Category Archives: romance

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #15

Standard

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

It’s been a bit of a torrid time for our family. Poor little Eliza when down with chicken pox so badly she ended up in A & E twice last week with complications. It doesn’t help that she also suffers with severe asthma and is only three years old. Huge kudos to the doctor at the A & E dept at Worthing Hospital who went the extra mile, ringing around the local pharmacies and tracking down the necessary medication to alleviate her pain and discomfort. After nursing Eliza through such a traumatic time my daughter, unsurprisingly, then went down with a kidney infection that needed yet another trip to hospital. Fortunately she didn’t need to stay, but ended up on a course of very strong antibiotics. The upshot was that we ended up looking after our middle grandchild, Oscar, for much longer than originally planned. He went home, then returned to us, Twice. So we called him our Boomerang Boy. In the middle of all this, he started a new school much closer to home, so we also ended up buying the new school uniform, which brought back all sorts of memories. And I saw him off on his first two days, setting the alarm to drag myself out of bed, then crawling back after the taxi came to take him to school.

It was lovely having him to stay. He is a superstar – unfailingly helpful and good tempered – he introduced me to Wordle and we played together most days he was with us. But it did take a bit of a toll on my energy. I unexpectedly hit a wall after climbing the stairs in M & S on our school-shoe buying expedition. No sweating, or being particularly breathless, I just felt that I was wading through treacle and got steadily slower. Then my legs folded under me and I ended up on the floor, after announcing that I needed to sit down. I felt a bit of a fool, but everyone was extremely kind. When Oscar finally went home on Wednesday, the house was sad and quiet without him.

I’ve been struggling with my sleep again and so I’m turning off the TV and computer at least 45 minutes before bedtime and doing a relaxing meditation. I have already noticed a difference to my Deep Sleep scores, which is important as that’s the healing sleep. If only I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night and then struggle to go back to sleep before dawn, I’d be golden😊.

On Friday, Himself met up with his sister and brother and visited his father’s grave, as it was the first year anniversary of my father-in-law’s death. It was a bright sunny day, however I wasn’t able to go as it’s too far away. But in the afternoon, after he returned home, I travelled with him and the children to meet up with my daughter’s former partner and do the handover for the two younger grandchildren. It was the first time since my relapse in August that I’ve managed such a long car journey. So I am making steady progress.

I didn’t read much during Oscar’s stay, so I haven’t managed to get through quite so many books.

This week I’ve read:-

AUDIOBOOK Alexander X – Book 1 of The Battle for Forever series by Edward Savio
Alexander Grant is about to take his 3000th history test. You know how you feel like you’ve been going to school for a thousand years? Well, he actually has. Although he looks like a normal teenager, no one knows he’s actually 1500 years old. Not the girl he likes. Not his best friend. No one.

That is until someone tries to kidnap Alexander and use him as bait to catch his father, the only man capable of stopping a plan that would change humanity forever. And the start of an journey that will take him far from the sleepy town he’s been hiding out in. Ingenious storytelling. Screenwriter and novelist Edward Savio’s ongoing epic adventure is fresh, funny, and thought-provoking.
This YA teen action adventure, narrated by Wil Wheaton was a welcome contrast to some of the tension-filled science fiction political thrillers I’ve been listening to recently. Lots of action and excitement! Full review to follow. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK Chosen For Power – Book 4 of the Dragon’s Gate series by Lindsay Buroker
Jak and his allies venture through the portal in search of the longevity plant their king demands, but all Jak wants is to find the elder dragons. Some say they’re extinct. Some say they’re in hiding.

If he can’t locate them, there won’t be anyone to teach his hatchling how to fly. Or to protect the dragon eggs preserved within a glacier on another world. Or to help him free his people from the tyrannical rule of the wizards. Jak has no choice. He must find the dragons.
But some ancient secrets were buried for a reason. What he discovers may jeopardize not only Jak and his allies—the survival of the entire species of dragons may be at stake.
I love this adventure about Jak and his scientist mother, who put all these events in motion with their discovery of the portal way back in the first book. As ever, a detailed and interesting world and a plot full of unexpected twists and action, as well as dollops of humour in amongst the ever-present danger. Buroker also writes most satisfyingly nasty villains. The next book hasn’t yet been released as an audiobook – but these stories make such wonderful listening, they are worth the wait. 9/10

Eyes of the Void – Book 2 of The Final Architecture series by Adrian Tchaikovsky
After eighty years of fragile peace, the Architects are back, wreaking havoc as they consume entire planets. In the past, Originator artefacts – vestiges of a long-vanished civilization – could save a world from annihilation. This time, the Architects have discovered a way to circumvent these protective relics. Suddenly, no planet is safe.

Facing impending extinction, the Human Colonies are in turmoil. While some believe a unified front is the only way to stop the Architects, others insist humanity should fight alone. And there are those who would seek to benefit from the fractured politics of war – even as the Architects loom ever closer.

Idris, who has spent decades running from the horrors of his past, finds himself thrust back onto the battlefront. As an Intermediary, he could be one of the few to turn the tide of war. With a handful of allies, he searches for a weapon that could push back the Architects and save the galaxy. But to do so, he must return to the nightmarish unspace, where his mind was broken and remade. What Idris discovers there will change everything.
I loved the first book in this epic space opera series about a lethal, world-killing alien, Shards of Earth. So I was delighted when the arc for this one became available and thrilled to be approved to read it. Tchaikovsky brilliantly charts the ongoing reactions by various groups within humanity and some of the aliens to the dire threat posed by the Architects. I very much appreciated his list of characters and timeline leading up to the events covered by the story, which helped me keep tabs on who was doing what to whom. Full review to follow.

Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons – Book 1 of A Miss Percy Guide series by Quenby Olsen
Miss Mildred Percy inherits a dragon.

Ah, but we’ve already got ahead of ourselves…

Miss Mildred Percy is a spinster. She does not dance, she has long stopped dreaming, and she certainly does not have adventures. That is, until her great uncle has the audacity to leave her an inheritance, one that includes a dragon’s egg.

The egg – as eggs are wont to do – decides to hatch, and Miss Mildred Percy is suddenly thrust out of the role of “spinster and general wallflower” and into the unprecedented position of “spinster and keeper of dragons.” But England has not seen a dragon since… well, ever. And now Mildred must contend with raising a dragon (that should not exist), kindling a romance (with a humble vicar), and embarking on an adventure she never thought could be hers for the taking.
I tucked into this one when the enormity of Tchaikovsky’s alien threat felt a bit overwhelming – which is all about my mindset and in no way a reflection on the writing. I was rooting for Mildred all the way. However, the reader starts this one knowing exactly what the peculiar rock is – there is a picture of him on the cover. So I found the pacing rather slow in places, as the protagonist evidently doesn’t have a clue as to what the peculiar rock is and takes a long time deciding what he is after the hatching. There are times when the author breaks the fourth wall, which I also found a bit jarring. However, overall it’s a charming, enjoyable read with nice shafts of humour throughout. 8/10

This week I have posted:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Prison of Sleep by Tim Pratt

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 Prison of Sleep – Book 2 of the Journals of Zaxony Delatree duology by Tim Pratt #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #PrisonofSleepbookreview

Standard

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this entertaining duology – Doors of Sleepsee my review. So I was delighted when I spotted this offering and it’s been one I’ve been really looking forward to tucking into.

BLURB: Every time Zaxony Delatree falls asleep he wakes up on a new world. His life has turned into an endless series of brief encounters. But at least he and Minna, the one companion who has found a way of travelling with him, are no longer pursued by the psychotic and vengeful Lector.

But now Zax has been joined once again by Ana, a companion he thought left behind long ago. Ana is one of the Sleepers, a group of fellow travellers between worlds. Ana tells Zax that he is unknowingly host to a parasitic alien that exists partly in his blood and partly between dimensions. The chemical that the alien secretes is what allows Zax to travel. Every time he does, however, the parasite grows, damaging the fabric of the Universes. Anas is desperate to recruit Zax to her cause and stop the alien. But there are others who are using the parasite, such as the cult who serve the Prisoner – an entity trapped in the dimension between universes. Can Zax, Minna, Ana and the other Sleepers band together and stop them?

REVIEW: This book is the second in a duology set in a fast-paced multiverse adventure tale, so my firm recommendation is to head for Doors of Sleep, the first book in the series, before getting stuck into Prison of Sleep.

The first book features Zaxony’s adventures as he is catapulted into travelling to another world every time he falls asleep. Early in his journey, he meets and falls for Ana – and inadvertently yanks her along with him as they sleep together. The catch is that she hasn’t been infected with the parasite that allows him to hop from one world to another and she suffers a terrible mental breakdown travelling through the Void without that protection and runs off. Guilt-ridden and grieving, Zaxony has tried to find her. So I really appreciated that in this second book, I got to discover what has become of Ana and get to know her better. I loved this romantic thread that added to the emotional tenor of the story without in any way clogging up the pace or distracting from the main narrative.

This means that this book isn’t just from one viewpoint, which I enjoyed. Especially as I got to see what other characters think of Zaxony. As I’ve already mentioned, this story moves along at a brisk clip. Indeed, major events pile upon one another as we shuffle between the two main characters and I had to stay sharp to keep the narrative timelines straight. As with Doors of Sleep, the concept works really well. There is plenty of tension as Pratt isn’t afraid of killing off characters who have featured heavily in the storyline. So I was genuinely concerned for our plucky band of protagonists, throughout – and near the end of the story, I was more than a bit winded when one of the protagonists ended up being on the wrong side. I could appreciate all too well what powers his decision, even if it is a terrible one…

Pratt is very good at provided interesting, well-developed characters while mayhem continues to rain down upon them – which is technically far harder to achieve than he makes it look. But… I do have a frustration. A huge amount happens in this book and as I reached the end, I felt this series would have been improved if the events had unspooled over three books, instead of two. This particularly applies to the storyline featuring Lector, the primary antagonist in the first book. While the menace he poses is suitably sorted out – it did rather take back seat to the storyline featuring the Prisoner. And I would also have preferred seeing Pilgrim’s journey develop over a longer time, as it is another strand that feels a bit rushed. This is a wonderful bit of worldbuilding – and like other reviewers, I would appreciate reading other books in this series. Recommended for fans of multiverse adventures with strong protagonists and lots of action. While I obtained an arc of Prison of Sleep from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Witness for the Persecution – Book 3 of the Jersey Girl Legal Mystery series by E.J. Copperman #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #WitnessforthePersecutionbookreview

Standard

I thoroughly enjoyed the very funny first-person narrative of criminal attorney Sandy in the first book of this series, Inherit the Shoes – see my review. So I jumped at the chance to read and review this offering.

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

But when abrasive Hollywood movie director Robert Reeves is accused of murdering a stuntman on set, Sandy finds she can’t say no when he demands her help. Robert might be an unpleasant, egotistical liar, but something tells Sandy that he’s innocent – even if no one else can see it. At least this time, she reassures herself, her charismatic, adorable, and oh so annoying TV star boyfriend Patrick McNabb isn’t involved in the case. He isn’t . . . right?

