Category Archives: S.J. Higbee

Cover Love – 5 #Brainfluffcoverlove #CoverlovePhilWilliams

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Welcome to another helping of Cover Love. This week I’m displaying Phil Williams’ covers in honour of his recent release of Kept From Cages, which I loved. I discovered his quirky Ordshaw trilogy last year – see my reviews of Under Ordshaw, Blue Angel and The Violent Fae. He also designed the covers for all the books in the series, as well as the new Ikiri series, which I find very impressive. Which ones do you particularly like?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Dead Man in a Ditch – Book 2 of the Fetch Phillips Archives by Luke Arnold #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #DeadManinaDitchbookreview

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I enjoyed the first book in this series, Last Smile in Sunder Citysee my review, so when I saw the second book was coming up, I was delighted to be approved to read it. Would I enjoy it as much as the first book?

BLURB: The name’s Fetch Phillips — what do you need? Cover a Gnome with a crossbow while he does a dodgy deal? Sure.

Find out who killed Lance Niles, the big-shot businessman who just arrived in town? I’ll give it shot.

Help an old-lady Elf track down her husband’s murderer? That’s right up my alley.

What I don’t do, because it’s impossible, is search for a way to bring the goddamn magic back. Rumors got out about what happened with the Professor, so now people keep asking me to fix the world.

But there’s no magic in this story. Just dead friends, twisted miracles, and a secret machine made to deliver a single shot of murder.

REVIEW: It starts well – I very quickly felt right back at home in this grim, noirish city where everything is a bleaker, more tattered version of itself because Magic has now disappeared. I settled into the first two adventures well enough. Though wincing somewhat as Fetch seems to take far more than his fair share of beatings, and I felt suitably sympathetic at his angst and guilt. But…

It’s a longish book at well over 400 pages, and generally that sort of length doesn’t bother me – but just about the halfway mark, I was conscious of this one starting to drag. Fetch’s constant misery became irritating and the fact that the plot seemed to cycle round in ever-widening circles, so that what initially seemed like a progression just became more of the same – Fetch investigating a case… feeling miserable… getting beaten up… Rinse and repeat. It didn’t help that there was precious little light and shade – it was basically all shades of dark.

I’m aware that right now I’m not really in the right place for lots of bleakness. But the quirky cover and the strapline comparing this book to Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series had me thinking that maybe this book would be a whole lot lighter, as by the end of the first book, Fetch seemed to have found some closure. The world is well described, and Arnold’s vivid descriptions of the once-magical characters are both imaginative and original – I love the premise. But Fetch’s constant angst was also annoying the other characters in the story – it comes to something when I find myself nodding in agreement as a major antagonist verbally shreds the hero.

If you are looking for a fantasy crime series with a real difference and enjoy your world on the grimy, grimdark side, then you may well find this one suits you. While I obtained an arc of Dead Man in a Ditch from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
6/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 23rd September, 2020 #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 – The Postscript Murders – Book 2 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Grittiths -release date 1st October

#crime #literary murder mystery #police procedural

BLURB: PS: thanks for the murders.
The death of a ninety-year-old woman with a heart condition should absolutely not be suspicious. DS Harbinder Kaur certainly sees nothing to concern her in carer Natalka’s account of Peggy Smith’s death. But when Natalka reveals that Peggy lied about her heart condition and that she had been sure someone was following her… And that Peggy Smith had been a ‘murder consultant’ who plotted deaths for authors, and knew more about murder than anyone has any right to…

And when clearing out Peggy’s flat ends in Natalka being held at gunpoint by a masked figure… Well then DS Harbinder Kaur thinks that maybe there is no such thing as an unsuspicious death after all.

From the sleepy seaside town of Shoreham, to the granite streets of Edinburgh and the shores of Lake Baikal, The Postscript Murders is a literary mystery for fans of Antony Horowitz, Agatha Christie and anyone who’s ever wondered just how authors think up such realistic crimes…
PS: Trust no one.


