Category Archives: romance

Review of NETGALLEY arc Making It Write – Book 3 of A Writer For Hire Mystery series by Betty Hechtman #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #MakingItWritebookreview

Standard

I have been tucking into a variety of cosy whodunits recently. So when this one caught my eye, I was delighted to be able to get hold of the arc – especially as the author is unknown to me.

BLURB: As a writer for hire, Veronica Blackstone puts her keyboard to use to help others. That includes writing advertising copy for local businesses or love letters for those with romantic troubles, or helping people publish their memoirs. Maeve Winslow needs the latter.

Maeve is the wife of a famous artist nominated for a prestigious award, and the memoir is to be released ahead of the ceremony. All of Maeve’s notes are given to Veronica but for the final few pages. There’s a huge surprise within those last pages, but Maeve won’t reveal it yet. When Maeve is found dead at the foot of her stairs it looks like an accident, but Veronica isn’t convinced. Was the scene staged? Was Maeve murdered to keep her silent? Could clues to the surprise, and the identity of the murderer, be hidden within the notes? It’s up to Veronica to figure it out and write the real story.

REVIEW: I was interested to learn that this was the third book in the series – a fact I only discovered when searching for a copy of the cover after I’d finished the book. So if you are hesitating about plunging into the middle of a series, then don’t be. At no point did I feel I was missing vital information – in fact all the way through this one, I was under the impression that it was the first book in the series.

Part of the reason why I felt I was reading the first book is the pacing. It’s very leisurely – to the point that I’d begun to wonder if there was going to be a murder at all. That said, I enjoyed Hechtman’s smooth, accomplished writing and quickly bonded with the main protagonist, who narrates the story in first-person viewpoint, which meant that I wasn’t too worried. But I will say that if you prefer your murder mysteries to move along at a fair clip with regular dollops of action along the way, then this one might not tick the boxes for you.

Veronica doesn’t have a front row seat as to what is happening – and I did enjoy the fact that the police were in no mood to pour out all the details to her just because she has published a fictional detective story. So her initial sense of wrongness about Maeve’s death is gradually strengthened by the accretion of minor details. I really liked the premise – and the fact that Maeve hasn’t conveniently written down all the major issues surrounding her wish to write a memoir. In the circumstances, that wouldn’t have made sense, given that she knew the huge secret surrounding her husband’s sudden fame and had no reason to think she wouldn’t be in the middle of the project. And the final twist is a doozy – I had considered it fleetingly right at the beginning of the story, but Hechtman nicely redirects us with a strong line-up of plausible suspects. Overall, this is an enjoyable, well-plotted murder mystery featuring a sympathetic heroine. Recommended for fans of murder mysteries that concentrate more on characters and motivations and less on the gore and action. While I obtained an arc of Making It Write from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna #BrainfluffNETGALLEYAUDIOBOOKreview #TheVerySecretSocietyofIrregularWitchesbookreview

Standard

I have read quite a few fantasy book featuring witches recently in my quest for enjoyable, escapist reads. So I was delighted to see this offering featured and even more chuffed when I was approved for an audio arc.

BLURB: As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon knows she has to hide her magic, keep her head down, and stay away from other witches so their powers don’t mingle and draw attention. And as an orphan who lost her parents at a young age and was raised by strangers, she’s used to being alone and she follows the rules…with one exception: an online account, where she posts videos pretending to be a witch. She thinks no one will take it seriously.

But someone does. An unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches how to control their magic. It breaks all of the rules, but Mika goes anyway, and is immediately tangled up in the lives and secrets of not only her three charges, but also an absent archaeologist, a retired actor, two long-suffering caretakers, and…Jamie. The handsome and prickly librarian of Nowhere House would do anything to protect the children, and as far as he’s concerned, a stranger like Mika is a threat. An irritatingly appealing threat. As Mika begins to find her place at Nowhere House, the thought of belonging somewhere begins to feel like a real possibility. But magic isn’t the only danger in the world, and when a threat comes knocking at their door, Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect a found family she didn’t know she was looking for…

REVIEW: It always helps if the narrator is good – and Samara MacLaren’s voice and reading style has become a solid favourite. So it was a bonus to discover her dulcet tones when I first tucked into this enjoyable offering.

Mika is a delightful protagonist. She’s had a tough time as a child. Due to a spell that went wrong several hundred years ago, all witches are orphaned early in their lives so are brought up by guardians instead of their parents. After the horrendous witch burnings of the 16th century, the community of witches scattered and now they only meet up very occasionally. For magic tends to gather around witches, making it easier for them to be discovered. So it’s deemed safer by formidable leaders like Primrose for witches to stay away from each other, making life lonely for adult witches who wish to continue to practise their magic. It would have been all too easy for Mika to have been portrayed as a classically tragic heroine – so I was very pleased to find her resolutely sunny-natured in all but the toughest situations.

