Category Archives: science fiction

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #15

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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

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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

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #14

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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.

A Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate – and if you don’t, then I hope you are enjoying the holiday weekend. The weather the last two days has been glorious – lots of sunshine and for once, there isn’t a wind blowing. I just hope it holds for the rest of the long weekend so everyone can appreciate it.

I am steadily increasing my activity level, though I have had to tweak it a bit, thanks to my lovely friend Mhairi, who suggested how I could make it more gradual. My biggest problem is my very sore shoulder where I had my last booster vaccination – at night it prevents me from getting back to sleep so I’m only getting 3 or 4 hours a night. I then fall asleep after breakfast, finally surfacing at around midday. But that is far from ideal and is really hampering my recovery. I am hoping to find ways around it before I contact the Dr as I’m conscious that the NHS is under huge pressure. Though that didn’t stop them swinging into action magnificently earlier this week when my brother-in-law was admitted to hospital with a blood clot on the lung. After two days on oxygen, thank goodness he’s now at home and recovering.

I have new glasses! And luckily, although it was something of a challenge to peer at blurry old me in the mirror while choosing the frames, I do like the look of them. What is a shock, is what a huge improvement I’ve noticed in my eyesight since putting them on. I was terribly overdue, but simply hadn’t had the energy to face the test and all the messing around with lenses and whatnot that fitting varifocals takes. Himself is not very well – he went down with an almighty cold last week. At least we hope it was a cold – the lateral tests said so. But I’m aware that they aren’t all that accurate with some of the new variants of covid. He had a couple of days off work with a terrible, hacking cough and feeling absolutely wiped out. He is now on annual leave, and although he is better, he still hasn’t fully recovered. Though I’m aware that he’s exhausted. Having to look after me for 14 months, on top of keeping the house clean, doing the chores including the washing and all the shopping and cooking, as well as keeping a demanding job going is a constant grind. I just hope that sometime soon I can begin to lighten his load.

This week I’ve read:-

Tainted – Book 4 of The Taellaneth series by Vanessa Nelson
Woken from sleep by intruders, Arrow is shocked to realise that humans have managed to break through her wards. This was no simple break-in. It quickly becomes clear this was just part of a series, and the Erith’s ancient enemies may be involved.

Worse than that, the peace treaty that holds shape-changers, humans and Erith from all-out war is on the brink of collapse. Arrow is once more in the middle of a deadly power struggle.
I am really loving this unusual fantasy crime series. Nelson is a talented capable author, whose ability to set the wrongdoings Arrow investigates within a world with a High Fantasy flavour really makes this one stand out from the crowd. Arrow is also a strong protagonist with lots of baggage after years of neglect and abuse – but is trying to come to terms with it. This adventure took her in a different direction, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I just wish it wasn’t the penultimate book in the series…:( 10/10

Murder at the Car Rally – Book 3 of the Lady Sleuth Murder Mystery series by Sonia Parin
When Evie Parker, Countess of Woodridge, decides to spend a day in London unaccompanied she has no idea she will encounter the one person she has hoped to spend the rest of her life avoiding. There’s no escaping Isabel Fitzpatrick’s exuberant energy and desire to show off her new husband. However, the encounter sets off a series of events and brings trouble right to Evie’s doorstep.

Even when Evie manages to return to her country house in Berkshire, she finds the only way to avoid her childhood friend is to flee by joining a car rally group, but trouble pursues her and now a man has died under suspicious circumstances…
I’ve cut short the rather chatty blurb on this entertaining 1920s murder mystery adventure. I’ve grown rather fond of Evie – and found this latest instalment particularly effective. I especially liked the depiction of the ‘bright young things’ who end up being at the heart of the story. There is also plenty of humour in amongst the whodunit, which I appreciated. 8/10

The Body in the Transept – Book 1 of the Dorothy Martin series by Jeanne M. Dam
Dorothy Martin, new widow moved to England, enjoys the Christmas service in Sherebury Cathedral until she trips over the body of Canon Billings. With handsome Chief Constable Alan Nesbitt, neighbor Jane, cat Emmy, and amusing hats, she sorts through suspects: pompous dishonest verger Wallingford, fired student Nigel, philandering George – to the truth.