I’m a fan of Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series – see my reviews of The Crossing Places and The Janus Stone – so when I saw this was the second book in a new series, I immediately requested it. I hoping to read the audiobook edition of the first book, The Stranger Diaries first. Is anyone else an Elly Griffiths fan?




Tuesday Treasures – 14 #Brainfluffbookblog #LightintheLockdown

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Himself and I had a break a couple of weeks ago to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, and visited Bateman’s, the home of Rudyard Kipling. Though the house is closed at present, we spent a lovely afternoon wandering around the gardens, which is where I took this week’s photos.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of INDIE Ebook Kept From Cages – Book 1 of the Ikiri duology by Phil Williams #Brainfluffbookreview #KeptFromCagesbookreview

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Last year, I read and thoroughly enjoyed Phil’s Ordshaw series – see my reviews of Under Ordshaw, Blue Angel and The Violent Fae – so when he contacted me and asked if I’d like the opportunity to read and review his latest book, I jumped at the chance.

BLURB: Reece’s gang of criminal jazz musicians have taken shelter in the wrong house. There’s a girl with red eyes bound to a chair. The locals call her a devil – but Reece sees a kid that needs protecting. He’s more right than he knows. Chased by a shadowy swordsman and an unnatural beast, the gang flee across the Deep South with the kid in tow. She won’t say where she’s from or who exactly her scary father is, but she’s got powers they can’t understand. How much will Reece risk to save her?

On the other side of the world, Agent Sean Tasker’s asking similar questions. With an entire village massacred and no trace of the killers, he’s convinced Duvcorp’s esoteric experiments are responsible. His only ally is an unstable female assassin, and their only lead is Ikiri – a black-site in the Congo, which no one leaves alive. How far is Tasker prepared to go for answers?

REVIEW: While this book is a spinoff from the Ordshaw series and set in the same world – it deals with a separate threat. So you don’t have to have read any of Phil’s previous books to enjoy this one. There are two main narrative threads – those of the Cutjaw gang, who encounter Zip while on the run from successfully pulling off a heist; and the exploits of Sean Tasker, who teams up with unhinged desperado Katryzna while trying to find answers to a series of horrible and mysterious killings taking place across the globe. While I enjoyed Phil’s Ordshaw series, this one impressed me with the sheer intensity and skill of the writing.

It starts with a bang and doesn’t let up. Normally action-led adventures tend to be a tad lighter on scene setting and characterisation, which is fair enough, given that a narrative that powers forward at full tilt simply cannot hang around for too much description or nuanced, complex characters. Not so in this case. Reece, Leigh-Anne and Zip ping off the page, full of personality. As for Sean and Katryzna – those of us who have had the pleasure of reading the Ordshaw series can see definite similarities between Katryzna and the psychotic fairy Lettie… Phil writes damaged characters with tenderness and passion so that folks whose behaviour would normally repel me, instead pull me in and make me care. It’s harder to achieve than Phil makes it look. The same dynamic applies to the scene setting – it was a pleasure to be taken across the US, or a certain village in Norway and then into the swamps of Louisiana and the jungle of the Congo.

But what really impressed me was the gothic slant that Phil gave to a mill in the heart of the English countryside. It should have been a quaint, cosy setting – and proved to be nothing of the sort. While this story isn’t full-on horror, it is definitely on the dark side of urban fantasy and once again, Williams gives it his particular spin. I’m delighted there is more to come with these characters – they get under the skin and won’t let go. Recommended for fans of high-octane, contemporary fantasy with strong characters and a swift-moving story.
9/10

Sunday Post – 20th September, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

It’s been a quiet week. I had a minor sniffle and sore throat. Nothing remotely COVID, but it still seems very anti-social to start spreading whatever-it-is around, so I stayed at home. My youngest grandson, after three days at school, has had to quarantine for a fortnight as a child in his yeargroup cluster was discovered to have COVID-19. I’ve been busy catching up with my blog, and harvesting my fennel seeds, while still slightly buzzy about last week’s holiday.

