Category Archives: netgalley

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Athena’s Champion – Book 1 of the Olympus trilogy by David Hair and Cath Mayo #Brainfluffbookreview #Athena’sChampionbookreview

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One of my lovely blogging friends recommended this, though I’m really sorry I can’t remember who is was, or I would namecheck her as this is a real gem.

Prince Odysseus of Ithaca is about to have his world torn apart. He’s travelled to the oracle at Pytho to be anointed as heir to his island kingdom; but instead the Pythia reveals a terrible secret, one that tears down every pillar of his life, and marks him out for death. Outcast by his family, hunted by the vengeful gods, Odysseus is offered sanctuary by Athena, goddess of wisdom, and thrust into the secret war between the Olympians for domination and survival. Only his wits, and his skill as a warrior, can keep him ahead of their power games – and alive.

Odysseus staggers away from this rite of passage an outcast, when he was expecting it to be part of his preparation and training for ruling Ithaca, a small rocky island off the Greek mainland. So he is out of options when Athena appears and offers to provide him with sanctuary, in return for his service. I’ve always had a soft spot for poor old Odysseus, whose – like Heracles – pays a high price for serving the gods, becoming entangled in the Trojan War and then taking ten long years to return home, to the extent that his name has come to mean a long, important journey… odyssey.

This retelling, however, deals with the events that lead up to the Trojan War and explains why the Greeks were such a quarrelsome lot. Once Odysseus has sworn his allegiance to Athena, he is automatically regarded with enmity by other members of the Olympian family, given they spend much of their time plotting against each other, terrified they will lose influence and get swallowed up by competing deities with more worshippers.
In this dangerous, uncertain world, where young Odysseus no longer even has the safety of his own family, he is forced to spend far more time than he’d like with Athena’s other champion, the mighty Theseus. This depiction has the great warrior as a bullying drunken braggart, convinced he is irresistible to woman. I like the fact that the events leading up to the Trojan War are not just explained by the gods’ insecurities, but also by Troy’s growing power as a trading centre that threatens the economy of the Spartan kingdom and the surrounding states.

I am conscious that I haven’t conveyed the pace and drama of this retelling – in amongst the intriguing backstory and strong characterisation, there is a cracking action adventure, full of fights, plots, desperate schemes and dangerous situations. Odysseus, though strong and well trained, is also too short to be able to prevail against might of a gigantic warrior like Theseus in hand-to-hand combat. However, he is clever, quick-witted and able to spin a tale to get himself out of a tricky situation, which is just as well…

I loved this one. And if you have a fondness for well-told retellings of Greek gods and heroes, this comes very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Athena’s Champion from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Poisoned Chalice Murder – Book 2 of the Black and Dods Mystery series by Diane Janes #Brainfluffbookreview #ThePoisonedChaliceMurderbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, The Magic Chair Murder, set in 1920s England – see my review here – where Frances Black and Tom Dods team up to discover what happened to a woman who disappeared in mysterious circumstances. So I was delighted when this offering became available and I was approved to read and review it.

Tom Dod’s Aunt Hetty is worried – three sudden deaths have occurred in the sleepy village of Durley Dean. They might seem like tragic accidents, but Aunt Hetty isn’t so sure. After all, all three took a stand against Reverend Pinder, the new vicar of St Agnes Church, whose controversial changes have divided the congregation. But is there really a killer among the parishioners? And while Fran leaps at the chance to spend a weekend at Aunt Hetty’s sleuthing with Tom, could the trip prove to be a poisoned chalice in more ways than one?

While the mystery obviously takes centre stage and needs to be successful, for me the added pleasure with this series is the really likeable, intelligent main character, Fran Black. She is compromised, having been deserted by her husband at a time when divorce carried with it a huge social stigma and was difficult and costly to acquire. Her mother is querulous and demanding, having lost both sons in the Great War and while Fran is able to live on a fixed income without having to work, she is more than happy to become involved in the intricacies of an investigation as an escape from her unsatisfactory home life.

Janes is adept at slipping in all sorts of social and political details of the time without holding up the investigation, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I do like the fact that when someone is arrested and charged with murder, Fran and Tom become very aware that if they cannot find the real murderer, an innocent man will hang, which nicely ups the stakes. As with the previous murder mystery, this one owes its inspiration to the likes of Agatha Christie, with plenty of suspects.