REVIEW: I have a fondness for murder mysteries, but these days I’m also looking for books that are lighter in tone. The two requirements don’t tend to marry up all that often – but with Witness for the Persecution Sandy’s very funny first-person narrative on all that is happening in her life makes this murder mystery huge fun. Copperman manages to achieve the ongoing humour without diminishing the seriousness of the death, which I also appreciated and is another indication that this author is an experienced wordsmith who knows what they’re doing.

I enjoyed the interesting aspect of this one – that Sandy’s client, who is at risk of going to jail for a very long time – is someone that she thoroughly dislikes. It adds an interesting dimension to the story, especially as all the evidence seems to point in his direction. As with Inherit the Shoes, the actual whodunit is well crafted, with plenty of twisty surprises and red herrings aplenty along the way. I had worked out who the actual perpetrator was well before the denouement – but that didn’t matter too much. Because there is still the issue of whether Sandy can convince the jury that Horrible Robert (as I ended up labelling him) is innocent.

I also thoroughly enjoyed reading the glitches in Sandy’s relationship with the gorgeous Patrick McNabb. What happens when you become increasingly convinced that the love of your life is more interested in the chase, than settling down to a regular live-in relationship? Sandy’s thoughts on the romance in her life are both poignant and funny, though well leavened by the strong support she has from best friend Angie, who moved to L.A. to be with her. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed jumping back into Sandy’s world and would highly recommend this one to anyone who enjoys a dash of humour with their courtroom dramas. While I obtained an arc of Witness for the Persecution from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc A Matter of Death and Life – Book 2 of the Gideon Sable series by Simon R. Green #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AMatterofDeathandLifebookreview

Standard

I’m a fan of Green’s writing. See my reviews of his Ishmael Jones series, featuring an alien dark ops agent and his alluring sidekick, Penny, in Buried Memories, The Dark Side of the Road, Very Important Corpses, Death Shall Come, Into the Thinnest of Air, Murder in the Dark, Till Sudden Death Do Us Part, Night Train to Murder, The House on Widow’s Hill and his paranormal James Bond hero in The Man With the Golden Torc. I also thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this fantasy heist series, The Best Thing You Can Steal – so I was delighted when this offering appeared on the Netgalley dashboard.

BLURB: Judi Rifkin is one of the world’s most successful collectors of the weird and unnatural. In a London underworld filled with criminals with very special talents, Judi is a force to be reckoned with. And Gideon Sable—thief, rogue and chancer—owes her a very large favour.

Judi makes him an offer he can’t refuse: steal her the legendary Masque of Ra, tucked up safe in a Las Vegas casino, and she’ll wipe the slate clean. This isn’t Gideon’s first heist by a long shot. But with old grudges threatening to cloud his judgment, an unpredictable crew who don’t entirely trust each other and a formidable supernatural security team guarding his target, this job might be a gamble too far….

REVIEW: While I’m sure you would better appreciate some of the references about Gideon’s previous adventure if you have had the pleasure of first picking up The Best Thing You Can Steal – it isn’t necessary to thoroughly enjoy this entertaining fantasy heist tale.

Green’s writing is always full of energy and a certain darkness that is frequently alleviated by his humour. But this series dials up the humour and his sense of the fantastic and while there is plenty of tension and action – there wasn’t the underlying grimness that I’ve come to associate with the Ishmael Jones books. Right now, this lighter approach is very welcome as I’m currently reading to escape my own year-long battle with Long Covid – and it was lovely to be able to grin – and in places laugh aloud at the madcap antics of Sable and his band of rogues.

I thoroughly enjoyed Green’s flights of imagination regarding his characters, such as The Damned, Johnny The Wild Card and Annie Anybody – and what an impressive array of magically imbued artefacts can do. Without resorting to parody, or diminishing the story, Green’s cadre of ruffians manage to create mayhem wherever they went. And of course, it’s the deeply unpleasant and viciously bad who ultimately get their just deserts. All in all, this adventure is a delightful escapist read, providing plenty of surprises along with the humour – and my only grizzle is that I wanted it to go on longer. Recommended for fantasy fans who enjoy a dash of humour with their adventure. While I obtained an arc of A Matter of Death and Life from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #13

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

This week I’ve read:-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #12

Standard

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

This last fortnight has been up and down again. I gave myself a couple of rest days after the busyness of the week when my sister-in-law and niece visited. And was a bit fed up to discover that once I was ready to do more, I once again felt shaky and fragile. There are no words to describe just how MUCH I hate that feeling. Constant tiredness that sleep doesn’t fix and legs that wobble as if I’ve just run a race. Often it’s accompanied by mental exhaustion that means if I try to concentrate on anything, my brain just turns to mush.

The up-side is that the feeling was only with me for a couple of days, before it started to lift again. I haven’t yet put my February figures from my activity journal into a graph yet – but I’m expecting to see more good days and an uptick in my activity figures. And we are also seeing more sun and it’s lovely the way the days are now lengthening – Spring is really beginning to spring, thank goodness😊. When our grandson visited this week, we were able to go to the local garden centre and visit their café where we shared a pot of loose-leaf English Breakfast tea which is a real favourite.

What is worrying is how the infection rates for Covid are climbing again. And now we’re supposed to be ‘learning to live with Covid’ there is no imperative to wear a mask when shopping, though we always do.

