Category Archives: oustanding reads of the year

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of NETGALLEY arc The Ivory Tomb –Book 3 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheIvoryTombbookreview

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I’m a huge fan of Caruso’s writing – see my reviews of her Sword and Fire series – The Tethered Mage, The Defiant Heir and The Unbound Empire. And the misery of lockdown and Long Covid were eased more than a tad by the first two books in this Rooks and Ruin series – see my reviews of The Obsidian Tower and The Quicksilver Court.

BLURB: The Dark Days have returned. The Demon of Carnage mercilessly cuts through villagers and armies. The Demon of Corruption poisons/rots the land. The Serene Empire and the Witch Lords race towards war. And in the middle of it all stands Rxyander, the Warden of Gloamingard.

Burdened by conflicting loyalties and guilt, Ryx searches desperately for a way to defeat the demons before the world she loves is completely destroyed. To find answers, she’ll have to return to where it all started…the black tower at the heart of Gloamingard.

By blood the Door was opened and only by blood will the Dark Days end.

REVIEW: Firstly, whatever you do – don’t plunge into this slice of the adventure without reading the previous two books in the series. Caruso’s writing creaks with tension, plot twists and dangerous, unpredictable characters so that you won’t be in a position to appreciate the full awesomeness of the worldbuilding and some telling developments if you don’t have a full picture of what came before. And no… the helpful summary at the beginning of the book is designed to bump-start your memory, not act as replacement for reading the previous books.

One of the reasons why I’m so passionate about the above point is the glorious manner in which Ryx develops throughout the series. She goes from being shunned and desperately lonely without knowing why she has been so cursed at the start of the first book, to coming to terms with who she is and what she’s done by the end of the final book. There is a major reveal that explains a lot about her character and the formidable talent she has for causing mayhem during the second book, which also impacts on the action during The Ivory Tomb in a major way.

In epic fantasy, there nearly always is an overarching threat to the world. Most of the time, the fullest extent of said threat doesn’t come to pass. However this time around, the hammer has fallen and the world is reeling from devastating attacks on several fronts. This keeps the action and tension full on, as Ryx and the Rooks race from one crisis to another in an attempt to save as many lives as possible. Sometimes, such ongoing full-scale devastation comes at the expense of characterisation and description – not so in The Ivory Tomb. Caruso’s skill is evident as she manages to keep all those vital plates spinning, while keeping the pacing dialled up and the action thick and fast. I stayed up far later than intended to discover what happens and whether the denouement and ending matches the eventful, risk-ridden journey. It does.

It’s always something of a wrench when a much-loved series comes to an end, but Caruso brings the Ruin and Rook series back home in triumphant style, with real poignancy and emotion. This wonderful finale is one of my outstanding reads of 2022 and very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The Ivory Tomb from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Sorcerer’s Edge – Book 3 of The Tethered Citadel series by David Hair #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #SorcerersEdgebookreview

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I loved the first two books in this highly readable epic fantasy adventure – Map’s Edge and World’s Edge, so I was delighted when the publisher contacted me and asked if I’d like an arc of this final book.

BLURB: After all they’ve suffered, rebel sorcerer Raythe Vyre and his fortune-seekers are still empty-handed, but they’ve found real treasure: peace.

Deep inside the Ice wastes, Raythe’s people stumbled upon Rath Argentium, the legendary Aldar city, and the long-lost Tangato people. After fighting through betrayal, treachery and powerful magic, they forged a hard-won treaty with the Tangato and their extraordinary queen, Shiazar. Now they’ve put aside their dreams of wealth and revenge and embraced something better: a life outside the tyrannical Bolgravian Empire. But the Bolgravian Empire never gives up.

The empire hasn’t forgotten Raythe Vyre, and his enemies know where he is. Guided by Toran Zorne, the implacable imperial assassin, they are coming to claim Rath Argentium for themselves. Raythe and Shiazar know all too well that courage and cunning won’t be enough this time: they are outnumbered, out-gunned and out of time. Faced with total annihilation, it’s up to Raythe to find an edge . . .

