Category Archives: outstanding books

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #13

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

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

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

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

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

This week I’ve read:-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Chapel in the Woods – Book 11 of the Jack Haldean Murder Mystery series by Dolores Gordon-Smith #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheChapelintheWoodsbookreview

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I can’t lie – once again, it was the lovely 1920s cover that first caught my eye. And then, skimming the blurb, the phrase ‘intricately-plotted 1920s mystery’ jumped out. I’m a sucker for a well-constructed whodunit and the 1920s setting generally means it won’t be too grisly or grungy. So I requested it and I’m so pleased I was approved for this one…

BLURB:There’s something in those woods that shouldn’t be there . . .”

Enjoying a weekend in the country with his cousin Isabelle, Jack Haldean is intrigued to learn that the neighbouring estate of Birchen Bower has been bought by wealthy Canadian businessman Tom Jago. Determined to restore the place to its former glory, Jago has invited the local villagers to a fete to celebrate the grand re-opening of the 17th century family chapel.

But the afternoon’s entertainment is cut short by the discovery of a body, mauled to death as if by a wild animal. Previously owned by the eccentric Cayden family, Birchen Bower has a long and colourful history, and is rumoured to be haunted. Is there any truth to the ancient family legend of the Jaguar Princess . . . and could she have claimed another victim? And what’s happened to Jago’s employee, Derek Martin and his wife, who have disappeared without trace . . . along with Mrs Jago’s diamonds? Refusing to believe the wild tales of man-eating beasts prowling the grounds, Jack sets out to uncover the truth. But then a second badly-ravaged body is discovered . . . Could the rumours be true after all?

REVIEW: You’ll probably have noticed that I’ve done it again – jumped midway into a series, given this is the eleventh book. And while I’m sure that if I’d have read the previous ten instalments, there would be allusions and plot threads that I’ve missed, but having all that go over my head didn’t stop me appreciating this thumping good murder mystery.

The setup is wonderfully familiar – a small social clique when an acquaintance issues an invitation to our plucky protagonist and his lovely wife and they are confronted with an upsetting and mysterious death. Gordon-Smith has a nice grasp of her characters and writes well in the conventions of the golden age of murder mysteries without sounding forced or tongue-in-cheek. The pages flew by as the initial disappearance and subsequent murders became a real puzzle that flummoxed the protagonists to the extent that I became a bit concerned that the denouement would be unbelievably silly – something I hate. I needn’t have worried – there were a cascade of plot-twisting surprises that suddenly had me rethinking the whole situation. I love it when I find myself flipping back through the book to ensure the author hasn’t cheated.

Not only did Gordon-Smith play it absolutely straight, I was then able to see the various clues that she’d seeded throughout that made complete sense now that I understood what was going on. Nicely done! The plotting and whole approach reminded me of Agatha Christie’s writing – and I don’t generally make those kinds of comparisons. All in all, this is cracking whodunit and very highly recommended for fans of the genre. I shall certainly be backtracking and getting hold of more of Jack Haldean’s former adventures. While I obtained an arc of The Chapel in the Woods from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #11

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

Today is a rather grim anniversary. It’s a year ago today that Himself was notified that he tested positive for Covid-19 – and though we weren’t to know it at the time, from that day on our lives have completely changed. We both went down with the illness hard, though Himself was sicker than I was and avoided going into hospital by a whisker, as his sleep apnea caused some complications. I felt lucky in that I didn’t struggle to breathe, but instead had to cope with muscle pain and complete exhaustion. And unfortunately, once I recovered from the illness itself, those spells of utter fatigue have never left me. I am also suffering a range of other long-lasting symptoms, including nasal drip, tinnitus and a swollen thyroid, but frankly they pale into insignificance against the mind-numbing exhaustion that leaves me scarcely able to move. The worst spell was in the second half of August where I lay in bed for a fortnight feeling like a zombie – and once I felt well enough to get out of bed without shaking, I found that I had lost a great deal of ground. Indeed, I’m still unable to do things that were possible before that episode.

Since then, I’ve been using the Pacing method recommended for ME sufferers, seeing a reflexologist, taking recommended vitamin supplements and being very careful about what what I eat. At times – around Christmas, for example – I’ve made progress when my energy levels seem to be improving, only to be once more struck down for several days when I could barely move out of bed. For the majority of this last year, my main daily achievement has been having a shower and getting dressed, though there have been extended periods when even that was completely beyond me. Thank goodness for books and TV – I think I would have gone mad if I hadn’t had other worlds to escape into.