This week I’ve read:-

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

But when the headman’s son, Torquell, dares lift his hand against the landlord’s son, he sets himself on a path to learn the terrible truth about the Ogres, and about the dark sciences that ensured their rule.
This is one of the reading highlights of the week. Tchaikovsky is back to his disturbing best in this thought-provoking novella that packs an almighty punch and has had me thinking about it since I put it down. Review posted. 10/10

AUDIOBOOK The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
A man broken in body and spirit, Cazaril, has returned to the noble household he once served as page, and is named, to his great surprise, as the secretary-tutor to the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is next in line to rule.

It is an assignment Cazaril dreads, for it will ultimately lead him to the place he fears most, the royal court of Cardegoss, where the powerful enemies, who once placed him in chains, now occupy lofty positions. In addition to the traitorous intrigues of villains, Cazaril and the Royesse Iselle, are faced with a sinister curse that hangs like a sword over the entire blighted House of Chalion and all who stand in their circle…
I saw this one on Audible and bought it as I read the print edition back when Noah was knee-high to a hen and while I recalled that I loved the story – I had completely forgotten it. It was a joy to listen to. And while it is listed as part a series, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a complete standalone. Outstanding and utterly gripping. 10/10

The Good Troll Detective – Book 1 of the Mantle and Key Paranormal Agency series by Ramy Vance
Half-troll. Half-human. All badass. Maine doesn’t like her father. It doesn’t help that he’s a troll. As in a literal, lives-under-a-bridge troll. When her father is killed, Maine returns home to settle his estate and learns that he wasn’t any ordinary troll, but the town hero. Seems trolls can be superheroes, too.

When Maine inherited her father’s Mantle, she got more than a demonically possessed magical cape that reveals one’s weakness. She also inherited several busloads of mythical adversaries. Thanks, Dad! Now that she’s inherited the Mantle, her father’s assassins are coming after her. With powerful supernatural beings gunning for her and the Mantle, Maine doesn’t have much time to learn about her magical inheritance. She has a choice to make. Give up her father’s Mantle and return to her mundane, human life, or stay and fight.

With the help of a chihuahua-sized dire wolf, a very sexy wizard, and her father’s Mantle, Maine enters a maze of supernatural mysteries. Will Maine uncover the truth of who her father was and why he was killed? Can she avoid her quest for that truth risking the lives of her and her friends along the way?
I liked the title and thought the blurb sounded quirky and enjoyable. And… it is. But while all the ingredients are there and the story is well-paced and nicely twisty, I kept waiting for the characters to really come to life, but somehow they slightly missed me. It’s not a bad book, however I didn’t like it as much as I expected. 7/10

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi
When COVID-19 sweeps through New York City, Jamie Gray is stuck as a dead-end driver for food delivery apps. That is, until Jamie makes a delivery to an old acquaintance, Tom, who works at what he calls “an animal rights organization.” Tom’s team needs a last-minute grunt to handle things on their next field visit. Jamie, eager to do anything, immediately signs on…

I have only included the first half of the blurb, as it then goes on to be far too chatty in my opinion. This is huge fun, while still managing to make the science sufficiently believable. And I loved the protagonist, Jamie, who lifts heavy things. Review to follow. 9/10

Betrayed – Book 3 of the Taellaneth series by Vanessa Nelson

Settling into her new life in the human world, the last thing Arrow expects is a request for aid from the Erith. The Erith’s favourite war mage is missing and Arrow is asked to investigate.
For the first time in her life, she is allowed into the Erith’s fabled heartland. It does not take long for Arrow to realise that the heartland is like the Erith themselves. Full of wonder, breathtakingly beautiful, and deadly.

Arrow is drawn into investigating a death at the very heart of the Erith’s homeland with the growing sense that there is far more wrong and far more at stake than a simple murder and missing mage.
I’m loving this enjoyable and gripping series. Imagine the High Elves in Warhammar – beautiful, martial and quarrelsome – and you have the Erith. I love the concept that a half-breed is treated with disdain as an abomination. And the whodunit this time around is every bit as twisty and clever as I’ve come to expect from Nelson’s excellent writing. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – Roadmarks by Roger Zelazny
The Road runs from the unimaginable past to the far future, and those who travel it have access to the turnoffs leading to all times and places–even to the alternate time-streams of histories that never happened. Why the Dragons of Bel’kwinith made the Road–or who they are–no one knows. But the Road has always been there and for those who know how to find it, it always will be!

This is the first audiobook I’ve downloaded from Netgalley and it was really easy to do. I’ve never read Zelazny before, but kept meaning to do so. And I can see what all the fuss is about – the man certainly could write. This fractured narrative kept me wondering all the way through. Review to follow. 8/10

This week I have posted:
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of NOVELLA Ogres by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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 Murder in the Park – Book 1 of the Oak Park Village Mystery series by Jeanne M. Dam #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #MurderintheParkbookreview

Standard

I’m a fan of 1920s historical murder mysteries – and this one caught my attention as I noticed that the heroine had also been affected by the fallout of WWI. The other plus point is that it’s the first book in the series and although one of my hobbies is crashing midway into established series – it’s a habit I’m trying to break.

BLURB: June, 1925. Having been widowed in the First World War, Elizabeth Fairchild lives a quiet life at the home of her wealthy parents in genteel Oak Park village, Illinois. Although she does her best to avoid emotional entanglements, determined never to be hurt again, Elizabeth forms a close friendship with gentle Mr Anthony, who owns the local antiques store.

