Category Archives: outstanding books

SUNDAY POST – 29th January, 2023 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books they’ve read and share what they have got up to during the last week.

I really should know better… Last week I was celebrating the fact that I’d not had a Long Covid relapse since November – and from Wednesday through to Friday I was back in bed, again. The good news is that it wasn’t longer and although I felt a bit washed out yesterday, I wasn’t shaky and sick – which is a good result.

It’s been another tough week, what with one thing and another – but the light shining in amongst the dark is that my son and his girlfriend have just moved from L.A. to Germany, which is so much closer to us here in the UK. And the reason why is that Zoe, having had a fabulous season playing with the Texas Longhorn’s volleyball team that came top of their league, has now signed up with Munster and played her first professional match against Aachen last night. I don’t know how that went, as I’m writing this on Saturday morning – but my thoughts are with her.

We are just emerging from over a fortnight of freezing nights and bitterly cold days – though at least the rain finally stopped. It’s now slowly warming up – it’s been a treat not to have to thaw out the car before leaping in to ferry the grandsons to various places, as the taxicab of Gran and Papa is in great demand. If only we could charge them – that would set up our pensions into our old age!!

Last week, I got more reading done, particularly audiobooks as lying in bed and listening was all I was fit for. You’ll notice that apart from one Netgalley read, all the books I turned to were by trusted, favourite authors – I wanted the comfort of a solidly written, escapist read and they all delivered, bless them. Thank goodness for books – I’d have gone raving into the night years ago if it wasn’t for my love of reading!

Last week I read:-

Cast Adrift – Book 1 of the Cast Adrift series by Christopher G. Nuttall
Five hundred years ago, the human race discovered it was not alone in the universe when Earth was invaded and forcibly integrated by the Alphan Empire. Over the years, humans have grown used to their position within the empire, serving as soldiers and spacers for alien masters as well as building a place in the universe for themselves. But now, in the aftermath of a violent interstellar war that shattered the power of the Alphans, humanity has rediscovered its pride. Humanity wants to be free.

Facing a war they will lose even if they win, the Alphans give humanity its independence once again. Humanity stands alone in a hostile universe, facing alien threats that regard humans as nothing more than servants – or weaklings, easy meat for armed conquest. And if the human race cannot learn to stand on its own two feet, without its masters, it will rapidly discover that it has traded one set of masters for another …

… And if they lose the coming war, all hope of independence will die with it.
Nuttall is one of my favourite authors. I loved his School of Magic series, as he is clearly a history buff and likes to explore possibilities based on real historical incidents and the progression of the series is smart and inventive. This is a classic alien invasion story – with a bit of a twist. Thoroughly enjoyable and I’m looking forward to tucking into the next one. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK – Hidden Truth – Book 2 of the Truth series by Dawn Cook
Alissa never believed in magic. But then she went to the Hold, a legendary fortress where human Keepers once learned magic from enigmatic Masters. Under the tutelage of the last surviving Master, Alissa discovered that she had inherited her father’s magical ability.

But the Hold is ruled by Bailic, the renegade Keeper who seized the First Truth, a book of magic he will use to harness the might of the city of the dead and wreak a war of total devastation. The book has thwarted Bailic’s every attempt to access it, while it continually calls to Alissa—who must summon all her will to resist it. For if she gives in to the First Truth’s ultimate power and knowledge, she will be utterly changed—and the man she loves could be lost to her forever.
This is a series I discovered on Audible before I realised that Dawn Cook is also the pen name of urban fantasy author Kim Harrison – and it shows in the smart character progression and magnificently nasty villain. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this book, though I do find the simpering, ringleted female on the cover rather annoying, given it’s supposed to be Alissa, who isn’t remotely like that. That said, I’m looking forward to tucking into the next book in the series as I can’t wait to discover what happens next. 9/10

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Fairies – Book 1 of the Emily Wilde series by Heather Fawcett
Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world’s first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party–or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.

So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, get in the middle of Emily’s research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.

But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones–the most elusive of all faeries–lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she’ll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all–her own heart.
This book is essentially Emily’s journal as she undertakes a field trip in order to discover more about the mysterious Hidden Ones in order to complete her encyclopaedia. I love her ongoing grumpiness and her narrow focus on her studies – as well as her regular rants about Wendell. While aspects of this plot are entirely predictable, I wasn’t sure some of the major characters were actually going to survive. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK – Diplomatic Immunity – Book 13 of the Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold
A rich Komarran merchant fleet has been impounded at Graf Station, in distant Quaddiespace, after a bloody incident on the station docks involving a security officer from the convoy’s Barrayaran military escort. Lord Miles Vorkosigan of Barrayar and his wife, Lady Ekaterin, have other things on their minds, such as getting home in time to attend the long-awaited births of their first children. But when duty calls in the voice of Barrayar’s Emperor Gregor, Miles, Gregor’s youngest Imperial Auditor (a special high-level troubleshooter) has no choice but to answer.

Waiting on Graf Station are diplomatic snarls, tangled loyalties, old friends, new enemies, racial tensions, lies and deceptions, mysterious disappearances, and a lethal secret with wider consequences than even Miles anticipates: a race with time for life against death in horrifying new forms. The downside of being a troubleshooter comes when trouble starts shooting back…
I read the whole series longer ago than I care to recall – but do remember that while I always enjoyed Miles and his madcap adventures, it was the later books after his Admiral Naismith days that I particularly loved. So picked this one up on a bit of a whim – and found it utterly gripping. I’d forgotten enough of the twisting plot that I once more was engrossed – as well as being impressed all over again by the sheer quality of the writing. I’ll be listening to more of this series, which has certainly stood the test of time and reminds me why this author has won so many awards for her writing. 10/10

Range of Ghosts – Book 1 of the Eternal Sky series by Elizabeth Bear
Temur, grandson of the Great Khan, is walking away from a battlefield where he was left for dead. All around lie the fallen armies of his cousin and his brother, who made war to rule the Khaganate. Temur is now the legitimate heir by blood to his grandfather’s throne, but he is not the strongest. Going into exile is the only way to survive his ruthless cousin.

