Category Archives: space opera

SUNDAY POST – 29th January, 2023 #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 they’ve read and share what they have got up to during the last week.

I really should know better… Last week I was celebrating the fact that I’d not had a Long Covid relapse since November – and from Wednesday through to Friday I was back in bed, again. The good news is that it wasn’t longer and although I felt a bit washed out yesterday, I wasn’t shaky and sick – which is a good result.

It’s been another tough week, what with one thing and another – but the light shining in amongst the dark is that my son and his girlfriend have just moved from L.A. to Germany, which is so much closer to us here in the UK. And the reason why is that Zoe, having had a fabulous season playing with the Texas Longhorn’s volleyball team that came top of their league, has now signed up with Munster and played her first professional match against Aachen last night. I don’t know how that went, as I’m writing this on Saturday morning – but my thoughts are with her.

We are just emerging from over a fortnight of freezing nights and bitterly cold days – though at least the rain finally stopped. It’s now slowly warming up – it’s been a treat not to have to thaw out the car before leaping in to ferry the grandsons to various places, as the taxicab of Gran and Papa is in great demand. If only we could charge them – that would set up our pensions into our old age!!

Last week, I got more reading done, particularly audiobooks as lying in bed and listening was all I was fit for. You’ll notice that apart from one Netgalley read, all the books I turned to were by trusted, favourite authors – I wanted the comfort of a solidly written, escapist read and they all delivered, bless them. Thank goodness for books – I’d have gone raving into the night years ago if it wasn’t for my love of reading!

Last week I read:-

Cast Adrift – Book 1 of the Cast Adrift series by Christopher G. Nuttall
Five hundred years ago, the human race discovered it was not alone in the universe when Earth was invaded and forcibly integrated by the Alphan Empire. Over the years, humans have grown used to their position within the empire, serving as soldiers and spacers for alien masters as well as building a place in the universe for themselves. But now, in the aftermath of a violent interstellar war that shattered the power of the Alphans, humanity has rediscovered its pride. Humanity wants to be free.

Facing a war they will lose even if they win, the Alphans give humanity its independence once again. Humanity stands alone in a hostile universe, facing alien threats that regard humans as nothing more than servants – or weaklings, easy meat for armed conquest. And if the human race cannot learn to stand on its own two feet, without its masters, it will rapidly discover that it has traded one set of masters for another …

… And if they lose the coming war, all hope of independence will die with it.
Nuttall is one of my favourite authors. I loved his School of Magic series, as he is clearly a history buff and likes to explore possibilities based on real historical incidents and the progression of the series is smart and inventive. This is a classic alien invasion story – with a bit of a twist. Thoroughly enjoyable and I’m looking forward to tucking into the next one. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK – Hidden Truth – Book 2 of the Truth series by Dawn Cook
Alissa never believed in magic. But then she went to the Hold, a legendary fortress where human Keepers once learned magic from enigmatic Masters. Under the tutelage of the last surviving Master, Alissa discovered that she had inherited her father’s magical ability.

But the Hold is ruled by Bailic, the renegade Keeper who seized the First Truth, a book of magic he will use to harness the might of the city of the dead and wreak a war of total devastation. The book has thwarted Bailic’s every attempt to access it, while it continually calls to Alissa—who must summon all her will to resist it. For if she gives in to the First Truth’s ultimate power and knowledge, she will be utterly changed—and the man she loves could be lost to her forever.
This is a series I discovered on Audible before I realised that Dawn Cook is also the pen name of urban fantasy author Kim Harrison – and it shows in the smart character progression and magnificently nasty villain. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this book, though I do find the simpering, ringleted female on the cover rather annoying, given it’s supposed to be Alissa, who isn’t remotely like that. That said, I’m looking forward to tucking into the next book in the series as I can’t wait to discover what happens next. 9/10

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Fairies – Book 1 of the Emily Wilde series by Heather Fawcett
Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world’s first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party–or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.

So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, get in the middle of Emily’s research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.

But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones–the most elusive of all faeries–lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she’ll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all–her own heart.
This book is essentially Emily’s journal as she undertakes a field trip in order to discover more about the mysterious Hidden Ones in order to complete her encyclopaedia. I love her ongoing grumpiness and her narrow focus on her studies – as well as her regular rants about Wendell. While aspects of this plot are entirely predictable, I wasn’t sure some of the major characters were actually going to survive. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK – Diplomatic Immunity – Book 13 of the Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold
A rich Komarran merchant fleet has been impounded at Graf Station, in distant Quaddiespace, after a bloody incident on the station docks involving a security officer from the convoy’s Barrayaran military escort. Lord Miles Vorkosigan of Barrayar and his wife, Lady Ekaterin, have other things on their minds, such as getting home in time to attend the long-awaited births of their first children. But when duty calls in the voice of Barrayar’s Emperor Gregor, Miles, Gregor’s youngest Imperial Auditor (a special high-level troubleshooter) has no choice but to answer.