Fortunately, this last week has been a good one. Our grandson stayed over, which is always a treat – and we were thrilled to hear that he got 74% for his last assignment. He is really enjoying his college course and working hard on the next module – it’s lovely to see him so enthusiastic. On Monday, we visited the local garden centre for a cup of tea and to do some shopping which was another milestone – we hadn’t been there since the beginning of August. I spent Wednesday, Friday and Saturday resting up, as on Thursday my lovely sister-in-law and my niece visited. It was wonderful to see them again, as I hadn’t seen Celia since we were in Bexhill together on our writing retreat back in October 2020. It seems like a lifetime ago.

The other bright spot has been the quality of the books I’ve been reading this week – they have all been exceptional and come very highly recommended.

This week I’ve read:-

AUDIOBOOK – The Clifftop Murders – Book 2 of the Dorset Crime series by Rachel McLean
DCI Lesley Clarke is settling into her new job in Dorset’s Major Crimes Unit, and becoming accustomed to a slower pace of life. But then she’s called in to solve the murder of a woman with links to Lesley’s new girlfriend.

Has Lesley made a grave error of judgement? Can she track down the killer or does she already know her? And how will Lesley’s new colleagues react when she tells them she’s dating a suspect?
I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, and once again I was quickly drawn into the story. The bonus is that as I was born and brought up in the area, I know all the place names that get sprinkled around, which gives me a clear picture of the setting. 8/10

The Face of the Enemy – Book 23 of the Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
The Necromantic Wars are over, but there is no peace. In the aftermath of the struggle, long-held grudges are boiling over and conflicts are breaking out. The monarchs want to settle border disputes, the aristocrats want to impose their will on monarchs and peasants alike, the commoners want freedom and justice and the magical communities want to rule all or else separate themselves from the mundanes. And most of this chaos is being orchestrated by Emily’s mentor, the sorcerer Void. He believes the only path to salvation for the Allied Lands is to make himself the undisputed ruler of the world.

After discovering the truth – too late – Emily is on the run, blamed for the disorder by friend and foe alike. With a handful of allies by her side, Emily must find a safe place to gather herself and strike back before it is too late to save what remains of the Allied Lands. And yet, as she flees through lands plagued by civil wars and rebellious nobility, hunted by powerful sorcerers, aristocrats and rebels who want to kill her or use her for their own purposes, she is forced to accept it may not be possible to save everything and to realize, as much as she might wish to deny it, that her mentor might be right. And yet, she also knows the path to hell is paved with good intentions…
This is the penultimate book in this wide-ranging series that has given me a ringside seat into a politically complicated world that has been rocked by Emily’s inventions. I continue to be impressed at how deftly Nuttall manages to produce a very powerful heroine, who nonetheless has real vulnerabilities so that she is often at real risk. And I’m putting off reading the final book in this adventure, as I’ve become very fond of her. 9/10

Assassin’s Noon – Book 4 of the Ageless Mysteries series by Vanessa Nelson
One of the city’s wealthiest and most powerful residents is found dead in his own home. Murder is suspected, but the house was supposed to be absolutely secure against any intruder. Thea is faced with a hostile group of household servants inside the house and demands for swift justice outside its walls.

Working with Mage Niath, it doesn’t take long to realise that it’s not a straightforward death and the dead man has ties to opponents they have faced before. Can Thea uncover the truth of the death before the tensions in the city spill over and more deaths occur?
I pre-ordered this one – something I don’t do very often. But Vanessa Nelson is now one of my favourite authors, thanks to this classy fantasy. A police procedural set in a medieval city where young Thea slakes her thirst for justice by joining the Watch – and puts her unique talents to work in catching killers and law breakers. And once again, this one didn’t disappoint. 10/10

The Chapel in the Woods – Book 11 of the Jack Haldean Murder Mystery series by Dolores Gordon-Smith

Enjoying a weekend in the country with his cousin Isabelle, Jack Haldean is intrigued to learn that the neighbouring estate of Birchen Bower has been bought by wealthy Canadian businessman Tom Jago. Determined to restore the place to its former glory, Jago has invited the local villagers to a fete to celebrate the grand re-opening of the 17th century family chapel.

