Category Archives: mages

Review of NETGALLEY arc Becoming Crone – Book 1 of The Crone Wars by Lydia M. Hawke #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #BecomingCronebookreview

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Having reached a certain age, I’m always looking out for entertaining fantasy books with older protagonists – and this one caught my eye. Apart from the pretty cover, I also liked the sound of the blurb – would I enjoy the book as much as the premise?

BLURB: For Claire Emerson, there is nothing ordinary about turning sixty. First, there are the crows. Then, a pendant that unlocks a gate to a house in the woods–which comes with a snarky gargoyle, an entirely too-sexy wolf shifter claiming to be Claire’s protector, and a legacy that turns her reality upside down.

Because divorced, menopausal grandmothers with creaky hips and hot flashes? They don’t just randomly discover they’re next in a long line of powerful women protecting the world from the dark magick of Mages.

Claire’s first instinct is to turn tail and run back to the safety of baking cookies and reading bedtime stories. But when it becomes clear the Mages have targeted her, she may have no choice but to accept her calling. There’s just one problem: she never got the lifetime of training she was supposed to have, and her magick is… well, unreliable would be an understatement. With the Mages threatening everything she loves, can Claire learn what she needs to in time to become Crone? Or will she be the one to lose an ancient war—and her life?

REVIEW: I am always delighted to come across heroines of a certain age who feature in fantasy adventure stories, especially as I’ve now also reached that certain age. That said, I’m allergic to the trope whereby they suddenly have access to an elixir that helps them overcome creaking joints and smooths out the wrinkles. Or find themselves wielding a magic sword with the skill and ease of a thirty-something swordmaster. So my track record with this sub-genre is a tad patchy.

I’m delighted to report that Claire is none of the above. In fact, at the start of the book she is hosting her own sixtieth birthday party with nothing much to celebrate. Her ex-husband has left her for a much younger woman with whom he has started a second family, her son and daughter-in-law are increasingly treating her as an elderly nonentity and she feels as if she’s spent her life putting everyone else first with not much to show for it. The problem is – on the cusp of becoming properly old, she has no idea what she really wants for herself… This could have been a really dismal opening, but for Claire’s wry humour which I found very appealing. The story starts quite slowly, something I didn’t mind as it gave me plenty of opportunity to bond with Claire. This is important, as she narrates the tale in first-person viewpoint.

However, once the action does start rolling it quickly picks up speed. I liked the fact that her transition from the normal everyday to the fantastic isn’t smooth or easy. Her attempts at magick are either non-existent or overwhelming to the point of catastrophic and she’s hopeless in any physical fight. Although she does have a gorgeous werewolf protector and a gargoyle assigned to train her. Hawke writes action vividly with some nicely original touches – I’ll never look at a garden gnome in the same way again – and while the shafts of humour continue, there is also loss and heartbreak.

Claire’s journey throughout the book is well handled, so that I believed in the character throughout. I’m keen to continue reading this series to discover what happens next. And the bonus is that the next two books are already available, so I won’t have to wait to tuck into A Gathering of Crones. Highly recommended for urban fantasy fans who enjoy older protagonists. While I obtained an arc of Becoming Crone from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #22

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This is my update on how I’m coping with Long Covid now it’s been over seventeen months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

As we now have our grandsons staying with us, it’s been another full-on week. Ethan’s summer job has become a lot busier as the back-to-school rush for uniforms hits its peak. He is coping really well with long days serving fraught parents and their miserable children. I can’t quite believe that the summer holidays have slipped by so fast and he is about to begin his final week before he starts back at college for the second year of his animation course. We took Oscar to the Wetland and Wildfowl Trust last Tuesday on a rainy day. Another year and I would be moaning about the weather – but after weeks of blistering heat, it was delightful to wander around in the misty drizzle and watch the birds enjoying themselves – as you can see from the pics.

Other than that, I’ve been up in the mornings to ensure Ethan has a good breakfast and give him a lift to work. Initially we’d thought he could walk it – but given the brutal heat, we took the decision to drive him to work. And although it’s now cooler, I am reluctant to make him walk over a mile there and back on top of working full shifts when he hasn’t had a chance to be acclimatised to it.

I am feeling more energetic than I did last week, although there are still good and bad days. I’m pleased to see I’ve started losing some of the weight I put on while spending so much time bedridden and exhausted and I can now wear some of my jeans. I’ve still got quite a way to go before I can get into most of my clothes, but right now that isn’t a priority as I’m still not sufficiently recovered to consider a full reconditioning and fitness programme. I am looking forward to the time when I can go swimming at the local leisure centre while Boomerang Boy is hitting the gym, instead of spending my time sitting in their very uncomfortable chairs reading a book. He’s very pleased to see some muscle development since he started attending at the start of the summer holidays and we’re hoping to continue attending once he returns to school. He has also grown more than an inch since we measured him in the second week of August.

While my writing progress has been hit and miss throughout the summer, I have made some progress on the third book of Castellan’s adventures, Problems With Power. I thought I’d discovered a plot hole near the end of the previous book, Trouble With Dwarves, but Himself pointed out that I was overthinking the issue and suggested that I sort it out with a suitable conversation, instead of several major scene changes and a whole new sub-plot. I’ll be taking his advice and adding said conversation in the coming week – full of relief that I won’t have to administer major surgery to the ongoing narrative!

I’ve recently read:-

Her Majesty’s Warlord – Book 2 of the Stuck in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
After being trapped in a very strange world, Elliot Richardson found his footing and led the forces of Damansara to victory, only to find himself under threat from jealous and resentful city fathers who thought he was on the verge of overthrowing their rule and taking their power for himself.

Isolated and alone, Elliot accepted an offer of employment from Princess Helen of Johor and finds himself travelling to the heart of her kingdom, to a city caught between the stagnant past, the hope of a better future and factions threatening to burn the world down rather than risk letting it be saved. And, as Elliot goes to work, he finds himself threatened by powerful enemies who will stop at nothing to see him brought down…
This is a spin-off from the gripping Schooled in Magic series that I’ve been working through during the last year – and I’m now following Elliot’s progress as he struggles to cope in a world where magic is the ultimate power, rather than technology. However, it’s also a world riven by social discontent as the agrarian culture, relying on peasants and downtrodden serfs to produce the food, is beset by sudden change. Once again, Nuttall has produced an action-packed read, full of plot twists and action that I thoroughly enjoyed. And being an indie book, it is also excellent value for money😊. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – Emma by Jane Austen, narrated by Emma Thompson
Emma Woodhouse is one of Austen’s most captivating and vivid characters. Beautiful, spoilt, vain and irrepressibly witty, Emma organizes the lives of the inhabitants of her sleepy little village and plays matchmaker with devastating effect.

I’m working my way through the collected novels of Jane Austen and I hadn’t particularly been looking forward to reaching Emma, as the last time I read the book I decided that Mr Knightly was a priggish misery. This time around, listening to the fabulous Emma Thompson, I didn’t find him such a pain. The humour of listening to both Emma and Mr K. being eaten up with jealousy without necessarily realising their feelings for each other was also more apparent. All in all, this was far more fun than I was expecting and turned out to be really enjoyable. However, I could do without all the music in this production. 8/10

The Half Killed – Book 1 of The Sundered Veil series by Quenby Olson
Dorothea Hawes has no wish to renew contact with what lies beyond the veil. After an attempt to take her own life, she has retired into seclusion, but as the wounds on her body heal, she is drawn back into a world she wants nothing more than to avoid.

She is sought out by Julian Chissick, a former man of God who wants her help in discovering who is behind the gruesome murder of a young woman. But the manner of death is all too familiar to Dorothea, and she begins to fear that something even more terrible is about to unleash itself on London.

And so Dorothea risks her life and her sanity in order to save people who are oblivious to the threat that hovers over them. It is a task that forces her into a confrontation with her own lurid past, and tests her ability to shape events frighteningly beyond her control.
I had read Olson’s entertaining romp about a dragon’s egg surfacing in a small village and it in no way prepared me for the intensity of this fantasy thriller. The writing is rich and layered, giving a vivid evocation of London during a savage heatwave in a time when people’s clothing was all about keeping them sufficiently warm. I loved the world and the steadily escalating tension in this classy read, rooting for Dorothea all the way. 10/10

AUDIOBOOK – Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany
Babel-17 is all about the power of language. Humanity, which has spread throughout the universe, is involved in a war with the Invaders, who have been covertly assassinating officials and sabotaging spaceships. The only clues humanity has to go on are strange alien messages that have been intercepted in space. Poet and linguist Rydra Wong is determined to understand the language and stop the alien threat.

