Category Archives: troubled hero

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Ghost Electricity – Book 1 of the Hawthorn House series by Sean Cunningham #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #GhostElectricitybookreview

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I liked the sound of this one and was in the mood for a strong urban fantasy set in London, so requested this arc.

BLURB: Do you know what happens to ghosts in London?

A girl with a monster in her shadow. A warlock believed dead four years ago. A werewolf outcast from the London packs.

Rob wants a good job, friends to head to the pub with and a solid cage to lock himself in three nights a month. Julian dropped off the face of the Earth four years ago. He’s back and trying to figure out what living looks like. Together they  will face the deadliest of threats hidden in one of the oldest cities in the world.

Fiona has a monster in her shadow but she doesn’t know how it got there. A creature in the shape of a man is on her trail  and he knows things about Fiona she doesn’t know herself. Her ten year old sister Jessica can build machines that defy the  known laws of physics. Accompanied by a brass tortoise and a glass-feathered raven, Jessica will help Fiona unravel the web  of lies that surrounds them both.

And beneath their feet the plague dead of centuries stir in their graves, waiting for the spell that holds them to break…

REVIEW: The thing about urban fantasy that sets it apart, is that it is generally set in a contemporary landscape – usually a city – and then peopled with otherworldly creatures. So a lot of the pleasure is derived from seeing our everyday settings collide with something other. I was immediately held by Cunningham’s opening sequence with Julian in the London Underground, which was very well done. Anyone who has ever stood on a crowded platform waiting for the train to come could visualise only too well how events unspooled. And that repeated question of Julian’s – Do you know what happens to ghosts in London? – was also nicely handled. Too much and that shiver of horror would have disappeared…

Initially, I was a bit fed up when I realised we wouldn’t be in Julian’s head throughout. But I soon found that I had no trouble bonding with the other protagonists, even when I wasn’t fully aware of what was going on. There’s plenty of tension in this urban fantasy adventure, which makes the sudden outbreaks of rather gory violence seem even more shocking. Underneath the bustling normality of London is a brutal world where mages, vampyres and shapeshifters jostle for power and far too often treat the rest of us as recreation and/or fodder. And in a stunning coincidence, Hawthorn House is where a number of these remarkable people pitch up. I liked all the protagonists, but I particularly bonded with poor old Rob, who just wants a nice normal life, where he rubs along with his work mates and can enjoy a night out down at the pub. Somehow, this never quite happens as all sorts of other distractions get in the way.

The rising tension was well paced and I loved a particular vampyre attack – and what happens to the van, afterwards. As with many urban fantasy tales, there are enjoyable shafts of humour that prevent it becoming too grim, which didn’t prevent the stakes rising such that I found this one difficult to put down as it reached its climax. Overall, this was a thoroughly entertaining read – and the good news is that there are two other books and a number of shorter stories already published in the Hawthorn House series. And I’ll certainly be tucking into them in the near future. While I obtained an arc of Ghost Electricity from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Hestia 2781 – Book 1 of the Drago Tell Dramis series by Janet Edwards #BrainfluffARCbookreview #Hestia2781bookreview

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I’m a huge fan of Janet Edward’s books – see my reviews 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. So I was delighted when Janet asked me if I would be interested in reviewing her latest novel, Hestia 2781.

BLURB: Hestia 2781 is the first of two full-length novels set immediately after the short story ‘Hera 2781’.
The year is 2781. Lieutenant Drago Tell Dramis’s first mission as a newly qualified fighter pilot ended with him and his team leader saving one of humanity’s oldest colony worlds, Hera, from destruction. Now he’s discovering that saving a world can be simple compared to living with the consequences.

Both Drago and his team leader and second cousin, Jaxon, are famous now, given rapid field promotions, and are due to be awarded medals. Worryingly, Drago learns Jaxon has a mysterious secret and a past history of erratic behaviour. It’s vital that Drago keeps both of them out of trouble and away from nosy reporters until the medal ceremony, because Jaxon could do or say something that deeply embarrasses both the Military and their Betan clan.

The Military is helping by sending their fighter team on a mission somewhere inconspicuously boring until the medal ceremony. That destination definitely won’t be Hestia, the perpetual trouble spot of humanity.

REVIEW: Janet also helpfully provided me with a copy of her short story ‘Hera 2781’. And I’m very glad she did, as the events that occur in Hestia 2781 immediately follow on from the short story. While I don’t think I’d have been floundering without having read the story, I definitely got a lot more out of the novel by having read it first and my firm advice is to track it down, before tucking into this one.

This offering is set in the same world as Janet’s best-selling and successful Earth Girl series, and provides an intriguing and rather poignant glimpse into Jarra’s background. Jarra – the Earth Girl – is the main protagonist of the series, and I loved this extra raft of information regarding her backstory, even though she doesn’t make an appearance in the book.

