Category Archives: romance

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Entangled Secrets – Book 3 of the Northern Circle Coven series by Pat Esden #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #EntangledSecretsbookreview

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I’ll be honest – the cover didn’t do it for me at all. In fact, it probably had the opposite effect, but the opening sentence of the blurb mentioned a single-parent mother as the protagonist and I was suddenly very interested…

BLURB: Pregnant and alone at twenty-one, Chandler Parrish sought refuge within the Northern Circle coven’s secluded complex. Never revealing the identity of her child’s father, Chandler has raised her now eight-year-old son, Peregrine, in peace, and used her talent as an artist and welder to become a renowned metal sculptor. But her world is shaken to the core when Peregrine shows signs of natural faerie sight—a rare and dangerous gift to see through faerie glamour and disguises that could only have come from his father’s genes. Worse yet, the boy has seen a monstrous faerie creature trailing Lionel Parker, a magic-obsessed journalist determined to expose the witching world.

But the very man who threatens the witches’ anonymity may also be key to healing Chandler’s long broken heart. As dangerous desires and shocking secrets entangle, new faerie threats and demonic foes close in on the coven and High Council. Loyalties will be tested. Fierce magics will be called upon. And Chandler will have to face her past to save all she holds dear: her coven, her child—and perhaps even her own soul.

REVIEW: It is relatively rare to find mothers looking out for their children within urban fantasy, so I was immediately attracted by this dynamic and was delighted to be able to get hold of this one. Which was when I discovered it was the third book in the series… However, while I’m sure that if I’d gone back to the beginning and read these books in the correct order, I would have benefitted from a deeper, richer knowledge of the characters and the ongoing dynamic, Esden has made it possible to crash into this series without readers unduly struggling.

I quickly bonded with gutsy Chandler, who makes things out of metal and is fiercely protective of her young son. There is a strong backstory which has the Northern Circle coven still reeling from the aftereffects and adds to the tension when apparently another threat turns up, perhaps related to the previous trouble.

Overall, this was an entertaining and smooth read with plenty going on, a nice magical system and sympathetic characters. The romantic thread had a bit of heat, but it wasn’t too steamy – while the climactic denouement worked well. I enjoyed the resolution and recommend this urban fantasy adventure to those who enjoy stories involving witchcraft. Though I’d advise you begin with the first book, His Dark Magic. While I obtained an arc of Entangled Secrets from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #MexicanGothicbookreview

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I am a fan of Moreno-Garcia’s writing – see my reviews of Gods of Jade and Shadow, Certain Dark Things, The Beautiful Ones and Prime Meridian. So when I saw this one was available on Netgalley, I scampered across to request it and was delighted to be approved to read it…

BLURB: After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region. Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.


REVIEW: This one firmly nails its colours to the mast with the very title – Mexican Gothic. So, never mind about the quality of the writing… the characterisation… or even the ingenuity of the plotting – does this book hit all the genre conventions of a classic noir gothic novel? Oh yes – right down to the era, as this book is set in the 1950s. Comparisons have been made with Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and, indeed there are some striking similarities, though equally important differences. We have a large, mouldering house miles away from anywhere and seemingly perpetually shrouded in mist with faded furniture and a musty smell under the fraying grandeur. We also have a hostile and rather creepy housekeeper, though this one is known as Florence, instead of Mrs Danvers. Though her disapproval of our feisty heroine, Noemí, is every bit as prune-faced and sneering. She particularly dislikes her smoking in her room – which back in the 50s was unusual, given that lots of people smoked as a matter of course. And Noemí is also an important difference. Because, let’s face it, the second Mrs de Winter was toe-curlingly wet and naïve. However, Noemí is quite a different proposition. A young debutante who moves amongst the smart set in Mexico City, she is sophisticated, tough-minded and a little spoilt – which in these circumstances is a very good thing…

