Category Archives: urban fantasy

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

Standard

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

Sunday Post – 25th July, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

Standard

This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
At present, it seems to be working out that I’m able to post my weekly roundup more or less every other week. Funnily enough, after my decision to get out more, we ended up having my younger grandson staying over, which meant I have been unable to go anywhere. A classmate of his had tested positive for Covid, so he had to isolate for ten days, although as long as Oscar didn’t go down with the illness, Himself was still able to go to work. And the reason I suggested that Oscar should isolate at our house, is that his three-year-old sister was still recovering from a nasty case of bronchitis and suffers with severe asthma. We really don’t want her going down with Covid if we can possibly avoid it! I felt so sorry for Oscar – as he is in Year 6, he suddenly found himself at home and missing the last week of term. And in September, he’s moving up to a new school, so he and his classmates missed out on being able to say goodbye to the staff and friends he’s made over the last six years. This wretched illness has so many repercussions.

He brought along his computer, and we got him a Kindle as an early birthday present to allow him to listen to audiobooks, so he could keep himself amused. And regularly throughout the day, he and I would play a series of games to give him a break from screen time – and help me with my brain fog. The weather was sunny and warm, which meant we could also sit in the garden for breakfast. He was unfailingly good tempered and upbeat throughout the whole ten-day period, despite not being allowed past the front gates. I’m so proud of his mature attitude and have missed him enormously since he went home on Friday morning. He was excellent company – as well as a fabulous kitchen assistant, helping me get meals prepared and a couple of times taking over when I ran out of energy and had to sit down.

It was a good reading week, although with Oscar here, I didn’t read quite as much as I have been doing. However I had a DNF that rather broke my heart – I simply couldn’t get on with N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became, although I tried so very hard. But at just over 80% I finally had to abandon it. I’m aware that it’s probably more to do with me – and I freely concede the writing is punchy and passionate. But it simply wasn’t for me *sigh*.

Last week I read:

Vanity and Vampyres – Book 4 of the Monster and Manners series by Tilly Wallace
Someone is supping upon young noblemen and it’s up to Hannah and Wycliff to investigate. If only they could agree on how the men are being drained of their life’s blood. Is it a vampyre, known for their impeccable fashion sense, nocturnal roaming, and dislike of rain, who lurks in the shadows of London? Or is some more earthly method at play, like an attack of leeches?

With her best friend’s wedding imminent, Hannah is determined that the event be untouched by murder or mayhem. To ensure a magical fairytale event they must catch the murderer before the big day. Wycliff must seek the assistance of a man who raises his hackles and Hannah struggles with her growing feelings toward her guarded husband. This pursuit will unearth long buried secrets that could have fatal consequences for those dearest to Hannah.
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying this alternate historical fantasy series with a nicely original take on zombies. Once more this quirky murder mystery provides plenty of possible suspects and an interesting denouement, while watching the slow burn romance continuing to blossom provides an extra bonus.

The Daydreamer Detective Braves the Winter – Book 2 of the Miso cosy mystery series
by Steph Gennera, aka P.J. Pajonas

December has set in and just when the rural town of Chikata is recovering from one murder, Mei and her new boyfriend, Yasahiro, find their friend, Etsuko, dead in her apartment. Etsuko was sweet and talented, and now everyone suspects her longtime boyfriend killed her. Mei doesn’t believe it, though, and she vows to help solve the crime.

But Mei has more to think about than murder. With the barn gone and their vegetable stores destroyed, she and her mother are down to their last canned goods and no money for heat. Mei’s mom is fortunate to find work, but Mei must fend for herself, get a job, and keep their financial situation a secret from Yasahiro. In pursuit of paying work, she stumbles onto a new witness to the crime, and before long, the dead woman’s secret life unravels before everyone’s eyes. Half-starving and out of her element, Mei is on thin ice, and it’s going to take a whole lot of ingenuity and quick thinking to solve the crime before the killer gets to her as well…
I managed to read this one and Book 3 out of sequence, but I’m really glad I stopped and went back. Pajonas writes with a pleasing upbeat energy and constant shafts of gentle humour – but I was struck at how rarely real poverty is portrayed in cosies. Pajonas manages to show just how devastating it is, without pulling the mood down too much. Which is a very neat trick to pull off. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK – First Strike by Christopher G. Nuttall
Starting a war with an enemy a hundred times stronger is insane. It’s desperate. And it’s Earth’s only hope.

