Category Archives: paranormal

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The House on Widow’s Hill – Book 9 of the Ishmael Jones mysteries by Simon R. Green #BrainfluffNetgalleybookreview #TheHouseonWidowsHillbookreview

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Anyone who has followed my blog will know that this series is a solid favourite – see my reviews of The Dark Side of the Road, Till Sudden Death Do Us Part, Murder in the Dark, Into the Thinnest of Air, Death Shall Come, Very Important Corpses and Night Train to Murder. So I was delighted to see this latest addition to this paranormal murder mystery series.

BLURB: “That house is a bad place. Bad things happen there . . .”
Set high on top of Widows Hill, Harrow House has remained empty for years. Now, on behalf of an anonymous prospective buyer, Ishmael and Penny are spending a night there in order to investigate the rumours of strange lights, mysterious voices, unexplained disappearances, and establish whether the house is really haunted. What really happened at Harrow House all those years ago? Joined by a celebrity psychic, a professional ghost-hunter, a local historian and a newspaper reporter, it becomes clear that each member of ‘Team Ghost’ has their own pet theory as to the cause of the alleged haunting.


REVIEW: As ever, we have our usual fix of creepy shenanigans going on, as Ishmael and Penny find themselves spending the night in a haunted house. This book follows directly on from Night Train to Murder, so if you haven’t read that one, do be aware – especially at the beginning – there will be some references to events outside the story. I was interested to see this one build more slowly than usual, but given that Green does it well and I know and trust his pacing, I appreciated the general ratcheting up of the tension. It doesn’t hurt that there are the usual dollops of humour that help lighten the tension in the dark, brooding house.

Though the death and denouement rather knocked me for six. I’m still pondering as to whether Green has managed to pull this one off, as it stretched the bounds of my credulity rather. However, I think on balance, I’ll give him a pass. I certainly was never in any danger of putting the book down before getting to the end. All in all, this is an entertaining, page-turning addition to this quirky series.

Recommended for fans of paranormal murder mysteries that doesn’t take itself too seriously. While I obtained an arc of The House of Widow’s Hill from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10


Review of INDIE Ebook Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik #Brainfluffbookreview #RelativelyStrangebookreview

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I suffered a real book hangover after reading Witch Dust – see my review – so I was delighted when I discovered this paranormal psi-fi adventure. And right now I had no problem in bouncing it right to the stop of my very long TBR list…

BLURB: “I was five when I discovered I could fly, sixteen when I killed a man.
Both events were unsettling in their own way.”

It’s hard to know what’s normal, if you’re not, and it takes Stella a while to realise she’s in the definitely ‘not’ drawer. But we are who we are and we make adjustments to fit in – most of the time – and it’s only when she finds she’s not quite as unique as she thought, that things begin to acquire a whole new dimension. Forced to call on resources she didn’t know she possessed and thrust headlong into the violence of a situation for which nothing could have prepared her, Stella is suddenly face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences.

REVIEW: As in Witch Dust, it is the strong first-person narrative voice that beguiled me from the first line and held me throughout. It doesn’t hurt that Messik also had the pacing nailed and took us through the very conventional timeline of her infancy, youth and into her early adulthood with a mixture of anecdotes, scenes and humorous asides that pulled me right into her world. This story could have been presented with the emotional tone dialled up to the max, full of angst and pain – Stella has plenty of scary moments that had the capacity to knock her endways, after all. But that gutsy, determined toughness that characterised her grandmother and her great-aunts and their eccentricities has given her resilience and a self-belief nourished by her parents. I completely believed that her family successfully managed to keep her abilities shielded from prying eyes, while persuading her to keep them hidden, without overly daunting her.

The unfolding story of how she discovers that there are those who are far too interested into her and her abilities kept me turning the pages. Stella is a baby-boomer, born in the 1950s, and I completely believed the worldbuilding and historical era – and I’d have known if there had been any false notes, as I was also born just a few years later. The other characters who people this gripping adventure are vividly drawn. And although there are some shocking events, Stella’s narrative voice both manages to effectively depict the seriousness of what happens, yet offer a sense of hope – which I really need in my reading matter, these days.