I’m generally not all that impressed with the classic sci fi reads from this era – far too often it’s all about the lantern-jawed hero with female characters providing bed partners and/or requiring to be rescued just to show the protagonist off as courageous and tough. Not so this one – the protag is a well-written, nuanced heroine, who engaged me throughout with her intelligence and resilience. I also enjoyed the diverse ethnic range of characters throughout, showing that Delany was well ahead of his time. The ideas raised regarding language aren’t new – not when considering books such as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Embassytown – but I enjoyed the way Delany explores the subject. The only reason this one didn’t get a 10 was that the end felt a bit rushed and was weak and ordinary when compared with the quality of the rest of the book. 9/10

The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope
Washington D. C., 1925

Clara Johnson talks to spirits, a gift that saved her during her darkest moments in a Washington D. C. jail. Now a curse that’s left her indebted to the cunning spirit world. So, when the Empress, the powerful spirit who holds her debt, offers her an opportunity to gain her freedom, a desperate Clara seizes the chance. The task: steal a magical ring from the wealthiest woman in the District.

Clara can’t pull off this daring heist alone. She’ll need help from an unlikely team, from a jazz musician capable of hypnotizing with a melody to an aging vaudeville actor who can change his face, to pull off the impossible. But as they encounter increasingly difficult obstacles, a dangerous spirit interferes at every turn. Conflict in the spirit world is leaking into the human one and along D.C’.s legendary Black Broadway, a mystery unfolds—one that not only has repercussions for Clara but all of the city’s residents.
This one is a gripping read. Clara is a sympathetic heroine, full of anger at how her life has been twisted by the gift bestowed upon her. The story also throws into relief the extra hardship being black is in Washington in the 1920s in a very matter-of-fact way, which gave me – a white middle-class Brit woman – a better appreciation of the unremitting harshness of being instantly judged by the colour of your skin. Review to follow.

A Date With Death – #0.5 of the Conjuring a Coroner series by S.C. Stokes
Whoever said blood is thicker than water hasn’t met the Harrington family. New York royalty, the Harrington family are old money with magic coursing through their entitled veins, and the only thing the Harringtons care less about than each other…is the law.

When Lester dies unexpectedly, his considerable estate is set to pass to his surviving heirs. But the coroner, Kasey Chase, has ruled Lester’s death a homicide, sparking a family feud that sees the Harrington heirs turn on each other in a lethal struggle where the only prize for second place is death.

With unlimited resources and a callous disregard for human life, the Harrington’s have to be stopped before the city pays the price for their petty war. Caught in the middle, Kasey is left fighting for her life. Fortunately, she’s been hiding a secret of her own. Kasey is a witch.
Kasey is an appealing heroine – and I liked how reluctant she is initially to get sucked into such a potentially tricky situation. I get a tad tired of protagonists who happily run towards danger the rest of us would instinctively back away from. And when this one finally kicked off – the action rolled forward and didn’t let up until the end. I’ll definitely be reading more Kasey goodness as this urban fantasy adventure is a page-turning read. 8/10

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Flightless Afternoon – Book 5 of the Ageless Mysteries by Vanessa Nelson #BrainfluffKINDLEbookreview #FlightlessAfternoonbookreview

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Vanessa Nelson is one of the excellent indie authors I’ve discovered since I started my battle with Long Covid. And this book dropped onto my Kindle as I pre-ordered it – something I very rarely do.

BLURB: The unthinkable has happened. One of the Ageless has been killed, their body left in a public space, displayed for all to see. The Archon is furious and threatens to burn the entire city, unless the person responsible is found and turned over to her for justice.

Thea March is called on to investigate again. As little as she wants to turn anyone over to the Archon, she also knows that the Ageless could burn the city to the ground and not care about the death and destruction they cause. Working with Niath, can Thea find the person responsible for the Ageless’ death? And, if she finds them, can she bring herself to turn them over to the Archon?

REVIEW: My first piece of advice – don’t start your Ageless Mysteries experience with the fifth book in the series. While Nelson is far too skilful to allow you to flounder for very long, there is an overarching narrative arc that is worth following by reading these in the correct order. So if you have encountered this one without having had the pleasure of reading the previous four books, instead tuck into Deadly Night, the first book in the series.

While I’m aware there are huge numbers of crime fantasy books out there – Nelson’s take is somewhat different. Her setting is a Medieval/Early Modern era with all sorts of non-human magical beings living in the large city, Accanter, alongside the humans. The world is ruled by the Ageless, long-lived, angel-like beings who inhabit the Citadel and can fly. That said, there’s nothing angelic about their behaviour – they are fearsome warriors and supremely arrogant, who think nothing of savagely punishing other races who get in their way. Our plucky heroine, Thea, works for The Watch, which is Accanter’s equivalent to the police, so it’s her task to track down wrong-doers. Which makes this series an essentially a police procedural set within an epic fantasy world.

I love the dynamic, especially as Nelson does it very well. Thea and her mother have a troubled backstory that is gradually revealed throughout the series, which impacts on her ability to do her job, at times. For Thea doesn’t want to attract the attention of the Ageless, something that becomes increasingly difficult as time goes on. And in this book, that attention becomes lethal as the mentally unstable Archon, supreme ruler of the Ageless and the rest of the world, tasks Thea with discovering who has murdered two of her warriors in two days. Her life will be forfeit if she doesn’t and then the city will burn.

So Thea has a savage double murder to solve against the backdrop of a ticking clock. Fortunately, she also has a loyal team of investigators around her who are equally desperate to solve the case. The pages flew by, even as I tried to eke out the story knowing only too well that I’d end up with a miserable book hangover once I came to the end of this gripping story. And I was right. I love the world, the setting and the characters – particularly Thea’s dogged determination to see justice done for those who cannot help themselves. There are some dangling plotpoints, as the story isn’t wholly resolved and I’m now waiting for the next book in the series. Except, I’m also dreading it, as Nelson has announced it’s the final Ageless Mysteries book. Very highly recommended for fans of fantasy mystery murders.
10/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #16

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This is my update on how I’m coping with Long Covid now it’s been over fourteen months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

Thank goodness little Eliza and my daughter have now recovered from their initial medical emergencies. Eliza is back at nursery school and I was able to spend some time with her to see she is back to her normal, bouncy self – more of that later! However my daughter has had to return work while also juggling the needs of three children all at very different stages, so she is at full stretch. To the extent that we’ve had our Boomerang Boy staying with us again.

After his first full week at his new school didn’t go very well, we offered to have our younger grandson to stay over for this last week. Himself is on annual leave and we have the time to give Oscar the support he needs to cope with such a major change, mostly by simply being there. It worked out really well and by Friday he was much happier and more settled, having made a friend and feeling less overwhelmed. He helped make tea, played Wordle with me and contributed to discussions around the table during the evening meal. He is such a star and we love his company – as you can see by the nonsense going on between Himself and Oscar when I was trying to take a photo!

Under normal circumstances, that would be my major news for this post – but this time around I’ve other tidings to share. I am definitely on the road to recovery! My energy levels have suddenly jumped up, so I don’t get exhausted so easily. Last Saturday Oscar and I (he came to stay last Friday evening) had a sleepover at my sister’s to listen to a nightingale singing in a nearby wood. She made us a lovely roast dinner and then we played cards – we taught Oscar to play knock-out whist and then he beat us both at Dobble. That level and length of interaction would have been unthinkable only a few weeks ago – but I not only coped, I was thoroughly enjoying it.

I am not yet fully recovered, as I’m still dealing with nasal drip, tinnitus, persistent pain in my upper right arm and chest that wakes me up at night. In addition I still have a swollen thyroid and lymph glands in my neck. And I am horribly unfit – unsurprising as I have spent a large part of the last fourteen months too tired to get out of bed. But I am so thrilled and massively relieved! I’d begun to fear that the almost constant tiredness constantly dogging me was going to be with me for the rest of my life. On Wednesday evening, I was able to join a Zoom meeting with my Writing group and got such a welcome… It was lovely to see everyone again, as the last time I’d been part of the group was 3rd March, 2021.

