Category Archives: S.J. Higbee

Sunday Post – 24th January, 2021 #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 was expecting another quiet week, but my daughter was suddenly unwell and needed us to step in and look after the younger two children on Friday morning. As we are part of her support bubble, we were able to do so. To add to the pressure, little Eliza had the previous day been diagnosed with asthma and needed to get to grips with the medication – she’s two… Suddenly I was talking about the birds in the garden… the sun going to bed… our chiming clock – which fascinates Eliza… Basically having a ringside seat as a small person grapples with learning about the world around her. It’s a joy and a privilege, though I do need to get fitter! My steps counter on my phone went from 437 steps on Thursday to over 6,500 on Friday and recorded 15 flights of stairs…

The pics this week are of a bitterly cold trip to the beach on early Saturday morning with little Eliza. Right now we have the eldest, Frank, staying for a couple of days as the younger two went home last night. I’m glad to say that my daughter is now feeling a lot better.

Mantivore Dreams, the first book in my Arcadian Chronicles trilogy, is now free for the rest of the day – just click on the link or the cover in the sidebar, if you’d like a copy. It is an adventure based on a colony planet featuring a teenager whose harsh life is softened by a pretend friend – an ancient alien who offers comfort when things get tough…

Last week I read:

By the Pact – Book 1 of the Pacts Arcane and Otherwise series by Joanna Maciejewska
When Kamira, a once high mage student turned arcanist, discovers an imprisoned demon in underground ruins, she is forced into a pact that grants her powerful magic, but also ties her to the very demon that once devastated the continent… and Veranesh wants his freedom.

With one friend by her side, Veelk, a mage killer bound on protecting her, Kamira will have to outwit the archmages, other demons, and possibly her own demonic benefactor to survive. Her chances are slim, but with Veelk’s ever-present sarcastic repartee, Kamira might just pull through.

Plots and schemes, power and means—sometimes the price for victory is choosing which friend will die, but when you only have one friend, the choice is… easy?
This is a packet of fun! I have a real weakness for good sand and sorcery tales so sniggering at the snark between Veelk and Kamira, while ferocious demons scheme and plot in the background was a wonderful treat. I’m now really looking forward to reading the next book Scars in Stone, which is due to be released later this year.

The Night Parade of 100 Demons – a novel in A Legend of the Five Rings World by Marie Brennan
A thrilling epic fantasy adventure in the astonishing realm of Legend of the Five Rings, as two rival clans join forces to investigate a lethal supernatural mystery

Chaos has broken out in the isolated Dragon Clan settlement of Seibo Mura. During the full moon, horrifying creatures rampage through the village, unleashing havoc and death. When the Dragon samurai Agasha no Isao Ryotora is sent to investigate, he faces even greater danger than expected. To save the village, he must confront his buried past – not to mention an unexpected Phoenix Clan visitor, Asako Sekken, who has his own secrets to hide. The quest to save Seibo Mura will take the two samurai into the depths of forgotten history and the shifting terrain of the Spirit Realms… and bring them face to face with an ancient, terrifying evil.
I hadn’t been aware that this riveting fantasy story in a Japanese setting was also in the world of a popular role play game Legend of the Five Rings until I sat down to write the review. And frankly, I’m only tossing that info-nugget at you as a matter of interest, because as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference. The book is one of the best I’ve read of the year so far, as Brennan weaves her usual magic. Review to follow.

Murder at the Ritz by Jim Eldridge
August 1940. On the streets of London, locals watch with growing concern as German fighter planes plague the city’s skyline. But inside the famous Ritz Hotel, the cream of society continues to enjoy all the glamour and comfort that money can buy during wartime – until an anonymous man is discovered with his throat slashed open.