I love Noemí, who is also intuitive and intelligent with a strong instinct for self preservation under that careless, thrill-seeking exterior. And as forces within the house stir at the prospect of fresh meat, she is confronted with things that would send a less feisty character shrieking into the night… The pacing is a joy. Because the gothic genre requires a slow build-up of tension as things begin to go wrong, steadily gathering momentum as the stakes continue getting higher – until the climax crackles with horror and a real sense that our heroine may well not prevail. This being Moreno-Garcia, I didn’t discount that option, either…

There are some really ugly issues dealt with in this book. The Doyles, an outwardly respectable English family, proud of their unsullied heritage, had to leave England as rumours about their activities became too persistent. They pitch up in this depressed settlement, free to continue their vile practises. Slavery, physical and sexual abuse, murder and the nastiest sort of racism all surface within this story, though there isn’t anything too graphic. But neither does Moreno-Garcia flinch from what goes on, either. Suffice to say there is one of the most magnificently vile antagonists in this book that I’ve encountered in a while. All in all, this is a wonderful example from an author at the top of her game and very highly recommended for fans of gothic horror. While I obtained an arc of Mexican Gothic from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10


Review of AUDIOBOOK Longbourn by Jo Baker #Brainfluffbookreview #Longbournbookreview

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Like so many other folks, I’m a huge Jane Austen fan – and Pride and Prejudice was my go-to comfort read for several decades. So I was delighted to hear about this retelling from the viewpoint of the servants at Longbourn – and so decided to treat myself to the Audible version, narrated by the wonderful Emma Fielding.

BLURB: ‘If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats,’ Sarah thought, ‘she would be more careful not to tramp through muddy fields.’
It is wash-day for the housemaids at Longbourn House, and Sarah’s hands are chapped and raw. Domestic life below stairs, ruled with a tender heart and an iron will by Mrs Hill the housekeeper, is about to be disturbed by the arrival of a new footman, bearing secrets and the scent of the sea.

This started so very well. I loved Sarah, the intelligent and lively young maid-of-all-work, hired from the Poor House when she was only six years old by Mrs Hill, the housekeeper, after her family died of typhus. Now, as a teenager, she finds the drudgery and sheer monotony of the work, chafes her spirit. She longs for some adventure and a break from the routine of never-ending, back-breaking housework in the days when every cleaning product had to be made by hand and hardly any domestic aids to lighten the load existed. Baker depicts life below stairs so very well, and her characterisation of all the servants, Mrs Hill in particular, is nuanced and detailed.

But as the story wore on, I felt the pacing suffered in the face of all the domestic trivia. Baker had clearly done shedloads of historical research on the clothing, the food, the duties of the servants… Unfortunately, she also got very caught up in regaling her readers with far too much of said detail at the overall expense of the narrative, which meant the book dragged in places, which was a real shame.

Unlike some readers, I didn’t have a problem with Baker’s depiction of the Bennet family – of course Elizabeth wouldn’t come across as particularly lively to the servants, or even all that thoughtful. While she was often preoccupied and forgot a detail particularly important to Sarah, it must remembered that was right in the middle of a tumultuous period in her own life. She also never shouted, or threw things at Sarah, pinched or slapped her, which was also often the lot of a domestic servant. I also enjoyed the interlude right away from Longbourn, when we get a ringside seat at the horrors of the Peninsular Campaign during the Napoleonic Wars. It gave us a bit of a break from the constant domestic round and a real insight into the brutality many working-class men endured, once they joined up.

As for the overall plot – I thought the plotline charting Mrs Hill’s story was stunningly successful, from beginning to end, particularly the way in also encompassed poor Mrs Bennet’s life. If the book had chosen to feature Mrs Hill as the main protagonist, this would have been an outstanding read from me. But it wasn’t – Sarah was the main character featured throughout, until nearly at the end of the book, when she simply disappears, only to make a fleeting and highly unsatisfactory reappearance right at the very end.

