Category Archives: outstanding books

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

Series I Completed in 2020 – Part 2 #Brainfluffbookblog #SeriesICompletedPt2blog

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One of my ongoing major reading targets is to pick up and continue with book series that I started and enjoyed, only to let fall along the wayside, due to the ongoing lure of the new and shiny (thank you Netgalley!). I am now aware that I need to make a concerted effort to go looking for those series and authors I’ve previously loved, so I can continue in their wonderful worlds, until the series is finished. I made a really good start in the first half of last year – see my article Series I Competed in 2020 So Far – so did I continue to be successful?

The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel
England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves. Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?

This remarkable series is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Mantel takes one of the bogeymen of history and turns him into a sympathetic, likeable character, while completely ignoring everything any respectable How-To book advises on how to write viewpoint… I listened to this one and wept at the end. Partly because of the emotion that Mantel’s writing engendered, but partly because I’d reached the end of one of the most extraordinary reading experiences of my life. Read my review.

The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and sabotage plague the space program. The IAC’s goal of getting as many people as possible off Earth before it becomes uninhabitable is being threatened.

Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President.

I absolutely loved this trilogy and am hoping to start her Glamourist fantasy series sometime this year, so long as I’ve completed another couple of series I’ve got on my list. And virtue is its own reward – while I loved the first two book, this one is my particular favourite. Read my review.

Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron
Dear Reader,
There is no way to write a blurb for this final book without spoiling all of the others. Suffice it to say, mysteries resolve, dragons war, pigeons abound, and Julius must risk himself in ways he never dreamed possible as Bob’s grand plan finally comes to fruition. But the Great Seer of the Heartstrikers isn’t the only one whose schemes are nearing completion. The Nameless End is coming, and even the machinations of the world’s most brilliant dragon seer might not be enough to stop it. As the world comes crashing down, it’s up Julius to prove what he’s always known: that seers can be wrong, and Nice Dragons don’t always finish last.

This series proved to be so much fun! Not only does this entertaining urban fantasy feature shape-shifting dragons and some marvellous foot-to-the-floor action scenes – it also has plenty of humour, which is just what I needed during this testing year. Read my review.

Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
“Bending over me solicitously, was a porcelain-headed, laughing policeman; wide-mouthed with mirth he leaned closer, tilting his head in a parody of concern. Eyeless he watched me, tongueless he chanted, I knew the chant and my mind couldn’t help but chant with him, ‘Oh, I wish, I wish, I wish I knew, exactly what to do with you.’”

Telepathy, along with sundry other odd abilities, have landed Stella more than once, in situations at best controversial, at worst life-threatening. But she’s always known; you have to fight your own corner as best you can, no point beating yourself up about it. Now though, times have changed, different priorities. She’s married, with a baby on the way and a flourishing business. She simply has to deal with a couple of worrying issues and then all should be smooth sailing. But, isn’t it a fact; just when you think you’ve got all your ducks in a row, life can turn right around and bite you on the bottom?

I absolutely LOVED this series and there is a hint that this might not be the final book in this gem of a series that deserves to be far more widely known. But as it is still published as a trilogy, then I’m counting it as a completed series. Though no one will be happier than I if it proves to be false – this was one of the major reading highlights of my year. Read my review.

I’m aware that it doesn’t look all that impressive, only four series completed, but that meant that over the whole year, I’d finished eleven series. I’ll take that as a solid result. I’m also making an effort to catch up with other series that I’ve let lapse. Have you recently completed or caught up with any series?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Galaxy, and the Ground Within – Book 4 of the Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheGalaxyandtheGroundWithinbookreview

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This has been one of my most keenly anticipated reads of 2021 – even though I’m aware that said anticipation is something of a poisoned chalice. For if it doesn’t blow me away as the previous three books have – see my reviews of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, A Closed and Common Orbit and my mini-review of To Be Taught, If Fortunate – then I’ll be very disappointed. But I’m aware that it’s not reasonable to expect an author to produce four books in a row that all blow me away…

BLURB: With no water, no air, and no native life, the planet Gora is unremarkable. The only thing it has going for it is a chance proximity to more popular worlds, making it a decent stopover for ships traveling between the wormholes that keep the Galactic Commons connected. If deep space is a highway, Gora is just your average truck stop. At the Five-Hop One-Stop, long-haul spacers can stretch their legs (if they have legs, that is), and get fuel, transit permits, and assorted supplies. The Five-Hop is run by an enterprising alien and her sometimes helpful child, who work hard to provide a little piece of home to everyone passing through.

