Category Archives: historical adventure

My Outstanding Reads of 2020 #Brainfluffbookblogger #2020OutstandingReads

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

During 2020 I read 184 books and wrote 155 full reviews, with 23 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give them a 10 – but these books have stayed with me, which is why they made the cut. And let’s forget any top ten nonsense – whittling down my list to this paltry number was painful enough!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six Favourite Heroes from my 2020 Reading List #Brainfluff6favouriteheroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Post – 3rd January, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

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

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

Last week I read:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then someone picks up a stone.

Finally, the fires begin.

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

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

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


My posts last week:

Friday Face-off featuring The One by John Marrs

Six Favourite Heroines from my 2020 Reading List

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

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

Covet the Covers featuring Mary Robinette Kowal


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I’ve resumed reading more Children’s fiction since I’ve been listening to audiobooks, as I’ve been working my way through my grandson’s list. And I’m so glad, because it’s brought me some really lovely reads this year. But this one has capped them all and is going to be one of my all-time favourites…

BLURB:  It’s natural to feel a little out of place when you’re the new girl, but when Charlotte Makepeace wakes up after her first night at boarding school, she’s baffled: everyone thinks she’s a girl called Clare Mobley, and even more shockingly, it seems she has traveled forty years back in time to 1918. In the months to follow, Charlotte wakes alternately in her own time and in Clare’s. And instead of having only one new set of rules to learn, she also has to contend with the unprecedented strangeness of being an entirely new person in an era she knows nothing about. Her teachers think she’s slow, the other girls find her odd, and, as she spends more and more time in 1918, Charlotte starts to wonder if she remembers how to be Charlotte at all. If she doesn’t figure out some way to get back to the world she knows before the end of the term, she might never have another chance.

REVIEW: This is time travel with spikes on – Charlotte and Clare find themselves alternately cris-crossing each other, spending one day in their own time zone – and the next in each other’s. There isn’t any real explanation as to why this is happening, but the effect on Charlotte is beautifully described. This is a sophisticated book, written for children with a precocious understanding of how surroundings and loss can impact on someone, so they somehow keep going.

There aren’t any major outbursts in this book. It isn’t a tale of horrendous persecution – though one child is singled out in a distressing manner and nothing much is done about it, reminding me that back in the day, children were expected to cope if they were being victimised. Because this is a book that was first published in 1969, though other than some of the attitudes, the density and pacing – it hasn’t particularly dated, because it is set in the past. It very much reminded me of my own childhood, as I was brought up by my grandparents  in a house full of large, dark furniture. Though we had a television, long days were spent amusing myself with toys such as solitaire, spillikins and, of course, books…

I loved this one. Charlotte is in the middle of an ongoing nightmare on one level. And yet she also makes friends and strong connections with other people in the 1918 timeline. The exquisite prose, beautifully narrated by the wonderful Hannah Gordon, produces a wonderful, nuanced portrayal of her experience. It’s simply a recommended read for anyone interested in a child’s view of 1918 – because it’s one of those magical books that might have been written with children in mind, but due to Farmer’s layered writing, it can also be thoroughly enjoyed by adults, too. I particularly recommend the audiobook version and am rather devastated to discover that this is the only story in the series that has been turned into an audiobook.

10/10

Sunday Post – 20th December, 2020 #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.

Last night’s press conference by the PM regarding the new strain of COVID has wiped out Christmas plans for so many folks – my heart goes out to you if you were in the middle of preparing to see family you hadn’t laid eyes on for such a long time. We’re in Tier Two, so we have avoided the latest Tier Four measures – for now, anyway. Himself and I had our flu jabs during the week and I was mightily impressed at how quickly and efficiently the whole operation was organised. And our surgery has also contacted us to inform us that in due course we will be notified about the COVID vaccination programme being rolled out, which is a glimmer of hope.

Watching the Strictly Come Dancing final last night was quite an emotional experience – all those folks had worked so hard, isolating themselves from their families to take part. And each of them danced with their hearts, as well as their bodies. I’ve watched all the finals to date and this one was different and special.

On Wednesday, our Writing Group met on Zoom, and instead of our usual pre-Christmas bash in a restaurant, we offered up our lyrics for a 1980s pop song for Liz, who is writing a play about two women who were a pop duo. It was hilarious and full of laughter, tempered by the fact that one of our group is isolating, as he has tested positive for COVID. He runs a shop and during the busiest week of the year for him, he’s had to close.