But tragedy strikes when Mr Anthony is found stabbed to death in the alley behind his shop. Why would anyone murder a mild-mannered antiques dealer who simply loved beautiful things? A robbery gone wrong? A gangland execution? Or could it have something to do with the mysterious customer who bought a gold pocket watch from Mr Anthony on the day he died? When one of her father’s oldest friends is accused of the crime, Elizabeth determines to expose the real killer. But her investigations soon attract unwelcome attention. With gangsters moving into the neighbourhood from nearby Chicago, Oak Park is no longer the safe haven it once was. Could Elizabeth be seriously out of her depth?

REVIEW: It’s always something of a challenge to write a heroine who tends to be rather stoic – she can so easily come across as uncaring. But Dams is an experienced author with the long-running Dorothy Martin series under her belt and that sure-footedness shows in her characterisation of Elizabeth and the dynamic within her family.

I really liked how the shock of the murder within the close-knit community shakes Elizabeth up and causes her to rethink her own attitude towards those around her, as well as hardening her determination to not let a flagrant injustice lie. Dams shows just what a gutsy decision that proves to be, as some unsavoury, dangerous people crawl out of the woodwork to try and intimidate her into piping down and accepting the status quo. It had even more heft as Dam’s painstaking research has uncovered that those elements could easily have been living within Oak Park Village at the time.

The setting is very well established. While the book focuses on Elizabeth’s daily routine as a young, wealthy white woman, Dams is unflinching in also featuring the gulf between the haves and have-nots of the time, which I really liked. Often historical whodunits tend to skate over the societal faultlines of the time and kudos to Dams for not taking that comfortable route. As for the whodunit, I won’t pretend that the solution provides a huge surprise – but that isn’t what powers the story. It’s far more about what unrest this murder stirs up, both societally and personally for Elizabeth, which is depicted really successfully making this a memorable and enjoyable story. Highly recommended for fans of historical murder mysteries with a splash of gentle romance and a very well-researched setting. While I obtained an arc of Murder in the Park from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of For the Murder – Book 1 of The Murder series by Gabrielle Ash #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #FortheMurderbookreview

Standard

The title first caught my attention and then the blurb, when I realised the murder they were talking about wasn’t a crime, but the collective noun as in a murder of crows. So I was really pleased when I was approved for an arc, especially as I haven’t read anything else by this author.

TRUNCATED BLURB: A lone crow is a dead crow.

That’s what Diana Van Doren, exiled crow shifter, has always believed. The last murder of crow shifters known to exist wouldn’t accept her into the flock, leaving her vulnerable. Worse, her kleptomaniacal father’s schemes put them in a demon’s crosshairs. Without the support of the murder, Diana fears death will come all too quickly. So when an opportunity to steal a rare blade that can kill anything—even demons—crosses their path, she decides to play her father’s games one last time.

However, she isn’t the only one hoping to take the blade. Sasha Sokolov, a clairvoyant, has been forced from childhood to serve the very demon hunting Diana and her family. After two decades of service, his boss finally offers him what he can’t refuse: freedom. All he has to do is bring in the knife and the Van Dorens, and his bloodline will be free from serving the demon forever…

REVIEW: This is an intriguing urban fantasy, where Diana is a crow shapeshifter who has been exiled from the murder she was born into through no fault of her own. This is a disaster for her as crows are highly sociable birds and being alone not only is emotionally damaging, but crow magic works best in concert. Worse, she is in thrall to her uncaring, abusive parents who are far too caught up in their own woes to waste any time worrying about their daughter. An unsuccessful con merchant, her father also has a bad habit of seriously upsetting very powerful, dangerous beings. Diana’s vulnerability and fragility is well portrayed without tipping over into pitiful victimhood, which would have made me lose patience with her. I was always rooting for Diana to survive throughout, which didn’t feel as if it was a guarantee.

I also liked Sasha, the lethal fixer for demon-general Madame. His uncaring façade and world-weary acceptance of the vicious deeds he is forced to commit comes over well. So the initial encounter and growing relationship between the two main protagonists is intriguing and mostly well handled. However, I do have a niggle that knocked off a point – there were times when I felt the pace stuttered as Ash reiterated, yet again, how much Sasha worried about his mother/the odd sensations he’s experiencing since first meeting Diana, while she is goes on reeling at the odd sensations she’s experiencing since first meeting Sasha and wondering whether to tell him why. The book would have been a more satisfying read if some of those internal musing were edited out, especially as the reader learnt nothing new in the process.

That said, this is an enjoyable world. The general nastiness is graphically conveyed in some gripping and brutal action scenes that are all the more shocking as a contrast to the delicate and nuanced characterisation. Ash is clearly an accomplished writer with a strong, individual writing style and I kept turning the pages to discover what happened next. I look forward to reading the next book in the series in due course. Highly recommended for fans of urban fantasy who enjoy a convincing, dangerous world, unusual characters and strong romantic thread running through the story. While I obtained an arc of For the Murder from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #10

Standard

This is my update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 11 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

I haven’t been here for a while. There are several reasons. I’ve had spells of feeling extremely tired again, which means I haven’t done much of anything – except sitting on the settee and watching TV. Thank goodness for the Winter Olympics which I loved. I have also been battling with back pain again, which means sitting at the computer isn’t something I felt like doing. And there were times when I had a bit more energy and my back was fine, but to be honest – I couldn’t see the point in bothering. With anything, really. I’m aware that is probably a sign of depression – I certainly struggle to get out of bed at times, even when I’ve got sufficient energy. I think I’m just battle weary as it was at the end of the first week last March that I got sick with Covid-19 and my busy, happy life disappeared. It now feels like it belonged to someone else.