But the afternoon’s entertainment is cut short by the discovery of a body, mauled to death as if by a wild animal. Previously owned by the eccentric Cayden family, Birchen Bower has a long and colourful history, and is rumoured to be haunted. Is there any truth to the ancient family legend of the Jaguar Princess . . . and could she have claimed another victim? And what’s happened to Jago’s employee, Derek Martin and his wife, who have disappeared without trace . . . along with Mrs Jago’s diamonds? Refusing to believe the wild tales of man-eating beasts prowling the grounds, Jack sets out to uncover the truth. But then a second badly-ravaged body is discovered . . . Could the rumours be true after all?
I enjoy a good murder mystery, especially one set in the 1920s – and this is one is a cut above the average by quite a way. The plotting and steady unspooling of clues that make sense after the denouement put me in mind of Agatha Christie – and I don’t sling around those comparisons lightly. Full review to follow. 10/10

AUDIOBOOK – Invader – Sequence 1, Book 2 of the Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh
Nearly two centuries after the starship Phoenix disappeared, leaving an isolated colony of humans on the world of the atevi, it unexpectedly returns, threatening the stability of both atevi and human governments. With the situation fast becoming critical, Bren Cameron, the brilliant, young paidhi to the court of the atevi is recalled from Mospheira where he has just undergone surgery. Upon his return to the mainland, he Cameron finds that his government has sent in his paidhi-successor, Deana Hanks—representative of a dangerous faction on Mospheira who hate the atevi.

Haunted by the threat of assassination, Bren realizes his only hope may be to communicate with the Phoenix as the spokesman of the atevi—an action which may cut him off for good from his own species. Yet if he doesn’t take this desperate action, he may be forced to witness the destruction of the already precarious balance of world power.
There are books which I’ve found make riveting listening – and this extraordinary series is one of them. The writing is dense and at times, when Bren is stressed, his thoughts can whirl in circular patterns – which is very realistic. But when reading them off the page can get a tad tedious. Daniel May Thomas’s brilliant narration brings all that tension and crisis to life so that I’ve been absolutely rapt listening to this adventure. Very highly recommended if you like your sci fi nuanced and layered. 10/10

The Battle of Hollow Jimmy – Book 2 of Shoot the Humans First series by Becky Black
Maiga wants to vanish. She wants to leave Hollow Jimmy before someone recognises her and remembers her part in the events that led to the human race being all but wiped out. Though the station is a sanctuary, she knows there’s a new home elsewhere in the darkness. But others have plans too, for Maiga and for Hollow Jimmy. Their fates are about to be intertwined.

Captain Bara wants revenge. Perhaps that will silence the noises only she can hear aboard her ship, the Trebuchet. A ship whose name is becoming a curse to those who would like to see humanity finished off once and for all. For Bara, Hollow Jimmy is not a sanctuary. It’s a fortress. It’s a place for her to start a war.
This space station adventure is another gem in a duology that deserves to be far better known. I was left reeling after the twist ending of Shoot the Humans First – and gave myself a bit of time to process it before diving into this one. It is a tense page-turner that has stayed in the memory. Black’s super-power is writing awkward yet sympathetic protagonists – and I liked the fact that the villain was also a woman. Highly recommended. 10/10

This week I have posted:
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of For the Murder – Book 1 of The Murder series by Gabrielle Ash

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Scot Mist – Book 4 of the Last Ditch Mystery series by Catriona McPherson #BrainfluffNETGALLEYreview #ScotMistbookreview

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I liked the look of the cover and the blurb sounded thoroughly intriguing. While I probably wouldn’t have wanted to pick up a murder mystery set in the early stages of lockdown last year, now those weird days of 2020 seem such a very long time ago. What I hadn’t appreciated is that this is the fourth book in the series.

BLURB: March 2020 and Operation Cocker is a go! The owners of the Last Ditch Motel, with a little help from their friend Lexy Campbell, are preparing to support one another through the oncoming lockdown, offering the motel’s spare rooms to a select few from the local area in need of sanctuary.

While the newbies are settling in, an ambiguous banner appears demanding one of them return home. But who is it for? Lexy and her friends put a plan into action to ward off the perpetrator, but the very next night, a resident disappears and a message scrawled in human blood is found. As California shuts down, the Last Ditchers make another gruesome discovery. They tried to create a haven but now it seems as if everyone’s in danger. Is the motel under attack from someone on the outside? Scary as that is, the alternative is worse by far.