Waiting on Graf Station are diplomatic snarls, tangled loyalties, old friends, new enemies, racial tensions, lies and deceptions, mysterious disappearances, and a lethal secret with wider consequences than even Miles anticipates: a race with time for life against death in horrifying new forms. The downside of being a troubleshooter comes when trouble starts shooting back…
I read the whole series longer ago than I care to recall – but do remember that while I always enjoyed Miles and his madcap adventures, it was the later books after his Admiral Naismith days that I particularly loved. So picked this one up on a bit of a whim – and found it utterly gripping. I’d forgotten enough of the twisting plot that I once more was engrossed – as well as being impressed all over again by the sheer quality of the writing. I’ll be listening to more of this series, which has certainly stood the test of time and reminds me why this author has won so many awards for her writing. 10/10

Range of Ghosts – Book 1 of the Eternal Sky series by Elizabeth Bear
Temur, grandson of the Great Khan, is walking away from a battlefield where he was left for dead. All around lie the fallen armies of his cousin and his brother, who made war to rule the Khaganate. Temur is now the legitimate heir by blood to his grandfather’s throne, but he is not the strongest. Going into exile is the only way to survive his ruthless cousin.

Once-Princess Samarkar is climbing the thousand steps of the Citadel of the Wizards of Tsarepheth. She was heir to the Rasan Empire until her father got a son on a new wife. Then she was sent to be the wife of a Prince in Song, but that marriage ended in battle and blood. Now she has renounced her worldly power to seek the magical power of the wizards. These two will come together to stand against the hidden cult that has so carefully brought all the empires of the Celadon Highway to strife and civil war through guile and deceit and sorcerous power.

Bear is another favourite author – and this stunning first book in this epic fantasy series is a gem that deserves to be better known. I was immediately swept up in the savage aftermath of a terrible battle and couldn’t put this one down until the final scene, as the vivid writing and charismatic characters held me throughout. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – The Princess Paradigm by Lindsay Buroker
Then a fearsome warrior from the human empire arrives, a supposed diplomat. Mrothgar is tattooed, muscled, and looks like he’d rather slay elves than befriend them, but he takes an interest in Hysithea. He invites her to accompany him back to his land to visit its great libraries.

As an academic and a historian, Hysithea is tantalized by the offer, but she’s studied his language and overhears his true intent:
Mrothgar is there to gather intelligence on the elves as his emperor prepares an invasion force to conquer them. Hysithea has no choice but to join him, hoping to spy and find a way to sabotage the invasion. Her people need her, and this is her chance to atone for the past.

But Mrothgar is smarter than she realized, and those muscles and tattoos are more intriguing than they should be. Against her wishes, Hysithea finds herself drawn to him. And that’s a problem. She can’t save her people if she falls in love with the man who wants to conquer them.

The Princess Paradigm is set after the events of The Elf Tangent, and brings in a few familiar characters, but it is a complete stand-alone fantasy romance novel (no cliffhangers!) and can be read on its own.
I’ll be honest – if I had to judge this one by its blurb alone, then I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. But… it’s Lindsay Buroker, people! And besides, I’ve already listened to the wonderfully entertaining The Elf Tangent, so I knew how much romance versus fantasy adventure I was getting. And it didn’t disappoint. I love the world with its interesting backstory about the Elvish curse so recently lifted and how that is affecting the humans and their own complex politics. This was often funny, yet also poignant and I loved that Epilogue. I do hope Buroker revisits this beguiling world, as I want more. 9/10

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 22nd January, 2023

As you can see, it wasn’t a good week for blogging, or much else – come to think of it. Hoping this week will be a better one and wishing you all a happy, healthy week😊.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Children of Memory – Book 3 of the Children of Time series by Adrian Tchaikovsky #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #ChildrenofMemorybookreview

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I was blown away by Children of Time see my review, which I think is one of the best terraforming adventures I’ve ever read. So I was especially keen to read Children of Ruin, which I didn’t think was so successful, though that was partly because it was extremely ambitious – see my review. It goes without saying that Children of Memory is one of my must-reads of the year – for starters, I was intrigued to see where Tchaikovsky was going with this story and how many of his highly unusual cast in this series would appear.

BLURB: Earth is failing. In a desperate bid to escape, the spaceship Enkidu and its captain, Heorest Holt, carry its precious human cargo to a potential new Eden. Generations later, this fragile colony has managed to survive, eking out a hardy existence. Yet life is tough, and much technological knowledge has been lost.

Then Liff, Holt’s granddaughter, hears whispers that the strangers in town aren’t from neighbouring farmland. That they possess unparalleled technology – and that they’ve arrived from another world. But not all questions are so easily answered, and their price may be the colony itself.

REVIEW: I loved the early section of the book which quickly drew me in. Liff is a delightful and sympathetic character, who is just at the age when questioning the status quo is what she should be doing. Unfortunately, this isn’t a society where any form of dissent is welcomed, particularly where her uncle is concerned. Sometimes, this merely causes a bit of family tension, other times her questions are met with blows and punishment. Time is highly mutable in this tale and we revisit key events with very different outcomes.

I enjoyed once more meeting Kern, Portia, Paul and Miranda in their current iterations as they grapple with the puzzle that lies at the heart of the colony. But about of the third of the way through, the pace stuttered. Obviously in a book dealing with time loops, there is a degree of repetition. But I did feel that there were just too many dialogues between the ravens that essentially ended up with them being stumped. And while their back and forth was initially amusing, by the final section I frankly hoped that someone in the colony would shoot the wretched birds and save me from yet another conversation between them.

