Category Archives: new release special

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Turning Darkness into Light by Marie Brennan #Brainfluffbookreview #TurningDarknessintoLightbookreview

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When I saw this spinoff novel in the world of the Memoirs of Lady Trent series, I immediately bought it, even though we’re officially broke. There are limits, after all… we can always exist on fresh air and sunshine for a couple of weeks – but to go without a book like this? Nope – can’t do it.

BLURB: As the renowned granddaughter of Isabella Camherst (Lady Trent, of the riveting and daring Draconic adventure memoirs) Audrey Camherst has always known she, too, would want to make her scholarly mark upon a chosen field of study. When Lord Gleinheigh recruits Audrey to decipher a series of ancient tablets holding the secrets of the ancient Draconean civilization, she has no idea that her research will plunge her into an intricate conspiracy, one meant to incite rebellion and invoke war. Alongside dearest childhood friend and fellow archeologist Kudshayn, must find proof of the conspiracy before it’s too late.

Despite claims that this would be a good entry point to the Lady Trent series, my firm advice would be – don’t touch it until you have read the complete series, apart from anything else, the book contains big spoilers to Within the Sanctuary of Wings and frankly, because of the nature of the narrative, I think you’d be floundering a great deal of the time if you tried plunging into this world via this book. As it has an epistolary structure, containing diary entries, letters, notes and translations of ancient Draconean tablets, I think you need to already have a good idea of the world and the political structure.

That said, I really loved this one. Brennan’s writing talent pings off the page as I quickly bonded with Audrey, brought up to disregard the rigid conventions of polite society, and passionate about the Draconean civilisation. She also happens to have been born into a family of high achievers – her grandmother, Lady Trent, blazed a trail with her insights into the life cycles of a variety of dragon species and her father is a world-famous translator of ancient languages. Audrey, notwithstanding her youth, is desperate to also make her mark – more particularly since she was robbed of a claim to fame by someone she’d trusted. This need drives her more than it should – and leads her into making some major mistakes. Cora, unloved and disregarded, is also someone I fell for in a big way, as well as dear, kindly Kudshayn, the draconian translator who helps Audrey with her huge task in translating these tablets.

The translations are beautifully done and the scholarly exploration of the ancient religion compared with the modern variant is perfectly achieved, with the mythological stories so well written, it was a struggle at times to remember they were a fantastic conceit nested within a novel. The initial pacing is leisurely, but once the enormity of what is going on began to emerge, I simply couldn’t put this one down. While the theme of prejudice and bigotry was all too evident, the theme that caught my attention, was the way that intellectual arrogance is also a snare that caught most of the main characters in some way.

I found this a fascinating read that crawled under my skin – I’m sure it will be one of those that stays with me and the only reason it isn’t getting a solid 10 from me, is that I did find myself skimming some of the myths, particularly at the beginning. Highly recommended for fans of the Lady Trent Memoirs series.
9/10

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Brightfall by Jaime Lee Moyer #Brainfluffbookreview #Brightfallbookreview

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I can’t lie – it was that cover which prompted me to request this one as much as the intriguing blurb that promised a Robin Hood retelling featuring Maid Marion several years on when she was clearly no longer a maid…

BLURB: It’s been a mostly quiet life since Robin Hood denounced Marian, his pregnant wife, and his former life and retreated to a monastery to repent his sins . . . although no one knows what he did that was so heinous he would leave behind Sherwood Forest and those he loved most. But when friends from their outlaw days start dying, Father Tuck, now the Abbott of St. Mary’s, suspects a curse and begs Marian to use her magic to break it. A grieving Marian bargains for protection for her children before she sets out with a soldier who’s lost his faith, a trickster Fey lord and a sullen Robin Hood, angry at being drawn back into the real world. Marian soon finds herself enmeshed in a maze of betrayals, tangled relationships and a vicious struggle for the Fey throne . . . and if she can’t find and stop the spell-caster, no protection in Sherwood Forest will be enough to save her children.