We are trying to get out and about more. After a tumultuous week when we were battered by three storms in five days, this week there has actually been some sunshine. On Thursday after my reflexology appointment we went out for a coffee at a favourite river-side café. It wasn’t a total success, as I had underestimated the anxiety of ordering my own coffee, aggravated when their machine wouldn’t accept my debit card. And yesterday and the day before, we went for a walk down by the beach, getting down onto the sand as the tide was out. It was lovely. We weren’t there for long, but it was glorious to stand by the sea once again.

This week I’ve read:-

The Last of the Moon Girls by Barbara Davis
Lizzy Moon never wanted Moon Girl Farm. Eight years ago, she left the land that nine generations of gifted healers had tended, determined to distance herself from the whispers about her family’s strange legacy. But when her beloved grandmother Althea dies, Lizzy must return and face the tragedy still hanging over the farm’s withered lavender fields: the unsolved murders of two young girls, and the cruel accusations that followed Althea to her grave.

Lizzy wants nothing more than to sell the farm and return to her life in New York, until she discovers a journal Althea left for her—a Book of Remembrances meant to help Lizzy embrace her own special gifts. When she reconnects with Andrew Greyson, one of the few in town who believed in Althea’s innocence, she resolves to clear her grandmother’s name.
I really enjoyed this atmospheric story. It captures the strengths and weaknesses of a small community and I enjoyed watching a wary, aloof protagonist riven with far too much resentment try to come to terms with her troubled childhood. In amongst a page-turning story, there are strong messages we can all use in our lives – no wonder this one was a best-seller when it first came out. 8/10

For the Murder – Book 1 of The Murder series by Gabrielle Ash
A lone crow is a dead crow.
That’s what Diana Van Doren, exiled crow shifter, has always believed. The last murder of crow shifters known to exist wouldn’t accept her into the flock, leaving her vulnerable. Worse, her kleptomaniacal father’s schemes put them in a demon’s crosshairs. Without the support of the murder, Diana fears death will come all too quickly. So when an opportunity to steal a rare blade that can kill anything—even demons—crosses their path, she decides to play her father’s games one last time.

However, she isn’t the only one hoping to take the blade. Sasha Sokolov, a clairvoyant, has been forced from childhood to serve the very demon hunting Diana and her family. After two decades of service, his boss finally offers him what he can’t refuse: freedom. All he has to do is bring in the knife and the Van Dorens, and his bloodline will be free from serving the demon forever.
This intriguing shapeshifting urban fantasy adventure is alluding to the collective noun for crows – as in a murder of crows. The main protagonist is very well drawn and the slow-burn romance well handled. Full review to follow. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK – Rogue Prince – Book 1 of the Sky Full of Stars series by Lindsay Buroker
Starseer, pilot, and animal lover Jelena Marchenko wants to prove to her parents that she’s ready to captain her own freighter and help run the family business. When she finally talks them into getting a second ship and letting her fly it, it doesn’t faze her that the craft is decades old and looks like a turtle. This is the chance she’s craved for years.

But it’s not long before the opportunity to rescue mistreated lab animals lures her from her parentally approved cargo run and embroils her in a battle between warring corporations. To further complicate matters, her childhood friend Thorian, prince of the now defunct Sarellian Empire, is in trouble with Alliance law and needs her help. Torn between her duty to her family and doing what she believes is honorable, Jelena is about to learn that right and wrong are never as simple as they appear and that following your heart can get you killed.
Once again, I quickly was pulled into this entertaining space opera adventure by one of my favourite authors. The added bonus is that this is a spinoff series from Fallen Empire, which I’d read last year, so I already knew some of the characters. The action was non-stop and as ever, I found myself listening far longer than I intended to hear what happens next… 9/10

Monster by C.J. Skuse
At sixteen Nash thought that the fight to become Head Girl of prestigious boarding school Bathory would be the biggest battle she’d face. Until her brother’s disappearance leads to Nash being trapped at the school over Christmas with Bathory’s assorted misfits. As a blizzard rages outside, strange things are afoot in the school’s hallways, and legends of the mysterious Beast of Bathory – a big cat rumoured to room the moors outside the school – run wild. Yet when the girls’ Matron goes missing it’s clear that something altogether darker is to blame – and that they’ll have to stick together if they hope to survive.

This was recommended to me by one of my Creative Writing students in another lifetime and I decided to finally get hold of it. I love the opening scene, which really held me. The tension was well sustained – my only main grizzle was that Nash didn’t seem to have any long-term friends she could rely on and that seemed rather unrealistic. However, this thriller whodunit got me through a wretched night when I couldn’t sleep. 8/10

Scot on the Rocks – Book 3 of the Last Ditch series by Catriona McPherson
A community is devastated when the bronze statue of local legend Mama Cuento is stolen on Valentine’s Day. When Lexy Campbell arrives on the scene, a big bronze toe is found along with a ransom note – Listen to our demands or you will never see her again. There are nine more where this came from.

Then, Lexy’s ex-husband Bran turns up begging for help to find his wife, Brandee, who has disappeared. Lexy agrees to pitch in, but when she shows up at Bran’s house he has just discovered one of Brandee’s false nails and another ransom note with the same grisly message. Are the two cases linked or is a copycat on the loose? Who would want to kidnap a bronze statue or, come to that, Brandee? And can Lexy put aside her hatred for Bran long enough to find out?
I loved the fourth book in this series, so it was a joy to backtrack and get more Lexy goodness and a few more laughs at the confusion that her Scot’s dialogue poses for her American friends – and her surprise at everyone’s reaction when she mentions buying Della’s small son a rubber to take to school… Meanwhile the mystery is also delightfully whacky, too. 9/10

This week I have posted:
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of This Charming Man – Book 2 of The Stranger Times by C.K. McDonnell

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of The This by Adam Roberts

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

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #9

Standard

This is my update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 11 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

Overall, it’s been a better week. That black anger that had lifted after my reflexology appointment had the good manners to stay away, which was a huge relief. If I’m battling a miserable mood, I don’t have the option to jump in the car, get lost in my writing, or walk it off along the beach so I was more than pleased to find that I was mostly reasonably upbeat throughout the week.