I couldn’t believe it. I went back and replayed it, in case I missed a bunch of crucial details – but I hadn’t. I had no idea if she was happy with the life she ended up choosing. And that ending plain didn’t make sense, either. No one dared send any letters for fear of being traced – and then… suddenly that didn’t matter anymore! I can’t say more for fear of Spoilers, but I found the ending contrived and unconvincing. What a shame! There was so much that was well done, but I came away disappointed that this book didn’t fulfil its early promise.
6/10

Review of INDIE Ebook Broken Flyght – Book 2 of The Flyght series by S.J. Pajonas #Brainfluffbookreview, #BrokenFlyghtbookreview

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I read and thoroughly enjoyed the first book – see my review of First Flyght. So I took the opportunity to dive into the second book to find out what happens next to Vivian.

BLURB: With her ship secure and her old boyfriend back in good graces, Vivian Kawabata only needs one thing to move forward: money. Money, though, is hard to come by when you’re an infamous disgraced heiress. Vivian’s only move is to enlist the help of her matchmaker, Marcelo, and find another wealthy man to add to her relationship network. He not only has to be a master in the bedroom, but he must be a pro with ships, too. Her ship needs a mechanic before they start taking on real clients for Flyght, the lucrative ship-sharing startup…

REVIEW: There is more blurb, but it gets a bit chatty. This book picks up where the first book left off, so if you haven’t yet read First Flyght then go and track it down, because especially at the start of this story, you’ll not necessarily appreciate how high the stakes are if you don’t. I very much like Vivian, who is fundamentally a good person with a keen sense of responsibility. There is plenty going on in this next slice of the adventure, as Vivian struggles to get back the family farm, go after her brother and accrue a relationship network of wealthy men – all at the same time. No wonder she is struggling to sleep…

Pajonas has a smooth writing style and in the middle of all the mayhem, there is a thread of wry humour that manages to keep the story enjoyably entertaining as well as nicely escapist – just what we all need in these increasingly grim times… I like the worldbuilding, which is vivid and well described as Vivian bounces through it – a disaster magnet, as sheer bad luck and circumstance conspire to multiply the ongoing problems she’s been dealing with. I’m hoping, however, that the next book in the series, High Flyght, will bring some sort of resolution to at least one of the issues Vivian is confronting – I am uncomfortable with the idea that she becomes a permanent fall guy throughout this series, as I like her too much.

Overall, though, this was an entertaining, thoroughly enjoyable space opera adventure. While it is marketed as a reverse harem romance – something that made me initially hesitate to read it – I would just add that the romance so far has been of the slow burn variety and not the plot thread powering the narrative. I don’t have a problem with that, but do bear it in mind.
8/10

Sunday Post – 14th June, 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.

I’m late this week, because since Wednesday, I haven’t been feeling very well and so yesterday, I gave myself the day off. Hopefully during the coming week, I’ll throw off this lergy. At least I was able to take part in the family quiz we had last week, which was great fun, especially as Himself and I won. My sister organised the questions, and my nephews sorted out the technicality of getting a number of us together from around the country. We all had a great time and agreed that we should do more😊).

Finally we have had some rain, though as it was accompanied by lots of wind, I’m not sure whether the garden has been suitably soaked, but the weeds are really loving it. The raindrops trapped in the fennel leaves look lovely and my black-leaved sambucca is smothered in more blossom than I’ve ever seen, as is my rather heavily shaded David Austin rose…

On the work front, I spent much of the week going through my friend’s book, after we had something of a formatting disaster. Now I just need to load it onto my Kindle and see how it reads. I am slowly getting to grips with the WordPress block editor and making some changes to try and overcome the limitations I am encountering. But it’s time-consuming and frustrating…


Last week I read:

Set My Heart To Five by Simon Stephenson
10/10 Jared does not have friends.
Because friends are a function of feelings.
Therefore friends are just one more human obligation that Jared never has to worry about.
But Jared is worrying. Which is worrying. He’s also started watching old films. And inexplicably crying in them. And even his Feelings Wheel (given to him by Dr Glundenstein, who definitely is not a friend) cannot guide him through the emotional minefield he now finds himself in.
Given the blurb is something of a hot mess – this delightful book is in the viewpoint of a bot in a human body, designed to work as a dentist without any feelings, so incapable of love, excitement, or boredom and depression. Except that he begins to acquire such emotions after all… It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it.