Her three charges are funny without being too cute, unrealistically awful or revoltingly good – which is harder to achieve than Mandanna makes it look. There is also a rather sweet love story that unfolds in the middle of all the magical shenanigans, which I also enjoyed. However – there is a warning. The F-word is liberally sprinkled throughout, which didn’t really fit with the overall feel of the story. I certainly didn’t appreciate its use in front of the children, for instance. Apart from that one niggle, this is an enjoyable, often humorous and ultimately uplifting fantasy adventure with a dollop of romance with one steamy scene I fast-forwarded through. While I obtained an arc of The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID – 23

Standard

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

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

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

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

Last week I read:-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #22

Standard

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

As we now have our grandsons staying with us, it’s been another full-on week. Ethan’s summer job has become a lot busier as the back-to-school rush for uniforms hits its peak. He is coping really well with long days serving fraught parents and their miserable children. I can’t quite believe that the summer holidays have slipped by so fast and he is about to begin his final week before he starts back at college for the second year of his animation course. We took Oscar to the Wetland and Wildfowl Trust last Tuesday on a rainy day. Another year and I would be moaning about the weather – but after weeks of blistering heat, it was delightful to wander around in the misty drizzle and watch the birds enjoying themselves – as you can see from the pics.

Other than that, I’ve been up in the mornings to ensure Ethan has a good breakfast and give him a lift to work. Initially we’d thought he could walk it – but given the brutal heat, we took the decision to drive him to work. And although it’s now cooler, I am reluctant to make him walk over a mile there and back on top of working full shifts when he hasn’t had a chance to be acclimatised to it.

I am feeling more energetic than I did last week, although there are still good and bad days. I’m pleased to see I’ve started losing some of the weight I put on while spending so much time bedridden and exhausted and I can now wear some of my jeans. I’ve still got quite a way to go before I can get into most of my clothes, but right now that isn’t a priority as I’m still not sufficiently recovered to consider a full reconditioning and fitness programme. I am looking forward to the time when I can go swimming at the local leisure centre while Boomerang Boy is hitting the gym, instead of spending my time sitting in their very uncomfortable chairs reading a book. He’s very pleased to see some muscle development since he started attending at the start of the summer holidays and we’re hoping to continue attending once he returns to school. He has also grown more than an inch since we measured him in the second week of August.

While my writing progress has been hit and miss throughout the summer, I have made some progress on the third book of Castellan’s adventures, Problems With Power. I thought I’d discovered a plot hole near the end of the previous book, Trouble With Dwarves, but Himself pointed out that I was overthinking the issue and suggested that I sort it out with a suitable conversation, instead of several major scene changes and a whole new sub-plot. I’ll be taking his advice and adding said conversation in the coming week – full of relief that I won’t have to administer major surgery to the ongoing narrative!

I’ve recently read:-

Her Majesty’s Warlord – Book 2 of the Stuck in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
After being trapped in a very strange world, Elliot Richardson found his footing and led the forces of Damansara to victory, only to find himself under threat from jealous and resentful city fathers who thought he was on the verge of overthrowing their rule and taking their power for himself.

Isolated and alone, Elliot accepted an offer of employment from Princess Helen of Johor and finds himself travelling to the heart of her kingdom, to a city caught between the stagnant past, the hope of a better future and factions threatening to burn the world down rather than risk letting it be saved. And, as Elliot goes to work, he finds himself threatened by powerful enemies who will stop at nothing to see him brought down…
This is a spin-off from the gripping Schooled in Magic series that I’ve been working through during the last year – and I’m now following Elliot’s progress as he struggles to cope in a world where magic is the ultimate power, rather than technology. However, it’s also a world riven by social discontent as the agrarian culture, relying on peasants and downtrodden serfs to produce the food, is beset by sudden change. Once again, Nuttall has produced an action-packed read, full of plot twists and action that I thoroughly enjoyed. And being an indie book, it is also excellent value for money😊. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – Emma by Jane Austen, narrated by Emma Thompson
Emma Woodhouse is one of Austen’s most captivating and vivid characters. Beautiful, spoilt, vain and irrepressibly witty, Emma organizes the lives of the inhabitants of her sleepy little village and plays matchmaker with devastating effect.

I’m working my way through the collected novels of Jane Austen and I hadn’t particularly been looking forward to reaching Emma, as the last time I read the book I decided that Mr Knightly was a priggish misery. This time around, listening to the fabulous Emma Thompson, I didn’t find him such a pain. The humour of listening to both Emma and Mr K. being eaten up with jealousy without necessarily realising their feelings for each other was also more apparent. All in all, this was far more fun than I was expecting and turned out to be really enjoyable. However, I could do without all the music in this production. 8/10

The Half Killed – Book 1 of The Sundered Veil series by Quenby Olson
Dorothea Hawes has no wish to renew contact with what lies beyond the veil. After an attempt to take her own life, she has retired into seclusion, but as the wounds on her body heal, she is drawn back into a world she wants nothing more than to avoid.