REVIEW: In many ways, this epic fantasy has a slightly old-school feel. That isn’t bad by any means – I’ve loved the strong story-telling, the constant plots twists and intelligent character progression throughout. And I particularly enjoyed The Story So Far… summation at the start, which nicely reminded me of a number of details that I’d have forgotten. A pity that other authors don’t do it – though I suppose they are worried about readers coming across this one without having read the previous books and thinking that a condensed account would suffice. If you do encounter this one without having read the previous books, despite the handy catch-up notes, my firm advice would be to put this offering down and track down Map’s Edge instead. This classy, well-written adventure is far too good to compromise by not reading it in its entirety.

Over the previous two books, there are a handful of outstandingly unpleasant antagonists that I’ve loved to hate. So it was enjoyable to be confronted with them again – and this time around in far more detail, so that I got to know exactly what their motivations were. Once more, Hair has taken some of my assumptions, played with them and bounced them on their head, which put a certain powerful woman in a completely different light. I love it when that happens. The story starts with a bang and goes on delivering yet more surprises and shocks so that instead of going to bed at a reasonably sensible time, I stayed up faaar too late into the night to discover what happened next.

The setting is vividly realised, the characters nicely complex and changing in reaction to the privations and danger they’ve been undergoing, and the plotting masterfully handled. All in all, this is a cracking ending to an excellent epic fantasy adventure that I’ve loved from start to finish. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Sorcerer’s Edge from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc Unraveller by Frances Hardinge #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Unravellerbookreview

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I love Hardinge’s writing – see my review of Deeplight – so when I caught sight of this breathtakingly lovely cover and registered the author, I immediately requested it. And was absolutely delighted to get hold of a review copy.

BLURB: Kellen and Nettle live in a world where anyone can create a life-destroying curse, but only one person has the power to unravel them. But not everyone is happy he can do so and, suddenly, he’s in a race to save both himself and all those who have been touched by magic…

REVIEW: The first issue to tackle is the fact that this book is labelled a children’s read. Hm. I suppose it can be read by youngsters in that there isn’t any swearing or any overt sex and the protagonists are young. But frankly, as with a number of books in this category, this one is simply too good to leave solely to the kids and I strongly advise you not to discount reading this one simply for that reason alone.

I fell in love with Nettle, who has supposedly recovered from a devastating curse thanks to Kellen’s unique gift. But instead of staggering off to try and pick up the threads of her previous life, she chooses to accompany him on his various jobs where he has to unravel curses and return the victims to their families. Nettle had been turned into a heron and still has periods where she stares into the middle distance and is easily startled. She’s also often quite grumpy at Kellen’s tendency to rush into situations, determined to fix people. And then he’s keen to swiftly move on to the next job, rather than hang around and try to deal with the fallout that often occurs once a curse has been reversed.

However, they make a great team. Nettle, for all her slightly birdlike gestures, is clever and particularly good at finding the weak spots in Kellen’s plans when he wants to rush to the rescue. I thought their exasperation with each other worked particularly well – and their mutually reliant relationship heightened the sense of loss when later on in the book, they have been separated.

As for the plot – it is one of the major strengths of the story. I always love it when I’m in the hands of a master storyteller, whose pacing and plotting continually provides unexpected surprises that never feel forced or contrived. And Hardinge is one such storyteller. I kept trying to slow down, knowing that I was thoroughly enjoying this particular reading experience – but at the same time, desperate to know what happens next. The story provides all sorts of reverses and difficulties for our plucky duo – and Hardinge always weaves a sufficiently convincing air of menace, that I’m not ever totally convinced that her protagonists will prevail. I’m conscious that I’ve made this book sound thrilling, yet a bit bleak – and that isn’t the case. There are lovely touches of dry humour throughout.

If you are looking for an engrossing, well-written fantasy adventure that is also a stand-alone, this one comes very highly recommended. While I obtained an audiobook arc of Unraveller from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

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

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Over the last few years, I’ve become a solid fan of Hair’s writing – see my reviews of the Olympus trilogy, Athena’s Champion, Oracle’s War and Sacred Bride which he co-wrote with Cath Mayo. I was also fortunate enough to be approved to read an arc of the first book in this adventure, Map’s Edgesee my review here.

BLURB: Chasing a dream of wealth and freedom, Raythe Vyre’s ragtag caravan of refugees from imperial oppression went off the map, into the frozen wastes of the north. What they found there was beyond all their expectations: Rath Argentium, the legendary city of the long-vanished Aldar, complete with its fabled floating citadel.