Detective Chief Inspector Coburg is called in to investigate, no stranger himself to the haunts of the upper echelons of society, ably assisted by his trusty colleague, Sergeant Lampson. Yet they soon face a number of obstacles. With the crime committed in rooms in use by an exiled king and his retinue, there are those who fear diplomatic repercussions and would rather the case be forgotten. With mounting pressure from various Intelligence agencies, rival political factions and gang warfare brewing either side of the Thames, Coburg and Lampson must untangle a web of deception if they are to solve the case – and survive.
This was another highly enjoyable read. DCI Coburg is an engaging protagonist battling to do his job during one of the most difficult, stressful times in London’s history. I loved the confident evocation of WWII and the nicely twisty plotting. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of By the Pact – Book 1 of the Pacts Arcane and Otherwise series by Joanna Maciejewska

Friday Face-off featuring Bloodhype – Book 2 of the Pip and Flinx series by Alan Dean Foster

Covet the Covers featuring Robert A. Heinlein

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Black Sun – Book 1 of Between Earth and Sky series by Rebecca Roanhorse

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Murder at the Ritz by Jim Eldridge

Tuesday Treasures – 23

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Shadow in the Empire of Light by Jane Routley

TWO Fantasy Mini-Reviews: A Dragon of a Different Colour by Rachel Aaron and Of Dragons, Feasts and Murder by Aliette de Bodard

Sunday Post – 17th January 2021

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

Mantivore Dreams is free today! https://mybook.to/MDJan21 The first book in my Arcadian Chronicles trilogy is free today on a giveaway that ends at midnight. Just click on the universal link above or the cover on the sidebar which will take you to your local Amazon store.

Happy Squirrel Appreciation Day https://bluebirdofbitterness.com/2021/01/21/happy-squirrel-appreciation-day-3/ This is more cartoon nonsense to bring a smile to your face…

Coumshingaun Lough https://inesemjphotography.com/2021/01/18/coumshingaun-lough/ Ireland is one of those places I’ve never been to that is on my bucket list. And these stunning pics, along with Inese’s chatty, informative prose only sharpens that wish…

Samantha by Zoe Sparkes https://soundcloud.com/zoe-ann-sparks/samantha And now for a treat for the ears. Tammy of Book’s Bones and Buffy mentioned her daughter’s new release – it’s beautiful… Swing by and just listen.

Wrap Up: 2020 Reading Statistics… https://ajsterkel.blogspot.com/2021/01/wrap-up-2020-reading-statistics.html?spref=tw As you probably know, I also produce a series of pie charts on my reading year – but AJ’s attention to detail is awesomely impressive!

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog. I hope you had a peaceful, healthy week – and do take care. x

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Life #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonLife #PickyEaters

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Don’t ever admit to being wrong. Trust me – there will be plenty of wretches lining up to blame you, anyway.

Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of INDIE Ebook By the Pact – Book 1 of Pacts Arcane and Otherwise by Joanna Maciejewska #BrainfluffINDIEEbookreview #BythePactbookreview

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Joanna and I have been blogging and writing buddies for a frightening number of years and I have always enjoyed her blog, Sorcery, Swords and Snark, where her artistic talent and engaging personality shines through. She has been working on By the Pact for a while – and I was excited to hear that she was finally publishing it this January, so obviously scampered over to scoop up a copy.

BLURB: High mages lied: Veranesh, the demon who destroyed the continent is still alive. And it’s up to their former student to expose the truth—even if it means another Cataclysm.

When Kamira, a once high mage student turned arcanist, discovers an imprisoned demon in underground ruins, she is forced into a pact that grants her powerful magic, but also ties her to the very demon that once devastated the continent… and Veranesh wants his freedom.

With one friend by her side, Veelk, a mage killer bound on protecting her, Kamira will have to outwit the archmages, other demons, and possibly her own demonic benefactor to survive. Her chances are slim, but with Veelk’s ever-present sarcastic repartee, Kamira might just pull through.

Plots and schemes, power and means—sometimes the price for victory is choosing which friend will die, but when you only have one friend, the choice is… easy?

REVIEW: I’ll be honest, it can be tricky business when a fellow writer, blogger and friend produces their first book and I open it. Because… what if I don’t enjoy it all that much? Worse – what if the reason why I don’t enjoy it all that much is because the writing isn’t any good? It quickly became apparent that all those worries were entirely superfluous. I quickly bonded with prickly, wary Kamira as she copes with a highly dangerous situation in the opening scene. Then forgot I was reading a friend’s book and became immersed in the story.

This could so easily have been a rather grim, unrelenting tale of vengeance and bloody murder, as old scores are settled and the demons involved – being demons – aren’t forgiving, compassionate types. However, throughout this adventure we have the strong friendship between Kamira and Veelk that mostly runs on snark and teasing – I liked the fact that their relationship isn’t a romantic one, rather a brother/sister bond. Both are charismatic characters, with a varied, eventful backstory and both are capable at looking after each other. They are also good at handling trouble – just as well, really – because the pair of them are disaster magnets.

