Category Archives: oustanding reads of the year

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy by Hilary Mantel #Brainfluffbookreview #TheMirrorandtheLightbookreview

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I had read the previous two books, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies back in 2014 and had this one on pre-order. And the reason why it has taken so long to get through it, is that it is some thirty-seven listening hours – and I play anything with a dense writing style at a slower speed.

BLURB: England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves. Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?

Once again, we are in Cromwell’s head in present tense, third-person, deep point-of-view. Even though I had read the previous two books and was used to Mantel’s writing style, it still took a couple of paragraphs and reducing the listening speed before I was fully comfortable again in this unique viewpoint. Cromwell is now older and established as King Henry’s chief advisor. We are plunged in the middle of his efforts in ensuring Henry’s marriage to Jane Seymour goes smoothly. For Henry is also older and bitter at Anne Bolyn’s betrayal and the ridicule he is sure he has been exposed to after her infidelities have been noised across Europe. Always a tricky personality, he becomes increasingly difficult to deal with as a leg injury begins to persistently bother him.

Meanwhile, day on day, Cromwell continues to do the work of ten normal men, increasing his efforts to shut down the monasteries, which he regards as corrupt, given his own beliefs that God needs no intermediaries in his daily dealings with his flock. The big problem that Mantel is confronted with in this book is that we all know the ending. This happens to be the period of history I know most about – and yet I found it a complete joy. Mantel’s style allows events to unfold completely from Cromwell’s viewpoint, so we see his interactions with Chapuy, the Spanish ambassador, his run-ins with Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of London, and his warm, affectionate relationship with his nephew, Richard and his own son, Gregory.

Any niggles? I suppose if I was going to be extremely picky, I would mention that the pace does flag slightly after Anne of Cleves comes on the scene – but I personally feel that might be a subconscious desire to back away from the inevitable downfall that ensues. In the event, it is beautifully handled and I came away from this book with a real sense of loss that I will no longer have Ben Miles’ outstanding narration accompanying me in my everyday chores, recounting the life of a remarkable man who rose and fell during the reign of probably the most charismatic king we have ever had. This outstanding book is highly recommended if you enjoy reading, or better still, listening to this particular slice of history. Though whatever you do, please start with Wolf Hall.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #MexicanGothicbookreview

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I am a fan of Moreno-Garcia’s writing – see my reviews of Gods of Jade and Shadow, Certain Dark Things, The Beautiful Ones and Prime Meridian. So when I saw this one was available on Netgalley, I scampered across to request it and was delighted to be approved to read it…

BLURB: After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region. Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.


REVIEW: This one firmly nails its colours to the mast with the very title – Mexican Gothic. So, never mind about the quality of the writing… the characterisation… or even the ingenuity of the plotting – does this book hit all the genre conventions of a classic noir gothic novel? Oh yes – right down to the era, as this book is set in the 1950s. Comparisons have been made with Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and, indeed there are some striking similarities, though equally important differences. We have a large, mouldering house miles away from anywhere and seemingly perpetually shrouded in mist with faded furniture and a musty smell under the fraying grandeur. We also have a hostile and rather creepy housekeeper, though this one is known as Florence, instead of Mrs Danvers. Though her disapproval of our feisty heroine, Noemí, is every bit as prune-faced and sneering. She particularly dislikes her smoking in her room – which back in the 50s was unusual, given that lots of people smoked as a matter of course. And Noemí is also an important difference. Because, let’s face it, the second Mrs de Winter was toe-curlingly wet and naïve. However, Noemí is quite a different proposition. A young debutante who moves amongst the smart set in Mexico City, she is sophisticated, tough-minded and a little spoilt – which in these circumstances is a very good thing…

I love Noemí, who is also intuitive and intelligent with a strong instinct for self preservation under that careless, thrill-seeking exterior. And as forces within the house stir at the prospect of fresh meat, she is confronted with things that would send a less feisty character shrieking into the night… The pacing is a joy. Because the gothic genre requires a slow build-up of tension as things begin to go wrong, steadily gathering momentum as the stakes continue getting higher – until the climax crackles with horror and a real sense that our heroine may well not prevail. This being Moreno-Garcia, I didn’t discount that option, either…