The pics this week are an assortment of our decorations – apologies if you decorate your house with any kind of theme or taste, because I don’t. If it sparkles garishly, or sings a cheesy song with a cracked electronic voice while jiggling slightly inappropriately, then I’m up for cramming it onto a mantlepiece or other suitable surface, all the better to penetrate the seasonal gloomy weather.

Last week I read:
Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders: a Dominion of the Fallen novella by Aliette de Bodard
Lunar New Year should be a time for familial reunions, ancestor worship, and consumption of an unhealthy amount of candied fruit.

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

It’ll take all of Asmodeus’s skill with knives, and all of Thuan’s diplomacy, to navigate this one—as well as the troubled waters of their own relationship….
Writing a successful novella takes a particular skillset, which de Bodard clearly has. I’ve read a couple of books in this series, but it was a while ago and although I enjoyed the conspiracy and the insights into this particularly cutthroat world, I was aware I probably would have appreciated it more if I’d recently reconnected with this series.

Scardown – Book 2 of the Jenny Casey series by Elizabeth Bear
The year is 2062, and after years on the run, Jenny Casey is back in the Canadian armed forces. Those who were once her enemies are now her allies, and at fifty, she’s been handpicked for the most important mission of her life–a mission for which her artificially reconstructed body is perfectly suited. With the earth capable of sustaining life for just another century, Jenny–as pilot of the starship Montreal–must discover brave new worlds. And with time running out, she must succeed where others have failed.

Now Jenny is caught in a desperate battle where old resentments become bitter betrayals and justice takes the cruelest forms of vengeance. With the help of a brilliant AI, an ex—crime lord, and the man she loves, Jenny may just get her chance to save the world. If it doesn’t come to an end first…
Although I’d read the first book relatively recently, I found it quite difficult to get back into this world and fully bond with Jenny again. However, once I was back in the flow, I enjoyed the action-packed storyline with several major twists. Mini-review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK A Quiet Life in the Country – Book 1 of the Lady Hardcastle Mysteries series by T.E. Kinsey
Lady Emily Hardcastle is an eccentric widow with a secret past. Florence Armstrong, her maid and confidante, is an expert in martial arts. The year is 1908 and they’ve just moved from London to the country, hoping for a quiet life.

But it is not long before Lady Hardcastle is forced out of her self-imposed retirement. There’s a dead body in the woods, and the police are on the wrong scent. Lady Hardcastle makes some enquiries of her own, and it seems she knows a surprising amount about crime investigation…

As Lady Hardcastle and Flo delve deeper into rural rivalries and resentment, they uncover a web of intrigue that extends far beyond the village. With almost no one free from suspicion, they can be certain of only one fact: there is no such thing as a quiet life in the country.
Himself recommended this one – the rest of the audiobooks on my Kindle were too bleak for now – and it was just what I needed. A beautifully narrated, humorous and well-crafted murder mystery. Review to follow.

Inherit the Shoes – Book 1 of A Jersey Girl Legal Mystery series by E.J. Copperman
New Jersey prosecutor Sandy Moss is tired of petty criminals, and a new job at a glitzy Los Angeles law firm seems the perfect career move. Putting 3,000 miles between her and her ex-boyfriend is just an added bonus.

But on Sandy’s first morning as a family attorney, she inadvertently kills her new career stone dead when she offends her boss during a meeting with the firm’s top celebrity client, charismatic TV star Patrick McNabb. But that’s not as dead as Patrick’s soon-to-be ex-wife, Patsy, is that evening, when she’s discovered shot by an arrow, her husband standing over her. Did Patrick really kill his wife in a dispute over a pair of shoes? All signs point to yes. But Patrick is determined to clear his name, using all the legal skills he’s learned from playing a lawyer on TV, and to Sandy’s deep dismay, she’s the only person he’ll allow to help . . .
This was a joy – I haven’t encountered this author before but it appears he’s written other murder mystery series, not that I needed telling. The writing was too accomplished and confident to be a newbie – while the plotting was masterfully done. Review to follow.


My posts last week:

Review of End Game – Book 8 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

Friday Face-off featuring The Invisible Library – Book 1 of The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman

Two MURDER MYSTERY mini-reviews: The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne and The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell

Review of The Zig Zag Girl – Book 1 of the Stephens and Mephisto series by Elly Griffiths

Monday Post – 14th December 2020

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog. If celebrating, I hope you and yours have a chance to enjoy the holidays – and whatever is going on in your life, may the coming week be a peaceful, healthy one. Take care.x

Monday Post – 14th December, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

It’s been a very hectic week, though Christmas is only just beginning to loom on my horizon. We have a lot of rather heavy family stuff going on right now – the sort of things you’d rather not be happening to those you love. And it is complicated by the situation regarding COVID and the fact that Himself is a key worker.