A massive alien power looms over humanity, claiming Earth as its territory and humanity as its slaves. The Hegemony has already taken over one colony, yoking hundreds of thousands under their brutal rule. Every tactical exercise, every wargame and every simulation gives humanity zero chance in a defensive campaign. Earth’s only chance to win the coming war – is by striking first.
This epic military space opera adventure was an entertaining listen with all sorts of twists and turns and very ably narrated by Jeffrey Kafer, although his Brit accent is a tad peculiar. And I enjoyed listening to a cracking space opera read that is a standalone, for a change.

AUDIOBOOK – The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
1883. Thaniel Steepleton returns home to his tiny London apartment to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the mysterious timepiece saves his life, drawing him away from a blast that destroys Scotland Yard.

At last, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, a kind, lonely immigrant from Japan. Although Mori seems harmless, a chain of unexplainable events soon suggests he must be hiding something. When Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist, unwittingly interferes, Thaniel is torn between opposing loyalties.
And the reason why these two audiobooks are back to back, is that I’ve been dipping in and out of this one. I LOVED The Kingdoms, which is why I picked up this one. But I have to say that I was a bit disappointed. While the strangeness of Mori and the relationship between him and Thaniel is beautifully written, the plot became increasingly odd and unbelievable as the book wore on. And I wasn’t remotely convinced by Grace on any level. However, I’m aware that my opinion is in the minority regarding this one, as I know it’s a real favourite with many readers.

Ghost Electricity – Book 1 of the Hawthorn House series by Sean Cunningham
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…
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 really enjoyed how Cunningham weaves his story – despite there being quite a bit of violence in this full-on action adventure. Review to follow.

The King of Faerie – Book 4 of the Stariel series by A.J. Lancaster
The fae are real, and Hetta Valstar is trying her best to marry one. If Hetta and Wyn ever manage to marry, it will be the first union between Faerie and Mortal since the Iron Law was revoked. The mortal Queen has given them her blessing—sort of. Now, Wyn needs permission from the fae High King. There’s an intensely personal reason why they need to tie the knot as soon as possible, and time is not on their side.

The clock is ticking. Except in Wyn’s home court, which is trapped under magical stasis. To break the spell will mean venturing into the deepest realms of Faerie, where even fae princes—and definitely human lords—fear to tread. Unfortunately, the fae problems aren’t limited to Faerie.

Public tension is rising, and the reveal of Wyn’s true identity makes him and Hetta the centre of the storm. On top of this, Stariel’s magic is going haywire, and Hetta is struggling with her intensifying powers—and she might not be the only one affected.The High King might be the only one who can help, since he’s responsible for the fae returning to the Mortal Realm in the first place.

If only they knew where he was.
I’ve absolutely LOVED this series – and this latest instalment in this delightful alternative 1920s fantasy adventure was my favourite read of the week. It was one of those books that I was burning through far too fast – while at the same time, I never wanted it to end, as every time I put down a Stariel book, I yearn for another one. I also loved where this one ended. The good news is that Lancaster is going to be writing a spinoff adventure featuring Marius – yay😊! Review to follow.

My posts last week:

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

Tuesday Treasures – 35

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Assassin’s Orbit by John Appel

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 – 7th March, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

Standard

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’s not been a good week. From Tuesday through to Thursday, I went down with a bug, plagued by a miserable cough – and couldn’t sleep. I had only four hours sleep in 24 by Thursday. Though I established that it definitely wasn’t COVID. And then yesterday, Himself went down with exactly the same symptoms. When I spoke to my sister, she also was ill with the same thing… Not only is it a miserable illness – the inability to sleep is horrible – but it meant I had to cancel having the grandchildren coming to stay this weekend, which is a real blow as I haven’t seen them for a while. I’m better, but still a bit washed out. So that’s why I wasn’t around in the middle of the week. Apologies for not having visited blogs, etc…

The only bright spot in the middle of all this was that I curled up with my trusty Kindles and either read or listened to books throughout. So I’ve read a few more than usual.

The photos this week are from the walk last Sunday, when it was sunny with a brisk wind. As you can see, they’re doing some dredging work on the mouth of the river to ensure the large gravel boats can still enter Littlehampton harbour.