I read a previous offering of this author and was sufficiently impressed to give this established series a whirl. I very much enjoyed seeing a small cathedral city (which seems to have an uncanny resemblance to Salisbury) through the eyes of an American woman of a certain age. Dorothy is a slightly spiky, amusing protagonist and while the whodunit itself isn’t particularly complicated, the detailed descriptions of the city and the characters kept me turning the pages during a particularly wretched night. 8/10

NOVELLA Barbary by Vonda N. McIntyre
Even before the space transport Outrigger docked on research station Einstein, Barbary had heard about an alien ship that was moving into the solar system.

Some believed the vessel was drifting aimlessly; others were sure it was under conscious control. Either way, the team of scientists aboard Outrigger were prepared to investigate.

Their mission did not involve a passenger named Barbary. Yet she —and more importantly, the pet cat she smuggled on board—were about to play key roles in mans first contact with aliens…
This space opera children’s adventure story, first published in 1986, absolutely charmed me. Many thanks to … the person who featured this on their blog recently, where it caught my eye and encouraged me to get hold of it. And sorry for not remembering who you are! But it’s a delight. Barbary is a sympathetic protagonist and I was thoroughly rooting for her to succeed in her determination to take the only thing that really matters into space with her. I just wish it was longer! 8/10

AUDIOBOOK Dark Currents – Book 2 of the Emperor’s Edge Collection Books 1-3 by Lindsay Buroker
It’s been three months since former enforcer Amaranthe Lokdon and the notorious assassin Sicarius thwarted kidnappers and saved the emperor’s life. The problem? Nobody knows they were responsible for this good deed. Worse, they’re being blamed for the entire scheme. With enforcers and bounty hunters stalking them, and the emperor nursing a personal hatred for Sicarius, it’s going to be hard to earn exoneration.

When Amaranthe’s team discovers mutilated bodies in the city aqueducts and a mysterious illness incapacitates thousands of citizens, she and Sicarius see an opportunity to solve the mystery and prove their loyalty. But they’ll have to defeat vengeful shamans, man-eating predators, and deadly mechanical constructs, all while dodging imperial soldiers who would rather kill them than accept their help. Nobody said exoneration would be easy.
Buroker’s rollicking writing style, full of energy and humour – along with a hatful of unexpected plot twists now makes her one of my favourite authors. It has taken me a while to fully bond with this latest crew of misfits and troublemakers – but I found this adventure engrossing. And while I don’t like Sicarius at all, I was delighted to spend more time with Booksy and of course, our feisty heroine, Amaranthe. 8/10

Vengeance in Death – Book 6 of the In Death series by J.D. Robb
He is an expert with the latest technology…a madman with the mind of a genius and the heart of a killer. He quietly stalks his prey. Then he haunts the police with cryptic riddles about the crimes he is about to commit–always solved moments too late to save his victims’ lives. Police lieutenant Eve Dallas found the first victim butchered in his own home. The second lost his life in a vacant luxury apartment. The two men had little in common. Both suffered unspeakable torture before their deaths. And both had ties to an ugly secret of ten years past–a secret shared by none other than Eve’s new husband, Roarke.

I’m generally not a huge fan of murder mysteries featuring mad-but-brilliant serial killers. However I have a soft spot for Eve Dallas, and as Himself has bought alllll the books in this very long-running series, I thought I’d continue to work my way through it while I’m on a Crime reading spree. As ever with these books, the pages flew by as I found it hard to put down. I do enjoy the fact that Eve and Roarke have such a very passionate relationship as a married couple. 8/10

This week I have posted:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Stringers of Chris Panatier

Review of The Long Covid Self-Help Guide: Practical Ways to Manage Symptoms by the Oxford Long Covid Clinic

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 Stringers by Chris Panatier #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Stringersbookreview

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I’d like to claim that I read the blurb and thought the concept cool and witty. But the two things that induced me to pick it up was the fabulous cover and that Angry Robot are the publishers. I’ve read enough of their offerings to know that I’m generally in for an interesting, well-written read.