I also like her trick of producing a number of plot twists that change up the stakes and pull Stella into a rescue mission that will place her in danger to the extent that she is exposed to a fate worse than death. And no – we’re not talking about any kind of sexual encounter – we’re talking about a real fate that would be worse than dying… Hamlet the dog is also awesome, by the way. I’m conscious that in my determination not to provide any kind of Spoiler, I have sold this book short, but the pacing, narrative voice and twisty plot provided one of the most satisfying reads of the year to date – and I’m delighted that I have two more books in this series waiting for me on my Kindle. Highly recommended.
10/10

May 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging… #BrainfluffMay2020Roundup

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I recall I said something to the effect that there had never been a month like April in the whole of my life – except that May was exactly the same. Eerily so. Staying at home and seeing no one else, other than Himself. Though we did drive across to my daughter’s house and deliver her bike, so she could also cycle with the children. It was bittersweet seeing them after such a long time and I’m hoping this month, with the easing of the lockdown, I might once more be able to be a regular visitor, again. The weather continues to behave as if we are in July or August, further skewing the sense of abnormality. But thank goodness for books and writing projects!

Reading
I read fifteen books in May, but as I also broke off to read a couple of my own books on editing runs, that did impact on my general reading time. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my selection, so there were no DNFs. They were:

Oranges and Lemons – Book 17 of the Bryant and May: Peculiar Crimes Unit series by Christopher Fowler
The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North – see my review
Hammered – Book 1 of the Jenny Casey series by Elizabeth Bear
The Physicians of Vilnoc – Book 8 of the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold – see my review
Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik – this is my outstanding read of the month
AUDIOBOOK Starsight – Book 2 of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson
The Valhalla Call – Book 4 of the Hayden War Cycle by Evan Currie
Even Stranger – Book 2 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
The City of Brass – Book 1 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakrobarty
The Kingdom of Copper – Book 2 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakrobarty
AUDIOBOOK The Fire Court – Book 2 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor – this is my outstanding audiobook read of the month
Night’s Tooth – Tales of the River Vine novella by Jean Lee
Gravity is Heartless – Book 1 of the Heartless series by Sarah Lahey
The Obsidian Tower – Book 1 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso

Writing
I finished the first draft of my Wordmanship Handbook – How to Write Convincing Characters, which went really well. While I had intended this to be part of a series, I decided that if I found it too much of a trudge, then it would be a standalone, but it ended up being quite a lot of fun to write. So during the year I am hoping to write at least another book in the Wordmanship series. The handbook aspect of it – with a quick checklist so an author can tick off possible issues as they go, either during the writing phase, or during an editing run – ended up being about the right length, too.

I then turned back to Mantivore Warrior to do the first editing pass. This is always slightly nerve-wracking. Once I’ve gained a bit of distance, I can work out whether it’s a hot mess, or if it hangs together. And as it is the first book that I thoroughly plotted before I started, I was keen to see how it held up. And I’m delighted – those fixes I put in last month strengthened the overall narrative, so there was only one major addition and then it was a question of smoothing the prose and looking for mistakes.

So once again, it’s been a wonderful writing month. Overall, I wrote just under 43,000 words in May, with just over 15,500 on the blog, and just under 26,000 on my writing projects.

Blogging
The big event during May was Wyrd and Wonder 2020, which I discovered thanks to Tammy from Books, Bones and Buffy. It was about alll things fantastical and I really enjoyed taking part. Huge thanks go to Imyril of There’s Always Room for One More, Lisa from Dear Geek Place and Jorie Loves a Story for all their hard work and effort throughout May to make this such a success.

I hope everyone is managing to keep well and healthy, both physically and mentally – the situation has been a strain on everyone, not helped by some dodgy decisions by those in charge. Take care and stay safe.x






Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 27th May, 20202 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW #WyrdandWonder2020

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Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.
I’m linking this week’s fantasy offering with Wyrd and Wonder 2020.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Grave Secrets: the Lavington Windsor Mysteries – Book 1 by Alice James – release date, 1st September, 2020

#English urban fantasy #mystery #vampires


BLURB: Toni Windsor is trying to live a quiet life in the green and pleasant county of Staffordshire. She’d love to finally master the rules of croquet, acquire a decent boyfriend and make some commission as an estate agent.

