Category Archives: S.J. Higbee

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Atlas Alone – Book 4 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman #Brainfluffbookreview #AtlasAlonebookreview

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I was thrilled to get the opportunity to read and review this one – After Atlas was my outstanding book of 2017. In order to get the best out of this book, you don’t have to have read all four books of this fabulous series, but my firm advice is to at least get hold of After Atlas, given that Atlas Alone takes up the story after that amazing ending and features at least a couple of the main characters who appear in After Atlas.

Six months after she left Earth, Dee is struggling to manage her rage toward the people who perpetrated a terrible crime on Earth as they were leaving. She’s trying to find those responsible, and to understand why the ship is keeping everyone divided into small groups, but she’s not getting very far alone. A dedicated gamer, she throws herself into mersives to escape and is approached by a designer who asks her to play test his new game. It isn’t like any game she’s played before. Then a character she kills in the climax of the game turns out to bear a striking resemblance to a man who dies suddenly in the real world at exactly the same time…

I have tweaked and truncated the rather chatty blurb, but you get the idea… This is one of those atmospheric, twitchy narratives where the main character in first person viewpoint is driven by a sense of wrongness after witnessing a terrible crime. Seeing such horror has taken its toll on her and her two closest friends – Travis and Carl. What now drives her is a desire to discover who was responsible, because she knows they are on the ship.

What Newman excels at is writing difficult characters who don’t immediately appeal. I am aware that if I encountered Dee in real life, I would be repelled by her formidable reserve and the social mask she hides behind. That said, it’s made very clear exactly why she is as she is – to her fury. Because while immersed in a game, she finds herself confronted with aspects of her terrible past – and a scarily powerful entity she calls ‘the beast’ is intent on getting her to come to terms with what happened to her. While Dee is equally determined that she’ll do no such thing – over the years as an indentured employee (more like a slave) she has managed to throw up mental defences which she is reluctant to drop. Particularly when feeling so threatened…

And with good reason. When a sudden death in a game is mirrored in real life and Carl’s remarkable investigative skills are let loose on the case, Dee realises she is at risk of being arrested for murder with only the beast’s assurance that she won’t be caught. I found Dee a compelling protagonist, who I loved. So that ending… well – I can’t say much about it – but I didn’t see THAT one coming!

Yet another amazing climactic cliffhanger that leaves me desperate for the next slice in this amazing adventure. This is one of my favourite series at present and Atlas Alone is every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be. Very highly recommended for fans of well-written, character-driven science fiction. The ebook arc copy of Atlas Alone was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10

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Friday Faceoff – He who opens a school door closes a prison… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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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 currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is SCHOOLS, so I’ve selected Year of the Griffin – Book 2 of the Derkholm series by Diana Wynne Jones.

 

This edition was produced by HarperCollins in September 2012. I really like the wonderful young griffin flying over the magical school in a scene that is full of drama and excitement. I also like the title font, which is elegant and eye-catching that gives a sense of this excellent, funny school story that deserves to be far better known than it is.

 

Published in January 2014 by HarperCollinsChildren’sBooks, this excellent cover leaves me a bit conflicted. I love that wonderful ‘magical’ acid green colour with those eye-catching black silhouettes and the fabulous curling fonts. BUT this is a children’s book – and I think this cover has a strong horror vibe, which is unfortunate as it’s nothing of the sort, being an entertaining school story with lots of humour. Otherwise, this one would have been my favourite.

 

This edition, published by Gollancz in 2001, is another strong cover. That griffin looks magnificent, with the landscaped stretched out below – but again, this cover suggests that this is epic fantasy, rather than a very funny children’s book.

 

Produced by Азбука in 2018, this Russian edition is my favourite. At long last – a well-designed cover that also is genre-appropriate. I love all the students gathered together in the upper part of the cover, while one of the defining scenes features below it. The font is also suitably quirky. While I’m not sure exactly what it says, I do love that tail emerging from the title font and the dear little mouse at the bottom.