REVIEW: Despite this being the fourth book in the series, this was my first foray into Lexy’s quirky world of eccentrics who all, for one reason or another, fall outside what society regards as the norm. Lexy, a Scot who has relatively recently arrived in California is the first person protagonist in this irreverent and unusual murder mystery. Noleen and her wife, Kathi, who is also a compulsive cleaner, are worried that the authorities will force them to hand over The Last Ditch Motel and Skweeky-Cleen laundrette as part of the national emergency sweeping across the country in the face of the looming pandemic. So Lexy comes up with a solution – fill the rooms with relatives of front-line workers who want to shield their families from possible infection. Or those who will be particularly vulnerable, which includes her boyfriend’s blind mother. In amongst those who are keen to move in are two spouses enduring physical and emotional abuse, along with two very small children. In fact, they end up with twelve adults and five children keen to join in their lockdown before it actually becomes a legal requirement. Meanwhile, Lexy is living a short distance away in her houseboat, which is connected to the motel by barbed wire fencing.

While the murder mystery certainly provides much of the narrative drive, the interaction between the guests and their unfolding stories also keeps the pages turning. McPherson’s humour ranges from pure farce, to witty wordplay and plenty of enjoyable snark. I was grinning while reading and on occasions laughed out loud. But what I loved most is the amount of heart and warmth in amongst the smart cynicism. Though this is a story about betrayal leading to murder, it is also a book about love and acceptance – though you won’t catch Lexy putting it in those terms. This noisy and extended found family all have their problems, and while there are irritations on a day to day level – providing much of the mayhem and hilarity that runs throughout the book – there is a basic fund of good will that is the bedrock of this small community.

So a murder that might incriminate one of the people living in the motel immediately undermines that cohesion and Lexy is determined to discover the culprit as fast as possible. As this is the fourth book in the series, she and her companions have a track record in solving murders – something the local police officer is determined won’t happen again. I liked how the stakes were raised in this story and I particularly enjoyed how the murder was solved. McPherson clearly has a profound understanding of how people tick, managing to keep a strong sense of compassion along with the humour, which is far harder to pull off than she makes it look. This might have been my first experience of McPherson’s writing, but it certainly won’t be my last. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Scot Mist from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Lamentation – Book 6 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom #Brainfluffbookreview #Lamentationbookreview

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One of my targets for last year was to go back and resume following series that I’ve loved, but subsequently neglected in favour of the new and shiny. This is one of those series – I have formerly loved this series – as my review of Revelation makes clear. So I got hold of Lamentation to see if Matthew Shardlake’s adventures still had the power to enthrall…

BLURB – truncated: Summer, 1546. King Henry VIII is slowly, painfully dying. His Protestant and Catholic councilors are engaged in a final and decisive power struggle; whoever wins will control the government. As heretics are hunted across London, and radical Protestants are burned at the stake, the Catholic party focuses its attack on Henry’s sixth wife – and Matthew Shardlake’s old mentor – Queen Catherine Parr. Shardlake, still haunted by his narrow escape from death the year before, steps into action when the beleaguered and desperate Queen summons him to Whitehall Palace to help her recover a dangerous manuscript… And that’s all I’m prepared to reveal of this very chatty blurb that reveals far too many early plotpoints in the book.

REVIEW: Shardlake is older and during this period of religious tumult, continuing working as a lawyer and trying to keep his head down. For he no longer has the patronage of Thomas Cromwell and during some of his former adventures, managed to incur the wrath of some powerful men, especially Richard Rich. I very much liked how Shardlake is affected by his traumatic involvement in the sinking of the Mary Rose, which gives a nice ring of authenticity to his character. And I also enjoyed how he is unable to resist the draw of once more getting involved in matters concerning the highest in the land – even though such involvement comes at a very high cost.

He has loved Catherine Parr from afar for a long time – and there is no one in his own life to blunt the edges of his yawning loneliness, which seeps through his account. Often shunned and verbally abused for having a hunched back, he is nonetheless a highly intelligent, sensitive man with a brilliant mind. Sansom’s characterisation is pitch perfect – and I also love his descriptions of London, where a sudden crackdown leading to four public burnings, has left many feeling frightened and exposed. As for Shardlake, he now finds it difficult to gain any real comfort from praying to God – a response to an increasing sense of disgust at the lack of religious freedom. Despite the risk to himself, and to his long-time right-hand man, Jack Barack, Shardlake gets involved in one of the most dangerous cases of his life. With almost catastrophic consequences…