When a freak technological failure halts all traffic to and from Gora, three strangers—all different species with different aims—are thrown together at the Five-Hop. Grounded, with nothing to do but wait, the trio—an exiled artist with an appointment to keep, a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, and a mysterious individual doing her best to help those on the fringes—are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they are, or could be, to each other.

REVIEW: I needn’t have worried – once again, Chambers weaves her magic. We are drawn into the lives of these disparate individuals as they are temporarily trapped at a small stop-over. Each one of these characters are aliens with very different bodies, customs and cultures – Roveg is a Quelin, though exiled from his homeworld; Speaker is an Akarak, frantic at being separated from her twin, and Pei is the one character who links us back to the first book, as he is Ashby’s lover. Their needs are being catered by a Ouloo and her adolescent child Tupo, who both captured my heart more than any of the other characters. That said, each one of them have their own challenges and simply do the best to get by – which resonated with me.

What leapt off the page was everyone’s striving to do their best to be accommodating and polite, despite finding themselves stranded in quite difficult circumstances. Which was often in stark contrast to what has been unfolding during 2020, while we grapple with our own difficult circumstances… Nonetheless there are cultural tensions – and they flare one evening when at least one of the characters has had too much to drink. And it is Ouloo’s response that brought tears to my eyes when she announces that she knows that what has happened to both Pei’s and Speaker’s people is completely unacceptable – but there is nothing that she can do about that. She is simply overwhelmed by the complexity of the arguments on both sides. What she can do is try to help people feel at home and relaxed when they stop off for supplies – and serve desserts they find delicious.

I am conscious that I’ve made this story sound rather sappy and Pollyanna-ish and it’s nothing of the sort. Despite the relative gentleness of Chambers’ writing, she doesn’t shy away from some gnarly subjects our small band of aliens are encountering – sexual and cultural prejudice, and the plight of refugees who through no fault of their own have no planet with no imminent hope of being allocated one because they fall outside the accepted norms in appearance… I’m aware my review hasn’t begun to adequately describe the magic of Chambers’ writing – probably because I’m not really sure how she does it.

However, I urge you to go looking for this one if you’re scratching your head at my inane attempt to try and sum up this book – and try it for yourself. If you fall under her spell, chances are, you’ll be thanking me if you do. It’s made my Outstanding Reads of 2021, that’s for sure. While I obtained an arc of The Galaxy, and the Ground Within from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – Every great love starts with a story… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffromancecovers

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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 ROMANCE covers. I’ve selected A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute, which I read as a girl and absolutely loved. I know it’s not a classic love story – but if the hero actually gets himself crucified for the love of his life, that’s got to be romantic, right?

Vintage Classic, Sept 2009

This cover, produced by Vintage Classics in September 2009 is one of the better ones, I think. I like the bright yellow which contrasts well with the black silhouette figures. The juxtaposition of Jean and Joe works really well and I think the Japanese guard in the background also gives a sense of threat. What I don’t like is the lack of contrast between the title font colour and the cover. The title disappears – in fact initially I thought the book was called Vintage Classics…

Ballentine, August 1985

Published in August 1985 by Ballentine, this is an interesting cover. It looks as though the original was painted in watercolours, which gives an oddly insubstantial look to the hero and heroine. I did wonder if this was because the cover had faded over time, but there are several renditions of it on Goodreads, and they all have the same slightly transparent look to the figures. That said, I think it has a rather lovely charm all of its own.

Kindle edition, Jan 2013

This Kindle edition, published in January 2013 is my favourite. I’m guessing that it takes the image from an earlier publication – this book was originally published in 1950 and has been in print ever since – but I really like it. And yes – don’t faint, but I even like the textbox in this one, too. It doesn’t intrude on the powerful images of a very ragged Jean staring straight out at us, as if begging for help. With the terrible procession of women and children who were forced on a death march across Malaya in the background. The lettering really pops against the background and its styling gives a strong sense of the period in which the story is set.

Pan, 1968

Published by Pan in 1968, this cover is so very nearly my favourite. The strong yellow background immediately draws the eye, giving a sense of the heat. I love the grouping of the characters, with Jean hunched and clearly in distress and the Japanese guard scowling in the background. The lettering is bold and clearly shows the title, even in thumbnail. So why isn’t this one my favourite? Because there is something a bit stagey and contrived about the way the woman is sitting forward, ensuring we get a good view of her cleavage.

