Category Archives: London setting

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Body Tourists by Jane Rogers #Brainfluffbookreview #BodyTouristsbookreview #SciFiMonth2019

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I’ve only ever heard good things about this author, so was delighted when I saw this arc available on Netgalley – and even more delighted to be approved to read it. I am also linking this one to @SciFiMonth2019.

BLURB: In this version of London, there is a small, private clinic. Behind its layers of security, procedures are taking place on poor, robust teenagers from northern Estates in exchange for thousands of pounds – procedures that will bring the wealthy dead back to life in these young supple bodies for fourteen days. It’s an opportunity for wrongs to be righted, for fathers to meet grandsons, for scientists to see their work completed. Old wine in new bottles. But at what cost?

This story is told in multiple viewpoints, as we are introduced to a number of characters who become involved in this experiment. Inevitably, there are some who stick in the mind more than others. Paula is stranded on one of the thousand estates where the working class forced into unemployment as their jobs are now automated, are housed. Many retreat into VR worlds as an escape, while existing on sub-standard food, sub-standard education and sub-standard opportunities. She uses the money she gets for renting out her body to open a dance studio for the youngsters who don’t want to live in a virtual world and inevitably, it is her students – unusually fit and healthy – who are targeted for Luke’s experimental process. I loved her struggles, both practically and ethically, to live the life she wants against a background of poverty and deprivation.

I also enjoyed the storyline of Elsa and Lindy, another memorable subplot that particularly chimed with me, as I’m also a teacher. I felt their story was poignantly portrayed and the passages when they were able to fully express their love for one another were beautiful. There is also the tale of Richard K, successful pop musician who made it after his dad died and now he’s well into his middle age, would like to have the chance to reconnect with his father again.

Rogers could so easily have made this a far more polemic read, but I liked the fact that this wasn’t a completely dark tale of the haves preying on the have-nots – until it suddenly was… That ending packed a real punch and was all the more devastating because it seemed all too plausible – although thankfully, I think the actual science behind this premise is a very long way down the line.

This very readable story is both engrossing and thought provoking – I always love it when science fiction does that. And while the overall premise isn’t a particularly original one, I thoroughly enjoyed Rogers’ treatment. Highly recommended for readers who might like to sample a strong science fiction read, but are nervous of the techie bits.

The ebook arc copy of Body Tourists was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book
9/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Empty Grave – Book 5 of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud #Brainfluffbookreview #TheEmptyGravebookreview

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It took me a while to summon up the courage to listen to this slice of Lockwood & Co’s adventures, because it’s the last book in the series – and I so very much didn’t want the awesomeness to end…

BLURB: Five months after the events in THE CREEPING SHADOW, we join Lockwood, Lucy, George, Holly, and their associate Quill Kipps on a perilous night mission: they have broken into the booby-trapped Fittes Mausoleum, where the body of the legendary psychic heroine Marissa Fittes lies. Or does it? This is just one of the many questions to be answered in Book 5 of the Lockwood & Co. series. Will Lockwood ever reveal more about his family’s past to Lucy? Will their trip to the Other Side leave Lucy and Lockwood forever changed? Will Penelope Fittes succeed in shutting down their agency forever? The young agents must survive attacks from foes both spectral and human before they can take on their greatest enemy in a climactic and chaotic battle.

As is apparent from the blurb, this isn’t a series you can easily crash into. As each of the stories, while standalone for each of the mysteries they pose, adds another piece of the puzzle that Lockwood and his young associates are struggling to solve – what caused the Problem in the first place, some fifty years ago. Why did ghosts suddenly take to infesting the world of the living, causing fear, havoc and so many countless deaths?

By now, I am thoroughly at home with Lucy, the main protagonist whose dry humour leavens the creepier moments, and her companions – the dashing young Anthony Lockwood, clever, spiky George, precise and poised Holly and acerbic Kipps – not to mention Flo Bones and the Skull, who Lucy carries about in a rucksack in a jar. While this apparently a children’s book, there are plenty of moments that are genuinely creepy – sufficiently so that when my grandson was listening, he decided that he’d rather hear them during the day rather than when he was trying to get to sleep. In my opinion, this series is definitely more suited to the eleven to fifteen age-group, though this rather picky granny absolutely loved it.