However, while I’m mentally and emotionally far more energetic, I have been struggling with feeling tired all the time. I wake up still feeling weary and often drop back off to sleep after breakfast. But even if I don’t, it has been a struggle to get out of bed much before mid-afternoon. Once in a while, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but I’ve been concerned that this is becoming a habit. Annoyingly, as the day wears on I tend to gradually feel more lively so that by the evening when I should be winding down again, I’m wide awake which makes going to sleep a real challenge. We had my grandson staying over from Tuesday through to Friday, which is always a treat, but even that didn’t shift my weariness. I had a chat with my reflexologist and we agreed that this coming week, I’ll make it a target to try to get out of bed before midday.

And there was another bit of progress. While I have at times felt well enough to drive short distances over the last 11 months, it’s been a while since I’ve been behind the wheel. So when Himself needed to visit his mother on Thursday, rather than rearrange my reflexology appointment, I decided to drive there. It isn’t very far and I felt well enough to have a go. What I hadn’t realised is that there are three lots of roadworks that have started up between her house and mine! Fortunately, I don’t find driving too draining – although I was very tired by the time I got home again.

So, it’s mostly been a good week. However, I’m no longer naive enough to think that being able to drive again is a major breakthough. I’ve been here before, several times in fact. So while I’m pleased that right now I can manage the occasional short journey, I’m not going to assume that it’s a major sign that I’m the road to recovery. Or start taking Twinkle out on daily runs. Not yet. In the meantime, I’m still pacing my daily activity levels, still keeping my activity journal, still meditating and trying very hard to live each moment with as much acceptance and contentment that I can muster. Thank goodness for books!

This week I’ve read:-

Magic Uncorked – Book 1 of the Midlife Magic Cocktail Club series by Annabel Chase
The only magic word Libbie Stark seems to know these days is ‘ibuprofen’ thanks to a headache-inducing job, two teenagers, one ex-husband, and a deadbeat boyfriend—until the death of a friend brings unexpected consequences. Libbie and the other members of her weekly cocktail club are shocked to discover that their eccentric friend was a witch and that they are the recipients of her magical assets.

Libbie would’ve preferred to inherit an island beach house, especially when her life starts to unravel. With the help of the other Dread Pirate Witches and a handsome lawyer with a head of hair that Fabio would envy, Libbie strives to understand her gift and dig herself out of the hole she’s created, one cocktail at a time. The more her life changes, however, the more Libbie realizes that maybe the end of midlife as she knows it is exactly what she needs.
This enjoyable contemporary read is more about the challenges of dealing with modern life as a woman no longer in the first flush of youth, with a paranormal splash thrown in to help. I enjoyed watching Libbie’s transformation. Although I’m a bit uncomfortable that cocktails seem to play such a key role in creating her new life, having seen at close quarters just what havoc alcoholism can cause. Overall, it’s a largely light-hearted, feel-good story featuring a likeable protagonist. 8/10

Bewitching Bitters – Book 2 of the Midlife Magic Cocktail Club series by Annabel Chase
Kate Golden is living the dream in Lake Cloverleaf—a handsome husband, three wonderful kids, and a career she loves. As a motivational speaker, she devotes her time to helping people achieve their goals, to become the best versions of themselves. Apparently, the best version of Kate now includes being a witch.

Of course, it would be nice if she could actually do magic instead of being a witch in name only. Her best friend Libbie is mixing magical cocktails like she’s Tom Cruise in that bartender movie. So far, the only residual effect of Kate’s cocktail is a hangover. So Kate is thrilled when a magical cocktail recipe finally appears in her book—until she drinks it. Suddenly her run of good fortune takes a left turn and her life begins to spin out of control.
As you can see, despite my misgivings, I immediately picked up the second book in this series as I’m struggling with a really bleak sci fi read. I don’t want to abandon it, so I’m fitting in more light-hearted books alongside. This was a more challenging story with a far less charming protagonist, though I grew to really like her. I found this story took some intriguing turns and I will probably be reading more of this series in due course.
8/10

Scot Mist – Book 4 of the Last Ditch Mystery series by Catriona McPherson
March 2020 and Operation Cocker is a go! The owners of the Last Ditch Motel, with a little help from their friend Lexy Campbell, are preparing to support one another through the oncoming lockdown, offering the motel’s spare rooms to a select few from the local area in need of sanctuary.

While the newbies are settling in, an ambiguous banner appears demanding one of them return home. But who is it for? Lexy and her friends put a plan into action to ward off the perpetrator, but the very next night, a resident disappears and a message scrawled in human blood is found. As California shuts down, the Last Ditchers make another gruesome discovery. They tried to create a haven but now it seems as if everyone’s in danger. Is the motel under attack from someone on the outside? Scary as that is, the alternative is worse by far.
This one was my reading highlight of the week. I loved it. The eccentric found family coping with the gathering catastrophe that is the pandemic makes a memorable backdrop to this quirky murder mystery. I loved the humour and warm-heartedness – though I hasten to add that the murder is treated with appropriate respect and shock, more so than many whodunits I read, these days. Full review to follow. 10/10

Shrill Dusk – Book 1 of the City of Magic series by Helen Harper
Charley is a cleaner by day and a professional gambler by night. She might be haunted by her tragic past but she’s never thought of herself as anything or anyone special. Until, that is, things start to go terribly wrong all across the city of Manchester. Between plagues of rats, firestorms and the gleaming blue eyes of a sexy Scottish werewolf, she might just have landed herself in the middle of a magical apocalypse. She might also be the only person who has the ability to bring order to an utterly chaotic new world.