There are some really ugly issues dealt with in this book. The Doyles, an outwardly respectable English family, proud of their unsullied heritage, had to leave England as rumours about their activities became too persistent. They pitch up in this depressed settlement, free to continue their vile practises. Slavery, physical and sexual abuse, murder and the nastiest sort of racism all surface within this story, though there isn’t anything too graphic. But neither does Moreno-Garcia flinch from what goes on, either. Suffice to say there is one of the most magnificently vile antagonists in this book that I’ve encountered in a while. All in all, this is a wonderful example from an author at the top of her game and very highly recommended for fans of gothic horror. While I obtained an arc of Mexican Gothic from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10


*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Set My Heart to Five by Simon Stephenson #BrainfluffNetgalleybookreview #SetMyHeartToFivebookreview

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I was rather taken by both the quirky cover and the even more quirky blurb at a time when reading about anything remotely similar to what is going on around us was unbearable. So I was really pleased to be approved to read this one.

BLURB: 10/10 Jared does not have friends.
Because friends are a function of feelings.
Therefore friends are just one more human obligation that Jared never has to worry about.
But Jared is worrying. Which is worrying. He’s also started watching old films. And inexplicably crying in them. And even his Feelings Wheel (given to him by Dr Glundenstein, who definitely is not a friend) cannot guide him through the emotional minefield he now finds himself in.

REVIEW: The blurb rambles on for a bit longer – but to be honest, I don’t think it is particularly helpful as it manages to omit the bit that is important. Jared is a bot, built and designed to be a dentist – a job the humans in our future society don’t particularly want to do. This is set in the near future, where bot labour does most of the dangerous, difficult tasks. But most bots are encased within fast-growing human bodies and able to communicate fluently and reasonably naturally. The big difference is that they don’t have any feelings – don’t experience boredom, loneliness or unhappiness, or love, friendship and delight. As they are programmed to put human lives above their own, they are ideal as construction workers, firefighters and… dentists. While humans concentrate on creative and artistic pursuits, rather than the soul-sapping jobs they used to do.
Except that Jared starts to feel emotions… The story is told in first-person viewpoint and I absolutely loved the quirky voice of the bot, which I found absolutely enchanting. Though I’m aware it is something of a risk, because if that highly individual voice annoys a prospective reader, it would be impossible to get through this one. As it happens, I fell in love with it.

Naturally, Jared finds the world around him becomes quite a different place, as he learns to navigate the odd sensations assailing him, using the Feelings Wheel that Dr Glundenstein, his sympathetic human friend and neighbour gives him. Dr Glundenstein advises him to go the movies and watch films – not the modern rubbish which is all about killer bots on the rampage – but older films which get shown in small, shabby little cinemas. One of the ongoing delights is trying to identify classic films from Jared’s quirky descriptions throughout this story. As I cared about Jared, I quickly became invested in his story.

It won’t be a huge surprise that this book is actually an exploration of what makes us human, as well as what happens when we start to regard other folks living among us as less than human. While this is an oft-trodden favourite science fiction trope, I thought this particular take on the whole subject interesting and immersive. And while I was grinning through a lot of the book – there were also moments of great tenderness and sadness, with moments of lovely poetic beauty. All in all, this is a real gem and one of my favourite reads of the year so far. Highly recommended for fans of well-told A.I. tales. The ebook arc copy of Set My Heart to Five was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10

April 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging… #BrainfluffApril2020Roundup

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I’m conscious that I’ve never experienced a month like it in the whole of my life – and I’m not sure I ever will again… Or perhaps I will. Perhaps May and June will continue being in social isolation with lots of handwashing and staying at home. But what has kept my head straight is my love of reading and writing – thank goodness for both! I’ve also loved the wonderful sunny weather – it’s been a joy being able to sit in the garden and watch Spring springing… I’m conscious that I am very blessed. And given that none of us can guarantee if we will survive this, I’ve determined to be as thankful for every coming day as I can be. So despite everything, this has been a very precious April.