Dutch edition, 1952

This Dutch edition, published in 1952 by Zuid-Hollandsche Uitgeversmaatschappij, is a cover design inspired by the film of the book. And the Jean Paget looking anxiously over her shoulder is taken straight from the poster featuring Virginia McKenna. The problem with this one is that the textbox in this cover does rather squash the image. And the colours, given that this is set in a tropical country, are curiously cool, so don’t give a sense of the heat. So which one is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Night Parade of 100 Demons – A Legend of the Five Rings novel by Marie Brennan #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheNightParadeof100Demonsbookreview

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I love Brennan’s writing, particularly the awesome Lady Trent series – see my review of A Natural History of Dragons, The Tropic of Serpents, The Voyage of the Basilisk, and Within the Sanctuary of Wings and the first book the spinoff series, Turning Darkness into Light. I also enjoyed the entertaining duology, Warrior and Witch, the novella Cold-Forged Flame, and the first two books of the Onyx book series Midnight Never Come and In Ashes Lie. And I’ve made a Covet the Cover feature of her books. So I was thrilled to see this offering on Netgalley.

BLURB: A thrilling epic fantasy adventure in the astonishing realm of Legend of the Five Rings, as two rival clans join forces to investigate a lethal supernatural mystery

Chaos has broken out in the isolated Dragon Clan settlement of Seibo Mura. During the full moon, horrifying creatures rampage through the village, unleashing havoc and death. When the Dragon samurai Agasha no Isao Ryotora is sent to investigate, he faces even greater danger than expected. To save the village, he must confront his buried past – not to mention an unexpected Phoenix Clan visitor, Asako Sekken, who has his own secrets to hide. The quest to save Sebo Mura will take the two samurai into the depths of forgotten history and the shifting terrain of the Spirit Realms… and bring them face to face with an ancient, terrifying evil.

REVIEW: What is speedily apparent by the blurb alone, is that this swords and sorcery adventure takes place within a Japanese setting, using their pantheon of demons and otherworldly creatures. While the trained samurai dealing with the outbreak are two very different young men from completely different backgrounds. What might not be quite so apparent – I certainly hadn’t realised it while reading the book – is that the world is also part of a very popular role-playing game. To be honest, I offer that info-nugget more as a matter of interest. If it encourages you to go and out and get hold of a copy, then I’m delighted – what I don’t want it to do is discourage you from doing so. Because you’ll be missing out on a wonderful story.

This tale drew me in from the first. Told in third person viewpoint through the characters of the two samurai who end up in the village trying to help this desperate state of affairs, I loved the setup right from the start. Brennan’s brilliant characterisation and scene setting came to the fore – and then the plot grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let me go. I’m a tad tired this morning as I stayed up far too late into the wee hours of the morning, unable to put this one down. And I dreamt of it as I slept…

The plot is also a joy – I didn’t see any of the twists coming, and the growing relationship between the two young men is beautifully and tenderly handled. I’m not the most romantic soul – but from halfway into this book, I was willing both these likeable characters to get together. There is plenty of action and lots of tension as the stakes go on growing ever higher – so the appearance of a very sassy cat in the last third of the book was a welcome slice of humour, in amongst the threat and battle. All in all, this is an absolutely cracking read and comes very highly recommended to all fans of excellent fantasy – whether you’ve heard of The Legend of the Five Rings game, or not… While I obtained an arc of The Night Parade of 100 Demons from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Sunday Post – 31st January, 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.

It was a quiet week. Frank stayed over until Monday evening which was a joy. He is always such very good company. We had a lazy morning in our PJ’s chatting about Life, the World and everything – as you do with a sixteen-year-old and then went for a walk along Littlehampton beach.