Once-Princess Samarkar is climbing the thousand steps of the Citadel of the Wizards of Tsarepheth. She was heir to the Rasan Empire until her father got a son on a new wife. Then she was sent to be the wife of a Prince in Song, but that marriage ended in battle and blood. Now she has renounced her worldly power to seek the magical power of the wizards. These two will come together to stand against the hidden cult that has so carefully brought all the empires of the Celadon Highway to strife and civil war through guile and deceit and sorcerous power.

Bear is another favourite author – and this stunning first book in this epic fantasy series is a gem that deserves to be better known. I was immediately swept up in the savage aftermath of a terrible battle and couldn’t put this one down until the final scene, as the vivid writing and charismatic characters held me throughout. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – The Princess Paradigm by Lindsay Buroker
Then a fearsome warrior from the human empire arrives, a supposed diplomat. Mrothgar is tattooed, muscled, and looks like he’d rather slay elves than befriend them, but he takes an interest in Hysithea. He invites her to accompany him back to his land to visit its great libraries.

As an academic and a historian, Hysithea is tantalized by the offer, but she’s studied his language and overhears his true intent:
Mrothgar is there to gather intelligence on the elves as his emperor prepares an invasion force to conquer them. Hysithea has no choice but to join him, hoping to spy and find a way to sabotage the invasion. Her people need her, and this is her chance to atone for the past.

But Mrothgar is smarter than she realized, and those muscles and tattoos are more intriguing than they should be. Against her wishes, Hysithea finds herself drawn to him. And that’s a problem. She can’t save her people if she falls in love with the man who wants to conquer them.

The Princess Paradigm is set after the events of The Elf Tangent, and brings in a few familiar characters, but it is a complete stand-alone fantasy romance novel (no cliffhangers!) and can be read on its own.
I’ll be honest – if I had to judge this one by its blurb alone, then I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. But… it’s Lindsay Buroker, people! And besides, I’ve already listened to the wonderfully entertaining The Elf Tangent, so I knew how much romance versus fantasy adventure I was getting. And it didn’t disappoint. I love the world with its interesting backstory about the Elvish curse so recently lifted and how that is affecting the humans and their own complex politics. This was often funny, yet also poignant and I loved that Epilogue. I do hope Buroker revisits this beguiling world, as I want more. 9/10

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 22nd January, 2023

As you can see, it wasn’t a good week for blogging, or much else – come to think of it. Hoping this week will be a better one and wishing you all a happy, healthy week😊.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc City of Last Chances by Adrian Tchaikovsky #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #CityofLastChancesbookreview

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I’m a huge fan of Tchaikovsky’s writing – there are few SFF authors whose prolific output encompasses such a varied range of topics and styles. See my reviews of Children of Time, The Tiger and the Wolf – Book 1 of the Echoes of the Fall series, Redemption’s Blade: After the War, The Expert System’s Brother, Ironclads, Dogs of War, The Doors of Eden, Firewalkers, Cage of Souls Guns of Dawn, Shards of Earth – Book 1 of the Architects of Earth series and Spiderlight to get a feel for the sheer variety of his writing. So this offering piqued my interest, along with the glorious cover.

BLURB: There has always been a darkness to Ilmar, but never more so than now. The city chafes under the heavy hand of the Palleseen occupation, the choke-hold of its criminal underworld, the boot of its factory owners, the weight of its wretched poor and the burden of its ancient curse.

What will be the spark that lights the conflagration? Despite the city’s refugees, wanderers, murderers, madmen, fanatics and thieves, the catalyst, as always, will be the Anchorwood – that dark grove of trees, that primeval remnant, that portal, when the moon is full, to strange and distant shores. Ilmar, some say, is the worst place in the world and the gateway to a thousand worse places.

Ilmar,
City of Long Shadows.
City of Bad Decisions.
City of Last Chances.

REVIEW: This story unfolds via multiple viewpoints, with italicised inserts in semi-omniscient point of view. So as the situation within the city steadily deteriorates, while we follow the fortunes of a handful of its citizens from various walks of life, there are also short sections covering a number of characters who only make fleeting appearances and then are gone, not to return. It takes significant technical skill to successfully pull off this type of structure without either losing the reader’s interest or sympathy. Fortunately, Tchaikovsky has that skill – to the extent that I was hooked throughout, even though this is far from my favourite narrative style.

What makes it work is that Ilmar is a fascinating society. In many ways, it’s all too familiar for those of us who studied the likes of Manchester and London during the Industrial Revolution, with the same wretched working conditions for far too many of the population. Then Tchaikovsky adds a twist that demons are also enslaved within factories by the kings of the Underworld, contracted to use their mighty strength and stamina to power the machines that are turning out uniforms for the invading soldiers. For Ilmar is also a city under occupation by a totalitarian regime that is obsessed with bringing Perfection to an imperfect world. And of course, the only way to do that is to conquer all those imperfect states and corral their culture, religion and way of life to the striving for Perfection, right down to altering their language.

In addition to the conquered aristocrats that in theory are running much of the city much of time, despite the occupation – there is also a powerful underclass of criminal gangs that are constantly fighting for supremacy. And one of the places where that battle particularly plays out is in the deserted areas of the city, where not even the occupying Palleseens venture called The Reproach. Ilmar was originally built far too close to a vast forest where vicious, enchanted beings live and the then ruling family made a dynastic pact with the denizens of this wood, which turned them dangerously peculiar. So they were slaughtered in favour of the Duke. But instead of doing the decent thing and fading decorously into the history books, the court of the ruling family is still… alive. And anyone wandering in the wrong part of the woods at the wrong time is apt to be subsumed into their court, to dance until they die, while inhabited by the consciousness of ancient, aristocratic family members.

This could so easily have been a rather charming, fey read. It isn’t. This world is peopled by folks eking out a living in a dangerous society, who have survived by putting themselves first. The powerplays amongst those running the city are all about personal advancement over the wellbeing of those they are responsible for – the Palleseens aren’t too fussy about killing Ilmar’s citizens, anyway. So don’t expect a cast of characters who are either wholly good or bad – everyone is doing the best they can to stay alive, except for a handful carried away by the old stories of glory, who want to see the end of the current occupation. I found it a riveting read, that – despite the grim situation and casual violence – isn’t remotely dreary. I suspect Tchaikovsky’s vivid descriptions, strong control of his narrative drive and flashes of dark humour has a lot to do with that.