So on Thursday evening, Oscar’s last night with us, we asked if we could also borrow the other two children and celebrated my improvement by taking the grandchildren to The Dragon, their favourite Chinese restaurant. Even little Eliza came along – and without her mother, who couldn’t make it as she was busy with an online meeting. It was one of the best nights of my life. We got a lovely greeting from the staff, who remembered us even though we hadn’t been there since 2019 – and the children were wonderful. Eliza was as good as gold and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The food was fabulous and the service was brilliant. When our waiter spotted that Eliza was determinedly spooning up the plum sauce she was supposed to be sharing with her older brother, he brought two sachets of tomato ketchup just for her, tore them open and squeezed them onto her plate and invited her to dip her cucumber slices in that instead. The older children were chatty and easy-going, clearly enjoying the food and always polite – I’m so proud of them!

The highlight for me is that even a fortnight earlier – I simply couldn’t have envisaged feeling well enough to have taken part in such an outing. So it was a huge deal for me to be there. I hadn’t been anywhere for a meal since we went away for our wedding anniversary in September 2020. I’m very aware that I still have a long way to go – and I’m not going to rush ahead with a Graduated Exercise Programme, for example. That would probably tip me back into a relapse – after all, it has taken over a year to get here. So if it takes that length of time to regain my fitness, without running the risk of becoming bedridden again – that’s fine by me😊. I have a hospital appointment on Monday – fingers crossed it won’t find anything sinister!

This week I’ve read:-

Hummingbird – Book 1 of A Charade of Magic by Helen Harper
The best way to live in the Mage ruled city of Glasgow is to keep your head down and your mouth closed. That’s not usually a problem for Mairi Wallace. By day she works at a small shop selling tartan and by night she studies to become an apothecary. She knows her place and her limitations. All that changes, however, when her old childhood friend sends her a desperate message seeking her help – and the Mages themselves cross Mairi’s path. Suddenly, remaining unnoticed is no longer an option.

There’s more to Mairi than she realises but, if she wants to fulfil her full potential, she’s going to have to fight to stay alive – and only time will tell if she can beat the Mages at their own game. From twisted wynds and tartan shops to a dangerous daemon and the magic infused City Chambers, the future of a nation might lie with one solitary woman.
I’m a Helen Harper fan – and this one didn’t disappoint. It was a real page-turner and I’m now looking forward to reading the next one in the series, as I’m desperate to discover what happens next.

Murder in the Manor – Book 1 of A Lacey Doyle Cosy Mystery series by Fiona Grace
Lacey Doyle, 39 years old and freshly divorced, needs a drastic change. She needs to quit herjob, leave her horrendous boss and New York City, and walk away from the fast life. Making good on her childhood promise to herself, she decides to walk away from it all, and to relive a beloved childhood vacation in the quaint English seaside town of Wilfordshire.

Wilfordshire is exactly as Lacey remembers it, with its ageless architecture, cobblestone streets, and with nature at its doorstep. Lacey doesn’t want to go back home—and spontaneously, she decides to stay, and to give her childhood dream a try: she will open her own antique shop.

Lacey finally feels that her life is taking a step in the right direction—until her new star customer turns up dead. As the newcomer in town, all eyes are on Lacey, and it’s up to her to clear her own name. With a business to run, a next-door neighbor turned nemesis, a flirty baker across the street, and a crime to solve – is this new life all that Lacey thought it would be?
This is one of the books that Himself acquired – I was intrigued by the blurb and was in the mood for something a bit different from my usual fare. There is much to commend it – I liked the gutsy can-do attitude of the heroine. But timescales were ridiculously compressed (a week to get a temporary Visa to live in the UK????) and this offering couldn’t make up its mind if it was a cosy mystery or a cosy second-chance romance. 7/10

Under Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchings
Fleeing the final days of the generations-long war with the alien Felen, smuggler Jereth Keeven’s freighter the Jonah breaks down in a strange rift in deep space, with little chance of rescue—until they encounter the research vessel Gallion, which claims to be from 152 years in the future.

The Gallion’s chief engineer Uma Ozakka has always been fascinated with the past, especially the tale of the Fortunate Five, who ended the war with the Felen. When the Gallion rescues a run-down junk freighter, Ozakka is shocked to recognize the Five’s legendary ship—and the Five’s famed leader, Eldric Leesongronski, among the crew. But nothing else about Leesongronski and his crewmates seems to match up with the historical record. With their ships running out of power in the rift, more than the lives of both crews may be at stake.
This enjoyable timeslip space opera adventure has some interesting things to say about how History slants events to suit those writing said History. I grew very fond of the Fortunate Five and found myself rooting for them. 8/10

Herrick’s End – Book 1 of The Neath by T.M. Blanchet
Ollie’s only friend disappeared a few days ago, and now, he’s frantic to find her. But he doesn’t have much to go on until a mysterious note arrives which reads:
“Still looking for your friend? I know where she is.”
Unfortunately for Ollie, the trail leads to the last place he’d ever expect.

Somewhere dark.
Somewhere deep.
The kind of place where magic spills like blood, vengeance is merciless, and escape seems all but impossible.

Worse still, it soon becomes clear that someone-or something-was expecting him.
Now, time is running out.
If Ollie has any hope of ever seeing home again, he’s going to have to summon every last scrap of courage, smarts, and tenacity he can find. And none of it will matter if he can’t get some help. Fast.
This intriguing offering has been labelled YA, but it certainly didn’t come across as a YA read to me. I thought the story was going in a certain direction – when it suddenly turned into something completely different. And I was hooked. I was also intrigued by the strong morality story that underpins it, putting me in mind of Pilgrim’s Progress – although there isn’t any religion in this offering. Review to follow.

The Lending Library by Aliza Fogelson
When the Chatsworth library closes indefinitely, Dodie Fairisle loses her sanctuary. How is a small-town art teacher supposed to cope without the never-ending life advice and enjoyment that books give her? Well, when she’s as resourceful and generous as Dodie, she turns her sunroom into her very own little lending library.

At first just a hobby, this lit lovers’ haven opens up her world in incredible ways. She knows books are powerful, and soon enough they help her forge friendships between her zany neighbors—and attract an exciting new romance.
But when the chance to adopt an orphaned child brings Dodie’s secret dream of motherhood within reach, everything else suddenly seems less important. Finding herself at a crossroads, Dodie must figure out what it means to live a full, happy life. If only there were a book that could tell her what to do…
I wanted to like Dodie – but she’s the type of heroine that frankly gives millennials a bad name. She giggles and pouts over men as if she’s a mid-teen, turns her back on a friend looking for support and suddenly decides to adopt a baby without having any of the resources to do the job properly. Thank goodness the baby’s grandparents saw through her charm and realised just how flighty she is. I read on in fascinated horror to see how else she was going to mess up her life. Though given her addiction to every kind of sweet food on the planet, it might just be she’s making decisions in the throes of a sugar-blitzed brainstorm. 6/10

AUDIOBOOK Wolfbane – Book 9 of the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series by Michelle Paver, narrated by Sir Ian McKellan
It is early spring, a turbulent, perilous time of sudden storms, frozen river fractures and drifting ice. Fleeing from a demon intent on devouring his souls, Wolf is swept out to Sea far from the Forest and his pack.

The ocean too teems with danger: sea wolves, sharks and hunters of the deep, and the demon is gaining ground. Torak and Renn must race to save their pack-brother, battling the harsh, icy waves and merciless torrents. If they can’t find Wolf in time, the bond between them will be severed for ever…
What a treat… In this prehistoric world, our ancestors have formed a deep spiritual bond with the creatures around them. Paver depicts their hunter-gatherer lives with realism and respect – and I recommend you also listen to the Afterword, where she describes the research she has done to back up aspects covered in this gripping adventure. But then, you’ll probably want to listen on, anyway. With McKellan’s masterful narration, I’d listen to him reading aloud the soccer results. Review to follow.

This week I have posted:
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Hummingbird – Book 1 of A Charade of Magic series by Helen Harper

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Under Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchings

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

50 Word Stories: Plain Bad

Friday Faceoff: Sunny and Bright – a cover that is predominantly yellow

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Hummingbird – Book 1 of A Charade of Magic series by Helen Harper #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Hummingbirdbookreview

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I’m a fan of Helen Harper’s writing – see my reviews of Bloodfire and the Lazy Witch series – Slouch Witch, Star Witch and Spirit Witch. So when this one popped up on Netgalley I immediately requested it and was delighted to get hold of an arc.