Even more unexpectedly, they encountered the Tangato, the remnants of the people who served the Aldar, who are shocked to learn that they’re not alone in the world – and hostile to Raythe’s interlopers. What awaits Raythe’s people in the haunted castle that floats above them, the lair of the last Aldar king? Everlasting wealth – or eternal damnation?

REVIEW: Firstly, if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the first book, Map’s Edge, I strongly advise that you do so before tucking into this one. The action picks up right where Map’s Edge left off and you’ll probably be floundering at the start. That said, if you did read the first book a while ago and can’t quite recall all the important details, Hair has thoughtfully provided a very useful ‘Story So Far’ which handily jogs the memory. However, I don’t recommend that you rely on it instead of reading the first book – you’ll lose far too much of the detail, nuances and sheer energy of this cracking fantasy adventure for that to be a remotely satisfactory substitute for the actual book.

Once again, we are plunged into the middle of the unfolding emergency as two cultures collide. One group is on the run from a powerful regime committed to stamping their own way of doing things onto the subjects of a recently defeated nation, while the other group is the remnant of a mighty magical people responsible for the environmental catastrophe that has overtaken the planet. Hair explores this fascinating dynamic through a number of vivid, well written characters whose adventures and experiences had me reading far later than I’d intended. And at a climactic part of the story, my stomach was churning as I kept turning the pages – which doesn’t happen all that often.

I loved the directions in which the story went – and while there are some villains in the story that I loved to hate, I could understand why they made the choices they did. It takes a storyteller with power and charisma to provide that depth of characterisation and clarity of vision within a narrative crammed with action. I’ve found myself thinking a lot about this one since I put it down – the powerful characters and the discovery of a lost civilisation has resonated with me. Very highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy full of memorable characters, a riveting setting and a twisting plot full of action. While I obtained an arc of World’s Edge from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Every Song a Star – Book 2 of the Ascendance series by Jay Posey #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #EverySongaStarbookreview

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I am a fan of Posey’s writing – see my reviews of his Outrider series – Outriders and Sungrazer. So I was delighted when last year I had the opportunity to read and review Every Sky a Grave, which took his writing to a new level – would I enjoy the next book in the series as much?

BLURB – Truncated: Far in the future, human beings have seeded themselves amongst the stars. Since decoding the language of the universe 8,000 years ago, they have reached the very edges of their known galaxy and built a near-utopia across thousands of worlds, united and ruled by a powerful organization known as the Ascendance. The peaceful stability of their society relies solely on their use of this Deep Language of the cosmos.

Elyth—a former agent of the religious arm of the Ascendance, The First House—is on the run after the events of Every Sky a Grave, when she and the fugitive Varen Fedic exposed the darker side of Ascendance hegemony on a planet called Qel. Though she just wishes to put the past (and Varen) behind her, she is soon tracked and cornered by the Ascendance agents – will she manage to escape?

REVIEW: Don’t read the full blurb for this one – it contains far too many spoilers regarding Elyth’s initial adventures. And if you have picked this one up without having first read Every Sky a Grave, it’s not a major problem. Some time has passed since the events of the first book, and Posey is sufficiently skilled that you can quickly work out what is going on without needing to know about Elyth’s previous adventures. That said – I think this is an outstanding series, so I’d advise that you read it, anyway.

As with the first book, I was struck by Elyth’s nuanced and subtle characterisation. She is very capable, but spends a lot of time quietly observing from the sidelines – and such characters are tricky to write. It’s all too easy to make them appear overly passive, or plain boring and Elyth is neither. It doesn’t hurt that once again, I was swept up in the cracking story, full of adventure and tension. Which meant I wasn’t sure exactly what was going on for a large portion of the book – other than it wasn’t anything good…

But who is responsible? Could it be the recklessly dangerous Varden? Or maybe one of the scarily clever scientists working for the ruthless organisation partly responsible for running the Ascendance. And amongst the elite team put together to investigate this latest crisis were some thoroughly likeable people who I didn’t want to see either hurt, or find out they’re the villains. Posey’s vivid descriptions of the rogue planet brought the landscape to life in all its threatening beauty. And he has the knack of writing routine so that it’s still gripping, which gives the action scenes extra shock value when they appear to come from nowhere.