Once he went home, the rest of the week has been all about reading, working with my father-in-law on his memoir and getting the first draft of Trouble With Dwarves sorted out. Himself is now on his long weekend, so we went for a walk this morning along the beach. We are allowed to leave home to exercise, but we are being strongly encouraged to stay as close as home as possible for said exercise, hence the pics – once again – of Littlehampton beach and our bracing walk. As you can see, the sea was quite rough…

Last week I read:

Defending the Galaxy – Book 3 of the Sentinels of the Galaxy by Maria V. Snyder
Year 2522. Oh. My. Stars.
Junior Officer Ara Lawrence here, reporting for duty. Again. It’s situation critical for the security team and everyone in the base – including my parents – with a new attack from the looters imminent, a possible galaxy-wide crime conspiracy and an unstoppable alien threat. But this all pales in the face of my mind-blowing discovery about the Q-net. Of course, no one believes me. I’m not sure I believe me. It could just be a stress-induced delusion. That’s what my parents seem to believe…

Their concern for me is hampering my ability to do my job. I know they love me, but with the Q-net in my corner, I’m the only one who can help the security team beat the shadowy aliens from the pits we discovered. We’re holding them at bay, for now, but the entire Milky Way Galaxy is in danger of being overrun. With battles on too many fronts, it’s looking dire. But one thing I’ve learned is when people I love are in jeopardy, I’ll never give up trying to save them. Not until my dying breath. Which could very well be today…
This is a wonderful finale to a very entertaining, action-packed space opera series. I’ve rarely seen subjects like quantum entanglement and time dilation dealt with so entertainingly, yet effectively. And Ara’s character simply bounces off the page. But whatever you do, read the other two books first… Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK Tombland – Book 7 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom
Spring, 1549. Two years after the death of Henry VIII, England is sliding into chaos…
The king, Edward VI, is eleven years old. His uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, rules as Protector. Radical Protestants are conducting all out war on the old religion, stirring discontent among the people. The Protector’s prolonged war with Scotland is proving a disastrous failure. Worst of all, the economy is in collapse, inflation rages and rebellion is stirring among the peasantry.

Since the old King’s death, Matthew Shardlake has been working as a lawyer in the service of Henry’s younger daughter, the Lady Elizabeth. The gruesome murder of the wife of John Boleyn, a distant Norfolk relation of Elizabeth’s mother – which could have political implications for Elizabeth – brings Shardlake and his young assistant Nicholas Overton to the summer assizes at Norwich. There they are reunited with Shardlake’s former assistant Jack Barak. The three find layers of mystery and danger surrounding the death of Edith Boleyn, as more murders are committed. During their investigation, a peasant rebellion breaks out across the country. Yeoman Robert Kett establishes a vast camp outside Norwich and leads a force of thousands to overthow the landlords. Soon the rebels have taken over the city, England’s second largest.
This monster of a book (800+ pages) was wonderfully narrated and has held me throughout most of January. I have been a fan of this series for years – and I’m so glad that one of my reading targets last year was to catch up with those series that somehow slipped through the cracks. For this book is a tour de force and already, I have one of the books that will make my Outstanding Reads of 2021… Review to follow.

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell
Ancillary Justice meets Red, White & Royal Blue in Everina Maxwell’s exciting debut.
While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control.

But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other.
This was a lovely surprise! I’m not sure what I was expecting – but it wasn’t this lovely adventure, coupled with a slow-burn same-sex romance that was handled beautifully. Which didn’t swamp the fascinating political dynamic and I’m very much hoping that this is the first in a series. Review to follow.

The Monster MASH – Book 1 of the Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox
Ancient gods. Modern war. And a star-crossed couple who could use some divine intervention.

The day I was drafted into the army of the gods, all I knew about being a MASH surgeon was what I’d learned from Hawkeye Pierce and Hot Lips Houlihan. Now here I am, Dr. Petra Robichaud, in the middle of an immortal war, assigned to a MASH camp with a nosy sphinx, a vegetarian werewolf, and an uptight vampire who really needs to get a life.

At least they’re all too busy with their own dramas to discover my secret: I can see the dead. It’s a forbidden gift, one that can get me killed, so I haven’t told a soul. Until the arrestingly intense Galen arrives on my operating table, half-dead and totally to-die-for. When his spirit tries to slip out of his fatally wounded body, I impulsively slip it back in. Call it a rash resurrection. One I’ll live to regret.
A delightfully quirky read with a nice line in humour that prevents this being a bleak read. As a huge fan of the MASH TV series, I was pleased to see that this fantasy homage got the tone more or less spot on. Review to follow.

NOVELLA The Expert System’s Champion – Book 2 of The Expert System series by Adrian Tchaikovsky
It’s been ten years since Handry was wrenched away from his family and friends, forced to wander a world he no longer understood. But with the help of the Ancients, he has cobbled together a life, of sorts, for himself and his fellow outcasts.

