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Covet the Covers – 20 #Brainfluffcovetthecovers #CovetthecoversRobinHobb(1)

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Welcome to another helping of Covet the Covers. This week I’m featuring some of Robin Hobb’s covers. Like so many others I have fallen under the spell of her Realm of the Elderlings world and wept when I got to the end of the last book. Partly because a wonderful character I had grown to love had died – but also because I was aware that a special era in my reading life had come to an end.

I’ve read all the books below and enjoyed every single one of them – and this is a lovely wander back into the past… See my reviews of Fool’s Assassin, Fool’s Quest and Assassin’s Fate. It was a real thrill to actually see this author at the World Fantasy Convention in 2013. You’ll be aware that the styling for these covers is very different. I’ve kept each trilogy compatible, but have endeavoured to demonstrate the range in cover design that characterised this fantastic fantasy world. Which are your favourites?

Review of AUDIOBOOK A Quiet Life in the Country – Book 1 of the Lady Hardcastle Mysteries by T.E. Kinsey #BrainfluffAUDIOBOOKreview #AQuietLifeintheCountrybookreview

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I had a wonderful audiobook lined up on my Kindle all ready to listen to – and then the world fell on my head and I couldn’t face it. Though excellently written and doubtless a gripping story – I was already aware that it would probably be also somewhat bleak. So Himself proposed that I get hold of this delightful read, instead…

BLURB: Lady Emily Hardcastle is an eccentric widow with a secret past. Florence Armstrong, her maid and confidante, is an expert in martial arts. The year is 1908 and they’ve just moved from London to the country, hoping for a quiet life. But it is not long before Lady Hardcastle is forced out of her self-imposed retirement. There’s a dead body in the woods, and the police are on the wrong scent. Lady Hardcastle makes some enquiries of her own, and it seems she knows a surprising amount about crime investigation… As Lady Hardcastle and Flo delve deeper into rural rivalries and resentment, they uncover a web of intrigue that extends far beyond the village. With almost no one free from suspicion, they can be certain of only one fact: there is no such thing as a quiet life in the country…

REVIEW: So… two women who live together end up solving a crime in the 1900s – it certainly sounds like a female version of Holmes and Watson. However, Lady Hardcastle is a great deal nicer and more charming than Holmes and Flo is far more feisty and less hampered by an overwhelming sense of admiration for her employee.

I really liked the relationship between the women. It transpires that they endured a great deal of danger and trauma together, after Lady H’s husband was killed in China. Essentially they had to go on the run, eventually ending up in India during which numerous attempts were made on their lives. Elizabeth Knowelden does a marvellous job with the narration as the story unfolds in the first-person viewpoint of Flo, who certainly looks after Emily Hardcastle in the capacity of a lady’s maid and housekeeper, but as they are on first-name terms and generally dine together, she is also something a great deal more.

The ensuring murders and mysteries – there is also a stolen jewel that Lady H is tasked with tracking down – certainly keep the two women from relaxing into the quiet life they were looking for. The humour is enjoyable throughout and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the unfolding plot, which provided plenty of twists that made me quite sorry to complete my houseworking chores and have to switch off. All in all, this is a gem that provided a really entertaining escape, as well as a real puzzle as to whodunit. This is one of those stories where the setting, the characters and murder mystery all weave together to provide a satisfying world that I thoroughly enjoyed and am looking forward to returning to. Fortunately, Himself has already loaded the next book in the series – In the Market for Murder – onto my Kindle. No wonder he’s a keeper! Highly recommended for fans of historical murder mysteries.
9/10

Sunday Post – 31st January, 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.

It was a quiet week. Frank stayed over until Monday evening which was a joy. He is always such very good company. We had a lazy morning in our PJ’s chatting about Life, the World and everything – as you do with a sixteen-year-old and then went for a walk along Littlehampton beach.