Last week I read:
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry
For his entire life, Charley Sutherland has concealed a magical ability he can’t quite control: he can bring characters from books into the real world. His older brother, Rob — a young lawyer with a normal house, a normal fiancee, and an utterly normal life — hopes that this strange family secret will disappear with disuse, and he will be discharged from his life’s duty of protecting Charley and the real world from each other. But then, literary characters start causing trouble in their city, making threats about destroying the world…

I’m a sucker for fantasy books featuring libraries and other book characters – but this one really exceeded by expectations. A delightful, clever read that took the story and used it to highlight sibling relationships in a nuanced, three-dimensional way. Review to follow.

The Transylvania Twist – Book 2 of the Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox
Even during a truce, I have my hands full as a MASH surgeon to an army of warring gods—especially when Medusa herself turns up pregnant. I frankly have no idea what to expect when a Gorgon’s expecting, but I have an even bigger problem when my presumed-dead former-fiancé sneaks into my tent with enough emotional baggage to fill a tank…

Yes… I know I’ve read this series out of order – but it was so much fun, I really wanted to go back and get another fix of Petra Robichaud and this madcap world. Review to follow.

The Conductors – Book 1 of the Murder and Magic series by Nicole Glover
As an escaped slave, Hetty Rhodes helped dozens of people find their own freedom north using her wits and her magic. Now that the Civil War is over, Hetty and her husband, Benjy, still fight for their people by solving the murders and mysteries that the white authorities won’t touch.

When they discover one of their friends brutally murdered in an alley, Hetty and Benjy mourn his loss by setting off to find answers. But the mystery of his death soon brings up more questions, more secrets, more hurt. To solve his death, they will have to not only face the ugly truths about the world but the ones about each other.
While this isn’t a flawless book, nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the world and the main protagonist. Review to follow.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
1940. As England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. Vivacious debutante Osla is the girl who has everything—beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses—but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets. Imperious self-made Mab, product of east-end London poverty, works the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Both Osla and Mab are quick to see the potential in local village spinster Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles, and soon Beth spreads her wings as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts. But war, loss, and the impossible pressure of secrecy will tear the three apart.

1947. As the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip whips post-war Britain into a fever, three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter–the key to which lies buried in the long-ago betrayal that destroyed their friendship and left one of them confined to an asylum…
I loved this historical thriller set in Bletchley Park during WWII. Quinn clearly knows what she is doing, as weaving the stories of three women across two narrative timelines could have so easily descended into a hot mess – and it doesn’t. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK Death Around the Bend – Book 3 of the Lady Hardcastle series by T.E. Kinsey
September 1909, and Lady Hardcastle and her maid, Florence, have been invited to Lord Riddlethorpe’s country estate for a week of motor racing and parties. They both agree that it sounds like a perfectly charming holiday. But when one of the drivers dies in a crash during the very first race, they discover that what seemed like an uncharacteristic error in judgement may have a more sinister explanation…
Closer investigation reveals that the driver’s car was sabotaged—and the driver murdered.

The local constabulary are quick to dismiss the case, but Flo and Lady Hardcastle are determined to find out just who has committed this dastardly act, and why. As the pair begin to make enquiries of Lord Riddlethorpe’s servants and guests, it seems that, below stairs and above, there is more to this case than meets the eye. And, even in the quiet of the countryside, death is always just around the bend.
This entertaining series is becoming a solid favourite of mine. Elizabeth Knowelden’s excellent narration and the thread of humour running through the story makes this a really enjoyable listen. Mini-review to follow.

The Wizard’s Butler by Nathan Lowell
For five grand a month and a million dollar chaser, Roger Mulligan didn’t care how crazy the old geezer is. All he had to do was keep Joseph Perry Shackleford alive and keep him from squandering the estate for a year.

They didn’t tell him about the pixies.
This quirky and unusual urban fantasy tale is unexpectedly gentle and was just what I needed. And the bonus is – this author also writes space opera adventures, too. Given how much I love his writing style, I am delighted to have discovered his work. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of A Desolation Called Peace – Book 2 of the Teixcalaan series by Akady Martine

Cover Share: An Orshaw Facelift by Indie author Phil Williams

Friday Face-off featuring The Eagle of the Ninth – Book 1 in the Dolphin Ring Cycle by Rosemary Sutcliffe

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NOVELLA One Day All This Will Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Tuesday Treasures – 29

Two Sci Fi mini-reviews: The Last Astronaut by David Wellington & Scardown by Elizabeth Bear

Sunday Post – 28th January 2021

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

Cover Share: An Ordshaw Facelift by Indie Author Phil Williams #Brainfluffbookcovers #TheSunkenCitytrilogy

Standard

Phil Williams, successful Indie author of The Sunken City trilogy, talks through his design process as he revamps the covers for his urban fantasy trilogy. As you know, I’m fascinated by book covers and what makes them successful, so leapt at the chance to have a chat with Phil about his reasoning behind the design decisions he made.