All that might have to wait, though, because there are zombies rising from their graves, vampires sneaking out of their coffins and a murder to solve. And it’s all made rather more complicated by the fact that she’s the one raising all the zombies.

Oh, and she’s dating one of the vampires too. It can’t be the best decision she’s ever made, but he’s so pretty.

Really, what’s a girl meant to do?

I love the look of this one – and the idea of an urban fantasy murder mystery set in the English countryside meant I had to have it! I’m looking forward to tucking into this one, which looks like it is going to be an enjoyable, suitably frothy read. And I’m yearning for froth, right now…




Sunday Post – 17th May, 2020 #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’s been a lot colder and cloudier, but we only had a bit of rain last Sunday and since then, despite high winds, it’s been dry. The garden is desperate for some rain… Himself managed to cut back the shrubs – a job we normally do much earlier in the year. The escalonia is now in full bloom, along with the pretty little fuschia. I love the bright yellow leaves contrasting with the deep pink flowers. My bronze fennel is sprouting, and those echiums just keep growing and blooming. The bees love the flowers so much, you can hear their hum from across the garden.

Last weekend’s writing retreat went really well. I am now in touching distance of the end of my How-To book, which is good, because I want to start editing Mantivore Warrior this coming week.

The other success last weekend was the family’s Sunday get-together to celebrate my sister’s birthday. It went so well, my nephews are organising an online games session for next Saturday night via Zoom – something to really look forward to. I might even dress up!


Last week I read:
The Physicians of Vilnoc – Book 8 of the Penric and Desdemona NOVELLA series by Lois McMaster Bujold
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.
The series is always a high spot for us – and this latest addition was no exception. Although I had my doubts when I saw it was all about a mysterious plague. But I needn’t have worried – this author handled the whole subject really well.



Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
“I was five when I discovered I could fly, sixteen when I killed a man.
Both events were unsettling in their own way.”

It’s hard to know what’s normal, if you’re not, and it takes Stella a while to realise she’s in the definitely ‘not’ drawer. But we are who we are and we make adjustments to fit in – most of the time – and it’s only when she finds she’s not quite as unique as she thought, that things begin to acquire a whole new dimension.
That’s only part of the very chatty blurb. But this one blew me away. There are some authors I just fall for – hook, line and sinker… it doesn’t happen very often. But Marilyn Messik is one of them. I will recall May 2020 through the prism of this series. Review to follow.



AUDIOBOOK Starsight – Book 2 of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson
All her life, Spensa has dreamed of becoming a pilot. Of proving she’s a hero like her father. She made it to the sky, but the truths she learned about her father were crushing. Spensa is sure there’s more to the story. And she’s sure that whatever happened to her father in his starship could happen to her. When she made it outside the protective shell of her planet, she heard the stars–and it was terrifying. Everything Spensa has been taught about her world is a lie. But Spensa also discovered a few other things about herself–and she’ll travel to the end of the galaxy to save humankind if she needs to.
This second book in this entertaining space opera series took the initial premise and world and then gave it a good shaking and changed it up. I am very much looking forward to reading the next book in the series.


The Valhalla Call – Book 4 of the Hayden War Cycle by Evan Currie
Newly minted Lieutenant Sorilla Aida has a new mission and new allies, gear, and support as she is tasked with a job that could ensure that the human race stands a chance of reaching a technical parity with the mysterious alien alliance. Humans and SOLCOM are not the only ones making moves, however, and the Alliance has brought up their varsity to end the little side war before it gets out of hand. Are they really interested in humanity or human worlds, however, or is something more at play?
Currie has nailed battles in space – nobody does it better. And this addition to the series brought some game-changing twists I’m keen to find out about. Review to follow.



