Category Archives: outstanding books

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* The Man Who Died Twice – Book 2 of The Thursday Murder Club series by Richard Osman #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheManWhoDiedTwicebookreview

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I finally picked up a copy of The Thursday Murder Club back in April. Initially, I found it slow-going as the story took a while to hit its stride. But I ended up being impressed with the depth of characterisation, the humour and well-handled moments of real poignancy. So when I saw this one available on Netgalley, I was thrilled to be approved.

BLURB: It’s the following Thursday. Elizabeth has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with whom she has a long history. He’s made a big mistake, and he needs her help. His story involves stolen diamonds, a violent mobster, and a very real threat to his life.

As bodies start piling up, Elizabeth enlists Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron in the hunt for a ruthless murderer. And if they find the diamonds too? Well, wouldn’t that be a bonus? But this time they are up against an enemy who wouldn’t bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can The Thursday Murder Club find the killer (and the diamonds) before the killer finds them?

REVIEW: If you haven’t yet read the first book, don’t worry about picking this one up as I don’t think it matters all that much. Osman effectively introduces the main four seventy-somethings, who are every bit as likeable as when I first met them. We swing straight into the story – Osman has really found his feet with this one and it shows.

The pacing, plot twists and overall structure are spot on. And while there were a few amusing moments in the first book, I found myself laughing out loud with this one on a regular basis throughout. There is a Dickensian, slightly larger-than-life feel about all the characters that never lurches into caricature – and I like Osman’s evident respect for his protagonists. Now I’m of a certain age, I get fed up with TV programmes and books that poke fun at older characters. Once again Elizabeth drives the story – someone with a busy, somewhat dark past, who is still able to run rings around everyone else. And yet, she also has her vulnerabilities.

I read a fair number of murder mysteries and it’s a tricky balance not to get blasé about the murder victims, particularly when there are humorous moments in the mix. Osman never falls into that trap. Without getting too dark and intense, he always makes it clear that someone dying before their time is a very big deal. In fact, there is a strong sense of right and wrong throughout the story that I really appreciated. The plot is delightfully twisty and the ending is masterfully handled – that last line is superb. You may have gathered that I loved this one – and you’d be right. If you’re looking for an outstanding contemporary murder mystery with plenty of humour and packed full of memorable characters, this one comes very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The Man Who Died Twice from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Witness for the Dead – Book 2 of The Goblin Emperor series by Katherine Addison

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I recently had a conversation with a couple of my book blogging friends, who were enthusing about The Goblin Emperor – one of them being the Cap of The Captain’s Quarters. When the Cap mentioned it was one of his all-time favourite fantasy reads, then I knew I had to spend some of my birthday money on it. I’m so very glad I did – it was a marvellous read. And in a stunning gift of coincidence, I also discovered that this offering was available on Netgalley.

BLURB: When the young half-goblin emperor Maia sought to learn who had killed his father and half-brothers, he turned to an obscure resident of his Court, a Prelate of Ulis and a Witness for the Dead. Thara Celehar found the truth, though it did him no good to discover it.

Now Celehar lives in the city of Amalo, far from the Court though not exactly in exile. He has not escaped from politics, but his position gives him the ability to serve the common people of the city, which is his preference. He lives modestly, but his decency and fundamental honesty will not permit him to live quietly.

REVIEW: The strapline mentions that this sequel is a standalone read – and I would endorse that. While I’m delighted to have read The Goblin Emperor for the sheer joy of having experienced such a layered, complex world – you definitely don’t need to have tucked into it in order to appreciate this one. Although there are a couple of apparently throwaway references that will especially resonate if you have read The Goblin Emperor.

The engine that drives this narrative is essentially a murder mystery. And as someone who can communicate with the dead, Celehar finds himself embroiled in a couple of investigations that start attracting unwelcome attention. In a world where an instinct for political niceties is a very useful survival trait, Celehar’s inconvenient tendency not to bend his moral compass to go with the flow gets him into a lot of trouble. As with The Goblin Emperor, The Witness for the Dead provides us with an engaging protagonist, who is on the outside and needs to tread carefully in order to get any kind of result.