The main character who tells the story in first-person viewpoint, is young Drago. He is a Betan, whose culture and traditions revolve around family, honour and service. And the demands that culture makes on its young people is the main theme that is explored in this story – amongst the adventure and action that is also kicking off. Drago and his cousin Jaxon are frankly disaster magnets of the first order – and after their escapades have made them famous across all human-settled worlds, they need to lie low for a while. You won’t be surprised to learn that the plan to keep the pair of them gainfully occupied somewhere they can’t get into further trouble doesn’t work…

I always enjoy Janet’s writing. Her books and short stories radiate a positive, upbeat energy often lacking in science fiction and which right now, I find particularly appealing. That doesn’t prevent her from tackling some gnarly subjects, such as prejudice, terrorism and kidnapping – but she manages to approach these issues without slipping into the world-weary cynicism that often pervades such adventures. As ever, Janet delivers a cracking good read set in a detailed, complex world that I think works particularly well – and I’m very happy to note that there is another planned featuring Drago. While the author provided me with a review copy of Hestia 2781, this hasn’t affected my honest opinion of the book.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Witness for the Dead – Book 2 of The Goblin Emperor series by Katherine Addison

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I recently had a conversation with a couple of my book blogging friends, who were enthusing about The Goblin Emperor – one of them being the Cap of The Captain’s Quarters. When the Cap mentioned it was one of his all-time favourite fantasy reads, then I knew I had to spend some of my birthday money on it. I’m so very glad I did – it was a marvellous read. And in a stunning gift of coincidence, I also discovered that this offering was available on Netgalley.

BLURB: When the young half-goblin emperor Maia sought to learn who had killed his father and half-brothers, he turned to an obscure resident of his Court, a Prelate of Ulis and a Witness for the Dead. Thara Celehar found the truth, though it did him no good to discover it.

Now Celehar lives in the city of Amalo, far from the Court though not exactly in exile. He has not escaped from politics, but his position gives him the ability to serve the common people of the city, which is his preference. He lives modestly, but his decency and fundamental honesty will not permit him to live quietly.

REVIEW: The strapline mentions that this sequel is a standalone read – and I would endorse that. While I’m delighted to have read The Goblin Emperor for the sheer joy of having experienced such a layered, complex world – you definitely don’t need to have tucked into it in order to appreciate this one. Although there are a couple of apparently throwaway references that will especially resonate if you have read The Goblin Emperor.

The engine that drives this narrative is essentially a murder mystery. And as someone who can communicate with the dead, Celehar finds himself embroiled in a couple of investigations that start attracting unwelcome attention. In a world where an instinct for political niceties is a very useful survival trait, Celehar’s inconvenient tendency not to bend his moral compass to go with the flow gets him into a lot of trouble. As with The Goblin Emperor, The Witness for the Dead provides us with an engaging protagonist, who is on the outside and needs to tread carefully in order to get any kind of result.

Addison’s rich, detailed world of goblins and elves, where there are unspoken and unacknowledged frictions, is wonderfully portrayed. This isn’t a book you can speed through – the tricky names, the nuances and careful accretion of small, yet significant details meant that I had to slow right down and pay attention throughout. And even as I did so, I dreaded finishing this one, as reading it was an immersive, slow-burning delight that I didn’t want to end.

Of course, it’s all well and good building up a wonderful mystery that is freighted with plenty of tension and high stakes – but then, the denouement has to be sufficiently strong so that there isn’t that horrible sinking feeling of a fumbled ending that doesn’t live up to the thrill of the investigation. And fortunately, Addison delivers that, too, with a thoroughly satisfying finale that had me sighing with pleasure as I came to the end. All in all, this is a worthy addition to the series – and I’d pre-order another one of these in a heartbeat, which is something I very rarely do. Very highly recommended to fans of excellent fantasy. While I obtained an arc of The Witness for the Dead from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Sunday Post – 11th July, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

Overall, it’s been a much better week. And thank you so much for all the kind, encouraging comments I received after my rather frustrated rant, last week. They really helped me bounce back to a place where everything doesn’t seem so hopeless😊. Himself and I had a chat about everything, and we realised that I do need to get out more, even if it is only a matter of walking a handful of steps and then returning home. So on Wednesday, Himself and I were able to visit the local garden centre and have a pizza, and on Thursday, we went for a short walk along the river and ended up at the riverside café for a coffee. During the afternoons, I’ve been following the events at Wimbledon – and feel rather smug at correctly predicting that Mateo Berrettini would be playing in the Men’s Final, after watching him play his first match at Queen’s, back in mid-June. The pics this week are more from the garden…

The other bright spot is the fabulous quality of the books I’ve read this week – they are a lifeline by taking me away to another time and place. And one, in particular, has been outstanding…

Last week I read:

Into the Dark – Book 1 of the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland
At fifteen, Alexis Carew has to face an age old problem – she’s a girl, and only a boy can inherit the family’s vast holdings. Her options are few.