BLURB: Knowledge can get you killed. Especially if you have no idea what it means.

Ben is NOT a genius, but he can spout facts about animals and wristwatches with the best of experts. He just can’t explain how he knows any of it. He also knows about the Chime. What it is or why it’s important he couldn’t say. But this knowledge is about to get him in a whole heap of trouble.

After he and his best friend Patton are abducted by a trash-talking, flesh-construct alien bounty hunter, Ben finds out just how much he is worth… and how dangerous he can be. Hopefully Patton and a stubborn jar of pickles will be enough to help him through. Because being able to describe the mating habits of Brazilian bark lice isn’t going to save them.

REVIEW: Panatier is clearly a gifted writer with an unusual way of looking at the world. I haven’t read his debut novel, The Phlebotomist, as my book blogging buddies confirmed that it is on the horror side of dark – and right now, I cannot deal with that. But once I’m better, it’s definitely on my ‘To Read’ list. This one, however, is right up my alley. Poor old Ben is on track to be one of the most unusual of this year’s protagonists that I’ll encounter. He’s afflicted with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the mating habits of insects, along with all sorts of other details regarding their lives. I learnt – thanks to one of the many, many footnotes – about the Australian Peacock spider, known as the ‘sparklemuffin’, which has now become a term of endearment in our household. Look it up – it is the most fantastical little creature.

The trouble is, that from the time he could talk, Ben is driven to share these facts, along with his other hyper-obsession about watches, with anyone and everyone who’ll listen. As well as those who won’t. It doesn’t win him friends, or even make him a particularly nice person. Although, he has got a friend – dear Patton, who has to be one of the kindest people I’ve encountered in a book, without coming across as unbearable. Indeed, Patton insists on accompanying Ben when he goes to meet up with someone who professes to suffer from the same problem. Quite rightly, Patton suspects a trap and wants to be there to look out for his buddy.

It doesn’t come as a massive surprise when they’re abducted by an alien, who is going to sell Ben for the contents in his head. There is also a parallel narrative about an alien pipe-fitter called Naecia, who has suffered the same fate. The resulting adventure takes us on a familiar journey with nasty, destructive aliens and a bunch of plucky protagonists trying to save the galaxy. So far, so familiar. What sets this one apart is Panatier’s quirky writing style, riddled with jokey allusions and footnotes, many of which are genuinely funny. Some… not so much. I enjoyed much of the humour and a lot of the nerdy scientific stuff – this one is on the harder side of sci fi genre – and all of the character development, which is outstanding.

I did feel that the pace stuttered a tad about two-thirds of the way through. Some of the humour by then was a bit annoyingly predictable, while I felt the techie details around what was going wrong and how to fix it got a tad too involved. However, Panatier managed to land the ending in a wonderfully poignant way that will stick in my memory for a very long time. So although this wasn’t a flawless read, it’s one that will definitely stay with me. And I’m looking forward to seeing what this clever, original writer does next. While I obtained an arc of Stringers from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #13

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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.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheKaijuPresevationSocietybookreview

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I enjoyed the quirky originality of Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series and absolutely loved his futuristic crime Lock In series – see my review of Lock In and Head On. And while I’m still unsure about the ending of the series, I also found his Interdependency series an exhilarating read – see my reviews of The Collapsing Empire, The Consuming Fire and The Last Emperox. So I was delighted to be approved for this intriguing standalone adventure.

TRUNCATED BLURB: 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…

REVIEW: In the Afterword, Scalzi makes it plain that he had a difficult time during the Lockdown wrestling to write a far darker book that was scheduled for release. And he was hit hard by Covid, too. So when this idea popped into his head as a far lighter tale, he went with it. I’m very glad he did. I’ve been in Long Covid hell for the last year and I’m all over anything that provides escape from my daily grind where I’m battling to get well, again.