Once he went home, the rest of the week has been all about reading, working with my father-in-law on his memoir and getting the first draft of Trouble With Dwarves sorted out. Himself is now on his long weekend, so we went for a walk this morning along the beach. We are allowed to leave home to exercise, but we are being strongly encouraged to stay as close as home as possible for said exercise, hence the pics – once again – of Littlehampton beach and our bracing walk. As you can see, the sea was quite rough…

Last week I read:

Defending the Galaxy – Book 3 of the Sentinels of the Galaxy by Maria V. Snyder
Year 2522. Oh. My. Stars.
Junior Officer Ara Lawrence here, reporting for duty. Again. It’s situation critical for the security team and everyone in the base – including my parents – with a new attack from the looters imminent, a possible galaxy-wide crime conspiracy and an unstoppable alien threat. But this all pales in the face of my mind-blowing discovery about the Q-net. Of course, no one believes me. I’m not sure I believe me. It could just be a stress-induced delusion. That’s what my parents seem to believe…

Their concern for me is hampering my ability to do my job. I know they love me, but with the Q-net in my corner, I’m the only one who can help the security team beat the shadowy aliens from the pits we discovered. We’re holding them at bay, for now, but the entire Milky Way Galaxy is in danger of being overrun. With battles on too many fronts, it’s looking dire. But one thing I’ve learned is when people I love are in jeopardy, I’ll never give up trying to save them. Not until my dying breath. Which could very well be today…
This is a wonderful finale to a very entertaining, action-packed space opera series. I’ve rarely seen subjects like quantum entanglement and time dilation dealt with so entertainingly, yet effectively. And Ara’s character simply bounces off the page. But whatever you do, read the other two books first… Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK Tombland – Book 7 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom
Spring, 1549. Two years after the death of Henry VIII, England is sliding into chaos…
The king, Edward VI, is eleven years old. His uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, rules as Protector. Radical Protestants are conducting all out war on the old religion, stirring discontent among the people. The Protector’s prolonged war with Scotland is proving a disastrous failure. Worst of all, the economy is in collapse, inflation rages and rebellion is stirring among the peasantry.

Since the old King’s death, Matthew Shardlake has been working as a lawyer in the service of Henry’s younger daughter, the Lady Elizabeth. The gruesome murder of the wife of John Boleyn, a distant Norfolk relation of Elizabeth’s mother – which could have political implications for Elizabeth – brings Shardlake and his young assistant Nicholas Overton to the summer assizes at Norwich. There they are reunited with Shardlake’s former assistant Jack Barak. The three find layers of mystery and danger surrounding the death of Edith Boleyn, as more murders are committed. During their investigation, a peasant rebellion breaks out across the country. Yeoman Robert Kett establishes a vast camp outside Norwich and leads a force of thousands to overthow the landlords. Soon the rebels have taken over the city, England’s second largest.
This monster of a book (800+ pages) was wonderfully narrated and has held me throughout most of January. I have been a fan of this series for years – and I’m so glad that one of my reading targets last year was to catch up with those series that somehow slipped through the cracks. For this book is a tour de force and already, I have one of the books that will make my Outstanding Reads of 2021… Review to follow.

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell
Ancillary Justice meets Red, White & Royal Blue in Everina Maxwell’s exciting debut.
While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control.

But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other.
This was a lovely surprise! I’m not sure what I was expecting – but it wasn’t this lovely adventure, coupled with a slow-burn same-sex romance that was handled beautifully. Which didn’t swamp the fascinating political dynamic and I’m very much hoping that this is the first in a series. Review to follow.

The Monster MASH – Book 1 of the Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox
Ancient gods. Modern war. And a star-crossed couple who could use some divine intervention.

The day I was drafted into the army of the gods, all I knew about being a MASH surgeon was what I’d learned from Hawkeye Pierce and Hot Lips Houlihan. Now here I am, Dr. Petra Robichaud, in the middle of an immortal war, assigned to a MASH camp with a nosy sphinx, a vegetarian werewolf, and an uptight vampire who really needs to get a life.