I whipped through this fairly hefty book (600+ pages) in just four days, because once I’d picked it up, it was very, very difficult to put down again. Once more Shardlake beautifully blends historic fact with gripping fiction – and this being the reign of Henry VIII – the fact is every bit as enthralling as the fiction. I’m so very glad I decided to make this the year where I went back and completed series I’d dropped – because Lamentation is one of my reading highlights of the year. And if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading any of this series and your taste runs to well-written historical fiction, then give yourself a Christmas present and get hold of the first book, Dissolution.
10/10

SUNDAY POST – 12th December 2021

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This is my roundup of my reading and blogging week, hosted by Kimberly at the Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s only been the last few days that I’ve appreciated just how quickly Christmas is looming. What with one thing and another – it’s been on the backburner. And when I finally surfaced sufficiently to realise how quickly it is approaching, I also realised that this long weekend is going to be the time when we get it sorted out.

Himself got the decorations down from the loft yesterday. We’re not going to be fully decorating the house – the children’s rooms won’t be touched, for instance. And I’m cutting back on the amount of ornaments going around the lounge and kitchen – but I do want the lights up, the tree decorated and the nativity on display. And of course the kitchen dresser should be decked out, too. It always looks fabulous… Himself will be doing most of it this year. Normally it’s my job, along with the grandchildren. But this year, everything is different – and I refuse to think in terms of it being miserable, or depressing. It’s just a break from the normal run of things.

We are having my sister over for the Christmas meal, so we have sorted out the menu. Himself will be cooking it, which is what usually happens. I won’t be making homemade mince pies, sausage rolls, stuffing or my special Dorset Apple pudding this time around, however.

I’ll talk in more detail about what transpired healthwise, next week. But otherwise, I had a good reading week and enjoyed the books I tucked into. Storm Barra hit us on Monday and Tuesday with torrential rain and galeforce winds, but we were lucky not to have any power cuts or damage. J’s shift meant we weren’t able to get out until Friday, when I had to attend my reflexology appointment. Driving back along the coast on the way home, with the sun setting over the sea was glorious.

This week I’ve read:-
Beltane – Book 1 of The Spellworker Chronicles series by Alys West
When Zoe Rose stays at Anam Cara – a guest house in Glastonbury, a town steeped in magic and myth – she dreams of a handsome stranger. The next day she meets him. Tall with untidy brown hair and grey eyes, Finn is funny and intelligent but doesn’t open up easily. Instantly drawn to him, Zoe doesn’t initially recognise him as the man from her dream. When Finn finds out where Zoe is staying he warns her not to trust Maeve, the healer who owns Anam Cara.

His enigmatic comments fuel Zoe’s growing unease about what’s happening at Anam Cara. What power does Maeve have over the minds of the other guests? Is it coincidence that they become ill after she’s given them healing? Why does the stone table in the garden provoke memories of blood and terror? And how did the Green Man, carved on a tree in the garden, disappear during a thunderstorm?
I loved this one. It is quite slow-paced at the start, after the shocking prologue. But is full of tension and a palpable sense of danger that just goes on growing. While the romance is there, it isn’t the narrative engine of the story and this book has stayed with me since I read it.
10/10

Magical Midway Paranormal Cozy Mysteries Box Set – Book 5 – Irrelephant Omens by Leanne Leeds

Another poisoned ringmaster.
Colliding portents.
As dark forces gather, one witch must break the circus free of fate before destiny destroys them all.

Charlotte is at the end of her tether. With her best friend lecturing her about the past, a mysterious old woman demanding she comply with the future, and signs everywhere pointing in opposite directions, she’s not sure how her argumentative band of misfit carnies will be able to defeat the Witches’ Council.

When her boyfriend’s father, the only other magical Ringmaster, is found unconscious, Charlotte determines that she must unravel the mystery, protect the rival circus and save the cantankerous man–only to be told that to do so would defy the omens that say his death must take place. Will Charlotte rebel and save the dying Ringmaster? Or will she let the rival circus fall and her boyfriend’s father die?
This box set is the gift that keeps on giving. Whenever I feel the need for more of magical circus mayhem, I just dip into another of these entertaining, enjoyable stories. Charlotte’s obstinacy can be a tad annoying, but the rest of the cast of characters make up for it. This was just so much fun.
9/10

Mirror Image – Book 18 of the Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
Years ago, Heart’s Eye, a school built on top of a nexus point, was attacked and captured by a necromancer. The nexus point was snuffed out, the handful of survivors forced to flee and the once-great school turned into a forward base for a necromantic invasion. All seemed lost, until Emily killed the necromancer and retook the school. Now, she intends to lay the building blocks for a university, a place where magical knowledge and mundane technology are brought together for the benefit of all.