Jamie is a thoroughly likeable protagonist and as our first-person narrator, he gives a nicely sardonic commentary without coming across as ‘too up himself’ as they say around here. Indeed, it is refreshing to have a main character who is the least qualified person in the story, who doesn’t then go on to reveal that he has some kind of hidden power. Unless it’s the knack of getting along with his co-workers and fitting right in very quickly. But then, he’s had a rough old time of it during the Lockdown and isn’t about to take for granted the basics like warm clean accommodation, food and medical care if he needs it. Or… is our plucky protagonist a she? I really appreciate how Scalzi leaves it up to the reader to decide the gender of this s/hero – after all, that’s the coolest thing about books, isn’t it? That the pictures engendered by the story are sharply personal to each of us.

While the tone is breezy and Scalzi himself talks about this book being a pop song – that doesn’t mean he has skimped on the science. My nerdy side enjoyed reading the discussions about how the ginormous kaiju are possible and I appreciated that the eco-system invented around these huge creatures is detailed and feels plausible throughout. As for the adventure that kicks off when a mother kaiju comes under threat, along with her brood of eggs – parts of that felt cosily familiar in a good way.

Throughout, there are enjoyable shafts of wit and humour. Even our greedy, narcissistic villain refers to his own monologuing as he explains his motives and the full extent of his wrongdoing during the denouement. I was grinning throughout that scene. All in all, this is a delightful piece of escapism that had me wishing it would go on longer. Highly recommended for those who need a break from the ongoing awfulness in our daily News. The ebook arc copy of The Kaiju Preservation Society was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #11

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

Today is a rather grim anniversary. It’s a year ago today that Himself was notified that he tested positive for Covid-19 – and though we weren’t to know it at the time, from that day on our lives have completely changed. We both went down with the illness hard, though Himself was sicker than I was and avoided going into hospital by a whisker, as his sleep apnea caused some complications. I felt lucky in that I didn’t struggle to breathe, but instead had to cope with muscle pain and complete exhaustion. And unfortunately, once I recovered from the illness itself, those spells of utter fatigue have never left me. I am also suffering a range of other long-lasting symptoms, including nasal drip, tinnitus and a swollen thyroid, but frankly they pale into insignificance against the mind-numbing exhaustion that leaves me scarcely able to move. The worst spell was in the second half of August where I lay in bed for a fortnight feeling like a zombie – and once I felt well enough to get out of bed without shaking, I found that I had lost a great deal of ground. Indeed, I’m still unable to do things that were possible before that episode.

Since then, I’ve been using the Pacing method recommended for ME sufferers, seeing a reflexologist, taking recommended vitamin supplements and being very careful about what what I eat. At times – around Christmas, for example – I’ve made progress when my energy levels seem to be improving, only to be once more struck down for several days when I could barely move out of bed. For the majority of this last year, my main daily achievement has been having a shower and getting dressed, though there have been extended periods when even that was completely beyond me. Thank goodness for books and TV – I think I would have gone mad if I hadn’t had other worlds to escape into.

Fortunately, this last week has been a good one. Our grandson stayed over, which is always a treat – and we were thrilled to hear that he got 74% for his last assignment. He is really enjoying his college course and working hard on the next module – it’s lovely to see him so enthusiastic. On Monday, we visited the local garden centre for a cup of tea and to do some shopping which was another milestone – we hadn’t been there since the beginning of August. I spent Wednesday, Friday and Saturday resting up, as on Thursday my lovely sister-in-law and my niece visited. It was wonderful to see them again, as I hadn’t seen Celia since we were in Bexhill together on our writing retreat back in October 2020. It seems like a lifetime ago.

The other bright spot has been the quality of the books I’ve been reading this week – they have all been exceptional and come very highly recommended.

This week I’ve read:-

AUDIOBOOK – The Clifftop Murders – Book 2 of the Dorset Crime series by Rachel McLean
DCI Lesley Clarke is settling into her new job in Dorset’s Major Crimes Unit, and becoming accustomed to a slower pace of life. But then she’s called in to solve the murder of a woman with links to Lesley’s new girlfriend.