She must marry and watch a stranger run the lands, or become a penniless tenant and see the lands she so dearly loves sold off. Yet there may be another option, one that involves becoming a midshipman on a shorthanded spaceship with no other women.
This is a reread. For some reason, I didn’t follow up this series after reading the first book, so I read this one again to ensure that my memory hadn’t played tricks on me and that I definitely wanted to continue reading Alexis’s adventures. Which I certainly do…

Hestia 2781 – Book 1 of the Draco Tell Dramis series by Janet Edwards
Hestia 2781 is the first of two full-length novels set immediately after the short story Hera 2781.

The year is 2781. Lieutenant Drago Tell Dramis’s first mission as a newly qualified fighter pilot ended with him and his team leader saving one of humanity’s oldest colony worlds, Hera, from destruction. Now he’s discovering that saving a world can be simple compared to living with the consequences.

Both Drago and his team leader and second cousin, Jaxon, are famous now, given rapid field promotions, and are due to be awarded medals. Worryingly, Drago learns Jaxon has a mysterious secret and a past history of erratic behaviour. It’s vital that Drago keeps both of them out of trouble and away from nosy reporters until the medal ceremony, because Jaxon could do or say something that deeply embarrasses both the Military and their Betan clan.

The Military is helping by sending their fighter team on a mission somewhere inconspicuously boring until the medal ceremony. That destination definitely won’t be Hestia, the perpetual trouble spot of humanity.
This series is a spinoff from Edwards’ very popular Earth Girl series and I highly recommend that you read the short story ‘Hera 2781’ before tucking into this one, as the events in that story impact on what happens in the book. As ever, I thoroughly enjoyed the upbeat vibe Edwards always manages create in her space opera adventures, and appreciated revisiting this complex, enjoyable world. Review to follow.

Mutineer – Book 2 of the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland
Just as Midshipman Alexis Carew thinks she’s found a place in the Royal Navy, she’s transferred aboard H.M.S. Hermione. Her captain is a tartar, liberal with the cat, who thinks girls have no place aboard ship.

The other midshipmen in the berth are no better. The only advice she’s offered is to keep her head down and mouth shut – things Alexis is rarely able to do.
This was another enjoyable, action-packed read – and a shocking one. This series is essentially Hornblower in Space – and vividly depicted the darker, more brutal side of the Senior Service, by showing what can happen when a sadistic brute ends up running a ship. Sutherland’s notes on the story discloses that many of the events were based on true events that happened on a particular ship. It made for a gripping read.

The Goblin Emperor – Book 1 of The Goblin Emperior series by Katherine Addison
Maia, the youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favour with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the spectre of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor.
And firstly – a grovelling apology… Someone last week had recommended this one, so I got hold of it and I just want to say – THANK YOU – I just wish I could remember who it was, so I can namecheck you! This wonderful, engrossing read is going to make my Outstanding Reads list of the year. And even better news – I’ve now managed to get hold of an arc of the upcoming sequel – yay!

De Oppresso Liber – Book 6 of the Hayden War Cycle series by Evan Currie
The war may be over, but the fighting continues as SOLCOM learns of an excursion by the Ross’El against an unaffiliated pre-space civilization in the no man’s land between Earth and the Alien Alliance. With always more questions than answers, SOLCOM dispatches a ship to quietly survey the situation and determine what, if any, course of action is best.

Captain Sorilla Aida and her team are the ground element assigned to the task, with the clear understanding that no matter what… they are to remain undetected by the alien overlords now controlling the moon world. Sorilla knows only one thing for certain as she learns more about the situation :
Oppression is universal, Freedom is never free… and this is EXACTLY what she trained for.
De Oppresso Liber…
I once more tucked into this military sci fi adventure series, which has been cleverly developed from the initial flashpoint into a well-rounded world, full of detail and political tensions. Sorilla Aida has also had an interesting journey – and I like how her previous adventures are now affecting her current decisions.

AUDIOBOOK – Prophecy – Book 2 of the Giordano Bruno series by S.J. Parris
A Tudor thriller featuring Giordano Bruno, renegade monk, philosopher and heretic, for fans of C. J. Sansom and The Name of the Rose
Autumn, 1583. Under Elizabeth’s rule, loyalty is bought with blood…
An astrological phenomenon heralds the dawn of a new age and Queen Elizabeth’s throne is in peril. As Mary Stuart’s supporters scheme to usurp the rightful monarch, a young maid of honour is murdered, occult symbols carved into her flesh.