She is sought out by Julian Chissick, a former man of God who wants her help in discovering who is behind the gruesome murder of a young woman. But the manner of death is all too familiar to Dorothea, and she begins to fear that something even more terrible is about to unleash itself on London.

And so Dorothea risks her life and her sanity in order to save people who are oblivious to the threat that hovers over them. It is a task that forces her into a confrontation with her own lurid past, and tests her ability to shape events frighteningly beyond her control.
I had read Olson’s entertaining romp about a dragon’s egg surfacing in a small village and it in no way prepared me for the intensity of this fantasy thriller. The writing is rich and layered, giving a vivid evocation of London during a savage heatwave in a time when people’s clothing was all about keeping them sufficiently warm. I loved the world and the steadily escalating tension in this classy read, rooting for Dorothea all the way. 10/10

AUDIOBOOK – Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany
Babel-17 is all about the power of language. Humanity, which has spread throughout the universe, is involved in a war with the Invaders, who have been covertly assassinating officials and sabotaging spaceships. The only clues humanity has to go on are strange alien messages that have been intercepted in space. Poet and linguist Rydra Wong is determined to understand the language and stop the alien threat.

I’m generally not all that impressed with the classic sci fi reads from this era – far too often it’s all about the lantern-jawed hero with female characters providing bed partners and/or requiring to be rescued just to show the protagonist off as courageous and tough. Not so this one – the protag is a well-written, nuanced heroine, who engaged me throughout with her intelligence and resilience. I also enjoyed the diverse ethnic range of characters throughout, showing that Delany was well ahead of his time. The ideas raised regarding language aren’t new – not when considering books such as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Embassytown – but I enjoyed the way Delany explores the subject. The only reason this one didn’t get a 10 was that the end felt a bit rushed and was weak and ordinary when compared with the quality of the rest of the book. 9/10

The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope
Washington D. C., 1925

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

Clara can’t pull off this daring heist alone. She’ll need help from an unlikely team, from a jazz musician capable of hypnotizing with a melody to an aging vaudeville actor who can change his face, to pull off the impossible. But as they encounter increasingly difficult obstacles, a dangerous spirit interferes at every turn. Conflict in the spirit world is leaking into the human one and along D.C’.s legendary Black Broadway, a mystery unfolds—one that not only has repercussions for Clara but all of the city’s residents.
This one is a gripping read. Clara is a sympathetic heroine, full of anger at how her life has been twisted by the gift bestowed upon her. The story also throws into relief the extra hardship being black is in Washington in the 1920s in a very matter-of-fact way, which gave me – a white middle-class Brit woman – a better appreciation of the unremitting harshness of being instantly judged by the colour of your skin. Review to follow.

A Date With Death – #0.5 of the Conjuring a Coroner series by S.C. Stokes
Whoever said blood is thicker than water hasn’t met the Harrington family. New York royalty, the Harrington family are old money with magic coursing through their entitled veins, and the only thing the Harringtons care less about than each other…is the law.

When Lester dies unexpectedly, his considerable estate is set to pass to his surviving heirs. But the coroner, Kasey Chase, has ruled Lester’s death a homicide, sparking a family feud that sees the Harrington heirs turn on each other in a lethal struggle where the only prize for second place is death.

With unlimited resources and a callous disregard for human life, the Harrington’s have to be stopped before the city pays the price for their petty war. Caught in the middle, Kasey is left fighting for her life. Fortunately, she’s been hiding a secret of her own. Kasey is a witch.
Kasey is an appealing heroine – and I liked how reluctant she is initially to get sucked into such a potentially tricky situation. I get a tad tired of protagonists who happily run towards danger the rest of us would instinctively back away from. And when this one finally kicked off – the action rolled forward and didn’t let up until the end. I’ll definitely be reading more Kasey goodness as this urban fantasy adventure is a page-turning read. 8/10

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a 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.

Review of NETGALLEY AUDIO arc A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting by Sophie Irwin #BrainfluffNETGALLEYaudiobookreview #ALadysGuidetoFortune-Huntingbookreview

Standard

I have read a number of Regency romances over the last seventeen months in a strong desire for enjoyable escapism, so when I saw this one on Netgalley I immediately requested it and was delighted to be approved.

BLURB: Kitty Talbot needs a fortune. Or rather, she needs a husband who has a fortune. Left with her father’s massive debts, she has only twelve weeks to save her family from ruin. Kitty has never been one to back down from a challenge, so she leaves home and heads toward the most dangerous battleground in all of England: the London season.