As ever when completing one of Tchaikovsky’s books, I came away from this one thinking a lot about the themes of social injustice, the nature of good and evil and what it takes to live a decent life in difficult times. Highly recommended for those who enjoy their fantasy layered with social commentary amidst a vibrantly depicted society. While I obtained an audiobook arc of City of Last Chances from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc The Immortality Thief by Taran Hunt – Book 1 of The Kystrom Chronicles #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheImmortalityThiefbookreview

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I’m always a sucker for a cracking good space opera thriller – and the cover and the blurb had me looking forward to this offering. Would it deliver?

BLURB: Refugee, criminal and linguist Sean Wren is made an offer he knows he can’t refuse: life in prison, “voluntary” military service – or salvaging data in a long-dead language from an abandoned ship filled with traps and monsters, just days before it’s destroyed in a supernova. Data connected to the Philosopher’s Stone experiments, into unlocking the secrets of immortality.

And he’s not the only one looking for the derelict ship. The Ministers, mysterious undying aliens that have ruled over humanity for centuries, want the data – as does The Republic, humanity’s last free government. And time is running out. In the bowels of the derelict ship, surrounded by horrors and dead men, Sean slowly uncovers the truth of what happened on the ship, in its final days… and the terrible secret it’s hiding.

REVIEW: I’ll be honest – when I finally got around to reading this one, I wasn’t really in the mood for a creepy deserted space ship, which I’ll own is my problem rather than anything wrong with the writing. So it’s a testament to the author’s skill that by the time I was a quarter of the way into this one, I was thoroughly hooked.

The reason why I found myself so wrapped up in this adventure is that I became thoroughly invested in Sean. The main protagonist is masterfully handled by Hunt. In the early stages of the book, I found him hard work. His ‘cheeky chappie’ façade started to wear thin very quickly – and by their reactions, I realised the other crew of Viper felt much the same way. But as the book wore on, I began to appreciate that Sean’s wisecracking, irreverent attitude hides a deep belief in the sanctity of life. And a strong sense that the dumb stroke of luck that allowed him to survive the massacre of his family, friends and neighbours has left him with a need to pass it on whenever he finds someone wanting help. Hunt does a really good job in conveying this belief without portraying Sean as some futuristic Pollyanna.

I also got thoroughly caught up in learning more about the two other characters Sean finds himself sharing his terrifying adventures with – initially, they both seem utterly horrible and extremely dangerous. In fact, they remain extremely dangerous throughout, which provides some interesting plot twists along the way. I’m aware that I’ve only really discussed the characters – but this is principally an action adventure novel, brimful of action set on a derelict space ship on the brink of catastrophic disaster. And it provides plenty of tension and nasty surprises along the way, which makes for an engrossing page-turner I found hard to put down.

A completely unexpected twist right at the end has me keen to read the next book in this series and it comes very highly recommended for fans of tension-filled space opera adventure with memorable, excellently portrayed characters. While I obtained an audiobook arc of The Immortality Thief from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID – 23

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This is my update on how I’m coping with Long Covid now it’s been nearly eighteen months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

This is something of a momentous post. I’ve taken the decision that this will be the final Sunday Post where I’ll be focusing on the Long Covid that I’ve been dealing with since I got sick with Covid-19, back on 6th March 2021. That’s not to say I’m fully recovered. Yesterday, I needed to take it really easy as I suddenly ran out of energy the previous evening. But while I must always take into consideration how I’m feeling – the constant exhaustion that once blanketed me and turned me into a bedridden invalid is no longer defining my life and every single action I take. I will be writing another post, where I’ll sum up my experience with Long Covid and include the things that helped and those that didn’t. But unless I have a catastrophic relapse (fingers crossed that doesn’t happen!!) my regular account of my struggles with the ‘weird beast’, as my doctor calls it, are now ending. I want to thank everyone here. Many of you have been so supportive with encouraging words, while some have even been praying for me. Not being able to leave the house for months meant that all my interactions were online – and your kind comments and the knowledge that you were there and cared at a time when I didn’t know if I’d ever get better often gave me a burst of positivity and courage when I most needed it. Thank you, all of you, for being here and letting me know that you were thinking of me. Book people are the best😊.

We are now busy getting ready for school, as Oscar goes back tomorrow. He’s not looking forward to it, but I’m hoping that once he gets back into the swing of the daily routine, he will find it’s not quite as bad as he thinks. Ethan finished his summer job yesterday and resumes college next week. We are thrilled that he got a Distinction for his final first year project, which is such an achievement given his severe dyslexia.

I’m not quite sure where the summer went – I’m sure that when I was a girl, six weeks lasted a lot longer. Given the shoddy quality of politicians these days, I wouldn’t be surprised if the scallywags in the Government have gone and devalued the length of days behind our backs. It seems the sort of shifty nonsense they’d get up to. While the weather is now pleasantly cooler, we are still seeing plenty of sunshine, with temperatures in the high 60s and low 70s during the day. I just wish we were getting more rain – which is something I never thought I’d say…

Last week I read:-

AUDIOBOOK – Her Majesty’s Royal Coven – Book 1 of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven series by Juno Dawson, narrated by Nicola Coughlan
If you look hard enough at old photographs, we’re there in the background: healers in the trenches; Suffragettes; Bletchley Park oracles; land girls and resistance fighters. Why is it we help in times of crisis? We have a gift. We are stronger than Mundanes, plain and simple.

At the dawn of their adolescence, on the eve of the summer solstice, four young girls–Helena, Leonie, Niamh and Elle–took the oath to join Her Majesty’s Royal Coven, established by Queen Elizabeth I as a covert government department. Now, decades later, the witch community is still reeling from a civil war and Helena is now the reigning High Priestess of the organization. Yet Helena is the only one of her friend group still enmeshed in the stale bureaucracy of HMRC. Elle is trying to pretend she’s a normal housewife, and Niamh has become a country vet, using her powers to heal sick animals. In what Helena perceives as the deepest betrayal, Leonie has defected to start her own more inclusive and intersectional coven, Diaspora. And now Helena has a bigger problem. A young warlock of extraordinary capabilities has been captured by authorities and seems to threaten the very existence of HMRC. With conflicting beliefs over the best course of action, the four friends must decide where their loyalties lie: with preserving tradition, or doing what is right.
This has been one of the reading highlights of the summer. I’ve been suffering from a real book hangover since I finished listening to this one. The cracking story with plenty of drama and magic, alongside relevant contemporary issues has left me yearning for the next one in the series. Very highly recommended. 10/10

Witchy Reservations: A Paranormal Cozy Mystery – Book 1 of the Mystic Inn Mystery series by Stephanie Damore
There’s nothing practical about magic—which is why I ditched my wand years ago.