The Empire of Gold – Book 3 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty
Daevabad has fallen. After a brutal conquest stripped the city of its magic, Nahid leader Banu Manizheh and her resurrected commander, Dara, must try to repair their fraying alliance and stabilize a fractious, warring people. But the bloodletting and loss of his beloved Nahri have unleashed the worst demons of Dara’s dark past. To vanquish them, he must face some ugly truths about his history and put himself at the mercy of those he once considered enemies.
This final book in this sand and sorcery epic fantasy draws us into a land of vengeful magical beings, where the past dictates the present and those in the middle of the story finally discover how they fit into the complex political web around them. A triumphant ending to a magnificent series.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region. Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.
This gothic tale certainly ticks all the boxes and had me reading into the small hours to find out what happened. A creepy house, miserable welcome and nasty, entitled family who don’t want strangers poking about. And that’s all I’m going to say about it – except that it will take a while before I can face a mushroom again…

My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Empire of Gold – Book 3 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty

Friday Face-off featuring Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Set My Heart to Five by Simon Stephenson

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi

Review of The City of Brass – Book 1 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Gravity is Heartless – Book 1 of the Heartless series by Sarah Lahey

Sunday Post – 7th June 2020

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

Black SFF Authors You Should be Reading https://booksbonesbuffy.com/2020/06/02/black-sff-authors-you-should-be-reading/ Like Tammy, I generally don’t discuss politics on my blog, but if you wish to widen your reading – this is a great place to start…

A Short Analysis of Robert Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’ https://interestingliterature.com/2020/06/a-short-analysis-of-robert-brownings-my-last-duchess/ This is one of my favourite poems – such a wonderful portrayal of a really nasty villain…

Music Monday: As Good as Hell by Lizzo https://saschadarlington.me/2020/06/08/music-monday-good-as-hell-by-lizzo/#.Xudmk-d7kaE I have heard parts of this song regularly from a certain ad – so it was a real treat to listen to the whole thing and jig along…

The Book Character Quarantine Tag https://spaceandsorcery.wordpress.com/2020/06/09/the-book-character-quarantine-tag/ Maddalena’s lovely and spot on post about how her favourite protagonists would fare under lockdown had me howling with laughter… I will be joining in this one!

Before He Was Scotty: James Doohan and World War II https://thenaptimeauthor.wordpress.com/2020/05/30/before-he-was-scotty-james-doohan-and-world-war-ii/ Anne’s wonderful article shows us Scotty and other members of the Star Trek cast as you’ve never seen them…

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Empire of Gold – Book 3 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheEmpireofGoldbookreview

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I take a bit of persuading to get immersed into a High Fantasy epic series, these days – but when it comes to a tale of sand and sorcery, I’m allll over it. The typically lush prose, desert landscapes and vicious magic centred around huge crocodiles, flying creatures and djinn are irresistible. I’ve loved the first two books in this series – The City of Brass and The Kingdom of Copper. So would this final book in the trilogy safely bring this wide-ranging, ambitious tale of lethal magic and betrayed peoples to a satisfactory conclusion?

BLURB: Daevabad has fallen. After a brutal conquest stripped the city of its magic, Nahid leader Banu Manizheh and her resurrected commander, Dara, must try to repair their fraying alliance and stabilize a fractious, warring people. But the bloodletting and loss of his beloved Nahri have unleashed the worst demons of Dara’s dark past. To vanquish them, he must face some ugly truths about his history and put himself at the mercy of those he once considered enemies.