Kitty may be neither accomplished nor especially genteel—but she is utterly single-minded; imbued with cunning and ingenuity, she knows that risk is just part of the game. The only thing she doesn’t anticipate is Lord Radcliffe. The worldly Radcliffe sees Kitty for the mercenary fortune-hunter that she really is and is determined to scotch her plans at all costs, until their parrying takes a completely different turn…

REVIEW: This is huge fun. I immediately bonded with dear Kitty, whose parents recently died leaving her and her four sisters with a mountain of debt that will shortly see them homeless, if she can’t very quickly find a rich husband. I’ve read a number of Regency romances over the years – and what made this one stand out from the crowd is Kitty’s unabashed approach to the whole business. She is under no illusion that she needs to make a match with a wealthy man and resorts to all sorts of ploys to ensure she gets introduced to prospective husbands, ranging from dropping her kerchief, shedding a shoe and feigning an injury right through to the tried and tested tactic of fainting at his feet. Indeed, had Kitty been written into a Jane Austen romance, she would have been described with lip-curling disapproval and thoroughly cut down to size by a series of Austenesque humorous comments on her clothes and pushy manners. But she’s desperate. Determined not to see her family on the streets, Kitty will go to almost any lengths to ensure their future is secure – even if it is at the expense of her own future happiness.

I really enjoyed the tension and increased stakes swinging on the end of this entertaining romance. After all, this dynamic is always there in Austen’s work, too – think of Charlotte Lucas and her explanation to Lizzie when she accepts Mr Collins’ proposal in Pride and Prejudice. But I’ve not seen it stated quite so baldly before and I think Irwin makes it work really effectively. It doesn’t hurt that Eleanor Tomlinson’s narration is excellent.

Indeed, I would have given this one a 10, if it hadn’t been for a couple of anomalies – one in particular irritated me. Apparently, although she is literate and educated, Irwin represents Kitty as not being acquainted with the Bible – and given the historical era in which this is set, that’s nonsense. While her parents were clearly unorthodox, they had settled in a country district and were regarded as respectable by the local gentry, which means they must have regularly attended the local church along with their family. The other slip I noticed was a mention of Kitty packing her suitcase – an item which didn’t appear until the later stages of the 19th century. Other than those mistakes, I thoroughly enjoyed the story and it comes highly recommended for those who enjoy Regency romances featuring a strong-minded, feisty heroine. While I obtained the audiobook arc of A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 24th August, 2022 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

Standard

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.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Mindwalker by Kate Dylan – release date – 1st September, 2022

#science fiction #feisty heroine #romance #YA

BLURB: Eighteen-year-old Sil Sarrah is determined to die a legend. In the ten years she’s been rescuing imperilled field agents for the Syntex Corporation—by commandeering their minds from afar and leading them to safety—Sil hasn’t lost a single life. And she’s not about to start now.

She’s got twelve months left on the clock before the supercomputer grafted to her brain kills her, and she’s hell-bent on using that time to cement her legacy. Sil’s going to be the only Mindwalker to ever pitch a perfect game—even despite the debilitating glitches she’s experiencing. But when a critical mission goes south, Sil is forced to flee the very company she once called home.

Desperate to prove she’s no traitor, Sil infiltrates the Analog Army, an activist faction working to bring Syntex down. Her plan is to win back her employer’s trust by destroying the group from within. Instead, she and the Army’s reckless leader, Ryder, uncover a horrifying truth that threatens to undo all the good Sil’s ever done.

With her tech rapidly degrading and her new ally keeping dangerous secrets of his own, Sil must find a way to stop Syntex in order to save her friends, her reputation—and maybe even herself.
This one sounds like a lot of high-action fun. I am particularly drawn by the fact that young Sil is running out of time before she dies – and that sense of the clock ticking and having unfinished business always produces tension in the best possible way.

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #21

Standard

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

A lot has happened since I last reported in. The morning of my Dr’s appointment, the surgery contacted me to apologise that my consultation would have to be postponed as they had four doctors off with covid. I immediately got back in touch and explained that I was really struggling with a suspected sinus infection so I had a telephone appointment and was prescribed a course of antibiotics. The improvement in my condition was immediate, with the congestion easing and the lymph glands on the right side of my neck no longer so swollen and sore. Even the top of my head stopped aching. I felt on top of the world – I hadn’t felt so well since I’d become ill with covid back in March 2021. The only downside was that the tablets made me photosensitive, so during yet another week of soaring temperatures and bright sunshine, I had to keep covered up and indoors as much as possible. Still, it was a small price to pay. I even felt well enough to start sorting out my clothes in the wardrobes in the boys’ rooms so they would have sufficient space for their own possessions, given that they are now staying with us for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile I was convinced that I had now beaten the long covid and it was all behind me. Until the beginning of this week, when I once more woke up to the far too familiar feeling of dragging, bone-deep exhaustion that made getting up a struggle. The worst day was Wednesday when I wasn’t able to get out of bed and shower before midday – but it could have been so much worse. The last time I’d been hit by such a relapse, I’d spent several days in bed unable to get up before 5 pm. By Friday I was starting to recover again, although my energy levels still aren’t back to what they were, but at least now I know that I’ll get there. And an indicator that I am really on the road to recovery – at long last, I’m able to walk at the same pace as the rest of the family. For the longest time, although I was no longer walking with a stick, I was still moving really slowly, which forced the boys and Himself to check their pace so I wasn’t left behind. I hated it. I felt old before my time and also often got caught behind other slow-moving folks, because I didn’t have the acceleration to step past them. I also felt vulnerable on a crowded pavement, as I was also aware if someone wasn’t paying attention, I couldn’t react fast enough to avoid a collision. The ability to stride out and walk quickly again is such a joy – though I quickly get puffed as I have no stamina. Never mind, that will come.