Has Lesley made a grave error of judgement? Can she track down the killer or does she already know her? And how will Lesley’s new colleagues react when she tells them she’s dating a suspect?
I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, and once again I was quickly drawn into the story. The bonus is that as I was born and brought up in the area, I know all the place names that get sprinkled around, which gives me a clear picture of the setting. 8/10

The Face of the Enemy – Book 23 of the Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
The Necromantic Wars are over, but there is no peace. In the aftermath of the struggle, long-held grudges are boiling over and conflicts are breaking out. The monarchs want to settle border disputes, the aristocrats want to impose their will on monarchs and peasants alike, the commoners want freedom and justice and the magical communities want to rule all or else separate themselves from the mundanes. And most of this chaos is being orchestrated by Emily’s mentor, the sorcerer Void. He believes the only path to salvation for the Allied Lands is to make himself the undisputed ruler of the world.

After discovering the truth – too late – Emily is on the run, blamed for the disorder by friend and foe alike. With a handful of allies by her side, Emily must find a safe place to gather herself and strike back before it is too late to save what remains of the Allied Lands. And yet, as she flees through lands plagued by civil wars and rebellious nobility, hunted by powerful sorcerers, aristocrats and rebels who want to kill her or use her for their own purposes, she is forced to accept it may not be possible to save everything and to realize, as much as she might wish to deny it, that her mentor might be right. And yet, she also knows the path to hell is paved with good intentions…
This is the penultimate book in this wide-ranging series that has given me a ringside seat into a politically complicated world that has been rocked by Emily’s inventions. I continue to be impressed at how deftly Nuttall manages to produce a very powerful heroine, who nonetheless has real vulnerabilities so that she is often at real risk. And I’m putting off reading the final book in this adventure, as I’ve become very fond of her. 9/10

Assassin’s Noon – Book 4 of the Ageless Mysteries series by Vanessa Nelson
One of the city’s wealthiest and most powerful residents is found dead in his own home. Murder is suspected, but the house was supposed to be absolutely secure against any intruder. Thea is faced with a hostile group of household servants inside the house and demands for swift justice outside its walls.

Working with Mage Niath, it doesn’t take long to realise that it’s not a straightforward death and the dead man has ties to opponents they have faced before. Can Thea uncover the truth of the death before the tensions in the city spill over and more deaths occur?
I pre-ordered this one – something I don’t do very often. But Vanessa Nelson is now one of my favourite authors, thanks to this classy fantasy. A police procedural set in a medieval city where young Thea slakes her thirst for justice by joining the Watch – and puts her unique talents to work in catching killers and law breakers. And once again, this one didn’t disappoint. 10/10

The Chapel in the Woods – Book 11 of the Jack Haldean Murder Mystery series by Dolores Gordon-Smith

Enjoying a weekend in the country with his cousin Isabelle, Jack Haldean is intrigued to learn that the neighbouring estate of Birchen Bower has been bought by wealthy Canadian businessman Tom Jago. Determined to restore the place to its former glory, Jago has invited the local villagers to a fete to celebrate the grand re-opening of the 17th century family chapel.

But the afternoon’s entertainment is cut short by the discovery of a body, mauled to death as if by a wild animal. Previously owned by the eccentric Cayden family, Birchen Bower has a long and colourful history, and is rumoured to be haunted. Is there any truth to the ancient family legend of the Jaguar Princess . . . and could she have claimed another victim? And what’s happened to Jago’s employee, Derek Martin and his wife, who have disappeared without trace . . . along with Mrs Jago’s diamonds? Refusing to believe the wild tales of man-eating beasts prowling the grounds, Jack sets out to uncover the truth. But then a second badly-ravaged body is discovered . . . Could the rumours be true after all?
I enjoy a good murder mystery, especially one set in the 1920s – and this is one is a cut above the average by quite a way. The plotting and steady unspooling of clues that make sense after the denouement put me in mind of Agatha Christie – and I don’t sling around those comparisons lightly. Full review to follow. 10/10

AUDIOBOOK – Invader – Sequence 1, Book 2 of the Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh
Nearly two centuries after the starship Phoenix disappeared, leaving an isolated colony of humans on the world of the atevi, it unexpectedly returns, threatening the stability of both atevi and human governments. With the situation fast becoming critical, Bren Cameron, the brilliant, young paidhi to the court of the atevi is recalled from Mospheira where he has just undergone surgery. Upon his return to the mainland, he Cameron finds that his government has sent in his paidhi-successor, Deana Hanks—representative of a dangerous faction on Mospheira who hate the atevi.