Addison’s rich, detailed world of goblins and elves, where there are unspoken and unacknowledged frictions, is wonderfully portrayed. This isn’t a book you can speed through – the tricky names, the nuances and careful accretion of small, yet significant details meant that I had to slow right down and pay attention throughout. And even as I did so, I dreaded finishing this one, as reading it was an immersive, slow-burning delight that I didn’t want to end.

Of course, it’s all well and good building up a wonderful mystery that is freighted with plenty of tension and high stakes – but then, the denouement has to be sufficiently strong so that there isn’t that horrible sinking feeling of a fumbled ending that doesn’t live up to the thrill of the investigation. And fortunately, Addison delivers that, too, with a thoroughly satisfying finale that had me sighing with pleasure as I came to the end. All in all, this is a worthy addition to the series – and I’d pre-order another one of these in a heartbeat, which is something I very rarely do. Very highly recommended to fans of excellent fantasy. While I obtained an arc of The Witness for the Dead from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Sunday Post – 11th July, 2021 #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 and blogs they have written.

Overall, it’s been a much better week. And thank you so much for all the kind, encouraging comments I received after my rather frustrated rant, last week. They really helped me bounce back to a place where everything doesn’t seem so hopeless😊. Himself and I had a chat about everything, and we realised that I do need to get out more, even if it is only a matter of walking a handful of steps and then returning home. So on Wednesday, Himself and I were able to visit the local garden centre and have a pizza, and on Thursday, we went for a short walk along the river and ended up at the riverside café for a coffee. During the afternoons, I’ve been following the events at Wimbledon – and feel rather smug at correctly predicting that Mateo Berrettini would be playing in the Men’s Final, after watching him play his first match at Queen’s, back in mid-June. The pics this week are more from the garden…

The other bright spot is the fabulous quality of the books I’ve read this week – they are a lifeline by taking me away to another time and place. And one, in particular, has been outstanding…

Last week I read:

Into the Dark – Book 1 of the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland
At fifteen, Alexis Carew has to face an age old problem – she’s a girl, and only a boy can inherit the family’s vast holdings. Her options are few.

She must marry and watch a stranger run the lands, or become a penniless tenant and see the lands she so dearly loves sold off. Yet there may be another option, one that involves becoming a midshipman on a shorthanded spaceship with no other women.
This is a reread. For some reason, I didn’t follow up this series after reading the first book, so I read this one again to ensure that my memory hadn’t played tricks on me and that I definitely wanted to continue reading Alexis’s adventures. Which I certainly do…

Hestia 2781 – Book 1 of the Draco Tell Dramis series by Janet Edwards
Hestia 2781 is the first of two full-length novels set immediately after the short story Hera 2781.

The year is 2781. Lieutenant Drago Tell Dramis’s first mission as a newly qualified fighter pilot ended with him and his team leader saving one of humanity’s oldest colony worlds, Hera, from destruction. Now he’s discovering that saving a world can be simple compared to living with the consequences.

Both Drago and his team leader and second cousin, Jaxon, are famous now, given rapid field promotions, and are due to be awarded medals. Worryingly, Drago learns Jaxon has a mysterious secret and a past history of erratic behaviour. It’s vital that Drago keeps both of them out of trouble and away from nosy reporters until the medal ceremony, because Jaxon could do or say something that deeply embarrasses both the Military and their Betan clan.

The Military is helping by sending their fighter team on a mission somewhere inconspicuously boring until the medal ceremony. That destination definitely won’t be Hestia, the perpetual trouble spot of humanity.
This series is a spinoff from Edwards’ very popular Earth Girl series and I highly recommend that you read the short story ‘Hera 2781’ before tucking into this one, as the events in that story impact on what happens in the book. As ever, I thoroughly enjoyed the upbeat vibe Edwards always manages create in her space opera adventures, and appreciated revisiting this complex, enjoyable world. Review to follow.