Why did you decide to change the covers, Phil? I have always loved these…

The original cover for Under Ordshaw was my first major attempt at a book design, and it served me well. I aimed to mix elements of urban fantasy, horror and thriller, with a nod to the more technical designs of the Rivers of London or Alex Verus series.

The results never quite satisfied me, though I received lots of very positive feedback, and when I frequently suggested I might update them fans told me no, they liked the originals too much. Part of the problem was that I designed a new cityscape with each book and they never quite felt like Ordshaw. I felt the same about including characters or creatures: literal interpretations of the books are hard to pull off.

Combine that with years passing where I learnt more and more about cover design, leading to what I felt was a bit of a step change in my results for Kept From Cages, and it constantly niggled me that I could better.

How did you go about evolving the new design to include all the elements you wanted?

Over the past year or more, I’ve been toying with character covers, searching for a suitable Pax. No small feat when I work with composite stock, but I had a very particular image in mind.

Finally, I found a model that worked. I put together new designs at length until I had something almost approaching what I first envisioned. I also improved the background with higher-quality grunge texturing, and searched for a fantasy-esque graffiti motif to go behind the character and bring out the supernatural/horror element.

Then, when I had my Pax and a looming fairy, and found matching imagery for the other books, I realised the artwork far outshone my character image. When I removed the character, the simpler, more vivid design came to life.

From there, I experimented with extra colour, magic splashes, smashed glass, torn paper titles and more. Thanks to my wife being merciless with my bold choices, all those elements were finally worked into the design as subtle details, to form the covers we have now.

How did you then go about changing the look of an-already published series?

As I’ve already released the complete Sunken City Trilogy, one of the challenges was updating all the covers at once. Once the first design was complete, though, the designs for the others fell into place – thankfully all together, because seeing them side-by-side I ended up (with more feedback from my wife!) swapping the images from Under Ordshaw to Blue Angel, which now make more sense!

Now, I’ve got all three covers updated in eBook and paperback format, with audiobooks to follow, which comes at a good time to celebrate the upcoming release of The Violent Fae in audiobook form, along with the second Ikiri book. These new designs, I feel, blend better with the Kept From Cages design, and The City Screams’ cover, recently tweaked, though I’ll probably give that a redesign too.

To my mind they’re much more striking now, and above all embody the energy of the books. I only hope the public will agree!

Thank you, Phil, for taking the time to share the process with us all. What do you think – do you prefer the new editions? Have you read the series?

Phil Williams writes contemporary fantasy and dystopian fiction and non-fiction grammar guides. His novels include the interconnected Ordshaw urban fantasy thrillers, the post-apocalyptic Estalia saga and the action-packed Faergrowe series. He also runs the website English Lessons Brighton, and writes reference books to help foreign learners master the nuances of English.

Phil lives with his wife by the coast in Sussex, UK, and now spends a great deal of time walking his impossibly fluffy dog, Herbert.

Series I Completed in 2020 – Part 2 #Brainfluffbookblog #SeriesICompletedPt2blog

Standard

One of my ongoing major reading targets is to pick up and continue with book series that I started and enjoyed, only to let fall along the wayside, due to the ongoing lure of the new and shiny (thank you Netgalley!). I am now aware that I need to make a concerted effort to go looking for those series and authors I’ve previously loved, so I can continue in their wonderful worlds, until the series is finished. I made a really good start in the first half of last year – see my article Series I Competed in 2020 So Far – so did I continue to be successful?

The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel
England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves. Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?

This remarkable series is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Mantel takes one of the bogeymen of history and turns him into a sympathetic, likeable character, while completely ignoring everything any respectable How-To book advises on how to write viewpoint… I listened to this one and wept at the end. Partly because of the emotion that Mantel’s writing engendered, but partly because I’d reached the end of one of the most extraordinary reading experiences of my life. Read my review.

