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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of In the Shadow of Deimos by Jane Killick #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #IntheShadowofDeimosbookreview

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I’m a sucker for murder mysteries – and I have a particular fondness for whodunits in a sci fi setting. Stuck on the ship in deep space, or on a colony in a hab bubble where the outside atmosphere is lethal provides ideal locked room scenarios without having to reach for outlandish reasons why everyone is cut off and fleeing isn’t an option. So when I saw this offering, I immediately requested it.

BLURB: Mars, 2316. The recently created Terraforming Committee arbitrates the dramatic development of Mars by powerful rival corporations. When a rogue asteroid crashes into a research center and kills its lone technician, the fragile balance between corporations is shattered. The World Government’s investigation into the accident reveals a multitude of motives, while a corporation insider stumbles on a dark conspiracy. Two Martians with very different agendas must navigate a trail of destruction and treachery to uncover the truth and expose those responsible, before Mars falls to Earth’s corruption. As lines blur between progress and humanity, Mars itself remains the biggest adversary of all.

REVIEW: As I checked up on this book after finishing it, I discovered that a boardgame called Terraforming Mars provides the setting. I was blissfully unaware of the game while reading the book, so don’t let that nugget of information put you off. It doesn’t matter to anyone picking up the book, as it doesn’t impact your reading experience in any way.

This is a slow-burn mystery where the daily rhythm of the teams who are tasked with terraforming Mars is explored in some detail. So this isn’t one for murder mystery fans who only want a splash of sci fi in their crime scene. However, I appreciated the way Killick gives the reader a very clear picture of how the terraforming effort is progressing, while introducing us to the main protagonists. Inevitably there are strains between competing corporations – and also some major issues are discussed. Should Humanity be altering Mars to suit our needs at all? What if in doing so, we inadvertently destroy some biological organisms that we haven’t yet discovered? As a science fiction fan, I found all this fascinating, especially as running alongside these plotlines is the growing sense that all is not well within Mars’ fledgling community.

Killick’s smooth, unfussy writing style pulled me into the story, so that I stayed up faar later than I should to discover what happens next. Because while this one starts slowly, there are several excellent action scenes that are all the more shocking because of the relatively low key beginning. And the climactic episode out on the surface, where a man is struggling for his life after being double-crossed, is one I won’t forget in a hurry. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale – as well as the slightly bitter-sweet ending, which has stayed with me. I shall be looking around for more of Killick’s books and thoroughly recommend this Mars’ murder mystery. While I obtained an arc of In the Shadow of Deimos from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of An Untidy Death – Book 2 of the Decluttering Mysteries by Simon Brett #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AnUntidyDeathbookreview

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I enjoy reading Simon Brett’s writing – see my reviews of Death on the Downs, Mrs Pargeter’s Public Relations, The Liar in the Library, The Killer in the Choir and Guilt at the Garage. But I’d particularly enjoyed the first book in this series, The Clutter Corpsesee my review. I snapped this one up with excitement when I saw it featured on Netgalley, though I was a tad worried at just how much I was looking forward to diving in, as that can often be a recipe for disappointment – would I enjoy this one as much?

BLURB: “My mother’s going to kill herself . . . That is, if I don’t kill her first.” When Alexandra Richards approaches professional declutterer Ellen Curtis to ask her to help sort out her mother’s chaotic flat, Ellen gets the impression Alexandra doesn’t like her mother very much. But after hearing the local news, Alexandra’s exasperated words don’t seem such a joke…

REVIEW: And that’s as much of this very chatty blurb that I’m inclined to share – don’t read it as it spoils far too much of the plot. I loved this one – indeed, it’s on my Outstanding Reads of the Year list. Ellen is a lovely character, who is briskly efficient and clearly extremely intelligent. She also has dealt with a devastating tragedy in her life with fortitude and resilience. And yes… I know she’s fictional, but I finished this book full of warmth towards this wonderful, three-dimensional protagonist. Brett is an accomplished, experienced author whose main characters are often a bit larger than life, but Ellen isn’t one of those. Her thoughtful, quieter outlook drew me right into the story as she tries to unpick what appears to be an accidental death that she increasingly feels is something else.

Ellen is also surrounded by a strong supporting cast – I love her relationship with her ebullient mother, who is clearly dissatisfied with Ellen’s life choices and delights in emphasising her closeness with Ellen’s daughter. Unlike so many fictional families, they don’t get to hurl hurtful truths at each other that in real life would probably cause complete estrangement. And I also found Ellen’s relationship with her son, who suffers from clinical depression, achingly realistic.