BLURB: The best way to live in the Mage ruled city of Glasgow is to keep your head down and your mouth closed. That’s not usually a problem for Mairi Wallace. By day she works at a small shop selling tartan and by night she studies to become an apothecary. She knows her place and her limitations. All that changes, however, when her old childhood friend sends her a desperate message seeking her help – and the Mages themselves cross Mairi’s path. Suddenly, remaining unnoticed is no longer an option.

There’s more to Mairi than she realises but, if she wants to fulfil her full potential, she’s going to have to fight to stay alive – and only time will tell if she can beat the Mages at their own game. From twisted wynds and tartan shops to a dangerous daemon and the magic infused City Chambers, the future of a nation might lie with one solitary woman.

REVIEW: This fantasy magic-based class struggle adventure is set in a version of Glasgow in an approximation of the early Victorian period. Harper’s feisty heroine, Mairi, has had a tough time of it. Raised in an orphanage and determined to better herself, she is currently working as a shopgirl/general servant to an unpleasant couple who run a shop selling tartan cloth. The other thing to know about her is that she cannot speak.

Having a mute heroine could have really got in the way. But Harper’s clever writing and skill in getting us to care about her main character meant that it didn’t in any way slow down the action. The scene setting is excellent. Tension crackled off the pages as Mairi tries to keep a low profile in a city where anyone different is immediately at risk.

There is a zombie element – the Afflicted who roam the streets at night looking for anyone to snack on. Obviously there is also a curfew in place for the protection of everyday folk, who are understandably terrified of the Afflicted. Especially as no one really knows how they are made. Do they become infected by being scratched or bitten by an Afflicted? Is it an illness? Or is it magic? The Mages claim to protect the general population, but then they claim to work for the service of the city. And as far as everyone else is concerned, they live a life of luxury shrouded in secrecy and if anyone tries to get too close – the consequences are dire.

This one grabbed me from the beginning and didn’t let go until the end. And now, I’m desperate to know what is going to happen next. Very highly recommended for fans of gripping historical fantasy stories featuring a gutsy heroine. While I obtained an arc of Hummingbird from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Review of INDIE Ebook Shadows Over Kaighal – Book 3 of the Pacts Arcane and Otherwise series by Joanna Maciejewska #BrainfluffINDIEbookreview #ShadowsOverKaighalbookreview

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I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in this entertaining Sand and Sorcery adventure – see my reviews of By the Pact and Scars of Stone. So I was delighted to discover that Shadows of Kaighal is now available.

BLURB: To finally have a chance at freeing Veranesh, Kamira had made some risky decisions, surrendering herself to the mercy of the archmages and trusting that her companions, Veelk and Koshmarnyk, would carry out other essential parts of their plan.

In her wildest dreams she hadn’t expected that her actions would leave her with more trouble than less. Now she has a whole city on her shoulders, two demons around—one shrewder than the other, and plenty of enemies to pick from. Even with the demon invasion imminent, Gildya is fussing about Koshmarnyk’s presence in the city, the kingdom of Tivarashan is making its moves to conquer Kaighal, and Kamira would love to toss it all out for a lone journey to find out whether Veelk is still alive. But first, she will need to clean up her mess, one way or another.

REVIEW: Whatever you do – don’t pick up this one until you’ve at least read Scars of Stone and preferably also By the Pact. This is essentially a single story that has been broken into different volumes, so you’ll miss far too much of the vital backstory and character development if you plunge straight into this one. Indeed, before I tucked into this book – I went back and reread Scars of Stone to ensure that the major plotpoints and characters were sufficiently fresh in my head in order to fully enjoy this one.
Maciejewska’s world is delightfully complex.

The archmages spend as much time (maybe even more) infighting among themselves, as well as studying the high art of magic, unsullied by demonology. So they say, anyway. While the demonologists obtain their magic by forming a pact with a demon in order to share their magic, so are generally treated with contempt by the archmages. It very much depends on the power and importance of the demon as to how effective their magic will be – so understandably, demonologists generally aren’t all that chatty about who they’ve traded promises with. Then there are the political divisions within Kaighal among the non-magical community. And – best of all, in my opinion, we also get a ringside seat into the machinations of the various demons who have managed to gain entry and are currently roaming Earth. They also have schemes to increase their power and wealth, not just at the expense of the puny humans – but also to put a dent in each other’s powerbase.

In amongst this cauldron of scheming and counter-scheming, we follow the fortunes of a handful of main characters – Kamira, Veelk and Koshmarnyk feature most heavily, but there are also another three supporting characters that I’ve also come to care about. It would have been all too easy for this slice of the story to have become a snarl of cris-crossing storylines with a welter of characters. The fact that it hasn’t and I’m still pondering some Kamira’s slightly sketchy decisions several books after I finished this, is a testament to the author’s skill in plotting and characterisation. I was glad that Veelk made an appearance before the end of the book, as I really missed the snarky yet affectionate relationship he has with Kamira.

And I’m very much looking forward to reading the next instalment. Because the one thing I can guarantee with this entertaining series – is that there will be more plotting and twisty surprises that will keep me turning the pages late into the night. Highly recommended for fans of well-plotted Sand and Sorcery adventures.
9/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #13

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This is my update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been over a year since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

I’m aware that I sound like a cracked record when I say that once again, it’s been a fortnight of ups and downs. For much of this week, once again I ended up feeling very tired and shaky. Though this time around, I didn’t ease off as much as I previously would have. I’ve recently finished reading The Long Covid Self-Help Guide written by the specialists at the Post-Covid Clinic, Oxford, which was the first one of its kind in the country. I will be reviewing it in due course, though right now I’m sorting through the tangle of feelings it caused.

As a consequence of some of the advice I read, I’ve started up-pacing – the process where I’m now trying to increase my level of physical activity without triggering another major relapse. It’s a tricky business. I’m aware that my Long Covid symptoms might well evolve into ME/CFS if I get this wrong. I’m in my mid-sixties and was formerly very active and healthy – far too young to continue living like a frail ninety-something for the rest of my life. Equally, I’ve also become aware that I could be compromising my recovery by being too inactive. And at present, I’m doing this more or less on my own, so finding the right balance is a huge challenge. Especially as if I do trigger a relapse like the one I had last August, I’ll probably lose all the progress I’ve made to date, as I’m still not back to the level of activity I had last July and the first half of August, before I became completely bedridden for a fortnight.

This week, I did have a scan at the local hospital to monitor my swollen thyroid and the painful glands in my neck. The radiologist reported there is no change, which I suppose is good news. Though to be honest – I would have preferred it if she had told me that my thyroid was returning to its normal size. I also had an eye test, which I had to attend on my own, due to Covid precautions. I was really pleased that during the whole rather intense two-hour session, I didn’t feel too exhausted. However, it was something of a challenge to try and choose glasses frames without being able to properly see what they looked like on my face. Fingers crossed I shan’t be too disappointed at my appearance when I pick them up!

We’ve had some amazingly mild weather for the time of year, with lots of sunshine. However, it couldn’t last and now the temperatures are in the 40s, with a bitter wind and the occasional flurry of sleety rain. Our grandson came to stay this week, and is always a ray of sunshine, no matter what the weather and my daughter finally moved into a lovely house that is just a short drive away. So no matter what else is happening – having family closer is a massive silver lining to any clouds I’m still battling.

This week I’ve read:-

AUDIOBOOK Cyteen – Books 1-3 by C.J. Cherryh
The saga of two young friends trapped in an endless nightmare of suspicion and surveillance, of cyber-programmed servants and a ruling class with century-long lives – and the enigmatic woman who dominates them all. Narrators Jonathan Davis and Gabra Zackman skillfully split up this sweeping sci-fi epic that is “at once a psychological novel, a murder mystery, and an examination of power on a grand scale.”

I listened to this one and was completely enthralled. And yes… I get that some folks found it slow and overwritten. But as the story unfolded in over 36 hours of listening, I became increasingly awed at the sheer level of detail Cherryh offers in this layered, dangerous world of post-humans who have been genetically engineered. I’m also full of admiration at how she portrays both the best of the worst of them, so that by the end – I had a strong sense of their whole personalities. I’ve been thinking about this book ever since I listened to it. Indeed, it was a struggle to be really fair to the next offering I heard, as part of me was in mourning that it wasn’t Cyteen. Very highly recommended. 11/10

Scars of Stone – Book 2 of the Pacts Arcane and Otherwise series by Joanna Maciejewska
The battle with a demonic foe had opened Kamira’s and Veelk’s eyes: they were unprepared for their task. If they want a chance of freeing Veranesh from his crystal prison, they need the help of a brilliant inventor imprisoned by Gildya, a man also desired by the refugee queen, Cahala, who will stop at nothing to slake her thirst for magic.