I got there before the big reveal, but to be honest, that wasn’t a dealbreaker as it was only a couple of chapters ahead of the denouement and with all the other issues going on relating to Fran and Tom’s relationship – or lack of it – the plot didn’t stand or fall on the mystery alone. The pacing was nicely judged, the characters memorable and I kept thinking what a cracking TV show this would make. In the meantime, I look forward to the next one in the series as I’m keen to see where Janes will take these characters next. Highly recommended for fans of historical cosy murder mysteries. While I obtained an arc of The Poisoned Chalice Murder from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Fury – Book 3 of the Menagerie series by Rachel Vincent #Brainfluffbookreview #Furybookreview

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1986: Rebecca Essig leaves a slumber party early but comes home to a massacre—committed by her own parents. Only one of her siblings has survived. But as the tragic event unfolds, she begins to realize that other than a small army of six-year-olds, she is among very few survivors of a nationwide slaughter. The Reaping has begun.

Present day: Pregnant and on the run with a small band of compatriots, Delilah Marlow is determined to bring her baby into the world safely and secretly. But she isn’t used to sitting back while others suffer, and she’s desperate to reunite Zyanya, the cheetah shifter, with her brother and children. To find a way for Lenore the siren to see her husband. To find Rommily’s missing Oracle sisters. To unify this adopted family of fellow cryptids she came to love and rely on in captivity. But Delilah is about to discover that her role in the human versus cryptid war is destined to be much larger—and more dangerous—than she ever could have imagined.

On realising that this was the third book in the series, I broke with my usual habit of crashing midway into a series and got hold of the first two book and read them first. I was quickly swept up in the dark, intense world of Delilah, who is imprisoned and stripped of all her rights as a human after an incident at a local fair reveals her to be a cryptid in Menagerie – see my review here. This book is structured differently, in that it is largely a dual narrative so that as well as following Delilah’s story in first person viewpoint, we also learn a lot more about The Reaping as we go back in time to the event that causes all the fae to be treated so appallingly and track the consequences and fallout through Rebecca’s viewpoint.

I really enjoyed this aspect – having read allusions to The Reaping throughout the previous two books, it was satisfying to learn more about what happened, particularly as these events increasingly begin to link with Delilah’s storyline. It wasn’t until I read this book that I realised just how unusual it is to have a pregnant protagonist, or one who is coping with a newborn baby in fantasy. It was a plus that the subject was really well done.

The new spin on the story prevented this series becoming predictable and repetitive – and I certainly didn’t see that ending coming. It’s been a while since I’ve been quite so poleaxed by the final denouement of a story, but it really works. I would emphasise, however, that this series and book is not suitable for younger teens and is not a YA read, despite the fact that Vincent has written successfully for that age-group. While I obtained an arc of Fury from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Unwritten by Tara Gilboy #Brainfluffbookreview #Unwrittenbookreview

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I liked the sound of this children’s adventure and, conscious that I hadn’t read many children’s books this year, I was delighted when I was approved to read and review it.

Twelve-year-old Gracie Freeman is living a normal life, but she is haunted by the fact that she is actually a character from a story, an unpublished fairy tale she’s never read. When she was a baby, her parents learned that she was supposed to die in the story, and with the help of a magic book, took her out of the story, and into the outside world, where she could be safe. But Gracie longs to know what the story says about her.

Once again, I’ve abbreviated the rather chatty blurb, but you’ll get the gist that this is about a girl who feels she doesn’t belong. Don’t take the tone of this book from the Disney-looking cover – this book is a lot grittier than the cover design suggests. Gracie’s flashbacks of being in a fire become increasingly upsetting, so when random chance gives her an opportunity to track down the author of the unpublished book containing her story, she takes it.

I like this treatment of the classic portal fantasy trope – it works well. The bewilderment of the well-known author at Gracie’s odd questions and keenness to distance herself from the intense, peculiar girl works really well. Gracie isn’t all that likeable at time – she’s prickly, secretive and prone to lying which is something of a risk, given that children generally prefer a nicer protagonist. However, this is one of the main themes of the book – who is the villain in this story?

There is a lot going on in this thoughtful, well-crafted story. The archetypal wicked queen isn’t as much of a pantomime villain as Gracie first thought. And what about her parents’ behaviour? Her mother’s stubborn refusal to discuss any of the weirdness poor Gracie keeps encountering is at worst selfishly stupid and at best short-sighted; while Gracie’s father opts to stay out of her life. Again, not exactly stepping up to the plate, is he? The adventure deals with some hefty issues with Gracie making an unpleasant discovery about her own role as the royal princess in the story.