But dark secrets lie within the shadowed school. What happened when Heart’s Eye fell? What were the tutors doing when the wards fell and the necromancer invaded the school? And, as power flows back into the school, Emily finds herself caught between power struggles and a threat from the past, a shadow that has walked beside her for the last six years. It might bring about the end of everything. In a school full of mirrors, who knows what they reflect?
It’s been a while since I read the previous book in this entertaining series, which has constantly taken the story in unexpected directions. And this episode was no different. Those mirrors are downright creepy… I loved this story and couldn’t put it down until I found out what happened. Wonderful stuff!
9/10

The Snow Queen box set – Book 1 – Heart of Ice by K.M. Shea
Rakel, a princess by birth, has spent most of her life exiled on a barren mountain, despised because of her powerful snow magic. Though she longs to be accepted, she hides in her ice-castle and lives with the fear that her brother—the King—will one day order her execution.

Her empty life changes forever when an army of magic users—led by the enigmatic Colonel Farrin Graydim—invade her home country and plan to enslave its citizens. Swallowing her fear, Rakel joins forces with her jailers and uses her magic to save the people who scorned her. If Rakel cannot defend her homeland, the country will be lost.
This fairytale retelling is great fun. Full of adventure and excitement, Rakel’s character is convincing as a socially awkward, isolated young woman. So when she’s pitchforked into the middle of a war, all sorts of changes confront her. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and am delighted there is more to come.
9/10

Demons and Dragons: Dragon Reign Box Set – Book 1 – Rivals by Kit Bladegrave
Kate’s whole world just turned upside down. She’s hearing weird things, and seeing weird things. And Mama Lucy is a witch. No, really. Not like a capital B witch, but a capital W witch. And the guys Kate’s just saved from imminent death is part demon. And the guy that’s after her is a dragon. Her life redefines teen drama.

Craig’s a bastard son of a demon king. And he’s a thief. He’s just found the item he’s supposed to appropriate when his cousin stabs him with a poisoned dagger.

Forrest is out to collect the bounty for capturing the bastard son of a demon king. He doesn’t plan to save the girl, or the half-breed demon. He also doesn’t plan to be the one who needs saving. This unlikely trio find themselves chased by enemies, known and unknown as they slip into a different dimension called Burnt World.
This adventure definitely has YA overtones, but I’ve enjoyed the story and particularly like Kate’s feisty narrative. It was a quick, enjoyable read during a night when I was badly struggling to sleep and took me away from a lurid nightmare and teeth-clenching tinnitus.
8/10

AUDIOBOOK – The Corfe Castle Murders – Book 1 of the Dorset Crime series by Rachel McLean
Meet DCI Lesley Clarke. She’s a straight-talking city copper who doesn’t suffer fools gladly… and she’s been transferred to rural Dorset. After being injured in a bomb attack, Lesley is presented with a choice – early retirement, or a period of respite in a calmer location. But things don’t stay calm for long.

Before she’s even started her new job, Lesley is dragged into investigating a murder at one of England’s most iconic landmarks, the imposing Corfe Castle. Lesley must hit the ground running. Can she get along with her new partner DS Dennis Frampton, a traditionalist who doesn’t appreciate her style? How will she navigate the politics of a smaller force where she’s a bigger, and less welcome, fish? And most importantly, can she solve the murder before the killer strikes again?
This was another lifesaver during a miserable night. I listened to this one when I ran out of energy to read – and the twisting police procedural tale was a very welcome break. Particularly as I know the ruins of Corfe Castle quite well. I’m looking forward to reading more in this enjoyable series.
8/10

The Night Hawks – Book 13 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths
The Night Hawks, a group of metal detectorists, are searching for buried treasure when they find a body on the beach in North Norfolk. Ruth is more interested in the treasure, a hoard of Bronze Age weapons.

