day a mark out of 10 for my mental and physical state. Himself has been putting these in a graph – I’ve now two months of data, as I’d started keeping the score before my relapse. This is important as Time now feels very odd. Each day runs quite slowly, but when I look back, days and weeks seem to bleed into one another so my perception of what has gone before is completely impaired. And obviously, to aid my recovery I need to understand whether I’m getting better or not, so I need a clear record of what happens on a daily basis.

I no longer make any plans – and this was initially something of a struggle as I’m an inveterate list-maker and each night, I’d work out what the coming day’s tasks would be. But I simply can’t, as I never know how I’ll be feeling. I can have three good days in a row – and the next morning wake up feeling fragile and slightly sick when I move. So it’s best not to add an extra twist of disappointment by then having to put a line through any activities I was looking forward to doing.

I pay close attention to what I eat and drink. Fortunately, I don’t have much of an appetite so I’m not tempted to snack or comfort-eat – but I learnt early on that sugar is not my friend in any form. It makes me tired, depressed and causes joint pain, particularly in my back where I have a dodgy disc, anyway. So no sweets, biscuits, or cakes – I’ve even discovered they put sugar in lots of bread. So it’s sourdough slices for my morning toast and in the evening, there’s plenty of fresh vegetables, often with a side salad, all prepared by Himself. I love my lapsang souchong, but limit myself to two cups a day – and then it’s onto a variety of herbal teas, including peppermint and liquorice; lavender and oat; redbush and turmeric. While I’m aware that caffeine can be inflammatory and it would be ideal to cut it out – there’s a balance. And right now, I reckon I need those two cups of tea in my life.

I need to stay upbeat and positive to get through this – and not just for my sake. Himself has been an absolute trooper throughout – unfailingly kind and nurturing. But I’m very aware that he is under enormous strain, not only holding down an important, safety-critical job, but then coming home and looking after me, while doing all the housework, shopping and cooking. Whenever I’m tempted to feel sorry for myself, I remember that in many ways he has it worse than I do. And whatever the future holds – there isn’t a quick fix ahead of us. I’m banking on being part of the statistical cohort that eventually recovers – I have to believe that. I had a wonderful life before this happened and I want it back. But realistically, I still have months ahead of me – maybe years – whereby I have to focus on pacing myself below what I can do in the hope that gives my body sufficient surplus energy to devote to healing itself. Wish me luck! In the meantime, I’ll try to post updates on my progress and anything I’ve encountered or experienced that might help others in my situation. Thank you so very much for your comments and good wishes – it’s been lovely to reconnect with so many of you. Though please understand that I’m likely to disappear again, as being able to spend any time in front of the computer only happens when I’m feeling at my very best.

I’ve been reading like a fiend during my illness – thank goodness for books, both audio and digital! Without them I’d be gibbering at the moon by now. I lead a very limited life and being able to escape into all sorts of intriguing worlds and adventures has helped to pass the time and keep me entertained. This week I’ve read:-

Assassin’s Bond – Book 3 of the Chains of Honor series by Lindsay Buroker
Yanko and his friends must escape a Turgonian prison and find passage back home before their enemies claim an advantage that could change the world. And not for the good of the Nurian people.

But even more trouble awaits at home. Civil war has broken out, Yanko’s family is in danger, and the man who sent him on his mission has disappeared. If Yanko can’t find Prince Zirabo, he’ll forever remain a criminal and be hunted down by his own people. Worse, his only chance to survive and redeem his honor may be to rely on the one person who’s been trying to kill him since his adventure began.
This next instalment in this entertaining adventure is full of action, incident, quirky amusing characters and laugh-aloud moments. Buroker has become a favourite author of mine over the last few months. I’m so impressed at her ability to tell a cracking story full of tension and emotion and yet still manage to inject real humour throughout.
9/10

The Necropolis Empire: A Twilight Imperium novel by Tim Pratt
Bianca Xing has spent a lifetime on a provincial planet, dreaming of travelling the stars. When her planet is annexed by the Barony of Letnev, Bianca finds herself being taken into custody, told that she’s special – the secret daughter of a brilliant scientist, hidden away on a remote planet for her own safety.