Fortunately, Liff’s predicament and Miranda’s quirky character kept me turning the pages, along with the examination of memory, guilt and the role of outsiders within a closed society, all of which were nested within the story. The pace once more picked up again in the final section as Tchaikovsky drew all the elements together. I thoroughly enjoyed the ending, which left me moved. I don’t recommend you tuck into this one if you haven’t read at least one of the previous books in the series. Besides, Children of Time is definitely a treat if you haven’t yet had the pleasure. And while in my opinion, neither of the subsequent books in the series quite reach the same heights, both are interesting and thought-provoking reads. While I obtained an arc of Children of Memory from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Terraforming Mars: Edge of Catastrophe – Book 2 of the Terraforming Mars series by Jane Killick #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #EdgeofCatastrophebookreview

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I read and reviewed the first book in the series, In the Shadow of Deimos, and thoroughly enjoyed it – see my review. So when I saw this offering on Netgalley, I was delighted to be given an opportunity to scoop up the arc.

BLURB: Return to the Red Planet as the saga of Terraforming Mars continues, in a sweeping science fiction thriller of planetary progress, set in the universe of the award-winning boardgame

In the 26th century, Mars is thriving: the huge crater made by the crashed moon of Deimos is now a vast domed city, buzzing with industry and a burgeoning Martian-born and immigrant workforce. Ecoline scientist Mel Erdan is at the forefront of vital research to feed and maintain Mars’ increasing population. But when her viral enhancer transforms lush green plants into a blackened swathe of dead crops, it triggers a wave of violent unrest across Deimos City, and Mel is accused of deliberately sabotaging Mars’ fragile viability. With resources rapidly dwindling, conspiracy theories flying, and criminal gangs rioting, Mel must prove her innocence, uncover the truth, and revitalise Mars’ harvest before it’s too late – for everyone.

REVIEW: As mentioned in the blurb, this book series is based on the popular boardgame Terraforming Mars – a fact that I hadn’t realised until I came to review the first book. And if I hadn’t told you, you wouldn’t know on reading the book, so please don’t give it a thought, unless you’re a particular fan of the game and want to spend more time in the world.

As you might think from a spin-off, the world is well established with a strong backstory and believable history, with a nicely detailed social and political landscape that collide as tensions grow and food supplies dwindle. I really like Mel, whose dedication and sense of duty drives her to try and put right the horrible error that creates the virus. However, this time around there is a sub-plot around a group of young workers who are deeply unhappy with the status quo and want Mars to have more freedom from Earth. In the earlier stages of the story, I found it difficult to fully sympathise with their actions – although I’m well aware that the stunts they pull are all too realistic.

I guessed who the main villain was behind the troubles well before the denouement, although that didn’t particularly impede my enjoyment as by that stage the story is rocketing along at a fair lick. While this story doesn’t have quite the tension and finesse of the previous book, it still provides plenty of excitement and page-turning action that had me sorry when it all came to an end. While I obtained an arc of Edge of Catastrophe from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc The Immortality Thief by Taran Hunt – Book 1 of The Kystrom Chronicles #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheImmortalityThiefbookreview

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I’m always a sucker for a cracking good space opera thriller – and the cover and the blurb had me looking forward to this offering. Would it deliver?

BLURB: Refugee, criminal and linguist Sean Wren is made an offer he knows he can’t refuse: life in prison, “voluntary” military service – or salvaging data in a long-dead language from an abandoned ship filled with traps and monsters, just days before it’s destroyed in a supernova. Data connected to the Philosopher’s Stone experiments, into unlocking the secrets of immortality.

And he’s not the only one looking for the derelict ship. The Ministers, mysterious undying aliens that have ruled over humanity for centuries, want the data – as does The Republic, humanity’s last free government. And time is running out. In the bowels of the derelict ship, surrounded by horrors and dead men, Sean slowly uncovers the truth of what happened on the ship, in its final days… and the terrible secret it’s hiding.

REVIEW: I’ll be honest – when I finally got around to reading this one, I wasn’t really in the mood for a creepy deserted space ship, which I’ll own is my problem rather than anything wrong with the writing. So it’s a testament to the author’s skill that by the time I was a quarter of the way into this one, I was thoroughly hooked.

The reason why I found myself so wrapped up in this adventure is that I became thoroughly invested in Sean. The main protagonist is masterfully handled by Hunt. In the early stages of the book, I found him hard work. His ‘cheeky chappie’ façade started to wear thin very quickly – and by their reactions, I realised the other crew of Viper felt much the same way. But as the book wore on, I began to appreciate that Sean’s wisecracking, irreverent attitude hides a deep belief in the sanctity of life. And a strong sense that the dumb stroke of luck that allowed him to survive the massacre of his family, friends and neighbours has left him with a need to pass it on whenever he finds someone wanting help. Hunt does a really good job in conveying this belief without portraying Sean as some futuristic Pollyanna.

I also got thoroughly caught up in learning more about the two other characters Sean finds himself sharing his terrifying adventures with – initially, they both seem utterly horrible and extremely dangerous. In fact, they remain extremely dangerous throughout, which provides some interesting plot twists along the way. I’m aware that I’ve only really discussed the characters – but this is principally an action adventure novel, brimful of action set on a derelict space ship on the brink of catastrophic disaster. And it provides plenty of tension and nasty surprises along the way, which makes for an engrossing page-turner I found hard to put down.