The boys, as ever, are being brilliant. They are such good company and are always helpful with the chores, especially when I’m not feeling at my shiny best. Ethan is getting ever busier working in a shop that sells workwear and school uniforms as the summer holiday is coming to an end. While his younger brother is enjoying sessions in the local gym. We went down to the beach one lovely summer evening and I’m hoping to take them more often as I get stronger again. While all this has been going on, reading, writing and blogging have taken rather a hit.

I’ve recently read:-

AUDIOBOOK – The Daughter of Dr Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Carlota Moreau: a young woman, growing up in a distant and luxuriant estate, safe from the conflict and strife of the Yucatán peninsula. The only daughter of either a genius, or a madman.

Montgomery Laughton: a melancholic overseer with a tragic past and a propensity for alcohol. An outcast who assists Dr. Moreau with his scientific experiments, which are financed by the Lizaldes, owners of magnificent haciendas and plentiful coffers.

The hybrids: the fruits of the Doctor’s labor, destined to blindly obey their creator and remain in the shadows. A motley group of part human, part animal monstrosities.

All of them living in a perfectly balanced and static world, which is jolted by the abrupt arrival of Eduardo Lizalde, the charming and careless son of Doctor Moreau’s patron, who will unwittingly begin a dangerous chain reaction. For Moreau keeps secrets, Carlota has questions, and in the sweltering heat of the jungle, passions may ignite.
This slow-burn, atmospheric historical adventure creaked with tension throughout. I loved the depiction of two strong-minded, flawed people caught up in Dr Moreau’s machinations. Review to follow. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting by Sophie Irwin
Kitty Talbot needs a fortune. Or rather, she needs a husband who has a fortune. Left with her father’s massive debts, she has only twelve weeks to save her family from ruin.

Kitty has never been one to back down from a challenge, so she leaves home and heads toward the most dangerous battleground in all of England: the London season.

Kitty may be neither accomplished nor especially genteel—but she is utterly single-minded; imbued with cunning and ingenuity, she knows that risk is just part of the game.

The only thing she doesn’t anticipate is Lord Radcliffe. The worldly Radcliffe sees Kitty for the mercenary fortune-hunter that she really is and is determined to scotch her plans at all costs, until their parrying takes a completely different turn…
This is huge fun – and just the sort of escapist enjoyment I need right now. I thoroughly appreciated that Kitty has accepted the stark fact that she must make a financially favourable marriage to keep the rest of her family from foundering, which was an all-too common occurrence for women of a certain social class back in the day. Review to follow. 9/10

Breakup – Book 7 of the Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow
In Breakup, Kate Shugak’s loyalties – to the land, her heritage, her home – are put to the test when a series of mishaps lead to murder. April in Alaska is typically a period of rebirth and renewal, and after the long winter Kate has nothing more strenuous on her agenda than paying her taxes. But mayhem abounds as the meltoff flows; this year’s thaw is accompanied by rampaging bears, family feuds, and a plane crash quite literally in Kate’s own backyard. What begins as a series of headaches escalates into possible murder when a dead body is found near her homestead. Initially unwilling to involve herself in the investigation, preferring instead to write off each odd occurrence as a breakup-related peculiarity, Kate is drawn irresistibly to seek the truth.

Compelled by her friends to act as problem solver and guided by the spirit of her Aleut grandmother, she finds herself slowly taking on the role of clan leader, a post she is bound to by honor and blood. As breakup becomes increasingly fraught with danger and destruction, Kate must decide whether she can cross the line from passive observer to instrument of change, assuming the role of elder as the mantle of responsibility is passed.
I am slowly working my way through this engaging murder mystery series, set in Alaska and featuring a young woman born and bred in this extraordinary place. This particular book is a joy. I love the vivid depiction of place and Kate’s increasing frustration as she becomes sucked into local politics, despite her best intentions. The story see-saws between extreme danger and farce as events take on a life of their own, with an ugly murder emerging from the middle of all the mayhem. This is an outstanding read in an excellent series. 10/10

AUDIOBOOK – Sherlock Holmes & the Miskatonic Monstrosities – Book 2 of The James Lovegrove’s Sherlock Holmes series by James Lovegrove
It is the spring of 1895, and more than a decade of combating eldritch entities has cost Dr John Watson his beloved wife Mary, and nearly broken the health of Sherlock Holmes. Yet the companions do not hesitate when they are called to the infamous Bedlam lunatic asylum, where they find an inmate speaking in R’lyehian, the language of the Old Ones. Moreover, the man is horribly scarred and has no memory of who he is.