All in all, this was an outstanding read. I got to the point where I had nearly finished the book and I didn’t want such a thoroughly satisfying reading experience to end – and that’s when I know I’m in the middle of something special. Very highly recommended for all science fiction readers – and those who enjoy a gripping adventure. While I obtained an arc of Every Song is a Star from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Quicksilver Court – Book 2 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheQuicksilverCourtbookreview

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I love Caruso’s writing – see my reviews of her Sword and Fire series – The Tethered Mage, The Defiant Mage and The Unbound Empire. So last year, lockdown in June became less fraught when I got hold of the first book in this spinoff series – The Obsidian Tower. Would I enjoy The Quicksilver Court too?

BLURB: Ryxander, Warden of Gloamingard, has failed. Unsealed by her blood, the Door hidden within the black tower has opened. Now, for the first time since the age of the Graces, demons walk the world.

As tensions grow between nations, all eyes-and daggers are set on Morgrain, fallen under the Demon of Discord’s control. In an attempt to save her home from destruction, Ryx and the Rookery set out to find a powerful artifact. But powerful enemies are on the hunt and they’re closing in fast.

REVIEW: First things first – if you happen to pick up this offering without having read The Obsidian Tower, then put it back on the shelf and track down the first book. This one follows immediately on from the climactic ending, and you’ll struggle far too long trying to work who is doing what to who – and the plot doesn’t hang around.

I love this world. Caruso’s vivid depiction of this extraordinary place, where beauty is all too often lethal and people regularly die in horrible ways drew me in and held me entranced throughout. At 480 pages, it’s not a short book – but I tore through it as I was unable to put it down. I fell deeply in love with Ryx from the first time I encountered her and her heartbreakingly terrible magic – if she comes into contact with any living thing, it dies. Ways are found to halter her magical power, so that eventually she is able to touch plants, animals and people without harming them. But those long years when she couldn’t has left scars. At the end of The Obsidian Tower, I was left with some mighty big questions – and I’m delighted to say The Quicksilver Court answers them.

Ryx’s desperate gratitude that at last she has friends and allies who really care for her makes her wonderfully vulnerable, which works well in a character with such powerful magic. And the magical group she belongs to – the Rookery – all have complicated and desperate backstories that we learn about in amongst the plotting, politicking and mayhem that ensues. But… oh my goodness – I didn’t begin to guess the big plot twist that comes about three-quarters into the book. What a doozy! I was tempted to rush back to reread The Obsidian Tower and look for the clues and see what I’d missed. Though of course, I didn’t. But it literally changes the whole dynamic, ramping up the stakes and danger to the world – and of course, to Ryx. Caruso writes with power and commitment that makes all her main characters larger than life – particularly her antagonists. The demon, Nightmare, is really a satisfying villain I loved to hate.

This was one of the most intense, emotional reads of the year and I finished it with a sigh – because there is also a whopping big cliff-hanger right at the end. You may have gathered that I enjoyed this one – indeed, it’s made my Outstandings Reads of the Year list. Very highly recommended for those who like their fantasy swathed in mystery, vivid settings and charismatic characters possessed with murderous magic. While I obtained an arc of The Quicksilver Court from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #3

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This is my fortnightly (hopefully) Sunday Post update – hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer – on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 8 months since I first got ill . And as usual, it’s been a bit up and down. My wonderful sister suggested that I see a reflexologist as I felt I’d got a bit stuck. So I went ahead and found Laura – a lovely lady, who lives only a fifteen-minute drive from where I live, which is really important. Right now, I don’t have the energy for a long journey. We discovered that we both taught at the same Junior school back in the 1990s and I immediately liked and trusted her. I’ve had a couple of sessions so far and it’s going well.

During our first consultation, Laura suggested that I get my thyroid checked out, as she is concerned at the pressure I feel at the base of my throat, particularly when I’m tired. So I phoned up the Dr last week – and was given an immediate face-to-face appointment that morning. I saw a very sympathetic Dr, who suggested that I have a scan to check out my thyroid and arranged a blood test. Though she did warn me that in all likelihood, it will come back entirely normal, as Long Covid generally doesn’t present many symptoms during such investigations.