Haunted by the threat of assassination, Bren realizes his only hope may be to communicate with the Phoenix as the spokesman of the atevi—an action which may cut him off for good from his own species. Yet if he doesn’t take this desperate action, he may be forced to witness the destruction of the already precarious balance of world power.
There are books which I’ve found make riveting listening – and this extraordinary series is one of them. The writing is dense and at times, when Bren is stressed, his thoughts can whirl in circular patterns – which is very realistic. But when reading them off the page can get a tad tedious. Daniel May Thomas’s brilliant narration brings all that tension and crisis to life so that I’ve been absolutely rapt listening to this adventure. Very highly recommended if you like your sci fi nuanced and layered. 10/10

The Battle of Hollow Jimmy – Book 2 of Shoot the Humans First series by Becky Black
Maiga wants to vanish. She wants to leave Hollow Jimmy before someone recognises her and remembers her part in the events that led to the human race being all but wiped out. Though the station is a sanctuary, she knows there’s a new home elsewhere in the darkness. But others have plans too, for Maiga and for Hollow Jimmy. Their fates are about to be intertwined.

Captain Bara wants revenge. Perhaps that will silence the noises only she can hear aboard her ship, the Trebuchet. A ship whose name is becoming a curse to those who would like to see humanity finished off once and for all. For Bara, Hollow Jimmy is not a sanctuary. It’s a fortress. It’s a place for her to start a war.
This space station adventure is another gem in a duology that deserves to be far better known. I was left reeling after the twist ending of Shoot the Humans First – and gave myself a bit of time to process it before diving into this one. It is a tense page-turner that has stayed in the memory. Black’s super-power is writing awkward yet sympathetic protagonists – and I liked the fact that the villain was also a woman. Highly recommended. 10/10

This week I have posted:
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of For the Murder – Book 1 of The Murder series by Gabrielle Ash

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.

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #10

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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.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The This by Adam Roberts #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheThisbookreview

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A book by Adam Roberts is always worth reading – see my reviews of The Real-Town Murders and Yellow Blue Tibia. Being the shallow sort, first the cover snagged my attention, then when I saw the author I immediately requested it.

TRUNCATED BLURB: The This is the new social media platform everyone is talking about. Allow it to be injected into the roof of your mouth and it will grow into your brain, allow you to connect with others without even picking up your phone. Its followers are growing. Its detractors say it is a cult. But for one journalist, hired to do a puff-piece interview with their CEO, it will change the world forever.

Adan just wants to stay at home with his smart-companion Elegy – phone, friend, confidante, sex toy. But when his mother flees to Europe and joins a cult, leaving him penniless, he has to enlist in the army – move that changes his life forever…

REVIEW: This is another offering with a rather chatty blurb that you’d do well to avoid as it gives away far too much of the story. Although it also manages to be very misleading, because it concentrates on the plot, rather than the narrative engine of the book which isn’t the storyline.

Most novels provide stories that take their readers away to other places, peopled by sympathetic characters with whom we can identify. Sometimes it provides pure escape and entertainment, other times the story provides a warning message, or commentary on current inequalities – such as George Orwell’s 1984. However, there are novels who are powered by an idea, or theory and the story is tailored to support that notion – the other example that immediately springs to my mind is Jo Walton’s masterly and very enjoyable Thessaly trilogy, which explores Plato’s theory of an ideal society as proposed in his book, Republic – see my review of The Just City. And this book is another one that falls into that category – this time looking at Hegel’s philosophy in amongst other ideas.