Wandering from village to village, welcoming the folk that the townships abandon, fighting the monsters the villagers cannot—or dare not—his ever-growing band of misfits has become the stuff of legend, a story told by parents to keep unruly children in line. But there is something new and dangerous in the world, and the beasts of the land are acting against their nature, destroying the towns they once left in peace.
When I didn’t get a review copy of this one, I pre-ordered it, being a solid Tchaikovsky fan. And I’ve still to write the review of this one, as my feelings about it are a tad tangled. It was one of my most anticipated reads of 2021 and it didn’t quite live up to my very high expectations of it – though that didn’t prevent it being a solidly good book. Review to follow.

The Lord of Stariel – Book 1 of the Stariel series by A.J. Lancaster
The Lord of Stariel is dead. Long live the Lord of Stariel. Whoever that is.

Everyone knows who the magical estate will choose for its next ruler. Or do they? Will it be the lord’s eldest son, who he despised? His favourite nephew, with the strongest magical land-sense? His scandalous daughter, who ran away from home years ago to study illusion?

Hetta knows it won’t be her, and she’s glad of it. Returning home for her father’s funeral, all Hetta has to do is survive the family drama and avoid entanglements with irritatingly attractive local men until the Choosing. Then she can leave. But whoever Stariel chooses will have bigger problems than eccentric relatives to deal with.
Another solid delight! Himself strongly recommended this one and I read waaay into the night as I found it impossible to put down. I’ve a couple of Netgalley reads to get through – but just as soon as I can, I’ll be tucking into the next book in the series! Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

AUDIOBOOK Review of Eating Things on Sticks by Anne Fine

Friday Face-off featuring To Say Nothing of the Dog – Book 2 of the Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis

Covet the Covers featuring Maria V. Snyder

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Murder at the Ritz by Jim Eldridge

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

Tuesday Treasures – 24

Review of Chasing the Shadows – Book 2 of the Sentinels of the Galaxy by Maria V. Snyder

Sunday Post – 24th January 2021

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Isandlwana https://robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com/2021/01/22/thursdaydoors-isandlwana/ Thursday Doors is a quirky weekly photo blog and I loved this contribution…

2020 First-Time Foraging Experiences Around Leeuwarden https://operationxblog.wordpress.com/2020/12/30/2020-first-time-foraging-experiences/ It was a terrible year on so many levels, but it did give some folks an opportunity to try new things…

Hope Blooms https://cindyknoke.com/2021/01/22/hope-blooms/ Cindy’s amazing photos regularly feature on this spot – but this particular post may well chime with a number of you…

18 Amazing Things You Can’t Miss on Your Trip to Zanzibar https://colorfulsisters.com/2021/01/26/18-amazing-things-you-cant-miss-on-your-trip-to-zanzibar-things-to-do/ While we are in lockdown, unable to go anywhere other than exercise or when supporting the family in our support bubble, I find blogs like this such a comfort…

FROM THE GREAT STATE OF TEXAS https://powerfulwomenreaders.wordpress.com/2021/01/30/from-the-great-state-of-texas/ Rae is a wonderful inspirational teacher who I have had the privilege of meeting online and she also takes part in the marvellous My Little Free Library and this article features on the books that turned up, here…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog. I hope you had a peaceful, healthy week – and do take care. x

Friday Faceoff – Old friends, like old swords, are still trusted best… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffclassic/vintagecovers

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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 CLASSIC SCI FI covers.

I’ve attempted to find an older science fiction book to feature that I particularly enjoyed – and discovered that I generally don’t read vintage stories, these days. So I finally settled upon To Say Nothing of the Dog – Book 2 of the Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis, one of the most magnificently funny and joyful books I’ve read in the past few years – see my review. Which isn’t a surprise when a lot of the inspiration of it comes from the wonderfully ageless Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome.

This edition was produced by Spectra in January 1998. It’s busy and the scenes do relate directly to the content – but that’s all I can say in praise of it. You’d never guess that this is a humorous book with a strong Victorian inspiration, looking at this cover. And given that a cover should also give a sense of the overall tone, then it is doesn’t hit the mark.