The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and sabotage plague the space program. The IAC’s goal of getting as many people as possible off Earth before it becomes uninhabitable is being threatened.

Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President.

I absolutely loved this trilogy and am hoping to start her Glamourist fantasy series sometime this year, so long as I’ve completed another couple of series I’ve got on my list. And virtue is its own reward – while I loved the first two book, this one is my particular favourite. Read my review.

Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron
Dear Reader,
There is no way to write a blurb for this final book without spoiling all of the others. Suffice it to say, mysteries resolve, dragons war, pigeons abound, and Julius must risk himself in ways he never dreamed possible as Bob’s grand plan finally comes to fruition. But the Great Seer of the Heartstrikers isn’t the only one whose schemes are nearing completion. The Nameless End is coming, and even the machinations of the world’s most brilliant dragon seer might not be enough to stop it. As the world comes crashing down, it’s up Julius to prove what he’s always known: that seers can be wrong, and Nice Dragons don’t always finish last.

This series proved to be so much fun! Not only does this entertaining urban fantasy feature shape-shifting dragons and some marvellous foot-to-the-floor action scenes – it also has plenty of humour, which is just what I needed during this testing year. Read my review.

Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
“Bending over me solicitously, was a porcelain-headed, laughing policeman; wide-mouthed with mirth he leaned closer, tilting his head in a parody of concern. Eyeless he watched me, tongueless he chanted, I knew the chant and my mind couldn’t help but chant with him, ‘Oh, I wish, I wish, I wish I knew, exactly what to do with you.’”

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?

I absolutely LOVED this series and there is a hint that this might not be the final book in this gem of a series that deserves to be far more widely known. But as it is still published as a trilogy, then I’m counting it as a completed series. Though no one will be happier than I if it proves to be false – this was one of the major reading highlights of my year. Read my review.

I’m aware that it doesn’t look all that impressive, only four series completed, but that meant that over the whole year, I’d finished eleven series. I’ll take that as a solid result. I’m also making an effort to catch up with other series that I’ve let lapse. Have you recently completed or caught up with any series?

Déjà vu review – No Humans Involved – Book 7 of the Women of the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong #BrainfluffDéjàvureview #NoHumansInvolvedbookreview

Standard

After discovering the Friday Face-off set of covers for Industrial Magic, it reminded me of this lovely series all over again – so I decided to feature a review of one of my favourite Otherworld characters that I posted back in January 2015…

BLURB: It’s the most anticipated reality television event of the season: three spiritualists gathered together in one house to raise the ghost of Marilyn Monroe. For renowned medium Jaime Vegas there’s just one problem. Unlike her colleagues, Jaime is the real deal: and she knows that the house is truly haunted. Not by dead film stars, but by something even stranger and much more disturbing.

A tragic mystery lurks in the maze of gardens behind the house: trapped spirits that only Jaime can hear. As their whispers grow more frantic, Jaime – along with Alpha werewolf Jeremy Danvers – is forced to embark on an investigation into a shocking underworld of black magic and ritual sacrifice.

REVIEW: This popular and trailblazing series, started back in 2001 with Bitten, features women caught up in the paranormal world one way or another. So while Bitten deals with Elena, a young journalist pitchforked into the middle of werewolf society – in No Humans Involved Jaime has to deal with the sudden appearance of ghosts in ‘I see dead people’ moments. Constantly… Fortunately, she does have coping strategies to prevent her going mad – one of them being that she is very well connected with a number of highly placed and powerful otherworldly characters. As this is the seventh book in the series, these characters have generally already appeared along the way. I really enjoy this feature of Armstrong’s writing – it is always a pleasure to get a different take on a protagonist in another story and she is very good at this technique.

