Category Archives: magic

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Ivory Key – Book 1 of The Ivory Key duology by Akshaya Raman #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheIvoryKeybookreview

Standard

That gorgeous cover drew me in – and then when I read the blurb I grew even more intrigued. It’s relatively rare that it’s the conflict between four siblings that powers the narrative, so I was delighted when I was approved to read this arc.

BLURB: Vira is desperate to get out of her mother’s shadow and establish her legacy as a revered queen of Ashoka. But with the country’s only quarry running out of magic–a precious resource that has kept Ashoka safe from conflict–she can barely protect her citizens from the looming threat of war. And if her enemies discover this, they’ll stop at nothing to seize the last of the magic.

Vira’s only hope is to find a mysterious object of legend: the Ivory Key, rumored to unlock a new source of magic. But in order to infiltrate enemy territory and retrieve it, she must reunite with her siblings, torn apart by the different paths their lives have taken. Each of them has something to gain from finding the Ivory Key–and even more to lose if they fail. Ronak plans to sell it to the highest bidder in exchange for escape from his impending political marriage. Kaleb, falsely accused of assassinating the former maharani needs it to clear his name. And Riya, a runaway who cut all family ties, wants the Key to prove her loyalty to the rebels who want to strip the nobility of its power. They must work together to survive the treacherous journey. But with each sibling harboring secrets and their own agendas, the very thing that brought them together could tear apart their family–and their world–for good.

REVIEW: This fantasy adventure, set in an Eastern-style country, takes a while to really get going. That didn’t bother me overmuch, as the narrative swings between all four siblings and we gradually learn about them and their motivations. I think I would have struggled more if I hadn’t grown to like each of them and understand their actions – even when I could see them making horrible mistakes. On the face of it, they are all pampered princes and princesses. But when we get to see exactly what has happened to each of them, then it becomes clear they are all essentially trapped in lives they didn’t choose and they are all desperately trying to break free, or make things better. The conflict rises as each of them approaches their problem in very different ways…

It takes deft writing and very clear characterisation skills to give us four such rounded and sympathetic protagonists within a relatively short time, before they finally embark on a major adventure together. And as it all starts kicking off, I simply couldn’t put this one down. Be warned – it ends on something of a cliff-hanger, but I loved it and have found myself thinking a lot about this one after I finished, which is a sure sign that it’s something a bit special. Highly recommended for fantasy fans who like an Eastern setting, strong characters and lots of adventure.
9/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #7

Standard

This is my fortnightly 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.

I had hoped to continue to feel better after the uptick in my energy levels once I recovered from my cold at the beginning of January. But last week, it was a struggle to get out of bed before the middle of the afternoon and by the time I’d showered and dressed, it was often getting dark again. While I’m aware it’s important to get outside in the fresh air and whatever sunshine – there didn’t seem much point shuffling around the block in the frigid gloom of a mid-winter late afternoon. So I didn’t bother – for one thing, I can’t move fast enough to get the blood moving to combat the cold, so it’s an exercise in misery.

However this week, I woke up on Monday feeling hugely better. And so far, on Sunday, I’m still feeling better. Though I’m taking it cautiously. I still am dealing with the ongoing nasal drip, which I’m heartily sick of – both the disgusting taste and the resulting tinnitus. And my neck is still very swollen and tender, making it painful to turn my head quickly. But my energy levels, both physical and mental, are much improved. When I saw the Dr last week, he was very reassuring. My liver and kidney functions are normal and while my thyroid is swollen and has a number of nodules, which he thinks is a result of covid, it is also functioning normally. I’m due to have another scan in March to monitor any further changes. But I still don’t manage to get up much before midday and I still struggle to get to sleep at a reasonable hour, even if I go to bed at the right time. Thank goodness for books – if I wasn’t able to put the light on and read in the wee small hours, Life would be a whole lot more challenging.

On the bright side, our car has now been fixed after the minor accident when someone swung into the passenger door – and their insurance accepted the liability. And our grandson came to stay again from Tuesday through to Friday. Having him in the house, travelling back and forth to college on the train, with his bubbling enthusiasm for his college course is a real tonic. So I’m delighted that his staying with us is going to become a regular fortnightly event. Now he is 17, I’m not worried about having to look after him if I’m too ill to get out of bed and he is happy to help around the house.

This week I’ve read:-
The Red King – Book 1 of the Wilde Justice series by Jenn Stark
As the first Justice of the Arcana Council in two hundred years, Tarot-reading Sara Wilde is tasked with taking out the most dangerous magic-wielding criminals on the planet. Her first assignment? A killer known only as the Red King, who’s systematically picking off the world’s most gifted magicians in the rollicking streets and storied canals of Venice, Italy, on the eve of Carnevale.

Amidst the festival’s music, masks, and brightly colored costumes, Sara must unravel the truth about a brutal murderer from Venice’s own murky past, navigate the twisting political currents of magicians who seek to rival her own Council, and keep one costume change ahead of a conjurer whose lethal spells could end Justice–permanently. Good thing the diabolically sexy and deeply powerful Magician of the Arcana Council has Sara’s back…if only he didn’t hold so much of her heart as well.
This was a gripping read – and it didn’t hurt that Stark’s vivid evocation of Venice reminded me of a wonderful family holiday in what seems another life. Sara is a sympathetic protagonist, there were plenty of plot twists that kept the pages turning and I’m delighted to discover there are plenty of books in this spinoff series. 9/10

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
In 1971, Hillary Rodham is a young woman full of promise: Life magazine has covered her Wellesley commencement speech, she’s attending Yale Law School, and she’s on the forefront of student activism and the women’s rights movement. And then she meets Bill Clinton. A handsome, charismatic southerner and fellow law student, Bill is already planning his political career. In each other, the two find a profound intellectual, emotional, and physical connection that neither has previously experienced. In the real world, Hillary followed Bill back to Arkansas, and he proposed several times; although she said no more than once, as we all know, she eventually accepted and became Hillary Clinton.

