Category Archives: urban fantasy

Sunday Post – 7th March, 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’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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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

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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

Two FANTASY Mini-Reviews: A Dragon of a Different Colour by Rachel Aaron & Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders by Aliette de Bodard #BrainfluffFANTASYmini-reviews #ADragonofaDifferentColourmini-review #OfDragonsFeastsandMurdersmini-review

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A Dragon of a Different Colour – Book 4 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron

BLURB: To save his family from his tyrannical mother, Julius had to step on a lot of tails. That doesn’t win a Nice Dragon many friends, but just when he thinks he’s starting to make progress, a new threat arrives.

Turns out, things can get worse. Heartstriker hasn’t begun to pay for its secrets, and the dragons of China are here to collect. When the Golden Emperor demands his surrender, Julius will have to choose between loyalty to the sister who’s always watched over him and preserving the clan he gave everything to protect.

As this is a continuation of the story, whatever you do, don’t crash into this series but go back to the beginning – see my reviews of Nice Dragons Finish Last, One Good Dragon Deserves Another and No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished. Once again, we are plunged into the middle of the ongoing crisis, as Julian, now leader of the Heartstriker clan, has to deal with the fallout of the mighty power struggle that toppled his despotic mother.

However, crises just go on piling up as the neighbours are now starting to cause massive problems and the most powerful clan on the planet pitches up on the doorstep, demanding Heartstriker surrender. The best adventures are when you keep turning the pages without having a clue how the gutsy heroes and heroines are going get out of this jam – and this particular denouement is awesome and original. The worldbuilding is exceptional and while the action had to slow a tad in order for the complexity to be fully explained – I was happy to read and wonder. Another cracking read in my favourite urban fantasy series of 2020, as Aaron goes on delivering dragon-shaped delight…
9/10

Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders: A Dominion of the Fallen novella by Aliette de Bodard

BLURB: Lunar New Year should be a time for familial reunions, ancestor worship, and consumption of an unhealthy amount of candied fruit.

But when dragon prince Thuan brings home his brooding and ruthless husband Asmodeus for the New Year, they find not interminable family gatherings, but a corpse outside their quarters. Asmodeus is thrilled by the murder investigation; Thuan, who gets dragged into the political plotting he’d sworn off when he left, is less enthusiastic.

It’ll take all of Asmodeus’s skill with knives, and all of Thuan’s diplomacy, to navigate this one—as well as the troubled waters of their own relationship….

Back in 2016, I read the first book in this series – A House of Shattered Wingssee my review – and thoroughly enjoyed it, so was glad to get hold of this shorter story in the same series. Writing a successful novella takes a different skillset than that needed to write a novel, and I was pleased to see that de Bodard had nailed that. The characterisation and pacing were spot on for the length, as was the narrative arc. And as this was essentially a murder mystery within an alien setting, that took a fair amount of technical skill.

I didn’t particularly bond with Thuan, but as the plotting was also a vital component to this one, that wasn’t the problem it could have been. As for Admodeus and Thuan’s relationship… hm – okay. It takes all sorts – I’m just very glad that I’m not trapped within such a borderline-abusive relationship, but I did find their more intimate moments very uncomfortable and I won’t be reading any more of this series.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Forged – Book 11 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Forgedbookreview

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I have recently got back into reading this smart, cleverly written, Brit-based urban fantasy, featuring divination mage Alex Verus, after enjoying this series over a number of years – read my reviews of Fated, Veiled, Burned, Bound and Fallen. So I was delighted to be approved to read the new release of the penultimate adventure planned for this series – Forged.

BLURB: To protect his friends, Mage Alex Verus has had to change–and embrace his dark side. But the life mage Anne has changed too, and made a bond with a dangerous power. She’s going after everyone she’s got a grudge against–and it’s a long list. In the meantime, Alex has to deal with his arch-enemy, Levistus. The Council’s death squads are hunting Alex as well as Anne, and the only way for Alex to stop them is to end his long war with Levistus and the Council, by whatever means necessary. It will take everything Alex has to stay a step ahead of the Council and stop Anne from letting the world burn.

REVIEW: I only recently finished reading Fallen, so had no problem picking up the action which continues straight on from the previous book. Alex, after being subjected to an intolerable choice in the previous book, took a fateful decision which has very much altered his view on things.

There is a lot of action in this book – as The Council goes on hunting for him, Alex ends up in a series of confrontations. The battles are done very well – Jacka writes the action and Alex’s reaction to it throughout without any loss of pace, the fight scenes between battling mages grippingly portrayed. But this book is, necessarily, quite a lot darker and I missed some of the characters who used to provide some light relief. They are much less in evidence as the pace is more relentless and the stakes go on rising.

However, I’m glad that despite all the killing, there is no sense that people’s lives don’t matter. We end up being a bit appalled at the violence, because we are alongside Verus, who is also affected by the trail of destruction left in his wake. There is a defining battle near the end of the book that I found particularly poignant, in amongst all the chaos and mayhem. Especially if you compare the main antagonist with a version of themselves only a couple of books earlier… As ever, Jacka wraps up the ongoing problem within this story so I wasn’t left feeling unsatisfied with the ending. Though there are a couple of massive plotpoints still waving in the wind…

I am looking forward to the next, final book, where all these issues will be satisfactorily concluded. And I’m crossing my fingers – and toes – that at least a couple of the main characters, as well as Verus, will emerge relatively unscathed. Which surely tells you how invested I’ve become in the narrative arcs of the protagonist and his followers while following their fortunes throughout this tumultuous and well-crafted series. While I obtained an arc of Forged from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10