The Queen’s spymaster, Francis Walsingham, calls on maverick agent Giordano Bruno to infiltrate the plotters and secure the evidence that will condemn them to death. Bruno is cunning, but so are his enemies. His identity could be exposed at any moment. The proof he seeks is within his grasp. But the young woman’s murder could point to an even more sinister truth…
Hm. Not sure about the comparison with The Name of the Rose – but this one certainly helped me cope with my C.J. Sansom withdrawal symptoms… Bruno is a likeable, sympathetic character, whose presence in Tudor England on the edges of Elizabeth’s court is convincing and intriguing. Tudor London is beautifully described and the plot worked well as both a mystery and meshed effectively with the historical events of the time. Recommended for fans of historical mysteries. I also really enjoyed Laurence Kennedy’s excellent narration.

Wedding Hells – Book 8 of the Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
After her victory over Master Grey, Emily wants nothing more than to relax and give herself time to recover from the duel. Her magic, pushed to the limits, is no longer reliable, forcing her to learn to control it from scratch. Every time she delays using her magic, she risks headaches … or worse. But she must return to Whitehall to complete her fourth-year exams and bid farewell to those of her friends who are not returning for fifth year. And then, she must return to Zangaria to play her role in Princess Alassa’s wedding to Jade. It seems, if nothing else, a brief diversion before she goes off on a tour of the Allied Lands.

But all is not well in Zangaria and the kingdom is fast approaching a major crisis. Junior aristocrats are demanding their rights and titles from the king, while King Randor himself is dangerously unstable and hiding a secret that could spark off a civil war … and the peasants are threatening to revolt. Emily herself is isolated, unsure how to balance her obligations to her closest friends with her belief in freedom, justice and democracy. And, as Emily finds herself used as a political pawn by the different sides in the growing dispute and no longer sure who she can trust, she may find herself confronting a choice between doing the right thing, regardless of the cost…

…And losing everything she’s built over the past four years.
This intriguing magical school adventure has quickly developed into a far more interesting scenario, where a girl from Earth has been dumped into the middle of a medieval society. And then has been very quick to share ideas that are fast transforming the world around her. I enjoyed the ongoing story and was rather shocked at where it ended – though I’m pleased that Himself had got hold of the next book in the series, so I’ll be able to discover what happens next without too much delay…

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Life

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Antiques Carry On – Book 15 of the Trash n’Treasures Mystery series by Barbara Allan

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Ferryman and the Sea Witch by D. Wallace Peach

Sunday Post – 4th July 2021

Unfortunately, I haven’t been online enough to recommend any blogs or articles. And neither have I been visiting my fellow bloggers all that much, either… I’m very sorry. Thank you for those of you who continue to visit and comment – I really do appreciate you taking the time and effort to do so😊. I hope you all have a happy, healthy week.

Sunday Post – 20th June, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

A very happy Father’s Day to those of you who are celebrating. This year, it won’t be a major thing in our house, as we’re still coming to terms with the death of my lovely father-in-law, Derek Higbee, who lost his battle with cancer on 6th May. He was a remarkable man, whose education was hampered by WWII and despite being dyslexic, he went on to have a successful career, ending up as Managing Director of an engineering firm, with several inventions to his name.

Derek with the wallclock he designed and made

A keen cyclist all his life, he embarked on several major sponsored cycle rides once he retired, including riding the length of Britain, from Land’s End to John o’Groats, and the other where he rode from the tip of South Island in New Zealand and ending in Auckland on North Island. All proceeds went to charity. He also took up pottery, passed exams and became good enough to have his work displayed for sale at the prestigious annual exhibition in the Bishop’s Kitchen at Chichester Cathedral. And his abiding passion for the last decade, was his involvement with the Ringwood Junior School, where he ran an Engineering afterschool club. He rounded up a team of like-minded friends and between them, they designed and constructed projects appropriate for 10 and 11-year-olds that could be successfully completed within a term. Which isn’t as easy as it sounds. Indeed, he received a national award in recognition of his efforts to introduce STEM subjects to schoolchildren. When he was in Christchurch Hospice, one of the nurses immediately recognised him, as her daughter had been one of the hundreds of children who had attended the club over the years.

Marie and Derek on his 70th birthday

All of this would be noteworthy and impressive – but he was also a charismatic, kindly, outgoing person with a lively intelligence and quirky sense of humour. And a very strong family man. Himself is the eldest of three – two boys and a girl. I came into the family rather unexpectedly, having divorced with two young children, and being determined never to get involved with anyone else ever again. Until Himself and I realised our strong friendship had become something deeper… I and my children were welcomed wholeheartedly by both Derek and Marie. When we first moved into our house, it was in a sorry state. Derek and Marie travelled up to help us fix up the house and we went away on holiday with them several times, first with the children – and then later, we took our eldest grandchild to stay with them and my sister-in-law’s family in a holiday cottage in Wales, back in 2008. So many happy times… We always knew they were there for us, and that was such a comfort.