But in Curtis Sittenfeld’s powerfully imagined tour-de-force of fiction, Hillary takes a different road. Feeling doubt about the prospective marriage, she endures their devastating breakup and leaves Arkansas. Over the next four decades, she blazes her own trail—one that unfolds in public as well as in private, that involves crossing paths again (and again) with Bill Clinton, that raises questions about the tradeoffs all of us must make in building a life.

Brilliantly weaving a riveting fictional tale into actual historical events, Curtis Sittenfeld delivers an uncannily astute and witty story for our times. In exploring the loneliness, moral ambivalence, and iron determination that characterize the quest for political power, as well as both the exhilaration and painful compromises demanded of female ambition in a world still run mostly by men, Rodham is a singular and unforgettable novel.
I’ve included the complete very wordy blurb as it does a good job of setting out the narrative imperative behind this intriguing book. While I’m not completely familiar with the political landscape of the time, Sittenfeld has done a thorough job of depicting it. But what I think is masterly is her evocation of the unthinking sexism and racism running throughout the spheres of influence that not just impacts Hillary, but other women around her. I’ve found myself thinking about it a lot since I finished reading this one, and the main reason why it hasn’t garnered a 10 from me is the unevenness of the pacing in places. 9/10

Immortal in Death – Book 3 of the In Death series by J.D. Robb
When Police Lieutenant Eve Dallas investigates the murder of a top model, she is putting her career on the line, because the prime suspect is her best friend. Eve’s investigations lead her into the glamorous world of high fashion.


Himself has bought all these books, so I’m starting to work my way through them. Set in the near future, the writing is pacy with plenty of romance as Norah Roberts in the guise of J.D. Robb serves up a number of brutal murders for our feisty protagonist to contend with. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK – Kingdoms at War – Book 1 of the Dragon Gate series by Lindsay Buroker
For centuries, wizard kings have ruled the world from their elite sky cities, battling each other to add to their wealth and power, while using normal human beings as pawns. Those without magic struggle to feed their families and live in constant fear of bringing down the wrath of their tyrannical masters. Something must change.

As a cartography student, Jak has always dreamed of finding the lost dragon gate and exploring and mapping distant worlds. Developing magical powers and becoming a powerful wizard? Not a chance. Wizards are cruel and inhumane, warring with each other from their great sky cities and keeping most of humanity enslaved. Jak wants nothing to do with them.
But when he and his archaeologist mother unearth the gate, they attract the attention of the very wizards they sought to avoid. Even more troubling, Jak starts developing magical powers of his own, powers that could rival those of the great rulers. Fate may have given him the opportunity to change the world. But the wizard rulers don’t like change, and when they detect threats, they send their elite assassins to eliminate them.
And if the above blurb sounds like an intriguing situation – you’re absolutely right. I love Buroker’s vivid, three-dimensional worlds. Her settings are always detailed and politically sophisticated and once again, I’ve lost my heart to the main protagonists, Jak and his clever, studious mother. I’m thrilled to discover yet another gripping series by this accomplished author to dive into – Buroker has been one of my major lifelines during my illness! 9/10

The Cruel Stars – Book 1 of The Cruel Stars trilogy by John Birmingham
The galaxy was once terrorized by the Sturm, a group of “species purists” intent on destroying any human with genetic or cybernetic enhancements. Fashioning themselves as the one true “Human Republic,” the Sturm cut a bloody swath across the stars, killing billions before finally being defeated and driven into the far reaches of Dark Space. Centuries of peace bred complacency. Everyone believed the Sturm had died out in the Dark. They were wrong.

The enemy has returned and, with a brutal and decisive attack, knocks out almost all of humanity’s defenses. Now on the brink of annihilation, humankind’s only hope is a few brave souls who survived the initial attack: Commander Lucinda Hardy, thrust into uncertain command of the Royal Armadalen Navy’s only surviving warship. Booker3, a soldier of Earth, sentenced to die for treason, whose time on death row is cut short when the Sturm attack his prison compound. Princess Alessia, a young royal of the Montanblanc Corporation, forced to flee when her home planet is overrun and her entire family executed. Sephina L’trel, the leader of an outlaw band who must call on all of her criminal skills to resist the invasion. And, finally, Admiral Frazer McLennan, the infamous hero of the first war with the Sturm hundreds of years ago, who hopes to rout his old foes once and for all—or die trying.
This military space opera adventure is full of action and conflict, as well as a number of punchy, well-written protagonists. One of the best written is the terrified child caught up in the middle of a waking nightmare by dint of her birth – Birmingham’s depiction of Alessia is one of the highlights in this enjoyable book. 8/10

Baking Bad – Book 1 of the Beaufort Scales Mysteries by Kim M. Watt
A tranquil village. A poisoned cupcake. A murdered vicar.
A simple case – or it should be. But all clues point to the Toot Hansell Women’s Institute, and Detective Inspector Adams is about to discover there’s much more to the W.I. than bake sales and jam making.