I was glad to be able to teach Tim last Monday and on Wednesday I had both Pilates and Fitstep, though I felt a bit sore and headachy that evening, I am glad that I am making a start on getting a bit fitter. On Thursday evening, we nipped across to my daughter’s to give my grandson a very belated birthday present – fortunately he was thrilled with the art tablet as he is planning to do an animation course next year. On Friday afternoon I was back there to spend some time with the family, as on Saturday we had all three grandchildren – including little Eliza – come to stay overnight for the first time. She is not yet two and a half, so it was quite a big deal and I was delighted that she had a peaceful night and woke up happy in the morning. Typically, the weather was absolutely atrocious on Sunday morning, so we didn’t have a chance to get out at all. But she loved playing with the battery-powered Christmas toys and helped Himself decorate the Christmas tree. By the time the children left at midday on Sunday, I was really pleased that it had gone so well. Though a tad shattered and couldn’t summon the energy to write my weekly Sunday Post.

No photos this week, what with one thing and another…

Last week I read:
Lamentation – Book 6 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom
Summer, 1546. King Henry VIII is slowly, painfully dying. His Protestant and Catholic councilors are engaged in a final and decisive power struggle; whoever wins will control the government. As heretics are hunted across London, and radical Protestants are burned at the stake, the Catholic party focuses its attack on Henry’s sixth wife – and Matthew Shardlake’s old mentor – Queen Catherine Parr.

Shardlake, still haunted by his narrow escape from death the year before, steps into action when the beleaguered and desperate Queen summons him to Whitehall Palace to help her recover a dangerous manuscript…
Catching up with this one is part of my drive to complete series I started – and then neglected. I have loved Matthew Shardlake as a character and Sansom’s clever and knowledgeable evocation of Henry VIII’s reign. And this one was no exception. Review to follow.

Mistaken Identity Crisis – Book 4 of the Braxton Campus Mysteries by James. J. Cudney
A clever thief with a sinister calling card has invaded Braxton campus. A string of jewelry thefts continues to puzzle the sheriff, given they’re remarkably similar to an unsolved eight-year-old case, back when Gabriel vanished one stormy night.

When a missing ruby, and a body, are discovered at the campus, Kellan must investigate the killer’s motive to protect his brother. As if the latest murder isn’t enough to keep him busy, Kellan partners with April to end the Castigliano and Vargas crime family feud. What really happened to Francesca while all those postcards showed up in Braxton?
I have thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining cosy murder mystery series, featuring a young single father, who is trying to bring up his young daughter and keep his career going. Trouble is, he keeps tripping over all these dead bodies… This latest slice of Kellan’s adventures is both entertaining and gripping. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK Mark of Athena – Book 3 of the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
Annabeth is terrified. Just when she’s about to be reunited with Percy—after six months of being apart, thanks to Hera—it looks like Camp Jupiter is preparing for war. As Annabeth and her friends Jason, Piper, and Leo fly in on the Argo II, she can’t blame the Roman demigods for thinking the ship is a Greek weapon. With its steaming bronze dragon masthead, Leo’s fantastical creation doesn’t appear friendly. Annabeth hopes that the sight of their praetor Jason on deck will reassure the Romans that the visitors from Camp Half-Blood are coming in peace.

And that’s only one of her worries. In her pocket Annabeth carries a gift from her mother that came with an unnerving demand: Follow the Mark of Athena. Avenge me. Annabeth already feels weighed down by the prophecy that will send seven demigods on a quest to find—and close—the Doors of Death. What more does Athena want from her?

Annabeth’s biggest fear, though, is that Percy might have changed. What if he’s now attached to Roman ways? Does he still need his old friends? As the daughter of the goddess of war and wisdom, Annabeth knows she was born to be a leader, but never again does she want to be without Seaweed Brain by her side.

Narrated by four different demigods, The Mark of Athena is an unforgettable journey across land and sea to Rome, where important discoveries, surprising sacrifices, and unspeakable horrors await. Climb aboard the Argo II, if you dare…
This enjoyable spinoff series is every bit as action-packed as the original Percy Jackson series. I was thoroughly caught up in the adventure – nobody raises the stakes as effectively as Riordan – and was rather shaken by the ending. Fortunately, I have the next book waiting for me to read! Review to follow.