Reading
I read eighteen books in April, which isn’t quite as marvellous as it sounds, as one of those was a short story and another was a novella. This is the list:

The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey
The Last Emperox – Book 3 of the Interdependency series by John Scalzi
Shorefall – Book 2 of The Founders Trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett
Scythe – Dimension Drift prequel NOVELLA #1 by Christina Bauer
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. This is my EBOOK read of the month
Dead Eye – Book 1 of the Tiger’s Eye Mystery series by Alyssa Day
Arkadian Skies – Book 6 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker
Q by Christina Dalcher
The Hedgeway SHORT STORY by Vivienne Tuffnell
A Little Bit Witchy – Book 1 of the Riddler’s Edge series by A.A. Albright
The Dark Side of the Road – Book 1 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green
Firewalkers by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel. This is my AUDIOBOOK read of the month
The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing – Book 2 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
The Palm Tree Messiah by Sarah Palmer – manuscript read
Witch Dust – Book 1 of the Witch series by Marilyn Messik
Girls of Paper and Fire – Book 1 of Girls of Paper and Fire series by Natasha Ngan
After Seth by Caron Garrod

Writing
I continued working on my Creative Writing How-To Book on Characterisation and I’m pleased with the progress, but I woke up on 11th April with an epiphany about some issues that had been niggling me with Mantivore Warrior – so I dropped my How-To book and immediately dived back into the manuscript to fix it. I’ve learnt from hard experience not to ever put those kinds of moments off – otherwise they pass and I forget!

I have also been working on another project that I’m hoping to be able to discuss in another couple of weeks. I don’t normally flit between so many different writing projects – but right now everything is extraordinary. So it makes sense that my writing patterns would suddenly go AWOL, too… Overall, I wrote just over 43,000 words in April, with just under 17,000 words on my blog and just under 25,500 words going towards my writing projects, which brings my yearly total to just under 180,000 words so far.

Blogging
I have found keeping up with my blog such a source of comfort and encouragement – I know social media can be responsible for some dark acts, but I happen to be fortunate enough to inhabit a really lovely corner, where I meet some of the nicest people on the planet. But that’s not a surprise, because they are readers, or writers, or both. I hope May is a good month for you and that you stay safe. Take care.xxx






*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce #Brainfluffbookreview #YouLetMeInbookreview

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I found the premise rather haunting and clearly full of paranormal content, so I requested this one, looking for something a bit different – I certainly got that, alright…

BLURB: Everyone knew bestselling novelist Cassandra Tipp had twice got away with murder. Even her family were convinced of her guilt. So when she disappears, leaving only a long letter behind, they can but suspect that her conscience finally killed her. But the letter is not what anyone expected. It tells two chilling, darkly disturbing stories. One is a story of bloody nights and magical gifts, of children lost to the woods, of husbands made from twigs and leaves and feathers and bones . . . The other is the story of a little girl who was cruelly treated and grew up crooked in the shadows . . . But which story is true? And where is Cassie now?

Before I go any further – a trigger warning – this book deals with both emotional and sexual child abuse.

The story unfolds in the form of a manuscript, which Cassie has left as an extended letter to her two surviving relatives – her niece and nephew. She talks of her fractured relationship with her mother, who clearly doesn’t like or love her much – and how that washes across and poisons her relationship with her sister, while her big bear of a father watches from across the table and says nothing. Or… from the age of five, Cassie’s life is invaded by a large fae man – Pepper-Man, whom only she can see. Who feeds off her at night, in her bed. Who accompanies her during the day and forces her to break things to distract him from hurting the people around her. He takes her to the fae mound, where she meets more of his kind and she becomes more involved in their community, while her odd behaviour increasingly alienates her from her family.

So this is a story of an unreliable narrator, telling the story from her own viewpoint, directly addressing her readers as ‘you’. Which version do we believe? And yes… if you put yourself in the place of those relatives – that becomes crucially important, as Cassie leaves a doozy of a twist, right at the very end, thus really upping the stakes.

It’s beautifully written. The child is heartbreakingly realised, and whether she wandered into a fae trap and is caught in their wiles; or the victim of sustained abuse at the hands of both parents – it’s a tough place to be. And yet… it isn’t a miserable read. Cassie finds wonder and beauty in the fae world she’s caught up in.