Alice Martin, RAF Wing Commander (Ret.), and current chair of the W.I., knows the ladies of the Women’s Institute are not guilty. But she has a bigger problem. Toot Hansell has a dragonish secret, and she needs to keep the police well away from it. And she’d really rather not be arrested for murder. Again. Meanwhile, Beaufort Scales, High Lord of the Cloverly dragons and survivor of the days of knights and dragon hunts, knows even better than Alice that the modern dragon only survives as long as no one knows they exist. But he also knows friends don’t let friends face murder inquiries alone. Beaufort fully intends to Get Involved.
This investigation is about to take on dragonish proportions.
A cosy murder mystery set in a small English village, accompanied by quantities of tea, cake and dragons… This one sounds almost to be too good to be true. So I was delighted to discover that as well as being genuinely funny with a cast of enjoyable, believable characters – the dragons are also intriguingly different from the general run of scaly monsters we’re used to seeing in our fiction. I will definitely be reading more of this series. 9/10

The Shattered Skies – Book 2 of The Cruel Stars trilogy by John Birmingham
The Sturm, a group of “species purists” intent on destroying any human with genetic or cybernetic enhancements, returned from the far reaches of Dark Space to strike a devastating blow against humanity. Though their victory seemed inevitable, a small group of reluctant heroes managed to beat back the invading force. Now left with the remains of a crippled civilization, they must work together to rebuild–and to stand guard, in case those weren’t the only enemies hiding in the dark…


This Netgalley arc is the second book in this military space opera adventure. Once again our plucky group of misfits are faced with dealing with a lethal and committed enemy. Review to follow.


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

Standard

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.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Untold Story – Book 8 of The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheUntoldStorybookreview

Standard

I have been a huge fan of this series – see my reviews of The Invisible Library, The Masked City, The Secret Chapter, The Dark Archive and my mini-review of The Lost Plot. So I jumped at the chance to read this latest and last episode in Irene’s adventurous journey.

BLURB: Irene is trying to learn the truth about Alberich-and the possibility that he’s her father. But when the Library orders her to kill him, and then Alberich himself offers to sign a truce, she has to discover why he originally betrayed the Library.

With her allies endangered and her strongest loyalties under threat, she’ll have to trace his past across multiple worlds and into the depths of mythology and folklore, to find the truth at the heart of the Library, and why the Library was first created.

REVIEW: Not only does this story have to deliver yet another interesting and twisty plot featuring Irene and her comrades in her ongoing task to carry out the Library’s wishes – it also has to successfully wrap up this series. Irene has intrigued me, as being admirably self possessed. And throughout all her entanglements with both fae and dragons, she has kept her head and dealt with life-threatening emergencies with a capable coolness. This sets her apart from those heroines, who flap around in a soup of self doubt and end up backing into situations they’re not prepared for.

However, the previous adventure in The Dark Archive finally punctured her confidence, as she was told a shocking fact that has her questioning all her core beliefs. This is the book where she has to deal with the fallout. So Irene sets out on an adventure, with the support of Kai, Vale and Catherine to discover the truth of what is going on. And yes – it’s a somewhat far-fetched story, but Cogman tells it with skill and conviction and I’m quite happy to suspend my disbelief. Partly because in amongst all the adventures and unexpected discoveries, Cogman looks at the human drive to tell stories and how it can affect the way the the world is formed. As I have always been fascinated by the way some small children start weaving imaginative narratives almost before they are able to talk, this theme really chimed with me.

Even more importantly, Cogman brings this series to a successful close. I was happy with the future stretching before Irene and Kai, which doesn’t prevent further adventures, if Cogman wants to revisit the Library again at some stage. Indeed, I hope she does. I’ve loved this series and I’ll particularly miss dashing between worlds alongside Irene, while she sorts out book-related problems. Or mediating between the Fae and dragons. In the meantime, I can always reread this delightful portal fantasy series and if you haven’t yet had the pleasure – it comes highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The Untold Story from Netgalley via the publishers, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

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

Standard

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

SUNDAY POST – 12th December 2021

Standard

This is my roundup of my reading and blogging week, hosted by Kimberly at the Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s only been the last few days that I’ve appreciated just how quickly Christmas is looming. What with one thing and another – it’s been on the backburner. And when I finally surfaced sufficiently to realise how quickly it is approaching, I also realised that this long weekend is going to be the time when we get it sorted out.

Himself got the decorations down from the loft yesterday. We’re not going to be fully decorating the house – the children’s rooms won’t be touched, for instance. And I’m cutting back on the amount of ornaments going around the lounge and kitchen – but I do want the lights up, the tree decorated and the nativity on display. And of course the kitchen dresser should be decked out, too. It always looks fabulous… Himself will be doing most of it this year. Normally it’s my job, along with the grandchildren. But this year, everything is different – and I refuse to think in terms of it being miserable, or depressing. It’s just a break from the normal run of things.

We are having my sister over for the Christmas meal, so we have sorted out the menu. Himself will be cooking it, which is what usually happens. I won’t be making homemade mince pies, sausage rolls, stuffing or my special Dorset Apple pudding this time around, however.