Thirteen years, to be exact. The day I left Silverlake.

Except now, a family emergency has called me back home, and quite frankly, I’d rather be anywhere but here. But when my aunt raises her wand to cure a friend and he ends up dead, it becomes abundantly clear I’m not leaving anytime soon.
This cosy murder mystery is escapist fun with plenty of twists and suspects along the way. I liked the engaging protagonist, whose first-person narrative makes the story go with a swing. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK – The Accidental Alchemist – Book 1 of The Accidental Alchemist series by Gigi Pandian, narrated by Julia Motyka
Unpacking her belongings in her new hometown of Portland, Oregon, herbalist and reformed alchemist Zoe Faust can’t help but notice she’s picked up a stowaway. Dorian Robert-Houdin is a living, breathing three-and-half-foot gargoyle – not to mention a master of French cuisine – and he needs Zoe’s expertise to decipher a centuries-old text. Zoe, who’s trying to put her old life behind her, isn’t so sure she wants to reopen her alchemical past… until the dead man on her porch leaves her no choice.

Includes recipes!
This is huge fun. And I loved the fact that the very scrummy-sounding recipes are all vegan😊. Apart from the food, other enjoyable ingredients are a quirky gargoyle, nicely snarky teenagers and a sympathetic protagonist with a long, sad past, who is desperate to escape official notice. I really cared for the characters and enjoyed listening to this one, as Portlanders begin to succumb to mysterious poisoning. 8/10

The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean
Out on the Yorkshire Moors lives a secret line of people for whom books are food, and who retain all of a book’s content after eating it. To them, spy novels are a peppery snack; romance novels are sweet and delicious. Eating a map can help them remember destinations, and children, when they misbehave, are forced to eat dry, musty pages from dictionaries.

Devon is part of The Family, an old and reclusive clan of book eaters. Her brothers grow up feasting on stories of valor and adventure, and Devon—like all other book eater women—is raised on a carefully curated diet of fairytales and cautionary stories.

But real life doesn’t always come with happy endings, as Devon learns when her son is born with a rare and darker kind of hunger—not for books, but for human minds.
This is another reading highlight – I really have had a wonderful reading week. This dark fantasy packs a punch – it grabbed me by the collar and wouldn’t let go. I’ve seen comparisons with The Handmaid’s Tale and while I don’t agree, as there are far too many significant differences, I can see why some readers went there. Review to follow.

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m beginning to be able to visit more sites, although it all depends on whether I’ve enough energy – so I appreciate your patience if you’ve dropped by and I haven’t immediately responded. Take care and have a lovely week.

Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK Her Majesty’s Royal Coven – Book 1 of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven series by Juno Dawson #BrainfluffNETGALLEYaudiobookreview #HerMajestysRoyalCovenbookreview

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I saw the title and cover and immediately requested this one. It seemed like such a very cool premise and with that pink, I was sure I was getting a reasonably light book to listen to. So I was delighted to be approved – however, this one wasn’t what I was expecting…

BLURB: If you look hard enough at old photographs, we’re there in the background: healers in the trenches; Suffragettes; Bletchley Park oracles; land girls and resistance fighters. Why is it we help in times of crisis? We have a gift. We are stronger than Mundanes, plain and simple.

At the dawn of their adolescence, on the eve of the summer solstice, four young girls–Helena, Leonie, Niamh and Elle–took the oath to join Her Majesty’s Royal Coven, established by Queen Elizabeth I as a covert government department. Now, decades later, the witch community is still reeling from a civil war and Helena is now the reigning High Priestess of the organization. Yet Helena is the only one of her friend group still enmeshed in the stale bureaucracy of HMRC. Elle is trying to pretend she’s a normal housewife, and Niamh has become a country vet, using her powers to heal sick animals. In what Helena perceives as the deepest betrayal, Leonie has defected to start her own more inclusive and intersectional coven, Diaspora. And now Helena has a bigger problem. A young warlock of extraordinary capabilities has been captured by authorities and seems to threaten the very existence of HMRC. With conflicting beliefs over the best course of action, the four friends must decide where their loyalties lie: with preserving tradition, or doing what is right.

REVIEW: Looking at the shocking pink cover of the audiobook, I’d assumed that I was getting a reasonably light-hearted exploration of witchcraft and what it means to be a woman in the contemporary world. It’s nothing of the sort. Instead, nested within a cracking story that had me listening far later than I should, is a searing and comprehensive examination of female loyalties and expectations within our modern society. Just because the four young women are imbued with powerful magic, they aren’t insulated from the pressures the rest of us wrestle with on a daily basis. Issues such as dealing with chauvinist and abusive behaviour, racism, juggling work with motherhood, the push/pull of whether to settle down to have a family or prioritise a chosen career are all very recognisable problems also experienced by us non-magical Mundanes. In addition to dealing with these ongoing life decisions – our four protagonists are also still recovering from a savage war within the magical community between those who believed the magically gifted should be ruling the world and those who felt the status quo should prevail. Two of our heroines lost partners in the conflict, while Niamh’s twin sister was also on the opposing side, so the cost was high.

When a young, traumatised warlock is discovered after a destructive fire, Helena and Niamh initially agree on a course of action. However, as events unfold, the former allies suddenly find themselves on opposing sides of an issue that is also ripping apart Feminists – that of transgenderism. It was brilliant to see this difficult, emotive topic so effectively covered within a gripping tale, where both sides of the argument were so well covered.