Even Stranger – Book 2 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
With the swinging sixties staggering, shamefaced and flustered, into the slightly staider seventies, life for Stella, isn’t going as smoothly as she’d like. As an ordinary person, who happens to have some extraordinary abilities, it’s frustrating to find that something as simple as holding down a job, throws up unexpected hurdles. She’d be a darn sight better off if she could ditch the conviction she knows best which, together with a chronic inability to keep her mouth shut and her nose out of other people’s business, has led her more than once off the straight and narrow into the dodgy and dangerous. Plans for a safer future, include setting herself up in business, squashing her over-active conscience and steering clear of risky and unpleasant. Unfortunately, the best laid plans can lead to the darkest places.
Yes – I broke my rule of never reading a series too close together. I was pining for more Marilyn Messik goodness, and this adventure alongside my new best friend, Stella, didn’t disappoint. Review to follow.


My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Physicians of Vilnoc – Book 8 of the Penric and Desdemona NOVELLA series by Lois McMaster Bujold

Friday Face-off featuring Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

April 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging…

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Ghost Ups Her Game – Book 9 of the Bailey Ruth series by Carolyn G. Hart

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Firewalkers by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Sunday Post – 10th May 2020

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

Top 5 Writing Hacks to Distract You From the Nightmare of Your Daily Life https://writerunboxed.com/2020/05/16/top-writing-hacks-to-distract-you-from-the-nightmare-of-your-daily-life/ Bill Ferris always worth reading – but his humour is especially welcome in the current situation…

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #9: Sewing Up Memories https://platformnumber4.com/2020/05/09/fantastic-find-at-the-bookstore-9-sewing-up-memories/ Becky once again has nailed it with this lovely trip into the past…

Liars, manipulators, tyrants, misogynists… top worst rulers… in books! Top 5 Tuesday http://bewareofthereader.com/liars-manipulators-tyrants-misogynistics-top-worst-rulers-in-books-top-5-tuesday/ I loved this one! So… who would be your worst rulers? In books, of course… let’s keep it escapist, people!

FRIDAY SMILES https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2020/05/08/friday-smiles/ We all need more smiles in our lives…

Ten of the Best Twentieth Century Books Everyone Should Read https://interestingliterature.com/2020/05/twentieth-century-novels/ This is a list all readers probably have an opinion on. Do you agree with it? Personally, I’m not big on everyone HAVING to read anything – I think we should all read what we love to read. And there’s a couple missing from here, as far as I’m concerned…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

Review of NETGALLEY arc Witch Dust by Marilyn Messik #Brainfluffbookreview #WitchDustbookreview #WyrdandWonder2020

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I had just surfaced from reading a fairly intense apocalyptic story, so wanted something light and amusing, but with sufficient story and adventure to engross me – would this fit the bill? I’m linking this to Wyrd and Wonder 2020, celebrating all things fantastical.

BLURB: For Sandra, daughter of illusionists, Adam and Ophelia, life’s never been run of the mill! But when Adam’s wandering eye lights on yet another conquest, it proves a chorus girl too far, and Sandra’s caught in the reverberations of her parents acrimonious parting. Coerced into restoring her depressed Mother to the bosom of a family Sandra never knew existed, she’s sucked into a situation that even for her is unnerving. From being without a single relative, she suddenly acquires several she’d rather do without, and learns a few home truths she’d prefer not to know.

That is the first section of a really long and chatty blurb – so my advice would be to skip it, as it reveals far too much that this accomplished author tells you in her own time, within the story. And that would be a real shame, because this is a little gem. I thoroughly enjoyed the first-person viewpoint of Sandra, whose odd upbringing has equipped her with superb organising skills, a hatred of muddle and a real sense of entitlement. That last one isn’t a bad thing – she has been brought up with two showbiz parents, both with egos the size of a planet, so she had two ways to go, either be cowed into permanent submission, or come back with an ego of her own. Which still is a whole lot more attractive than either of her parents, whom I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. The fact that she talks about them with exasperated affection says a lot for her inherent niceness, I think.

I very much appreciated the humorous thread running through this one – Sandra makes an amusing narrator, with her enjoyable descriptions. I also liked the fact that when it got dangerous and a whole lot darker – which it does – she neither becomes Supergirl, or collapses in a whimpering heap. In fact, she copes with discovering exactly what her family is and what they can do impressively well, and I appreciated that Messik took pains to set up a premise where it didn’t take a quarter of the book before Sandra accepted the weirdness that was unfolding around her.