It doesn’t hurt that Jaime, though undoubtedly glamorous and good looking, is also aware that the clock is ticking, her waistline isn’t getting any trimmer and the laughter lines are in danger of turning into crowsfeet… In other words, she reflects many of the anxieties women past a certain age can experience on a daily basis. Obviously, the fact she’s a celebrity means those concerns are heightened, but it is still something of a treat to read an urban fantasy romp that doesn’t feature a fit, perky young thing with all her vitality and good looks before her. I also love her self-deprecating humour. Of all Armstrong’s female heroines, Jaime holds a special place in my heart…

So in this murder mystery, does the story hold up around her? Oh yes. Armstrong quickly pulls us to the centre of this disturbing mystery by also giving us chilling slices in the perpetrator’s viewpoint, without revealing her identity– and it was also an enjoyable extra layer to discover that the baddie is also a woman… Meanwhile, Jaime is juggling the needs of the director, coping with professional jealousy from both her co-stars, while also trying to deal with her feelings about Jeremy Danvers, the Alpha werewolf who takes a vacation to meet her. Question is – does he also reciprocate her feelings? And is there really time for any sort of romance when there are trapped ghosts waiting for Jaime to help them?

I gobbled this book up in a couple of sittings when I should have been sleeping, but once I started reading I simply couldn’t stop. The conclusion was suitably dramatic and climactic, with a couple of surprises along the way. Great fun! And if you haven’t yet treated yourself to any of Armstrong’s keynote series – don’t start with this one, get hold of Bitten and feast on an entertaining, thoroughly enjoyable world.
9/10

Covet the Covers – 19 #Brainfluffcovetthecovers #CovetthecoversRachelAaron

Standard

Welcome to another helping of Covet the Covers. This week I’m featuring Rachel Aaron’s covers. Her book Last Dragon Standing made my Outstanding Reads of 2020 – but I’ve enjoyed the whole Heartstrikers series – see my reviews of Nice Dragons Finish Last, One Good Dragon Deserves Another, No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished and my mini-review of A Dragon of a Different Colour. I’ve also read and reviewed the first book in the spinoff series, Minimum Wage Magic and Garrison Girl, in addition to The Spirit Rebellion – Book 2 of the Eli Monpress series. Have you read any of these – and which is your favourite cover?


*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Library of the Dead – Book 1 of the Edinburgh Nights by T.L. Huchu #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheLibraryoftheDeadbookreview

Standard

I found the premise of this one fascinating – a post-apocalyptic Scotland and a young, gutsy protagonist straddling two cultures. And I can’t deny that the cover also blew me away.

BLURB: When a child goes missing in Edinburgh’s darkest streets, young Ropa investigates. She’ll need to call on Zimbabwean magic as well as her Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. But as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?

When ghosts talk, she will listen…

Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker. Now she speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to the living. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children–leaving them husks, empty of joy and life. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honor-bound to investigate. But what she learns will change her world. She’ll dice with death (not part of her life plan…), discovering an occult library and a taste for hidden magic. She’ll also experience dark times. For Edinburgh hides a wealth of secrets, and Ropa’s gonna hunt them all down.

REVIEW: Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Ropa is an engaging protagonist and given the awful circumstances she finds herself battling with, the fact that she is only fourteen worked for me, although I am aware some reviewers had a bit of a problem with her youth. But children in difficult times grow up fast and she still demonstrated that odd mix of maturity and flashes of someone much younger that makes up a teen personality. I thought the characterisation of the protagonist was the main strength of the book, though I also liked the depiction of a civilisation steadily falling apart. It didn’t bother me that I wasn’t aware of exactly why everything was quite so dire – given we are in Ropa’s viewpoint, pages of explanation about the political situation would have been out of character.

I also liked the members of Ropa’s family – her relationship with her younger sister could have so easily become a bit treacly, and I was pleased that it didn’t. The constant friction between the girls over the use of her phone was nicely realistic, having had to step into the middle of similar fights between my grandchildren. Her granny is also an intriguing personality, who taught Ropa the magic she uses, drawing on her Zimbabwean culture to be able to speak to the departed and help them. All this worked really well for me.

However, I wasn’t quite so impressed with the plotting. The story was completely predictable and I guessed (successfully) what was going to happen from about halfway through the book. As you can see from the score, that wasn’t a huge dealbreaker for me as Ropa’s personality made this an entertaining read anyway. I’m not wholly convinced about the library angle of the story, either. To be honest, it felt a tad tacked on, and wasn’t in the same league as Ropa’s characterisation, and the interesting world she is forced to operate in. There are some fabulous magical libraries out there already – ranging from the hilariously dangerous version at the Unseen University in Pratchett’s Discworld with an orangutang for a librarian, through to Genevieve Cogman’s highly successful Invisible Library series. Huchu is going to have to work at making this version really stand out.