I’m conscious that I’ve given the impression that this is a worthy story, full of pertinent issues that affect modern women within Western society. But what I’ve perhaps omitted to tell you is that all this goes on within a wonderful tale full of drama and some fabulous action scenes, shot through with wry humour that occasionally had me laughing aloud. And there was one particular scene that had me close to tears. The book also finishes on a doozy of a plot twist that has me desperate to read the sequel RIGHT NOW – because I’ve got to know my all-time favourite character is alright. In short, this is a fabulous tale that gives us four nuanced, believable characters facing familiar and contemporary problems with an extra, complicating twist of magic that makes the story leap off the page. I can’t wait to get hold of the next book. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an audiobook arc of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheMonstersWeDefybookreview

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It was the cover of this offering that caught my eye – it’s just so very attractive. But then I read the blurb and knew I wanted to read it. I’m a sucker for the 1920s era – and I loved the spiritualist element of this fantasy heist adventure.

BLURB: Washington D. C., 1925

Clara Johnson talks to spirits, a gift that saved her during her darkest moments in a Washington D. C. jail. Now a curse that’s left her indebted to the cunning spirit world. So, when the Empress, the powerful spirit who holds her debt, offers her an opportunity to gain her freedom, a desperate Clara seizes the chance. The task: steal a magical ring from the wealthiest woman in the District.

Clara can’t pull off this daring heist alone. She’ll need help from an unlikely team, from a jazz musician capable of hypnotizing with a melody to an aging vaudeville actor who can change his face, to pull off the impossible. But as they encounter increasingly difficult obstacles, a dangerous spirit interferes at every turn. Conflict in the spirit world is leaking into the human one and along D.C’.s legendary Black Broadway, a mystery unfolds—one that not only has repercussions for Clara but all of the city’s residents.

REVIEW: This is a cracking read. I thoroughly enjoyed Clara’s spiky character. She is short-fused and in the habit of pushing away people, though that doesn’t stop her from helping those who seek her out. Given her gift, she could so easily have been portrayed as a noble, self-sacrificing heroine, brimful of the desire to help her fellows. While that is what she does – because she is so crotchety about it, I found her far more appealing. Especially when those around her make it their business to break through the façade she has erected – and we are shown just how vulnerable she actually is.

As well as Clara being a thoroughly sympathetic protagonist, the pacing was pretty much perfect. In any historical adventure, there is always a balance between giving the reader sufficient period details to make the background believable and ensuring the narrative moves along at a reasonable clip. Penelope nailed it, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve read several books recently featuring a POC protagonist and this was right up there with the best in portraying the casual and unthinking racism that was rife at that time. Indeed, it is part of the ongoing difficulty stacking up against Clara and her associates that a black person finds it hazardous to try and travel to certain parts of the city. Not only does this aid the narrative in upping the stakes – it is a visceral reminder of the extra burden the black community were coping with in their daily lives just because of the colour of their skin. I’d love to think such attitudes were consigned to history – but sadly, daily racist crime shows this isn’t the case, so reading entertaining, well-written fiction that highlights the issue can only help.

The spirit world was also well portrayed. There is a real sense of menace around those who want agency within the mortal world in order to steal human destinies. I liked the way Penelope gradually revealed the enormity of the threat, making this one of those reads that was very difficult to put down. All in all, this was a thoroughly engrossing tale that had me reading far later than I should. Highly recommended for those who like their fantasy within a compelling historical setting. While I obtained an arc of The Monsters We Defy from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Death and Hard Cider – Book 19 of the Benjamin January series by Barbara Hambly #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #DeathandHardCiderbookreview

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The title grabbed my attention – what is hard cider? And after I read the blurb, I was hooked. I like historical whodunits – and what especially snagged my attention with this story is the political backdrop. Set in New Orleans in the febrile period some thirty years before the American Civil War, tensions are rising as French and American interests collide, along with increasing unease regarding the tricky issue of slavery. So freeman Benjamin January has to tread carefully at all times.

BLURB: September, 1840. A giant rally is being planned in New Orleans to stir up support for presidential candidate William Henry Harrison: the Indian-killing, hard-cider-drinking, wannabe “people’s president”. Trained surgeon turned piano-player Benjamin January has little use for politicians. But the run-up to the rally is packed with balls and dinner parties, and the meagre pay is sorely needed.

Soon, however, January has more to worry about than keeping his beloved family fed and safe. During an elegant reception thrown by New Orleans’ local Whig notables, the son of a prominent politician gets into a fist-fight with a rival over beautiful young flirt Marie-Joyeuse Maginot – and, the day after the rally is over, Marie-Joyeuse turns up dead. The only black person amongst the initial suspects is arrested immediately: January’s dear friend, Catherine Clisson. With Catherine’s life on the line, January is determined to uncover the truth and prove her innocence. But his adversaries are powerful politicians, and the clock is ticking . . .

REVIEW: Despite this being the nineteenth book in the series, it’s the first time I’ve had the pleasure of reading about Ben’s adventures. And what a ride it was… Hambly’s prose is richly descriptive of the lush, often hedonistic setting that starkly rubs shoulders with utter poverty and deprivation. We see all this through Ben January’s eyes, who was brought up in New Orleans – but then spent time in France, where he trained as a surgeon. So while he is very familiar with the neighbourhood, he isn’t as necessarily as accepting of the ingrained and cultural prejudice as many of his peers. It’s a tricky balance to achieve, but Hambly negotiates it well.

In New Orleans, Ben obviously isn’t able to earn a decent living as a skilled medical man – none of the well-heeled white folks would entertain the notion of being treated by black man. However, he is also a skilled musician and with a series of grand election rallies coming up, he is employed to play at all these events – both the Democrat and Whig functions. Hambly gives us a ringside seat as inflammatory speeches are made, food and drink is handed out to the crowd and rousing songs slurring the reputations of political opponents are sung.

And throughout all the hectic activity, the dark thread of institutional prejudice, exclusion, double-standards and hypocrisy winds across the society. It’s masterfully done – and brought home to me just how much damage slavery wrought. Not only upon those whose lives were shackled to unceasing hard labour with no prospect of anything better – but also to those responsible for it. The story is all the more effective for Ben’s bitter acceptance of such a miserable state of affairs, as Hambly is brilliant at showing, not telling. And since I finished this one, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the situation – particularly as slavery is still going on.

There is also a murder mystery to be solved. Initially, I thought the pacing was a tad slow – but I think that’s because of the rather chatty blurb. If I hadn’t been waiting for a certain key event, I don’t think it would have been an issue. After the murder, consequences roll forward and Ben has to get involved to save the life of someone very dear to him. To be honest, I would have been happy with this book if the whodunit aspect had been averagely good, given the quality of the backdrop and its vivid depiction. But the icing on the cake is that the murder mystery is very well executed, with a brilliant denouement. This might have been the first Ben January mystery I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last.