The photos are from last week’s visit to Batemans, home of Rudyard Kipling for the last years of his life. Although the house was closed, we had a lovely time wandering through the gardens and along the small river running along the end of the property. The weather was absolutely fantastic, though it has continued to be dry and warm throughout this week, too. Long may it continue, if it keeps Winter at bay.


Last week I read:

Attack Surface – Book 3 of the Little Brother series by Cory Doctorow
Most days, Masha Maximow was sure she’d chosen the winning side. In her day job as a counterterrorism wizard for an transnational cybersecurity firm, she made the hacks that allowed repressive regimes to spy on dissidents, and manipulate their every move. The perks were fantastic, and the pay was obscene.

Just for fun, and to piss off her masters, Masha sometimes used her mad skills to help those same troublemakers evade detection, if their cause was just. It was a dangerous game and a hell of a rush. But seriously self-destructive. And unsustainable.

When her targets were strangers in faraway police states, it was easy to compartmentalize, to ignore the collateral damage of murder, rape, and torture. But when it hits close to home, and the hacks and exploits she’s devised are directed at her friends and family–including boy wonder Marcus Yallow, her old crush and archrival, and his entourage of naïve idealists–Masha realizes she has to choose. And whatever choice she makes, someone is going to get hurt.
I was blissfully unaware that this is a spinoff from a series – but it really doesn’t matter. Although another of the main characters features in the previous stories, this is essentially a standalone, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Review to follow.


Dead Man in a Ditch – Book 2 of the Fetch Phillips Archives by Luke Arnold
The name’s Fetch Phillips — what do you need? Cover a Gnome with a crossbow while he does a dodgy deal? Sure.

Find out who killed Lance Niles, the big-shot businessman who just arrived in town? I’ll give it shot.

Help an old-lady Elf track down her husband’s murderer? That’s right up my alley.

What I don’t do, because it’s impossible, is search for a way to bring the goddamn magic back.

Rumors got out about what happened with the Professor, so now people keep asking me to fix the world. But there’s no magic in this story. Just dead friends, twisted miracles, and a secret machine made to deliver a single shot of murder.
I’d enjoyed the first book, but I had a few issues with this one. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK Finder – Book 1 of the Finder Chronicles by Suzanne Palmer
Fergus Ferguson has been called a lot of names: thief, con artist, repo man. He prefers the term finder.

His latest job should be simple. Find the spacecraft Venetia’s Sword and steal it back from Arum Gilger, ex-nobleman turned power-hungry trade boss. He’ll slip in, decode the ship’s compromised AI security, and get out of town, Sword in hand.

Fergus locates both Gilger and the ship in the farthest corner of human-inhabited space, a gas-giant-harvesting colony called Cernee. But Fergus’ arrival at the colony is anything but simple. A cable car explosion launches Cernee into civil war, and Fergus must ally with Gilger’s enemies to navigate a field of space mines and a small army of hostile mercenaries. What was supposed to be a routine job evolves into negotiating a power struggle between factions. Even worse, Fergus has become increasingly–and inconveniently–invested in the lives of the locals.
Well, this is fun! Lots of mayhem, well narrated and plenty of surprises and plot twists until the climax – and the good news is that it is the beginning of a series. Review to follow.


My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Tips on Childcare

Review of The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Déjà vu review of Earth Girl – Book 1 of the Earth Girl series by Janet Edwards

Friday Faceoff featuring The Hound of the Baskervilles – Book 5 of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries by Arthur Conan Doyle

Cover Love featuring the covers of Janet Edwards

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Trials of Koli – Book 2 of The Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

Reblog of interview with S.J. Higbee by Jean Lee

Tuesday Treasures – 13

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Earth Prime – Book 1 of The Earth Girl Aftermath stories by Janet Edwards

Sunday Post – 13th September 2020

To my shame, I haven’t visited many blogs or interacted on Twitter all that much this week – so I don’t have anything to share ☹.