I loved this set-up. Robin has retreated to a monastery, deserting his wife and children after mysteriously going missing. Marion manages to provide a living for herself and the twins by selling her salves and potions, as well as doing a bit of healing as a respected witch. In fact it’s this reputation that brings Abbot Tuck to her door, urgently requesting her help with reports that much-loved friends have died in mysterious circumstances.

Moyer effectively establishes Marion’s character so that I quickly bonded with her, feeling her anger and pain over Robin’s desertion, alongside her gritted determination to go on providing a good life for her children. The medieval world is well depicted and provides a strong backdrop for the magical shenanigans that are going on. The stakes steadily rise as it becomes apparent that this enemy attacking and destroying Robin’s former comrades, or those dearest to them, is using dark, powerful magic. I liked the fact that Marion isn’t some super-powerful practitioner, but also needs extra help from one of the Fae court, determined to uncover who is prepared to murder children to garner yet more twisted power.

Marion is forced to leave her own children behind as she goes on a desperate quest to hunt down this shadowy magic-user – and is also forced to spend time alongside Robin… Will the danger they are in give them a chance to get together once again? I was intrigued to see if this would happen – and you’ll have to read the book to find out.

There was plenty of action and danger in this gripping read. But alongside all the adventure, there was a strong poignant sadness for a brave band of young men fired up by the wicked injustice of King John’s rule to help those poorer than themselves, accompanied by an equally brave young woman whose craft kept them out of the hands of the Kings men more than once… Life hasn’t been kind to the main protagonists in those tales – and while I rolled my eyes at Robin’s behaviour, I was also aware that the terrible situation he found himself in required a different form of bravery. The kind that those endowed with lots of physical courage often lack…

This one has stayed with me since I finished reading it and while there are a couple of minor niggles – which I don’t want to discuss as they drift into Spoiler territory – it wasn’t a dealbreaker. This is a gripping adventure with a haunting backstory which I hope will lead to a second book in this intriguing world. The ebook arc copy of Brightfall was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Netgalley arc Keep Calm and Carry On, Children by Sharon K. Mayhew #Brainfluffbookreview #KeepCalmandCarryOnChildrenbookreview

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It won’t be a surprise if I mention that it was the title that first attracted me to this offering – we see this WWII catchphrase all over the place, these days. But when I realised this was an adventure about two young evacuees, I immediately requested it.

BLURB: Eleven-year-old Joyce and her little sister hide in their bomb shelter during the German Blitz on London, during World War II. After nights of bombing, it’s decided that they’ll join the over 800,000 children who’ve already been evacuated during Operation Pied Piper. They board a train not knowing where they’re going or who will take them in.

I loved this one. It starts with Joyce and Gina in 1940 enduring a succession of terrifying air raids that severely damage their home and kill neighbours. Their parents reluctantly decide they have no choice but to send the sisters off to the country, taking part in the huge operation to rehouse vulnerable youngsters for the duration of the war. Told in Joyce’s viewpoint, the train journey is told in vivid detail as friendships are formed and one small boy gets left on the train when his sister gets off.

By the time I’d read to this stage, I couldn’t put the book down until I discovered where the girls ended up – would they be separated? This was Joyce’s personal nightmare – both girls were filthy, having had nights spent in underground shelters and no water for washing. As they wait anxiously to discover who will claim them, to look after the girls for the rest of the war, I felt my stomach tighten. I know only too well that it was a complete lottery – while many children were cherished and cared for, some ended up in households who regarded them as unpaid labour, or worse. So where Joyce and Gina end up?

This is a gripping read that covers all aspects of being an evacuee, with an extra adventurous brush with black marketeers after the style of an Enid Blyton escapade to add extra spice to this historically accurate story. I would like to think that this book is used in primary school classrooms during a WWII topic – there are all sorts of aspects of this story that merit discussion. Highly recommended for any child interested in WWII. The ebook arc copy of Keep Calm and Carry On, Children was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of A Jewel Bright Sea – Book 1 of the Mage and Empire series by Claire O’Dell #Brainfluffbookreview #AJewelBrightSeabookreview

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Yep – I’ve done it again… Seen a beautiful cover and scampered across to Netgalley to see if it’s available. And it was. Would my love of pretty cover art deliver yet another winner – or a dud?