And weird it certainly is… Sandra’s family is eccentric to the extent that she decides that marketing some of that oddness to build up the fortunes of the family hotel seems like the way to go. But it also draws down some seriously unwelcome interest and alongside the farcical humour, something a lot darker emerges. It’s very well done – never too much, but there were some genuinely creepy moments. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read, taking some familiar tropes and putting a pleasingly original spin on them. The ebook arc copy of Witch Dust was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Dark Side of the Road – Book 1 of the Ishmael Jones series #Brainfluffbookreview #TheDarkSideoftheRoadbookreview

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I am a fan of this series – see my reviews of Very Important Corpses, Death Shall Come, Into the Thinnest of Air, Murder in the Dark, Till Sudden Death Do Us Part and Night Train to Murder – but as I’d crashed midway into this series (a hobby of mine…), I’ve never got around to reading the first book. Until now😊. I was delighted when I spotted this offering on Netgalley, as I am pre-approved by this lovely publisher.

BLURB: Ishmael Jones is someone who can’t afford to be noticed, someone who lives under the radar, who drives on the dark side of the road. He’s employed to search out secrets, investigate mysteries and shine a light in dark places. Sometimes he kills people. Invited by his employer, the enigmatic Colonel, to join him and his family for Christmas, Ishmael arrives at the grand but isolated Belcourt Manor in the midst of a blizzard to find that the Colonel has mysteriously disappeared. As he questions his fellow guests, Ishmael concludes that at least one of them not least Ishmael himself – is harbouring a dangerous secret, and that beneath the veneer of festive cheer lurk passion, jealousy, resentment and betrayal. As a storm sets in, sealing off the Manor from the rest of the world, Ishmael must unmask a ruthless murderer they strike again.

I was expecting some sort of Genesis story here, whereby we learn more about Ishmael and the adventures he had in his long, eventful life on Earth, before he started working for the Organisation. However, that didn’t happen. In fact, if I hadn’t been told that this was the first book in the series, I wouldn’t have guessed. Initially, I was a bit disappointed – but on reflection I think it probably is a strength of this series. Once more, Ishmael is plunged into a tricky situation whereby he is a suspected outsider, looking on a group who all have strong reasons to want to see the back of at least one of their companions. Attending a Christmas party at the urgent request of his boss, Ishmael finds himself driving through one of the worst snowstorms on record. He ends up at a country house in the middle of Cornwall, more cut-off than the moon from any outside help, when it all starts to kick off.

There are a series of gory murders and Ishmael is confronted with trying to discover who the perpetrator is. Green presents us with a series of twists – though I had already guessed who the perpetrator was. Though in this case, it wasn’t a question of finding out who so much as trying to discover how to stop the murderer. I liked the fact that superstrong and inhumanly fast Ishmael had met his match. While there wasn’t quite so much humour in this first offering, there was still enough to make me grin in amongst the mayhem, and it was clear to see the foundations of what has made this series so successful. Recommended for fans of paranormal suspense that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The ebook arc copy of The Dark Side of the Road was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

Sunday Post – 19th April, 2020 #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.

We’re still fine. Himself is still driving trains, though not so many. I’m still working on the tweaks to Mantivore Warrior, which are going well, though not particularly fast. Other than that, the days bleed into each other and slide by at a frightening rate…

Over 700 people claimed a free copy of Running Out of Space last weekend, and I’m hoping a number of those folks find it an enjoyable, escapist read.

Sunshine has continued to bring out the blossoms in the garden, so this time I thought I’d share the progress of the echiums which are shooting up and starting to bloom. We have eight spires in the garden, ready to go this summer. And the other pic is the heuchera – I love these plants and have them dotted all over the place, but this one currently has the wow factor. It’s called Amber Wave…

Last week I read:
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, which continues to wage bloody war over a stolen woman—Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman—Briseis—watches and waits for the war’s outcome. She was queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms, until Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles’s concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army.
Given I’d recently read Madeline Miller’s The Songs of Achilles, this far less cosy version of Briseis’ experience as Achilles’ warprize is brilliant and disturbing. I am loving my Greek myth retellings at the moment… Review to follow.