Mutineer – Book 2 of the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland
Just as Midshipman Alexis Carew thinks she’s found a place in the Royal Navy, she’s transferred aboard H.M.S. Hermione. Her captain is a tartar, liberal with the cat, who thinks girls have no place aboard ship.

The other midshipmen in the berth are no better. The only advice she’s offered is to keep her head down and mouth shut – things Alexis is rarely able to do.
This was another enjoyable, action-packed read – and a shocking one. This series is essentially Hornblower in Space – and vividly depicted the darker, more brutal side of the Senior Service, by showing what can happen when a sadistic brute ends up running a ship. Sutherland’s notes on the story discloses that many of the events were based on true events that happened on a particular ship. It made for a gripping read.

The Goblin Emperor – Book 1 of The Goblin Emperior series by Katherine Addison
Maia, the youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favour with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the spectre of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor.
And firstly – a grovelling apology… Someone last week had recommended this one, so I got hold of it and I just want to say – THANK YOU – I just wish I could remember who it was, so I can namecheck you! This wonderful, engrossing read is going to make my Outstanding Reads list of the year. And even better news – I’ve now managed to get hold of an arc of the upcoming sequel – yay!

De Oppresso Liber – Book 6 of the Hayden War Cycle series by Evan Currie
The war may be over, but the fighting continues as SOLCOM learns of an excursion by the Ross’El against an unaffiliated pre-space civilization in the no man’s land between Earth and the Alien Alliance. With always more questions than answers, SOLCOM dispatches a ship to quietly survey the situation and determine what, if any, course of action is best.

Captain Sorilla Aida and her team are the ground element assigned to the task, with the clear understanding that no matter what… they are to remain undetected by the alien overlords now controlling the moon world. Sorilla knows only one thing for certain as she learns more about the situation :
Oppression is universal, Freedom is never free… and this is EXACTLY what she trained for.
De Oppresso Liber…
I once more tucked into this military sci fi adventure series, which has been cleverly developed from the initial flashpoint into a well-rounded world, full of detail and political tensions. Sorilla Aida has also had an interesting journey – and I like how her previous adventures are now affecting her current decisions.

AUDIOBOOK – Prophecy – Book 2 of the Giordano Bruno series by S.J. Parris
A Tudor thriller featuring Giordano Bruno, renegade monk, philosopher and heretic, for fans of C. J. Sansom and The Name of the Rose
Autumn, 1583. Under Elizabeth’s rule, loyalty is bought with blood…
An astrological phenomenon heralds the dawn of a new age and Queen Elizabeth’s throne is in peril. As Mary Stuart’s supporters scheme to usurp the rightful monarch, a young maid of honour is murdered, occult symbols carved into her flesh.

The Queen’s spymaster, Francis Walsingham, calls on maverick agent Giordano Bruno to infiltrate the plotters and secure the evidence that will condemn them to death. Bruno is cunning, but so are his enemies. His identity could be exposed at any moment. The proof he seeks is within his grasp. But the young woman’s murder could point to an even more sinister truth…
Hm. Not sure about the comparison with The Name of the Rose – but this one certainly helped me cope with my C.J. Sansom withdrawal symptoms… Bruno is a likeable, sympathetic character, whose presence in Tudor England on the edges of Elizabeth’s court is convincing and intriguing. Tudor London is beautifully described and the plot worked well as both a mystery and meshed effectively with the historical events of the time. Recommended for fans of historical mysteries. I also really enjoyed Laurence Kennedy’s excellent narration.