I loved it. The pacing, writing and characterisation is masterful and beguiling. It could so easily have gone horribly wrong. And it didn’t – it’s pitch perfect. This book won’t leave me alone – a sure sign it has wriggled under my skin – and I’ll be looking out for more from this highly talented author. Though I’m not recommending it – because of the nature of the story, only you can decide whether you want to plunge into this world. But I would say, it’s been wonderfully depicted. The ebook arc copy of You Let Me In was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10

My Outstanding Reads of 2019 #Brainfluffbookblogger #2019OutstandingReads

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I have had another stormingly good reading year. The highlight being my immediate love affair with audiobooks, once I got hold of a Kindle Fire which could cope with the selection I’d already bought my dyslexic grandson to encourage him to keep reading. Needless to say, I’ve added to that list…

During 2019 I read 168 books and wrote 129 full reviews, with 26 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give a 10 – but something about these books has stayed with me and won’t let go, which is why they have made the cut. And none of this top ten rubbish – I can’t possibly whittle down my list any further.

 

Oracle’s War – Book 2 of The Olympus series by David Hair and Cath Mayo
I loved the layered characterisation of Odysseus and his complex relationships in this intelligent and politically aware retelling of events leading up to the Trojan War. This one has stayed in my memory and I’ve found myself often thinking about it. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones
I’d read this book before – but listening to the excellent narration by Jonathan Broadbent brought home the darker side of the story. It certainly isn’t a children’s read – as the exploitation of the magic kingdom takes some shocking turns, and while Wynne Jones doesn’t go into graphic detail, they are still there. Riveting and thought provoking. See my review.

 

Atlas Alone – Book 4 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman
This has been one of the outstanding science fiction series of the last few years for me and this latest slice in the adventure held me to the end. Dee’s driven, edgy character is so compelling – Newman writes these tricky protagonists with amazing skill. See my review.

 

Ascending – Book 1 of the Vardeshi Saga by Meg Pechenick
Alien first contact tales are a staple of science fiction, but rarely have they been covered with such skilled detail, featuring such a self-effacing protagonist as Avery. The second book is also an excellent read. See my review.

 

Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Wildest Horse Race by Lara Prior-Palmer
I picked up this true tale of adventure by accident – and I’m so pleased I did. The author opted to take part on a whim and even at the beginning, was clearly not really prepared for what followed. This fascinating account stayed with me throughout the year. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK Mythos: the Greek Myths retold, written and narrated by Stephen Fry
Listening to this offering while decorating the bathroom sweetened hours of tedious work as Fry’s smooth, chatty manner belied the scholarship and rigor that has gone into this retelling. See my review.

 

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
This is probably the most quirky, extraordinary read of this year’s selection. A series of letters between two protagonists on either side of a savage war – think Romeo and Juliet with knobs on – drives the narrative in this beautiful, desperate book. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK A Room Full of Bones – Book 4 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths
This offering took me completely by surprise. In fact, I’d felt rather fed up with Ruth’s struggles in the previous book – but this story took all the ingredients and ramped up the tension to an unexpectedly heart-rending degree that I still think about… See my review.

 

Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence by James Lovelock
The second non-fiction book in this list, I found Lovelock’s take on our future absolutely fascinating and unexpectedly uplifting. Given he is now over a hundred years old and has been working in a variety of scientific fields until very recently, his opinion is worth reading. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK The Empty Grave – Book 5 of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud
This was an unexpected treat. One of Frankie’s chosen series, I wasn’t prepared for the sheer quality of the characterisation and worldbuilding, although I should have been, after thoroughly enjoying the Bartimaeus Trilogy. This final book brought the outstanding series to a triumphant conclusion. It goes without saying that you MUST read the previous four books first. See my review.

 

Sweep of the Blade – Book 4 of the Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
I find this quirky science fiction/fantasy mash-up just goes on getting better and better. I really suffered a profound book hangover after I finished this one – and that doesn’t happen to me all that often. See my review.

 

Circe by Madeline Miller
I’m conscious there is rather a strong Greek myth theme running through this list – but that just goes to show how well-written these books are. And this one is a total joy. The protagonist isn’t pretty or charismatic, so finetunes her magical skills in an effort to prevail alongside sneering relations. And then it all goes wrong… Fabulous, layered characterisation of a powerful woman who has endured a shedload of suffering without it being bleak or self-pitying. See my mini-review.