My posts last week:
Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents – Book 28 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett

Review of Lifelode by Jo Walton

Friday Face-off featuring The Ghost Fields – Book 7 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths

Déjà vu Review of Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

Covet the Covers 14 – Jo Walton

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Inherit the Shoes by E.J. Copperman

Tuesday Treasures – 21

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Forged – Book 11 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka

Sunday Post – 6th December 2020


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

BOOKISH THOUGHTS https://laurelrainsnow.wordpress.com/2020/12/04/bookish-thoughts/ This article really chimed with me – we have a spare room and loft FULL of print books, but like Laurel, we generally prefer to read using our Kindles these days…

Buffy’s Corner 12/6/20 – Looking at the week ahead https://booksbonesbuffy.com/2020/12/06/buffys-corner-12-6-20-looking-at-the-week-ahead/ While Tammy’s blog is always worth visiting – particularly if you are interested in SFF reading matter, this time around it is alll about the amazing wildlife pics her very talented photographer husband, Moses Sparkes, has produced during lockdown. Click on the link – I promise you won’t be disappointed…


Do You Make Bookish Goals? https://thebookdisciple.com/do-you-make-bookish-goals/ I thought this was a really timely article, given we are all starting to look more closely at what we’ve read throughout the year – and consider what we plan to read in 2021…


WFT Audible? https://unconventionalbookworms.com/wtf-audible/ Linda and Brandee have written a detailed article about Audible’s exploitative practices regarding their returns policy. If you use Audible and are in the habit of regularly returning audiobooks you have read to eke out your credits or budget, please, please click on the link!

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

Covet the Covers – 14 #Brainfluffcovetthecovers #CovetthecoversJoWalton

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Welcome to another helping of Covet the Covers. This week I’m featuring Jo Walton’s covers, which are a mix of fantasy, alternate history (The Small Change series) and magic realism, standalones and series… I shall be sharing my thoughts about her book Lifelode tomorrow – but all her books are a major reading event as her writing talent is off the charts and she always produces something thought-provoking and original. She is one of the most gifted, inspired authors writing SFF today. See my reviews of Tooth and Claw, Among Others, Farthing, Ha’penny, Half a Crown, My Real Children, The Just City, The Philosopher Kings, Necessity, The King’s Peace, The King’s Name, and Lent.


Review of KINDLE Ebook The Fated Sky – Book 2 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal #Brainfluffbookreview #TheFatedSkybookreview #SciFiMonth2020

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I am linking this review to #Sci Fi Month 2020, as I absolutely loved the first book in this series, The Calculating Starssee my review – so was thrilled when Himself went and promptly bought the second book in this series. Would I enjoy it as much?

BLURB: It is 1961, and the International Aerospace Coalition has established a colony on the moon. Elma York, the noted Lady Astronaut, is working on rotation, flying shuttles on the moon and returning regularly to Earth. But humanity must get a foothold on Mars. The first exploratory mission is being planned, and none of the women astronauts is on the crew list. The international Aerospace Coalition has grave reservations about sending their “Lady Astronauts” on such a dangerous mission…

REVIEW: I loved this one. Though it is essentially a continuation of the story started in The Calculating Stars so don’t pick up this one first. Or you will spend too much time trying to figure out exactly who is doing what to whom to be able to fully appreciate the scope and stakes involved.

We continue to follow maths genius Elma Wexler, as she completes a three-month stint on the Moon and looking forward to seeing her husband, again. If I have a niggle, it’s that their relationship seems improbably idyllic, given the stresses put on it. Nathaniel is just so understanding, kind and appreciative of Elma’s drive to excel that I think a modern husband would struggle to be able to match up to his enlightened attitude. Given he is a product of a very different time, when it was tacitly agreed by many right-thinking men and a fair number of women, that it was a risky business giving a woman any kind of major responsibility, it does strain credulity. Especially as most of the other men Elma encounters have their macho insensitivity on display. However, I’m aware it’s a minor niggle in the scheme of things, when so much about this book is so good.

I think the handling of the alternate historical timeline throughout has been skilful and inspired. As someone who recalls the launch of Telstar and the Race to the Moon, Kowal manages to capture the feeling of the time, even allowing for her huge ‘what if’ of a major meteor strike that accelerates Humanity’s interest in establishing a colony elsewhere. I also enjoyed the adventure and tension with the two ships travelling to Mars and the ongoing tensions caused by the prevailing racist and sexist attitudes. The influence of the ongoing political situation, where hanging onto the funding as the life on Earth becomes increasingly difficult to sustain, is also a factor.