At least they’re all too busy with their own dramas to discover my secret: I can see the dead. It’s a forbidden gift, one that can get me killed, so I haven’t told a soul. Until the arrestingly intense Galen arrives on my operating table, half-dead and totally to-die-for. When his spirit tries to slip out of his fatally wounded body, I impulsively slip it back in. Call it a rash resurrection. One I’ll live to regret.
A delightfully quirky read with a nice line in humour that prevents this being a bleak read. As a huge fan of the MASH TV series, I was pleased to see that this fantasy homage got the tone more or less spot on. Review to follow.

NOVELLA The Expert System’s Champion – Book 2 of The Expert System series by Adrian Tchaikovsky
It’s been ten years since Handry was wrenched away from his family and friends, forced to wander a world he no longer understood. But with the help of the Ancients, he has cobbled together a life, of sorts, for himself and his fellow outcasts.

Wandering from village to village, welcoming the folk that the townships abandon, fighting the monsters the villagers cannot—or dare not—his ever-growing band of misfits has become the stuff of legend, a story told by parents to keep unruly children in line. But there is something new and dangerous in the world, and the beasts of the land are acting against their nature, destroying the towns they once left in peace.
When I didn’t get a review copy of this one, I pre-ordered it, being a solid Tchaikovsky fan. And I’ve still to write the review of this one, as my feelings about it are a tad tangled. It was one of my most anticipated reads of 2021 and it didn’t quite live up to my very high expectations of it – though that didn’t prevent it being a solidly good book. Review to follow.

The Lord of Stariel – Book 1 of the Stariel series by A.J. Lancaster
The Lord of Stariel is dead. Long live the Lord of Stariel. Whoever that is.

Everyone knows who the magical estate will choose for its next ruler. Or do they? Will it be the lord’s eldest son, who he despised? His favourite nephew, with the strongest magical land-sense? His scandalous daughter, who ran away from home years ago to study illusion?

Hetta knows it won’t be her, and she’s glad of it. Returning home for her father’s funeral, all Hetta has to do is survive the family drama and avoid entanglements with irritatingly attractive local men until the Choosing. Then she can leave. But whoever Stariel chooses will have bigger problems than eccentric relatives to deal with.
Another solid delight! Himself strongly recommended this one and I read waaay into the night as I found it impossible to put down. I’ve a couple of Netgalley reads to get through – but just as soon as I can, I’ll be tucking into the next book in the series! Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

AUDIOBOOK Review of Eating Things on Sticks by Anne Fine

Friday Face-off featuring To Say Nothing of the Dog – Book 2 of the Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis

Covet the Covers featuring Maria V. Snyder

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Murder at the Ritz by Jim Eldridge

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

Tuesday Treasures – 24

Review of Chasing the Shadows – Book 2 of the Sentinels of the Galaxy by Maria V. Snyder

Sunday Post – 24th January 2021

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

Isandlwana https://robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com/2021/01/22/thursdaydoors-isandlwana/ Thursday Doors is a quirky weekly photo blog and I loved this contribution…

2020 First-Time Foraging Experiences Around Leeuwarden https://operationxblog.wordpress.com/2020/12/30/2020-first-time-foraging-experiences/ It was a terrible year on so many levels, but it did give some folks an opportunity to try new things…

Hope Blooms https://cindyknoke.com/2021/01/22/hope-blooms/ Cindy’s amazing photos regularly feature on this spot – but this particular post may well chime with a number of you…

18 Amazing Things You Can’t Miss on Your Trip to Zanzibar https://colorfulsisters.com/2021/01/26/18-amazing-things-you-cant-miss-on-your-trip-to-zanzibar-things-to-do/ While we are in lockdown, unable to go anywhere other than exercise or when supporting the family in our support bubble, I find blogs like this such a comfort…