 

Akin by Emma Donoghue
In these days of serial monogamy and blended families, this interesting, unsentimental book drills down into what – exactly – makes up family. Brilliantly executed and thought provoking. See my review.

 

Lent by Jo Walton
This author is one of the finest, most talented writers in the SFF genre today, so I was thrilled when this one came out. Settling in to read it, I was happily engrossed in 15th century Florence – until a THING happens that changes the whole dynamic. Brilliantly written and completely engrossing, if you were to force me to choose a single outstanding read this year – you’d be a cruel beast for doing so and I’d probably never speak to you again – it would be this one. See my review.

 

AUDIOBOOK How To Fight a Dragon’s Fury – Book 12 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
While I’d read a number of these books to the grandchildren, for one reason or another, I’d never reached the end, so when I realised we had the complete series on Audible, I started listening to the wonderful David Tennant’s narration. And then came the end… I was listening to this one with tears pouring down my face, unable to complete my chores. Epic fantasy of this calibre, written for reluctant primary school readers, is a rarity. Review to follow.

 

AUDIOBOOK To Say Nothing of the Dog – Book 2 of the Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis
This quirky, humorous homage to Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat is funny and completely engrossing – a thumping good listen. I loved it and though it isn’t quite as spectacular as her classic, Doomsday Book, that doesn’t prevent it making this list. See my review.

Have you read any of these offerings? What did you think of them? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these books! Wishing everyone a very happy, book-filled 2020…

Review of KINDLE Ebook Lent by Jo Walton #Brainfluffbookreview #Lentbookreview

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I saw this one was coming out and then had to shut my eyes and look away. Given we suddenly found we needed a new roof in June, costing £20,000, I’d no business buying new books – especially considering the state of my teetering TBR pile. Until Himself realised it was out and bought it for me. No wonder he’s a keeper…

BLURB: Young Girolamo’s life is a series of miracles. It’s a miracle that he can see demons, plain as day, and that he can cast them out with the force of his will. It’s a miracle that he’s friends with Pico della Mirandola, the Count of Concordia. It’s a miracle that when Girolamo visits the deathbed of Lorenzo “the Magnificent,” the dying Medici is wreathed in celestial light, a surprise to everyone, Lorenzo included. It’s a miracle that when Charles VIII of France invades northern Italy, Girolamo meets him in the field, and convinces him to not only spare Florence but also protect it. It’s a miracle than whenever Girolamo preaches, crowds swoon. It’s a miracle that, despite the Pope’s determination to bring young Girolamo to heel, he’s still on the loose… and, now, running Florence in all but name.
That’s only the beginning. Because Girolamo Savanarola is not who—or what—he thinks he is. He will discover the truth about himself at the most startling possible time.

I’ve knocked off the last line of the blurb, which inexplicably saw fit to give away the big plot twist that occurs about a quarter of the way through this compelling book, that suddenly changes the whole dynamic.

Anyone who has spent time here will know my views on Jo Walton’s writing – she’s a genius, possibly the greatest SFF writer of her generation. She is also difficult to put into any kind of pigeonhole, because the only thing I can safely say is that the next writing project she embarks upon will be completely different to its predecessor. And I’m delighted she has found a home with Tor.com who clearly appreciate her mighty talent and don’t seem to mind her lack of ‘author branding’.

So after her wonderful exploration of Plato’s Republic, in her Thessaly trilogy – see my review of The Just City; her reimagining of Victorian capitalism using dragons as her protagonists in Tooth and Claw; her award-winning evocation of an upbringing in a boarding school after losing a horrific duel in the remarkable book, Among Others; her glorious version of the Arthurian legend through her dauntless female knight in her Tiri Tanagiri duology – see my review of The King’s Peace; and her exploration of personal courage in the face of overwhelming odds in her Small Change trilogy examining an alternative history where Nazi Germany prevails against the UK – see my review of Farthing – I was intrigued to discover what Lent would offer in the way of Walton wonder.