BLURB: It was her talent for tracking magic that got Anna Zhdanov sent to catch a thief. A scholar’s daughter sold as a bond servant, she has no desire to recover the Emperor’s jewel for herself. But a chance to earn her freedom has driven her to the untamed Eddalyon province, awash with warm breezes, lapping waves, and more danger than she could possibly guess.

I’ll be honest – I did check a couple of times to make sure that I was reading the first book as O’Dell tips us in the middle of this adventure and for a variety of reasons, I do think this one would have been even more effective if we’d seen at first hand Anna’s life with the unpleasant man who she finds herself in bondage to. However, once I sorted out exactly who was doing what to whom, I thoroughly enjoyed being swept up into the swashbuckling adventure and various twists and turns of this story. It’s always a challenge to keep the characterisation suitably three-dimensional when so much is going on, but overall O’Dell rose to that challenge and I really liked Anna in all her guises.

O’Dell’s writing works particularly during the magical scenes where her prose nocks up a notch to vividly portray what is happening to Anna, so that we are kept in touch with her as she is confronted with a powerful magic capable of ripping her away from her soul and killing her. I also like the fact that we, the reader, realise the extent of her abuse in a way that Anna isn’t fully able to process – it’s nicely done. And while it arouses our sympathy, it means that our heroine doesn’t come across as too much of a victim.

I also liked the variety of people she met and in amongst the violence and double-dealing, I enjoyed the fact that she also met a number of kindly folks who are prepared to help her. Most of these characters worked well, but I have to say, this book would have had another mark if I had been wholly convinced by a certain captain. Sadly, I wasn’t. I’m not sure why – but I’ll admit to my heart sinking a bit when he and Anna became more than friends.

However there is so much going for this entertaining, action-packed fantasy sea adventure that it wasn’t the dealbreaker it could have been and I’ll happily read the next book to find out what happens next to Anna. With a bit of luck, a sea monster will make away with that wretched captain… Recommended for fans of sea-going fantasy adventure tales. The ebook arc copy of A Jewel Bright Sea was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Garden Club Murder by Amy Patricia Meade – Book 2 of the Tish Tarragon series #Brainfluffbookreview #TheGardenClubMurderbookreview

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I requested this one as I hadn’t read anything by this author and recently I’ve read a number of cosy murder mysteries and thoroughly enjoyed them as a palette cleanser after reading something darker and heftier.

Literary caterer Letitia ‘Tish’ Tarragon is preparing her English Secret Garden-themed luncheon for Coleton Creek’s annual garden club awards, but when she is taken on a tour of some of the top contenders with the garden club’s president, Jim Ainsley, Tish is surprised at how seriously the residents take the awards – and how desperate they are to win. Wealthy, retired businessman Sloane Shackleford has won the coveted best garden category five years in a row, but he and his Bichon Frise, Biscuit, are universally despised. When Sloane’s bludgeoned body is discovered in his pristine garden, Tish soon learns that he was disliked for reasons that go beyond his green fingers. Have the hotly contested awards brought out a competitive and murderous streak in one of the residents?

This one started promisingly enough – Meade took us straight into the story and effectively introduced us to the main character. The setting was convincingly portrayed, I liked the supporting cast, the murder was committed with plenty of drama and a satisfying number of suspects with strong motives were introduced.

However I found Tish increasingly annoying – the woman was a veritable saint in all but name. Everyone immediately liked and trusted her, so tended to confide in her no matter how nosey and intrusive her questions became… the sheriff was suitably awestruck at her ability to winkle out telling details to the extent that he took her into his confidence… her gorgeous and implausibly nice lawyer boyfriend would have crawled to the Moon and back on his knees to please her… despite gadding off to sniff out said telling details, she still managed to whip up a delicious meal with her long-suffering staff without breaking a sweat. By the end, I was fed up to the back teeth with her.

