Category Archives: netgalley

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 18th July, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog #Can’tWaitWednesday

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40276268 – vintage old pocket watch and book

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t Wait offering – Kindred Spirits – Book 5 of the Gabriel Ash and Hazel Best series by Jo Bannister

#cosy mystery

A kidnap attempt outside the school gates in broad daylight convinces Gabriel Ash that his renegade wife is trying to steal their sons from him. Only the intervention of his friend Constable Hazel Best kept them safe. It’s a simple if alarming explanation, but is it the truth? Hazel uncovers disturbing information about another crime, the repercussions of which are still threatening innocent lives seventeen years later.

Once again Hazel finds herself at loggerheads with her superiors. Did they really conspire to protect a murderer? And this time she isn’t getting the support she needs from Ash. She’d thought they were kindred spirits: now she’s not sure what his motives are. One thing is certain: with her life in imminent danger, Hazel’s going to need friends like never before …

I enjoy cosy mysteries and I liked the sound of this one, so requested it on Netgalley – and found I’d done my regular trick of crashing midway into a series. Never mind… it’s a while since I’ve enjoyed a whodunit and I’m really looking forward to tucking into this one during the summer holidays.

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Fawkes by Nadine Brandes #Brainfluffbookreview #Fawkesbookreview

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This offering came to my attention due to the excellent cover and really intriguing premise. As I knew a bit about the historical facts surrounding this turbulent time, I was interested to see how Brandes tackled it and integrated the magical elements.

Keepers think the Igniters caused the plague. Igniters think the Keepers did. But all Thomas knows is that the Stone Plague infecting his eye is spreading. And if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be a lifeless statue. So when his Keeper father, Guy Fawkes, invites him to join the Gunpowder Plot—claiming it will put an end to the plague—Thomas is in.

This is part of the chatty blurb, but you’ll gather there are two major magical factions. Both believe absolutely that their viewpoint is right and that if they don’t prevail, disaster will overtake the country. This point of view also sums up the attitudes of the religious differences prevailing at the time, which was the underlying cause of the Gunpowder Plot and is a nifty way of generating added interest in the religious divide that fractured the country for generations, but that our modern secular society finds difficult to understand. However, I did find it a bit of a problem. While I knew all about the differing beliefs of the Catholics and Protestants of the time, I wasn’t clear exactly how the colour system of magic operated. As James, the main protagonist, isn’t a magic-user, he doesn’t have an intimate knowledge of how it works and while I realised that white magic is the dealbreaker, I wasn’t sure what happened with the likes of teal and crimson, for instance. I was able to let this go for the sake of the story, but I did feel it was a weakness.

James’ determination to search out his absent father and persuade him to craft him a mask which would allow him to access his magical ability, snagged my sympathy – especially as that father happened to be Guido Fawkes. And once James tracks down his father, as we already know, his problems are only beginning. Elements from the actual plot are woven into this tense historical thriller, which I really enjoyed. But the character who really stole the show for me was Emma.

Personally, I would have preferred to have had the story told from her viewpoint as I think she was a stronger, feistier character who pinged off the page and whose story arc is more interesting than James. The problem with James is that he is only ever on the edge of the plot and spent much of the story grappling with the plague. I felt that Brandes got a tad overwhelmed with the sheer richness and complexity of the elements in her story and consequently, there was a stronger, more coherent version struggling to surface.

Nonetheless, Brandes is clearly a skilful, capable writer with an interesting tale that has had me pondering many of the elements since I finished reading it. Recommended for readers interested in fantasy with a historical twist.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc novella Prime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia #Brainfluffbookreview #PrimeMeridianbookreview

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I read and thoroughly enjoyed The Beautiful Ones by Moreno-Garcia – see my review here – so when I caught sight of this novella on Netgalley, it was a no-brainer.

Amelia dreams of Mars. The Mars of the movies and the imagination, an endless bastion of opportunities for a colonist with some guts. But she’s trapped in Mexico City, enduring the drudgery of an unkind metropolis, working as a rent-a-friend, selling her blood to old folks with money who hope to rejuvenate themselves with it, enacting a fractured love story. And yet there’s Mars, at the edge of the silver screen, of life. It awaits her.