And when the man is taken from Bedlam by forces beyond normal mortal comprehension, it becomes clear that there is far more to the case than they initially suspected…
I have cut short the rather chatty blurb to this thoroughly enjoyable Sherlock Holmes adventure, where Lovegrove really hits his stride with this entertaining pastiche that also encompasses Lovecraftian aspects. The story takes all sorts of exciting twists and turns, yet remains true to the overall style and tone of Conan Doyle. Thoroughly recommended for Sherlock Holmes fans, who also appreciate a splash of fantasy with their historical murder mysteries. 10/10

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 arc The Last Feather by Shameez Patel Papathanasiou #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheLastFeatherbookreview

Standard

I always love feathers on book covers – and when I stopped to read the blurb, I thought this one sounded intriguing. So I was delighted to be approved.

BLURB: Twenty-two-year-old Cassia’s sister is dying, and she doesn’t know why. Soon after, Cassia wakes up in another realm, not only does she find her missing best friend, Lucas, but he knows how to save her sister.

Meanwhile Lucas is part of a community of Reborns, people who were born on earth and after death, were reborn in this realm with magical abilities. The original beings of the realm, the Firsts, rule over them.

But, to keep the Reborn numbers manageable, the king of the Firsts releases a curse to cull them and Cassia finds herself in the middle of it. She needs to break the curse before her time runs out, otherwise she will be trapped there forever.

REVIEW: Firstly, despite Cassia being twenty-two and having taken responsibility for caring for her ailing younger sister, she often behaves more like a mid-teen than a twenty-something. This sets the tone for the book, which reads like a YA adventure, with the emotions dialled high and many of the characters still unsure of who they are and their role in life. This isn’t in the way of a criticism – I regularly read and enjoy YA fantasy adventures, but it is important for other readers to know whether this is one they’d enjoy, or not.

I very much liked the poignancy of the separation between Lucas and Cassia at the beginning of the novel, which is powerfully written. So I assumed that the developing romance would feature the two of them – and it came a nice surprise when this wasn’t the case. Given that this is the relationship that drives the narrative throughout the book, I was delighted that it came from an enduring, close-knit bond that didn’t evolve into smouldering looks and all the sensations around physical attraction. Although there is all of that going on – it is far more confusing and difficult and fortunately for me, it didn’t upstage the ongoing issue of Cassia’s urgent task while in the magical realm.

Overall, I enjoyed the story. Plenty is going on throughout, with lots of action and drama and while at times I found Cassia annoyingly stubborn and self-centred – they were flaws I could live with. However there were aspects of the world that I did find irritating. Because of the ongoing pace of events, people need to be able to move around fast in a world where there is no mechanised transport. The author has decided to use a magical strain of wolf which are ridden and can travel very fast. Having chosen such a quirky form of transport, she then proceeds to treat these strong, powerful creatures like cars. They promptly bound up and allow anyone at all to clamber on board, they don’t appear to get tired, or ever act up. And once at the destination, everyone jumps down and they politely wait around for the return journey. Just like a car… I find it inconceivable that such apex predators would tamely submit to such treatment and it bugged me throughout the book.

That said, I did get caught up in the story and was sorry when it came to an end. There isn’t any mention on Goodreads or Amazon of a sequel – and there should be, because there are far too many dangling plotpoints waving in the wind. I, for one, want to know what happens next. Recommended for fans of YA portal fantasy adventures featuring a headstrong and plucky heroine. While I obtained an arc of The Last Feather from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK The Gilded Wolves – Book 1 of The Gilded Wolves series by Roshani Chokshi #Brainfluffbookreview #TheGildedWolvesbookreview

Standard

I was delighted to see this offering in Netgalley’s audio section, as I’d read the ebook and really enjoyed it – see my review. So I expected to be completely engrossed in the audiobook.

BLURB: Paris, 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: an engineer with a debt to pay; a historian banished from his home; a dancer with a sinister past; and a brother in arms if not blood.

Together they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history—but only if they can stay alive.