Another detail that also jarred – Meade has evidently been told not to use the word said in speech tags, so we had all sorts of odd expressions. He deemed was the worst example, but there were plenty of other clunky phrases that marred the dialogue scenes. However, I probably could have overlooked these details if it wasn’t for the really odd way this story was wrapped up. I was very uncomfortable with the way the victim had taunted the perpetrator, so Meade ensured that no one could possibly feel any sympathy for him, and at the same time, neither was I entirely sure that the justice system would have played out in that way. And cosy mysteries aren’t supposed to leave those kinds of issues dangling in the wind. Though, given I am not a US citizen, there might be something going on here that I’m missing, therefore I haven’t taken off another point, which I otherwise would have done.

The ebook arc copy of The Garden Club Murder was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Killer in the Choir – Book 19 of The Fethering Mysteries by Simon Brett #Brainfluffbookreview #TheKillerintheChoirbookreview

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I was delighted to see this offering on Netgalley, having only recently had the pleasure of reading the previous book, The Liar in the Library – see my review here. So I was still in the groove with the Fethering regulars, as well as easily able to recall the foibles of the main protagonists, Jude and Carol.

Although she hadn’t known Leonard Mallett very well, nor liked him particularly, Carole Seddon feels duty bound to attend her fellow committee member’s funeral. As she suspected, the hymns, readings and sermon are all very predictable — not unlike Leonard himself. What she couldn’t have predicted was that the deceased’s daughter would use the occasion to publicly accuse her stepmother of murder. Did Heather Mallett really kill her husband, as many Fethering residents believe? Deciding to get to the heart of the matter, Carole’s neighbour Jude joins the new community choir – and discovers that amidst the clashing egos and petty resentments lurk some decidedly false notes. At least one chorister would appear to be hiding a deadly secret — and it’s up to Carole and Jude to unearth the truth.

What I particularly enjoy about this series, is that while the murder investigation is the engine that powers the plot, Brett also gives us a real slice of life within the Fethering community. We get an insight into what matters to this community – both good and bad – and Brett isn’t afraid to take a pop at the frailties of the characters he depicts. There is an edge to his observations and I enjoy seeing how he plays with our assumptions – and then throws in a twist, such as the fact that buttoned-up Carol previously had a fling with the village landlord. In fact, I don’t particularly like Carol, whose self-righteous, rather jealous behaviour frankly gets on my nerves – however those traits help to make her effective at worrying at a mystery until she has solved it to her satisfaction. It certainly doesn’t impact on my enjoyment, as her rather jaundiced, sour observations are also insightful and rather funny – and while I don’t like her, I do like the more easy-going, relaxed Jude.

I found this investigation even more enjoyable than the previous one – there were several real surprises that had me reading far into the night to find out what was going to happen next. I’d figured out what happened and why – until the denouement, when I realised that I’d got it completely wrong. Nonetheless, despite my complete misreading of the situation, the perpetrator and the reasons for the wicked deed made absolute sense – and the clues were there. In short, Brett writes a cracking whodunit with a very well-plotted mystery which is a joy to read.

I haven’t read all nineteen of these entertaining books – but given just how much I have enjoyed these last two, I am definitely going to be visiting Fethering again. This series is far too much fun to miss out on. While I obtained an arc of The Killer in the Choir from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron #Brainfluffbookreview #KingdomofSoulsbookreview

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There was a lot of excitement about this one and one of my lovely book-blogging friends highly recommended it – so I scampered across to Netgalley and managed to snag an arc – thank you! If you do recognise yourself, please let me know and I will give you a shoutout.

Born into a family of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah yearns for magic of her own. But each year she fails to call forth her ancestral powers, while her ambitious mother watches with growing disapproval. There’s only one thing Arrah hasn’t tried, a deadly last resort: trading years of her own life for scraps of magic. Until the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, and Arrah is desperate to find the culprit. She uncovers something worse. The long-imprisoned Demon King is stirring. And if he rises, his hunger for souls will bring the world to its knees… unless Arrah pays the price for the magic to stop him.