A completely unexpected twist right at the end has me keen to read the next book in this series and it comes very highly recommended for fans of tension-filled space opera adventure with memorable, excellently portrayed characters. While I obtained an audiobook arc of The Immortality Thief from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Review of KINDLE arc Sol 2781 – Book 4 of the Drago Tell Dramis series by Janet Edwards #BrainfluffKINDLEbookreview #Sol2781bookreview

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My all-time favourite genre when it’s done well is science fiction – not that you’d know it if you’ve been reading my book reviews during the last two years. And that’s because I’ve been going through a really tough time – and a lot of sci fi is on the grim side. Not so the books of Janet Edwards, so I was delighted when she asked me if I would like a review copy of the latest offering in her enjoyable Drago Tell Dramis series. I’m a solid fan of her writing, see my reviews of of Earth Girl, Earth Star, Earth Flight, Earth and Air, Frontier and her short story collection Earth Prime which are all books set in her Earth Girl series, as well as Telepath, Defender, Hurricane and Borderline in the Hive Mind series, and Scavenger Alliance and Scavenger Blood in the Scavenger Exodus series, which is a spinoff prequel series set in the Earth Girl world. This series featuring disaster magnet Draco Tell Dramis is also set before the Earth Girl books in the same world – but only a few years before we get to meet young Jarra. This series featuring disaster magnet Draco Tell Dramis is also set before the Earth Girl books in the same world – but only a few years before we get to meet young Jarra. I’ve also reviewed Hestia 2781 and Array 2781 in this series, as well as the short story ‘Hera 2781‘, which kicks everything off.

BLURB: Major Drago Tell Dramis is celebrating the fact that the saboteur has been caught, and the Earth solar arrays will be safe now. The arrest of a member of the main board of Hospital Earth has consequences though. As Drago hits orbital levels of fury, and declares his own personal war against Hospital Earth, he’s hit by even more unexpected problems.

There’s a joke that says one birth member of the Tell clan attracts trouble, two birth members of the Tell clan invite minor disasters, while three is the critical mass that triggers cataclysmic events. As the danger mounts, the question is whether Drago and his two cousins, Jaxon and Gemelle, can prove an alternative theory. Are three members of the Tell clan really the critical mass that resolves cataclysmic events?

REVIEW: Firstly, if you encounter this book without having read any of the other offerings in the Drago Tell Dramis series – my firm advice would be to track down the first book, which is a novelette. ‘Hera 2781’ gives you an ideal opportunity to work out whether you’ll enjoy Edwards’ writing style and the storyline without having to invest a huge amount of time and money.

As for me – I’ll happily hoover up anything she writes. There is an energy and positivity in Edwards’ writing that I always thoroughly enjoy and is well matched with the young protagonists she portrays. That doesn’t mean they have an easy time of it – far from it. Drago Tell Dramis might come from a high-profile family, with the good looks and advantageous connections that goes with such a background – but Edwards also gives us a clear insight into some of the major snags of being instantly recognisable wherever he goes. Sometimes the consequent scrapes are dangerous, while at other times they are simply hilarious – so long as your name isn’t Drago… It doesn’t help that Drago is also a first-class disaster magnet, particularly when paired up with his cousin, Jaxon. Though Jaxon has problems of his own, given that he is battling with a terrible decision he made years ago, when he was too young to realise the consequences.

The premise could so easily have turned this book into a dark exploration of two conflicted, doom-ridden heroes. In Edwards’ hands, however, there is an optimistic vibe to the writing that gives the story an energy that impels me to keep turning the pages. And though there are tough times and even heartbreak – I always finish one of Edwards’ books feeling uplifted and more cheerful. This time around was no exception, apart from the sense of loss when you get to the end of a series featuring an engaging and enjoyable protagonist. Highly recommended for sci fi fans who appreciate regular dollops of humour alongside their futuristic action.
9/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 21st September, 2022 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – The Immortality Thief – Book 1 of The Kystrom Chronicles by Taran Hunt – release date – 11th October, 2022

#science fiction #space opera #thriller

BLURB: Refugee, criminal and linguist Sean Wren is made an offer he knows he can’t refuse: life in prison, “voluntary” military service – or salvaging data in a long-dead language from an abandoned ship filled with traps and monsters, just days before it’s destroyed in a supernova. Data connected to the Philosopher’s Stone experiments, into unlocking the secrets of immortality.

And he’s not the only one looking for the derelict ship. The Ministers, mysterious undying aliens that have ruled over humanity for centuries, want the data – as does The Republic, humanity’s last free government. And time is running out.

In the bowels of the derelict ship, surrounded by horrors and dead men, Sean slowly uncovers the truth of what happened on the ship, in its final days… and the terrible secret it’s hiding.

It was the title that caught my eye – and then the premise. While I find it difficult to cope with creepy stuff here on Earth – once it’s safely out in space, I find it thoroughly enjoyable. Particularly as the extremely hostile conditions of deep space always make it much harder to simply run awaaay – which is often what I’m urging protagonists who insist on visiting deserted houses with dubious histories… isolated wilderness spots with dodgy characters… or simply getting out of bed to confront the strange noises in the night – who does that??? Anyway, back to this offering – it sounds like there are all sorts of nasties lingering in the shadows and I’m looking forward to tucking into it😊.

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #22

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

As we now have our grandsons staying with us, it’s been another full-on week. Ethan’s summer job has become a lot busier as the back-to-school rush for uniforms hits its peak. He is coping really well with long days serving fraught parents and their miserable children. I can’t quite believe that the summer holidays have slipped by so fast and he is about to begin his final week before he starts back at college for the second year of his animation course. We took Oscar to the Wetland and Wildfowl Trust last Tuesday on a rainy day. Another year and I would be moaning about the weather – but after weeks of blistering heat, it was delightful to wander around in the misty drizzle and watch the birds enjoying themselves – as you can see from the pics.