Himself, Marie & Derek on a family holiday

His funeral service was on a lovely sunny day and although I wasn’t well enough to attend, I was able to watch it live online. I’ve promised myself that once I’m better, I’ll pay my respects by putting a posy of wild flowers on his grave. Derek was keen on wild flowers and nature – his final project was making a nestbox for owls, which he didn’t quite manage to complete. The celebrant at Derek’s funeral commented on just how much he had managed to pack into his life – not just with achievements and material success, but with past-times that made the world a better place. He is missed by all who knew him.

Last week I read:
Chains and Memory – Book 2 of the Wilders series by Marie Brennan
Last autumn Kim and Julian stood at the center of that storm. Now they face a challenge closer to home: a battle over the laws governing wilders, the closest genetic relatives of the sidhe. Many feel that change should wait until the current upheaval has ended . . . but Kim sees opportunity in the chaos, a chance to free Julian and all his kind from the chains of the deep shield that locks their gifts away.

The roots of that shield run deeper than she knows. The quest to destroy it will lead her and Julian back into the world of the sidhe, where they will uncover ancient lies, face betrayal on all sides — and gamble everything on the possibility of freedom.
This was a real page-turner. Having recently read the first book in this engrossing series, I was completely on board with Kim and Julian – and the twisty plotting has left me hoping for more…

Antiques Carry On – Book 15 of A Trash n’Treasures mystery series by Barbara Allan
Vivian Borne – true-crime author, antiques dealer and ex-sheriff of Serenity, Iowa – is looking forward to meeting her new editor in London. Flying first class, rooms at the Savoy . . . Her long-suffering co-author, daughter Brandy, worries the trip will bankrupt them both, but the alternative – Mother travelling alone – is unthinkable. Brandy’s almost tempted to make her fiance, Tony – Serenity’s Chief of Police – call Scotland Yard and warn them Vivian’s coming.
But even Brandy doesn’t predict their vacation will end in murder . . . or that she and Mother will be unceremoniously ejected from the country, with an order to leave things well alone.

Vivian and Brandy need a case to write about, and Mother doesn’t care which one. But as the intrepid sleuths – ably supported by doggy detective Sushi – investigate a promising local prospect, they’re plunged into a complex mystery that stretches right back to London . . . with no choice but to carry on.
This quirky whodunit is something of an acquired taste – but I was charmed by the tension between mother and daughter, who write alternative chapters. And along with the murder mystery is all sorts of high jinks that largely appealed to my humour. Review to follow.

Love’s Labor’s Won – Book 6 of the Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
Two families, alike in dignity…and armed with powerful magic.

The Magical Families of Ashworth and Ashfall have been feuding for countless years, ever since something happened to split one family into two. Now, they have been invited to Cockatrice Faire… when no other magician would dare invite them both. And when it becomes clear that the Ashworth Heir and the Ashfall Heir have fallen in love with one another, Emily finds herself caught in the middle between two powerful families, each one capable of destroying her once and for all…
This isn’t the best book in this gripping and unusual school adventure series – but I was interested to see Emily’s ongoing progression as she makes her way in this different world a portal away from the universe where she was born. And negotiating the customs and manners of the highest echelons of society was bound to trip her up…

Deathmaker – Book 2 of the Dragon Blood series by Lindsay Buroker
When Lieutenant Caslin Ahn joined Wolf Squadron, she was prepared for the reality that she might one day be killed in the line of duty. She was less prepared for being shot down, assumed dead by her own people, and dragged off to the Cofah Empire as a prisoner of war.

As if being thrust into a dungeon and interrogated wasn’t bad enough, the sadistic commandant decides to give her a cellmate: the notorious pirate Deathmaker. Given the crimes he’s committed against Iskandia, Cas owes it to her people to try and kill him…
That cover belies the sheer energy and humour that pings off the page as feisty Cas finds herself hauled into a criminal underworld against her will. I love Buroker’s writing and I’m looking forward to reading more in this entertaining fantasy series.

AUDIOBOOK – Soul Music – Book 16 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Young Susan has always suspected that her Grandfather was different, as though all the time he spent riding a white horse and wielding a scythe weren’t enough of a giveaway. Now that her worst fears have been confirmed, Susan learns that she’s expected to take over the family business when she grows up, even though most people mistake her for the Tooth Fairy.

But as attractive as Death can be to many people, Susan is drawn into something else: the exciting, addictive heavy beats of ‘Music with Rocks In,’ Discworld’s latest dance craze.
Nigel Planer does a fabulous job of narrating this one. I read the paperback a lifetime ago, and listening to this one was still a treat. Though I got a tad tired of the running joke regarding the Klatchian foreign legion – but that’s a niggle. It might not be Pratchett at his best, but that’s a very, very high bar to scramble over.