REVIEW: I knew exactly what I was getting with this one and expected to tuck right into it. But I hit an unexpected snag with this fantasy heist adventure – I found narrator P.J. Ochlan’s narration rather difficult to listen to. While his command of the various character voices is excellent, his delivery of the text tended to fall into a slightly sing-song cadence that I found very irritating. While there were times when it worked for me – for instance when I felt it matched the rhythm of the writing. But particularly during some of the descriptive passages, I felt Ochlan’s delivery diminished the lushness of Chokshi’s prose. This led me to limit the length of time I listened to the story, especially in the early stages when there is a significant amount of scene-setting and description. Fortunately as the book progressed, this issue became less of a problem due to the gathering pace of the story and the heightened tension as the stakes grew ever larger. Once again, I was struck by Chokshi’s deft characterisation as each one of the gang was well drawn, with both strengths and weaknesses that were highlighted throughout the story.

I would mention that this story definitely falls within the YA genre – the young protagonists are still struggling to discover who they are within the wider world. Emotions within the team are ramped up as they also are trying to work out how they feel about each other. Interestingly, listening to this story had me far less sympathetic to Séverin than when I read it. In fact, I wanted to shake him until his teeth rattled to snap him out of his self-pitying fugue, whereby he seemed to think it was fine to hurt others around because he was also in pain.

However, despite my issues with one of the narrators, I still became caught up in the twisting plot and enjoyed the vivid depiction of a fantastical Paris where magic and a decadent pursuit of pleasure collide to produce a bright world, full of colour and enchantment. Now I have once again been drawn into the story, I want to discover what happens next to this disparate group. Recommended for those who enjoy a richly depicted fantastical world and a magical heist adventure full of twists and turns. While I obtained an audiobook arc of The Gilded Wolves from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #20

Standard

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

Well, I survived the heatwave when we had temperatures soar into the mid 90s – and before you roll your eyes and scoff at what wusses we are, please bear in mind that only about half our shops and offices have aircon and only a handful of homes. And given that we had the hottest temperature ever recorded in the UK at 104.5° F. further inland, you can also surmise that we’re simply not used to such heat. So much so, that Boomerang Boy’s school saw fit to send the boys off to play football on the astro-turf at around noon on the hottest day of the year. It won’t surprise you to hear that I got a panicked phone call asking for me to go and pick him up as he was suffering from severe heat exhaustion. They weren’t wrong – his face was beetroot, except for a worrying white patch around his mouth and he was finding it difficult to walk in a straight line. Fortunately, although he was wiped out for the rest of the day and still feeling less than his usual shiny self the following day, he managed to bounce back as I ensured he had a tepid shower, drank loads of water and slept with a cooling gelpack under his pillowcase and a cold-water bottle on his feet.

As for my hay fever. It isn’t. I don’t have the right symptoms and neither do they respond at all to any of the hay fever medication. I think it’s the nasal drip now causing major congestion instead, so it’s yet another iteration of the dratted Long Covid. Oh joy… I am thoroughly fed up as my energy levels are being shredded by sneezing fits, severe tinnitus, a constant blocked or runny nose and sore sinuses. The only thing alleviating the symptoms with some effectiveness is the steamer, but even that is only a temporary fix as my nose gets steadily more inflamed and tender.

We are now in the middle of the summer holidays in one of the loveliest parts of the country with wonderful weather, now it has cooled down again. Am I taking the Boomerang Boy to the beach, or the Wetland and Wildfowl Trust, or visiting the Pitch and Putt together, or wandering around Highdown Gardens and having a cuppa at the local café? Nope – none of the above. Because I simply cannot manage it. Neither can I rejoin my Writing Group, or attend a dear friend’s birthday dinner. In short – I feel my life is fading away as I sink into semi-invalidism, whereby I’m losing my friends. I’m not even able to assist in any meaningful way with the household chores. Needless to say – none of is this remotely fair on Himself, either.

Sorry about the rant – but I’m feeling really defeated about the whole business. I have an appointment with the Dr tomorrow, but I’m not particularly hopeful. I’ve been left to struggle with the whole gamut of long covid symptoms pretty much on my own so far – and I don’t hold out much hope that an increasingly hard-pressed NHS has anything much to offer. Thank goodness for books and the light and life the youngsters are bringing into the house!

This week I’ve read:-
As you’ll see, this week there have been far more audiobooks as it’s been a struggle sleeping with my tinnitus screaming and my nose either constantly running or blocked solid.

AUDIOBOOK – Mansfield House by Jane Austen – The Jane Austen Collection: an Audible original
Mansfield House – narrated by Billie Piper

Adopted into the household of her uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, Fanny Price grows up a meek outsider among her cousins in the unaccustomed elegance of Mansfield Park. Soon after Sir Thomas absents himself on business, Mary Crawford and her brother, Henry, arrive at Mansfield, bringing with them London glamour and the seductive taste for flirtation and theatre that precipitates a crisis.