Nelson is called to an apparent murder-suicide of a couple at the isolated Black Dog Farm. Local legend talks of the Black Shuck, a spectral hound that appears to people before they die. All roads lead back to this farm in the middle of nowhere, but the place spells serious danger for anyone who goes near. Ruth doesn’t scare easily. Not until she finds herself at Black Dog Farm …
I’ve significantly edited the very blabby blurb which gives away far too many plot twists. This is a series that I’ve been enjoying for a long time and regard many of the main characters as old friends, so while I thoroughly appreciated the murder mystery – it was also a treat being reacquainted with them all over again.
9/10

The Untold Story – Book 8 of The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
Irene is trying to learn the truth about Alberich-and the possibility that he’s her father. But when the Library orders her to kill him, and then Alberich himself offers to sign a truce, she has to discover why he originally betrayed the Library.

With her allies endangered and her strongest loyalties under threat, she’ll have to trace his past across multiple worlds and into the depths of mythology and folklore, to find the truth at the heart of the Library, and why the Library was first created.
It was with mixed feelings that I picked this arc up, as this is the last book in the series. I’ve always enjoyed my visits to the Invisible Library, accompanied by disaster magnet Irene. And this finale was suitably gripping, as well as bringing the series to a satisfying and emotional end. Review to follow.
10/10

The reviews I’ve posted this week:-
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of A Marvellous Light – Book 1 of the Last Binding series by Freya Marske

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Firesky – Book 2 of The Chronicles of Stratus by Mark de Jager

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

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #5

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This is my fortnightly update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 9 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks. My energy levels have plummeted, meaning that I am now once again spending much of the day in bed. Getting up and showering feels like a huge mountain to climb and there are days when I simply cannot do it. The night-time sweats have also returned and as my inner ear is still draining, my tinnitus is very loud – which means I’m struggling to sleep at night. Several times I haven’t managed to fall asleep until dawn. This time around, I’m not finding it as easy to remain calm and positive – particularly as Himself has also been struggling. It was recently his father’s birthday, which has been hard as he died in May and the family home is in the process of being sold, so he has also been involved in helping to clear the house. And I’m too ill to be able to help in any way.

My reflexologist thinks my downturn is still the consequence of the flu jab that I had a fortnight ago. As my system is very stressed, she thinks the vaccine has hammered my energy levels and healing and warned me that it could go on causing problems for at least another week. That said, I’d still rather deal with the fallout from the vaccine than a full-blown attack of flu. I vividly recall suffering from the illness when I was a fit young woman in my 20s – and there is no way I want to cope with that on top of dealing with Long Covid.

Needless to say, my editing and the work I was doing on my manuscripts has come to a screeching halt. And as you’ll already realise, I haven’t had the energy to post anything on my blog, either. Hopefully if I continue to rest as much as possible and go on taking the supplements, eating sensibly and meditating, things will start to swing back round again. At least I’m still able to walk without a stick. I’ve also been reading and listening to audiobooks. It’s been a lifesaver, particularly on nights when I’m bathed in perspiration and the continual high-pitched whine in my ears won’t let me sleep.

This week I’ve read:-
World’s Edge – Book 2 of The Tethered Citadel series by David Hair
Chasing a dream of wealth and freedom, Raythe Vyre’s ragtag caravan of refugees from imperial oppression went off the map, into the frozen wastes of the north. What they found there was beyond all their expectations: Rath Argentium, the legendary city of the long-vanished Aldar, complete with its fabled floating citadel.

Even more unexpectedly, they encountered the Tangato, the remnants of the people who served the Aldar, who are shocked to learn that they’re not alone in the world – and hostile to Raythe’s interlopers. What awaits Raythe’s people in the haunted castle that floats above them, the lair of the last Aldar king? Everlasting wealth – or eternal damnation?
This epic fantasy series continues to deliver wonderful action scenes and fascinating plot twists as two cultures crash together in very difficult circumstances. I’ve been thinking about this one a lot and it’s definitely making my Outstanding Reads list this year. Review to follow
10/10

Double, Double, Tart and Trouble – Book 2 of the Spellford Cove Mystery series by Samantha Silver

Just when Robin thought things were settling down a bit in Spellford Cove, she finds herself mired in a murder investigation once more when a customer of hers is poisoned. Then just to make matters worse, a photo of Queen of Tarts cheesecake in front of the body is printed on the front page of the local paper.