 

This Japanese edition, published by Tokyo Sogensha in August 2003, is another strong contender, given it also features the main characters in the very grand school quadrangle. But I do like the artwork, particularly that of the characters – they have a strong sense of a Japanese influence. Which one is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Knight: A Chronicle of the Sibyl’s War – Book 2 by Timothy Zahn #Brainfluffbookreview #Knightbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoy Zahn’s writing – see my review of The Cobra Trilogy – so scooped this one up when I saw it on Netgalley. Once again, it appears that I had got hold of the second book of a series where I haven’t read the first – and in fairness to me, it isn’t apparent from either the title or the subtitle that it is the second book, either. Though this time around, I would recommend that you get hold of the first one, The Sibyl’s War, before diving into Knight as initially I found it a tad challenging to work out what exactly was going on – and I regularly crash midway into series.

Nicole Hammond was just trying to survive on the streets of Philadelphia, then she and her partner Bungie were abducted by a race of mysterious moth-like aliens and taken to a strange ship called the Fyrantha. Now she is a Sibyl, a special human that has the ability to communicate with the aliens and their ship, and no one is happy. Competing factions control different parts of the Fyrantha with the humans and other sentient aliens caught in the middle. But Nicole is done being bullied, and now she has a plan to take control of the ship. She just has to outsmart war profiteers and slavers to do it.

I really enjoyed this one. Nicole is accustomed to living by her wits and it’s this attribute that keeps her alive and relatively unscathed. That, and her stubbornness in refusing to lie down and accept the fate that awaits herself, her companions and the rest of Earth… The stakes in this story couldn’t be higher – Earth is at the mercy of a ruthless, technologically advanced race of aliens who are looking to cash in on whatever humanity has to offer in the way of bankable commodities. Up to now, the abducted slaves on the vast ship that has snatched them up, have managed to persuade their masters that humans are useless at fighting, so they have concluded that selling off humans as slave armies to the highest bidder is pointless.

Nicole’s skills at communicating with some of the odd, alien components of the ship, such as the moth creatures, give her some vital advantages, but I think Zahn has successfully avoided making her too much of a Mary Sue. I also like the fact that the humans on board don’t all think the same way – some are simply intent on surviving at the expense of everyone else; others think the strategy that Nicole and her companions adopt is simply wrong and yet at least one key character believes that if she betrays her fellow conspirators, she will be rewarded by being freed to return to her family.

All in all, the desperate skirmishes and adventures aboard this extraordinary, vast ship make for gripping reading and I will be backtracking to discover how Nicole came to be aboard the Fyrantha and looking forward to the next slice of the adventure. The ebook arc copy of Knight: A Chronicle of the Sibyl’s War was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

Teaser Tuesday – 16th April, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #TeaserTuesday

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:
Atlas Alone – Book 4 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman

35% Nothing has changed in the bedroom. His body is still there, which jars me. In zero-gore games it would have faded out by now. I study his face, wondering if I knew him a long time ago and have forgotten him, but he seems just as much a stranger. Surely there is a statement in that fact? In a game populated purely by people I have known – or even just seen regularly – in my life on Earth, the fact that he is the only exception feels important.

BLURB: Six months after she left Earth, Dee is struggling to manage her rage toward the people who ordered the nuclear strike that destroyed the world. She’s trying to find those responsible, and to understand why the ship is keeping everyone divided into small groups, but she’s not getting very far alone.

A dedicated gamer, she throws herself into mersives to escape and is approached by a designer who asks her to play test his new game. It isn’t like any game she’s played before. Then a character she kills in the climax of the game turns out to bear a striking resemblance to a man who dies suddenly in the real world at exactly the same time…

This is a fabulous series – After Atlas was my outstanding read of 2017 – so I was thrilled to get the opportunity to read an arc copy of this one. Many, many thanks to Lynn of Lynn’s Book Blog for talking me through how to negotiate the Netgalley thicket to make this possible😊. So far, I’m loving this one – though I have no idea where it’s going…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Breaking the Lore By Andy Redsmith – Book 1 of the Inspector Paris Mystery series #Brainfluffbookreview #BreakingtheLorebookreview

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I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to read this intriguing fantasy crime adventure – it sounded great fun…

How do you stop a demon invasion… when you don’t believe in magic? Inspector Nick Paris is a man of logic and whisky. So staring down at the crucified form of a murder victim who is fifteen centimetres tall leaves the seasoned detective at a loss… and the dead fairy is only the beginning.