But the truth about Bianca is stranger. There are secrets hidden in her genetic code that could have galaxy altering consequences. Driven by an incredible yearning and assisted by the fearsome Letnev Captain, Dampierre, Bianca must follow her destiny to the end, even if it leads to places that are best left forgotten.
This is a real treat. Pratt’s breezy tone drives this adventure forward with verve and pace which had me really caring for the protagonists. He writes truly nice characters very well, which is harder than he makes it look. Review to follow.
9/10

The Broken Throne – Book 16 of the Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
The Kingdom of Zangaria has fallen into civil war. On one side, King Randor and his forces, determined to impose his rule over the entire kingdom; on another, the noblemen who want to crush the king; on a third, Princess Alassa and the Levellers.

Caught in the middle, Emily must steer a course between her loyalty to her friend, her duty to people who put their faith in her and her fears for the future. But King Randor has unleashed forces even he may be unable to control…
This is another cracking series that has continued to deliver all sorts of unexpected twists and turns that has me enthralled. This particular episode charts some of the fallout caused by Emily bringing inventions from contemporary Earth to a feudal system driven by magic.
9/10

Battle Ground – Book 17 of the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher
Harry has faced terrible odds before. He has a long history of fighting enemies above his weight class. The Red Court of vampires. The fallen angels of the Order of the Blackened Denarius. The Outsiders.

But this time it’s different. A being more powerful and dangerous on an order of magnitude beyond what the world has seen in a millennium is coming. And she’s bringing an army. The Last Titan has declared war on the city of Chicago, and has come to subjugate humanity, obliterating any who stand in her way. Harry’s mission is simple but impossible: Save the city by killing a Titan. And the attempt will change Harry’s life, Chicago, and the mortal world forever.
Don’t pick this one up unless you have read Peace Talks and clearly recall the story or you’ll flounder. The action moves forward from the previous book and Butcher doesn’t hang around. And the title is spot on – the whole book essentially describes an epic battle, from the build-up to the immediate fallout. Review to follow.
8/10

Scorched Heart – Book 4 of the Firebrand series by Helen Harper
My parents were brutally murdered when I was five years old. Their killer has spent the last twenty-five years in prison for his terrible crimes – but I still have unanswered questions. After all, I am the phoenix. When I die, I am reborn in fire and brimstone. It happens again and again and again. I have no idea where my strange ability came from and nobody to ask.

Now another shocking murder has been committed in the small village where my parents died and there is evidence which suggests the killer is supernatural. The crime gives me the perfect reason to return to my childhood home. I can offer my expertise as a Supe Squad detective – and seek the truth behind what I really am. The trouble is that I might not like what I find.
In this, the fourth instalment of this exciting Brit-based urban fantasy featuring Emma, we finally discover the mystery behind the tragedy that has overshadowed her life since she was five. Harper’s pacy plotting and engaging characters have drawn me into this world and I really enjoyed the twisty climax to this tense murder mystery.
9/10

Owl’s Fair – Book 2 The Owl Star Witch series by Leanne Leeds
Once Astra Arden realized her life’s direction had been chosen for her by the goddess Athena, the former witch tracker did her best to adjust. After all, there were destinies you could fight to change, and there were destinies that, when refused, might get you turned into a stone statue for eternity.

When the altruistic Alice Windrow comes to Athena’s Garden for a tarot card reading, the cheerful young woman seems to not have a care in the world. Known throughout the town for her philanthropy funded by a distant relative’s substantial inheritance, she only wishes assurance that the marathon she sponsored will come off without a hitch. The reading takes a turn when Athena’s glowing Star Card flips—showing someone has it in for the innocent Alice. Can Astra and her sisters unravel the plot in time to stop Alice’s murder? Or will the generous girl find that her marathon is officially over—for good?
I’d found some of the reads this week a tad intense – so I went looking for something a bit more lighthearted. And recalled that I’d recently read the first book in this enjoyable urban fantasy series about poor old Astra having to move back home and being tasked to prevent murders before they happen on behalf of the goddess Athene. She even has a talking owl for help – though Archie provides all sorts of problems along the way, too. This enjoyable offering is skilfully plotted, with plenty of twists and tension along with the laughs. Just what I needed!
9/10

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m very aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be in a position to start to reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and have a lovely week:).

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of In the Shadow of Deimos by Jane Killick #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #IntheShadowofDeimosbookreview

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I’m a sucker for murder mysteries – and I have a particular fondness for whodunits in a sci fi setting. Stuck on the ship in deep space, or on a colony in a hab bubble where the outside atmosphere is lethal provides ideal locked room scenarios without having to reach for outlandish reasons why everyone is cut off and fleeing isn’t an option. So when I saw this offering, I immediately requested it.