Very highly recommended for fans of historical murder mysteries. While I obtained an arc of Death and Hard Cider from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #13

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This is my update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been over a year since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

I’m aware that I sound like a cracked record when I say that once again, it’s been a fortnight of ups and downs. For much of this week, once again I ended up feeling very tired and shaky. Though this time around, I didn’t ease off as much as I previously would have. I’ve recently finished reading The Long Covid Self-Help Guide written by the specialists at the Post-Covid Clinic, Oxford, which was the first one of its kind in the country. I will be reviewing it in due course, though right now I’m sorting through the tangle of feelings it caused.

As a consequence of some of the advice I read, I’ve started up-pacing – the process where I’m now trying to increase my level of physical activity without triggering another major relapse. It’s a tricky business. I’m aware that my Long Covid symptoms might well evolve into ME/CFS if I get this wrong. I’m in my mid-sixties and was formerly very active and healthy – far too young to continue living like a frail ninety-something for the rest of my life. Equally, I’ve also become aware that I could be compromising my recovery by being too inactive. And at present, I’m doing this more or less on my own, so finding the right balance is a huge challenge. Especially as if I do trigger a relapse like the one I had last August, I’ll probably lose all the progress I’ve made to date, as I’m still not back to the level of activity I had last July and the first half of August, before I became completely bedridden for a fortnight.

This week, I did have a scan at the local hospital to monitor my swollen thyroid and the painful glands in my neck. The radiologist reported there is no change, which I suppose is good news. Though to be honest – I would have preferred it if she had told me that my thyroid was returning to its normal size. I also had an eye test, which I had to attend on my own, due to Covid precautions. I was really pleased that during the whole rather intense two-hour session, I didn’t feel too exhausted. However, it was something of a challenge to try and choose glasses frames without being able to properly see what they looked like on my face. Fingers crossed I shan’t be too disappointed at my appearance when I pick them up!

We’ve had some amazingly mild weather for the time of year, with lots of sunshine. However, it couldn’t last and now the temperatures are in the 40s, with a bitter wind and the occasional flurry of sleety rain. Our grandson came to stay this week, and is always a ray of sunshine, no matter what the weather and my daughter finally moved into a lovely house that is just a short drive away. So no matter what else is happening – having family closer is a massive silver lining to any clouds I’m still battling.

This week I’ve read:-

AUDIOBOOK Cyteen – Books 1-3 by C.J. Cherryh
The saga of two young friends trapped in an endless nightmare of suspicion and surveillance, of cyber-programmed servants and a ruling class with century-long lives – and the enigmatic woman who dominates them all. Narrators Jonathan Davis and Gabra Zackman skillfully split up this sweeping sci-fi epic that is “at once a psychological novel, a murder mystery, and an examination of power on a grand scale.”

I listened to this one and was completely enthralled. And yes… I get that some folks found it slow and overwritten. But as the story unfolded in over 36 hours of listening, I became increasingly awed at the sheer level of detail Cherryh offers in this layered, dangerous world of post-humans who have been genetically engineered. I’m also full of admiration at how she portrays both the best of the worst of them, so that by the end – I had a strong sense of their whole personalities. I’ve been thinking about this book ever since I listened to it. Indeed, it was a struggle to be really fair to the next offering I heard, as part of me was in mourning that it wasn’t Cyteen. Very highly recommended. 11/10

Scars of Stone – Book 2 of the Pacts Arcane and Otherwise series by Joanna Maciejewska
The battle with a demonic foe had opened Kamira’s and Veelk’s eyes: they were unprepared for their task. If they want a chance of freeing Veranesh from his crystal prison, they need the help of a brilliant inventor imprisoned by Gildya, a man also desired by the refugee queen, Cahala, who will stop at nothing to slake her thirst for magic.

Time is also of the essence as Archmage Yoreus maneuvers for power. Once he claims the title of the first archmage for himself, he will tie up all loose ends, and that entails burying Kamira, Veelk, and a long line of secrets he’d prefer to be forgotten. Kamira and Veelk have a rule, “no heroics, survival first.”
When dealing with demons, avoiding heroics is easy. But survival? Not so much.
This is a reread. I suddenly realised that I’ve the next book on my Kindle, Shadows Over Kaighal which I pre-ordered and to get the best out of this Sand and Sorcery tale, I needed to remind myself of who is doing what to whom. This story is too good for me to compromise my reading experience otherwise. I love Kamira and the fact that Joanna’s characters are nuanced and layered. This classy and engrossing series deserves to be far better known. 9/10

Murder Most Vile – Book 9 of the Langham & Dupré series by Eric Brown
London. April, 1957. Private investigator Donald Langham is approached by retired businessman Vernon Lombard to find his missing son, Christopher. But what appears to be a simple case of a missing artist becomes far more alarming when Langham realizes there’s more to Christopher’s disappearance than meets the eye, and then makes a terrible discovery.

Meanwhile, Langham’s business partner Ralph Ryland’s search for a missing greyhound forces him to confront a shameful secret from his own past, with terrifying consequences. Can Langham navigate London’s criminal underworld, fascism and deception to track down a killer and save Ralph’s life?
This one is slightly darker than the previous books in this series, but that doesn’t prevent it from being a thoroughly engrossing read. Indeed, once I got past a certain point I couldn’t put it down. I loved the evocation of 1950s London and the bonus is that you don’t have to read any of the other books in the series to thoroughly enjoy it. Review to follow. 8/10

A Catastrophic Theft – Book 3 of the Reg Rawlins, Psychic Investigator series by P.D. Workman

Reg’s relationship with Sarah, who has been her loyal friend and protector since she arrived becomes strained when Sarah’s precious emerald necklace disappears. There is no shortage of suspects, with Reg herself at the front of the line.