Other than that, I’ve been up in the mornings to ensure Ethan has a good breakfast and give him a lift to work. Initially we’d thought he could walk it – but given the brutal heat, we took the decision to drive him to work. And although it’s now cooler, I am reluctant to make him walk over a mile there and back on top of working full shifts when he hasn’t had a chance to be acclimatised to it.

I am feeling more energetic than I did last week, although there are still good and bad days. I’m pleased to see I’ve started losing some of the weight I put on while spending so much time bedridden and exhausted and I can now wear some of my jeans. I’ve still got quite a way to go before I can get into most of my clothes, but right now that isn’t a priority as I’m still not sufficiently recovered to consider a full reconditioning and fitness programme. I am looking forward to the time when I can go swimming at the local leisure centre while Boomerang Boy is hitting the gym, instead of spending my time sitting in their very uncomfortable chairs reading a book. He’s very pleased to see some muscle development since he started attending at the start of the summer holidays and we’re hoping to continue attending once he returns to school. He has also grown more than an inch since we measured him in the second week of August.

While my writing progress has been hit and miss throughout the summer, I have made some progress on the third book of Castellan’s adventures, Problems With Power. I thought I’d discovered a plot hole near the end of the previous book, Trouble With Dwarves, but Himself pointed out that I was overthinking the issue and suggested that I sort it out with a suitable conversation, instead of several major scene changes and a whole new sub-plot. I’ll be taking his advice and adding said conversation in the coming week – full of relief that I won’t have to administer major surgery to the ongoing narrative!

I’ve recently read:-

Her Majesty’s Warlord – Book 2 of the Stuck in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
After being trapped in a very strange world, Elliot Richardson found his footing and led the forces of Damansara to victory, only to find himself under threat from jealous and resentful city fathers who thought he was on the verge of overthrowing their rule and taking their power for himself.

Isolated and alone, Elliot accepted an offer of employment from Princess Helen of Johor and finds himself travelling to the heart of her kingdom, to a city caught between the stagnant past, the hope of a better future and factions threatening to burn the world down rather than risk letting it be saved. And, as Elliot goes to work, he finds himself threatened by powerful enemies who will stop at nothing to see him brought down…
This is a spin-off from the gripping Schooled in Magic series that I’ve been working through during the last year – and I’m now following Elliot’s progress as he struggles to cope in a world where magic is the ultimate power, rather than technology. However, it’s also a world riven by social discontent as the agrarian culture, relying on peasants and downtrodden serfs to produce the food, is beset by sudden change. Once again, Nuttall has produced an action-packed read, full of plot twists and action that I thoroughly enjoyed. And being an indie book, it is also excellent value for money😊. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – Emma by Jane Austen, narrated by Emma Thompson
Emma Woodhouse is one of Austen’s most captivating and vivid characters. Beautiful, spoilt, vain and irrepressibly witty, Emma organizes the lives of the inhabitants of her sleepy little village and plays matchmaker with devastating effect.

I’m working my way through the collected novels of Jane Austen and I hadn’t particularly been looking forward to reaching Emma, as the last time I read the book I decided that Mr Knightly was a priggish misery. This time around, listening to the fabulous Emma Thompson, I didn’t find him such a pain. The humour of listening to both Emma and Mr K. being eaten up with jealousy without necessarily realising their feelings for each other was also more apparent. All in all, this was far more fun than I was expecting and turned out to be really enjoyable. However, I could do without all the music in this production. 8/10

The Half Killed – Book 1 of The Sundered Veil series by Quenby Olson
Dorothea Hawes has no wish to renew contact with what lies beyond the veil. After an attempt to take her own life, she has retired into seclusion, but as the wounds on her body heal, she is drawn back into a world she wants nothing more than to avoid.

She is sought out by Julian Chissick, a former man of God who wants her help in discovering who is behind the gruesome murder of a young woman. But the manner of death is all too familiar to Dorothea, and she begins to fear that something even more terrible is about to unleash itself on London.

And so Dorothea risks her life and her sanity in order to save people who are oblivious to the threat that hovers over them. It is a task that forces her into a confrontation with her own lurid past, and tests her ability to shape events frighteningly beyond her control.
I had read Olson’s entertaining romp about a dragon’s egg surfacing in a small village and it in no way prepared me for the intensity of this fantasy thriller. The writing is rich and layered, giving a vivid evocation of London during a savage heatwave in a time when people’s clothing was all about keeping them sufficiently warm. I loved the world and the steadily escalating tension in this classy read, rooting for Dorothea all the way. 10/10

AUDIOBOOK – Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany
Babel-17 is all about the power of language. Humanity, which has spread throughout the universe, is involved in a war with the Invaders, who have been covertly assassinating officials and sabotaging spaceships. The only clues humanity has to go on are strange alien messages that have been intercepted in space. Poet and linguist Rydra Wong is determined to understand the language and stop the alien threat.

I’m generally not all that impressed with the classic sci fi reads from this era – far too often it’s all about the lantern-jawed hero with female characters providing bed partners and/or requiring to be rescued just to show the protagonist off as courageous and tough. Not so this one – the protag is a well-written, nuanced heroine, who engaged me throughout with her intelligence and resilience. I also enjoyed the diverse ethnic range of characters throughout, showing that Delany was well ahead of his time. The ideas raised regarding language aren’t new – not when considering books such as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Embassytown – but I enjoyed the way Delany explores the subject. The only reason this one didn’t get a 10 was that the end felt a bit rushed and was weak and ordinary when compared with the quality of the rest of the book. 9/10

The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope
Washington D. C., 1925

Clara Johnson talks to spirits, a gift that saved her during her darkest moments in a Washington D. C. jail. Now a curse that’s left her indebted to the cunning spirit world. So, when the Empress, the powerful spirit who holds her debt, offers her an opportunity to gain her freedom, a desperate Clara seizes the chance. The task: steal a magical ring from the wealthiest woman in the District.