BLURB: Mars, 2316. The recently created Terraforming Committee arbitrates the dramatic development of Mars by powerful rival corporations. When a rogue asteroid crashes into a research center and kills its lone technician, the fragile balance between corporations is shattered. The World Government’s investigation into the accident reveals a multitude of motives, while a corporation insider stumbles on a dark conspiracy. Two Martians with very different agendas must navigate a trail of destruction and treachery to uncover the truth and expose those responsible, before Mars falls to Earth’s corruption. As lines blur between progress and humanity, Mars itself remains the biggest adversary of all.

REVIEW: As I checked up on this book after finishing it, I discovered that a boardgame called Terraforming Mars provides the setting. I was blissfully unaware of the game while reading the book, so don’t let that nugget of information put you off. It doesn’t matter to anyone picking up the book, as it doesn’t impact your reading experience in any way.

This is a slow-burn mystery where the daily rhythm of the teams who are tasked with terraforming Mars is explored in some detail. So this isn’t one for murder mystery fans who only want a splash of sci fi in their crime scene. However, I appreciated the way Killick gives the reader a very clear picture of how the terraforming effort is progressing, while introducing us to the main protagonists. Inevitably there are strains between competing corporations – and also some major issues are discussed. Should Humanity be altering Mars to suit our needs at all? What if in doing so, we inadvertently destroy some biological organisms that we haven’t yet discovered? As a science fiction fan, I found all this fascinating, especially as running alongside these plotlines is the growing sense that all is not well within Mars’ fledgling community.

Killick’s smooth, unfussy writing style pulled me into the story, so that I stayed up faar later than I should to discover what happens next. Because while this one starts slowly, there are several excellent action scenes that are all the more shocking because of the relatively low key beginning. And the climactic episode out on the surface, where a man is struggling for his life after being double-crossed, is one I won’t forget in a hurry. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale – as well as the slightly bitter-sweet ending, which has stayed with me. I shall be looking around for more of Killick’s books and thoroughly recommend this Mars’ murder mystery. While I obtained an arc of In the Shadow of Deimos from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* The Man Who Died Twice – Book 2 of The Thursday Murder Club series by Richard Osman #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheManWhoDiedTwicebookreview

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I finally picked up a copy of The Thursday Murder Club back in April. Initially, I found it slow-going as the story took a while to hit its stride. But I ended up being impressed with the depth of characterisation, the humour and well-handled moments of real poignancy. So when I saw this one available on Netgalley, I was thrilled to be approved.

BLURB: It’s the following Thursday. Elizabeth has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with whom she has a long history. He’s made a big mistake, and he needs her help. His story involves stolen diamonds, a violent mobster, and a very real threat to his life.

As bodies start piling up, Elizabeth enlists Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron in the hunt for a ruthless murderer. And if they find the diamonds too? Well, wouldn’t that be a bonus? But this time they are up against an enemy who wouldn’t bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can The Thursday Murder Club find the killer (and the diamonds) before the killer finds them?

REVIEW: If you haven’t yet read the first book, don’t worry about picking this one up as I don’t think it matters all that much. Osman effectively introduces the main four seventy-somethings, who are every bit as likeable as when I first met them. We swing straight into the story – Osman has really found his feet with this one and it shows.

The pacing, plot twists and overall structure are spot on. And while there were a few amusing moments in the first book, I found myself laughing out loud with this one on a regular basis throughout. There is a Dickensian, slightly larger-than-life feel about all the characters that never lurches into caricature – and I like Osman’s evident respect for his protagonists. Now I’m of a certain age, I get fed up with TV programmes and books that poke fun at older characters. Once again Elizabeth drives the story – someone with a busy, somewhat dark past, who is still able to run rings around everyone else. And yet, she also has her vulnerabilities.

I read a fair number of murder mysteries and it’s a tricky balance not to get blasé about the murder victims, particularly when there are humorous moments in the mix. Osman never falls into that trap. Without getting too dark and intense, he always makes it clear that someone dying before their time is a very big deal. In fact, there is a strong sense of right and wrong throughout the story that I really appreciated. The plot is delightfully twisty and the ending is masterfully handled – that last line is superb. You may have gathered that I loved this one – and you’d be right. If you’re looking for an outstanding contemporary murder mystery with plenty of humour and packed full of memorable characters, this one comes very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The Man Who Died Twice from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Women of Troy – Book 2 of The Women of Troy series by Pat Barker #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheWomenofTroybookreview

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I encountered The Silence of the Girls last September – see my review – and it blew me away. While it was a powerful, disturbing read, I have always had a soft spot of Greek myths and this retelling really stayed with me. So I was thrilled to see this turn up on Netgalley – and even more thrilled to be approved to read it.