Nick Paris is your average, hard-drinking inspector serving in the murder squad, with amazing deductive powers and a rather arid lovelife – until he’s called out to a murder in the posher part of Manchester, which turns out to be the crucifixion of a fairy. He finds the pathologist on his knees investigating the crime scene, equally amazed. Indeed, the only one who isn’t pole-axed is Sergeant Bonetti, who recalls hearing about talking fish – when it turns out, he’s remembering the plot of Finding Nemo. That opening scene quickly whisks Paris up into a whirlwind adventure where he’s also having to wrap his head around talking crows, dwarves and a rock troll princess seeking political asylum.

This tale is told from Paris’s viewpoint in third person point of view – so we get the full benefit of his perplexed reaction, when years of deductive experience collide full-square with a situation and characters who appear to have leapt out of one of the darker fairy tale books. He retreats into sarky humour to get him through – so there are a number of jokes and puns littering the action, some of which had me laughing aloud.

In addition to Paris, we have his sidekick Sergeant Bonetti (think of the smart, slim Sergeant Hathaway in Lewis – his absolute opposite defines Bonetti) and Cassandra, the magical consultant he somehow acquires. It’s a smart move to have Bonetti and Cassandra completely accepting of the situation, while Paris is still grappling with the concept, because while we get the benefit of his bemusement, it doesn’t hold up the action. Which comes thick and fast as magical creatures pitch up with increasing frequency at the only portal on the planet, situated in a suburban garden. I loved the reaction of the homeowner, who provides a pathway through his house marked with duct-tape in return for dwarven gold…

The pages turned themselves as the story gathered pace and the plot thickened, bristling with nice touches, such as a chain-smoking crow and an excessively polite elf, who turns out to be a lethally effective killer. All in all, this is an entertaining, enjoyable beginning to what promises to be a solidly good urban fantasy series – I’m now waiting with eagerness for the next book. Recommended for fans of enjoyable urban fantasy and those who like their crime on the quirky side. The ebook arc copy of Breaking the Lore was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book
9/10

Review of INDIE EBOOK Under Ordshaw – Book 1 of The Ordshaw series by Phil Williams #Brainfluffbookreview #UnderOrdshawbookreview

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I read this book as Lynn from Lynn’s Book Blog recommended it and I very much liked the look of the cover. I was also in the mood for an entertaining urban fantasy with a twist.

Pax is one rent cheque away from the unforgiving streets of Ordshaw. After her stash is stolen, her hunt for the thief unearths a book of nightmares and a string of killers, and she stands to lose much more than her home. There’s something lurking under her city. Knowing it’s there could get you killed.
I’m not going to claim that the premise is anything particularly original – it isn’t. Ordshaw is a city with a dark underbelly where lethal creatures inhabit the network of tunnels hidden beneath the streets. Most people, particularly those who are out and about during the day, don’t have any inkling about the battle going on between the creatures and humanity – but those who are largely out at night have more of an idea that something isn’t quite right. Pax falls into this category, given she is a card player who spends most of her time working at night.

However, for me she isn’t the most interesting character in this book. Cano Casaria, an agent for the Ministry of Environmental Energy, in theory should be one of the good guys. In fact, the character seemed very familiar to me – driven by a desire to keep humanity safe; possessing a fanatical loathing of the terrible creatures wreaking havoc; determined to ensure that their agenda doesn’t prevail. In many other hands, Casaria would be the protagonist. But he’s not. While it’s his efforts that initially involve Pax in the whole business, his brutal methods characterised by the end absolutely justifying any means repel her, particularly after she encounters Letty the tiny fairy, whom Casaria cripples.

It is the interplay between these characters that had me turning the pages wanting to know what would happen next. While some of the monsters are definitely unpleasant and there is a great deal we don’t yet know about them, it wasn’t the battle between them and humanity that powered the story, but the rivalries and relationships formed between those who were trying to stop them.

In making this the focus of the story, Williams has succeeded in giving this urban fantasy a fresh twist so that while it started quite slowly, as it gathered pace I found it difficult to put down. Recommended for fans of well-written urban fantasy, who’d appreciate something a little different. While I obtained a review copy of Under Ordshaw from the author, the views I have expressed are my honest opinion of the book.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – Better to fight and fall than to live without hope… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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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 currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is a LONGBOAT, so I’ve selected Half the World – Book 2 of The Shattered Sea series by Joe Abercrombie.