While the strong characterisation and relationship between the two main protagonists sets the tone, ensuring there is always the fun of their interchanges in amongst the battle scenes and magical mayhem, there is also the wider story. I particularly enjoyed the magic system in this world. It makes complete sense and accounts for the presence of demons, as well as providing the historical backdrop – with the inevitable winners and losers and giving Kamira a solid reason for walking away from the more reputable career that had once been lined up for her.

Any niggles? Well I was a bit taken aback, when I turned another page – only to find I’d reached the end of the book, because while the initial narrative arc was satisfactorily dealt with, there are a handful of other plotpoints that have been left dangling. However, I am reassured on learning that the next book in the series, Scars of Stone, is due out later in the year. Highly recommended for fans of sand and sorcery fantasy.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – The main thing about aliens is that they are alien… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffaliencovers

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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 depicting ALIENS. I’ve selected Bloodhype – Book 2 of the Pip and Flinx series by Alan Dean Foster.

Del Rey Books, September 1985

This offering, produced by Del Rey Books in September 1985, is one of the default covers for this book. I really like this dramatic spacescape, with the two protagonists about to enter/examine the beautifully weird craft or creature featured in the middle of the cover. The very symmetrical arrangement of the author and title fonts and blurb provides a strong frame for the action, adding rather than interrupting the impact of the design. This is my favourite.

This is a revamp of an earlier cover, but that is all the information I have on this edition. I’m not entirely sure what’s going on, other than there’s a large planet nearby. So is that an asteroid or a spaceship – or a cross between both? And down near the bottom of the cover, there seems to be part of a torus, with the back view of a version of the Vitruvian man. Or is it? It’s rather fantastical and weird – and a bit creepy. By contrast, the author and title font is extremely boring and plain.

Del Rey, 1973

This edition is the original design, as far as I can ascertain, published by Del Rey in 1973. And here is the alien… along with Pip and Flinx and a young woman wearing an outfit that leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination. That said, and despite the lack of spaceships, I think this cover has a certain charm – and I really like the title font which packs a visual punch. The other big plus for this cover is that it features the protagonists and the scene relates to the book content.

New English Library, 1979

This edition, published in 1979 by New English Library/Times Mirror, has gone for the mysterious island vibe. This cover has an oddly gothic feel to it. That island sn’t your cosy, inviting let’s-get-away-from-it-all version, complete with gorgeous beach and inviting coconut palms, is it? And that sky is downright threatening – complete with missile fire. While it is invitingly mysterious, I’m not sure that this cover successfully reflects the content.

Italian edition, 1976

This Italian edition, published by Nord in 1976 is the original artwork of the earlier cover. I love those pops of turquoise that are missing in the copy, which pull the design together and give it a lighter, more playful tone. Suddenly it seems less of a muddle and more of a lighthearted homage to certain tropes. I just wish it wasn’t surrounded and rather overwhelmed by that dreary grey boxing in the glorious design. This would have been my favourite if not for that. Which one do you prefer?

Covet the Covers – 16 #Brainfluffcovetthecovers #CovetthecoversRobertAHeinlein

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Welcome to another helping of Covet the Covers. This week I’m featuring Robert A. Heinlein’s covers, in honour of #VintageSciFiMonth. It’s been a while since I’ve read any of his books, but many are classics. I’ve chosen older covers, rather than those I particularly liked – and this is only some of his output. Are any of your favourite reads among my selection?


*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Black Sun – Book 1 of the Between Earth and Sky series by Rebecca Roanhorse #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #BlackSunbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed Trail of Lightningsee my review – so was delighted to see this pop up and even more delighted to be approved for it. Would I enjoy this epic fantasy?

BLURB: A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun

In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.

Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.

REVIEW: In many ways, this epic fantasy adventure treads very familiar ground. There is a Chosen, whose destiny weighs heavily upon his young shoulders and who has had to endure much in the long, arduous training for his Task. There is another Chosen, whose appointment was rather an unwelcome surprise to those who find themselves serving her. And there is an ominous prophesy. So far, so good and reasonably predictable. I never have a problem with that – after all, if I wanted something completely different from the main genre conventions, I wouldn’t be reading Fantasy.