This all adds up to a cracking story, with plenty of adventure and some pause for thought about the ingrained attitudes that lead to people being overlooked because of what they represent, rather than being judged more fairly on their abilities and individual merits. I found the ongoing character arc of Parker to be an interesting progression – and while he was still fairly obnoxious, I appreciated learning more about him and what drove him. But one of the things I liked about Elma was her reaction to being attacked – she didn’t come out all guns blazing. She retreated behind a façade of politeness and tried to propitiate those around her whenever possible – which is what women of her generation, and my generation were raised to do. We were taught to be ‘good’. And I really, really liked that Kowal didn’t ignore that aspect, which I think has probably hindered gender equality far more than is appreciated.

An exceptionally good space travel adventure.
9/10


Friday Faceoff – No one can be a hero without the heart being torn open… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceofftorncovers

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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 something TORN.

I’ve selected How To Break a Dragon’s Heart – Book 8 of the How To Train a Dragon series by Cressida Cowell.

August 2009

This offering was produced in August 2009 – though I cannot find out who published this edition. I really like it. The large red dragon, surrounded by the forest with the huge moon in the sky is a scene from the book and makes an attractive, eye-catching cover. But there’s a dealbreaker here. The title and author fonts are displayed clearly and in a suitably quirky style – but NOT the series number! Given there are twelve books in this series, and they all follow on, one from the other, so need to be read in the right order – this is a real issue. We got muddled, thanks to this omission and ended up reading a couple of the books the wrong way around – and yes, it spoilt it for Oscar, who hasn’t gone back and properly completed the series.

Little, Brown Books for Children, November 2011

Published in November 2011, by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, this is another attractive, eye-catching offering. Poor old Hiccup being held in the palm of the Dragon Furious doesn’t look all that comfortable – and I rather like the fact that a series initially aimed at young boys features a pink background. Even more importantly, this edition has the series number clearly displayed.

Hodder Children’s, June 2017

This edition, published in June 2017 by Hodder Children’s books, is the cover that came to mind when I was searching for TORN covers. I love this one – the ripped section showing the huge dragon on the other side of the rather battered covering. Cowell initially wanted the covers to look rather scruffy and blotted, as so many boys cannot produce neat tidy work. Hence the spattered, rather scribbly nature of the drawings inside… But, despite loving the design, I’m not choosing it. Because book covers should aid the reading experience by giving all the necessary information. And this one doesn’t fulfil the brief.

German edition, March 2016

This German edition, published in March 2016 by Arena Verlag, is my least favourite. It’s not that there is anything particularly wrong with it, other than it reminds me far too much of the vanilla film franchise, where Hiccup is cool and good-looking, with Toothless as a special, rare dragon and he has a little group of admirers who generally follow his escapades. So unlike the books and the ethos behind them – where Hiccup is one of the awkward, nerdy kids that regularly gets bullied by Snotlout and his gang. And Toothless is constantly naughty and far too small to ride. But I can’t deny that it is an attractive cover, if rather generic.

Russian edition, 2015

This Russian edition, published by Азбука, Азбука-Аттикус in 2015, is my favourite. I love the look in the dragon’s eyes as Hiccup offers him his freedom. Part amusement, part contempt, part loathing… And all the relevant, important information is suitably displayed. I also like the slight grubbiness of the background – this isn’t supposed to be a book that looks too shiny and finished. What about you – which is your favourite?


Sunday Post – 18th October, 2020 #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.

After having been away for a couple of weeks, this last week has been a blur of catching up – but also resuming activities I haven’t done since before Lockdown in March. Like attending my first Fitstep session on Wednesday, and teaching Tim on Friday. I am very thankful that I’d had those two weeks away in Bexhill, where we went out every single day for at least a walk along the seafront and occasionally for a coffee or lunch at the wonderful art deco Pavillion, where their safeguarding measures are the best I’ve seen, anywhere. My pictures this week come from Bexhill, again…