Dead Eye – Book 1 of the Tiger’s Eye Mystery series by Alyssa Day
For Jack Shepherd, tiger shape-shifter and former soldier, life is heading for a dead end. Dead End, Florida, to be exact. When he learns that he inherited a combination pawn shop/private investigation agency from his favorite uncle, Jacks first job is to solve his uncles murder. Because sometimes it takes a tigers eye to see the truth.
This paranormal urban fantasy featuring Tessa and shapeshifting tiger, Jack, was a complete and welcome constract. An entertaining murder mystery that was funny and full of suspense, the pages turned themselves until the end. Review to follow.




Arkadian Skies – Book 6 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker
With the man who kidnapped her daughter imprisoned aboard her ship, Captain Alisa Marchenko is closer than ever to reuniting her family. But her new guest has been in a coma for weeks, with the secret to her daughter’s location locked away in his mind. She must find a way to sneak him into a state-of-the-art hospital on Arkadius, a planet in the heart of Alliance territory. Not an easy task when she and the cyborg Leonidas, her most trusted ally, are wanted by the Alliance army.
I was shocked to discover that it was last June when I’d finished reading the previous book in this space opera adventure, Cleon Moon, so was glad to dive into this instalment and discover what next happens to Alisa in this action-packed, escapist read…


My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Book of Koli by M.R. Carey

SPECIAL OFFER on the PRINT edition of Running Out of Space for Amazon.com customers

Friday Face-off featuring Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Review of AUDIOBOOK Dark Summer by Ali Sparkes

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Firewalkers by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Review of KINDLE Ebook Crownbreaker – Book 6 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell

Sunday Post – 12th April 2020

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

When grocery shopping is worthy of West Point! Get ready to strategizinge for a battle! http://bewareofthereader.com/when-grocery-shopping-is-worthy-of-west-point-get-ready-to-strategizinge-for-a-battle/ It’s always good to laugh, particular in these testing time. Being about to laugh ABOUT these testing times is a bonus…

Grief is like a knot in a tree https://wandaluthman.wordpress.com/2020/04/13/grief-is-like-a-knot-in-a-tree/ It’s a privilege to encounter wise words born of hard experience from a talented writer. This is a prime example…

National Autism Awareness Month https://literacyletters.wordpress.com/2020/04/14/national-autism-awareness-month/ Regular visitors to my blog will know I’ve got particular reasons of my own to be interested in this subject. And if I could get everyone on the planet to read this book, I would…

I’m Still Standing (Yeah Yeah Yeah) https://yadadarcyyada.com/2020/03/17/im-still-standing-yeah-yeah-yeah/ And no one does it better. If you only visit one of these sites today – make it this one…

Remembering Titanic https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2020/04/14/remembering-titanic/ Jean makes a strong case for us to recall another tragedy that touched many lives in this thoughtful blog post

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

Review of AUDIOBOOK Dark Summer by Ali Sparkes #Brainfluffbookreview #DarkSummerbookreview

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This delightful children’s book was one of the Frankie’s Audible offerings, and given how much I’d enjoyed Sparkes’ Frozen in Time – see my review – I was happy to tuck into it.

BLURB: When Eddie discovers a secret passage in Wookey Hole caves, he just has to find out where it goes. But his amazement quickly turns to horror when he gets lost in the dark. He’s underground, on his own, and nobody knows where he is …Until a hand reaches out of the blackness. A strange, pale girl helps Eddie get back to the surface, but she can’t seem to leave the caves herself. Who is she? Or rather …what is she? And what other secrets is she hiding? Only one thing is certain – this is a summer Eddie will never forget.

