Category Archives: new release special

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

Standard

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

Advertisements

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

Standard

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

Standard

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

Standard

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 KINDLE Ebook The Privilege of Peace – Book 3 of the Peacekeeper trilogy by Tanya Huff #Brainfluffbookreview #ThePrivilegeofPeacebookreview

Standard

Himself spotted this was coming out and pre-ordered it. Quite right, too. We both love this series – question is, has Huff managed to tie up all the loose ends satisfactorily, given this is the last one in the trilogy?

Warden Torin Kerr has put her past behind her and built a life away from the war and everything that meant. From the good, from the bad. From the heroics, from the betrayal. She’s created a place and purpose for others like her, a way to use their training for the good of the Confederation. She has friends, family, purpose. Unfortunately, her past refuses to grant her the same absolution. Big Yellow, the ship form of the plastic aliens responsible for the war, returns. The Silsviss test the strength of the Confederation. Torin has to be Gunnery Sergeant Kerr once again and find a way to keep the peace.

For those of you who have read the previous two books, terms like Big Yellow, the Silsviss and Big Yellow will be happy reminders of a strongly depicted world crammed with memorable characters and a twisting plot. However if you are scratching your head because you haven’t yet had the pleasure of this series, then don’t pick up this one – track down An Ancient Peace instead. There is simply too much going on in the longer story arc you’ll miss if you don’t.

Gunny Torin Kerr isn’t actually a gunny any longer – but that is something she tends to remember more clearly than some of those around her. She now heads up a team of Wardens, who are essentially intergalactic policemen, now the war has ended and the Elder Races are keen the job doesn’t get seconded to the military. Indeed, now that the war has ended and the Younger Races, including Humanity, are starting to wonder if they are welcome within the Confederation, now they are no longer fighting on behalf of the Elder Races. It is providing major opportunities for the terrorist organisation Humans First, who very much resent the fact that Humanity is taking orders from other species.

I love this series. Torin’s team are always there to provide plenty of snark and banter, even in the trickier moments – but that feels entirely realistic. Despite the fact we stay focused on the main characters, the wider political situation is always well covered so we know what the stakes are. Which steadily ratchets up during this action-packed book. You need to pay attention, because things are always happening, or about to happen and this book particularly offers plenty of pace and excitement.

The denouement was gripping and held me long after I should have put the book down – and Huff then continued to bring the series to an entirely satisfactory ending – no mean feat, given this is a spinoff from the previously successful Valor series… This series is highly recommended for fans of well told military science fiction – and a must-read for those of you who have read the previous two books.
10/10

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

Standard

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

Standard

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of #Child I by #Steve Tasane #Brainfluffbookreview #bookreview

Standard

This isn’t a very long book – I read it in one sitting. But it certainly packs a punch…

Today the mud is dry and crusted and blowing in my eyes. Today is also my birthday. I think today is my birthday. I asked on of the grown-ups what is today’s date.
‘Is it July third?’ I asked.
‘Something like that,’ they said.
July third is the date of my birthday. I think it is that date of my birthday.
I’m sure it is. I’ll be ten. I am ten. I am certain.

And that’s the blurb – I think. That’s actually what is on the cover of the book in lieu of any kind of cover art, which is on the back… Back to front. Slightly wrong. Which actually fits with this amazing little book quite well.

Being me, I initially thought this was a post-apocalyptic tale of climate disaster and a child living in a dystopian near-future camp. It isn’t. This is the story of a child living right now in a refugee camp. His experiences are taken from the lives of real children living across a number of camps and can be corroborated with pictures and video footage, according to the author. He is called Child I, because with no family or papers – which were stolen from him – the authorities have given him a letter, instead of his name.

What is both uplifting and heartbreaking is that Child I isn’t the sad-faced victim with tears welling in his eyes that we see on our TV sets during appeals from various charities – he is a typical ten-year-old boy. Those of us who have spent any time with children of this age will instantly recognise him – endlessly curious, energetic, playful and wanting to reach out to those around him. He tells us about his surroundings. The condition of the mud that rules their lives – where he sleeps, what the weather is like, what he can find to eat – he is constantly hungry as the unaccompanied children seem to be the ones that fall between the cracks when it comes to being looked after in refugee camps. But above all, he tells us of the games he plays and the adventures he has and who joins in…

The writing could so easily have tipped into sentimentality, portraying Child I as a victim, but it doesn’t. The voice is absolutely authentic. I can hear his earnest voice explaining what is going on – and managing to write as an adult portraying a child protagonist is a tricky business. Tasane succeeds in bringing Child I’s life to us in wrenching detail in this simple short book. It is both shocking and uplifting. It should be required reading for politicians around the world – and I’m donating my copy to a local school. Other children, luckier than Child I need to read what is happening in other parts of the world. Read it. It won’t take up much of your time, I promise, but if we don’t know – how can we all try to fix it so that Child I gets a name and home?
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Ebook NOVELLA #The Flowers of Vashnoi Book 14.1 of The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold #Brainfluffbookreview #bookreview

Standard

It’s been a while since we read the last book in the Vorkosigan Saga, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen – see my review here – which didn’t feature much about Miles or Ekaterina, so I was thrilled to see this one was in the pipeline…

Still new to her duties as Lady Vorkosigan, Ekaterin is working together with expatriate scientist Enrique Borgos on a radical scheme to recover the lands of the Vashnoi exclusion zone, lingering radioactive legacy of the Cetagandan invasion of the planet Barrayar. When Enrique’s experimental bioengineered creatures go missing, the pair discover that the zone still conceals deadly old secrets.

Those bioengineered creatures alluded to in the blurb are our old friends, the butterbugs, which made a very dramatic entrance in A Civil Campaign during a particularly important banquet. Those of us who read this excellent series won’t ever forget that particular scene… During this incarnation, they are being used to help clean up an irradiated area, when they start to go missing.

Bujold has nailed the pacing of the novella form – not something every author used to writing full-length novels manages to do, so we hit the ground running with this mini-adventure and the pacing is judged perfectly for a really satisfying ending.

In amongst the drama and sadness of their discovery in the middle of this irradiated wasteland, there are also flashes of Bujold humour, ensuring that while I felt emotionally connected and really cared about the outcome, it didn’t overwhelm the scale of the storyline. It was a treat to have Ekatarin’s viewpoint throughout, as she has always been a strong, interesting character who appears in several of the other books.

All in all, this novella is a real treat and my only quibble is that I wanted it to be longer. Recommended for fans of the Vorkosigan Saga and anyone interested in tackling this long-running established series who would like a taster of the world.
9/10

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

Standard

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