I’ll talk in more detail about what transpired healthwise, next week. But otherwise, I had a good reading week and enjoyed the books I tucked into. Storm Barra hit us on Monday and Tuesday with torrential rain and galeforce winds, but we were lucky not to have any power cuts or damage. J’s shift meant we weren’t able to get out until Friday, when I had to attend my reflexology appointment. Driving back along the coast on the way home, with the sun setting over the sea was glorious.

This week I’ve read:-
Beltane – Book 1 of The Spellworker Chronicles series by Alys West
When Zoe Rose stays at Anam Cara – a guest house in Glastonbury, a town steeped in magic and myth – she dreams of a handsome stranger. The next day she meets him. Tall with untidy brown hair and grey eyes, Finn is funny and intelligent but doesn’t open up easily. Instantly drawn to him, Zoe doesn’t initially recognise him as the man from her dream. When Finn finds out where Zoe is staying he warns her not to trust Maeve, the healer who owns Anam Cara.

His enigmatic comments fuel Zoe’s growing unease about what’s happening at Anam Cara. What power does Maeve have over the minds of the other guests? Is it coincidence that they become ill after she’s given them healing? Why does the stone table in the garden provoke memories of blood and terror? And how did the Green Man, carved on a tree in the garden, disappear during a thunderstorm?
I loved this one. It is quite slow-paced at the start, after the shocking prologue. But is full of tension and a palpable sense of danger that just goes on growing. While the romance is there, it isn’t the narrative engine of the story and this book has stayed with me since I read it.
10/10

Magical Midway Paranormal Cozy Mysteries Box Set – Book 5 – Irrelephant Omens by Leanne Leeds

Another poisoned ringmaster.
Colliding portents.
As dark forces gather, one witch must break the circus free of fate before destiny destroys them all.

Charlotte is at the end of her tether. With her best friend lecturing her about the past, a mysterious old woman demanding she comply with the future, and signs everywhere pointing in opposite directions, she’s not sure how her argumentative band of misfit carnies will be able to defeat the Witches’ Council.

When her boyfriend’s father, the only other magical Ringmaster, is found unconscious, Charlotte determines that she must unravel the mystery, protect the rival circus and save the cantankerous man–only to be told that to do so would defy the omens that say his death must take place. Will Charlotte rebel and save the dying Ringmaster? Or will she let the rival circus fall and her boyfriend’s father die?
This box set is the gift that keeps on giving. Whenever I feel the need for more of magical circus mayhem, I just dip into another of these entertaining, enjoyable stories. Charlotte’s obstinacy can be a tad annoying, but the rest of the cast of characters make up for it. This was just so much fun.
9/10

Mirror Image – Book 18 of the Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
Years ago, Heart’s Eye, a school built on top of a nexus point, was attacked and captured by a necromancer. The nexus point was snuffed out, the handful of survivors forced to flee and the once-great school turned into a forward base for a necromantic invasion. All seemed lost, until Emily killed the necromancer and retook the school. Now, she intends to lay the building blocks for a university, a place where magical knowledge and mundane technology are brought together for the benefit of all.

But dark secrets lie within the shadowed school. What happened when Heart’s Eye fell? What were the tutors doing when the wards fell and the necromancer invaded the school? And, as power flows back into the school, Emily finds herself caught between power struggles and a threat from the past, a shadow that has walked beside her for the last six years. It might bring about the end of everything. In a school full of mirrors, who knows what they reflect?
It’s been a while since I read the previous book in this entertaining series, which has constantly taken the story in unexpected directions. And this episode was no different. Those mirrors are downright creepy… I loved this story and couldn’t put it down until I found out what happened. Wonderful stuff!
9/10

The Snow Queen box set – Book 1 – Heart of Ice by K.M. Shea
Rakel, a princess by birth, has spent most of her life exiled on a barren mountain, despised because of her powerful snow magic. Though she longs to be accepted, she hides in her ice-castle and lives with the fear that her brother—the King—will one day order her execution.

Her empty life changes forever when an army of magic users—led by the enigmatic Colonel Farrin Graydim—invade her home country and plan to enslave its citizens. Swallowing her fear, Rakel joins forces with her jailers and uses her magic to save the people who scorned her. If Rakel cannot defend her homeland, the country will be lost.
This fairytale retelling is great fun. Full of adventure and excitement, Rakel’s character is convincing as a socially awkward, isolated young woman. So when she’s pitchforked into the middle of a war, all sorts of changes confront her. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and am delighted there is more to come.
9/10

Demons and Dragons: Dragon Reign Box Set – Book 1 – Rivals by Kit Bladegrave
Kate’s whole world just turned upside down. She’s hearing weird things, and seeing weird things. And Mama Lucy is a witch. No, really. Not like a capital B witch, but a capital W witch. And the guys Kate’s just saved from imminent death is part demon. And the guy that’s after her is a dragon. Her life redefines teen drama.

Craig’s a bastard son of a demon king. And he’s a thief. He’s just found the item he’s supposed to appropriate when his cousin stabs him with a poisoned dagger.