Clara can’t pull off this daring heist alone. She’ll need help from an unlikely team, from a jazz musician capable of hypnotizing with a melody to an aging vaudeville actor who can change his face, to pull off the impossible. But as they encounter increasingly difficult obstacles, a dangerous spirit interferes at every turn. Conflict in the spirit world is leaking into the human one and along D.C’.s legendary Black Broadway, a mystery unfolds—one that not only has repercussions for Clara but all of the city’s residents.
This one is a gripping read. Clara is a sympathetic heroine, full of anger at how her life has been twisted by the gift bestowed upon her. The story also throws into relief the extra hardship being black is in Washington in the 1920s in a very matter-of-fact way, which gave me – a white middle-class Brit woman – a better appreciation of the unremitting harshness of being instantly judged by the colour of your skin. Review to follow.

A Date With Death – #0.5 of the Conjuring a Coroner series by S.C. Stokes
Whoever said blood is thicker than water hasn’t met the Harrington family. New York royalty, the Harrington family are old money with magic coursing through their entitled veins, and the only thing the Harringtons care less about than each other…is the law.

When Lester dies unexpectedly, his considerable estate is set to pass to his surviving heirs. But the coroner, Kasey Chase, has ruled Lester’s death a homicide, sparking a family feud that sees the Harrington heirs turn on each other in a lethal struggle where the only prize for second place is death.

With unlimited resources and a callous disregard for human life, the Harrington’s have to be stopped before the city pays the price for their petty war. Caught in the middle, Kasey is left fighting for her life. Fortunately, she’s been hiding a secret of her own. Kasey is a witch.
Kasey is an appealing heroine – and I liked how reluctant she is initially to get sucked into such a potentially tricky situation. I get a tad tired of protagonists who happily run towards danger the rest of us would instinctively back away from. And when this one finally kicked off – the action rolled forward and didn’t let up until the end. I’ll definitely be reading more Kasey goodness as this urban fantasy adventure is a page-turning read. 8/10

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a 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 Veiled Masters: a Twilight Imperium novel by Tim Pratt #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheVeiledMastersbookreview

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I enjoy Pratt’s writing – his delightful duology made up of Doors of Sleep and Prison of Sleep provides an original spin on the portal adventure premise that has me hoping for more in this intriguing world. And as I’ve also read another Twilight Imperium adventure – The Necropolis Empire – I was more than happy to revisit this entertaining world.

BLURB: The balance of power is shifting, with bold new alliances, unknown invaders, and the rumored return of the galaxy’s ancient masters. When black-ops spy Amina Azad saves a Hacan ambassador from assassination, she draws him into her investigation of a vast conspiracy: unseen forces are destabilizing the whole galaxy, at the worst possible time. Pursued by agents from dozens of other factions, they can only make progress by allying with their apparent enemies. But even they might be compromised – duped into action by a secret puppet-master. How can they trust an alliance when they can’t trust themselves?

REVIEW: The first thing to get out of the way is the Twilight Imperium aspect. Apparently, this entertaining series of space opera adventure books is a spin-off from a popular board game, Twilight Imperium. I mention this in case some fans of the game are prompted to pick up the books. However, if you are a reader who generally avoids reading books connected to TV series, films and games (like me!) you can ignore this nugget of information. If I hadn’t told you the origin of the novel, there’s nothing in the storytelling, characterisation or worldbuilding that would give it away.

One of the aspects that I really like is that although this book is set within the same world as The Necropolis Empire, it is essentially a standalone, even though there are characters from previous adventures that pop up, giving us further insights into their motivations and vulnerabilities. This time, the conspiracy our plucky black-ops heroine is scrambling to head off is truly horrific. Space opera is difficult to write well, as the storyline is often pan-galactic in scope and requires frequent changes of scene and character in order to fully explore all aspects and consequences of the narrative arc. Pratt’s upbeat, energetic style skilfully avoids all the pitfalls, instead giving us intriguing, layered characters, despite the necessary scene changes; and a clear plotline that emerges from the twisty conspiring which held me from the beginning.

I very much like that fact that Pratt’s characters are morally ambiguous. Our protagonists are often self-serving and a bit dodgy. While the ultimate antagonists are not necessarily evil monsters – even though the fate they have in mind is a terrible one for millions of unsuspecting sentient beings. One of the big attractions of Pratt’s writing is that while he is often dealing with dark deeds, the tone of his books tends not to get overly grim, as there are some nice touches of humour throughout to leaven the enormity of the threat. I understand that this is the last of his Twilight Imperium novels – which I very much regret. As ever, tucking into this adventure was a blast and I look forward to reading more from this skilful, entertaining author. While I obtained an arc of The Veiled Masters from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 8th June, 2022 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – The Veiled Masters: A Twilight Imperium novel by Tim Pratt – release date – 21st June, 2022

#science fiction #space opera adventure #alien encounter #feisty heroine

BLURB: The balance of power is shifting, with bold new alliances, unknown invaders, and the rumored return of the galaxy’s ancient masters. When black-ops spy Amina Azad saves a Hacan ambassador from assassination, she draws him into her investigation of a vast conspiracy: unseen forces are destabilizing the whole galaxy, at the worst possible time. Pursued by agents from dozens of other factions, they can only make progress by allying with their apparent enemies. But even they might be compromised – duped into action by a secret puppet-master. How can they trust an alliance when they can’t trust themselves?