REVIEW: Chakraborty does a cracking job in progressing this tale, producing yet another breathtaking round of adventures and plot twists, before winding it up in a way that left a lump in my throat. A word of warning – if you happen upon either The Kingdom of Copper or The Empire of Gold without having first had the pleasure of tucking into The City of Brass, then restrain yourself and go looking for that first book. This is, in effect, a single narrative arc that has been broken into three parts and when I attempted to crash midway into the series, I had to backtrack to The City of Brass, then reread The Kingdom of Copper to really appreciate what was going on. I regularly make a hobby of crashing into series – and mostly get away with it. Not so, this time.

I’m really glad I made the effort to reread the second book, before plunging into this doorstop of a book, which is something over 700 pages long. Though it really didn’t feel like it. This series, with its cast of vivid, often violent and vengeful characters swept me up and held me throughout. It was Nahri’s story that I cared most about, but the amazing being, Dara, the fabled warrior brought back to life with such a bloody past, also held my heart. The characterisation was superb. Nahri could have so easily turned into a bit of a Mary Sue, but her sharp edges and inability to trust anyone kept her from being too cosy, or too much of a victim. And as for Dara – where to begin? A single terrible episode, when he trusted too easily, defined the rest of his very long life and for which he paid a terrible price. And goes on paying it throughout most of this book, too…

George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series was a game-changer in ensuring all factions were guilty of some bloody deed – and Chakraborty has continued that dynamic throughout this trilogy. The city of Daevabad was founded by an act of invasion, and throughout it has been riven by injustice and simmering hatred for one group against the other. I was both curious and concerned as to how Chakraborty would manage to find a realistic solution. The worldbuilding throughout has been exceptional. I’ve loved the descriptions of the various landscapes, particularly of the magical city – and found the transformations it undergoes once the magic has left, very moving.

CONCLUSION: I’m not going into any kind of detail as to how she manages it, but I was completely satisfied with the denouement and felt it worked both within the world and as a suitable conclusion.All in all, Chakraborty has magnificently pulled off a true epic fantasy that hits all the tropes within the sand and sorcery sub-genre, providing a wonderful addition to the canon and a magnificent read that took me away from everyday life for hours at a stretch. I couldn’t ask for more. The ebook arc copy of The Empire of Gold was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10


Friday Faceoff – Bodice rippers… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFacebodiceripperscovers

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers for BODICE RIPPERS. I’ve selected Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier.

Reading a bedtime story?

This offering was produced by Pocket Books in 1964 certainly shows its age. The artwork is cramped and underwhelming, while the dreaded textbox is boringly white. Not even the infusion of a bit of colour for the author and title fonts can liven this one up. Apart from anything else, it looks as if our dashing Frenchman is sitting reading milady a bedtime story, rather than sweeping her off her feet.

Pity about that textbox…

Published in December 2013 by Little, Brown and Company, this cover is a lot more modern, which is why it’s even more of a shame that it has ended up being quite so vanilla. This cover gives no hint of the colourful romantic adventure within its pages. While I like the depiction of Lady Dona – especially that we don’t see her face – the pallid author font and charmless textbox manage to turn what could be a mysterious, intriguing cover into a boringly bland affair.

Just what is going on?

This Slovak edition, published by Slovenský spisovateľ in 1992 is at least trying to enter into the spirit of the thing. I really like the idea – the torn insert featuring a lady in a crinoline gown dejectedly reclining in what looks like an old barn. Unfortunately, the lack of clarity in either the outside image or some of the details around her skirt prevents the storytelling going on here being as effective as I’m sure the actual cover depicted would have shown, given it was created in the days before ebooks were thought of. And why there is a scallop shell containing an oversized pearl is also something of a puzzle… Nonetheless, at least this cover gets marks for effort.