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

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips #Looking After Grandchildren #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonChildcare #PickyEaters

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If your young charges aren’t paying proper attention – flap your wings. It generally knocks them off their feet.


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.

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker #Brainfluffbookreview #TheSilenceoftheGirlsbookreview

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Obviously I have heard Pat Barker’s name, but when I saw this offering last year I couldn’t resist it. And after having read Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achillessee my review, I recalled I also had this one in my TBR, so dived in and retrieved it. I’m so glad I did…

BLURB: The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, which continues to wage bloody war over a stolen woman: Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman watches and waits for the war’s outcome: Briseis. She was queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms until Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles’s concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army.

When Agamemnon, the brutal political leader of the Greek forces, demands Briseis for himself, she finds herself caught between the two most powerful of the Greeks. Achilles refuses to fight in protest, and the Greeks begin to lose ground to their Trojan opponents. Keenly observant and coolly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position to observe the two men driving the Greek forces in what will become their final confrontation, deciding the fate, not only of Briseis’s people, but also of the ancient world at large.

REVIEW: Before I go any further, there are trigger warnings for rape and violence against women – although neither are depicted in any great detail, the writing is powerful and moving. I was gripped from the very first sentence.

Rather stupidly, I started reading this late one night, intending to get into the story and then put it down after the first chapter. No chance. When I’d finally got to the stage where my Kindle kept falling out of my hands because I was so tired, it was in the wee small hours and I was halfway through the book. Told in first person POV, Briseis tells the story of how she became a pivotal part of the siege of Troy. Having only recently read Miller’s book, her name was immediately familiar and it was interesting to compare that cosier version of Briseis’s fate to the harder, bleaker narrative told by Barker.

She spends years in the Greek camp outside Troy’s walls as a slave girl to Achilles. She is then caught up in a quarrel between Achilles and the commander of the Greek armies, Agamemnon, when he demands her as a prize. I am not giving away too much of the plot, given this is also mentioned in Homer’s, The Iliad. There is, however, an interesting departure from The Iliad, whereby Agamemnon swears upon the god Zeus that he has left her untouched. Her version of events is quite different – but then she is a mere woman and no one wants to hear what they have to say.

I have been reading quite a lot of Greek retellings recently, as well as Stephen Fry’s excellent Mythos and Heroessee my review. I have come to the conclusion that a large part of the misogyny embedded within our Western culture directly stems from the Greeks, who probably prized a good warhorse above most of the women in their household. I would love to treat Barker’s tale as a slice of history that has no relevance in modern times. I would love to be able to claim that girls around the world were no longer experiencing the treatment meted out to Briseis on a daily basis. And of course, I can’t. In all the versions of the Greek myths I’ve read and heard, that there isn’t a single one told by the women being chased, harried and routinely raped. For the Greeks prized silence in their women, apparently. Thank goodness we have Circe by Madeline Miller – see my mini-review – and The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, along with other feminist retellings of the ancient Greek myths. Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in reading a different version of this era.
10/10

Deja vu review – Earth Girl – Book 1 of the Earth Girl series by Janet Edwards #Brainfluffdejavureview #EarthGirlbookreview

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This week’s deja vu review is from 24th October, 2012…

I met up with Janet Edwards at last year’s Fantasycon, when she told me that Earth Girl was due to come out in the coming year and we also exchanged a few words at Eastercon, when I heard enough about the book to put it onto my reading list. So I loaded it onto my Kindle for the journey to Brighton for this year’s Fantasycon.

BLURB: In the far future, the universe is divided into two different groups: the Norms, who can portal between planets, and people like Jarra, Earthgirlthe one in a thousand born with an immune system that doesn’t allow them to survive anywhere but Earth. Norms come back to Earth for one reason: to study human history – like the ruins of what was once New York City. But only if they don’t have to interact with any Apes along the way. 18-year-old Jarra has a plan to change that.