This is essentially African-inspired epic fantasy with a strong POC protagonist in Arrah and an interesting, coherent structure of magical with important differences in tone and effect within the various tribes. I really enjoyed the backdrop, the feel of the book and Barron’s vivid, gritty writing. The supporting characters were also layered – I particularly loved the depiction of Arrah’s mother, who is by far the most interesting, charismatic character for at least the first half of the book. But none of this would have worked if Arrah’s own personality hadn’t pinged off the page in her desperate longing to fulfil the destiny that was well nigh flattening her from the time she was old enough to realise who she was supposed to be. It is often a trope within SFF – a protagonist is lacking that vital talent or magical ability so confidently predicted from their birth. But rarely is that disappointment so acutely experienced as in Kingdom of Souls. It was a real heartbreak to see Arrah’s pain as her mother increasingly distanced herself from her daughter, while her father desperately tried to compensate by providing all the love and companionship she could want – incidentally immersing her in his own blood magic rituals, presumably hoping some of it would rub off…

I loved the fact that family went on mattering to Arrah throughout the length of this twisting plotline – in fact, it’s a major theme that recurs within the narrative arcs of a number of the supporting characters, too. As someone who is fascinated by the family dynamic and also writes a lot about it – this is meat and drink to me.

Do be aware that this is a gritty read including child abduction and death, parental rejection and dark magic – much of which appears in medieval-era fantasy tales as a matter of course, but somehow the more exotic setting and different flavour of magic manages to give a more menacing aspect to these events. I also think that Barron’s intense, sensual writing style packs a punch.

This is a triumphant debut by a very promising author. It’s not perfect – there are places where the pacing could have been tightened up as the description took over at the expense of the action. But given the ambition and breadth of the book, these lapses were relatively few and far between. Highly recommended for fantasy fans who appreciate something different. The ebook arc copy of Kingdom of Souls was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Know Your Rites – Book 2 of the Inspector Paris Mystery series by Andy Redsmith #Brainfluffbookreview #KnowYourRitesbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Breaking the Lore, so immediately requested the arc when I saw this sequel come up on Netgalley – and was delighted to be approved.

Inspector Nick Paris, now also known as ‘the one who stopped the demons’, has become an unlikely celebrity in the magical world. He is desperate to return to tackling more ordinary crimes on his home turf of Manchester. However, the fates aren’t in his favour when he is called upon again by his more unusual police colleagues to solve a gruesome killing. The only suspect is a dwarf trying to make it in the rap business. But are there more mysterious matters afoot? Paris is thrust back into the world of magic and murder – but who will face the music?

I remembered the first book clearly so it was a pleasure to be reunited with Nick Paris, his magical girlfriend Cassandra, Bonetti his rather thick sergeant, and the team who helped him in the last desperate adventure. Once again, I found the contrast between Nick’s worldweary, rather cynical outlook and the world of elves, dwarves and talking crows an enjoyable one. The storyline carries on from the adventures in the previous book, so my firm advice would be to read Breaking the Lore first, otherwise you will be missing too much of the backstory to make sense of what is going on.

Humour is highly subjective. What has one person roaring with laughter will leave someone else blank-faced and yawning, so do be aware of that with regard to my following comments. While I initially enjoyed the humorous aspect of the story, I quickly decided that Redsmith is trying too hard to make me laugh, rather than immerse me in an engrossing portal fantasy whodunit. There are too many times when scenes are included or extended for the sole purpose of yet another pun or wordplay, rather than for the sake of deepening the characterisation or advancing the storyline. Consequently I felt that the jokes got in the way of the story, rather than embellishing it.