Forrest is out to collect the bounty for capturing the bastard son of a demon king. He doesn’t plan to save the girl, or the half-breed demon. He also doesn’t plan to be the one who needs saving. This unlikely trio find themselves chased by enemies, known and unknown as they slip into a different dimension called Burnt World.
This adventure definitely has YA overtones, but I’ve enjoyed the story and particularly like Kate’s feisty narrative. It was a quick, enjoyable read during a night when I was badly struggling to sleep and took me away from a lurid nightmare and teeth-clenching tinnitus.
8/10

AUDIOBOOK – The Corfe Castle Murders – Book 1 of the Dorset Crime series by Rachel McLean
Meet DCI Lesley Clarke. She’s a straight-talking city copper who doesn’t suffer fools gladly… and she’s been transferred to rural Dorset. After being injured in a bomb attack, Lesley is presented with a choice – early retirement, or a period of respite in a calmer location. But things don’t stay calm for long.

Before she’s even started her new job, Lesley is dragged into investigating a murder at one of England’s most iconic landmarks, the imposing Corfe Castle. Lesley must hit the ground running. Can she get along with her new partner DS Dennis Frampton, a traditionalist who doesn’t appreciate her style? How will she navigate the politics of a smaller force where she’s a bigger, and less welcome, fish? And most importantly, can she solve the murder before the killer strikes again?
This was another lifesaver during a miserable night. I listened to this one when I ran out of energy to read – and the twisting police procedural tale was a very welcome break. Particularly as I know the ruins of Corfe Castle quite well. I’m looking forward to reading more in this enjoyable series.
8/10

The Night Hawks – Book 13 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths
The Night Hawks, a group of metal detectorists, are searching for buried treasure when they find a body on the beach in North Norfolk. Ruth is more interested in the treasure, a hoard of Bronze Age weapons.

Nelson is called to an apparent murder-suicide of a couple at the isolated Black Dog Farm. Local legend talks of the Black Shuck, a spectral hound that appears to people before they die. All roads lead back to this farm in the middle of nowhere, but the place spells serious danger for anyone who goes near. Ruth doesn’t scare easily. Not until she finds herself at Black Dog Farm …
I’ve significantly edited the very blabby blurb which gives away far too many plot twists. This is a series that I’ve been enjoying for a long time and regard many of the main characters as old friends, so while I thoroughly appreciated the murder mystery – it was also a treat being reacquainted with them all over again.
9/10

The Untold Story – Book 8 of The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
Irene is trying to learn the truth about Alberich-and the possibility that he’s her father. But when the Library orders her to kill him, and then Alberich himself offers to sign a truce, she has to discover why he originally betrayed the Library.

With her allies endangered and her strongest loyalties under threat, she’ll have to trace his past across multiple worlds and into the depths of mythology and folklore, to find the truth at the heart of the Library, and why the Library was first created.
It was with mixed feelings that I picked this arc up, as this is the last book in the series. I’ve always enjoyed my visits to the Invisible Library, accompanied by disaster magnet Irene. And this finale was suitably gripping, as well as bringing the series to a satisfying and emotional end. Review to follow.
10/10

The reviews I’ve posted this week:-
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of A Marvellous Light – Book 1 of the Last Binding series by Freya Marske

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Firesky – Book 2 of The Chronicles of Stratus by Mark de Jager

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 A Marvellous Light – Book 1 of the Last Binding series by Freya Marske #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AMarvellousLightbookreview

Standard

I loved the look of this cover – and the fact it was a historical fantasy was a further inducement. So I was very pleased when I was approved for the arc.

BLURB – truncated: Robin Blyth has more than enough bother in his life. He’s struggling to be a good older brother, a responsible employer, and the harried baronet of a seat gutted by his late parents’ excesses. When an administrative mistake sees him named the civil service liaison to a hidden magical society, he discovers what’s been operating beneath the unextraordinary reality he’s always known.

Now Robin must contend with the beauty and danger of magic, an excruciating deadly curse, and the alarming visions of the future that come with it—not to mention Edwin Courcey, his cold and prickly counterpart in the magical bureaucracy, who clearly wishes Robin were anyone and anywhere else…

REVIEW: I’ve cut short the very chatty blurb and my advice is not to read it before tucking into this one. Marske is a talented writer who immediately pulled me into the story right from the beginning with that shocking Prologue – and her assured characterisation of Robin, whose attitude and outlook immediately convinced me that he belongs in this particular era.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the magic. Marske effectively sets up the world where magic is largely hidden by those without any talent. And while her depiction of close-knit magical families who are highly protective of their bloodlines is a familiar device, she manages to weave it within the rigid class system of the time very effectively. There are some delightful touches of humour, particularly when Robin is visiting Edwin’s family home for the first time, where Marske’s writing is vividly sharp and funny. It would have been wonderful if that level of humour continued throughout, but as the stakes kept on getting higher, I wasn’t surprised that the tone became grimmer.

I thought the growing feelings between the two men was beautifully handled. It would have been all too easy to have lost pace and tension with the conflict powering the narrative by focusing on the relationship, which is a pitfall that Marske avoids. Indeed, until about two-thirds of the way into this book, I was rapt as the pages turned themselves – and convinced I was reading another 10/10. And then we hit the first sex scene. I was completely unprepared for the very graphic descriptions of the same-sex encounter, which went on for pages and pages. By the end of it I was a bit fed up.

These days, I’m not particularly interested in books with heavy sexual content – not that I think there’s anything wrong with them. But I’m not at a stage of my life where I find them enjoyable or diverting, so I generally avoid those types of reads. Most of the time, it’s easy – there’s a cover featuring a scantily dressed protagonist pouting in a perfume ad pose. Or the blurb includes words such as steamy, or erotic. I went back to check whether I’d missed those hints – and I hadn’t, because they weren’t there. There’s a thriving sub-genre of historical fantasy adventures with added romance where there isn’t a graphic anything. I know – I’ve been reading a fair number of them during the last year. And I assumed this was yet another of those. But this time around there are three extended, highly detailed sex scenes that I ended up flipping through.