My posts last week:

Friday Face-off featuring Dead Astronauts – Book 2 of the Bourne series by Jeff VanderMeer

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Mystic’s Apprentice by Mary Miley Theobold

Unfortunately, as I’ve been ill again most of the week, I haven’t been online enough to recommend any blogs or article. And neither have I been visiting my fellow bloggers, either… I’m very sorry. Thank you for those of you who continue to visit and comment – I really do appreciate you taking the time and effort to do so😊. I hope you all have a happy, healthy week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley #BrainfluffNEGALLEYbookreview #TheKingdomsbookreview

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I’ve heard good things about this author, and when I saw that the blurb mentioned England as a French colony, I was immediately intrigued and requested the arc. I’m always a sucker for a well-written alternate history…

BLURB: Joe Tournier has a bad case of amnesia. His first memory is of stepping off a train in the nineteenth-century French colony of England. The only clue Joe has about his identity is a century-old postcard of a Scottish lighthouse that arrives in London the same month he does. Written in illegal English—instead of French—the postcard is signed only with the letter “M,” but Joe is certain whoever wrote it knows him far better than he currently knows himself, and he’s determined to find the writer.

The search for M, though, will drive Joe from French-ruled London to rebel-owned Scotland and finally onto the battle ships of a lost empire’s Royal Navy. In the process, Joe will remake history, and himself.

REVIEW: Think of a mash-up of The Time Traveller’s Wife and David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks and you’ll have some idea of what Pulley is aiming for in this highly ambitious novel that dances around different strands within two main times – 1805 and 1898/99. And as the blurb doesn’t give away any spoilers as to why one of those dates, in particular, is significant, then I shan’t do so here.

Both times are very well evoked, particularly just how hard life is – and how cheaply it is held. Particularly the lives of sailors, slaves and soldiers. There are some quite shocking scenes in the book of murder and violence – and as we also have a naval battle portrayed and a ringside scene of the injuries inflicted, this one isn’t for the squeamish. We also see what this does to the main characters in the story, especially Missouri Kite who is scarred both physically and emotionally. He is capable of wonderful leadership that undeniably saves the lives of those in his charge; real tenderness in an age that doesn’t value or regard such an emotion. And absolute, lethal savagery.

I’ve been quite conflicted by this one. Terrible things happen and we are encouraged to feel it’s okay, because at the heart of it all is a love story. And while there is an upbeat ending, I wasn’t convinced that Joe wouldn’t wake up one morning full of longing for someone in a lost time and simply walk away, again, driven to desperately seek her out… But that kernel of uncertainty demonstrates the power of Pulley’s writing, which packs a strong emotional punch, throughout. She portrays Joe’s constant, terrible yearning for someone he can’t quite recall with a visceral vividness that had me wanting to weep at times.

What is undeniable is the technical skill Pulley displays in dealing with the scrambled timelines, the depiction of the historical times and the changes brought about by alternate circumstances. Her handling of those elements is masterful, as is her pacing and the management of a complex plot, complete with a number of twists that kept me paying attention. I saw a couple of them coming – but not the full picture. And that bittersweet ending adds up to a challenging book that has raised some awkward questions it leaves to the reader to figure out. I’m not sure if this is a story demonstrating just what a destructive force love is, for instance. Very highly recommended for fans of alternate historical tales. While I obtained an arc of The Kingdoms from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Shards of Earth – Book 1 of The Final Architects series by Adrian Tchaikovsky #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #ShardsofEarthbookreview

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Anyone who has spent more than a few minutes on my blog will know that I’m a huge fan of Tchaikovsky’s writing. I’m always impressed with his sheer range and creativity, as well as his dry humour and interesting characters. If you’d like a sense of his writing, check out my reviews of Children of Time, Children of Ruin, The Expert System’s Brother, Ironclads, Dogs of War, The Doors of Eden, Firewalkers, The Expert System’s Champion and Bear Head. Though if you put his name into the SEARCH box on the right, you’ll also find more reviews of his fantasy writing. So when I saw that he had an epic space opera adventure in the works – my favourite genre – I was delighted.

BLURB: Idris has neither aged nor slept since they remade him in the war. And one of humanity’s heroes now scrapes by on a freelance salvage vessel, to avoid the attention of greater powers. After earth was destroyed, mankind created a fighting elite to save their species, enhanced humans such as Idris. In the silence of space they could communicate, mind-to-mind, with the enemy. Then their alien aggressors, the Architects, simply disappeared – and Idris and his kind became obsolete.

Now, fifty years later, Idris and his crew have discovered something strange abandoned in space. It’s clearly the work of the Architects – but are they returning? And if so, why? Hunted by gangsters, cults and governments, Idris and his crew race across the galaxy hunting for answers. For they now possess something of incalculable value, that many would kill to obtain.