Wedding Hells – Book 8 of the Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
After her victory over Master Grey, Emily wants nothing more than to relax and give herself time to recover from the duel. Her magic, pushed to the limits, is no longer reliable, forcing her to learn to control it from scratch. Every time she delays using her magic, she risks headaches … or worse. But she must return to Whitehall to complete her fourth-year exams and bid farewell to those of her friends who are not returning for fifth year. And then, she must return to Zangaria to play her role in Princess Alassa’s wedding to Jade. It seems, if nothing else, a brief diversion before she goes off on a tour of the Allied Lands.

But all is not well in Zangaria and the kingdom is fast approaching a major crisis. Junior aristocrats are demanding their rights and titles from the king, while King Randor himself is dangerously unstable and hiding a secret that could spark off a civil war … and the peasants are threatening to revolt. Emily herself is isolated, unsure how to balance her obligations to her closest friends with her belief in freedom, justice and democracy. And, as Emily finds herself used as a political pawn by the different sides in the growing dispute and no longer sure who she can trust, she may find herself confronting a choice between doing the right thing, regardless of the cost…

…And losing everything she’s built over the past four years.
This intriguing magical school adventure has quickly developed into a far more interesting scenario, where a girl from Earth has been dumped into the middle of a medieval society. And then has been very quick to share ideas that are fast transforming the world around her. I enjoyed the ongoing story and was rather shocked at where it ended – though I’m pleased that Himself had got hold of the next book in the series, so I’ll be able to discover what happens next without too much delay…

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Life

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Antiques Carry On – Book 15 of the Trash n’Treasures Mystery series by Barbara Allan

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Ferryman and the Sea Witch by D. Wallace Peach

Sunday Post – 4th July 2021

Unfortunately, I haven’t been online enough to recommend any blogs or articles. And neither have I been visiting my fellow bloggers all that much, either… I’m very sorry. Thank you for those of you who continue to visit and comment – I really do appreciate you taking the time and effort to do so😊. I hope you all have a happy, healthy week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Ferryman and the Sea Witch by D. Wallace Peach #BrainfluffNEWRELEASESPECIALreview #TheFerrymanandtheSeaWitchbookreview

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I regularly visit Diana’s blog – and when I saw the Youtube trailer for this offering, I knew I had to read it. And I’m so glad I did…

BLURB: The merrow rule the sea. Slender creatures, fair of face, with silver scales and the graceful tails of angelfish. Caught in a Brid Clarion net, the daughter of the sea witch perishes in the sunlit air. Her fingers dangle above the swells. The queen of the sea bares her sharp teeth and, in a fury of wind and waves, cleanses the brine of ships and men. But she spares a boy for his single act of kindness. Callum becomes the Ferryman, and until Brid Clarion pays its debt with royal blood, only his sails may cross the Deep.

Two warring nations, separated by the merrow’s trench, trade infant hostages in a commitment to peace. Now, the time has come for the heirs to return home. The Ferryman alone can undertake the exchange. Yet, animosities are far from assuaged. While Brid Clarion’s islands bask in prosperity, Haf Killick, a floating city of derelict ships, rots and rusts and sinks into the reefs. Its ruler has other designs.

And the sea witch crafts dark bargains with all sides.

REVIEW: This sea adventure is a real page-turner. Reading about Callum’s life since his impulsive act of generosity, I was reminded of the saying, ‘No good deed goes unpunished.’ as poor Cal’s punishment seems to go on and on… I liked that though he is one of the good guys, he is on the spikier and darker side of that line. And that the ongoing price has worn grooves into his soul. But despite this being in many ways a classic swashbuckling adventure, all the characters are complex and nuanced, giving the story extra heft as I really cared about most of them. And those who I didn’t like – I really loved to hate.

Wallace Peach is a highly experienced, talented writer and it shows. The characterisation is layered and the world vividly portrayed – I particularly loved the depiction of the storms and her lyrical descriptions of the seascape. As someone who has spent extended times aboard small seagoing craft, I was struck at how well written those scenes are. And the plotting is outstanding – I sort of guessed at how the story was going to go. There are, after all, only so many ways that a revenge/bargain tale can play out. But Wallace Peach added extra twists and surprises throughout that had me reading far into the wee small hours to discover what happens next.