It’s a testament to the quality of the writing that I didn’t DNF the book – but I was hooked on the magical adventure, invested in the characters and wanted to know how it would be resolved. Marske provided some nice twists that brought a satisfying conclusion to the mystery. However, I have knocked a couple of points off my initial score, because the graphic sexual content significantly dented my enjoyment of the overall story and I would have appreciated more warning in the blurb about their existence. While I obtained an arc of A Marvellous Light from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Firesky – Book 2 of The Chronicles of Stratus by Mark de Jager #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Fireskybookreview

Standard

I’m a sucker for dragons – which is rather stating the obvious, given that I’m in the middle of writing a series allll about the trials and tribulations of Castellan the Black. So I loved the cover and the description of this book, and was delighted when I was able to get hold of an arc.

BLURB: Relentless. Unstoppable. Dragon.

Desire burns in Stratus’ soul, powerful like an inferno. With his memory returning, he finally knows who—and what—he is. His is a dragon, brought low by the hand of a dark magician known as the Worm King, separated from his true love, tortured for centuries and now trapped inside the body of a human.

But with the memories of his old life comes a return of his true magic, and with it, his true form is slowly returning. And Stratus wants revenge. Bloody and relentless, he slaughters his way through hordes of the undead to reach his archenemy, fighting not only for his own justice but for the whole of humanity…

REVIEW: I hadn’t appreciated that this was the second book in the series until I went looking for the details, as de Jager does a really good job of giving snippets of Stratus’s eventful backstory when it’s necessary. However, I assume that in order to get the best from this draconic adventure – the ideal would be to go and pick up Infernal before tucking into this offering.

While I did enjoy this book, I will mention that it is on the darker side of the fantasy genre. It is liberally splashed with gore throughout – Stratus has a suitably ferocious appetite and his diet isn’t remotely vegetarian. The magic featured is also particularly nasty, as the villainous wizards are necromancers which means they are up to their necks in death spells. While there are flashes of rather dark humour, I did break off in the middle to read something a bit lighter as I found the relentless violence and constant death a bit difficult to cope with. But do bear in mind that I’m dealing with Long Covid, so I’m not really looking for dark and doomy. That said – at no time was I tempted to stop reading this one.

Stratus is a wonderful character. He is in human form, but de Jager nails the aura of difference that surrounds him. At no stage in this longish book (544 pages) did I ever forget that Stratus is a dragon. It’s well done. Indeed, while de Jager isn’t an elegant writer – there were times when I was yanked out of the story because of the odd sentence construction, particularly in the beginning – he writes with passionate conviction. His descriptions of his apocalyptic settings are gripping and viscerally evoked, given that we see them through the filter of Stratus and his perceptions. The other impressive aspect of Stratus’s characterisation is that although his actions are often brutal and unpleasant, I was always firmly on his side. That’s a tricky balance to achieve – and one that de Jager triumphantly pulls off.

I loved the story arc and the fact that the pace and tension never let up throughout. And I also particularly enjoyed the ending. All in all, this is an entertaining, enjoyable read – and if you are a fan of epic fantasy on the darker side, then give this one a go. Stratus is a character that I shan’t forget in a hurry. While I obtained an arc of Firesky from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #6

Standard

This is my fortnightly update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 9 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Review.

Life has been very busy this last fortnight. The good news is that I’ve now recovered from the flu jab and am definitely feeling a lot better. However, on the same day both our washing machine and hairdryer died. This is a major problem as Himself immediately changes out of his uniform and puts it straight into the washing machine as soon as he comes home from work, to cut down the risk of infection. We were able to order one online that arrived two days after our defunct washing machine joined the great laundry in the sky. And now we’ve found the express programme, I’m a lot happier with it. But I wasn’t pleased when the wretched thing took over TWO HOURS to deal with a load of delicates on a cold-water wash.

As for the hair dryer, I went with Himself to get a new one at the local Tesco’s. It was the first time I’ve been inside a supermarket for months – and when Himself went off on a hair dryer hunt, I froze. Suddenly terrified by the onslaught of lights… noises… complete sensory overload. And then I was shaking with fury. I’ve battled so damn hard to get to this stage – how dare Long Covid take away my confidence to go wherever I need to! I managed to haul myself together, but I will confess to having a meltdown once we got home. Himself, as ever, was endlessly kind and patient and suggested that we get out of the house more often to do things other than attend medical appointments. Which seems like a solid plan. Although the reality is a bit more challenging…

On Monday, I had a hospital appointment for an ultrasound scan of my thyroid. And given my supermarket experience the day before – I was very focused on getting there and back without being overwhelmed. I wasn’t thinking at all about what they’d find on the scan – so I was rather blindsided to be told that I’ve nodules on my thyroid, one of which is pressing on my windpipe. The specialist is reasonably confident they are all benign and have been there a while. What has changed, courtesy of covid, is that my thyroid is quite swollen, which is why I’m now feeling the pressure in my throat. He was also concerned that one of my lymph glands is not just swollen but also misshapen, but I’m not surprised, given that it’s on the side where my ear is still constantly draining. He wants to see me in three months to monitor the situation and I need to discuss further options with my GP.