I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting – but it wasn’t this. Less escapist space opera and far more dystopian, very-near-future, this novella packed a punch. I’ll be honest – given what else was going in my life, this was not the read I would have chosen to pick up. But I’m glad I did.

Amelia has edges – and quite right, too. So would I if I’d endured the lack of opportunity and dead-end options facing her. She has fixated on going to Mars – right from the time she was old enough to be ambitious and despite having had a series of unlucky breaks, she still is determined to get there. It’s the only thing that really matters… so it is painful to read of her constant struggles that seem to go nowhere. She is constantly angry and hostile to those around her – not ideal when one of her hard-scrabble jobs is to sell her companionship in response to an app.

The world is richly depicted – which seems to be Moreno-Garcia’s trademark, along with indepth characterisation that doesn’t impede the storyline. She nearly has the pacing nailed, but I did feel the ending was a tad hurried in comparison to the rest of the story. Having said that, novellas are fiendishly difficult to get right.

I enjoyed the story and the awkward dynamic between Amelia and the rest of the characters. The times when she is most at peace with herself and those around her, are when thinking of Mars, or watching the movies with an ageing actress who employs her to listen to her past. And if you think that sounds rather poignant, you’d be right.

I would love to read a sequel to this thought-provoking story as I find myself wondering about the character and what happens next. Recommended for fans of literary fiction. While I obtained an arc of Prime Meridian from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Earth and Air – an Earth Girl novella by Janet Edwards #Brainfluffbookreview #EarthandAirbookreview

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I have been a solid fan of Edwards’ writing – see my review of Scavenger Alliance, here. So when she contacted me to ask if I would like an arc of her latest novella, Earth and Air, which is a spinoff from her popular Earth Girl series – see my review of Earth Girl here – I was delighted to accept in return for an honest review

2788. Only the handicapped live on Earth. While everyone else uses interstellar portals to travel between hundreds of colony worlds, 17-year-old Jarra is among the one in a thousand people born with an immune system that cannot survive on other planets. Sent to Earth at birth to save her life, abandoned by her parents to be raised a ward of Hospital Earth, she lives a regimented life in one of their impersonal residences. Jarra is spending the summer at New York Fringe Dig Site with her school history club. While her friends search for lost treasures on the ground, Jarra is airborne in a survey plane and hoping to become a qualified pilot, but the sprawling ancient ruins of New York contain the lethal legacies of the past as well as its treasures.

It was a real treat to rebond with Jarra, the chirpy disaster-magnet who is the main protagonist in Edwards’ popular Earth Girl series. I had forgotten just how effective Edwards’ writing style is when depicting the alliances and frictions between a group of young teenagers. It could so easily become tedious or petty, but never does. The other standout feature of this entertaining series is the fascinating backdrop – a ruined Earth, where buildings are lethally unstable yet packed with archaeological treasures and discoveries eagerly awaited by populations scattered across the stars.

Novellas are not generally my favourite reads – too often, I have just become engrossed only to find the story abruptly finishing. Only a handful of my favourite writers can, in my opinion, adequately control the pacing and narrative arc so that the ending isn’t an unpleasant jolt. Edwards is one of them. At no time did I feel I was being short-changed with either the characterisation, setting or the storyline which contains plenty of adventures and shocks. The other outstanding quality of Edwards writing, particularly with this series, is the chirpy, upbeat tone that pervades most of the story. Unlike so many YA books, I get the sense that most of the people are trying to do the best they can most of the time. This is definitely one I will be introducing my granddaughter to next time she comes to visit – I think she will love it. With the absence of bad language or gratuitous violence, it is an ideal read for young teens – as well as those of us a lot longer in the tooth. This one is far too good to leave just to the youngsters. Recommended for fans of adventure and science fiction.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Truth Sister by Phil Gilvin #Brainfluffbookreview #TruthSisterbookreview

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I was attracted by the title and the premise, so picked this up. Being a feminist, I was hoping that perhaps women would make a better fist of running the world – but that wasn’t to be…

The year is 2149. The Women’s Republic of Anglia seeks to harness forgotten technologies from the time when men ruled the world. Naturals are second-class citizens, while women born through cloning are the true children of the Republic. When Clara Perdue graduates from the prestigious Academy, she is ready to do her part to support the Republic and bring about a better future for all. But when she stumbles on information that the Republic has tried to keep hidden, she begins to realise that the society she has been taught to believe in and trained to defend is not all that it seems. A secret from Clara’s past puts herself, her family, and her friends in danger, and Clara must choose between subservience and rebellion.