All in all, this is a stormingly good read that stands out in my memory and comes highly recommended for anyone who enjoys reading twisty adventures with strong characters and a splash of magic. And the bonus is – it’s also excellent value for money.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Stranding by Kate Sawyer #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheStrandingbookreview

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To be honest, I’m still not quite sure why I decided to go ahead and request this one, given that I’ve been in quite a dark place. Except that some of my decisions have been a tad skewed, what with one thing and another. However, I’m glad that on one of my spells of energy, I got sufficiently carried away to get hold of this one, as it has provided me with one of the reading highlights of the year…

BLURB: Ruth lives in the heart of the city. Working, drinking, falling in love: the rhythm of her vivid and complicated life there is set against a background hum of darkening news reports from which she deliberately turns away.

As a new relationship becomes increasingly claustrophobic, and the discussions of impending political crisis are harder to avoid, she starts to dream of water; of escaping entwining tentacles through deep blue seas. She sets out to the other side of the globe to find that vision of freedom, and to decide who she wants to be when she returns. But when she arrives at her destination, she finds instead that the world, and life, she left behind no longer exists.

REVIEW: I won’t deny that there’s a devastating event that occurs right at the heart of this book. It’s tied up with the whale in an unusual way and sets the tone for what happens to Ruth during the rest of her life. If it had been written differently, it could have been unbearable to read. But Sawyer’s beautiful, poetic prose does exactly what literary writing should do – it supports the story by deepening the emotional impact and giving us an immersive, sensory experience. This isn’t instead of a cracking plot and well depicted, believable characters, which happens all too often when the writing is at such a wonderful standard – it’s in addition to those other vital ingredients.

The result is a stunning book that hooked me in and had me reading till my eyes ached. There were times when I cried and times when I held my breath – until I finally surfaced, feeling lightheaded and slightly euphoric. Though with that familiar sense of loss that there was no more time to spend in this story. I don’t want to say too much about the plot, as while the blurb gives a sense of what happens – there is so much more that the reader should discover on Sawyer’s terms. Her crafting of this plot worked perfectly for me – and I loved how I increasingly came to be more and more in Ruth’s corner as the story wore on. And if you pick this one up and find that in the beginning, you don’t like her all that much – do persevere for a bit longer. I promise that she will grow on you…

This is a remarkable book by an author who knows exactly what she is doing. It’s an ambitious book – to define the life of a character through such a major event and I don’t know many that could pull it off. Sawyer does more than that – she has created a highly memorable read that will stay with me for a very long time. And although we are only just over halfway through the year, I do know The Stranding has already made my list of Outstanding Reads of 2021. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The Stranding from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Artifact Space by Miles Cameron #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #ArtifactSpacebookreview

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I’m a fan of Cameron’s writing – I loved the Traitor Son series – see my reviews of The Red Knight, The Fell Sword, The Dread Wyrm and The Fall of Dragons – so I was delighted to see this offering on Netgalley. And of course I applied for a copy, as the combination of Cameron writing space opera sounded fabulous. It made my day when I acquired a copy – and it wasn’t too long before I tucked into it… Question is, was all that anticipation justified?

BLURB: Out in the darkness of space, something is targeting the Greatships. With their vast cargo holds and a crew that could fill a city, the Greatships are the lifeblood of human occupied space, transporting an unimaginable volume – and value – of goods from City, the greatest human orbital, all the way to Tradepoint at the other, to trade for xenoglas with an unknowable alien species.

It has always been Marca Nbaro’s dream to achieve the near-impossible: escape her upbringing and venture into space. All it took, to make her way onto the crew of the Greatship Athens was thousands of hours in simulators, dedication, and pawning or selling every scrap of her old life in order to forge a new one. But though she’s made her way onboard with faked papers, leaving her old life – and scandals – behind isn’t so easy.