Time is also of the essence as Archmage Yoreus maneuvers for power. Once he claims the title of the first archmage for himself, he will tie up all loose ends, and that entails burying Kamira, Veelk, and a long line of secrets he’d prefer to be forgotten. Kamira and Veelk have a rule, “no heroics, survival first.”
When dealing with demons, avoiding heroics is easy. But survival? Not so much.
This is a reread. I suddenly realised that I’ve the next book on my Kindle, Shadows Over Kaighal which I pre-ordered and to get the best out of this Sand and Sorcery tale, I needed to remind myself of who is doing what to whom. This story is too good for me to compromise my reading experience otherwise. I love Kamira and the fact that Joanna’s characters are nuanced and layered. This classy and engrossing series deserves to be far better known. 9/10

Murder Most Vile – Book 9 of the Langham & Dupré series by Eric Brown
London. April, 1957. Private investigator Donald Langham is approached by retired businessman Vernon Lombard to find his missing son, Christopher. But what appears to be a simple case of a missing artist becomes far more alarming when Langham realizes there’s more to Christopher’s disappearance than meets the eye, and then makes a terrible discovery.

Meanwhile, Langham’s business partner Ralph Ryland’s search for a missing greyhound forces him to confront a shameful secret from his own past, with terrifying consequences. Can Langham navigate London’s criminal underworld, fascism and deception to track down a killer and save Ralph’s life?
This one is slightly darker than the previous books in this series, but that doesn’t prevent it from being a thoroughly engrossing read. Indeed, once I got past a certain point I couldn’t put it down. I loved the evocation of 1950s London and the bonus is that you don’t have to read any of the other books in the series to thoroughly enjoy it. Review to follow. 8/10

A Catastrophic Theft – Book 3 of the Reg Rawlins, Psychic Investigator series by P.D. Workman

Reg’s relationship with Sarah, who has been her loyal friend and protector since she arrived becomes strained when Sarah’s precious emerald necklace disappears. There is no shortage of suspects, with Reg herself at the front of the line.

This is the last book in the three-book box set I bought for a very reasonable price when I was looking for something a bit lighter. I’ve been impressed at the depth of Reg’s character and the ongoing development throughout the three books – to the extent that I have now bought the next box set of books 4-6 for much more money… Recommended for fans who enjoy a three-dimensional protagonist with darker aspects in their character. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK Battlestar Suburbia – Book 1 of the Battlestar Suburbia series by Chris McCrudden
In space, no one can hear you clean…

When Darren’s charge-cart gets knocked off the Earth-to-Mars highway and lost in space forever, he thinks his day can’t get any worse. When Kelly sees Darren accidentally short-circuit a talking lamppost, and its camera captures her face as it expires, she thinks her day can’t get any worse.

When Pamasonic Teffal, a sentient breadmaker, is sent on a top-secret mission into the depths of the internet and betrayed by her boss, a power-crazed smartphone, she knows this is only the beginning of a day that isn’t going to get any better. Join Darren, Kelly and Pam in an anarchic comic adventure that takes them from the shining skyscrapers of Singulopolis to the sewers of the Dolestar Discovery, and find out what happens when a person puts down their mop and bucket and says No.
The author narrates this one himself and just about gets away with it, despite the rather flat delivery and occasional stumble. I loved the genuinely witty and clever references that keep coming throughout which often made me laugh out loud. Yet I am also impressed at how much emotional heft there is within this adventure. Unlike some sci fi comedies, McCrudden never forgets that the characters caught in the middle of this are having a horrible time – at once point, I wept. And I don’t do that very often. Highly recommended for fans of quirky and cleverly written adventures. 9/10

Parallel Lies – Book 1 of the Ross duology by Georgia Rose
Madeleine Ross has life exactly as she planned it. Cosy cottage, friendly village, satisfying job. Company… when she wants it. It’s an enviable existence for an independent young woman, and one she’s keen to protect.

Enter Daniel – strong, dependable and a danger to everything she’s built. He’s not something she was looking for, but hearts can’t be controlled and maybe, just maybe he might be worth letting into hers. But, all is not what it seems. Because Madeleine is hiding a lifetime of secrets. Deep secrets. And they never stay buried for ever. Her darkest secret returns, like the proverbial bad penny. He is her first love, shadowy, dangerous, the baddest of bad boys. No matter how far she runs, or how well she hides, she can never escape him. Or her past…
Yep. A contemporary story of someone trying to outrun a very dark past and grappling with a new love in her life. Not my usual fare – and the reason why I kept turning the pages was the tension that Rose managed to engender in her writing. I rapidly really cared for Madeline and wanted her to prevail – it didn’t hurt that once upon another lifetime ago, I used to live in a village not unlike the one she finds herself in, either. If you enjoy a sympathetic protagonist in a contemporary setting, then you might well find this one difficult to put down. Though it ends on a cliff-hanger… Be warned – there is a rape scene and a severely abused child. 8/10

The Cunning Man – A Schooled in Magic spinoff by Christopher G. Nuttall
Adam of Beneficence wanted to be a magician, and even undertook a magical apprenticeship, but there isn’t a single spark of magic in his entire body. In desperation, his master arranged for him to study at Heart’s Eye University, a former school of magic that has become a university, a place where magicians and mundanes can work to combine their talents and forge the future together.

But all is not well at Heart’s Eye. The magical and mundane apprentices resent and fear each other, the teaching staff is unsure how to shape the university and, outside, powerful forces are gathering to snuff out the future before it can take shape. As Adam starts his new apprenticeship, and stumbles across a secret that could reshape the world, he finds himself drawn into a deadly plot that could destroy the university …

… And leave Lady Emily’s legacy in flaming ruins.
Himself is definitely a keeper – I’d mentioned that I was suffering from withdrawal symptoms from the Schooled in Magic series, and he went and bought this offering for me. It charts events at the new university that Emily has set up, in the hope that mundanes and magicians can learn to work together. However, events take a dark turn. I loved this one. Adam is an engaging protagonist and it was enjoyable to see the world through the eyes of someone born into it. It would make a good introduction for someone who hasn’t read any of the other books – or who, like me, wants more Schooled in Magic goodness… 9/10

Witness for the Persecution – Book 3 of the Jersey Girl Legal Mystery series by E.J. Copperman

Former New Jersey prosecutor Sandy Moss moved to a prestigious Los Angeles law firm to make a new start as a family lawyer. So it seems a little unfair that they have created a criminal law division specifically for her. Just because she’s successfully defended two murder trials, it doesn’t mean she likes them!

But when abrasive Hollywood movie director Robert Reeves is accused of murdering a stuntman on set, Sandy finds she can’t say no when he demands her help. Robert might be an unpleasant, egotistical liar, but something tells Sandy that he’s innocent – even if no one else can see it. At least this time, she reassures herself, her charismatic, adorable, and oh so annoying TV star boyfriend Patrick McNabb isn’t involved in the case. He isn’t . . . right?
I love Sandy’s first-person narrative – it’s pacy, smart and very funny. So – what happens when an attorney finds herself representing a complete jerk that she quickly comes to loathe? This book explores the issues surrounding that dilemma. Complete review to follow. 9/10

The Broken Cage – Book 7 of the Crow Investigations series by Sarah Painter
Get the Crow

A man dies in a locked room, leaving a message written in blood and a lot of unanswered questions.