There is a layering in the characterisation, a real sense of poignancy when dealing with Lockwood’s loss of his family and a depth of scene setting and worldbuilding that is a solid delight throughout. While I loved the Bartimaeus series, I’ve enjoyed Lockwood & Co even more, given those footnotes got a bit annoying halfway through.

As it is the final book in the series, there isn’t much to say that won’t immediately lurch into Spoiler territory – but don’t start at The Empty Grave, please do begin with the first book, The Screaming Staircase. Right now, I wish I had a timeturner so I could give it a twist and begin allll over again. I’m feeling drained and a tad emotional… the way you do when a world has sunk its hooks right into your heart and you know that even if you reread the story, you can’t ever experience it in quite the same way again. Highly recommended for everyone and an outstanding ending to an outstanding series.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – The world is wrong side up… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring on cover that is UPSIDE DOWN, so I’ve selected The Opposite House by Helen Oyeyemi.

 

This edition was produced by Nan A. Talese in June 2007 and is my favourite and the reason why I selected this book. It is striking and clever, as well as being beautiful with plenty of intriguing detail. Though if I were to be picky, I would add that in thumbnail the title and author font are all but invisible.

 

Published in May 2008 by Bloomsbury, this cover has grown on me. Initially I was rather underwhelmed, but that young woman’s gaze is mesmerizing. I like the bold title font which works well in thumbnail and the warm colour is enticing and adds to the charm of this accomplished effort. My chief grizzle is that there is far too much chatter scattered across this cover which compromises the artwork.

 

This edition, published by Bloomsbury in July 2007, is quite different from the previous offering. While I like the idea of the title looking like lighting, it doesn’t work well in thumbnail and that strong teal background somehow swallows the white. I think the pink flowers look striking, but for the life of me – I have no idea what is going on at the bottom of the cover. Is it an arm? An arched back? Please give me your suggestions – the fact I cannot make it out is indicative that whatever effect Bloomsbury were going for, it hasn’t worked all that well.

 

Produced by Bloomsbury Berlin in September 2007, this monochrome offering offers yet another contrast to all the previous designs. Rarely have I come across a book with such a wide disparity in design approach… The blurred nightie floating out of the window gives this a strong horror vibe, though I don’t get that impression from any of the other covers. I think the title font is far too thin and tentative – it gets swamped by the backdrop and is impossible to read in thumbnail. I am conscious that I have given you quite a disparate selection – so which is your favourite?

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Screaming Staircase – Book 1 of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud #Brainfluffaudiobookreview #TheScreamingStaircaseaudiobookreview

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This is a series I’d downloaded for my granddaughter, which had thoroughly gripped her – and after starting the story, I could see why…

When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in…. For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions. Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.

This is set in an alternate reality where fifty years ago, ghosts of people who had died in difficult circumstances are now feral. Mostly, they are annoying, manifesting as cold spots, bright lights and leaving uneasy feelings in their wake. But some of the stronger types are able to kill with a touch – and it’s only some ‘gifted’ children who can actually see or sense them clearly. This premise is a brilliant one, producing this dark, clever and often funny ghost story brilliantly narrated by Miranda Raison, who vividly portrays Lucy’s first person narration.

I had previously read and enjoyed Stroud’s wonderful Bartimaeus Trilogy – see my review of The Amulet of Samarkand – featuring an emotionally abused young warlock and a trapped djinni, whose withering and very funny commentary on human behaviour gives this book welcome shafts of humour. Lucy’s sharp-edged observations about her mysterious and brilliant young employer, Anthony Lockwood and his equally brilliant sidekick, George, often had me sniggering aloud as I listened to this one.