That said, I would happily read the second book in this series just to spend a bit more time with Ropa. Recommended for fans who particularly enjoy strong young protagonists operating in difficult circumstances. While I obtained an arc of The Library of the Dead from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Sunday Post – 14th February, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

Standard

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

We had the two older grandchildren staying over on Tuesday and Wednesday, while my daughter had a minor op. As ever, it was a treat to spend time with them – though there were some discussions about online lessons and the fact they still needed doing… We took them back on Wednesday evening, while Rebecca continued to recover. Fortunately, everything went smoothly for her.

It’s been a bitterly cold week with a vicious easterly scything through rather than around me as I step outside the door. So I’ve stayed indoors – I hate the cold and most of the week the temperature has been below freezing. At least it hasn’t been snowing here, thank goodness…

The photos this week are part of my beautiful spring flower bouquet from Himself – lovely sprays of scented narcissi – and then the hope of better days as the daffs in the garden have begun to emerge…

Last week I read:

SHORT STORY Lucky Thirteen – the Frontline series by Marko Kloos
Rookie pilot Halley’s first drop ship command. A short story in the Terms of Enlistment universe.
Although I enjoy reading short stories, these days I prefer longer fiction – but Himself strongly recommended this one. And since he’s got impeccable taste (after all, he fell in love with me…) this was a real treat.

AUDIOBOOK Troy – Book 3 of Stephen Fry’s Great Mythology by Stephen Fry
The story of Troy speaks to all of us – the kidnapping of Helen, a queen celebrated for her beauty, sees the Greeks launch a thousand ships against the city of Troy, to which they will lay siege for ten whole years. It is a terrible war with casualties on all sides as well as strained relations between allies, whose consequences become tragedies.

In Troy you will find heroism and hatred, love and loss, revenge and regret, desire and despair. It is these human passions, written bloodily in the sands of a distant shore, that still speak to us today.
I’ve loved this series – and listening to this latest retelling, narrated by Fry himself and largely based upon Homer’s Illiad, was a real treat. Though Fry’s not wrong about it being a terrible war…

Out of Nowhere – Book 1 of The Immortal Vagabond Healer series by Patrick LeClerc
Healer Sean Danet is immortal—a fact he has cloaked for centuries, behind army lines and now a paramedic’s uniform. Having forgotten most of his distant past, he has finally found peace—and love. But there are some things you cannot escape, however much distance you put behind you.

When Sean heals the wrong man, he uncovers a lethal enemy who holds all the cards. And this time he can’t run. It’s time to stand and fight, for himself, for his friends, for the woman he loves. It’s time, finally, for Sean to face his past—and choose a future.
This fantasy was such an enjoyable ride. I particularly liked the fact that Sean is a paramedic and I’ll definitely be getting the second book in this intriguing and different adventure. Review to follow.

The Library of the Dead – Book 1 of Edinburgh Nights by T.L. Huchu
When a child goes missing in Edinburgh’s darkest streets, young Ropa investigates. She’ll need to call on Zimbabwean magic as well as her Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. But as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?

Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker. Now she speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to the living. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children–leaving them husks, empty of joy and life. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honor-bound to investigate. But what she learns will change her world.
This was another fantasy adventure with an engaging and different protagonist – this time a tough, streetwise teen living in a post-apocalyptic Edinburgh who can talk to ghosts finds herself trying to help a dead mother find her missing child. Review to follow.

Frozen Stiff Drink – Book 6 of the Braxton Campus Mysteries by James J. Cudney
A winter blizzard barrels toward Wharton County with a vengeance. Madam Zenya predicted the raging storm would change the course of Kellan’s life, but the famed seer never could’ve prepared him for all the collateral damage.

Nana D disappears after visiting a patient at Willow Trees, leaving behind a trail of confusion. When the patient turns up dead, and second body is discovered beneath the snowbanks, Kellan must face his worst fears. What tragedy has befallen his beloved grandmother?
I’ve been following this enjoyable contemporary cosy murder mystery series. And once again, hapless Kellan trips over another body in upsetting circumstances. This time, not even the weather is behaving itself. Cudney is very good at producing an endless supply of plausible suspects and I stayed up way later than I should to discover what happened next. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Covet the Covers featuring Nevil Shute

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

Review of Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstriker’s series by Rachel Aaron

Friday Face-off featuring Shardik – Book 2 of the Beklan Empire series by Richard Adams