Directed by Tamsin Collison. With Matt Addis, Lucy Briers, James Corrigan, Scarlett Courtney, Rosalind Eleazar, Jennifer English, Emma Fielding, Ash Hunter, Joel MacCormack, Harry Myers, Esme Scarborough, Lucy Scott, Bert Seymour and Natalie Simpson.
I thoroughly enjoyed Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. However this one is less successful for me. Listening to Billy Piper’s rendition brought home to me just what a drab little mouse Fanny Price is. I found myself increasingly hoping that Mary Crawford would prevail and that prissy little Fanny would disappear off to become someone’s lady’s companion. That said – this production is excellent. 7/10

AUDIOBOOK – Sherlock Holmes & the Beast of the Stapletons – Book 5 of James Lovegrove’s Sherlock Holmes series by James Lovegrove
1894. The monstrous Hound of the Baskervilles has been dead for five years, along with its no less monstrous owner, the naturalist Jack Stapleton. Sir Henry Baskerville is living contentedly at Baskerville Hall with his new wife Audrey and their three-year-old son Harry.

Until, that is, Audrey’s lifeless body is found on the moors, drained of blood. It would appear some fiendish creature is once more at large on Dartmoor and has, like its predecessor, targeted the unfortunate Baskerville family.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are summoned to Sir Henry’s aid, and our heroes must face a marauding beast that is the very stuff of nightmares. It seems that Stapleton may not have perished in the Great Grimpen Mire after all, as Holmes believed, and is hell-bent on revenge…
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying James Lovegrove’s series which provides a really effective pastiche of Conan Doyle’s world and his most famous private detective. I also appreciate Lovegrove having very slightly tweaked the less attractive traits of sexism and racism that surface in the original canon to give us another twist to this, the most famous of all Sherlock Holmes’s stories. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – Conspirator – Book 10 of the Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh
Cajeiri is the young son of the powerful leader of the Western Association-and he has become a target for forces bent on destroying his father’s rule. For Cajeiri is the first “ateva” youth to have lived in a human environment. And after hundreds of years of fragile atevi-human coexistence, he may very well be the first of his people to ever truly understand the so similar-yet so dangerously different-aliens who share his home planet and threaten the hidebound customs of his race.


I am absolutely loving this series. It’s length gives Cherryh an opportunity to really dig deep into the political and social changes wrought upon the atevi and their culture after humans unexpectedly turn up. Bren Cameron becomes embedded into their power structure as translator for the humans, inevitably also drawing down the wrath of a number of political factions – and their black-clad, highly efficient assassins… Once again, I found myself transported to another world with different rules. Daniel May does an outstanding job of narrating this thrilling series. 9/10

Death and the Decorator – Book 21 of the Fethering Mystery series by Simon Brett
Having decided to redecorate Woodside Cottage, Jude has engaged the services of local man Pete, who has painted and decorated the homes of Fethering residents for many years. Pete is currently working on Footscrow House, a large Victorian building which is being converted into holiday flats by a local developer.

Having arranged to meet at ‘Fiasco House’, as it is known locally due to the many failed business enterprises over the years, Jude and Pete make a surprising discovery behind a wall panel: a woman’s handbag! The casual discovery becomes serious when the police identify the handbag’s owner as Anita Garner, a young woman who vanished in suspicious circumstances twenty years earlier.

Determined to find out what really happened to Anita all those years ago, Jude and her neighbour Carole’s investigations plunge them into a maze of deception and murder, as they uncover a number of uncomfortable secrets beneath the serene surface of Fethering life . . .
Jude and Carole team up to try to uncover what happened to Anita – is she buried in a shallow grave somewhere on the South Downs, as the local pub bore insists? This dynamic duo once again get together to discover what happened. An engaging and twisty whodunit set in an English village peppered with shafts of humour. And no… you don’t have to have read the previous twenty books to thoroughly enjoy this one. 9/10

Augusta Hawke – Book 1 of the Augusta Hawke series by G.M. Mailliet
Where are Niko and Zora Norman? Crime writer Augusta Hawke puts her sleuthing skills to the test to solve the mystery of her disappearing neighbors in the first entry in a new series.

While Augusta Hawke is a successful author of eighteen crime novels, since her husband’s death she’s been living vicariously through her Jules Maigret-like detective Claude and his assistant Caroline. Then a handsome police detective appears investigating a real-life mystery.

Where are her neighbors, the Normans? No one has a clue what’s happened – except Augusta. Although she isn’t nosy, spending all day staring out the windows for inspiration means she does notice things. Like the Normans arguing. And that they’ve been missing a week…
This is another contemporary murder mystery with yet another feisty heroine deciding not to let matters lie. I rapidly fell in love with Augusta, whose beguiling first-person narrative drew me in and wouldn’t let me go. Not particularly action-packed, but full of humour and with an enjoyably surprising denouement. Review to follow. 9/10

This week I have posted:

*RE-RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Death and the Decorator – Book 21 of The Fethering Mysteries by Simon Brett

*RE-RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Almost a Dragon – Book 1 of The Wizard and the Dragon series by Al Case

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. I’m here to tell you that Life isn’t all that much fun if you can’t rely on your health…