She may have just combined all the dangers of her former life, with all the perils of the new…

REVIEW: This is one of my reading highlights of the year so far – and I can safely say that this one is definitely going to make my Outstanding Reads List of 2021. Marca is an engaging, sympathetic protagonist, who has had a tough time of it and makes a desperate break for a chance at a decent life. With help from someone else whose chances have already been ruined…

I also liked the world. The merchanting ship Athens and the dynamic with the crew and the wider world holds together in a credible, diverse world that I believed in. There is an upbeat vibe to this world, despite the dangers they undergo, which reminded me, at times, of Nathan Lowell’s enjoyable series The Golden Age of the Solar Clipper. What I especially enjoyed was learning about the onboard politics and rhythms, so that when the Athens is threatened, I very much cared. It was difficult to put the book down as I wanted them all to survive. And that concern and tension was sharpened when some of the crew don’t make it.

Overall, it was an engrossing memorable read that had me very sorry to reach the end – and hopeful that the second book in this series won’t take too long to hit the shelves. Very highly recommended to fans of well written space opera adventures. While I obtained an arc of Artifact Space from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley #BrainfluffNEGALLEYbookreview #TheKingdomsbookreview

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I’ve heard good things about this author, and when I saw that the blurb mentioned England as a French colony, I was immediately intrigued and requested the arc. I’m always a sucker for a well-written alternate history…

BLURB: Joe Tournier has a bad case of amnesia. His first memory is of stepping off a train in the nineteenth-century French colony of England. The only clue Joe has about his identity is a century-old postcard of a Scottish lighthouse that arrives in London the same month he does. Written in illegal English—instead of French—the postcard is signed only with the letter “M,” but Joe is certain whoever wrote it knows him far better than he currently knows himself, and he’s determined to find the writer.

The search for M, though, will drive Joe from French-ruled London to rebel-owned Scotland and finally onto the battle ships of a lost empire’s Royal Navy. In the process, Joe will remake history, and himself.

REVIEW: Think of a mash-up of The Time Traveller’s Wife and David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks and you’ll have some idea of what Pulley is aiming for in this highly ambitious novel that dances around different strands within two main times – 1805 and 1898/99. And as the blurb doesn’t give away any spoilers as to why one of those dates, in particular, is significant, then I shan’t do so here.

Both times are very well evoked, particularly just how hard life is – and how cheaply it is held. Particularly the lives of sailors, slaves and soldiers. There are some quite shocking scenes in the book of murder and violence – and as we also have a naval battle portrayed and a ringside scene of the injuries inflicted, this one isn’t for the squeamish. We also see what this does to the main characters in the story, especially Missouri Kite who is scarred both physically and emotionally. He is capable of wonderful leadership that undeniably saves the lives of those in his charge; real tenderness in an age that doesn’t value or regard such an emotion. And absolute, lethal savagery.

I’ve been quite conflicted by this one. Terrible things happen and we are encouraged to feel it’s okay, because at the heart of it all is a love story. And while there is an upbeat ending, I wasn’t convinced that Joe wouldn’t wake up one morning full of longing for someone in a lost time and simply walk away, again, driven to desperately seek her out… But that kernel of uncertainty demonstrates the power of Pulley’s writing, which packs a strong emotional punch, throughout. She portrays Joe’s constant, terrible yearning for someone he can’t quite recall with a visceral vividness that had me wanting to weep at times.