As a children’s adventure tale, it has been brought to a satisfactory, reasonably upbeat conclusion. I have found myself thinking a lot about this thought-provoking and intelligently written story that I think would be an ideal book to be read and examined as a class project.

While I obtained an arc of Unwritten from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Select Few – Book 2 of the Select series by Marit Weisenberg #Brainfluffbookreview #SelectFewbookreview

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I really enjoyed this first book in this YA paranormal series, Select – read my review here – so when I saw the second book was available, I immediately requested it and was delighted to be accepted.

After rejecting the cult-like influence of her father’s family, Julia moves into a fancy hotel in downtown Austin. But she finds herself alone except for her boyfriend, John–and her fears. The FBI is also keeping a close eye on Julia hoping she can lead them to her father, Novak, as he’s wanted for questioning in his former assistant’s death. Will she ever be able to blend into normal society without being traced by her father? Will the FBI ever leave her alone? Can she ever find happiness?

I have once again made major changes to the very chatty blurb, and my advice is – don’t read it before picking up the book. The first book ended on something of a cliffhanger with a sudden revelation right at the very end, which turned everything on its head and had Julia making a snap decision not to join her family in their flight to a new life. So the start of Select Few has Julia coming to terms with that decision, after realising the enormity of her loss. She now has to make her way without her sister, whom she loves and misses and her overbearing authoritarian father. While at times she has revelled in her new freedom, she has also discovered that freedom is often accompanied by loneliness. Her relationship with John is also problematical, given that revelation at the end of the first book, so while her feelings for him are a comfort, he is often at a loss to understand her behaviour.

The reason I can discuss John’s feelings with such authority is that this book is a dual narrative with Julia’s first-person viewpoint telling most of the story, interleaved with John’s observations, addressed directly to Julia in the form of some kind of journal. If you haven’t read Select I recommend you do so if you are not feeling particularly bonded with the main characters, or you cannot work out what is going on. Given the first slice of the story is taken up with what is happening, I think this is one of those series where you really can’t crash midway in the series without floundering – and that would be a shame as I found the early part of the book particularly gripping while I tried to work out where it would go next.

Of course, if you are held at the start, the build-up has to really lead something – we’ve all read books which start with a bang and simply can’t sustain the momentum. Fortunately, Weisenberg has sufficient story and drive that the climax and final stages bring the book to a satisfying and convincing end.

I wasn’t as fed up with the inevitable love triangle as I usually am, and to be honest, I’m not sure why. But perhaps it was because I was sufficiently caught up in the main story and found the road trip also helped Julia comes to terms with some important issues along the way. Recommended for fans of paranormal coming-of-age books. While I obtained an arc of Select Few from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc A Muddle of Magic – Book 2 of the Fledgling Magic series by Alexandra Rushe

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One of my book blogging buddies was looking forward to this one (sorry – I can’t remember who!) so I nipped across and requested it, not realising – again – that it was the second book in the series.

What’s a nice Southern girl doing in a place like this?
Whisked from humdrum Alabama to the fantastical land of Tandara by a mage who won’t take no for an answer, Raine Stewart finds herself tangled in a muddle of magic. A Dark Wizard is out for her blood, a demonic golem has orders to dispatch her . . . and she stinks at magic. Being a wizard, even a baby wizard, is harder than Raine thought.

This is an amazingly rich, detailed world – and I was a bit more adrift than was ideal, given I hadn’t read the first book. But this portal fantasy adventure was great fun with a wealth of magical beings – there are dragons, giants, a rich variety of trolls and fairies, wizards, seers, ghosts and shape-shifters. I enjoyed Raine’s character and while there were times she was a bit overwhelmed, she mostly coped with the major culture shock extremely well. Since she arrived in this fantasy world, she has managed to make a number of friends with some powerful beings – sufficiently successfully so as to draw down some very unwelcome attention from a powerful dark wizard. So with a huge price on her head, she is also having to be continually guarded – which she finds especially irksome, given that before she was yanked into this portal world, she was an invalid with a poor prognosis.