It is the examination of the final years of Girolamo Savanarola, an extraordinary critic of the corrupt practices of the Catholic Church during the height of the Renaissance in Florence. He was a charismatic leader of an increasingly vocal faction who wanted the Church to change its ways, well known for the famous Bonfire of the Vanities. Walton’s unfussy prose painted this period, full of delightful details, with her customary vividness, which I enjoyed. And then the plot twist happened. I didn’t see it coming, so dropped my precious Kindle and said something equating to, ‘Goodness me, what a surprise!’ and couldn’t put the book down until I fell asleep with it in my arms.

At a stroke this book, vividly depicting character at a fascinating stage in Italian history, turned into something else – something more visceral and poignant. One of the hardest things for modern historians to capture is the desperate importance that religion played in the lives of our ancestors. Many fiction writers don’t even attempt it, while the better ones manage to give us a taste of the stakes, where Purgatory and Hell waited for the foolish, unwary and sinful with everlasting agony. Walton takes us right inside that dread and vividly recreates those terrors for us.

This isn’t an action-filled, foot-to-the-floor adventure, but if you enjoy being taken to a different time and place, where the rules are brutally different, then give this one a go. And whatever you do, don’t give up until you get to that plot twist…

Highly recommended. This is my book of the year, so far.
11/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK A Room Full of Bones – Book 4 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths #Brainfluffbookreview #ARoomFullofBonesaudiobookreview

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I had seen this one on special offer on Audible and as this is a series I’m currently enjoying – see my review of The Crossing Places, it seemed like a good idea to get hold of it. Would I enjoy listening to these characters as much I relish reading about them, though?

It is Halloween night, and the local museum in King’s Lynn is preparing for an unusual event – the opening of a coffin containing the bones of a medieval bishop. But when Ruth Galloway arrives to supervise, she finds a nasty surprise waiting for her…

And yes – I’ve heavily truncated the blurb which is far too chatty and this occult-tinged thriller is far too good to spoil by knowing a raft of major plotpoints in advance. I needn’t have worried about whether I’d enjoy listening to this one – I absolutely loved it. Jane McDowell does an excellent job with the narration as Ruth’s dry humour came through particularly well. This is my favourite book of the series so far. That gothic element Griffiths is fond of introducing into her stories this time around works magnificently well. I loved the way the plot steps over into paranormal, before Griffiths then provides an alternative, more mundane explanation – while still giving the reader the option of which one she’d prefer to go with…

Griffiths’ superpower is characterisation and she gets under the skin of her character cast wonderfully well, to the extent that she is able to introduce contradictory traits in her protagonists without it jarring. In short, she is thoroughly at home with these people so they ping off the page in effortless three-dimensional detail that I love.

I found Ruth’s ongoing struggle to keep working while bringing up her small daughter all too familiar – and massive kudos to Griffiths for choosing to highlight this under-represented issue in her series. While the previous book left me feeling a bit tetchy at her hand-wringing over whether she was good enough – this time, her gritted determination to protect her daughter leads her to a heart-breaking dilemma.

As for the storyline – this time around, it kept delivering twists I simply didn’t see coming and made more memorable, compelling listening. After I’d finished putting the final coat on the bathroom cupboard at 10.30 pm, I sat in the kitchen and listened a while longer as there was simply no way I could switch off my Kindle without knowing what would happen next. In amongst the unexpected deaths, Griffiths also tackles the issue of bones held by museums and universities that were collected during the UK’s colonial era that their indigenous descendants now want back. I really liked

Ruth’s discomfort as she considers the arguments. In short – there wasn’t a single aspect of this book that I could fault. The characters and setting – Griffith’s strengths – worked every bit as well as I’ve come to expect, but in addition the plotting and handling of the climactic scenes which in the past have tipped into melodrama, this time around were dealt with really well.