Clara starts off as a really unpleasant protagonist – this is a brave move on the part of Gilvin, as many readers, me included, don’t particularly enjoy reading a first-person narrative by someone so priggish and judgemental. My advice would be to stick with her, though, as she becomes less close-minded and brainwashed once she leaves the Academy. There are a number of strong, well-written characters supporting her. I particularly liked Clara’s mother and their manservant, Jamie.

Increasingly, Clara begins to realise that the Republic is nothing like the idealised system she has been taught to love and defend and we are right with her as her beliefs become unravelled, along with her life as the fault lines in society start breaking down. I enjoyed the fact that this story is set in a post-apocalyptic England, where recognisable place names are clearly very different places. London, in particular, is in all sorts of trouble as the Thames Barrier is in danger of failing. I became caught up in Clara’s adventures and thoroughly enjoyed the twisting plot which presented many surprises along the way.

My one niggle is that the main antagonist is presented as something of a caricature who I found it difficult to take seriously. Despite being told how very frightening she was, she seemed too over the top and ridiculous in comparison to the sympathetic, nuanced characterisations throughout the rest of the story. Having said that, it wasn’t a dealbreaker and I have found myself thinking a lot about this book since I finished it. Recommended for fans of post-apocalyptic fiction. While I obtained an arc of Truth Sister from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Murder Takes a Turn – Book 5 of the Langham and Dupré Mystery series by Eric Brown #Brainfluffbookreview #MurderTakesaTurnbookreview

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I picked this one up because the author is one I enjoy – as well as writing this historical murder mystery series, he also has written a number of successful science fiction novels. Indeed, Engineman, has one of the most memorable backdrops I’ve encountered in science fiction, outside a C.J. Cherryh novel.

When Langham’s literary agent receives a cryptic letter inviting him to spend the weekend at the grand Cornish home of successful novelist Denbigh Connaught, Charles Elder seems reluctant to attend. What really happened between Elder and Connaught during the summer of 1917, nearly forty years before – and why has it had such a devastating effect on Charles? Accompanying his agent to Connaught House, Langham and his wife Maria discover that Charles is not the only one to have received a letter. But why has Denbigh Connaught gathered together a group of people who each bear him a grudge? When a body is discovered in Connaught’s study, the ensuing investigation uncovers dark secrets that haunt the past of each and every guest – including Charles Elder himself …

And if the cover and tone of the blurb remind you of an Agatha Christie novel, you’re absolutely right. The way the book unfolds is clearly a nod in the direction of the Grand Dame of Crime. I liked the main protagonists – it’s a refreshing change to have a dear old chap like Charles Elder right in the middle of things and his business partner Maria and her husband Donald are the couple who doing the sleuthing on this case. The location – a country house in an isolated part of Cornwall – is classically cosy mystery and the method in which the unfortunate victim dies is suitably macabre.

This is an ideal summer holiday read, which plenty of twists and turns and an entertaining variety of possible suspects. I did guess the identity of the murderer before the final big reveal – but only because I read all Agatha Christie’s novels longer ago than I care to think. That said, it didn’t put a huge dent in my enjoyment, because this was more about being bathed in the experience of revisiting an imagined past that I’m sure never existed – although I wished it had. Recommended for fans of well written historical cosy mysteries.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Netgalley arc Drop by Drop – Book 1 of the Step by Step trilogy by Morgan Llywelyn #Brainfluffbookreview #DropbyDropbookreview

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Once again, it was the cover that snagged by attention – and that scary premise of plastic objects melting across the world…

In this first book in the Step By Step trilogy, global catastrophe occurs as all plastic mysteriously liquefies. All the small components making many technologies possible―navigation systems, communications, medical equipment―fail. In Sycamore River, citizens find their lives disrupted as everything they’ve depended on melts around them, with sometimes fatal results. All they can rely upon is themselves.