What is undeniable is the technical skill Pulley displays in dealing with the scrambled timelines, the depiction of the historical times and the changes brought about by alternate circumstances. Her handling of those elements is masterful, as is her pacing and the management of a complex plot, complete with a number of twists that kept me paying attention. I saw a couple of them coming – but not the full picture. And that bittersweet ending adds up to a challenging book that has raised some awkward questions it leaves to the reader to figure out. I’m not sure if this is a story demonstrating just what a destructive force love is, for instance. Very highly recommended for fans of alternate historical tales. While I obtained an arc of The Kingdoms from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Royal Secret – Book 5 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheRoyalSecretbookreview

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I’m a solid fan of this series – see my reviews of The Ashes of London, The Fire Court, The King’s Evil and The Last Protector. The first book starts during the Great Fire of London and introduces us to two young people caught up in the drama – Cat Lovett and James Marwood. They both have a shameful past – their fathers were for Oliver Cromwell and against Charles I – and that has impacted on their subsequent fortunes.

BLURB: Two young girls plot a murder by witchcraft. Soon afterwards a government clerk dies painfully in mysterious circumstances. His colleague James Marwood is asked to investigate – but the task brings unexpected dangers.

Meanwhile, architect Cat Hakesby is working for a merchant who lives on Slaughter Street, where the air smells of blood and a captive Barbary lion prowls the stables. Then a prestigious new commission arrives. Cat must design a Poultry House for the woman that the King loves most in all the world.

Unbeknownst to all, at the heart of this lies a royal secret so explosive that it could not only rip apart England but change the entire face of Europe…

REVIEW: I love this series – especially the way that Taylor has woven real historical events into his fiction. This latest book does a wonderful job of bringing both our protagonists into a fascinating area of history, involving Charles II in an intrigue that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond thriller.

Once more we revisit the lives of James Marwood and Cat Hakesby, who have now struck up a steady friendship due to their shared past – though it isn’t without some bumps along the road. Meanwhile a rich merchant who hires Cat to do some work for him has acquired a lion called Caliban. And his daughter-in-law and young granddaughter come to live with him, after a family tragedy. These are the threads that are woven into a wonderful, detailed adventure that had me turning the pages far too late into the early morning to discover what happened.

Reading this tale, I was glad all over again that I live now, rather than in a time when a woman doing anything else other than domestic chores drew surprise and unwelcome attention – a bit like that hapless lion. Taylor has nailed the period, which is vividly depicted right down to the clothing, the smells of the time, the food and drink. When Cat goes on a journey, it is more of an endurance test, particularly when the weather isn’t playing fair. No wonder everyone wore layers and layers of clothing, if they could afford it.

Meanwhile, Marwood is yanked from his usual duties to perform yet another dangerous, unpleasant task that will derail his career if he is caught, or fails to uncover what is going on. And once again, Cat somehow becomes emboiled in the middle of the nefarious events, so their interests collide – and so often seems to happen to this pair. Taylor’s writing means that I don’t find it difficult to believe how this happens.

The climax of this adventure is shocking – and left me thinking a great deal about this one after I’d finished reading it. All in all, a thoroughly accomplished, gripping historical adventure that comes very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The King’s Secret from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – If you want something in Life – reach out and grab it… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffgrabbycovers

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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 being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers that made us want to grab the book. I’ve selected The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel, which I loved – see my review.

Henry Holt & Co, March 2021

This edition was produced by Henry Holt and Co in March 2020, and is attractive and appropriate. I really like the simplicity of the design, with the thorny branches roaming through the title font and the single Tudor rose featured in the middle of the cover. If I hadn’t already immediately lost my heart to another particular cover, then this would have been my favourite. My main niggle with this one is that although Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are both mentioned, nowhere on this cover does it tell us that this is the third book in the series – which I think is vital information that readers need to know.

Picador, May 2021

Expected in May this year by Picador, I have found that this cover has grown on me. Initially I didn’t like it much – turning half the cover into a textbox is never going to find favour with me as I don’t like them. But I appreciate that this cover gives the reader all the necessary details, while that image of Thomas Cromwell, reproduced from the famous portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger, is surprisingly effective. Fracturing it like that gives a sense of a distorted reflection – and a sober foreshadowing of Cromwell’s fate.