FROM THE GREAT STATE OF TEXAS https://powerfulwomenreaders.wordpress.com/2021/01/30/from-the-great-state-of-texas/ Rae is a wonderful inspirational teacher who I have had the privilege of meeting online and she also takes part in the marvellous My Little Free Library and this article features on the books that turned up, here…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog. I hope you had a peaceful, healthy week – and do take care. x

Tuesday Treasures – 24 #Brainfluffbookblog #LightintheLockdown

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In this week’s Tuesday Treasures, I’ve some photos of our walk on the beach on Saturday morning when the younger grandchildren were staying. We had to go reasonably early as Himself needed to go to bed by 11 am so he got sufficient sleep for his late shift. And it was perishing! However, everyone enjoyed getting out for a breath of fresh – if freezing – air…


Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Life #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonLife #PickyEaters

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Don’t ever admit to being wrong. Trust me – there will be plenty of wretches lining up to blame you, anyway.

Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Food and Drink #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonFood&Drink #PickyEaters

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Some do-gooders insist you shouldn’t eat any species that can beg for mercy. You can ignore this nonsense by biting their heads off before asking them if they want to be spared.

Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

Déjà vu Review of Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton #Brainfluffdéjàvubookreview # DéjàvuToothandClawbookreview

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This review was posted on 4th November 2013, and I’m reposting it in honour of Jo Walton, whose writing and book covers I’m celebrating today. Here are my thoughts about the first book of hers that I encountered… She continues to be one of my favourite authors. Tooth and Claw won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 2004.

BLURB: A tale of love, money, and family conflict – among Dragons.

A family deals with the death of their father.
A son goes to court for his inheritance.
Another son agonises over his father’s deathbed confession.
One daughter becomes involved in the abolition movement, while another sacrifices herself for her husband.
And everyone in the tale is a dragon, red in tooth and claw. Here is a world of politics and train stations, of churchmen and family retainers, of courtship and country houses… in which, on the death of an elder, family members gather to eat the body of the deceased. In which the great and the good avail themselves of the privilege of killing and eating the weaker children, which they do with ceremony and relish, growing stronger thereby. You have never read a novel like Tooth and Claw.

REVIEW: If you thoroughly enjoy Fantasy, particularly depictions of dragons along the lines of Anne McCaffrey and Robin Hobbs – but also like Victorian novels, especially those by Anthony Trollope, then Tooth and Claw is sheer delight. It could so easily been a tale of offbeat whimsy, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But Walton has given us a few extra twists. Dragons in her world are obsessed with social position in a strictly hierarchical society. But, in order to ‘get on’, you need to be able to defend your position. With force. So females need protection as they don’t possess claws or breathe fire, like large, powerful males. And it is all about size. Dragons are constantly comparing their size – and will devour sickly children, elderly servants that have outlived their usefulness, and the bodies of their parents. For nothing nourishes and increases a dragon’s size like dragon flesh. So servants – who have bound wings to stop them flying off and escaping – rarely grow beyond seven or eight feet long because they simply don’t have access to dragon flesh.

Another interesting kink in this tale, is that female dragons are carefully protected because if they get too close to a male, they turn a bridal pink. If the proprieties have all been observed, this is fine – but if a male manages to corner a young female against her will and she flushes pink, she is ruined if he doesn’t marry her. So we have an interesting parallel with the Victorian obsession of keeping unmarried girls pure – and how fragile their reputations are if they encounter an unscrupulous male.

There is also a fascinating sub-plot about religion, where a more socially acceptable version has superseded an older and a more troubling account of how dragonkind managed to prevail against a race that sounds uncannily like humans. Pockets of high-born dragons still worship the older sect, but have to do so in secret and risk social disgrace, even though theoretically, there is no religious discrimination… It’s all very well done.