I enjoyed the fact that we followed the same small band of folks as this disaster unfolds – and the fact that they lived in a small community. I have a fondness for books depicting small-town America… Initially, we quickly jump across a number of folks as plastic starts to dribble, which had me groaning somewhat. I get awfully tired of the apocalyptic convention of jumping into someone’s head, only for them to die in unpleasant circumstances due to whatever badness is coming to swallow the world. Thankfully, that wasn’t what drove this book, which settles down into something else and I think is a problem, especially for fans of apocalyptic sci fi, as this is small-town USA dealing with disaster – except it often wasn’t. It was more about the protagonists getting on with their lives, with the plastic issue sporadically causing a problem.

There is also an issue with narrative time – phones are now called Allcoms, so presumably this is set in a nearish future, which looks very much like right now. And the book was vague about the passing of time, so I couldn’t get a real sense of how long the townsfolk were dealing with the problem and there are no dates accompanying chapter headings to help out the reader.

However, I don’t want you to go away with the idea this was a trudge – I was able to settle down and enjoy most of the story, thanks to Llewelyn’s smooth prose and economical style. I got caught up in the characters’ lives and found the pages turning themselves – until it came to that ending… I don’t like being bounced at the end of a book, which appears to be winding everything up satisfactorily – only to turn it into a sudden cliff-hanger in the final paragraph. While I understand why it was done, it didn’t work. I shouldn’t finish a book feeling so irritated, which is a shame because those issues notwithstanding, overall this was an enjoyable read. Recommended for readers who enjoy their disasters on a very human scale. While I obtained an arc of Drop by Drop from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Outcasts of Order – Book 20 of the Saga of Recluce by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. #Brainfluffbookreview #OutcastsofOrderbookreview

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And if you’re blanching at the prospect of ploughing through nineteen other books to get to this point – I’m here to tell you that isn’t necessary. This is actually the second in a spinoff series charting the adventure of Beltur. His adventures started in the previous book, The Mongrel Mage – see my review – and these continue in this adventure…

Modesitt continues his bestselling Saga of Recluce with his 20th book in the long-running series. Beltur began his journey in The Mongrel Mage and continues with Outcasts of Order, the next book of his story arc in the Saga of Recluce.

Beltur, an Order mage, discovers he possesses frightening powers not seen for hundreds of years. With his new abilities, he survives the war in Elparta and saves the lives of all. However, victory comes with a price. His fellow mages now see him as a threat to be destroyed, and the local merchants want to exploit his power.

This book does more or less pick up where the previous book left off, and we find Beltur recovering from the effects of his previous adventure and mourning the loss of one of his friends. He is a refugee in a new city, struggling to establish himself and earn as much as he can, as he wishes to settle down with a special someone. However, there are obstacles to his ambition…

If you are in the mood for a foot-to-the-floor adventure, where it is all kicking off at a breathless rate, then this one isn’t for you. Modesitt doesn’t write like that – he slowly builds the world by taking you through his protagonist’s daily routine in every little detail. We learn what Beltur thinks about the worsening weather conditions; how he feels about working at the forge and the Healing House; what he wears; what he likes to eat and drink; who he trusts; what he thinks about having to get up early in the mornings… I’ll be honest, while I enjoy the accretion of all these daily details, there were times when in this book I felt that the pacing had become just a bit a too stuck in the daily rhythm. There are also places where Modesitt’s normally smooth prose is a little rough around the edges. While I’m aware this is an arc and there are liable to be changes, I do hope some of the missing words and repetitions are sorted out before the publication date. That said, it wasn’t sufficient to blunt my engagement with the story and most of the time, I relished once more being immersed in this richly depicted world.

What all that detail means is that when it does kick off – there is a real sense of shock at the violence and the consequences that occur in its wake. I like Beltur and the people around him, although there are times when I’d like to see him a little more grumpy and not so unfailingly good. As a result, the person who I really bonded with, is the healer and emerging mage, Jessyla. I do like the fact she can be quite snarky, at times.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this one – though I recommend that you start with The Mongrel Mage and I’m delighted there is to be a third book in this series. Recommended for fans of epic fantasy. While I obtained an arc of Outcasts of Order from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Review of NOVELLA NETGALLEY arc Time Was by Ian McDonald #Brainfluffbookreview #TimeWasbookreview

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I was delighted when I saw this offering on NetGalley – and even more delighted when I was approved to read it. I enjoy McDonald’s writing and was particularly impressed with his lunar duology – read my review of Luna: New Moon here.