Lydia is still recovering from the fallout with her psychopathic cousin, but there are new threats to the Crows, and she must fight to maintain her position as leader of the Family.
Meanwhile, an actor has gone missing and Fleet is under pressure to find him fast. But there seems to be more to his tension than he is letting on… Can Lydia solve the mysterious murder before she gets arrested for it?
This urban fantasy series, set in London and featuring crow shapeshifter, Lydia, is now a firm favourite. Painter’s atmospheric and strong writing powerfully evoke the sheer otherness of Lydia’s world in a way that I don’t often encounter within the genre. And as Lydia really begins to explore her scary new powers – a whole host of problems once more beset her. Very highly recommended – but whatever you do, start with the first book and work through the series. It’s far too good to miss any aspect of the world or Lydia’s ongoing development. 9/10

This week I have posted:
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of AUDIOBOOK The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #8

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This is my update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 10 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

It’s been a week of two halves, but as I’m now able to write this Sunday Post just a week after my previous effort, you’ll be right in thinking that overall my energy levels are still reasonably good. So long as I don’t think of trying to do any housework! While I know it is definitely positive that my emotional and mental energy have improved so much – it’s very much a two-edged sword… The first half of the week was grim. I woke up on Monday feeling angry and miserable and while I can generally throw off those feelings – this time around, I couldn’t. It was the anger I found impossible to shift. And of course, given there is just the two of us – the person who bore the brunt of it is the one person in my life who is completely undeserving of my snarling criticisms on what he hadn’t managed to do around the house. It’s rather chastening to realise that I’m far less nice when I’m more like me, than when I was too ill and exhausted to care… And even that reflection didn’t manage to lift my black fury at how bloody helpless and useless I am.

However, thank goodness I had a reflexology appointment on Thursday afternoon. Laura listened sympathetically to my teary rant about how much I hated being so vilely furious – and how it was poisoning my life at a time when I really cannot afford the energy to be so negative. So she set to work, promising to concentrate on my emotional energies. At one point, while she was working on my hormonal energy, which she said was allll over the place, my leg was twitching uncontrollably. Whatever she did certainly worked. I always feel very tired after a consultation. But I woke up on Friday morning feeling reasonably happy again. I’m still sleeping badly, and the constant high-pitched screaming in my ears is still something of an ongoing struggle. But I’m back to believing I can get through this – that I haven’t finally run out of stamina and courage. And that there will come a time when I will regain sufficient energy to write my books again so that my grumpy black dragon, Castellan, will once again soar through my life.

This week I’ve read:-


Blood Politics – Book 4 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
You’d think that life would finally be dealing Mack Smith a kind hand. Living in London, and with the opening of the new improved city version of Clava Books mere days away, things appear to be settling down. Other than the terrible nightmares about dragons, that is. Or the fact that she’s being constantly tailed by a string of mages, shifters and faeries, all of whom are constantly demanding her attention. And that’s without even bringing the temptation of Corrigan, Lord Alpha of the Brethren, into the equation.

Then, when a local dryad asks her for some help, things really start to fire up. There are some long hot summer days ahead…
I thoroughly enjoy Harper’s gutsy, short-fused heroine. Mack is a shapeshifter with a difference and this urban fantasy is full of twists and turns that kept me reading throughout a wretched night and into the small hours. Be warned, Mack tends to get very sweary when she loses her rag, so there is a lot of bad language – but I’ll forgive that. And there is also a doozy of cliffhanger at the end that had me reaching for the next book in the series – which is something that I hardly ever do. 9/10

Blood Lust – Book 5 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
Life’s no fun being a dragon, especially when you are forced into responsibilities that involve trying to keep the peace between an array of shifters, mages and faeries in order to bring down the scariest and deadliest foe the Otherworld has ever seen. And that’s not to mention the fact that your own soul mate hates your guts…

Mack Smith, a fiery Draco Wyr, is battling to come to terms with her emotions, her heritage and her true capabilities. All she has to do is defeat Endor, win back Corrigan and live happily ever after. From the streets of London and Russia, to the beaches of Cornwall, will she be able to ever win the day?
Not only does this book deliver yet another engrossing adventure featuring short-tempered Mack, our foul-mouthed yet endearing heroine – it also has to produce a convincing and satisfactory conclusion to this series. I’ll be honest – given the narrative dynamic Harper had set up, I couldn’t see how she would pull this one off. And then she did… I completed this one with a lump in my throat and a smile on my face. Very highly recommended. 10/10

The Gathering – Book 1 of The Hundred series by Vanessa Nelson
As one of the Hundred, Yvonne cannot ignore a plea for help, even if all she wants is a quiet life, somewhere safe for her adopted children to grow into adulthood. Safety is in short supply. Young people, some of them children, are going missing in large numbers, leaving bewildered and grieving families behind. It’s not something she can ignore.

She finds an unexpected ally in an arrogant goblin lord, who seems intent on following her from place to place. With her skills in magic, and his resources, can they track down the kidnappers and return the children home?
I’ve been reading her Ageless Mysteries series and been very impressed, so when I saw this series I immediately tucked into the first one and was very glad I did. Nelson’s worldbuilding is superb – a layered realistic world that gradually is revealed through the eyes of a nuanced, three-dimensional character. The relationship between Guise and Yvonne is beautifully done and I look forward to reading the next one. 9/10

Witch Hunt – Book 3 of the Secondhand Magic series by Lori Drake
Magic Crimes Consultant Emily Davenport’s prestigious family coven may have been disappointed in her lack of magical talent, but they never took issue with how she lived her life—until she registered as a witch. Now the gloves are off, and she’s under investigation by the Circle, a powerful alliance of ancient covens.

But with an important case three months in the making finally starting to bear fruit, she can’t just stop and walk away. The witches of Santa Fe need her. A mysterious, illicit drug that only affects witches is gaining more traction by the day, and every minute she spends worrying about her own future is an opportunity for another witch to die. Can Emily stop the flow of the deadly narcotic and prove herself before her clock runs out, or will she be carted off to face tribunal in chains?
This urban fantasy whodunit has a strong heroine, who used to be an emergency nurse who is dismissed once she registers as a witch. Now she ekes out a living as a consultant on magical cases with the local police department. I really enjoyed Emily’s backstory – she is a strong, sympathetic protagonist who has been put in a convincingly difficult position. I’m delighted there are more books in this smart, well written series. 9/10

The Dragon and Mrs Muir by Connie Suttle
The wedding was an outdoor affair, on a beach with the Gulf of Mexico in the background. In all, seventy-two were injured, and the body count rose to seventeen. Local hospitals were filled with bleeding attendees, and, at one point, the bride, her bloodied white wedding dress cut away and spilling onto the emergency room floor, went into cardiac arrest. Her groom died at the scene.

Philomena Muir became a widow on her wedding day. Three years later, she found herself bumping into the strangest man she’d ever met–except he wasn’t a man. More specifically, he wasn’t human. That brief meeting became the catalyst for a brewing war, pitting one human witch against the might of a supernatural race. The cards are stacked, and Philomena needs a winning hand…
This is an unusual book and despite the slight unevenness of the story-telling and the ease with which some of the conflicts are overcome, I enjoyed the dynamic. The dramatic backstory is very well handled and I really liked Phil. Overall, an intriguing and memorable read. 8/10

Little Witches – Book 21 of Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
Laughter Academy is in trouble. The student witches are growing increasingly reckless, preying on the mundanes below the mountains as their tutors plot and scheme to take advantage of the chaos. And no one seems to know why.

Emily is in no condition to intervene. But she cannot refuse. Heading to Laughter, Emily finds herself dragged into a world of schoolgirl games, staffroom politics and a deadly plot aimed at the heart of the Allied Lands themselves…
As I’ve been reading this entertaining and unpredictable fantasy series, I’ve often imagined Nuttall having a conversation in a bar with a couple of writing buddies. “So… what do you think would happen if a girl got transported from our world, back to a medieval society? And then triggers a major change by introducing some key inventions – what would happen then? I think I’m going to write it. Just to see where it goes.” Because that’s exactly the dynamic of this fascinating series story arc and Emily – the protagonist and catalyst of so much of the upheaval that occurs – has become a firm favourite of mine. There are three more books to go in this series and I’d intended to space them out – but I immediately got hold of the next one, because of that amazing cliffhanger ending. 8/10

The Right Side of History – Book 22 of Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall

A brutal uprising in the Kingdom of Alluvia has shaken the Allied Lands – and Emily finds herself accused of starting it. Desperate, all too aware the kingdom is on the verge of becoming a vortex of chaos, Emily travels to Alluvia in the hopes of calming both sides long enough to secure peace…

…Unaware that the uprising is merely the first step in a plan to shatter the Allied Lands beyond repair.
I pretty much inhaled this one – the beginning is fraught and full of danger. And the tension doesn’t ease up. But the climactic final battle at the end left me reeling as we lose a major character – and Emily suffers a terrible betrayal that I didn’t see coming. Oh my goodness. I’m trying to be good and not immediately reach for the penultimate book in the series as I want to cling onto this world for just a bit longer… this series has seen me through so many wretched nights and difficult days during the worst of my illness. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – Hard Time – Book 2 of The Time Police series by Jodi Taylor
Team Weird are back causing havoc in the Time Police in this irresistible spin-off series by international bestseller Jodi Taylor, author of The Chronicles of St Mary’s. A time slip in Versailles, problems in the Ice Age and illegal time travellers in need of rescue. Must be a job for the Time Police.