This is my favourite…

This edition, published by Triangle Books in 1946, has finally produced the goods. Our Lady Dona swooning in the arms of her French pirate during a moonlight tryst, with a galleon in full sail in the background, improbably festooned with numerous fleur de lys – just in case we don’t get the fact that he is French from that shifty, foreign-looking moustache… The title and author fonts are suitably clear, without cluttering up the artwork and this is my favourite.

Cornwall? I don’t think so!

This edition published by Doubleday Books is so nearly a contender. To be honest, I prefer this Frenchman – far more dashing and piratical than the previous version. But points are knocked off for the lush jungle backdrop. And yes… I know Cornwall has a microclimate where all sorts of tender plants can grow, but this setting isn’t giving me any West Country vibe. And while they are clearly flirting, I want to see a bit more passion… Which is your favourite?


*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Set My Heart to Five by Simon Stephenson #BrainfluffNetgalleybookreview #SetMyHeartToFivebookreview

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I was rather taken by both the quirky cover and the even more quirky blurb at a time when reading about anything remotely similar to what is going on around us was unbearable. So I was really pleased to be approved to read this one.

BLURB: 10/10 Jared does not have friends.
Because friends are a function of feelings.
Therefore friends are just one more human obligation that Jared never has to worry about.
But Jared is worrying. Which is worrying. He’s also started watching old films. And inexplicably crying in them. And even his Feelings Wheel (given to him by Dr Glundenstein, who definitely is not a friend) cannot guide him through the emotional minefield he now finds himself in.

REVIEW: The blurb rambles on for a bit longer – but to be honest, I don’t think it is particularly helpful as it manages to omit the bit that is important. Jared is a bot, built and designed to be a dentist – a job the humans in our future society don’t particularly want to do. This is set in the near future, where bot labour does most of the dangerous, difficult tasks. But most bots are encased within fast-growing human bodies and able to communicate fluently and reasonably naturally. The big difference is that they don’t have any feelings – don’t experience boredom, loneliness or unhappiness, or love, friendship and delight. As they are programmed to put human lives above their own, they are ideal as construction workers, firefighters and… dentists. While humans concentrate on creative and artistic pursuits, rather than the soul-sapping jobs they used to do.
Except that Jared starts to feel emotions… The story is told in first-person viewpoint and I absolutely loved the quirky voice of the bot, which I found absolutely enchanting. Though I’m aware it is something of a risk, because if that highly individual voice annoys a prospective reader, it would be impossible to get through this one. As it happens, I fell in love with it.

Naturally, Jared finds the world around him becomes quite a different place, as he learns to navigate the odd sensations assailing him, using the Feelings Wheel that Dr Glundenstein, his sympathetic human friend and neighbour gives him. Dr Glundenstein advises him to go the movies and watch films – not the modern rubbish which is all about killer bots on the rampage – but older films which get shown in small, shabby little cinemas. One of the ongoing delights is trying to identify classic films from Jared’s quirky descriptions throughout this story. As I cared about Jared, I quickly became invested in his story.

It won’t be a huge surprise that this book is actually an exploration of what makes us human, as well as what happens when we start to regard other folks living among us as less than human. While this is an oft-trodden favourite science fiction trope, I thought this particular take on the whole subject interesting and immersive. And while I was grinning through a lot of the book – there were also moments of great tenderness and sadness, with moments of lovely poetic beauty. All in all, this is a real gem and one of my favourite reads of the year so far. Highly recommended for fans of well-told A.I. tales. The ebook arc copy of Set My Heart to Five was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The City of Brass – Book 1 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty #Brainfluffbookreview #TheCityofBrassbookreview

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I have already read The Kingdom of Copper, the second book in this classy sand and sorcery series, which is good enough that I wanted to backtrack and get hold of this one, before reading the final book, in order to do real justice to the series. I’m so glad I did…

BLURB: Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles. But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.