Struggling second-hand book dealer, Emmet, is trying to survive in the increasingly difficult financial climate – and then comes across a small poetry collection called Time Was which includes a love letter from Tom to Ben, set in WWII. It sets him out on an astonishing search to discover who Tom and Ben are – a search that takes him to a tucked-away corner of England where odd stories abound about the seas catching fire…

And no… You won’t find that blurb anywhere else, as I wrote it myself. I feel the official version is highly misleading and yet somehow also manages to reveal some of the major plot points. I’m very glad I didn’t read it before I picked up the book, because I would have approached it expecting something completely different.

The main protagonist is gripped by the need to track down the fate of the two young men caught up in WWII and more or less abandons his everyday life to do it. In contrast to the lyrical, slightly highflown prose produced by Tom when in his viewpoint, Emmet is far more down-to-earth with a dry, sarky humour that I thoroughly enjoyed and stopped this turning into a treacly read. In fact, Emmett isn’t a particularly likeable character – and that was okay, too.

Tom and Ben were the people in the story that snagged my sympathy and attention – and I think that is exactly how I was meant to feel, in effect, shadowing the main protagonist in his attempts to find out more about these two people. But history and historical research is inherently messy – it never delivers exactly what you want, in the way that you want it. And there are two major surprises at the end of this bittersweet story that summed up that premise.

Overall, I think this is a haunting, really well written novella with a misleading blurb that isn’t doing it any favours whatsoever. Take my advice – skip the blurb and instead pick up this short story without any prior expectation and let the plot unfold around you.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc #Furyborn – Book 1 of the Empirium series by #Claire Legrand #Brainfluffbookreview #bookreview

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It was the cover that grabbed my attention – and when I read enough of the blurb to realise it was an epic fantasy allll about two powerful women, I wanted to read on…

When assassins ambush her best friend, the crown prince, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing her ability to perform all seven kinds of elemental magic. The only people who should possess this extraordinary power are a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light and salvation and a queen of blood and destruction. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven trials to test her magic. If she fails, she will be executed…unless the trials kill her first.

A thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a mere fairy tale to bounty hunter Eliana Ferracora. When the Undying Empire conquered her kingdom, she embraced violence to keep her family alive. Now, she believes herself untouchable–until her mother vanishes without a trace, along with countless other women in their city. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain on a dangerous mission and discovers that the evil at the heart of the empire is more terrible than she ever imagined.

The blurb above gives a quick overview of the two main protagonists in this fast-paced epic fantasy, full of drama and emotion. Told in third person viewpoint with Rielle and Eliana featuring in alternate chapters, we build up a strong picture of how events lead to the shocking and bloody scene at the start of the story. I am still in two minds as to whether that works. Himself read a couple of chapters and once he realised who exactly Rielle was, he broke off announcing that it wasn’t worth slogging through a whole book when he already knew what had happened to one of the main characters. While I take his point, I am glad that I got swept up into this violent, difficult journey. I found the contrast between both of main characters intriguing. Eliana is definitely the more damaged of the two at the beginning of the book having been trained as an assassin and committed a series of bloody murders to keep her family safe. She is angry and cynical – and at times very funny.

This book would have been a lot less readable without the shafts of humour peppered throughout. At the beginning, Rielle is clearly the softer character, although she has had a tragic start in life by losing her mother in terrible circumstances, when only five years old. But circumstances and destiny push these two young women such, that by the end of the book, it is Rielle, who is the desperate, violent character driven by circumstances beyond her control and Eliana, whose cynical veneer is being stripped away in a desperate hunt to save those she loves.

Legrand can certainly write with the brakes off – an accomplishment that is harder than she makes it look. It would be all too easy to keep writing at full throttle, so that the light and shade is lost in amongst all that heightened emotion. She avoids that by peopling the world with strong supporting characters, so that we see these frightening women at their most vulnerable, as well as in ferocious attack mode. I also appreciated the world, which she effectively filters through the perceptions and knowledge of our main characters without resorting to boring info dumps.

All in all, this is an accomplished, full-on epic fantasy dealing with the themes of power and its corrupting influence, and what makes us human. It is a strong start to what promises to be a gripping series. Highly recommended for all fans of this genre. While I obtained an arc of Furyborn from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10