I love Sparkes punchy, readable prose which pulled me right into the middle of this adventure from the first word. It didn’t hurt that the narration by Tom Lawrence was excellent and Eddie is a thoroughly likeable boy. He’s in a hard place at the start of the book – sent off to stay with his aunt while his mother recovers from a gruelling round of chemotherapy. Sparkes doesn’t go into major details about the treatment, but during the course of the book there are enough clues for us to draw that conclusion. I like the fact she didn’t spell out exactly what the illness was, giving parents and carers the option of going into more detail if the young reader is at all curious. It doesn’t help that his cousin, Darren is a bullying thug who thinks nothing of regularly beating Eddie up, mostly because of his ginger hair. Eddie is an only child who is close to his parents, and you get the sense that he is highly intelligent and probably more comfortable with adults than with his peers.

A peculiar and slightly scary encounter during an outing to Wookey caves leaves Eddie with a season ticket and a need to return to find out whether it had all been some weird waking dream. It wasn’t. I don’t want to go into the plot too much more, because it would be a real shame to spoil this tightly structured, clever story which gripped me throughout. All the characters rang true – something that doesn’t always happen in children’s fiction – and most were doing their best under difficult circumstances. There are also flashes of humour throughout, which help defuse some of the darker elements, without whitewashing them.
The villain in the story was chillingly normal. I do get fed up with pantomime baddies that so often occur in children’s fiction, and I think does them a real disservice. Sparkes’ antagonist is very plausible, who manages to persuade most people that she is just trying to do her “Christian duty”.

While the overall pacing starts off being reasonably measured, as the story progresses, the action ramps up along with the tension, so that by the end I was finding it difficult to turn this one off and walk away when my chores were done. The ending works really well and I found it unexpectedly moving. All in all, this is another stormingly good read by an excellent author who deserves to be far better known.
10/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater, narrated by Steve West and Fiona Hardingham #Brainfluffaudiobookreview #TheScorpioRacesbookreview

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I was browsing through the Audible catalogue, when I came across this book on special offer and as I’d heard good things about the author, I decided to give it a go…

BLURB: It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die. At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them. Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

As you may have gathered by the blurb, this book is structured as a dual narrative. The main protagonists are Sean Kendrick and Park Connelly. When done well, this structure is one of my favourites, but the risk is that one character calls to me more than the other, so I end up skimming one of the main sections of the book. When listening as an audiobook, this isn’t an option, and I’m glad I didn’t have that choice because Sean’s voice was so much sharper and his storyline just that bit more gripping. I think I may have been tempted to do so. And if I had, I would have missed some important nuances about life on Thisby, which could only be accessed through Puck’s viewpoint.

The world building and atmosphere that Steifvater manages to achieve in this story is outstanding. The description of the island, the water horses, the sea and the hardship experienced when living on such a place was brilliantly depicted without any loss of pace or tension. Likewise, the characterisation was also exceptional. Sean in particular leapt off the page and although it took me a little while longer to properly bond with her, in the end I was able to get through Puck’s irritability and sharp edges to properly care about her too. However, there is a price to pay when an author produces such a fabulous world peopled by such outstanding characters – and that is the plotting and storyline have to be able to match it and I don’t think this particular story quite lived up to the awesomeness of the place. That said, I am aware that Steifvater is a victim of her own success. If she had not produced such a strong response in me to her marvellous setting and those magical horses which I could smell and touch, then this wouldn’t be a grizzle.

There was a slight anomaly for me and it will be difficult to address in this review without lurching into spoiler land, but I’ll do my best. Sean works for a highly manipulative and successful man and his son happens to be the main antagonist in this story. There is a particularly nasty incident that occurs in his yard with his full knowledge that was both shocking and barbaric. All the staff must have known about it – and yet, the perpetrator apparently gets off completely unscathed. Given that love of horses permeates the whole island and the culture, I cannot believe this incident would have been allowed to go by, unregarded in the way that it appears to have been. This jarred sufficiently to yank me out of the story and make me question the power dynamic within the book. I also wasn’t totally convinced by the ending, which I felt was just a little bit to tidy for such a gritty read.

However, you will see by my final mark that this one got right under my skin. I wandered around in something of daze, a bit emotional and strung out after I’d finished the book. I’ll definitely be hunting down more books by this author, because while maybe this story didn’t tick all my boxes, that amazing setting, those fabulous water horses and tough, sturdy Sean Kendrick stole my heart when I wasn’t looking. Highly recommended for fans of powerfully written fantasy worlds.
9/10