On Tuesday I was back at our local surgery for a chat about my blood pressure. The nurse was very reassuring that while my readings were a bit on the high side, they weren’t too bad given that I’m struggling with Long Covid which will be stressing my system anyway. I’m not keen for my BP medication to be increased, as the last time they did so I quickly felt very unwell. Right now, that isn’t a complication that I need. She also mentioned that I needed to make an appointment for another blood test, which I did. And then on Wednesday, I received a text from the surgery to say they want me to make another appointment to talk about my BP results with my GP. It seems like I’ve a bunch of outings ahead of me that will be allll about my health, given that I’ve also got to make an appointment tomorrow for a booster covid jab.

And on Wednesday, on the way back from seeing the reflexologist, we were involved in a minor accident. A lady parked on the left swung out as we were approaching a T-junction and the corner of her bumper scraped down my passenger door, leaving traces of red paint and several dents. Fortunately it all happened at very low speed and no one was hurt. But it’s a hassle we don’t need right now. And it didn’t exactly help my ongoing anxiety about going out and about…

This week, it was my eldest grandson’s birthday – I cannot believe he’s now turned 17, and today it’s my mother’s birthday. Right now, I’m not in a position to see either of them. But I’ve been thinking of them a lot. It’s months since I’ve seen Frank and the last time I saw Mum was on Mothering Sunday back in 2020. That’s one of the hardest things about this situation – it’s kept families apart at a time when we could all do with a hug from those we love.

In the meantime, I am focusing on changing my sleep patterns, continuing with my activity journal, meditations and taking supplements. It’s all low key and repetitive – but if it helps me stay well enough to avoid another major relapse, then that’s what I’ll do.

This week I’ve read:-
The Alchemical Detective – Book 1 of the Riga Hayworth series by Kristen Weiss
Her gargoyle’s got an attitude. Her magic’s on the blink. Alchemy might be the cure… if Riga can survive long enough to puzzle out its mysteries.

Someone’s killing psychics in bucolic Lake Tahoe, and the police think Riga may be connected to the crimes. They could be right. Riga recognizes the sinister hand of a long-dead enemy in the crime scene. Juggling demons, daimons, and a devilish casino owner, can this metaphysical detective catch a killer before she becomes the next target?
I thoroughly enjoyed this twisty, urban fantasy whodunit. Riga is an experienced practitioner who has recently lost her magic, which gives the story an interesting dynamic – and I loved the French gargoyle. I’ll definitely be reading more about Riga’s adventures. 9/10

Dance of Hearts: A Cinderella Regency Romance Retelling by Byrd Nash
In Regency England, 1816, it is not fashionable to display fairy blood.

Melinda Wychwood managed to stay at her family home after her father’s death by working as her cousin’s unpaid housekeeper. But when a childhood friend returns, playing a game of deception, will she be satisfied acting as the dowdy chaperone? Or will her wild fairy heritage and a magical dress finally win her true happiness?

A Cinderella retelling as a historical romance with a touch of fairytale magic and a happily ever after ending.
I’d seen a book on Netgalley by this author and wanted to check out the writing, so downloaded this KU novella. And it’s exactly what it says on the cover – which is often a strength of indie authors. It is also well written and enjoyably paced, and was a welcome break from the gory intensity of the following book. 8/10

Firesky – Book 2 of The Chronicles of Stratus by Mark de Jager
Relentless. Unstoppable. Dragon.
Desire burns in Stratus’ soul, powerful like an inferno. With his memory returning, he finally knows who—and what—he is. His is a dragon, brought low by the hand of a dark magician known as the Worm King, separated from his true love, tortured for centuries and now trapped inside the body of a human.

But with the memories of his old life comes a return of his true magic, and with it, his true form is slowly returning. And Stratus wants revenge. Bloody and relentless, he slaughters his way through hordes of the undead to reach his archenemy, fighting not only for his own justice but for the whole of humanity…
This is definitely on the darker end of epic fantasy with death magic and piles of bodies. But the characterisation of a cornered dragon, who is increasingly out of options in a hostile world, is spot on. Review to follow. 8/10

Magical Midway Paranormal Cozy Mysteries Box Set – Book 4 – Go For the Juggler by Leanne Leeds

A jarring homecoming.
An uncertain fate.
To save everyone, one witch must perform the juggling act of a lifetime

When Charlotte returns home with Gunther, Devana, and Ethel Elkins in tow, she doesn’t think her life can get any more complicated. But when one of her parents’ Animal Shelter volunteers turns up dead, her control begins to slip as her old human life and her new paranormal life collide.

While racing to come up with a plan to defeat the Witches’ Council, Charlotte must defend her family against an intrusive police investigation that risks exposing their true nature to the human world—an act which will condemn them all.
When I saw this Box Set on KU, I immediately snapped it up and have been spacing out this delightful magical circus series of murder mysteries amongst other books. There is a strong, overarching threat running through the series that works particularly well reading them close together. Peopled with a wonderful cast of eccentric, strong characters, this entertaining and poignant instalment was yet another reason why Leanne Leeds has become a solid favourite with me this year. 8/10

A Spell of Rowans by Byrd Nash
Raised by a narcissistic mother, the Rowan children’s magical talents were twisted to fit her needs. When Rachel dies, her children must confront the past to have a future.