Published in May 2013 by Gollanczs, this cover again successfully tackles much of the subject matter within the book. But that dark blue and distorted view of Coventry Cathedral evokes a sense of dread or foreboding – where is the glorious lazing along the river? The sheer joy of the farcical plot and the wonderfully eccentric characters? Nope, not getting a HINT of it here…

This edition, published by J’ai Lu in May 2000, has taken us onto the water. But while the sepia tones and the stiffly posed characters on the riverbank do give me a strong sense of the Victorian era – I’m expecting either a man-eating eel to suddenly erupt from the water, or some ghostly menace to creep from the head of one of those spooky-looking characters. Where is the joy and madcap chaos and sheer cleverness of this wonderful book? I know, I know… I’m sounding like a cracked record!

This edition, produced by Allen & Unwin in February 2012 has at least effectively evoked the correct tone – I don’t get the sense that an axe murderer is about to jump out from behind the bridge. And we also have the dog of the title. BUT anyone who has spent any time on this site will know that I LOATHE textboxes and here is a ghastly example slap bang in the middle of the cover.

This Japanese edition, published by Hayakawa Shobō in April 2004, FINALLY hits the mark. Here we have the main characters punting down the river. I love the fact that the design has been slightly tweaked so there is an eastern flavour to it. But shame on alll those UK publishers who dismally failed to evoke the zany Englishness that Willis, a remarkably talented American author, so wonderfully wrote. Needless to say – this is my favourite! Have you read the book? Which cover do you prefer?

My Outstanding Reads of 2020 #Brainfluffbookblogger #2020OutstandingReads

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The wonderful books I’ve encountered during this horrible year have, at times, kept my head straight when other pressures have added an extra twist of awfulness due to the pandemic. I have encountered a number of talented authors I’d previously not had the pleasure of reading (I’m looking at you Mary Robinette Kowal, Elisabeth Bear, Marilyn Messik and T. Kingfisher) and managed to complete 11 series, while working my way through 66 other series. I’ll get more nerdy in my post about the stats relating to my 2020 reads, later in the week.

During 2020 I read 184 books and wrote 155 full reviews, with 23 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give them a 10 – but these books have stayed with me, which is why they made the cut. And let’s forget any top ten nonsense – whittling down my list to this paltry number was painful enough!

Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Despite reading this one back in January, I often found myself thinking about brave, clever Emily and what she underwent. That is the mark of a special book – when it won’t leave you alone. I think it’s one of Tchaikovsky’s best, and given the man’s towering talent, that’s saying something. See my review.

AUDIOBOOK Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear
Elizabeth Bear is another wonderful author I discovered this year – and the good news is that she has a pleasingly long backlist. This one was an utter joy to listen to – Haimey’s first-person narrative held me throughout, even though the pacing was somewhat leisurely at times. This book at 500+ pages has it all – vivid action scenes, nail-biting tension, and plenty of plot twists and shocking reveals. And of course a space cat – who could resist that? See my review.

You Let me In by Camilla Bruce
By rights, this shouldn’t have worked for me – I really don’t like books featuring an abused child. But the way Bruce posits this situation is masterfully done, as Cassie narrates her adventures with Pepperman, a grumpy and dangerous fae entity, who draws the small child into the world of the fae. This book has also stayed with me throughout the year. Read my review.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey
This is such a simple book with lots of pictures. The story of four different creatures, who come together to help each other. It could so easily have turned into a treacly, sentimental mess. But it doesn’t. My lovely sister-in-law gave me my copy and it has been beside me ever since. Read my review.

TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier
The opening sequence of this book immediately hooked me and wouldn’t let me go. I enjoy Neumeier’s writing, anyway. But this amazing world and the vividness of her characters still have me regularly thinking about them. In particular, the depiction of being ensorcelled was brilliantly portrayed – I’ve never seen it done better. Read my review.

AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys
This riveting world has left me yearning for more after reading the first book Winter Tide, which made my Outstanding Reads of 2017. So I was thrilled to discover this offering. Aphra is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents, friends and relations when confronted with a new danger. Once more I was pulled into a tense adventure where Lovecraftian monsters were only part of the threat. Read my review.

Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron
This is as much about the celebration of this quirky, enjoyable series, as much as it is about the climactic battle that wraps up the story. Peopled with shape-shifting dragons, a powerful ghost who assumes the shape of a cat and an enraged nature goddess, this urban fantasy reaches epic proportions, with all sorts of surprises and twists along the way. Review to follow.