Having the reflexology appointment on the Friday, the Dr’s appointment on the following Monday and a blood test on Wednesday pretty much wiped me out for the rest of the week. Though I didn’t end up bedridden again, and all but one of the days, I was still well enough to shower – so I take that as a win. Himself had some annual leave this week and I really appreciated it. As I’m feeling more alert, I miss him when he’s working. Normally, I’m busy writing or blogging, or out and about so I am too occupied to sit around, wondering what he’s doing. Not so these days.

One of my lovely Creative Writing students suggested that I start writing haikus, as she was very concerned to learn that I have currently lost the ability to write my novels. I thought it an excellent idea – the Japanese three-line, seventeen-syllable poetry form seemed something that I should be able to manage. However, while the first one was reasonably positive – the next five I spent the early hours of the morning writing were so filled with rage and pain that I realised I couldn’t do this anymore. To be honest – it was a shock. I hadn’t appreciated all those feelings were lurking under the surface and while I need to sort them out at some stage, this isn’t the time. Not while I’m battling so hard to get better.

Thank goodness for fabulous books and gripping TV series! They’re a life-saver as they allow me to simply escape from the whole situation when I need to. Yay for The Gilmore Girls, which I loved – and I’m now up to date with Chesapeke Shores. I’ve also found meditation a huge help throughout the day to rest and relax both my body and mind. It also helps me keep a positive mindset.

Thank you so much. I really appreciate the stream of good wishes for my recovery that I have received since I started posting about Long Covid. I can’t have many visitors as I don’t have the energy to sustain much of a conversation. Though it was wonderful when Frank, our eldest grandson, popped in yesterday afternoon to catch up. It was such a relief to find that he’s settling in really well on his animation course at college and thoroughly enjoying it.

This week I’ve read:-

HMS Nightingale – Book 4 of the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland
For Lieutenant Alexis Carew, it should be the perfect assignment — a command of her own and a chance to return to her home star system.

What she finds is a surly crew, the dregs of every frigate and ship of the line to pass through on the way to the war’s front, a first officer who thinks the command should have been his, and colonial worlds where they believe a girl’s place is somewhere very different than command of a Queen’s starship. Add to that the mysterious disappearances of ships vital to the war effort and an old enemy who seems intent on convincing her he’s changed. Then there’s the mongoose with an unnatural affinity for her boots.
I’ve really enjoyed this series so far – the ‘Hornblower in space’ scenario works well, which is largely down to the feisty character of Alexis Carew. She is a pleasing mix of aggression and vulnerability, without too much angst. That said, I’m also pleased to see symptoms of PTSD in this instalment as she’s been through some heavy-duty action. Good to see a strong protagonist who isn’t Teflon-coated with invincibility.
9/10

Buried Memories – Book 10 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green
As long-buried memories from his hidden past begin to resurface, Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny feel compelled to return to the small country town where Ishmael crash-landed in 1963; the place where his memories began. Norton Hedley is no ordinary town. Apparitions, sudden disappearances, sightings of unusual beasts: for centuries, the place has been plagued by a series of inexplicable events. Ishmael’s first task is to track down local author Vincent Smith, the one man he believes may have some answers.

Ishmael and Penny aren’t the only ones seeking the mysterious Mr Smith. When their search unearths a newly-dead body in the local mortuary – a body that’s definitely not supposed to be there – Ishmael becomes the prime suspect in the ensuing murder investigation. His only hope of discovering the truth about his origins lies in exposing a ruthless killer.
Another enjoyable offering in this intriguing and quirky series, where a disguised alien ends up trouble-shooting for a shadowy, undercover organisation tasked with keeping creepy things under control. These stories so easily could be a violent, dark, action-fuelled gore-fest – but while it is often dark, action-fuelled and more than a tad gory, it’s often also funny. I loved learning more about Ishmael’s origin story in this latest episode.
8/10

Inborn Magic – Book 1 of the Hidden Coven series by Kim McDougall
It should have been a simple spell…
Light into heat, heat into flame.
How did it all go so wrong?
Paralyzed … magic drained … Bobbi lies wondering …
Only the Mistress of the Hidden Coven can save her, but Quinn doesn’t want to let a stranger past the coven wards. It’s his job to keep strangers out. Especially when a demon is hell-bent on stealing their most precious resource—magic.