I’m conscious that I’ve managed to make this one sound a rather fraught, dreary read – and it’s nothing of the sort. Set in my neck of the woods, I found myself spluttering with laughter at Brett’s pithy descriptions of local settings. Meanwhile, the murder mystery is beautifully plotted. The pacing is spot on, there are a satisfying number of potential suspects – and of course, I’d spotted the perpetrator. Until halfway through the denouement scene, when I realised it wasn’t who I thought it was… Nicely done! All in all, this is by far the best written murder mystery I’ve read this year and while I’d recommend that you grab the first book, just because it’s also a cracking read – it isn’t necessary to appreciate this gem. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of An Untidy Death from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Haunted Homecoming – Book 10 of the Southern Ghosts series by Angie Fox #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheHauntedHomecomingbookreview

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I’ve done it again… I thoroughly enjoyed Angie Fox’s Monster M*A*S*H series – see my reviews of The Monster MASH, The Transylvania Twist and Werewolves of London. So during lockdown, I also tucked into the first couple of books in this engaging Southern Ghosts series and was delighted to find new release, The Haunted Homecoming, appear on Netgalley. What I hadn’t appreciated was that it was the tenth book! Would I be able to enjoy it anyway?

BLURB: Apple cider, bonfires, football, and—ghosts.

It’s homecoming weekend in Sugarland, Tennessee and ghost hunter Verity Long is tickled to see so many souls—living and dead—back in town to celebrate. But not all reunions are happy ones, and when Verity stumbles upon a dead body by the football field, it appears someone has already evened the score.

REVIEW: Despite having missed out books 3-9 in this delightfully warm-hearted, cosy murder mystery, I don’t think newcomers to this series would have any difficulty in crashing into this series, as Verity’s enjoyable first-person narration sweeps up the reader and draws them into Sugarland’s festivities. Right now, I particularly appreciate dollops of humour along with my urban fantasy shenanigans – and Fox provides just the right amount of snark and delightful moments of comedy. I particularly relished getting to know Verity’s mother, who returns to Sugarland for Homecoming Week, along with her husband. The tension between mother and daughter was both funny and, at times, poignant. Humour can often have a cruel edge – but Fox’s exuberant, upbeat writing style doesn’t go there.

For all the excitement and loving descriptions of lots of sugar-laden treats – I wouldn’t recommend this book if you’re trying to diet – Fox also has a sharp eye for small-town friction. We have a good spread of suspects with strong reasons for wanting Ashley to keep quiet. Although I was pleased to see that the perpetrator wasn’t someone I had initially suspected. All in all, this was a really enjoyable read and I look forward to going back and catching up with more of Verity’s adventures. While I obtained an arc of The Haunted Homecoming from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc We Cry for Blood – Book 3 of The Reborn Empire series by Devin Madson #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #WeCryforBloodbookreview

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I’ve come very late to this series, given that many of the book bloggers that I like and respect loved this one. Indeed, I had a copy of We Ride the Storm gathering dust on my TBR pile – until I realised the third book was available on Netgalley, so decided to give it a whirl. And as I’m now reviewing said third instalment, you can assume that I thoroughly enjoyed We Ride the Storm and We Lie With Death. Indeed, if I wasn’t struggling with Long Covid, I would have written a review on at least one of the other two books.

BLURB: Ambition and schemes have left the Kisian Empire in ashes. Empress Miko Ts’ai will have to move fast if she hopes to secure a foothold in its ruins. However, the line between enemies and allies may not be as clear-cut as it first appeared.

After failing to win back his Swords, former Captain Rah e’Torin finds shelter among the Levanti deserters. But his presence in the camp threatens to fracture the group, putting him on a collision course with their enigmatic leader.

Assassin Cassandra Marius knows Leo Villius’s secret—one that could thwart his ambitions to conquer Kisia. But her time in Empress Hana’s body is running out and each attempt they make to exploit Leo’s weakness may be playing into his plans.

And, as Leo’s control over the Levanti emperor grows, Dishiva e’Jaroven is caught in his web. To successfully challenge him, she’ll have to decide how many of her people are worth sacrificing in order to win.

REVIEW: In many ways, this series hits many of the tropes around current epic fantasy stories, as the origin world takes more from eastern cultures, rather than drawing on classic western civilisation. And there are strong female protagonists – three of them, compared to the single male warrior. What I hadn’t expected was the sheer excellence of the writing that yanked me into the initial book and simply wouldn’t let go.

My firm advice is to get hold of We Ride the Storm and We Lie With Death before tucking into this one, as the narrative timeline follows straight from one book to the next. However, should you choose to ignore my advice, Madson has obligingly added a ‘Story So Far’ foreword, along with a detailed cast of characters. I wish more authors did this with series where the ongoing narrative is vital. Luckily, I didn’t need to be reminded of the previous story, as Cassandra, Rah, Miko and Dishiva are such vivid, memorable characters, even my brain fog hadn’t blurred their various difficulties. I even dreamt about this world – though I have to say that when I woke up and found that I wasn’t in the middle of it, I was very relieved.