BLURB: Troy has fallen. The Greeks have won their bitter war. They can return home as victors – all they need is a good wind to lift their sails. But the wind has vanished, the seas becalmed by vengeful gods, and so the warriors remain in limbo – camped in the shadow of the city they destroyed, kept company by the women they stole from it.

The women of Troy.

Helen – poor Helen. All that beauty, all that grace – and she was just a mouldy old bone for feral dogs to fight over.

Cassandra, who has learned not to be too attached to her own prophecies. They have only ever been believed when she can get a man to deliver them.

Stubborn Amina, with her gaze still fixed on the ruined towers of Troy, determined to avenge the slaughter of her king.

Hecuba, howling and clawing her cheeks on the silent shore, as if she could make her cries heard in the gloomy halls of Hades. As if she could wake the dead.

And Briseis, carrying her future in her womb: the unborn child of the dead hero Achilles. Once again caught up in the disputes of violent men. Once again faced with the chance to shape history.

REVIEW: As should be evident from the punchy blurb, there are trigger warnings for rape and violence. Although I’d like to emphasise that there is nothing graphic or sensationalised about the plight of the women who find themselves part of the booty looted from Troy. Probably the most visceral scene is King Priam’s death – and that isn’t as grisly as some of the vicious hand-to-hand fighting depicted in epic fantasies written by the likes of John Gwynne, Joe Abercrombie and Miles Cameron.

What is undeniable is the power of Barker’s prose, as she immerses us in the daily lives of the captured women, experienced in first-person pov by former Princess Briseis, who witnessed the death of her family at the hands of Achilles in the early stages of the Trojan campaign. And was then captured by him. Now he’s dead, her life has once more become uncertain – particularly as she is carrying his child. It’s Briseis who tries to make life easier for the newly captive women, traumatised by the death of their husbands, fathers and sons – and are now having to cope with being owned by those responsible for killing their families. Barker could have so easily turned this into a sensational, stomach-churning read, but her immersive, intelligent writing – while not in any way belittling what is going on – gives us a ringside seat in the camp where the Greeks are still living. For despite being the victors, they are now imprisoned on the shores where they’ve been living for the past decade…

The unfolding story of what happens within that camp, as political alliances shift and rebalance in the light of the Greek victory, makes a riveting read. I fell in love with beautiful, brave Briseis in The Silence of the Girls and this book has only strengthened my admiration for her. If you enjoyed The Silence of the Girls, then this sequel comes very highly recommended. And if you like the idea of reading a retelling of the Trojan war and haven’t yet done so, then I suggest you look out The Silence of the Girls. This engrossing series gives you a version of the story from the viewpoint of the women caught up in it – something the Greek canon never bothered to do. While I obtained an arc of The Women of Troy from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Haunted Homecoming – Book 10 of the Southern Ghosts series by Angie Fox #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheHauntedHomecomingbookreview

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I’ve done it again… I thoroughly enjoyed Angie Fox’s Monster M*A*S*H series – see my reviews of The Monster MASH, The Transylvania Twist and Werewolves of London. So during lockdown, I also tucked into the first couple of books in this engaging Southern Ghosts series and was delighted to find new release, The Haunted Homecoming, appear on Netgalley. What I hadn’t appreciated was that it was the tenth book! Would I be able to enjoy it anyway?

BLURB: Apple cider, bonfires, football, and—ghosts.

It’s homecoming weekend in Sugarland, Tennessee and ghost hunter Verity Long is tickled to see so many souls—living and dead—back in town to celebrate. But not all reunions are happy ones, and when Verity stumbles upon a dead body by the football field, it appears someone has already evened the score.

REVIEW: Despite having missed out books 3-9 in this delightfully warm-hearted, cosy murder mystery, I don’t think newcomers to this series would have any difficulty in crashing into this series, as Verity’s enjoyable first-person narration sweeps up the reader and draws them into Sugarland’s festivities. Right now, I particularly appreciate dollops of humour along with my urban fantasy shenanigans – and Fox provides just the right amount of snark and delightful moments of comedy. I particularly relished getting to know Verity’s mother, who returns to Sugarland for Homecoming Week, along with her husband. The tension between mother and daughter was both funny and, at times, poignant. Humour can often have a cruel edge – but Fox’s exuberant, upbeat writing style doesn’t go there.