I thoroughly enjoy Tim Pratt’s writing and have read another book in this series – The Necropolis Empiresee my review. I hadn’t appreciated before I acquired the arc that the novel is a spin-off from the board game Twilight Imperium, because if I had, I wouldn’t have bothered with it. Which is a happy accident, as I thoroughly enjoyed the rip-roaring space opera adventure, which was full of twisty action with a thoroughly likeable protagonist. So I’m looking forward to some more enjoyable time in this engaging world.

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #16

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

Thank goodness little Eliza and my daughter have now recovered from their initial medical emergencies. Eliza is back at nursery school and I was able to spend some time with her to see she is back to her normal, bouncy self – more of that later! However my daughter has had to return work while also juggling the needs of three children all at very different stages, so she is at full stretch. To the extent that we’ve had our Boomerang Boy staying with us again.

After his first full week at his new school didn’t go very well, we offered to have our younger grandson to stay over for this last week. Himself is on annual leave and we have the time to give Oscar the support he needs to cope with such a major change, mostly by simply being there. It worked out really well and by Friday he was much happier and more settled, having made a friend and feeling less overwhelmed. He helped make tea, played Wordle with me and contributed to discussions around the table during the evening meal. He is such a star and we love his company – as you can see by the nonsense going on between Himself and Oscar when I was trying to take a photo!

Under normal circumstances, that would be my major news for this post – but this time around I’ve other tidings to share. I am definitely on the road to recovery! My energy levels have suddenly jumped up, so I don’t get exhausted so easily. Last Saturday Oscar and I (he came to stay last Friday evening) had a sleepover at my sister’s to listen to a nightingale singing in a nearby wood. She made us a lovely roast dinner and then we played cards – we taught Oscar to play knock-out whist and then he beat us both at Dobble. That level and length of interaction would have been unthinkable only a few weeks ago – but I not only coped, I was thoroughly enjoying it.

I am not yet fully recovered, as I’m still dealing with nasal drip, tinnitus, persistent pain in my upper right arm and chest that wakes me up at night. In addition I still have a swollen thyroid and lymph glands in my neck. And I am horribly unfit – unsurprising as I have spent a large part of the last fourteen months too tired to get out of bed. But I am so thrilled and massively relieved! I’d begun to fear that the almost constant tiredness constantly dogging me was going to be with me for the rest of my life. On Wednesday evening, I was able to join a Zoom meeting with my Writing group and got such a welcome… It was lovely to see everyone again, as the last time I’d been part of the group was 3rd March, 2021.

So on Thursday evening, Oscar’s last night with us, we asked if we could also borrow the other two children and celebrated my improvement by taking the grandchildren to The Dragon, their favourite Chinese restaurant. Even little Eliza came along – and without her mother, who couldn’t make it as she was busy with an online meeting. It was one of the best nights of my life. We got a lovely greeting from the staff, who remembered us even though we hadn’t been there since 2019 – and the children were wonderful. Eliza was as good as gold and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The food was fabulous and the service was brilliant. When our waiter spotted that Eliza was determinedly spooning up the plum sauce she was supposed to be sharing with her older brother, he brought two sachets of tomato ketchup just for her, tore them open and squeezed them onto her plate and invited her to dip her cucumber slices in that instead. The older children were chatty and easy-going, clearly enjoying the food and always polite – I’m so proud of them!

The highlight for me is that even a fortnight earlier – I simply couldn’t have envisaged feeling well enough to have taken part in such an outing. So it was a huge deal for me to be there. I hadn’t been anywhere for a meal since we went away for our wedding anniversary in September 2020. I’m very aware that I still have a long way to go – and I’m not going to rush ahead with a Graduated Exercise Programme, for example. That would probably tip me back into a relapse – after all, it has taken over a year to get here. So if it takes that length of time to regain my fitness, without running the risk of becoming bedridden again – that’s fine by me😊. I have a hospital appointment on Monday – fingers crossed it won’t find anything sinister!

This week I’ve read:-

Hummingbird – Book 1 of A Charade of Magic by Helen Harper
The best way to live in the Mage ruled city of Glasgow is to keep your head down and your mouth closed. That’s not usually a problem for Mairi Wallace. By day she works at a small shop selling tartan and by night she studies to become an apothecary. She knows her place and her limitations. All that changes, however, when her old childhood friend sends her a desperate message seeking her help – and the Mages themselves cross Mairi’s path. Suddenly, remaining unnoticed is no longer an option.

There’s more to Mairi than she realises but, if she wants to fulfil her full potential, she’s going to have to fight to stay alive – and only time will tell if she can beat the Mages at their own game. From twisted wynds and tartan shops to a dangerous daemon and the magic infused City Chambers, the future of a nation might lie with one solitary woman.
I’m a Helen Harper fan – and this one didn’t disappoint. It was a real page-turner and I’m now looking forward to reading the next one in the series, as I’m desperate to discover what happens next.

Murder in the Manor – Book 1 of A Lacey Doyle Cosy Mystery series by Fiona Grace
Lacey Doyle, 39 years old and freshly divorced, needs a drastic change. She needs to quit herjob, leave her horrendous boss and New York City, and walk away from the fast life. Making good on her childhood promise to herself, she decides to walk away from it all, and to relive a beloved childhood vacation in the quaint English seaside town of Wilfordshire.