While the adventure is mostly in Raine’s viewpoint, there were moments when suddenly we would get someone else’s pov, which I found a bit jarring. That niggle aside, I really enjoyed this world. It is very much a classical fantasy adventure in the Tolkien tradition with a rich variety of different creatures and Rushe is deft at giving us plenty of description without holding up the pace too much. I loved her serpent Flame, while the puzzles surrounding a number of the other main characters kept me turning the pages and enlivened a long train journey.

There was plenty of snark and humour thrown in amongst the plots, kidnappings, brutal fights, snooty courtiers and lantern-jawed heroes. My favourite is probably Gertie, the foul-mouthed, drink-loving troll who takes Raine under her protection and is full of smart-mouthed opinions about the outraged courtiers and haughty queen who hates her. And in amongst the banter and nonsense, there are some poignant moments of loss and heartache in the form of unrequited love and a desperately unhappy marriage.

I’m impressed that Rushe has managed to pack so much vividness and detail into a book just shy of 400 pages – she achieves this by also ensuring the pace keeps moving forward as fantastical creatures, magic artefacts and scheming wizards spin through her story. And there might be a muddle of magic – but there is nothing muddled about the storytelling. While I obtained an arc of A Muddle of Magic from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Immortal Creators – Book 2 of the Immortal Writers series by Jill Bowers #Brainfluffbookreview #ImmortalCreatorsbookreview

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I’d like to be able to claim some deeper, more meaningful reason for picking this one up – but having all the depth of pavement puddle, I have to confess it was that cover that did it for me.

Sixteen-year-old author Scott Beck never wanted to be an Immortal Writer—not after his father was killed on a mission attempting to dispatch his own villain. Scott blames Shakespeare and the Writers for his father’s untimely demise, but no amount of hatred will prevent the oncoming alien attack, which has come over to reality straight from Scott’s book. Scott is forced to collect his characters—an Air Force colonel, two of the best pilots on Earth, and an alien enthusiast from the year 2134—and defeat the alien king before Earth is obliterated by his ships. But an odd sickness Scott calls his Writing Fever might just kill him before the aliens have the chance.

I haven’t read the first book in the series and I’m guessing that Scott and his father featured to some extent in that story, too, because this sequel certainly felt as if I was missing a chunk from Scott’s backstory. He loathes Shakespeare, holding him responsible for his father’s death and is dismayed when he is sucked into a similar situation that cost his father his life. Bowers does a really good job of depicting Scott’s understandable rage and grief, as well as his complicated relationship with his brother – though given it’s Dylan’s decision to secretly publish Scott’s book that creates the situation in the first place, I do think Scott should feel more angry with him over that.

The unfolding situation is well handled. Despite the fact that we were repeatedly told the Immortal Writers generally could cope with all the terrible fates facing the world, there was a real edge of urgency caused by an unexpected death that had me turning the pages to discover what would happen next.

The aliens are every bit as ruthless and horrible as everyone feared – while an upsetting traitor to humanity is also discovered, which I think would shock to those who have read Immortal Writers. I enjoyed the fact that the missions to avert the alien invasion don’t go to plan and Scott is furious and humiliated at his poor performance in the middle of these action scenes.

Once the story hit its stride, I figured I had a good idea where exactly the story was going – and then Bowers tipped it all on its head. That ending is a real doozy – and one I didn’t see coming. I’d love to discuss it more, but that would mean lurching into spoiler territory which I refuse to do. But – oh my goodness! I will certainly be tracking down the first book and getting hold of the third one, too. Because I want to read more from an author capable of pulling off such an ending… While I obtained an arc of Immortal Creators from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 19th September, 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 – The Consuming Fire – Book 2 of The Interdependency series by John Scalzi

#epic science fiction #political thriller #space travel

The Interdependency, humanity’s interstellar empire, is on the verge of collapse. The Flow, the extra-dimensional conduit that makes travel between the stars possible, is disappearing, leaving entire star systems stranded. When it goes, human civilization may go with it—unless desperate measures can be taken.

Emperox Grayland II, the leader of the Interdependency, is ready to take those measures to help ensure the survival of billions. But nothing is ever that easy. Arrayed before her are those who believe the collapse of the Flow is a myth—or at the very least, an opportunity that can allow them to ascend to power.