Can Quinn lower his shields enough to let Bobbi in?
Can Bobbi trust these witches to help her tame the wild magic inside her?
No one can stand alone against the coming darkness.
No witch can hide any longer.
This novella packs a punch with a gripping opening sequence that really showcases the author’s writing chops. I enjoyed where the story is going and despite being shorter than I usually like, I definitely will be reading the next book in the series.
8/10

Madrenga by Alan Dean Foster
A vital message. A desperate queen. A hero in the making.

He is plainly too young and too inexperienced for the mission, but on the advice of her aged adviser Natoum, and with her husband off at war, the Queen reluctantly assigns the task of delivery to…

Madrenga.

Accompanied only by a runt of a pony and a scrap of a pup, he sets off to transport the royal message to its destination. No matter what it might take. But things are not always what they seem. Heroes are sometimes made of the strangest stuff, and love is to be found in the most unexpected places. If one doesn’t die while treading the lethal path…
Himself bought this standalone fantasy quest adventure last year, so I tucked into it. And thoroughly enjoyed the twists and turns – as well as discovering exactly what or who Madrenga really is. It takes a writer with skill and experience to pull off an ongoing mystery that hooks readers throughout the book with such panache. But then, that’s who Alan Dean Foster is…
8/10

Magic’s a Hoot – Book 3 of the Owl Star Witch series by Leanne Leeds
Astra assumed every person the Star Card told her to save would be…well, worth saving. But when sister Ami turns over the glowing goddess card during Gloria Fisher’s reading on her perpetually drunk—and targeted for death—husband, William? The witch realizes the gods move in mysterious ways.
As she delves deep into the man’s complicated life, Astra’s investigation devolves into chaos when a painting William Fisher insured goes missing. What’s even worse? The police think he was in on the scheme.


Can Astra find the painting, clear the man, and keep his whole life policy in force? Or will William’s accidental death insurance have to pay out?
I’ve enjoyed the first two books in this well-written series, where the plotting is twisty and there is plenty of humour – but this is the one that really ramps up the stakes. Friendship and family feature heavily in this series, and while I enjoyed the mystery, it’s the interaction between siblings and friends that had me continuing to turn the pages. And a very grumpy owl, who is rapidly becoming my favourite sentient creature…
9/10

The Noose of a New Moon – Book 1 of the Wolfbrand series by Helen Harper

Devereau Webb is in uncharted territory. He thought he knew what he was doing when he chose to enter London’s supernatural society but he’s quickly discovering that his new status isn’t welcome to everyone. He’s lived through hard times before and he’s no stranger to the murky underworld of city life. But when he comes across a young werewolf girl who’s not only been illegally turned but who has also committed two brutal murders, he will discover just how difficult life can be for supernaturals – and also how far his own predatory powers extend.
This spinoff series fills in the gaps for those of us also following Harper’s very successful and enjoyable Firebrand series, set in London. I’m a real fan of this author, and this latest book didn’t disappoint. Devereau is an awesome protagonist, whose undeniable power doesn’t mean he’s invincible.
9/10

The Quicksilver Court – Book 2 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso
Ryxander, Warden of Gloamingard, has failed. Unsealed by her blood, the Door hidden within the black tower has opened. Now, for the first time since the age of the Graces, demons walk the world.

As tensions grow between nations, all eyes-and daggers are set on Morgrain, fallen under the Demon of Discord’s control. In an attempt to save her home from destruction, Ryx and the Rookery set out to find a powerful artifact. But powerful enemies are on the hunt and they’re closing in fast.
This is a fabulous read – but whatever you do – read The Obsidian Tower first if you haven’t already had the pleasure. This one follows straight on from the events that take place – and Caruso doesn’t hang around to catch you up. The book creaks with tension as the stakes are high – and then go on ramping up. A twisty plot, captivating characters and brilliantly evocative writing – this is one of my outstanding reads of the year so far. Review to follow.
10/10

Reviews published since my last Sunday Post:-

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of The Green Man’s Challenge – Book 4 of The Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of Buried Memories – Book 10 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Battle Ground – Book 17 of the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Last Graduate – Book 2 of the Scholomance series by Naomi Novik

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m very aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be in a position to start to reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of An Untidy Death – Book 2 of the Decluttering Mysteries by Simon Brett #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AnUntidyDeathbookreview

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I enjoy reading Simon Brett’s writing – see my reviews of Death on the Downs, Mrs Pargeter’s Public Relations, The Liar in the Library, The Killer in the Choir and Guilt at the Garage. But I’d particularly enjoyed the first book in this series, The Clutter Corpsesee my review. I snapped this one up with excitement when I saw it featured on Netgalley, though I was a tad worried at just how much I was looking forward to diving in, as that can often be a recipe for disappointment – would I enjoy this one as much?