That said, I still had no trouble turning the pages and finishing this murder mystery and will be very happy to read another slice in Nick Paris’s adventures. Recommended for those who enjoy paranormal murder mysteries – but please be aware that this series is nothing like Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant mysteries. The ebook arc copy of Know Your Rites was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of HARDBACK Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence by James Lovelock #Brainfluffbookreview #Novacenebookreview

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My lovely mother sent this one to me as a gift after hearing Lovelock’s fascinating interview on Radio Four…

James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia hypothesis and the greatest environmental thinker of our time, has produced an astounding new theory about future of life on Earth. He argues that the anthropocene – the age in which humans acquired planetary-scale technologies – is, after 300 years, coming to an end. A new age – the novacene – has already begun.

And that’s as much of the atrocious blurb that I’m willing to share. This isn’t a long book, but it posits some fascinating views – which are aptly summed up in the most blurting blurb I’ve read in a long time. Unfortunately, I had the bad luck to read it before I was aware I would be gifted the book.

However, I did my best to put the back cover matter out of my head, because as I read the book, I was aware that Lovelock is a one-off. His ideas are genuinely original and while I’m not convinced about all of them – I don’t agree with his stance regarding the existence of aliens, for instance – I did feel that his summary about the crisis surrounding climate change and our treatment of Earth is worth the book alone. To the extent that I am now converted to supporting the nuclear industry as a stopgap before discovering less toxic ways of generating energy, instead of continuing to use fossil fuels in any form.

I found his ideas about the future direction of our species and how hyperintelligence will continue to develop to be fascinating. I hope that governments around the world will listen to his warnings about keeping machine intelligence away from military applications, though I somehow doubt it – these days many major powers seem to led by braindead donkeys…

If I’ve given you the impression that this book is a doom-laden litany of impending disasters, then I need to correct that mistake. At 100 years old, Lovelock is not only still mentally pin-sharp, he is also largely optimistic about humanity’s future, believing that both machine and organic intelligence will need to unite to head off the threat of global warming endangering all life on the planet. Overall, I found this a readable, cogent analysis on the major issues confronting us as a species and Lovelock’s take on how that will probably pan out worth considering. After all, this is the man who explained that our environment worked as a highly complex, interrelated whole, at a time when other experts mocked the idea. We ignore him again at our peril.

Highly recommended.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Old Bones – A DCI Bill Slider Case by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles #Brainfluffbookreview #OldBonesbookreview

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In case you are experiencing a slight case of deja vu, yes… this is a book I’ve previously reviewed back in 2017, which I didn’t realise when I requested the arc. There didn’t seem any point in writing a different review, given that when I reread it, nothing new jumped out at me…

‘You can’t upset anyone looking into old bones.’

DCI Bill Slider’s out of favour in the force – for accusing a senior Met officer of covering up an underage sex ring. As a punishment, he’s given a cold case to keep him busy: some old bones to rake through, found buried in a back garden, from a murder that happened two decades ago, and with most of the principal players already dead. Surely Bill Slider can’t unearth anything new or shocking with these tired old bones?

Slider’s desert-dry viewpoint is a joy. He is an old fashioned copper who is heartily sick of all the new management-speak, but nonetheless straight as a dye without being remotely starchy. His irreverent humour bubbles continually away in the background, annoying his superiors and exasperating his subordinates. For a nice change, he isn’t some grizzled loner but has a happy marriage to a professional musician.

I liked the fact that the loss of a little girl isn’t just treated as some dry academic puzzle – there is a real sense of poignancy of a life unfulfilled as Slider and his team try to grapple with who had murdered her and buried her in the back garden. I also enjoyed the fact that we don’t have a CSI-type approach where they have shedloads of forensic evidence to answer all the questions. In fact, there is precious little to go on, except the faulty memories of those involved all those years ago.

As with all the best police procedural mysteries, there are a number of candidates and possibilities, though I did guess one of the major twists well before it was revealed. Not that it mattered all that much – I was too invested in the main characters to mind and besides, there were still some interesting developments. There is a lovely subplot that develops regarding one of Slider’s team and a youngster caught up in the system.

I appreciated the absence of any grisly details, undue violence or gore – but I certainly wouldn’t peg this in the cosy mystery genre. All in all, a thoroughly entertaining read that comes highly recommended.

While I obtained the arc of Old Bones from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10