This is the last book in the three-book box set I bought for a very reasonable price when I was looking for something a bit lighter. I’ve been impressed at the depth of Reg’s character and the ongoing development throughout the three books – to the extent that I have now bought the next box set of books 4-6 for much more money… Recommended for fans who enjoy a three-dimensional protagonist with darker aspects in their character. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK Battlestar Suburbia – Book 1 of the Battlestar Suburbia series by Chris McCrudden
In space, no one can hear you clean…

When Darren’s charge-cart gets knocked off the Earth-to-Mars highway and lost in space forever, he thinks his day can’t get any worse. When Kelly sees Darren accidentally short-circuit a talking lamppost, and its camera captures her face as it expires, she thinks her day can’t get any worse.

When Pamasonic Teffal, a sentient breadmaker, is sent on a top-secret mission into the depths of the internet and betrayed by her boss, a power-crazed smartphone, she knows this is only the beginning of a day that isn’t going to get any better. Join Darren, Kelly and Pam in an anarchic comic adventure that takes them from the shining skyscrapers of Singulopolis to the sewers of the Dolestar Discovery, and find out what happens when a person puts down their mop and bucket and says No.
The author narrates this one himself and just about gets away with it, despite the rather flat delivery and occasional stumble. I loved the genuinely witty and clever references that keep coming throughout which often made me laugh out loud. Yet I am also impressed at how much emotional heft there is within this adventure. Unlike some sci fi comedies, McCrudden never forgets that the characters caught in the middle of this are having a horrible time – at once point, I wept. And I don’t do that very often. Highly recommended for fans of quirky and cleverly written adventures. 9/10

Parallel Lies – Book 1 of the Ross duology by Georgia Rose
Madeleine Ross has life exactly as she planned it. Cosy cottage, friendly village, satisfying job. Company… when she wants it. It’s an enviable existence for an independent young woman, and one she’s keen to protect.

Enter Daniel – strong, dependable and a danger to everything she’s built. He’s not something she was looking for, but hearts can’t be controlled and maybe, just maybe he might be worth letting into hers. But, all is not what it seems. Because Madeleine is hiding a lifetime of secrets. Deep secrets. And they never stay buried for ever. Her darkest secret returns, like the proverbial bad penny. He is her first love, shadowy, dangerous, the baddest of bad boys. No matter how far she runs, or how well she hides, she can never escape him. Or her past…
Yep. A contemporary story of someone trying to outrun a very dark past and grappling with a new love in her life. Not my usual fare – and the reason why I kept turning the pages was the tension that Rose managed to engender in her writing. I rapidly really cared for Madeline and wanted her to prevail – it didn’t hurt that once upon another lifetime ago, I used to live in a village not unlike the one she finds herself in, either. If you enjoy a sympathetic protagonist in a contemporary setting, then you might well find this one difficult to put down. Though it ends on a cliff-hanger… Be warned – there is a rape scene and a severely abused child. 8/10

The Cunning Man – A Schooled in Magic spinoff by Christopher G. Nuttall
Adam of Beneficence wanted to be a magician, and even undertook a magical apprenticeship, but there isn’t a single spark of magic in his entire body. In desperation, his master arranged for him to study at Heart’s Eye University, a former school of magic that has become a university, a place where magicians and mundanes can work to combine their talents and forge the future together.

But all is not well at Heart’s Eye. The magical and mundane apprentices resent and fear each other, the teaching staff is unsure how to shape the university and, outside, powerful forces are gathering to snuff out the future before it can take shape. As Adam starts his new apprenticeship, and stumbles across a secret that could reshape the world, he finds himself drawn into a deadly plot that could destroy the university …

… And leave Lady Emily’s legacy in flaming ruins.
Himself is definitely a keeper – I’d mentioned that I was suffering from withdrawal symptoms from the Schooled in Magic series, and he went and bought this offering for me. It charts events at the new university that Emily has set up, in the hope that mundanes and magicians can learn to work together. However, events take a dark turn. I loved this one. Adam is an engaging protagonist and it was enjoyable to see the world through the eyes of someone born into it. It would make a good introduction for someone who hasn’t read any of the other books – or who, like me, wants more Schooled in Magic goodness… 9/10

Witness for the Persecution – Book 3 of the Jersey Girl Legal Mystery series by E.J. Copperman

Former New Jersey prosecutor Sandy Moss moved to a prestigious Los Angeles law firm to make a new start as a family lawyer. So it seems a little unfair that they have created a criminal law division specifically for her. Just because she’s successfully defended two murder trials, it doesn’t mean she likes them!

But when abrasive Hollywood movie director Robert Reeves is accused of murdering a stuntman on set, Sandy finds she can’t say no when he demands her help. Robert might be an unpleasant, egotistical liar, but something tells Sandy that he’s innocent – even if no one else can see it. At least this time, she reassures herself, her charismatic, adorable, and oh so annoying TV star boyfriend Patrick McNabb isn’t involved in the case. He isn’t . . . right?
I love Sandy’s first-person narrative – it’s pacy, smart and very funny. So – what happens when an attorney finds herself representing a complete jerk that she quickly comes to loathe? This book explores the issues surrounding that dilemma. Complete review to follow. 9/10

The Broken Cage – Book 7 of the Crow Investigations series by Sarah Painter
Get the Crow

A man dies in a locked room, leaving a message written in blood and a lot of unanswered questions.

Lydia is still recovering from the fallout with her psychopathic cousin, but there are new threats to the Crows, and she must fight to maintain her position as leader of the Family.
Meanwhile, an actor has gone missing and Fleet is under pressure to find him fast. But there seems to be more to his tension than he is letting on… Can Lydia solve the mysterious murder before she gets arrested for it?
This urban fantasy series, set in London and featuring crow shapeshifter, Lydia, is now a firm favourite. Painter’s atmospheric and strong writing powerfully evoke the sheer otherness of Lydia’s world in a way that I don’t often encounter within the genre. And as Lydia really begins to explore her scary new powers – a whole host of problems once more beset her. Very highly recommended – but whatever you do, start with the first book and work through the series. It’s far too good to miss any aspect of the world or Lydia’s ongoing development. 9/10

This week I have posted:
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of AUDIOBOOK The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY NOVELLA arc Ogres by Adrian Tchaikovsky #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Ogresbookreview

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As soon as I saw this was available, I requested it – and was delighted to be approved. Tchaikovsky is a huge talent who deserves to be far more widely read.