The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey
I very much enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts, but I liked this even better. Koli is an endearing character with his youth and restless energy that gets him into far too much trouble within his village. This book is set in post-apocalyptic England, where even trees have become feral – but there are welcome shafts of light, too. Read my review.

AUDIOBOOK The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel
This whole series is a tour de force and I loved listening to this extraordinary conclusion to Cromwell’s life, as an embittered Henry VIII becomes ever more difficult to deal with – and Cromwell’s many enemies begin to circle. I wept at the end, which was wonderfully handled – and I’m still trying to work out how Mantel managed to keep me spellbound for so long, when I already knew the outcome before listening to the first chapter. Read my review.

Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
This was one of those books I picked up and couldn’t put down again. Messik’s writing is utterly addictive, as far as I’m concerned and Stella is now my new best friend. I finished this one far too fast and was miserable until I picked up the next one in the series. I think this was the worst book hangover I endured during the year. Review my review.

The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal
This is another of those wonderful authors I discovered this year – and this series just blew me away. I loved Elma York and her battles to gain recognition during the first two books in the series – but when this story introduced me to Nicole, who finds herself trying to track down a saboteur on the Moon, I not only loved every single minute of the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, afterwards. Read my review.

A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Martine Arkady
I tracked down this one, after hearing it compared to the great C.J. Cherryh’s immersive writing style. And I wasn’t disappointed. I loved watching poor Mahit, replacement ambassador to the enigmatic Teixcalaani empire, flounder as she tries to work out just how her predecessor died. This tense murder mystery played out in the far future kept me up far too late as I couldn’t put it down. Read my review.

AUDIOBOOK Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer
I have always enjoyed reading Children’s fiction, because the very best is far too good just to leave to the kids. And this gem certainly falls into that category. A children’s classic that was published in 1969, it is written with depth and sophistication about two schoolgirls who cris-cross into each other’s times. Until something happens to Charlotte… I loved this one. Set in 1918, the period is beautifully portrayed and the bittersweet ending has stayed with me. Read my review.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher
This is another of those books for children, which engrossed and delighted me. Mona is a baker’s apprentice with a small magical talent, who suddenly finds herself caught up in a murder. Events snowball entertainingly – and I found myself thoroughly enjoying Mona’s ingenious creations to try and stay ahead of the baddies. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths
I enjoy Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, so decided to try this latest series and absolutely loved it. There is a tongue-in-cheek Gothic vibe that I found very appealing. Though I have a shocking memory, the twists and turns of this enjoyable murder mystery have stayed with me. Read my review.

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
I was utterly beguiled by Vish when I first encountered him during the fifth book of the series, The Case of the Reincarnated Client earlier in the year and have been eking out the rest of the series ever since. Vish Puri is fond of calling himself the Indian Sherlock Holmes and his energetic attitude and passion for justice are very endearing – even if he does dismiss his clever, streetwise Mummy-Ji, who often takes a close interest in his cases. This book has an extra dimension and Hall is adept at dealing with hefty issues of the painful events around India’s partition in a respectful manner, without making it dreary. Read my review.

While I’d like to think that each one of these books offers some brain fodder, none of them are gloomy, downbeat reads as this year I needed to escape. And my favourite book of 2020? Probably Ancestor Nights, though I’m likely to claim it’s The Relentless Moon if you ask me the same question again tomorrow. And then there’s Relatively Strange, of course…

Six Favourite Heroes from my 2020 Reading List #Brainfluff6favouriteheroes

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Now that I’ve completed reading my 2020 Reading List, I’ve been delighted with the overall quality of the books I enjoyed throughout this car-crash of a year. Basically they kept my head straight. So who were the standout heroes of the year, who crept into my heart and won’t leave, even now it’s 2021? I’ll tell you…

Daniel Mackmain from the Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna
BLURB: Daniel Mackmain has always been a loner. As a dryad’s son, he can see the supernatural alongside everyday reality, and that’s not something he can easily share. Perhaps visiting East Anglia to stay with Finele Wicken and her family will be different. They have their own ties to the uncanny.

But something is amiss in the depths of the Fens. Creatures Dan has never encountered outside folk tales are growing uneasy, even hostile. He soon learns they have good reason. Can he help them before they retaliate and disaster strikes the unsuspecting locals? Can the Green Man help Dan in a landscape dominated by water for centuries, where the oaks were cut down aeons ago?