January 2021 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging…

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring The Galaxy and the Ground Within – Book 4 of the Wayfarer series by Becky Chambers

Tuesday Treasures – 26

Review of AUDIOBOOK Machine – Book 2 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Expert System’s Champion – Book 2 of the Expert Systems series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Sunday Post – 7th January 2021

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

10 of the Best Poems about Calm and Relaxation https://interestingliterature.com/2021/02/poems-about-calm-and-relaxation/ It’s been a long week with bitter winds and sub-zero temperatures. Perhaps some of these poems will provide some measure of comfort during the dark days of winter…

Mermaid and Siren Book Recommendations https://aquapages.wordpress.com/2020/04/21/mermaid-siren-book-recommendations/ If you also like books featuring mermaids, you might find Eline’s suggestions useful…

#LessonsLearned from #JohnLeCarre: Always #Write a #Setting of Quality https://jeanleesworld.com/2021/02/01/lessonslearned-from-johnlecarre-always-write-a-setting-of-quality/ Jean’s articles are always worth reading for their sheer entertainment value, even if you aren’t all that fussed about writing. If you are, then they are a solid treat…

Gong Hei Fatt Choi! Gong Xi Fa Cai! Happy Year of the Ox! #CNY #CNYbooks #ChineseNewYear #LunarNewYear #YearoftheOx https://hookedonbookz.com/2021/02/12/gong-hei-fatt-choy-gong-xi-fa-cai-happy-year-of-the-ox-cny-cnybooks-chinesenewyear-lunarnewyear-yearoftheox/ Jee wouldn’t normally be writing about the Chinese New Year, as he usually travels to Malaysia with his family to celebrate. This year, it’s different…

Desert Reflected~ https://cindyknoke.com/2021/02/06/desert-reflected/ These stunning pics warmed me up just by looking at them. Perhaps they’ll do the same for you…

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

Review of INDIE Ebook Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron #Brainfluffbookreview #LastDragonStandingbookreview

Standard

I have thoroughly enjoyed this series – see my reviews of Nice Dragons Finish Last and One Good Dragon Deserves Another, No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished and my mini-review of A Dragon of a Different Colour. So last year I decided to get over myself and make an effort to complete more series, as I often delay finishing them.

BLURB: There is no way to write a blurb for this final book without spoiling all of the others. Suffice it to say, mysteries resolve, dragons war, pigeons abound, and Julius must risk himself in ways he never dreamed possible as Bob’s grand plan finally comes to fruition.

But the Great Seer of the Heartstrikers isn’t the only one whose schemes are nearing completion. The Nameless End is coming, and even the machinations of the world’s most brilliant dragon seer might not be enough to stop it. As the world comes crashing down, it’s up Julius to prove what he’s always known: that seers can be wrong, and Nice Dragons don’t always finish last.

REVIEW: The fourth book, A Dragon of a Different Color, essentially sets up the story for the final apocalyptic conflict that takes place throughout the whole of this story – so whatever you do, don’t pick up this one without at least having read that book. Better still, start at the beginning of this series. While there are series you can crash midway and get away with it, this isn’t one of them, as many of the story threads and allusions relate to previous books.

This book deals with the ultimate struggle that has been foreseen by Bob, the dragon seer and The Nameless End. I love the fact that Aaron took her time in lining up all the main characters we’ve got to know and love, to ensure that no one was left dangling. I love the fact that she took time to fully unpack the potential consequences of what would happen if it all went wrong. I also love the fact that in amongst all the apocalyptic events, there are still regular shafts of humour and plenty of snark and chat. After all, this is one of the staple tropes in Urban Fantasy, and is often the aspect that goes out of the window when the action starts to really run hot.

I thought the pacing and the complexity of the magic system was cleverly explored and fully utilised during this final showdown – something else I thoroughly appreciated. I am often disappointed when really cool concepts get rather buried as people start flinging gouts of magic at each other – not so, here. Those concepts and the premise set out within the worldbuilding become part of the weaponry used, which made reading this book an ongoing joy. It isn’t particularly long, but that didn’t matter, because it packs a punch from the first page to the last and gave me the opportunity to see each character’s narrative arc come to a fitting conclusion.

This is one of my favourite urban fantasy series – and I loved the way Aaron brought it safely home. Highly recommended for fans of quirky dragon stories with an interesting, detailed magic system.
10/10