BLURB: “My mother’s going to kill herself . . . That is, if I don’t kill her first.” When Alexandra Richards approaches professional declutterer Ellen Curtis to ask her to help sort out her mother’s chaotic flat, Ellen gets the impression Alexandra doesn’t like her mother very much. But after hearing the local news, Alexandra’s exasperated words don’t seem such a joke…

REVIEW: And that’s as much of this very chatty blurb that I’m inclined to share – don’t read it as it spoils far too much of the plot. I loved this one – indeed, it’s on my Outstanding Reads of the Year list. Ellen is a lovely character, who is briskly efficient and clearly extremely intelligent. She also has dealt with a devastating tragedy in her life with fortitude and resilience. And yes… I know she’s fictional, but I finished this book full of warmth towards this wonderful, three-dimensional protagonist. Brett is an accomplished, experienced author whose main characters are often a bit larger than life, but Ellen isn’t one of those. Her thoughtful, quieter outlook drew me right into the story as she tries to unpick what appears to be an accidental death that she increasingly feels is something else.

Ellen is also surrounded by a strong supporting cast – I love her relationship with her ebullient mother, who is clearly dissatisfied with Ellen’s life choices and delights in emphasising her closeness with Ellen’s daughter. Unlike so many fictional families, they don’t get to hurl hurtful truths at each other that in real life would probably cause complete estrangement. And I also found Ellen’s relationship with her son, who suffers from clinical depression, achingly realistic.

I’m conscious that I’ve managed to make this one sound a rather fraught, dreary read – and it’s nothing of the sort. Set in my neck of the woods, I found myself spluttering with laughter at Brett’s pithy descriptions of local settings. Meanwhile, the murder mystery is beautifully plotted. The pacing is spot on, there are a satisfying number of potential suspects – and of course, I’d spotted the perpetrator. Until halfway through the denouement scene, when I realised it wasn’t who I thought it was… Nicely done! All in all, this is by far the best written murder mystery I’ve read this year and while I’d recommend that you grab the first book, just because it’s also a cracking read – it isn’t necessary to appreciate this gem. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of An Untidy Death from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Women of Troy – Book 2 of The Women of Troy series by Pat Barker #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheWomenofTroybookreview

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I encountered The Silence of the Girls last September – see my review – and it blew me away. While it was a powerful, disturbing read, I have always had a soft spot of Greek myths and this retelling really stayed with me. So I was thrilled to see this turn up on Netgalley – and even more thrilled to be approved to read it.

BLURB: Troy has fallen. The Greeks have won their bitter war. They can return home as victors – all they need is a good wind to lift their sails. But the wind has vanished, the seas becalmed by vengeful gods, and so the warriors remain in limbo – camped in the shadow of the city they destroyed, kept company by the women they stole from it.

The women of Troy.

Helen – poor Helen. All that beauty, all that grace – and she was just a mouldy old bone for feral dogs to fight over.

Cassandra, who has learned not to be too attached to her own prophecies. They have only ever been believed when she can get a man to deliver them.

Stubborn Amina, with her gaze still fixed on the ruined towers of Troy, determined to avenge the slaughter of her king.

Hecuba, howling and clawing her cheeks on the silent shore, as if she could make her cries heard in the gloomy halls of Hades. As if she could wake the dead.

And Briseis, carrying her future in her womb: the unborn child of the dead hero Achilles. Once again caught up in the disputes of violent men. Once again faced with the chance to shape history.

REVIEW: As should be evident from the punchy blurb, there are trigger warnings for rape and violence. Although I’d like to emphasise that there is nothing graphic or sensationalised about the plight of the women who find themselves part of the booty looted from Troy. Probably the most visceral scene is King Priam’s death – and that isn’t as grisly as some of the vicious hand-to-hand fighting depicted in epic fantasies written by the likes of John Gwynne, Joe Abercrombie and Miles Cameron.