By adopting the viewpoint of the omniscient narrator, and providing details of each character’s social class and standing, Walton manages to give us the same cosy feel-good atmosphere we get from Austen and Trollope’s books. Which reads very enjoyably when set against the inevitable explosions of visceral violence that underpins dragon society…

Of course, Walton is not just discussing dragon priorities – Trollope’s books are all about power and ambition. Who has it, who wants it and how far they are prepared to go to achieve it. And how the romantic heroine will cope in a world where her appearance and wit are all she has to offer, when respectable employment is out of the question. Walton could have so very easily made a real mess of this conceit – but in handling all her characters with such humour and adroitness, she presents us with another mirror to our own natures – one red in tooth and claw.
10/10

Tuesday Treasures – 21 #Brainfluffbookblog #LightintheLockdown

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In this week’s Tuesday Treasures, I’ve taken a series of photos from last Tuesday, when we went for a walk along Littlehampton beach. The first few pics are taken on the pier looking up and down the River Arun, as it enters the sea. The sea was millpond smooth, which is never all that common, even in summer. But at this time of year, it is extremely unusual. It was lovely to be down by the sea on a day when there was no bullying wind to add to the chill factor. There were a lot of birds busy feeding. The ravens have a noisy flock that regularly scavenge the strandline as this fellow was doing. And I think the small bird on the steps by the lighthouse is a little stint – but I’m not completely sure about that!

Review of INDIE Ebook Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik #Brainfluffbookreview #StrangerStillbookreview #SciFiMonth2020

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I love, love, LOVED the first two book in this series so much that it physically hurt when I got to the end. See my reviews of Relatively Strange and Even Stranger. Would this third offering provide the same insane happy longing? I have linked my review of this psi-fi adventure to #Sci Fi Month 2020.

BLURB: Telepathy, along with sundry other odd abilities, have landed Stella more than once, in situations at best controversial, at worst life-threatening. But she’s always known; you have to fight your own corner as best you can, no point beating yourself up about it. Now though, times have changed, different priorities. She’s married, with a baby on the way and a flourishing business. She simply has to deal with a couple of worrying issues and then all should be smooth sailing. But, isn’t it a fact; just when you think you’ve got all your ducks in a row, life can turn right around and bite you on the bottom?

REVIEW: Stella is my new best friend – it’s official. Opinionated and often cranky, she has been defying expectations throughout her life. Firstly there’s those odd abilities of hers that have caused as many problems as they may have solved, though she is scaldingly aware that she was remarkably lucky to have been born into such a tough-minded, loving family. It doesn’t help that most of the time, all she wants is to lead a perfectly normal life and now she has found her niche, with her own business, and someone who loves her for who she is, it looks as though she is set fair.

But as the blurb makes clear, just when she starts to relax and assume everything is – more or less – okay, that’s when it generally goes wrong. I loved this one even more than the others. It’s when I realised how rarely we see a pregnant woman feature as a main protagonist – and it’s done very well. As is the growing sense of wrongness, which could be put down to the pregnancy, after all Stella isn’t sure if her baby has the same abilities and if they could be affecting her mind. It’s always a tricky balance, building up a slow-burn issue in this manner – too much and it becomes a boring repetitive mantra that holds up the pace; too little and the reader feels ambushed and a bit bamboozled when the enormity of the Big Bad slams into view. Messik nails it.

It doesn’t hurt that Stella is surrounded by a cast of vivid characters, many of them magnificently eccentric, ranging from her almost indestructible Aunt Kitty, who has somehow inserted herself into Stella’s business, to Laura, her pill-popping mother-in-law, whose appalled horror at her son’s marriage to Stella is hilarious. In fact, despite the fact that some of Stella’s adventures explore the darker side of human nature, the chippy humour throughout frequently had me laughing aloud. Though there were a couple of poignant moments that also had me tearing up. It’s a special book that makes you laugh and cry…

There is a doozy of a twist right at the end of this one, that has me yearning for more Messik goodness RIGHT NOW! Because I am struggling badly with a major book hangover.

Highly recommended for anyone who likes their paranormal thrillers narrated by a feisty, humorous woman who leaps off the page so vividly, I’ve been dreaming of her…
10/10