This is one of my favourite reads of the year so far.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Hidden World – Book 3 of the Imperials series by Melinda M. Snodgrass #Brainfluffbookreview #TheHiddenWorldbookreview

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I’ve loved this series. It starts off with all the necessary elements expected to make an enjoyable space opera coming-of-age story in the first book, The High Ground – see my review here. But events suddenly takes a left turn and what I thought would be a romance between the two main protagonists – the tailor’s son and the princess – turns out to be anything but…

Fourteen years have passed and former military officer Thracius “Tracy” Belmanor has built a new life for himself. Living under an assumed name as the captain of a small trading vessel crewed primarily by aliens, he and his crew engage in both legal and illegal deals just under the radar of the Solar League authorities. At the other end of the social hierarchy, Princess Mercedes de Arango has her own problems. With rumors of a coup swirling around the throne, Mercedes makes the desperate decision to undertake a military campaign and gain her people’s allegiance through a victory – though things don’t go according to plan…

I have seriously doctored the blurting blurb so those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading the first two books in this delightful series won’t find your experience spoiled. Once more, I’ve enjoyed being able to examine this society by looking at both the highest level and someone bumping along reasonably near the bottom. The crew often are asked to leave eating places where aliens are not welcome to eat alongside humans.

Mercedes’ life isn’t any easier, despite her more high-end lifestyle. She has problems regarding the succession and her fraying relationship with her husband – so when a commander-in-chief is required for a major military sortie to deal with a major threat to humanity, she is the obvious choice. Indeed, she is delighted to get the chance to go…

Tracy is suitably grumpy and hard-edged, given he is somewhat bitter at the hand Life dealt him, which makes him less likeable than Mercedes. But his courage, ability to act effectively under fire and his own unshakeable moral compass have firmly put me on his side. While I always loved Mercedes and still find her really appealing, so I was sad to see her rather ground down by the passing years and a life that had nibbled away her sense of worth. So it was lovely to see her grow into the person she was always meant to be…

This space opera still has the necessary political plotting, space battles and tension required to tick the genre expectations – with the icing on the cake being the really grown-up characterisation that makes these two protagonists such a delight. However, I firmly recommend that you read this series in order – while you undoubtedly could work out what is going on and treat each one as a standalone, the overarching narrative running across the books is the engine that powers this series. Very highly recommended for space opera fans who enjoy nuanced, well depicted characters.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – There is no friend as loyal as a book… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is something STRIPED – and I officially declare myself beaten. The only cover I found I didn’t like all that much, anyway. So I decided to play a WILD CARD that Lynn has suggested we use – and I’ve featured a book that I loved – The Stone Sky – Book 3 of The Broken Earth series by the mighty N.K. Jemisin.

 

This edition was produced by Orbit in August 2017. I love this cover and it’s my favourite. The intense colours are beautiful and the artwork otherworldly and haunting. Small wonder this cover is the default with only a few exceptions. I even like the rather ordinary font, which this time around works well. Of course, it could just be that I was so blown away by the intense reading experience I encountered when diving into this book that I’m somewhat biased.

 

Published in September 2018 by J’ai Lu, I really like this French edition. The intense blue of the sky, the great orb hanging in the sky below and those stones breaking the soil at odd angles give this cover eye appeal and correlate with the book’s story. What absolutely doesn’t work are those ugly white textboxes bisecting the artwork. The effect looks like two strips of paper with the typewritten information have been stuck across the covers – what a shame!

 

This Hungarian edition, published by Agave Könyvek in August 2018 has gone back to the colours of the default cover, but taken a less abstract approach. The result is a really cool, very attractive cover. If this had been the cover of my reading copy, I think I would have been more torn, because I think it is very effective. As it is, it comes a close second.

 

Produced by Subterranean Press in September 2018, this is also a very attractive, powerful offering. I like the way it features the two main protagonists – the mother and her lost daughter and having that beautiful triangular text box slicing them apart works really well. The other thing I love about this cover – Jemisin has clearly written these characters as black and I’m delighted the publishers have featured them as such.

 

This Chinese edition, published by 天地出版社 in March 2018 is another strong offering. I love the image of the skyscape where it looks as though you could actually step on those clouds in shades of an attractive tangerine. The downside for me is that black textbox slammed across the bottom of the cover, cutting off the rest of the artwork. There also seems to be a great deal of chatter across the cover – but as my understanding of Chinese isn’t worth a nocked nail, it may well be the explanation might be necessary to an audience unused to the genre, so I’ll give them a pass on that.
Which is your favourite?