Wilfordshire is exactly as Lacey remembers it, with its ageless architecture, cobblestone streets, and with nature at its doorstep. Lacey doesn’t want to go back home—and spontaneously, she decides to stay, and to give her childhood dream a try: she will open her own antique shop.

Lacey finally feels that her life is taking a step in the right direction—until her new star customer turns up dead. As the newcomer in town, all eyes are on Lacey, and it’s up to her to clear her own name. With a business to run, a next-door neighbor turned nemesis, a flirty baker across the street, and a crime to solve – is this new life all that Lacey thought it would be?
This is one of the books that Himself acquired – I was intrigued by the blurb and was in the mood for something a bit different from my usual fare. There is much to commend it – I liked the gutsy can-do attitude of the heroine. But timescales were ridiculously compressed (a week to get a temporary Visa to live in the UK????) and this offering couldn’t make up its mind if it was a cosy mystery or a cosy second-chance romance. 7/10

Under Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchings
Fleeing the final days of the generations-long war with the alien Felen, smuggler Jereth Keeven’s freighter the Jonah breaks down in a strange rift in deep space, with little chance of rescue—until they encounter the research vessel Gallion, which claims to be from 152 years in the future.

The Gallion’s chief engineer Uma Ozakka has always been fascinated with the past, especially the tale of the Fortunate Five, who ended the war with the Felen. When the Gallion rescues a run-down junk freighter, Ozakka is shocked to recognize the Five’s legendary ship—and the Five’s famed leader, Eldric Leesongronski, among the crew. But nothing else about Leesongronski and his crewmates seems to match up with the historical record. With their ships running out of power in the rift, more than the lives of both crews may be at stake.
This enjoyable timeslip space opera adventure has some interesting things to say about how History slants events to suit those writing said History. I grew very fond of the Fortunate Five and found myself rooting for them. 8/10

Herrick’s End – Book 1 of The Neath by T.M. Blanchet
Ollie’s only friend disappeared a few days ago, and now, he’s frantic to find her. But he doesn’t have much to go on until a mysterious note arrives which reads:
“Still looking for your friend? I know where she is.”
Unfortunately for Ollie, the trail leads to the last place he’d ever expect.

Somewhere dark.
Somewhere deep.
The kind of place where magic spills like blood, vengeance is merciless, and escape seems all but impossible.

Worse still, it soon becomes clear that someone-or something-was expecting him.
Now, time is running out.
If Ollie has any hope of ever seeing home again, he’s going to have to summon every last scrap of courage, smarts, and tenacity he can find. And none of it will matter if he can’t get some help. Fast.
This intriguing offering has been labelled YA, but it certainly didn’t come across as a YA read to me. I thought the story was going in a certain direction – when it suddenly turned into something completely different. And I was hooked. I was also intrigued by the strong morality story that underpins it, putting me in mind of Pilgrim’s Progress – although there isn’t any religion in this offering. Review to follow.

The Lending Library by Aliza Fogelson
When the Chatsworth library closes indefinitely, Dodie Fairisle loses her sanctuary. How is a small-town art teacher supposed to cope without the never-ending life advice and enjoyment that books give her? Well, when she’s as resourceful and generous as Dodie, she turns her sunroom into her very own little lending library.

At first just a hobby, this lit lovers’ haven opens up her world in incredible ways. She knows books are powerful, and soon enough they help her forge friendships between her zany neighbors—and attract an exciting new romance.
But when the chance to adopt an orphaned child brings Dodie’s secret dream of motherhood within reach, everything else suddenly seems less important. Finding herself at a crossroads, Dodie must figure out what it means to live a full, happy life. If only there were a book that could tell her what to do…
I wanted to like Dodie – but she’s the type of heroine that frankly gives millennials a bad name. She giggles and pouts over men as if she’s a mid-teen, turns her back on a friend looking for support and suddenly decides to adopt a baby without having any of the resources to do the job properly. Thank goodness the baby’s grandparents saw through her charm and realised just how flighty she is. I read on in fascinated horror to see how else she was going to mess up her life. Though given her addiction to every kind of sweet food on the planet, it might just be she’s making decisions in the throes of a sugar-blitzed brainstorm. 6/10

AUDIOBOOK Wolfbane – Book 9 of the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series by Michelle Paver, narrated by Sir Ian McKellan
It is early spring, a turbulent, perilous time of sudden storms, frozen river fractures and drifting ice. Fleeing from a demon intent on devouring his souls, Wolf is swept out to Sea far from the Forest and his pack.

The ocean too teems with danger: sea wolves, sharks and hunters of the deep, and the demon is gaining ground. Torak and Renn must race to save their pack-brother, battling the harsh, icy waves and merciless torrents. If they can’t find Wolf in time, the bond between them will be severed for ever…
What a treat… In this prehistoric world, our ancestors have formed a deep spiritual bond with the creatures around them. Paver depicts their hunter-gatherer lives with realism and respect – and I recommend you also listen to the Afterword, where she describes the research she has done to back up aspects covered in this gripping adventure. But then, you’ll probably want to listen on, anyway. With McKellan’s masterful narration, I’d listen to him reading aloud the soccer results. Review to follow.

This week I have posted:
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Hummingbird – Book 1 of A Charade of Magic series by Helen Harper

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Under Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchings

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

50 Word Stories: Plain Bad

Friday Faceoff: Sunny and Bright – a cover that is predominantly yellow

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.