What is undeniable is the power of Barker’s prose, as she immerses us in the daily lives of the captured women, experienced in first-person pov by former Princess Briseis, who witnessed the death of her family at the hands of Achilles in the early stages of the Trojan campaign. And was then captured by him. Now he’s dead, her life has once more become uncertain – particularly as she is carrying his child. It’s Briseis who tries to make life easier for the newly captive women, traumatised by the death of their husbands, fathers and sons – and are now having to cope with being owned by those responsible for killing their families. Barker could have so easily turned this into a sensational, stomach-churning read, but her immersive, intelligent writing – while not in any way belittling what is going on – gives us a ringside seat in the camp where the Greeks are still living. For despite being the victors, they are now imprisoned on the shores where they’ve been living for the past decade…

The unfolding story of what happens within that camp, as political alliances shift and rebalance in the light of the Greek victory, makes a riveting read. I fell in love with beautiful, brave Briseis in The Silence of the Girls and this book has only strengthened my admiration for her. If you enjoyed The Silence of the Girls, then this sequel comes very highly recommended. And if you like the idea of reading a retelling of the Trojan war and haven’t yet done so, then I suggest you look out The Silence of the Girls. This engrossing series gives you a version of the story from the viewpoint of the women caught up in it – something the Greek canon never bothered to do. While I obtained an arc of The Women of Troy from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #WeAreSatellinesbook review

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That cover first attracted me – and then the blurb. Any parent will recognise that opening line as the battlecry their offspring invariably use when they want the latest gismo – and the truth of it snagged my attention. And the fact that Tammy of Books, Bones and Buffy was highlighting it also made me look twice – she has a great knack for sniffing out the special ones…

BLURB: Everybody’s getting one.
Val and Julie just want what’s best for their kids, David and Sophie. So when teenage son David comes home one day asking for a Pilot, a new brain implant to help with school, they reluctantly agree. This is the future, after all. Soon, Julie feels mounting pressure at work to get a Pilot to keep pace with her colleagues, leaving Val and Sophie part of the shrinking minority of people without the device.

Before long, the implications are clear, for the family and society: get a Pilot or get left behind. With government subsidies and no downside, why would anyone refuse? And how do you stop a technology once it’s everywhere? Those are the questions Sophie and her anti-Pilot movement rise up to answer, even if it puts them up against the Pilot’s powerful manufacturer and pits Sophie against the people she loves most.

REVIEW: Initially, I started this one waiting for the family dynamic to twist into something darker… For there to be a hidden, nasty past that would catch up with Val or Julie; for there to be something dire about the children’s origins; for an alien something to come crawling out of the woodwork and capitalise on the Pilot. And I’m delighted to say that nothing like that happened. This book is more intelligently plotted than that.

Instead, it is a real look at a likely scenario that could unfold within our present near-future if an app is invented to increase the brain’s ability to multi-task and focus – and it’s ongoing impact on a specific family over a number of years… And if that sounds a bit dull, or workaday, it isn’t. While this isn’t the book to go to if you want full-on action with lots of explosive battles, the dilemmas created by using the Pilot had me turning the pages waaay into the night to discover how it pans out. And what happens to those who can’t or won’t use the Pilot, once it has been successfully rolled out to most of the population…

I loved both Val and Julie, who are thoughtful, caring parents who want the best for their children and agonise about David’s desperate desire to be able to keep up with his richer classmates. Julie, who works for a high-profile politician, also comes under pressure to acquire a Pilot to keep on top of her boss’s schedule. And then, there’s Val who hates the very idea of having anything so intrusive anywhere near her brain, especially as their daughter, Sophie, will never be able to have one fitted because of her epileptic seizures. We follow their fortunes as the consequences of their difference decisions unspool over a number of years.

The depth of the characterisation, the quality of the narrative arc and the final fallout worked really well for me. In particular, I found David’s plight really poignant – and I would just add a trigger warning for drug abuse and PTSD. I’m aware that I might have made this sound rather drearily worthy. It’s nothing of the sort – there are shafts of humour within the family snark, the prose is punchy and the tight pacing keeps the story rolling forward at a brisk lick. I haven’t encountered this author before – but this certainly won’t be the last time I’ll be reading her work. Highly recommended for both sci fi fans and those who enjoy reading family-centred stories with an unusual dynamic. While I obtained an arc of We Are Satellites from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10