Luke, Jane and Matthew are back and ready to cause havoc – inadvertently or otherwise – in their latest adventures.
This time travelling adventure hasn’t quite the rollicking, no-holds-barred flavour of the St Mary’s books, but it is still full of humour. In typical Taylor style, there are also deeply moving and emotional moments, too. It was a joy to listen to. 9/10

This week I have posted:


*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of The Ivory Key – Book 1 of The Ivory Key duology by Akshaya Raman

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of Spirits and Smoke – Book 2 of the Maddie Pastore by Mary Miley

Sunday Post – Living with Long Covid #7

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 able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

SUNDAY POST – CHRISTMAS WITH LONG COVID

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This is an update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 10 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Review.

Like everyone else, my runup to Christmas was full of chores that don’t normally occur, despite my best intentions to dial it right back and make it a much quieter affair. In the event, Christmas Day was lovely, as my sister came over to spend it with us, while Himself cooked a wonderful meal. I’d been able to help by gathering sage from the garden for the stuffing and roll vegan bacon slices around prunes, replacing the stones with almonds. My sister brought along a chicken breast and Himself cooked a nut roast for us. While it wasn’t as nice as the one I usually prepare using fresh chestnuts, the meal was still delicious. And we then collapsed in front of the TV, too full to move. But I woke up the following morning exhausted once more and it took several days to recover – by which time we’d both gone down with a cold. Or maybe it was Omicron. Despite the fact that the lateral flow tests all were negative, given that my daughter and young granddaughter got sick with covid over the Christmas holidays, it had to be a possibility even though they’d stood at the door and not come into the house when we saw them the one time during the Christmas period. Fortunately they recovered without any ill effects, which was a huge relief.

To be safe, I cancelled my reflexology appointment and we stayed in. Until the glorious morning two days into the New Year when I woke up feeling much, much better – and no longer smelling horrible. Since I got sick in March, I’ve been aware that I smell bad – a musty sick smell that I hate. And for two whole days it disappeared. In addition I had much more energy – that wasn’t new, but the absence of that horrible smell was. So… perhaps I’d had Omicron after all, I thought – and like a number of other people, maybe contracting another version of covid actually cured my Long Covid! I felt fantastic – but decided to take it easy… not push myself too much. So I did a couple of two-minute exercise sessions, spent some time working on the timeline for my Castellan stories and actually cleaned the bathroom for the first time in ages. Hm. Turns out I wasn’t cured and had only succeeded in flattening myself allll over again.

Initially, I felt stupid for thinking it would be that easy. Why would I magically get a free pass and be able to skip the tricky slow recovery bit, when I hadn’t been cured by having the booster jab? But looking back, I’ve decided that it wasn’t stupidity – it was hope. And if I lose that, then I really am sunk. So no more beating myself up for wishing I was better, and accept that it isn’t going to work that way. Now I’m back to working on improving my sleep patterns, filling in my activity journal, enforcing my pacing routine, including regular meditations. And trying to hang onto my patience, as I now inconveniently have enough emotional energy to get very frustrated and fed up with the situation – unlike earlier on when I was too tired to care. And also celebrate the bright lights that shine in the gloom, like Himself’s constant caring presence. While he had to work right up to Christmas Eve, he’s been off work now since New Year’s Eve on annual leave, which I’m very grateful for. And our eldest grandson came to stay from Wednesday to Friday this week – which was a huge treat. He’s loving college and it’s a joy to see him blossom in an environment where he’s surrounded by other creative people who understand his enthusiasms. I’d like to send a huge shoutout to the lecturers and teachers out there doing a stellar job in increasingly difficult circumstances – thank you!

A very Happy 2022 to you all. Let’s hope that it is a MUCH better year than the previous two have been.

Since the start of the year I’ve read:-
The Stranger Times – Book 1 of The Stranger Times series by C.K. McDonnell
There are Dark Forces at work in our world (and in Manchester in particular) and so thank God The Stranger Times is on hand to report them. A weekly newspaper dedicated to the weird and the wonderful (but more often the weird) of modern life, it is the go-to publication for the unexplained and inexplicable . . . At least that’s their pitch. The reality is rather less auspicious. Their editor is a drunken, foul-tempered and -mouthed husk of a man who thinks little (and believes less) of the publication he edits, while his staff are a ragtag group of wastrels and misfits, each with their own secrets to hide and axes to grind. And as for the assistant editor . . . well, that job is a revolving door – and it has just revolved to reveal Hannah Willis, who’s got her own set of problems.

It’s when tragedy strikes in Hannah’s first week on the job that The Stranger Times is forced to do some serious, proper, actual investigative journalism. What they discover leads them to a shocking realisation: that some of the stories they’d previously dismissed as nonsense are in fact terrifyingly, gruesomely real. Soon they come face-to-face with darker foes than they could ever have imagined. It’s one thing reporting on the unexplained and paranormal but it’s quite another being dragged into the battle between the forces of Good and Evil .
Thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. I laughed aloud throughout this one. McDonnell manages to make his highly eccentric bunch of characters both sympathetic and engaging, while keeping their oddness – which isn’t all that easy to do. The pages turned themselves and it was a wonderful New Year’s treat to start 2022 by reading this offering – I look forward to reading more books from this series in due course. 10/10

A Familiar Sight – Book 1 of the Dr Gretchen White series by Brianna Labuskes

When a high-profile new case lands on Shaughnessy’s desk, it seems open and shut. Remorseless teenager Viola Kent is accused of killing her mother. Amid stories of childhood horrors and Viola’s cruel manipulations, the bad seed has already been found guilty by a rapt public. But Gretchen might be seeing something in Viola no one else does: herself. If Viola is a scapegoat, then who really did it? And what are they hiding? To find the truth, Gretchen must enter a void that is not only dark and cold-blooded, but also frighteningly familiar.
This contemporary murder mystery is a compelling read, made more so by the clever use of a fractured timeline which jumps between the lives of the victims and the investigation. It could have quickly turned into a hot mess, but the deftness of the writing and the strong characterisation instead made this one hard to put down. Highly recommended. 9/10

Spirits and Smoke – Book 2 of the Maddie Pastore series by Mary Miley
December, 1924. Young widow Maddie Pastore feels fortunate to be employed by the well-meaning but fraudulent medium Carlotta Romany. Investigating Carlotta’s clients isn’t work she’s proud of, but she’s proud of how well she does it. Maddie’s talents, however, draw them unwelcome attention: sharp-eyed Officer O’Rourke from the Chicago Police. He doesn’t believe in spiritualism – but in a city packed with mobsters, con artists and criminals, he’ll take any help he can get.

It’s not long before Maddie has a case to bring him. Why did teetotal banker Herman Quillen die of alcohol poisoning? And who is the gold-toothed man claiming to be his brother, and demanding the spirits reveal where Herman hid his money? All Maddie wants is to uncover the truth – but to her horror, she’s soon mixed up in a tangled web of secrets and deception that leads to the heart of Chicago’s violent gangs . . . and she’ll need all her wits about her if she, and her loved ones, are going to make it out again alive.
This historical murder mystery, set in 1920s Chicago, leaps off the page with a strong, sympathetic protagonist and the vivid depiction of the Prohibition era. I enjoyed the first book, The Mystic’s Apprentice, and loved this one. Review to follow.

Blood Trade – Book 6 of the Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter
The Master of Natchez, Mississippi has a nasty problem on his hands. Rogue vampires—those who follow the Naturaleza and believe that humans should be nothing more than prey to be hunted—are terrorizing his city. Luckily, he knows the perfect skinwalker to call in to take back the streets.