Victoria, whose empathic talent knows everyone’s hidden feelings; Philippa, whose glamour can bewitch; and Liam, the brother who touches objects to reveal their secrets, all find themselves in danger.

When her autistic brother is arrested, Vic needs to discover the truth to set him free. A successful art restorer in the big city, Vic’s made a career of ignoring her past and hiding her strange powers. But with Rachel’s death, she must gamble away her secrets to face down forces determined to destroy her and her siblings. And that hometown boy she dumped way back? He’s in Grimsby, and knows the truth about her.
This is a gripping paranormal murder mystery where the family dynamic is at the heart of much unhappiness and lethal violence. It’s also very well done – and while it’s twisty and full of surprises, it isn’t too dark. I thoroughly enjoyed reading something so very different from the romance novella earlier in the week. Nash is clearly an accomplished and experienced author. Review to follow. 9/10

What the Lady’s Maid Knew – Book 1 of The Riftmagic Saga by E.E. Holmes
Imagine a London where magic is real… real, but feared. This is Eliza Braxton’s London, and she has always accepted her place in it gladly. As one of the Riftborn, her magic has relegated her to the servant class, where she dutifully serves as the lady’s maid in one of the most powerful households in the country. There, she uses her remarkable powers of persuasion to keep Elder Hallewell’s rebellious daughter in the path to an arranged match of power and prosperity. Eliza has never questioned her loyalty… until now.

Currents of discontent are roiling beneath the city’s surface, and Eliza’s comfortable existence is about to be caught up in the tide. A resistance is building, a resistance that covets Eliza’s talents above all else. But can Eliza betray everything she’s ever known for things she never dared to dream?
Think of the class struggle that emerged in the middle of the Industrial Revolution with a magical spin. It’s been done before, but I really enjoyed the below stairs perspective of this dystopian fantasy. A punchy, memorable read. Review to follow. 9/10

Reviews Published Since my Last Sunday Post:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Necropolis Empire: A Twilight Imperium novel – Book 2 of the Twilight Imperium series by Tim Pratt

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Array 2781 – Book 2 of the Draco Tell Dramis Tell series by Janet Edwards

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of World’s Edge – Book 2 of The Tethered Citadel series by David Hair

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The King of Koraha – Book 3 of the Archives of the Invisible Sword series by Maria V. Snyder

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Risen – Book 12 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka

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.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Risen – Book 12 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Risenbookreview

Standard

I’ve followed the increasingly dire fortunes of poor old Alex Verus since the beginning – see my reviews of Fated (Book 1), Veiled (Book 6), Burned (Book 7), Bound (Book 8), Fallen (Book 10) and Forged (Book 11). So I was delighted to be able to get a Netgalley arc for this, the final book in the series, Risen.

BLURB: Alex’s girlfriend, the life mage Anne, has fallen fully under the control of the deadly djinn she made a bargain with, and it is preparing to create an army of mages subject to its every whim. Alex, the Council, and the Dark mage Richard Drakh agree to call a truce in their war, and plans are made for a joint attack. Alex knows that it’s only a matter of time before Drakh and the Council turn on each other . . . and neither cares about keeping Anne alive. Can Alex figure out a way to stop Anne and to free her from possession before time runs out for the people he loves?

REVIEW: In addition to being the twelfth book in the series, this is also the final instalment of Alex’s adventures. So as well as providing yet another gripping adventure, Risen has to provide a fitting and satisfactory ending to this popular, long-running series. I would add that if for any reason you haven’t read any of the books, or have missed out a few – please don’t tuck into this one unless you’ve at least read Fallen and Forged, or you won’t fully appreciate the enormity of what Alex has gone through. Unlike many books in a series, I cannot claim that you won’t understand what is happening – Jacka is very adept at ensuring the reader does know some of the backstory to what is going on. And as a result, this one took a bit of time to get going.

I didn’t find this a problem, as I felt this was also in line with Alex’s character development. After all, he is facing his imminent death due to a lethal magical infection – so it makes sense that he is thinking about how he got to this stage and who is responsible for the mess he’s in. I’ve always been impressed with Jacka’s characterisation of Alex as a divination mage – the way his ability to see into the future very rapidly wanes as the possibilities multiply is spot on. And while it does give him some advantages in a fight, given he often has lacked the weaponry of other mages, avoidance and nudging others into making mistakes has generally been his only way to survive. So how can this play out in a massive pitched battle against some truly terrifying beings – his former girlfriend being one of the most lethal adversaries?

By now, Alex has become equipped with some mighty tools of his own. And his first-person narration as someone who now has the ability to wreak revenge upon the disturbingly long list of people who have badly twisted his life in the past, is masterful. Alex has never been the cuddliest of protagonists – and this time around, his aloof persona that tries to keep everyone at a distance rings absolutely true. So that by the time it all kicked off, I was completely invested in the story and desperate for Alex to be able to succeed – though that seemed to be an impossible dream.

I was also very aware that Jacka doesn’t flinch from killing off established characters, if it serves the story – and there are losses during the battle that made me wince. So in addition to providing a gripping, action-filled plot – does Jacka also bring this series to a fitting conclusion? Yep. It completely works for me. I’m sorry to see the end of this classy, well-written urban fantasy series – but so glad to see the story safely landed. Very highly recommended for fans of the series. While I obtained an arc of Risen from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10