BLURB: It’s always idyllic in the village until the landlord comes to call. Because the landlord is an Ogre. And Ogres rule the world, with their size and strength and appetites. It’s always been that way. It’s the natural order of the world. And they only eat people sometimes.

But when the headman’s son, Torquell, dares lift his hand against the landlord’s son, he sets himself on a path to learn the terrible truth about the Ogres, and about the dark sciences that ensured their rule.

REVIEW: This is Tchaikovsky at his disturbing best. His smooth prose style has a tendency to lull readers into thinking they are reading one kind of book – before he slips in a few sentences that make you realise that this is something else altogether… I was intrigued by the unusual second-person viewpoint – so that the narrator is directly addressing the reader as you, instead of the more common I or s/he. If the author hadn’t been Tchaikovsky, this would have raised warning flags, but I was happy to go along with it in the knowledge that I was in the hands of a capable, experienced writer with a complete mastery of his craft. And I was pleased to see that my faith was justified, as the closing scene makes it clear who is talking so directly – and why.

I’m not sure that I liked poor Torquell all that much, but I completely sympathised with his plight, given how humanity have been so downtrodden by the greedy, entitled ogres. The story is cleverly presented. We have Robyn, the outlaw who lives in the forest surrounding the village, which is an obvious allusion to a major legend. As Torquell experiences other key events that tend to happen to an archetypal hero, which he is shown to be, it gave me a sense that I knew this story arc and where it was going.

Until I didn’t… Because inside the wrapping of this classic underdog heroic tale, other things are also happening. The most devastating of those are who the ogres are and how they ended up ruling over humans. And that was a twist I didn’t see coming until Tchaikovsky revealed it. I was still reeling over that one, until the doozy of an ending once more had my jaw dropping. I’m an experienced reader and writer – and while I get drawn into a story with the best of them, if any plot device is clumsily presented, I’ll spot it a mile away. So to be able to pull off two major plot twists while playing such games with the narrative structure takes skill and deftness. Particularly as the story is also delivered with a wry humour that at times had me grinning, despite the awfulness of the ongoing injustice.

All in all, this short book is a triumph – as well as a strong warning that we need to get our sustainability sorted out urgently. The fact that the message is presented so cleverly made it even more apt. I certainly haven’t stopped thinking about this one since I put it down. Very highly recommended for those who appreciate their science fiction delivered with skill and originality. While I obtained an arc of Ogres from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*RE-RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Small Gods – Book 13 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #SmallGodsbookreview

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Anyone who has spent an amount of time here will know that I’m a HUGE Terry Pratchett fan. That said, it’s a very long time ago since I read the majority of the Discworld series, so when I saw that Small Gods was up on Netgalley, I immediately requested an arc. This was one I remembered with huge affection – would this reread be as much fun?

BLURB: Just because you can’t explain it, doesn’t mean it’s a miracle.’

In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was: ‘Hey, you!’ This is the Discworld, after all, and religion is a controversial business. Everyone has their own opinion, and indeed their own gods, of every shape and size, and all elbowing for space at the top. In such a competitive environment, shape and size can be pretty crucial to make one’s presence felt.

So it’s certainly not helpful to be reduced to appearing in the form of a tortoise, a manifestation far below god-like status in anyone’s book. In such instances, you need an acolyte, and fast: for the Great God Om, Brutha the novice is the Chosen One – or at least the only One available. He wants peace and justice and brotherly love. He also wants the Inquisition to stop torturing him now, please . . .

REVIEW: First things first. If you are new to Pratchett’s writing and that ‘Book 13’ is a problem for you – please feel free to completely ignore it. While Small Gods is set on the Discworld, because the desert location is a long way from Ankh-Morpok, or Lancre where most of the main characters get caught up in adventures, this is essentially a standalone.

This is the book where Pratchett tackles religion and the nature of faith. I suspect that’s why he set it away from the more well-trodden parts of the Discworld and provides us with a completely new cast of characters. The protagonist is endearing Brutha, a novice who is cursed with an infallible memory and is in the lower echelons of a highly aggressive sect that worships the great god Om. Om had decided to make one of his regular transformations – but instead of becoming a huge, powerful ox with steel hooves designed to trample unbelievers into the earth, something went wrong. And three years later he surfaces to discover he’d turned into a tortoise, instead. And he has only one steadfast believer, who is Brutha, a humble novice who works in the garden. Harried by an eagle, he manages to make telepathic contact with Brutha, who protects him.

The first thing that struck me about the book is that although there is a strong, pacy storyline featuring Brutha and the machinations of Vorbis, the ideas around the nature of faith and religion are just as important. It’s no accident that Om spends a fair amount of time trying to get away from an eagle, as the tale of the eagle and the tortoise is one of those foundation fable/myth stories that pops up all over the world and has been around for hundreds of years. Interestingly, the outcome of the classic story varies. Sometimes the tortoise gets eaten by the evil eagle who tricks him, other versions have the tortoise as the discontented grumpy one who insists on being taken up to see the world. Holding onto a stick with his mouth as he soars through the air, he then lets go to moan about something and falls to his death. Pratchett doesn’t go into all these variations – but I love the fact that he chose such a multi-faceted myth as a main reference point.

The other aspect that stood out for me is the violence. I hadn’t remembered just how savage it is – though it makes sense when considering the bloody history of many of the main religions. What I’d loved the first time and also impressed me all over again, is how effectively Pratchett disguises his own views on a really tricky topic. While he clearly dislikes the heavy-handed violence of the Omnians, he also makes some hefty arguments about the need for humanity to have something bigger and better to aspire to. In typical Pratchett fashion, he turns the issue on its head and focuses on the responsibilities that gods have towards their believers. It’s a clever book with lots of apt, witty observations on the nature of faith, including philosophy and the love of knowledge.

Any niggles? I got a bit fed up with the desert version of Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibber, who sells dodgy stuff on sticks at any large religious gathering. The gags were funny the first time, but didn’t really bear the repetitions. And my arc copy didn’t have any hyperlinks to the enjoyable and very funny footnotes, though I’m assuming the published ebook has these in place. Nonetheless, once more I was impressed at the quality of the satire throughout – and moved at the merciful act at the very end. If you have ever wondered about some of the big questions around our existence, reading Pratchett’s take will provide some thought-provoking insights as well as an entertaining story. Highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Small Gods from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10