But what does make this one stand out is the setting. Because it isn’t set within a late medieval/Early Modern European historical backdrop, like so many epic Fantasy adventures – this one is nested within the pre-Columbian American civilisation, which gives everything a fresh spin. As Roanhorse is an experienced writer, whose characters ping off the page and whose narratives produce plenty of twists and adventures, that difference works really well. I particularly liked that the currency is cacao beans, for instance, while the religion, the clothing and general customs give an enjoyable sense of originality and freshness.

My favourite character is Xiala, a Teek sea captain. Her particular sea-calming magic means she is tolerated by an all-male crew, even though they generally don’t like women aboard ships. I love her robust attitude to life, and her very straightforward view of things, which contrasts well with Serapio, whose whole outlook has been skewed by the fact he has been prepared for a particular day and a particular time since his birth. Overall, the pacing works well, although there were times when I felt it could have moved a little faster in the earlier stages of the story. But as we approached the Big Day, the action and pacing picked up nicely. I’m not a fan of being left with a cliff-hanger ending, so I very much hope that Roanhorse has the second book well on the way, because I certainly want to know what happens next.

Recommended for fans of epic fantasy adventures, especially with a fresh setting. While I obtained an arc of Black Sun from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 20th January, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Murder at the Ritz by Jim Eldridge – release date 21st January

#crime #police procedural murder mystery #historical

BLURB: August 1940. On the streets of London, locals watch with growing concern as German fighter planes plague the city’s skyline. But inside the famous Ritz Hotel, the cream of society continues to enjoy all the glamour and comfort that money can buy during wartime – until an anonymous man is discovered with his throat slashed open.

Detective Chief Inspector Coburg is called in to investigate, no stranger himself to the haunts of the upper echelons of society, ably assisted by his trusty colleague, Sergeant Lampson. Yet they soon face a number of obstacles. With the crime committed in rooms in use by an exiled king and his retinue, there are those who fear diplomatic repercussions and would rather the case be forgotten. With mounting pressure from various Intelligence agencies, rival political factions and gang warfare brewing either side of the Thames, Coburg and Lampson must untangle a web of deception if they are to solve the case – and survive.

Another murder mystery on offer here – and as you can see by the date, you won’t have to wait long, because it’s due out tomorrow. DCI Coburg is plunged into the middle of a brutal murder in one of the poshest hotels in London – and that’s just the start… Conducting a murder mystery in the middle of London during WWII is a really strong premise – I’m looking forward to reading this one. Has anyone else got an arc of this one?

Tuesday Treasures – 23 #Brainfluffbookblog #LightintheLockdown

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In this week’s Tuesday Treasures, I’ve taken a series of photos from the garden last week, during a cold snap, when the frost formed slightly differently so that the ice crystals were larger than usual. So I grabbed my camera and went outside…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Shadow in the Empire of Light by Jane Routley #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #ShadowintheEmpireofLightbookreview

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I was drawn to the appealing cover and rather quirky blurb – would this one provide the upbeat, engrossing escapist read I was looking for?

BLURB: Shine’s life is usually dull: an orphan without magic in a family of powerful mages, she’s left to run the family estate with only an eccentric aunt and telepathic cat for company.

But when the family descend on the house for the annual Fertility Festival, Shine is plunged into intrigue; stolen letters, a fugitive spy and family drama mix with an unexpected murder, and Shine is forced to decide both her loyalties and future…

REVIEW: I’ll be honest – I’ve been a bit bemused by the negative reviews for this entertaining and really different fantasy adventure. But I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of reviewers picked it up because of the allusion to the telepathic cat – and most fantasy adventures with a telepathic pet don’t generally come with steamy sex scenes. So I think this is more of a case of readers opening up this book thinking they were getting one type of story – and instead were confronted with something quite different. While that cover certainly didn’t help, given that it also doesn’t give any clue of the erotic charge running through this adventure.