While Grayland prepares for disaster, others are preparing for a civil war, a war that will take place in the halls of power, the markets of business and the altars of worship as much as it will take place between spaceships and battlefields. The Emperox and her allies are smart and resourceful, but then so are her enemies. Nothing about this power struggle will be simple or easy… and all of humanity will be caught in its widening gyre.

I have read the preview chapters, provided by Netgalley and mostly enjoyed them, after loving the first book. Scalzi uses omniscient pov in this book, which gives it a slightly old fashioned feel, harking back to those epic adventures written in the last century. He manages to pull it off successfully, which isn’t all that easy to do. That said, there is a rather indigestible info-dump in the first chapter. Fortunately, it doesn’t last all that long, because Scalzi’s more usual, bouncy, irreverent voice punches through and whisks us up into this unfolding catastrophe. I’m really looking forward to getting hold of the whole book…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Nyxia – Book 1 of The Nyxia Triad series by Scott Reintgen #Brainfluffbookreview #Nyxiabookreview

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I’ve been seeing this one around and hearing lots of good things about it, so when it became available on Netgalley, I immediately requested it and was delighted when I was approved to read it.

Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family. Forever.

Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden—a planet that Babel has kept hidden—where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe. But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human.

I have seen various references to Red Rising and The Hunger Games series in relation to this one and they are both apt. There is an ongoing contest where those who lose will never get to land on Eden and as you’d expect from a competition with such high stakes, there are some savage tactics employed. I really liked Emmett’s reluctance to adopt the most ruthless, violent route to try to achieve a place on Eden – and the fact that though he is very poor, he is also from a tight-knit, loving family. The cultural diversity of the youngsters taking part worked well and Reintgen managed to keep up the pace and tension throughout, despite the relatively large number of characters he was handling.

There is a steady progression of unpleasant discoveries about the project and the substance nyxia as the youngsters are mercilessly drilled and pitted against each other in order to hone their skills in mining and controlling nyxia, while coping with the environment. Eden doesn’t sound remotely like paradise if these exercises are any indication of the conditions prevailing on the alien planet. I like the fact that Emmett isn’t one of those who is right at the top – instead he is bumping along at the bottom and in constant danger of being flushed out of the project.

It was a shock when a couple of likeable, major characters died along the way, which raised the stakes and made it harder to put the book down. The ending is well handled, bringing the book to a climactic conclusion with another nasty surprise that genuinely made my jaw drop – I love it when that happens…

Any niggles? I could have done without the romance. It felt rather tacked on and certainly added nothing to the storyline. However, it’s not a dealbreaker and I am keen to read the next book in this trilogy, Nyxia Unleashed. While I obtained an arc of Nyxia from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Kindred Spirits – Book 5 of the Gabriel Ash and Hazel Best series by Jo Bannister #Brainfluffbookreview #KindredSpiritbookreview

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I wanted a break from my usual diet of SFF reads and this cover caught my eye. I requested it, as I generally like the output from Severn House Publishing, who release a steady stream of well written and well edited crime and adventure fiction.

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.

That is half the blurb, but it gives you a good idea of what is going on. And no… I haven’t read any of the previous four books in the series – I did my usual trick of crashing midway into this series and once again, got away with it. Bannister drops in any details about the protagonists’ backstory that impacts on the action and characterisation without resorting to any info dumps. It helps that both characters are good people striving to do their best under tricky conditions. Gabriel Ash has clearly had a torrid time of it in previous books and is busy putting his life together as a single father running a book shop. Clever, sensitive and rather battered, he also has a dog who communicates telepathically with him… he thinks.

Hazel Best is a bright, determined woman whose police career has been compromised by previous shenanigans earlier in the series. One of the few people who now give her the time of day, other than a rather busy Gabriel, is Dave Gorman, her superior. When she gets a bee in her bonnet about exactly who was the target in the attempted kidnapping outside the school, events take off.

This well-written police procedural rolls forward at a reasonable clip, with a good mix of possible suspects. My one grizzle is the dog’s role in unravelling the mystery – given that everything else is so very much set in the world of fact, the dog chatting to Gabriel didn’t convince me. I would have preferred it if this had been left more open so that while Gabriel thinks it’s down to the dog, the rest of us could see another option – and if Bannister intended it to read like that, she didn’t quite succeed.

However, that isn’t a dealbreaker. I would happily pick up another book in this series and it is recommended for fans of cosy crime, particularly dog lovers. While I obtained an arc of Kindred Spirit from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10