REVIEW: This debut novel is a delight – it is marketed as YA, but this adult science fiction fan found it completely engrossing, as did my husband. Jarra is a strong protagonist – spiky, yet believably vulnerable. About halfway through the novel, there is an episode that appears to have split Earth Girl readers into those who feel that it is unrealistic and those who don’t. I’m in the latter camp. The series of events leading up to the shock that catapults Jarra into behaving as she does is entirely convincing – as is her reaction.

So Edwards has set up a strong female character and an intriguing situation – has she also managed to depict a sufficiently detailed and complex future? Absolutely. One of the characteristics of YA fiction – which is probably why you see a lot more Urban Fantasy, rather than Science Fiction in this genre – is that it is generally fast-paced. So it is a big ask for authors working with a primary world where the surroundings and customs are significantly different from our own time – unlike most urban fantasy offerings which are mostly set in modern cities with a few extra supernatural touches laid over the familiar landscape – to produce a satisfactory setting without holding up the narrative drive.

Edwards manages to provide plenty of interesting insights into her future world as part of the plot progression – an achievement a whole lot more difficult than the author makes it look. In fact, the world and the reasons why archaeological teams are frantically mining these decaying cities was – for me – one of the main treats of this book.

Any grizzles? Well – it is a minor niggle, but I did feel that I would have liked the ending to be slightly less… tidy. But that observation doesn’t detract from the fact that Earth Girl is a thoroughly engrossing read by a talented author, who is definitely One to Watch.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffminimalistcovers

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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 MINIMALIST covers. I’ve selected The Hound of the Baskervilles – Book 5 of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Enhanced Classics, 2014

So who knew that such a classic would be a source of such minimalist covers? But this edition, released in September 2014 by Enhanced Classics is one of a number of pared back designs that trades on our abiding affection and knowledge of this quirky detective. I really like it – though I do wonder if the dog ought to feature on the cover, given the way the fear of the beast looms throughout this tense murder mystery.

Vintage Classics, 2008

Published in September 2008 by Vintage Classics, this is another simple design. Despite the apparent simplicity, there’s quite a lot going on here. I like the graduated colour fading to black at the outer edges, which essentially puts that magnifying glass and the title in the spotlight. It’s a clever move having the snarling muzzle of the dog within the magnifying glass. The cover projects tension and menace without a splash of blood, or any garish visual tricks regarding the title. My one grumble is that I think the title could do with being less Victorian and self-effacing.

Portuguese edition 2013

This Portuguese edition, published in 2013 by Zahar, is a real gem. Again, it has used the ubiquitous silhouette of Holmes to produce the heart of the design, before adding another layer that absolutely nails this one for me. Within the shadowed outline of Holmes is the ruined house where a certain character hid, thus thoroughly throwing dear old Watson right off the scent of the real villain. And then we have the cemetery and the dog, himself… I also absolutely love the way the smoke curls up from the pipe to give us the name of the author. This is my favourite.

Marathi edition, 2012

And this Marathi edition is another example of a simple outline featuring on the cover. Published in January 2012 by Diamond Publications, the almost cartoonish creature on the trail of his prey immediately draws the eye. Again, the background is effectively shaded, pulling our attention onto the snarling beast in the centre of the cover – while that hill than provides the text box for the title and author fonts. This one was so nearly my favourite – it was the wisping smoke turning into Conan Doyle’s name on the other other contender that edged for me.

Lithuanian edition, 2013

This Lithuanian edition, published in May 2013 by Baltos Iankos, is another effective and simple cover. The shaded background allows the black outline of the dog to stand out, so although he is running more or less towards us – a difficult angle when most of the details aren’t apparent – we can make him out with no difficulty. I like the fact the designer has taken the trouble to give him a shadow, thus anchoring him to the background, instead of just plonking him onto the top of it. I do think the title font could be a bit larger and punchier, but that is a personal preference. Which is your favourite?