As for me – I found Shine beguiling and enjoyed the rather claustrophobic, dangerous edge to this adventure as the Family, both mundanes and mages, gather for the annual fertility festival, where consenting adults get together for the purpose of creating more children. Routley’s worldbuilding is impressive as she creates a large family, riven with factions and infighting as the most powerful, entitled mages jockey for the prime positions. Shine is well down the pecking order, as she watches the man she has given her heart to flirt with other girls – and tries to keep away from her more unpleasant, bullying cousins. I kept waiting for her to discover that she had unexpected magical powers… And no, I’m not going to reveal if she does – but this one has lodged in my head and despite the fact that I’ve subsequently completed two other books, it won’t leave me alone.

As for the sex – yes, there are a couple of uncharacteristically raunchy scenes, but I didn’t find them unduly gratuitous. This is a society with a very relaxed attitude towards sex, especially at this time of the Festival, for it is important that there be more female children within the family, as it is female mages with most power. And the fact that Shine is a mundane with an unfortunate bloodline means she is regarded with contempt by many family members – there is nothing cosy about this bunch. But despite the fact it deals with some quite dark subjects, there is a bouncy energy and a lot of snarky humour that stopped it being a bleak read.

I will be reading more from this intriguing author – and if there is a sequel to this book, which feels as if there should be – then I’ll be hunting it down. While I obtained an arc of Shadow in the Empire of Light from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Two FANTASY Mini-Reviews: A Dragon of a Different Colour by Rachel Aaron & Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders by Aliette de Bodard #BrainfluffFANTASYmini-reviews #ADragonofaDifferentColourmini-review #OfDragonsFeastsandMurdersmini-review

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A Dragon of a Different Colour – Book 4 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron

BLURB: To save his family from his tyrannical mother, Julius had to step on a lot of tails. That doesn’t win a Nice Dragon many friends, but just when he thinks he’s starting to make progress, a new threat arrives.

Turns out, things can get worse. Heartstriker hasn’t begun to pay for its secrets, and the dragons of China are here to collect. When the Golden Emperor demands his surrender, Julius will have to choose between loyalty to the sister who’s always watched over him and preserving the clan he gave everything to protect.

As this is a continuation of the story, whatever you do, don’t crash into this series but go back to the beginning – see my reviews of Nice Dragons Finish Last, One Good Dragon Deserves Another and No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished. Once again, we are plunged into the middle of the ongoing crisis, as Julian, now leader of the Heartstriker clan, has to deal with the fallout of the mighty power struggle that toppled his despotic mother.

However, crises just go on piling up as the neighbours are now starting to cause massive problems and the most powerful clan on the planet pitches up on the doorstep, demanding Heartstriker surrender. The best adventures are when you keep turning the pages without having a clue how the gutsy heroes and heroines are going get out of this jam – and this particular denouement is awesome and original. The worldbuilding is exceptional and while the action had to slow a tad in order for the complexity to be fully explained – I was happy to read and wonder. Another cracking read in my favourite urban fantasy series of 2020, as Aaron goes on delivering dragon-shaped delight…
9/10

Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders: A Dominion of the Fallen novella by Aliette de Bodard

BLURB: Lunar New Year should be a time for familial reunions, ancestor worship, and consumption of an unhealthy amount of candied fruit.

But when dragon prince Thuan brings home his brooding and ruthless husband Asmodeus for the New Year, they find not interminable family gatherings, but a corpse outside their quarters. Asmodeus is thrilled by the murder investigation; Thuan, who gets dragged into the political plotting he’d sworn off when he left, is less enthusiastic.

It’ll take all of Asmodeus’s skill with knives, and all of Thuan’s diplomacy, to navigate this one—as well as the troubled waters of their own relationship….

Back in 2016, I read the first book in this series – A House of Shattered Wingssee my review – and thoroughly enjoyed it, so was glad to get hold of this shorter story in the same series. Writing a successful novella takes a different skillset than that needed to write a novel, and I was pleased to see that de Bodard had nailed that. The characterisation and pacing were spot on for the length, as was the narrative arc. And as this was essentially a murder mystery within an alien setting, that took a fair amount of technical skill.

I didn’t particularly bond with Thuan, but as the plotting was also a vital component to this one, that wasn’t the problem it could have been. As for Admodeus and Thuan’s relationship… hm – okay. It takes all sorts – I’m just very glad that I’m not trapped within such a borderline-abusive relationship, but I did find their more intimate moments very uncomfortable and I won’t be reading any more of this series.
7/10