But what he doesn’t tell Jane is that there’s something different about these vamps. Something that makes them harder to kill—even for a pro like Jane. Now, her simple job has turned into a fight to stay alive…and to protect the desperately ill child left in her care.
Once again, the sheer quality of the writing shines through as Jane continues her dark journey in the employ of Leo, the Master of the City of New Orleans. While it’s violent and often blood-soaked, I never find the details gratuitious – and there are often amusing interludes as Jane also has a snarky mouth and isn’t afraid to use it. This is a classy series that stand above the rest, and highly recommended. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – Cytonic – Book 3 of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson
Spensa’s life as a Defiant Defense Force pilot has been far from ordinary. She proved herself one of the best starfighters in the human enclave of Detritus and she saved her people from extermination at the hands of the Krell—the enigmatic alien species that has been holding them captive for decades. What’s more, she traveled light-years from home as an undercover spy to infiltrate the Superiority, where she learned of the galaxy beyond her small, desolate planet home. Now, the Superiority—the governing galactic alliance bent on dominating all human life—has started a galaxy-wide war. And Spensa’s seen the weapons they plan to use to end it: the Delvers. Ancient, mysterious alien forces that can wipe out entire planetary systems in an instant. Spensa knows that no matter how many pilots the DDF has, there is no defeating this predator.

Except that Spensa is Cytonic. She faced down a Delver and saw something eerily familiar about it. And maybe, if she’s able to figure out what she is, she could be more than just another pilot in this unfolding war. She could save the galaxy. The only way she can discover what she really is, though, is to leave behind all she knows and enter the Nowhere. A place from which few ever return. To have courage means facing fear. And this mission is terrifying.
I’m not quite sure why this one didn’t hold me as much as Skyward or Starsight, but there were times when I felt the narrative pace slightly dragged. It was never sufficient for me to decide not to listen to the audiobook any more – but I did feel there was a bit too much repetition regarding Spensa’s feelings and her feisty A.I.’s exploration of its new emotions. That said – I was still fascinated to see where Sanderson was taking this story, as the plot delivered plenty of surprises along the way. 7/10

Bloodfire – Book 1 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
Mackenzie Smith has always known that she was different. Growing up as the only human in a pack of rural shapeshifters will do that to you, but then couple it with some mean fighting skills and a fiery temper and you end up with a woman that few will dare to cross. However, when the only father figure in her life is brutally murdered, and the dangerous Brethren with their predatory Lord Alpha come to investigate, Mack has to not only ensure the physical safety of her adopted family by hiding her apparent humanity, she also has to seek the blood-soaked vengeance that she craves.

Mack is certainly short-fused. All sorts of things make her angry, some justifiably and some not so much. Do be warned, though, part of her annoyance is expressed in her colourful swearing. I also liked her glorious disregard for rules, which makes entire sense once we realise exactly what is going on. Cornwall is one of my favourite places in the world and while we weren’t overwhelmed with details of the countryside, there was sufficient for me to be able to clearly visualise what is going on. REREAD 8/10

Bloodmagic – Book 2 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
After escaping the claws of Corrigan, the Lord Alpha of the Brethren, Mack is trying to lead a quiet lonely life in Inverness in rural Scotland, away from anyone who might happen to be a shapeshifter. However, when she lands a job at an old bookstore owned by a mysterious elderly woman who not only has a familiar passion for herbal lore but also seems to know more than she should, Mack ends up caught in a maelstrom between the Ministry of Mages, the Fae and the Brethren.

Now she has to decide between staying hidden and facing the music, as well as confronting her real feelings for the green eyed power of Corrigan himself.
Enjoyable sequel to Bloodfire, taking Mack into more scrapes and adventures while giving us more information about her mysterious origins. A nicely snarky protagonist. Recommended for fans of shape-shifting, paranormal adventures. REREAD 8/10

Bloodrage – Book 3 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
Mack begins her training at the mages’ academy in the hope that, by complying, the stasis spell will be lifted from her old friend, Mrs. Alcoon. However, once there, she finds herself surrounded by unfriendly adults and petulant teenagers, the majority of whom seem determined to see her fail.

Feeling attacked on all fronts, Mack finds it harder and harder to keep a rein on her temper. Forced to attend anger management classes and deal with the predatory attentions of Corrigan, the Lord Alpha of the shapeshifter world, her emotions start to unravel. But when she comes across a familiar text within the walls of the mages’ library, which might just provide the clues she needs to unlock the secrets of her background and her dragon blood, she realises that her problems are only just beginning…
It’s a while since I read the first two books – so I reread them both, thoroughly enjoying once more immersing myself in the problems stacking up for poor old Mack as she struggles to discover exactly who she is and what she does. I do enjoy how characters from previous books keep popping up, allowing us to get to know them better and the oh-so-slow burn romance that is gradually unfurling throughout the series is being very well handled. Given just how short-fused and grumpy Mack is, I liked how her loyalty and bone-headed refusal to compromise her principles regarding those she takes responsibility for balances up against her less likeable attributes – it works well. My main niggle is that I personally would prefer less swearing – it’s a book I’d like to recommend to younger members of the family, but can’t. 9/10

Sigma Protocol: Jane Poole Genesis – Part 1 by Michael Penmore
Disoriented and alone, Sigma wakes from enforced sleep with questions that need to be answered. Who is she? Where is she? How did she end up in this place? With only a cryptic message from the ship’s AI to guide her, the determined survivor sets out on a race against time to uncover the desperate story of Starship Copernicus and its crew. Sigma Protocol is the fast-paced first episode in the Jane Poole Genesis describing the beginnings of Jane Poole, aka Sigma.

What I hadn’t appreciated was that this is a short story with only 76 pages. So just as I was starting to relax into the narrative – it came to a sudden, abrupt stop. Which was a shame as I was just beginning to bond with poor old Jane and her problems. 7/10

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

Review of INDIE Ebook Scars of Stone – Book 2 of the Pacts Arcane and Otherwise series by Joanna Maciejewska #BrainfluffKINDLEbookreview #ScarsofStonebookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this entertaining Sand and Sorcery fantasy adventure – see my review of By the Pact. So I was delighted when I belatedly realised that Joanna had published the second book in the series, giving me the opportunity to scoop it up and read it.

BLURB: Discovering the truth about magic is one thing. Doing something about it will require bloodletting, backstabbing, and a bunch of lies.

The battle with a demonic foe had opened Kamira’s and Veelk’s eyes: they were unprepared for their task. If they want a chance of freeing Veranesh from his crystal prison, they need the help of a brilliant inventor imprisoned by Gildya, a man also desired by the refugee queen, Cahala, who will stop at nothing to slake her thirst for magic.

Time is also of the essence as Archmage Yoreus maneuvers for power. Once he claims the title of the first archmage for himself, he will tie up all loose ends, and that entails burying Kamira, Veelk, and a long line of secrets he’d prefer to be forgotten. Kamira and Veelk have a rule, “no heroics, survival first.” When dealing with demons, avoiding heroics is easy. But survival? Not so much.

REVIEW: Firstly, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading By the Pact, then put this offering back on the shelf and grab a copy. Initially these two books were written as a single volume, so the opening action in Scars of Stone follows on immediately from the final scene in By the Pact. While I think most experienced readers would eventually pick up what is going on – it’s a shame to compromise such an entertaining read by initially floundering.

I have a real weakness for this Sand and Sorcery sub-genre, where demons or djinn frequently feature with some kind of magical possession in a desert world. Kamira and Veelk are interesting, nuanced protagonists who have their own edges as they have spent years working together and trying to survive against formidable odds. I also like the fact that their partnership isn’t a romantic one, despite the fact that they spend weeks and months relying on each other to the extent that they have saved each other’s lives on a number of occasions.

While there is a romantic thread running through the book, it’s not straightforward. Joanna has provided Kamira with a couple of prospective partners – but she is wary of committing to any kind of long-term anything. Which, given the huge task ahead of her, is a wise move. Right now, it’s debatable as to whether she’ll survive what lies ahead. I love the degree of plotting and politicking going on in amongst the action scenes, both by the demons and the high mages. There is also the complicating factor of the refugees, who are all getting steadily sicker as their addiction to magical essence starts to bite, while trying to resettle in a city where there is no magic freely available.

All in all, it provides plenty of tension and excitement that meant the pages flew by. Once again, this one ends on the cliff-hanger. So I’m very much looking forward to reading the third book, Shadows of Kaighal, which is hitting the shelves in March 2022. Highly recommended for fans of enjoyable fantasy adventures, where characters are nuanced and the stakes are high.
9/10