 

This edition was produced by Del Rey in February 2015. I like the design – the huge wave rising out of the sea, with the breaking surf at the crest morphing into edged weapons. However, I don’t like the monochrome treatment – it looks rather drab and gives the impression that the book is a lot darker than it actually is. And other than that small flourish on the tail of the R, the title font is unforgivably boring.

 

Published in February 2015 by Harper Voyager, this cover makes my point. I think this one looks sooo much better than the bleak version above. We can fully appreciate the detailing of all those cool weapons, while the deep green water on the face of the wave gives a sense of the power of the sea, even without the plucky Viking boat fighting up it. And the title font is far more appropriately eye-catching – altogether a much better version. It never fails to surprise me how much changing colours can affect the whole feel and tone of a design. This is my favourite.

 

This edition, published by Harper Voyager in June 2015, is another strong offering. This time around we are on the longship, alongside the heroes as they negotiate a tricky strait. I love the prow of the boat, the back of the protagonist and the ominous sky, giving a sense of tension. The title font is both appropriate and eye-catching – I really like this one.

 

Produced by Arqueiro in January 2017, this Portuguese edition chooses to focus on the characters rather than the setting. While I think it is well executed and I very much approve of the clean, uncluttered look of the cover – and the fact they choose to let us know that it’s the second book in the series. However, I find the stern-faced, armed female protagonist rather generic.

 

This Romanian edition, published by Nemira in April 2016 is another attractive, well-crafted offering. However I think the scale is wrong. The longship is beautiful – that gold edging of the sail looks fabulous – but it’s too small and the grandeur of that epic landscape is simply lost. I’m itching to apply a zoom option to this cover, which has so much going for it… Which one is your favourite?

Friday? Nope – TUESDAY Faceoff – The pyramids were built to last ten thousand years… – Brainfluffbookblog

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Yes – I know. I’m posting this one on the wrong day! But otherwise I’d miss out taking part and I love, love, love this meme which 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 currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is DESERT LANDSCAPES, so I’ve selected Pyramids – Book 7 of the Discworld series by the late, great Terry Pratchett.

 

This edition was produced by Corgi in July 1990. This one is my favourite by a long country mile, given that it was designed by the wonderful Josh Kirby and beautifully captures the sheer knockabout mayhem and humour of this, one of the earlier Discworld novels. Though I would give a whole lot for that textbox to disappear…

 

Published in 2008 by Harper, I suppose I should give them points for effort. At least you know this is a humorous novel by the positioning and type of font and the bright teal against the crimson background is eye-catching. You also know it’s set in Egypt. But frankly, I’m not convinced. There simply isn’t the energy and wit so evident in the previous, original cover and don’t get me started on that ugly blob…

 

This edition, published by Gollancz in January 2014, is a better effort that the previous one. I like the way the great pyramid is clearly affecting the surrounding landscape and the figure leaping up and down on the cliffs. I also very much like the way the title and author name has been handled. While I still don’t think that any of the more modern efforts come close to achieving the excellence of the Kirby cover, this at least doesn’t have me shaking my head in despair at how one of my alltime favourite series is now being packaged.

 

Produced by Piper in May 2015, this German edition has reprised the Kirby feel with this amazing camel, who looks as if he’s about to slobber all over the prospective reader as he gallops away from that lethal pyramid. I love the night-time feel, which gives a great sense of the coruscating lightning building up. My one grumble is that the font could be more playful and exciting. This one is a close contender for my favourite…

 

This Italian edition, published by Sonzogno in May 1994, is – like so many of the editions for this book – is referencing Kirby’s original artwork. I’m interested to see that in thumbnail, this title is still clearly visible. Needless to say, I really like this cover, even though the pyramid isn’t anywhere in sight. Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Day 115 on an Alien Planet – Book 1 of the Settler Chronicles series by Jeanette Bedard #Brainfluffbookreview #Day115onanAlienPlanetbookreview

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It was the cover that caught my eye on this one – and the very nifty title. It didn’t hurt that the author is an indie writer, as I know what a struggle it is to gain sufficient reviews to garner any kind of attention in the ocean that is Amazon.