The balance between the worldbuilding and the characterisation is skilfully handled, with the prose consistently assured and flowing. The battle scenes leap off the page, full of the bloody violence that is inevitable in hand-to-hand fighting, while the twists and turns of the political scheming kept me turning the pages. These days, this isn’t my go-to genre – I am often alienated by morally compromised characters and the wretched fallout that ensures when the great and the good decide warfare is the only answer. So I’m not quite sure why this series has sunk its hooks so deeply into my inscape – but it certainly has. And my chief complaint is that the third book has finished with not a single major plotpoint being resolved. So I’m going to have to wait before discovering what happens next to Madson’s hapless main characters. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy. While I obtained an arc of We Cry for Blood from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*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

Tuesday Treasures – 35 #Brainfluffbookblog

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This week on Tuesday Treasures, I am featuring more of our unkempt garden… Since I’ve taken these pics – on a day when I was feeling better – Himself has now done a lot of weeding, so it’s looking tidier! And I’m also able to sit out in the sunshine and enjoy it😊.


Review of NETGALLEY arc Willow – Book 1 of The Pepper Lane Club series by Grace Parks #BrainfluffNETGALLEYreview #Willowbookreview

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Yes… I know, I’m writing a review about a romance – that’s certainly different! Well, I’ve been reading lots and lots of SFF – and the latest military SF adventure was superb, but also a bit grim. And I needed something a little more soothing, so when I saw this one land in my Inbox, I decided to request it and see what happens. I’m glad I did…

BLURB: Willow Lawson is a fun loving social media expert, who helps companies stand out from their competitors. Yet, despite her bubbly personality, her social life is mostly work-related, and her love life is non-existent. That’s when she starts The Pepper Lane Club, a chance to get away once a month from her maddening life and reconnect with her friends. It’s at this very first meeting that she meets Thomas Greer, who owns the café. He’s everything she’s not. He’s serious, unsociable, unfashionable, and dead set against social media. She decides to take him on as a client despite his refusals. She wants the challenge, and she wants to prove to him that he needs her help. He frustrates her, but there’s something about his old fashioned ways that also intrigues her.

REVIEW: In order to thoroughly enjoy a romance, I need to really care about the main protagonist(s). And Parks did a solid job in creating a sympathetic, amusing protagonist with sufficient depth of character to hold me throughout the story – and yet not too much so that it unduly slowed the pace.

Willow is interesting in that she is one of twins – and I liked the fact that for a refreshing change, they came from a loving family, with nice parents. Indeed, Willow looks at her parents’ relationship with some envy. She also has a close relationship with her twin sister, as well as a wide circle of acquaintance and a busy social life. But… how close are those friendships she has fostered online? Other than her family, Willow realises that she is missing a relationship with a group of people she is really close to, outside her Facebook and Instagram accounts – and decides to do something about it.

I thought this aspect of the story was smart, as this is an ongoing dilemma for so many of us, now staggering out of the various lockdowns and grappling with the reality of face-to-face meetings, after having thrown our energy into keeping our social networks going digitally. While Parks doesn’t allude to any of that – this must be a hurdle for so many folks. And Willow’s idea of meeting up once a month for a lovely meal with women she likes and trusts is also a really good one.

I’m conscious that I haven’t said much about the romance. But I also liked that dynamic, too. It wasn’t groundbreakingly original – going along the lines of fake relationship deepening into something more substantial. But Willow’s confusion regarding Thomas worked well, and didn’t get too ridiculously muddled – a common moan I have about romance stories – before resolving into a believable, cute relationship that was founded on a genuine respect and liking for each other. Highly recommended for fans of romance stories. While I obtained an arc of Willow from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*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

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

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Keeping a mountain between yourself and a roaming ice giant ISN’T hiding – it’s protecting the wretch from the heat of your flame…

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.

Tuesday Treasures – 30 #Brainfluffbookblog #LightintheLockdown

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Welcome back to my blog! Apologies for the long absence – but you might be aware that on that last Sunday Post, I’d just learnt that the illness we had gone down with was Covid 19 – and both Himself and I went down with it hard. I’m sure it didn’t help that I’d had my vaccination on the previous Saturday…

I don’t ever want to go through another month like March again. Himself missed going into hospital by a whisker, as he had significant breathing difficulties. As for me, I was coping with severe joint pain and life-muffling exhaustion. I just slept, or endured the pain. And no one could come in and help us. It was frightening and miserable. What we did have was a steady stream of concerned enquiries from loving family and my wonderful sister and daughter ensured we didn’t go without any medication or food – not that we ate all that much.

Himself has just started back to work, but I am still recovering. Yesterday I’d planned to start back on my blog, but it was a bad day. I woke up at midday feeling exhausted and by the time I’d showered and dressed – that was it. I’m having to learn to pace myself. So there will still be sudden absences, for which I apologise. But I’ve already learnt the hard way that if I try to push through it, I just end up feeling worse. And most of my mental energy has to go to my writing, which is what keeps my mental health topped up.

Today’s Tuesday Treasures are previous pics I’ve taken of Spring springing, which I’m aware has been going on while I’ve been indoors battling to get well. I’m hoping next week to have had the chance to actually get outside and take some new photos, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy these offerings from previous years. Please, stay safe. I’m here to tell you that this is a terrible illness.x