So I’ve lost the tight-knit knot of fear that used to appear every time I’d walked through my back gate, masked up to face a world full of jagged differences. Just as well, really. Last Sunday, I drove to Basingstoke accompanied by my younger sister to visit our youngest sibling, who was celebrating her 50th birthday. Instead of having the large family celebration she’d wanted, we all took turns to pop in to see her to ensure we didn’t break the Rule of Six and she had an ongoing series of visitors over the weekend, all organised by her husband. So it was a complete surprise to her as to who would be turning up on her doorstep. The catch was that the road we normally take was closed for some reason – so while we got there on time, we’d wandered down some very, very narrow roads via the detour. On the way home, while following an alternative route, we managed to get magnificently lost. However, the journey was on A-roads that wound through open countryside and through tree-covered tunnels, with rich, buttery Autumn sunshine slipping through the greenery. It was absolutely beautiful – and even though I didn’t have a clue where we were, I recall looking around feeling very glad to just be there. Fortuntely, soon afterwards, we arrived on the outskirts of Chichester and just half an hour from home on familiar roads.

On Thursday, I drove over to see my daughter and grandchildren which was lovely – it seemed far too long since I’d seen them. I couldn’t get over how many more words Eliza now has – she’s a real little chatterbox, so very much like her mother at the same age! On Friday, Himself and I returned to pick up Frank after school and bring him to stay, so I had a chance to catch up with him. It’s his GCSE year, so he’s working hard towards his mock exams in a year where everything is so very different.

Last week I read:
The Postscript Murders – Book 2 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths
PS: thanks for the murders.
The death of a ninety-year-old woman with a heart condition should absolutely not be suspicious. DS Harbinder Kaur certainly sees nothing to concern her in carer Natalka’s account of Peggy Smith’s death.
But when Natalka reveals that Peggy lied about her heart condition and that she had been sure someone was following her…
And that Peggy Smith had been a ‘murder consultant’ who plotted deaths for authors, and knew more about murder than anyone has any right to…
And when clearing out Peggy’s flat ends in Natalka being held at gunpoint by a masked figure…
Well then DS Harbinder Kaur thinks that maybe there is no such thing as an unsuspicious death after all.
This intriguing murder mystery continues the literary theme started in the previous book. It isn’t a cosy, but it certainly seems to follow in the footsteps of Agatha Christie’s type of whodunit and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK The Lost Hero – Book 1 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
JASON HAS A PROBLEM. He doesn’t remember anything before waking up in a bus full of kids on a field trip. Apparently he has a girlfriend named Piper, and his best friend is a guy named Leo. They’re all students at the Wilderness School, a boarding school for “bad kids,” as Leo puts it. What did Jason do to end up here? And where is here, exactly? Jason doesn’t know anything—except that everything seems very wrong.

PIPER HAS A SECRET. Her father has been missing for three days, ever since she had that terrifying nightmare about his being in trouble. Piper doesn’t understand her dream, or why her boyfriend suddenly doesn’t recognize her. When a freak storm hits during the school trip, unleashing strange creatures and whisking her, Jason, and Leo away to someplace called Camp Half-Blood, she has a feeling she’s going to find out, whether she wants to or not.

LEO HAS A WAY WITH TOOLS. When he sees his cabin at Camp Half-Blood, filled with power tools and machine parts, he feels right at home. But there’s weird stuff, too—like the curse everyone keeps talking about, and some camper who’s gone missing. Weirdest of all, his bunkmates insist that each of them—including Leo—is related to a god. Does this have anything to do with Jason’s amnesia, or the fact that Leo keeps seeing ghosts?
Well this was huge fun and nicely filled the gap left since I finished listening to Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. And I’m delighted to see that we have all the books – so I shall be enjoying more of these, too. Review to follow.


The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive. There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.
This is a brilliant read. I absolutely loved it, but I did find it something of a struggle, as the poor Eastwood sisters had a very rough time of it and I’m not really in the place to read such grim grittiness. But that isn’t the author’s fault – and I will be reviewing it in due course.


My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

Déjà vu Review of Victory of Eagles – Book 5 of the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik

Friday Face-off featuring Wintersmith – Book 3 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett

Cover Love – featuring the covers of Naomi Novik

Review of Minimum Wage Magic – Book 1 of the DFZ series by Rachel Aaron

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Map’s Edge – Book 1 of The Tethered Citadel series by David Hair

Tuesday Treasures – 15

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of A Deadly Education – Book 1 of The Scholomance series by Naomi Novik

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwarb

Sunday Post – 11th October 2020

It’s been a crazy week – full of resuming threads of my old life, as well as catching up. What I’m no longer doing is sitting at the computer until stupid o’clock to continue working. So no posts to recommend again this week, I’m afraid. Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.