A dishonourable discharge left Margo unable to find honest work on Earth. Signing onto a colonizing mission heading to a new world promised a fresh start. Or at least that’s what she’d thought. Strapped into a crashing colony ship, she realized how wrong she’d been. They hit the ground and the straight forward colonizing mission becomes a scramble for survival.

As you gather from the slightly shortened blurb, this is a colony world adventure where said colonisation plans have gone very badly wrong from the word go. I’m a sucker for these kinds of tales of survival – basically because it gives the author so much scope to take the story in all sorts of interesting directions. Bedard doesn’t disappoint with her vivid evocation of this bleak, airless environment, which nonetheless has been selected as suitable for this plucky group of pioneers to establish a foothold for humanity. The description and world building is believable and effective in producing a strong sense of reality without holding up the pace.

I really liked Margo as a protagonist. While having a troubled and eventful background, she is not too full of angst to be able to respond effectively in the challenging circumstances around her. There was a particular event that happened about a third of the way into the book that absolutely floored me – to the extent that I nearly stopped reading. However, I had an instinct that if I did, so I’d always wonder what happened next and I’m glad I continued. In the interests of providing a spoiler-free review. I’m not going to say more than that, but if you do happen to pick this one up, do be mindful that this is not the place to stop reading in disgust.

Any niggles? Well, there is just one. Part of the story is told through Margo’s journals, which I found more than a bit confusing because at no time did the viewpoint switch to 1st person and she isn’t the sort of character who would talk or think of herself in the third person. This did bother me for a while but as the tale was so genuinely engrossing and the stakes continued to become ever higher, it wasn’t a dealbreaker.

Of course, the difficulty in raising said stakes is that the climax has to give the reader sufficient reward or having stuck by the story in the expectation that the denouement is going to be worth it. I’m glad to say that Bedard managed to pull it off. This one has stayed with me since I finished reading it and I am keen to return to this isolated outpost of humanity to find out what happens next. So I shall certainly be tracking down the second book in the series. Recommended for fans of science fiction murder mysteries in dangerous settings. While I obtained an arc of Day 115 on an Alien Planet from the author via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Sunday Post – 7th April, 2019 #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 have just returned from another wonderful few days away at Bexhill-on-Sea with my sister-in-law on a writing retreat. She is working on her PhD thesis and I managed to add over 11,000 words to Mantivore Prey. We were back in the flat she had previously rented with the fabulous turret room overlooking the seascape as we wrote – such an amazing experience! We were very lucky and mostly had sunny, bright weather – although Wednesday was stormy with dramatic seas, showers, strong winds and regular rainbows, which we were able to watch shimmer across the skies, before disappearing.

I was in rather desperate need of a break – and this was what I got. I had a fabulous time that not only helped recharge me emotionally, but was enormously beneficial creatively.

Last week I read:
Breaking the Lore – Book 1 of the Inspector Paris Mystery series by Andy Redsmith
Inspector Nick Paris is a man of logic and whisky. So staring down at the crucified form of a murder victim who is fifteen centimetres tall leaves the seasoned detective at a loss… and the dead fairy is only the beginning. Suddenly the inspector is offering political asylum to dwarves, consulting with witches, getting tactical advice from elves and taking orders from a chain-smoking talking crow who, technically, outranks him.
This is great fun! I thoroughly enjoyed Nick’s laconic humour and his struggle to get his head around all the magical creatures suddenly pitching up on his patch in a smart Manchester. Review to follow.

 

Oracle’s War – Book 2 of the Olympus Trilogy by David Hair and Cath Mayo
When Prince Odysseus is sent on a quest to recover his family honour, he’s led to Delos where a mysterious new prophecy has captivated the gods. Caught in a tangled web of intrigue, he discovers that this prophecy is tied to his own destiny and the fate of his patron goddess, Athena.
I loved the first book in this series, Athena’s Champion, and this one triumphantly continues with the same panache and wonderful worldbuilding – this is fast becoming one of my alltime favourite series… Review to follow.

 

My post last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of Murder Served Cold – Book 6 of the Langham and Dupré series

Many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog – I will catch up with you as soon as I can, so thank you also for your patience. In the meantime, have a wonderful week!