That might sound dry and unappealing – and in less able hands that might be the case. But Roberts is a remarkable writer who deserves to be far better known for his talent and versatility. Few others could get away with flourishes like the opening passage at the start of the book, which charts the various incarnations of a single person, circling around the phrase, In the Bardo subject and object are the same thing… While the characters and the storylines matter and certainly had me turning the pages to see what would happen next, they also support or challenge the ideas that Roberts wants to explore. And my mention of 1984 wasn’t merely incidental – there is also a homage to the book in amongst the closing chapters that is both entertaining and slightly horrifying.

The notion of social media is thoroughly examined – what does it mean to be part of world-wide group such as Twitter. And what would happen if those who spend their time locked onto their phones tweeting were offered the opportunity to become part of a new cult craze called The This. Better still, to belong you don’t even need a phone – a small implant is inserted in the roof of your mouth and you’re good to go. You can be part of the hive mind of The This 24/7 – and never alone, again. Roberts explores the idea of loneliness and isolation versus the lure of belonging – although I don’t wholly agree with his premise or his conclusions, given he clearly has very fixed ideas about the impact of social media. But that doesn’t stop this book being a fascinating read that still has me mulling over the ideas it tosses out as the story rackets along at a gripping pace. Very highly recommended for those who enjoy their science fiction laced with philosophical ideas along with a very readable story. While I obtained an arc of The This from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Seven Mercies – Book 2 of the Seven Devils duology by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May #BrainfluffNETGALLEYreview #SevenMerciesbookreview

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I absolutely loved the first book in this dystopian space opera adventure, where a brave band of women from all walks of life attempt to overthrow a thoroughly horrible regime – see my review of Seven Devils. Would I enjoy this concluding slice of the story?

TRUNCATED BLURB: After an ambush leaves the Novantae resistance in tatters, the survivors scatter across the galaxy. Wanted by two great empires, the bounty on any rebel’s head is enough to make a captor filthy rich. And the seven devils? Biggest score of them all. To avoid attacks, the crew of Zelus scavenge for supplies on long-abandoned Tholosian outposts.

Not long after the remnants of the rebellion settle briefly on Fortuna, Ariadne gets a message with unimaginable consequences that forces the seven devils to act. Because if they don’t – there won’t be anything left to fight for…

REVIEW: My advice is not to read the blurb, as it’s far too chatty. I was very glad that I hadn’t, because when the hammer fell I was both surprised and horrified at the enormity of the game-changing twist that forces the devils back into the fray.

What sucked me into the first book is the energetic writing and gung-ho heedlessness that most of women displayed in the face of danger. At the start of Seven Mercies, however, the rebel group are reeling. They have suffered a terrible betrayal that has struck at the very heart of their resistance movement, and they are all counting the cost. The fallout from this catastrophic reverse makes for grim reading, given that it put the eek! in bleak. Now my inability to cope with well written devastation that spans a galaxy is far more down to me and my ongoing battle with Long Covid, rather than any failure of the writing. But do be aware – the dynamic energy that was the hallmark of Seven Devils doesn’t really get going until about 40% of the way through Seven Mercies.

Inevitably, in an ensemble narrative, there are favourites. There was no one I disliked, other than the truly odious villain, Damocles – and even he is also pitiable at times, having also been on the receiving end of his father’s ruthless cruelty. But the highlights for me were the toxic and layered relationship between Eris and her psychotic brother, Damocles, which was powerfully portrayed with surprising depth, given how much is going on throughout this book. And Ariadne’s poignant story – the young girl’s desperate loneliness as she tends to the powerful A.I., Oracle, is also beautifully conveyed, especially at a key moment in the narrative that nicely heightens the tension.

In the meantime we go on learning more about each woman and her backstory, which I enjoyed. I’ve seen this book promoted as a Feminist space opera adventure – and it’s a label I find a bit misleading. It actually features a group of desperate rebels who decide to use their skills and influence to oppose a shockingly brutal regime – who just happen to all be women. They aren’t proposing Feminist principles, or trying to change the society to be more mindful of women’s needs because the Tholosian rulers treat everyone – men, women and children – as if none of them matter.

Overall, this is a powerful and effective conclusion to the story and certainly a must-read if you enjoyed Seven Devils and your jaw dropped in disbelief at that shocking ending. The ebook arc copy of Seven Mercies was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10