But that didn’t stop it being really creepy and utterly gripping when the trio were locked into a lethally haunted house – and very glad that I was listening to this one during the mornings when houseworking. There is the depth of characterisation I have grown to expect from Stroud, along with an exciting and well-paced adventure. The fact that I had already figured out who was doing what to whom before the denouement really didn’t matter – because the mystery was far more about how the heck they were going to survive the experience, anyway.

I’m thrilled to report that I already have the second book in this adventure ready and waiting to be heard – yippee! Far better for my blood pressure and mental health than listening to the catastrophic struggles in Parliament over Brexit…
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Headlong – Book 21 of the Bill Slider mysteries by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles #Brainfluffbookreview #Headlongbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the previous book I read in this series, Shadow Play, and was delighted when I saw this offering on Netgalley, so tucked right in…

When one of London’s best-known literary agents is found dead in strange circumstances, having fallen headlong from his office window, DCI Slider is under pressure from the Borough Commander to confirm a case of accidental death. But when the evidence points to murder, Slider and his team find themselves uncovering some decidedly scandalous secrets in the suave and successful Ed Wiseman’s past. An embittered ex-wife. A discarded mistress. A frustrated would-be author. A disgruntled former employee. Many had reason to hold a grudge against the late lamented literary agent. But who would feel strongly enough to kill him?

This is a classic police procedural, where the focus of the story revolves around the main protagonist, Bill Slider, who heads up the murder squad. As the investigation progresses, we discover more facts about the dead man and his life. And along the way, we also get a ringside seat into Bill Slider’s life, too. I like the fact that he is married with a small son and between them, they sometimes struggle with childcare when work builds up. I also like the fact that he is happily married and a concerned boss who tries to do the best for the team working under him. He isn’t magnificently defiant to his irritable bosses, either. He keeps his head down and his sour thoughts to himself, which nonetheless make entertaining reading.

At the heart of the story is the murder, of course. And Harrod-Eagles once more delivers a nicely twisty mystery with all sorts of plausible suspects that give us interesting glimpses into the publishing world. I didn’t see the resolution coming, but it made absolute sense and I was also very taken with the sudden domestic bombshell that emerged at the end of the book, too.

Any niggles? Well, just one – there were some rather flashy noirish phrases in the early stages of the book that caught my attention, until they completely disappeared around the halfway mark. There should be either more of them, or none at all. That said, I’m conscious that this is an arc, so this issue may have been fixed by the time this book comes to publication. Recommended for fans of intelligent, well-written murder mysteries with not too much gore.

While I obtained an arc of Headlong from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – If my head would win him a castle in France, it should not fail to go… #Brainfluffbookblog

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is the TUDOR PERIOD, so I’ve selected one of my favourite reads of this excellent series, Dark Fire – Book 2 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom.

This edition was produced by Penguin in December 2005 and features a blazing London cityscape. I love the artwork and drama – but loathe that red blob plonked in the middle of scene announcing that this is a Matthew Shardlake thriller. What’s wrong with adding that detail under the main title?

 

Published in May 2007 by Pan Books, I love the drama of this ancient text being engulfed by flames – the title font is awesome. But I don’t like the lack of additional information, like the fact that this is the second book of the series, which is a serious fail.

 

This edition, published by Viking Books in January 2005, at least includes some of the vital information on it. I very much like the title text box as a ripped scroll, though I do feel they have been a tad too clever adding the St George’s Cross, which instead looks like a cross put in the corner by a grumpy teacher. The actual artwork is skilful, with the half-hidden swordsman in the foreground and the Tudor building behind him, but it doesn’t have much impact in thumbnail.

 

Produced by Pan Books in 2005, this dramatic depiction is my favourite for the sheer drama of the cover. The fire roaring through the windows with the winding stone staircase in the foreground immediately pulls us into the scene. I also love the stylish lettering of the title font – but again, why is it such an almighty secret that Dark Fire is the second Matthew Shardlake book in the series? It’s unforgiveable to leave a detail like that off the front cover, I feel. Notwithstanding this egregious omission, this is my favourite cover.