I’m a huge fan of this author and having just completed one of her fantasy series – I decided to dive into this one. It is certainly a really tense page-turner, with plenty of Harper’s hallmark humour – but watching Manchester becoming engulfed in a magical apocalypse, while still dealing with the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic wasn’t quite the escapist fun I was looking for. So I’m probably going to continue with this series once my life gets easier. 8/10

Ouroboros Episode One– Book 1 of the Galactic Coalition Academy by Odette C. Bell
Have you ever thought “just my luck!” after dropping your communication device for the third time in a week? Cadet Nida Harper, a recruit to the United Galactic Coalition Academy, has – and worse. So imagine her surprise when she is detailed for a mission to the dark and mysterious planet Remus 12. Strange things are afoot on Remus 12, a dust-bowl which according to legend bursts to life once every five thousand years – with deadly consequences for the galaxy.

So join Nida as she deals, using all her accustomed style and flair, with the presence of a strange and uninvited guest in her own head, a commander who is convinced she’s the Coalition’s worst recruit in one thousand years, and an uncomfortably handsome Lieutenant Carson Blake.
There were some moments of real drama in this classic sci fi alien encounter story. However the protagonist is such a clumsy idiot, I cannot believe that she would have made it through a single term of a supposedly elite Academy. And as for her being allowed anywhere near a tricky and important investigation on an alien planet? Nope. Not happening. However, I did enjoy the gathering tension and the setting. 7/10

Black Hat, White Witch – Book 1 of the Black Hat Bureau series by Hailey Edwards
Remember that old line about how the only way out of the organization is in a pine box?
Well, Rue Hollis spent ten years thinking she had escaped the Black Hat Bureau, no coffin required. Then her former partner had to go and shatter the illusion by showing up on her doorstep with grim tidings. As much as Rue wants to kick him to the curb, she agrees to hear him out for old times’ sake, and what he says chills her to the bone.

The Silver Stag was the most notorious paranormal serial killer in modern history, and Rue brought him down. Now a copycat has picked up where the Stag left off, and the Bureau wants her on the case. She beat the Stag once. They think she can do it again. But they don’t know she’s given up black magic, and she’s not about to tell them. White witches are prey, and Rue is the hunter, not the hunted. Always. But can she take down the protégé of the man who almost beat her at her black witch best? If she wants to keep her new town, her new home, her new life, then she has no choice but to find out.
I’m not a huge fan of murder mysteries featuring serial killers, especially those who prey on young girls. But the first person narrative hooked me in, as she’s a black witch trying to reform – and that was different enough to make me read on. And I grew to also appreciate the supporting cast, who are all quirky and eccentric enough to make me want to know more about them. Nicely done. 8/10

Black Arts, White Craft – Book 2 of the Black Hat Bureau series by Hailey Edwards
After a black witch pitched a hissy fit in Hollis Apothecary, Rue got stuck cleaning up his mess. That was the easy part. Repairing the damage he inflicted on Camber and Arden? That makes Rue wish she could bring him back to life just to kill him again. Slower this time.

While Rue is setting her new life back to rights, Clay and Asa are off working a case, but it soon becomes clear that they’ll need her help to catch the vicious creature preying on locals in a small Tennessee town. She’s got her hands full at home, but Rue has no choice. She must report for duty to honor her agreement with the director. Or else. What she discovers leads her deeper down the rabbit hole of Black Hat Bureau corruption and promises that, no matter how grim the past few weeks have been, the worst is yet to come.
Yes… this seems to be a new habit of mine – reading two books back-to-back by the same author. It’s something I hardly ever did before I was ill. But once I finished the first one, I discovered I wanted more of these entertaining characters. I love the slow burn romance as Edwards has managed to bring some unusual aspects into the quirky courtship that makes it both funny and slightly poignant. And sexy… It’s an interesting dynamic. And the ongoing criminal investigations into brutal monsters and their sadistic handlers get increasingly tricky. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – Art of the Hunt – Book 2 of the Dragon Gate series by Lindsay Buroker
Our heroes have escaped with the ancient dragon gate, rekindling their hope of finding allies on other worlds, but powerful enemies are right behind them. Unfortunately, Jak and Jadora must decipher the gate’s secrets before they can use it.

That’s a difficult task with mages from numerous kingdoms hunting them, Lord Malek stalking Jadora through magical dreams, and a new threat lurking deep within the jungle.
Faced by overwhelming odds, Jak and Jadora may be forced to work with the only man who can keep them alive: Malek. But what price will they have to pay for his protection?
This audiobook, at over 20 hours long, represents excellent value – but that didn’t stop me taking only a week to listen to it as I wanted to find out what was happening next. Buroker is a fabulous storyteller – her plots invariably providing plenty of surprising twists and changes of scene, which I love. And this one is no exception. I’m delighted that I’ve also got the next book in the series already lined up on my reading list. 9/10

This week I have posted:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of The Shattered Skies – Book 2 of The Cruel Stars trilogy by John Birmingham

*RE-RELEASE* – Review of Bad Gods – Book 1 of the Babylon Steel series by Gaie Sebold

Sunday Post – Living with Long Covid #8

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