REVIEW: Idris is a fascinating character – one of those so challenged by his previous experiences that he is difficult to relate to. I don’t normally enjoy these types of characters, but Tchaikovsky’s writing skill comes into play so even though I didn’t exactly warm to him, I could empathise with him. I also completely understood why those around him want to give him a wide berth…

This book hits many of the classic tropes within the genre – segments of humanity amongst the diaspora scattered throughout the galaxy, now separated by generations in different cultures and environments… an interesting mix of aliens… a great big nasty threat looming over everything else… But this being Tchaikovsky, he puts his own spin on these plot devices which sets this epic adventure apart, making it memorable. As well as poor old sleepless Idris, we have Solace, who is a vat-born warrior designed and raised in a female-only society in reaction to the atrocities carried out against women in a number of the differing societies emerging across different worlds. Needless to say, they aren’t universally welcomed or trusted by the Council of Human Interests, who govern the surviving human colonies after the fall of Earth.

While Tchaikovsky is very good at writing slow-burn, tension-filled stories, this isn’t one of them. There is plenty of rich characterisation and vivid and varied backdrops, and in addition we are treated to lots of action and battle scenes, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s always a blast to be able to visualise exactly what is happening to whom as it all kicks off. Especially as the Big Bad in this story is absolutely terrifying – huge moon-sized aliens who tear apart and sculpt planets, moons and space stations into entirely different shapes. Unfortunately the hapless creatures inhabiting those places don’t survive the process, as inevitably the shapes are complex. And the Architects only ever select planets, moons, asteroids, space station – even ships – if they contain life…

This was a fast-paced read covering a detailed, complicated galaxy so I had to pay attention and slow down, or I would have floundered. Tchaikovsky has provided an extensive character and species list at the back of the book, in addition to a fascinating timeline of events leading up to the action in the story. I wish I’d known about it at the start, as I would have liked to refer to it at times along the way. Presumably it will be in the final Contents page, which wasn’t available in the arc.

I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining, well written space opera adventure and look forward to reading the next book in the series. Highly recommended for fans of space opera on a grand scale. While I obtained an arc of Shards of Earth from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc The Shadow of the Gods – Book 1 of The Bloodsworn Saga by John Gwynne #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheShadowoftheGodsbookreview

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I’ve had an unread hardback copy of Malice sitting on my bookshelves for far too long. Epecially as a number of bloggers whose opinions I respect are huge fans of Gwynne’s writing, such as Drew at The Tattooed Book Geek. So when I spotted this first book in a new series, I immediately requested it and was delighted to be approved.

BLURB: After the gods warred and drove themselves to extinction, the cataclysm of their fall shattered the land of Vigrið.

Now a new world is rising, where power-hungry jarls feud and monsters stalk the woods and mountains. A world where the bones of the dead gods still hold great power for those brave – or desperate – enough to seek them out.

Now, as whispers of war echo across the mountains and fjords, fate follows in the footsteps of three people: a huntress on a dangerous quest, a noblewoman who has rejected privilege in pursuit of battle fame, and a thrall who seeks vengeance among the famed mercenaries known as the Bloodsworn. All three will shape the fate of the world as it once more falls under the shadow of the gods . . .

REVIEW: After reading the blurb, you won’t be surprised to learn that this is a classic epic fantasy read, although the alternate world has some interesting twists in it, due to the previous apocalyptic event that tore it apart. Those who have survived are tough and resourceful – they have to be.

Gwynne has clearly thoroughly researched Nordic history and mythology and it shows in the immersive writing that gives a strong sense of the world, the clothing, food, weaponry and customs. I really enjoyed picking up these details through character actions and thoughts, rather than pages of information. But if you haven’t encountered this author before, do be aware that he drops in a lot of Norse words for articles of clothing, weaponry and food. If you find this tendency irritating, then this might not be the book for you.

We follow the fortunes of three main protagonists – two women and a man. Orka is a tough, experienced warrior who settled down with the love of her life to raise her son. But that was before a warband came through… Varg was raised as a slave and his beloved sister was the only source of light and love in an otherwise brutal life. Until she was murdered. Now he wants to find the killers and make them pay. Elvar is a young warrior who has risen through the ranks of a warband by her skill and courage, and has an interesting backstory that I won’t Spoil here. But as you can see – this is a brutal world, where might is right.

Gwynne’s plotting, characterisation and worldbuilding are all skilfully done – but what he does superbly well is describe battle scenes. This isn’t so much sword and sorcery, as slash and sorcery – using axes and knives as well as swords means that the close-quarters fighting is bloody and injuries are horrific. During the numerous fights and battles, I always had a ringside seat as to what exactly was going on and how the protagonist was feeling and coping, even as blows, stabbings and slashes were being traded. However, while the fighting was violent and bloody, at no stage was it gratuitous.