Fourth Estate, March 2020

This edition, published by Fourth Estate in March 2020, is my favourite. Yes… I know there is nothing in this design that remotely references the life and times of Thomas Cromwell in any way. And I know that this cover doesn’t bother to tell the read that this is the third book in the series… And that while the author and title fonts are wonderfully clear – rather oddly, they have right-hand justification, rather than being centred. But the minute I laid eyes on this particular design, I yearned to have this book.

HarperCollins, March 2020

This edition, produced by HarperCollins in March 2020, is overwhelmingly dreary. That gradation from funereal black around the edges through to misery blue in the middle gives no sense of the vividness of the prose and the three-dimensional depiction of a cast of extraordinary characters during one of the most interesting and tumultuous periods in English history.

Turkish edition, January 2021

This Turkish edition, published by Alfa Yayınları in January 2021, is another strong offering. I like the fact the artwork features part of a family portrait by Holbein which includes Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. Because in the latter part of his reign, apart from indulging in disastrous and expensive wars, Henry was obsessed with the question of his succession. It shaped both the foreign and domestic policy of the country and ultimately brought about the downfall of Cromwell, though there were also other factors as this book makes clear. I also like the textbox being in the shape of the Tudor rose. Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc A Desolation Called Peace – Book 2 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #ADesolationCalledPeacebookreview

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I loved the first book A Memory Called Empire – see my review, which made my Outstanding Reads of 2020, so I was thrilled to be approved to read this one.

BLURB: An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.

In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity. Whether they succeed or fail could change the fate of Teixcalaan forever.

REVIEW: First of all, if you happened to pick this one up without first reading A Memory Called Empire, then put it down and go looking for the first book. This one picks up more or less immediately after the first book finishes, featuring the same characters and continuing the same narrative arc. So you’ll probably flounder and given that the writing style is dense, layered and challenging, you won’t enjoy or appreciate it as you should.

I liked that we got more of Mahit and Three Seagrass, though at the start I was worried in case Three Seagrass wouldn’t feature so much. I love the fact that they are both human, separated by differing cultures that make it very difficult to understand each other. Though at times, it’s easy to forget that – until they are confronted by an alien presence whose thinking and values is utterly different. And devastatingly lethal… That’s all I’m going to say about the plot, as I don’t want to venture into Spoiler territory.

It was interesting to further explore some of the characters who had only walk-on parts in A Memory Called Empire – particularly Eight Antidote, the young emperor-in-waiting. Seeing this eleven-year-old desperately trying to live up the expectations of his tutors and the empress Nineteen Adze was both poignant and gave us a ringside seat to the machinations of Teixcalaan politics, which is truly a shark tank of conflicting loyalties and ambitions. I also enjoyed following Nine Hibiscus, now promoted to be the ultimate warleader in charge of the armada of the fleet sent out to engage the alien threat. Her relationship with Twenty Cicada, her loyal No. Two who went through training alongside her is strikingly close – he is probably the only person she completely trusts… Which made the ending bittersweet and left me with a lump in my throat.

The aliens were very well depicted – it’s a big ask to successfully give an effective sense of ‘other’, but Martine triumphantly succeeds in doing so. This isn’t a foot-to-the-floor, action-packed story, as the writing is too dense and layered to move the story along at the usual brisk clip we’re accustomed to seeing with space opera adventures. But I think it works, nonetheless. For me, there was one jarring note that caused me to knock off a point – the steamy sex scene. There were a couple of details too much. I don’t know why we were treated to such a graphic scene, as the first book didn’t tend to linger on the sexuality of the characters in general and it was an unwelcome surprise. However, it isn’t a dealbreaker as I’m aware that although it is only February, this is probably going to be one of the best books I’ll read in 2021. Highly recommended if you enjoy reading space opera featuring beautifully depicted, complicated characters and an amazing world. While I obtained an arc of A Desolation Called Peace from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10