For all the excitement and loving descriptions of lots of sugar-laden treats – I wouldn’t recommend this book if you’re trying to diet – Fox also has a sharp eye for small-town friction. We have a good spread of suspects with strong reasons for wanting Ashley to keep quiet. Although I was pleased to see that the perpetrator wasn’t someone I had initially suspected. All in all, this was a really enjoyable read and I look forward to going back and catching up with more of Verity’s adventures. While I obtained an arc of The Haunted Homecoming from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #VelvetWastheNightbookreview

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I am a fan of Moreno-Garcia’s writing – see my reviews of Mexican Gothic, Gods of Jade and Shadow, Certain Dark Things, The Beautiful Ones and Prime Meridian. So when I saw this one was available on Netgalley, I scampered across to request it and was delighted to be approved to read it…

BLURB: 1970s, Mexico City. Maite is a secretary who lives for one thing: the latest issue of Secret Romance. While student protests and political unrest consume the city, Maite escapes into stories of passion and danger.

Her next-door neighbor, Leonora, a beautiful art student, seems to live a life of intrigue and romance that Maite envies. When Leonora disappears under suspicious circumstances, Maite finds herself searching for the missing woman—and journeying deeper into Leonora’s secret life of student radicals and dissidents.

Meanwhile, someone else is also looking for Leonora at the behest of his boss, a shadowy figure who commands goon squads dedicated to squashing political activists. Elvis is an eccentric criminal who longs to escape his own life: He loathes violence and loves old movies and rock ’n’ roll. But as Elvis searches for the missing woman, he comes to observe Maite from a distance…

REVIEW: I’ve cut short the rather chatty blurb, which I think strays into Spoiler territory. I’m a huge fan of Moreno-Garcia’s writing – she is a mighty talent who makes a point of hopping across a number of genres to produce something different every time. Even more impressively, she manages to nail each genre every time, too. But I’ll confess that this time around, it was something of a battle to get through the first half of this book. It’s a noir thriller, set in a terrible time when people were being persecuted and beaten by thugs because of their political opinions. So inevitably, the mood is gritty and the main characters are trapped in circumstances beyond their control. As I’m also struggling with my own issues right now, I found it a difficult read – especially as I really cared about Maite.

Moreno-Garcia’s superpower is the way she manages to make me care about protagonists who are deeply flawed. Poor, downtrodden Maite is far too worried about what everyone else thinks. Lonely and depressed, she is also oblivious to what is going on around her. Elvis has got mixed up with a terrible organisation, having been mesmerised by a monster, and is capable of terrible acts of violence. Both of them aspire to a more glamorous life, as depicted in the films – the kind of life that missing Leonora seems to be leading. Though, despite her insecurities and ignorance of the sheer horror of what is going on around her, what stopped me from dismissing Maite as a complete loser, is the core of kindness that runs through her. And her refusal to give up trying to do the right thing.

After I got halfway through the book, the gathering pace and my fondness for Maite kept the pages turning. Moreno-Garcia’s evident talent shines through in her handling of the increasing tension, while the finale brought together all the strands of the story into a fabulous ending. Whatever you do, read the Afterword which explains the historical context of the events depicted in the book. Once more, this is a triumphant success by an outstanding author and I just wish my own circumstances had left me in a better place to be able to fully appreciate it. While I don’t normally reread books, this is one that I intend to visit again, once I’ve finally recovered from Long Covid. The ebook arc copy of Velvet Was the Night was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc We Cry for Blood – Book 3 of The Reborn Empire series by Devin Madson #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #WeCryforBloodbookreview

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I’ve come very late to this series, given that many of the book bloggers that I like and respect loved this one. Indeed, I had a copy of We Ride the Storm gathering dust on my TBR pile – until I realised the third book was available on Netgalley, so decided to give it a whirl. And as I’m now reviewing said third instalment, you can assume that I thoroughly enjoyed We Ride the Storm and We Lie With Death. Indeed, if I wasn’t struggling with Long Covid, I would have written a review on at least one of the other two books.

BLURB: Ambition and schemes have left the Kisian Empire in ashes. Empress Miko Ts’ai will have to move fast if she hopes to secure a foothold in its ruins. However, the line between enemies and allies may not be as clear-cut as it first appeared.