Robin soon realizes that once again she has no choice but to try and find the killer, this time to save her business. But with the main reporter in town deciding to tank Robin’s bakery, and that strange woman making another reappearance, Robin feels like a woman juggling too many muffins. Can she find the killer and save her business? Or has Robin baked her last batch of brownies?
I wasn’t quite as invested in this murder mystery as I was in the first book. Partly because I found the victim rather unconvincing. That didn’t prevent it from helping me to pass a long, difficult night when the shafts of snarky humour were very welcome.
7/10

AUDIOBOOK Asylum – Book 9 of the Star Kingdom series by Lindsay Buroker

A young woman with cybernetic upgrades, Mari Moonrazor has decided to flee the restrictive machine-worshipping cult she was raised in. She longs to know what it’s like to live among normal humans and experience simple biological pleasures like consuming alcohol, kissing a boy, and—most importantly—eating chocolate.

But her mother, the infamous astroshaman leader Kyla Moonrazor, is determined to get her back, even if it means sending a bounty hunter after her. Mari’s only hope for freedom is to be granted asylum from the leaders of the powerful Star Kingdom. First, she must prove that she has knowledge and resources she can offer them. Second, she has to earn their trust. This all would have been easier if her people hadn’t bombed their planet…
This book is a standalone, as it occurs after all Casmir’s adventures are over and features one of the intriguing astroshamans. I did miss dear Casmir’s viewpoint – but it was fun seeing how other characters regarded him. And as I now feel like all the regular Star Kingdom characters are old friends, revisiting this world was huge fun. Buroker is now one of my favourite authors.
9/10

Death’s Rival – Book 5 of the Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter
For a vampire killer like Jane, having Leo Pellisier as a boss took some getting used to. But now, someone is out to take his place as Master Vampire of the city of New Orleans, and is not afraid to go through Jane to do it. After an attack that’s tantamount to a war declaration, Leo knows his rival is both powerful and vicious, but Leo’s not about to run scared. After all, he has Jane. But then, a plague strikes, one that takes down vampires and makes their masters easy prey.

Now, to uncover the identity of the vamp who wants Leo’s territory, and to find the cause of the vamp-plague, Jane will have to go to extremes…and maybe even to war.
This series just goes from strength to strength. I’m loving the quality of the writing and the ongoing development of Jane as she emerges from yet another devastating adventure.
9/10

The Queen’s Pardon – Book 6 of the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland
Trapped on a hostile world, hunted by pirate bands and abandoned by her fellow captains, Alexis Carew must lead her small band to safety, even though it seems every hand is set against her.

Stalked by pirates in the skies above and shadowy, alien figures on the planet below, Alexis must convince former enemies to trust her even as she discovers where the tendrils of her true enemies lead.
This is the final book in this entertaining Hornblower-in-space adventure series. I thought Sutherland handled this twisting action-packed plot particularly well and while I’m sad to get to the end of Alexis’s story, I was very happy with how the whole thing ended.
10/10

Licence to Howl – Book 2 of the Wolfbrand series by Helen Harper
Devereau Webb is riding high. He’s a powerful werewolf with a killer combination of intelligence, wits and strength and he’s learning more and more about his abilities every day. He isn’t usually the type to take orders, however, and that has to change with his new role as a supernatural spy within the British security services.

Tasked with heading to Rome to infiltrate a mysterious gang with terrorist links, Devereau has to call on all his newfound skills to prevent disaster from happening. That might be prove to be the easy part. He’s also determined to convince a certain sexy vampire that he’s the man for her. What could possibly go wrong?
Helen Harper is another favourite author – and this spinoff series featuring Devereau is a bundle of fun. While there is plenty of action and danger – there is also a lot of humour. I particularly enjoyed the dynamic between the adrenaline-junkie, alpha male and his former Vampire girlfriend. After their fling, it’s Devereau who has been left heartsick and pining – and determined to woo her back, which is a nice change.
9/10

Risen – Book 12 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka
Alex’s girlfriend, the life mage Anne, has fallen fully under the control of the deadly djinn she made a bargain with, and it is preparing to create an army of mages subject to its every whim. Alex, the Council, and the Dark mage Richard Drakh agree to call a truce in their war, and plans are made for a joint attack.

Alex knows that it’s only a matter of time before Drakh and the Council turn on each other . . . and neither cares about keeping Anne alive. Can Alex figure out a way to stop Anne and to free her from possession before time runs out for the people he loves?
This is the final book in this classy, well-written series. I haven’t read another author who so effectively portrays the issues facing a divination mage – and Alex’s character development, particularly in this book, is outstanding. Jacka also manages to bring this popular, long-running series safely home. Review to follow.
10/10

I haven’t published any blog posts since 7th November. Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* 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