A modern fantasy rooted in the ancient myths and folklore of the British Isles.
I loved Daniel from the first book – such a clever blend of old folklore and modern life – and I really like how McKenna has developed his character. All three books – The Green Man’s Heir, The Green Man’s Foe and The Green Man’s Silence – are worth reading, but whatever you do, read them in order.

Penric from The Physicians of Vilnoc – Book 8 of the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold
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When a mysterious plague breaks out in the army fort guarding Vilnoc, the port capital of the duchy of Orbas, Temple sorcerer Penric and his demon Desdemona are called upon by General Arisaydia to resurrect Penric’s medical skills and solve its lethal riddle. In the grueling days that follow, Pen will find that even his magic is not enough to meet the challenges without help from dedicated new colleagues—and the god of mischance.
Again, this is a character I’ve been following since the first novella set in Bujold’s Five Gods World, though you don’t have to have ever picked up any of the Chalion books to fall in love with this one. Penric is now a very different character from the inexperienced young man who accidentally ended up hosting an old, powerful demon, in the first book, Penric’s Demon. As a bonus, there was also Masquerade in Lodi, published in October 2020, as well. Read my review of The Physicians of Vilnoc.

Thomas Cromwell from The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy by Hilary Mantel
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England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.

Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?
This fabulous series came to an end in 2020 with The Mirror and the Light and I felt I’d lost a friend. Yes, Cromwell is a bully… yes, he can be brutal, unyielding and confrontational. But he is also kind to animals and compassionate with women in an age where they are generally treated as lesser beings. I was also aware that this book didn’t just feature one complicated difficult man – but was in many ways a character study of Henry VIII, another complicated and difficult man… Mantel managed to do something extraordinary with this series and if I ever had a personality change and decided to start rereading books (I don’t) this would probably be the series I’d start with. To try to see how she did it… Read my review of The Mirror and the Light.

Vish Puri from The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
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Vish Puri is as fond of butter chicken as the next Punjabi. So when it’s served at the Delhi Durbar hotel at an India Premier League cricket match dinner, he’s the first to tuck in. Faheem Khan, father of Pakistani star cricketer Kamran Khan, can’t resist either. But the creamy dish proves his undoing. After a few mouthfuls, he collapses on the floor, dead…
I first encountered Vish when I read the Netgalley arc for the fifth book and I was absolutely delighted by this shrewd, eccentric man, his passion for justice and his method of solving cases. Along the way, we are also treated to a slice of the vividness that is India into the bargain. I’ve read the first three books and am hoping that if I leave it long enough before diving into the fourth book, Tarquin Hall will have a sixth ready for me. Read my mini-review of The Case of the Missing Servant.

Ryo inGara from TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier
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Raised a warrior in the harsh winter country, Ryo inGara has always been willing to die for his family and his tribe. When war erupts against the summer country, the prospect of death in battle seems imminent. But when his warleader leaves Ryo as a sacrifice — a tuyo — to die at the hands of their enemies, he faces a fate he never imagined.

Ryo’s captor, a lord of the summer country, may be an enemy . . . but far worse enemies are moving, with the current war nothing but the opening moves in a hidden game Ryo barely glimpses, a game in which all his people may be merely pawns. Suddenly Ryo finds his convictions overturned and his loyalties uncertain. Should he support the man who holds him prisoner, the only man who may be able to defeat their greater enemy? And even if he does, can he persuade his people to do the same?
Ryo captured my heart from the opening sequence when he is tied to a post and waiting to be killed – and wretched with guilt because he’d been angry with his brother for leaving him as a sacrifice. This book deserves to be far better known – it’s an amazing, immersive read and the bonus – I discovered the second book is now available when I looked up the blurb for this post😊. Read my review.

Al MacBharrais from Ink & Sigil – Book 1 of the Ink & Sigil series by Kevin Hearneine
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Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails – and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae.

But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his personal life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse.

But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective – while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice’s death will take him through Scotland’s magical underworld, and he’ll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he’s to survive.
I’ve now reached a time in my life where I generally don’t expect to encounter protagonists in my age group. So it was a solid joy to find a protagonist who grumbled at times about his joints and isn’t necessarily the last thing in athletic fitness. I also found him amusing, clever and genuinely original. I’m very much looking forward to reading more about Al later this year. Read my review.