REVIEW: I thoroughly enjoyed Nahri as the main protagonist when I encountered her in The Kingdom of Copper, but discovering how she became that wary, stifled consort was a gripping journey that had me reading way into the early morning. I am a real sucker for this sub-genre, which tends to have a lethal set of magic around djinns and ghouls, a fast-paced story that often encompasses poetic descriptions of the desert and the fabulous cities that exist by life-giving rivers. Chakraborty hits every one of those necessary tropes and knocks them out of the field, by giving her own spin on the world, including a bloody backstory and long-lived demons with longer memories, who aren’t inclined to forgive and forget.

Who, or what, Nahri is becomes a major focus of the story. Yep – that trope, again… But there is nothing remotely clichéd or tired in Charkaborty’s treatment of this enjoyable, chippy character. I quickly bonded with her and found the ensuing adventure across the desert with Dara entertaining, though I did feel they should have arrived at the city just a bit sooner than they did. The steady growth of their relationship felt realistic and I was pleased the romantic thread wasn’t the driving force in this story.

I did find myself initially skimming some of the palace scenes with Ali, the conflicted younger brother, who is unhappy at having to witness the daily injustices inflicted on the half-human population in Daevabad. Idealistic and inexperienced, we realise that he is being manipulated by those around him, while still in his viewpoint, which is a tricky thing to pull off.

CONCLUSION: As I read on, I become more invested in the politics in Daevabad and once Nahri arrived, the pace picked up again and so did the momentum of the story. I didn’t see that ending though… And am now rereading The Kingdom of Copper, before I pick up The Empire of Gold – highly recommended for those who enjoy their epic fantasy gritty with sand and suffused with djinn magic.
9/10



*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Gravity is Heartless – Book 1 of the Heartless series by Sarah Lahey #Brainfluffbookreview #GravityisHeartlessbookreview

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I’ll be honest – it was the cover that drew my attention to this offering, as it looked so quirky and space-age, though that is rather ironic, given that it is set on Earth in the near future…

BLURB: The year is 2050: automated cities, vehicles, and homes are now standard, artificial Intelligence, CRISPR gene editing, and quantum computing have become a reality, and climate change is in full swing―sea levels are rising, clouds have disappeared, and the planet is heating up. Quinn Buyers is a climate scientist who’d rather be studying the clouds than getting ready for her wedding day. But when an unexpected tragedy causes her to lose everything, including her famous scientist mother, she embarks upon a quest for answers that takes her across the globe―and she uncovers friends, loss and love in the most unexpected of places along the way.

It took me a little while to get into this one, which is set only thirty years into the future. Now, I’m aware that writing near-future sci fi is incredibly difficult, but I did feel that the world changing beyond all recognition in such a radical manner was rather a big ask. I was also not wholly convinced by the characterisation – all the cast, including Quinn, felt a bit unnatural. However, I was sufficiently intrigued by the premise and that initial catastrophe to want to read on.

This wasn’t a difficult book to read, as the action never lets up. While it is mostly in Quinn’s viewpoint, I didn’t ever fully bond with her. It’s always a tricky business, writing socially awkward protagonists, because there is a higher likelihood they won’t click with the reader. I was particularly repelled by her unpleasant treatment of the merecat, whose programming meant it was powerless to do anything other than respond in a kindly and positive manner and she effectively bullied and belittled it. I wasn’t all that convinced by the ‘love’ story, either, as it was essentially more about lust than anything else. However, at no stage was I tempted to put this one down, as the plotting was suitably action-filled and unpredictable and I was happy to see where the story went.

But that is the major problem for me – there isn’t a single plotpoint completed within this story. Every important element is left hanging, and every single character we encounter who has any impact on the action is facing a major change or challenge by the end of the story. While I appreciate that in a series, you do want to leave a few dangling plot points – I came away feeling a tad short-changed, as the point of this whole book is to set up the ongoing narrative. So while it is a reasonably entertaining read, overall I also found it a rather frustrating experience. Recommended for readers who enjoy action-led, near-future adventures and ongoing stories. The ebook arc copy of Gravity is Heartless was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
7/10
28.5.20