All in all, this was an engrossing story that kept me turning the pages until the end. And yes – about that ending… in common with many epic fantasy books, all the major plotpoints were left on a cliffhanger. So I’m hoping the second book won’t take too long to hit the shelves. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy in a Norse setting. While I obtained an arc of The Shadow of the Gods from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Royal Secret – Book 5 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheRoyalSecretbookreview

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I’m a solid fan of this series – see my reviews of The Ashes of London, The Fire Court, The King’s Evil and The Last Protector. The first book starts during the Great Fire of London and introduces us to two young people caught up in the drama – Cat Lovett and James Marwood. They both have a shameful past – their fathers were for Oliver Cromwell and against Charles I – and that has impacted on their subsequent fortunes.

BLURB: Two young girls plot a murder by witchcraft. Soon afterwards a government clerk dies painfully in mysterious circumstances. His colleague James Marwood is asked to investigate – but the task brings unexpected dangers.

Meanwhile, architect Cat Hakesby is working for a merchant who lives on Slaughter Street, where the air smells of blood and a captive Barbary lion prowls the stables. Then a prestigious new commission arrives. Cat must design a Poultry House for the woman that the King loves most in all the world.

Unbeknownst to all, at the heart of this lies a royal secret so explosive that it could not only rip apart England but change the entire face of Europe…

REVIEW: I love this series – especially the way that Taylor has woven real historical events into his fiction. This latest book does a wonderful job of bringing both our protagonists into a fascinating area of history, involving Charles II in an intrigue that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond thriller.

Once more we revisit the lives of James Marwood and Cat Hakesby, who have now struck up a steady friendship due to their shared past – though it isn’t without some bumps along the road. Meanwhile a rich merchant who hires Cat to do some work for him has acquired a lion called Caliban. And his daughter-in-law and young granddaughter come to live with him, after a family tragedy. These are the threads that are woven into a wonderful, detailed adventure that had me turning the pages far too late into the early morning to discover what happened.

Reading this tale, I was glad all over again that I live now, rather than in a time when a woman doing anything else other than domestic chores drew surprise and unwelcome attention – a bit like that hapless lion. Taylor has nailed the period, which is vividly depicted right down to the clothing, the smells of the time, the food and drink. When Cat goes on a journey, it is more of an endurance test, particularly when the weather isn’t playing fair. No wonder everyone wore layers and layers of clothing, if they could afford it.

Meanwhile, Marwood is yanked from his usual duties to perform yet another dangerous, unpleasant task that will derail his career if he is caught, or fails to uncover what is going on. And once again, Cat somehow becomes emboiled in the middle of the nefarious events, so their interests collide – and so often seems to happen to this pair. Taylor’s writing means that I don’t find it difficult to believe how this happens.

The climax of this adventure is shocking – and left me thinking a great deal about this one after I’d finished reading it. All in all, a thoroughly accomplished, gripping historical adventure that comes very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The King’s Secret from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Recollection: Tenth Anniversary Edition by Gareth L. Powell #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheRecollectionbookreview

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I enjoy Powell’s writing – see my reviews of Ack-Ack Macaque and Hive Monkey and my mini-review of Embers of War, the first book in his successful space opera series of the same name. So when I saw this one come up, I jumped at the chance of getting hold of an arc.

BLURB: Four hundred years ago, Ed and Alice Rico threw themselves through a mysterious portal on the London Underground, hunting for Ed’s lost brother—Alice’s husband—Verne.

Now, starship captain Katherine Abdulov embarks on a desperate race against ruthless rival captain—and her former lover—Victor Luciano, to try and earn back her family’s trust.

Tomorrow, all their lives will be thrown together by disaster, as an ancient evil stirs among the stars, threatening the survival of all life…

REVIEW: The thing about dual narratives is that just as I’m getting into the swing of the story, I find myself yanked away and into another scenario with a completely different set of characters. It means that I need to bond closely and quickly with the main protagonists so that I don’t find being pulled between two storylines too jarring. And initially, I didn’t care all that much about either Ed or Katherine. So it took me a while to get into the story.

However, as the action kicked off and they both got caught up in different elements of the narrative, I also became invested and was able to relax into the world. I really liked the idea of the arches and why they suddenly appeared. Powell ensured that we were immersed in the worlds he spun, providing a vivid backdrop to the characters. And this is important as the stakes stack up, because these worlds are put in major peril.

I can’t claim that you’ll get the quirky originality of the Ack-Ack Macaque series – the tropes Powell explores in this space opera adventure are as cosily familiar as a late-night cup of cocoa. However, the story is written with flair and conviction, so that by the time we arrive at the climactic denouement, I didn’t want to put this one down. I’m intrigued to discover if this is going to continue as a standalone, or if Powell has plans to make it the beginning of a series – there is certainly plenty of depth in the worldbuilding that would sustain several more books with these characters. Either way, this is a solidly entertaining science fiction space opera adventure recommended for fans of the genre. While I obtained an arc of The Recollection from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10