 

This German edition, published by Fischer in 2011 is another stylish offering in the form of a Tudor book, complete with the elaborate hinges and attractive font – though again, there isn’t a mention that this is part of a best-selling series. Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Kindle EBOOK Lethal White Book 4 of the Cormoran Strike novels by Robert Galbraith #Brainfluffbookreview #LethalWhitebookreview

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I didn’t enjoy Career of Evil – see my review here – as much as the previous two books and was a bit worried that this was a series that would be sliding further down into the gritty grunge of the murder mystery spectrum, as it’s not what I prefer to read. However this time around, I absolutely loved this one – it’s my favourite so far…

“I seen a kid killed…He strangled it, up by the horse.”
When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic. Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott—once his assistant, now a partner in the agency—set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside.

This story spans the full range of the social class system in England – from a mentally ill young man, clearly unable to adequately look after himself to a Minister of the State with a complicated family life. Cormoran Strike, dogged private investigator, cannot shake the feeling that Billy wasn’t hallucinating about the horrific murder he described.

As part of the investigation, Robin goes undercover in the Houses of Parliament as an intern and that made for fascinating reading, given that Rowling got access to the overcrowded, shabby offices where most of the admin work is carried out. The murder mystery part of the book twists in all sorts of directions, until the crime-fighting duo finally pull enough clues together to work out what was going on. Which is when that title really comes into its own…

This long book isn’t solely about the murder mystery element – at least half the book is given over to Cormoran and Robin’s complicated private lives. In fact the book starts with a major event in Robin’s life that also impacts upon Cormoran – and if you have crashed midway into this series, you’ll be forgiven for wondering if you’ve somehow ended up with a romance. Though there isn’t all that much that is happy or romantic in this book. Both Cormoran and Robin are finding it difficult to keep their partners happy, given the demands the Agency is making upon their time. While Cormoran frequently finds the inevitable walking and standing he has to do creates real problems with his artificial leg, Robin is also battling with panics attacks caused by the last case where she was attacked and injured. I really like the fact that these protagonists aren’t Teflon-coated – they are brave and both crave adventure, but also have to deal with the fallout when an incident becomes terrifying and life-threatening.

This is a long book, but at no time did I feel I was trudging through it. The final denouement was a genuine shock – I hadn’t guessed who the culprit was – and the book managed to tie up all the loose ends, leaving me wanting more…
10/10

Review of INDIE Ebook Fifty-One by Chris Barnham #Brainfluffbookreview #Fifty-Onebookreview

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I met this author right at the beginning of the year, when I mentioned that I also reviewed books, so tucked the arc away in a safe place and promptly forgot about it. Really sorry, Chris!

Jacob Wesson is a timecop from 2040, sent back to WWII London to stop the assassination of Britain’s war leader. The assignment plays out with apparent ease, but the jump home goes wrong – and from there events slide out of control. Will Jacob be able to ever return to his own time?

I’ve heavily edited the very chatty blurb – whatever you do, don’t read it. It gives away far too much of the plot, which is so well told that it was would a crying shame to already know in advance what is going to happen. Needless to say, the jump goes awry and Jacob isn’t retrieved quickly. Of course all operators are trained for this eventuality, but they are repeatedly assured that with their implant locators and a team of trained observers keeping a close eye on all sensitive timestrands – and WWII is a very sensitive strand – his rescue will only be a matter of a few days.

I wasn’t all that sure I liked Jacob very much. In fact, the crew from 2040 are all rather edgy and slightly unpleasant, with the exception of the newest recruit, Nancy. But that might be the result in living in a besieged London, where everyone is terrified of being blown up by a suicide bomber and parts of the city are cordoned off behind blast-proof walls. While other areas of London have simply gone feral. The infrastructure has badly suffered and the streets are dirty and littered – to the extent that Jacob finds himself preferring blitzed London and the comradeship he sees on a daily basis, although everyone is clearly suffering and the rationed food is dreadful.