After failing to win back his Swords, former Captain Rah e’Torin finds shelter among the Levanti deserters. But his presence in the camp threatens to fracture the group, putting him on a collision course with their enigmatic leader.

Assassin Cassandra Marius knows Leo Villius’s secret—one that could thwart his ambitions to conquer Kisia. But her time in Empress Hana’s body is running out and each attempt they make to exploit Leo’s weakness may be playing into his plans.

And, as Leo’s control over the Levanti emperor grows, Dishiva e’Jaroven is caught in his web. To successfully challenge him, she’ll have to decide how many of her people are worth sacrificing in order to win.

REVIEW: In many ways, this series hits many of the tropes around current epic fantasy stories, as the origin world takes more from eastern cultures, rather than drawing on classic western civilisation. And there are strong female protagonists – three of them, compared to the single male warrior. What I hadn’t expected was the sheer excellence of the writing that yanked me into the initial book and simply wouldn’t let go.

My firm advice is to get hold of We Ride the Storm and We Lie With Death before tucking into this one, as the narrative timeline follows straight from one book to the next. However, should you choose to ignore my advice, Madson has obligingly added a ‘Story So Far’ foreword, along with a detailed cast of characters. I wish more authors did this with series where the ongoing narrative is vital. Luckily, I didn’t need to be reminded of the previous story, as Cassandra, Rah, Miko and Dishiva are such vivid, memorable characters, even my brain fog hadn’t blurred their various difficulties. I even dreamt about this world – though I have to say that when I woke up and found that I wasn’t in the middle of it, I was very relieved.

The balance between the worldbuilding and the characterisation is skilfully handled, with the prose consistently assured and flowing. The battle scenes leap off the page, full of the bloody violence that is inevitable in hand-to-hand fighting, while the twists and turns of the political scheming kept me turning the pages. These days, this isn’t my go-to genre – I am often alienated by morally compromised characters and the wretched fallout that ensures when the great and the good decide warfare is the only answer. So I’m not quite sure why this series has sunk its hooks so deeply into my inscape – but it certainly has. And my chief complaint is that the third book has finished with not a single major plotpoint being resolved. So I’m going to have to wait before discovering what happens next to Madson’s hapless main characters. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy. While I obtained an arc of We Cry for Blood from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Rookery – Book 2 of The Nightjar series by Deborah Hewitt BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheRookerybookreview

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This offering caught my eye, as I loved the sound of an alternate London and an intriguingly different magic system. But I hadn’t got very far into it, when I realised that it was the second in a series – and that this time around, my reading experience was being seriously compromised by not having read The Nightjar. So I stopped and got hold of the first book – and I firmly advise that you do the same thing, if by chance you have also picked up The Rookery before having already tucked into The Nightjar.

BLURB: After discovering her magical ability to see people’s souls, Alice Wyndham only wants three things: to return to the Rookery, join the House Mielikki and master her magic, and find out who she really is.

But when the secrets of Alice’s past threaten her plans, and the Rookery begins to crumble around her, she must decide how far she’s willing to go to save the city and people she loves.

REVIEW: I enjoyed this one far more than The Nightjar. To some extent, that might be because I’d compromised my reading experience of the first book in this series by already knowing some of the main plotpoints. However, I don’t necessarily think that was the main problem. I’d become a tad exasperated by Alice during The Nightjar, as she made some really daft decisions. And I’m increasingly allergic to heroines who are determined to throw themselves into the most insanely dangerous situations they can find for the sake of the plot, while all the time professing there isn’t any other option.

So I’ll admit to starting this one without feeling hugely enthusiastic – and ended up getting completely pulled into the plot. The world had already beguiled me, and it was the prospect of revisiting the Rookery, the magical version of London, that had prompted me to dive into this one, anyway. But this time around, Alice’s decisions were far more logical. That doesn’t mean that she isn’t still a disaster magnet – but the situations she flung herself into at least made sense to me. And I was pleased to see that the political machinations around the magical houses were given sufficient attention, as that was one of the ongoing issues throughout The Nightjar that had intrigued me. All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable, immersive read – to the extent that I stayed up far later than is good for me to discover what happened.

So if you read The Nightjar and came away wondering what all the fuss is about – don’t let that deter you from tucking into this one. It provides a really enjoyable adventure in a pleasingly different world with a nicely original magic system. I highly recommend it to fans of slightly quirky fantasy adventures. While I obtained an arc of The Rookery from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

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

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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