Barnham manages to depict both versions of London very effectively without holding up the pace. Jacob grew on me as his character expanded while he learnt to live during WWII. He is brave, resourceful and thinks on his feet and discovers that he is capable of loving wholeheartedly – something he’d thought was beyond him. The other character I loved right from the word go is Amy, who is also tough and resourceful through sheer necessity. The generation who lived through the war were remarkable and Barnham gives us a sense of that without lapsing into sentimentality.

It would have been so easy to dip this book in a layer of treacle, but Barnham resists that temptation. While the romance does power a vital part of the storyline, this book isn’t primarily about the love story. It’s far more concerned about what happens if in the future we develop the means to travel back in time and alter the timeline. What is to stop terrorists or fundamentalists illegally travelling back and attempting to alter the timeline? And if that does happen a number of times – who decides which alteration stands?

I really like Barnham’s approach that slowly unspools throughout the story that became steadily more gripping. It is an intelligent, powerful take on time travel that is going to stay with me for a long time. Highly recommended for fans of time travelling tales.
10/10

Teaser Tuesday – 31st July, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog #TeaserTuesday

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

p. 103. ‘Do you think Mrs Neal is stooping?’ Polly Campbell muses.
‘Hmm?’ Elinor licks a fresh thread for her needle.
‘For she has not so much as seen the gentleman – if gentleman he may be called – and now she must escort him all evening? I had not expected her to capitulate so easy.’
Elinor shrugs. ‘She is not so different from us.’
‘Oh she is. Utterly so. She can disoblige any body she chooses.’
‘She’s not so well set in the world as you think. She still needs Mrs Chappell’s favour. And Mrs Chappell needs Mr Hancock’s favour, so you see Mrs Neal is quite trapped.’

BLURB: This voyage is special. It will change everything…

One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.

And this is what I have against modern blurbs – I’m on page 103 and the next paragraph of the blurb then goes on to reveal the next plotpoint that I haven’t yet got around to reading! Clearly I’m not going to include it in this week’s teaser… So far, I’m enjoying this one but I don’t yet love it. There is no one I have yet really bonded with as the writing style, though very accomplished and fluent, is doing a lot of telling. However, there’s plenty of time as this is a fairly hefty read.

Friday Faceoff – Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the theme this week the theme to feature on any of our covers is steampunk. I’ve selected The Affinity Bridge – Book 1 of the Newbury and Hobbes series by George Mann, a cracking whodunit set in an alternate Victorian London…

 

This edition was produced by Snow Books in 2008 and is my favourite. I love all the detail and the bright colours. It’s beautiful, full of lovely little touches, like the London cityscape, the little steampunk flourishes and that fabulous airship, which is the template for nearly all the other versions of this book’s covers. While I’ll accept that it probably doesn’t stand out when in thumbnail, I’ll forgive that – who wouldn’t want to expand this cover into glorious full size to capture the full effect?

 

Published in April 2010 by Tor Books, this is another attractive, well-designed offering. The airship is now grungier and less shiny, though every bit as eye-catching. I love the border and the attention to detail, again. I just wish there was less chatter across the cover.

 

This edition, published by Titan Books in July 2015, is certainly bright. The airship is still there and this cover provides lots of detail, but in silhouette. I think the overall effect is successful and eye-catching and I’d probably love it more if I hadn’t already given my heart to the Snow Books effort.

 

This edition, produced by Piper in 2011, takes the original design and makes it their own. It is far more stripped back and I think it is extremely effective – I love the background colour and clever use of the clouds to provide a suitably dramatic backdrop for that magnificent airship. The border is also nicely handled and in thumbnail, this one really pops. This is my second favourite, mostly because I just love that colour…

 

This French cover, published in June 2011, takes a completely different approach. This is the foggy London where Jack the Ripper lurks along with other desperate villains and only the likes of Newbury and Hobbes can get justice done… We see the two protagonists featured on the cover. I do like this effort, though not as much as the others. What about you – which is your favourite?