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

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

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

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

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

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #VelvetWastheNightbookreview

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I am a fan of Moreno-Garcia’s writing – see my reviews of Mexican Gothic, Gods of Jade and Shadow, Certain Dark Things, The Beautiful Ones and Prime Meridian. So when I saw this one was available on Netgalley, I scampered across to request it and was delighted to be approved to read it…

BLURB: 1970s, Mexico City. Maite is a secretary who lives for one thing: the latest issue of Secret Romance. While student protests and political unrest consume the city, Maite escapes into stories of passion and danger.

Her next-door neighbor, Leonora, a beautiful art student, seems to live a life of intrigue and romance that Maite envies. When Leonora disappears under suspicious circumstances, Maite finds herself searching for the missing woman—and journeying deeper into Leonora’s secret life of student radicals and dissidents.

Meanwhile, someone else is also looking for Leonora at the behest of his boss, a shadowy figure who commands goon squads dedicated to squashing political activists. Elvis is an eccentric criminal who longs to escape his own life: He loathes violence and loves old movies and rock ’n’ roll. But as Elvis searches for the missing woman, he comes to observe Maite from a distance…

REVIEW: I’ve cut short the rather chatty blurb, which I think strays into Spoiler territory. I’m a huge fan of Moreno-Garcia’s writing – she is a mighty talent who makes a point of hopping across a number of genres to produce something different every time. Even more impressively, she manages to nail each genre every time, too. But I’ll confess that this time around, it was something of a battle to get through the first half of this book. It’s a noir thriller, set in a terrible time when people were being persecuted and beaten by thugs because of their political opinions. So inevitably, the mood is gritty and the main characters are trapped in circumstances beyond their control. As I’m also struggling with my own issues right now, I found it a difficult read – especially as I really cared about Maite.

Moreno-Garcia’s superpower is the way she manages to make me care about protagonists who are deeply flawed. Poor, downtrodden Maite is far too worried about what everyone else thinks. Lonely and depressed, she is also oblivious to what is going on around her. Elvis has got mixed up with a terrible organisation, having been mesmerised by a monster, and is capable of terrible acts of violence. Both of them aspire to a more glamorous life, as depicted in the films – the kind of life that missing Leonora seems to be leading. Though, despite her insecurities and ignorance of the sheer horror of what is going on around her, what stopped me from dismissing Maite as a complete loser, is the core of kindness that runs through her. And her refusal to give up trying to do the right thing.

After I got halfway through the book, the gathering pace and my fondness for Maite kept the pages turning. Moreno-Garcia’s evident talent shines through in her handling of the increasing tension, while the finale brought together all the strands of the story into a fabulous ending. Whatever you do, read the Afterword which explains the historical context of the events depicted in the book. Once more, this is a triumphant success by an outstanding author and I just wish my own circumstances had left me in a better place to be able to fully appreciate it. While I don’t normally reread books, this is one that I intend to visit again, once I’ve finally recovered from Long Covid. The ebook arc copy of Velvet Was the Night was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Paper & Blood – Book 2 of The Ink & Sigil series by Kevin Hearne #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Paper&Bloodbookreview

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I love The Iron Druid series – see my reviews of Hounded, Hammered, Shattered, Staked and Scourged. Atticus is a fabulous hero with his adorable dogs and the steady humour they provide prevent the series from getting too dark as his enemies get angrier and more powerful. So I was delighted when Ink & Sigil, the first book in a spin-off series, appeared. Would I enjoy Paper & Blood as much?

BLURB: There’s only one Al MacBharrais: Though other Scotsmen may have dramatic mustaches and a taste for fancy cocktails, Al also has a unique talent. He’s a master of ink and sigil magic. In his gifted hands, paper and pen can work wondrous spells.

But Al isn’t quite alone: He is part of a global network of sigil agents who use their powers to protect the world from mischievous gods and strange monsters. So when a fellow agent disappears under sinister circumstances in Australia, Al leaves behind the cozy pubs and cafes of Glasgow and travels to the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria to solve the mystery.

The trail to his colleague begins to pile up with bodies at alarming speed, so Al is grateful his friends have come to help—especially Nadia, his accountant who moonlights as a pit fighter. Together with a whisky-loving hobgoblin known as Buck Foi and the ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, along with his dogs, Oberon and Starbuck, Al and Nadia will face down the wildest wonders Australia—and the supernatural world—can throw at them, and confront a legendary monster not seen in centuries.
REVIEW: I really have rather fallen in love with Al. It’s such a refreshing change to find a sympathetic, enjoyable protagonist who also happens not to be in the full flush of youth – and yes… I’m aware that Atticus is two thousand years old. But he looks like a twenty-something, whereas Al doesn’t. The extra weight of years and wry wisdom has completely won me over. It doesn’t hurt that I also enjoy the company he keeps, especially his foul-mouthed hobgoblin companion, Buck Foi and Nadia. And yes… there is a lot of swearing in this book, so if you find that offensive, then this won’t be for you. It was the one thing that, at times, slightly niggled as I wished that Al had reported that Buck Foi cursed, rather than giving me the benefit of all the sweariness. But it wasn’t a dealbreaker, because I enjoyed the characters and the action.

And the great big bonus for me is that Atticus and his dogs also heavily feature in this adventure. I’ve really missed tucking into yet another amusing story featuring Atticus since the Iron Druid series finished, so I was delighted that he has such a big role in this book. And it is also fascinating to see him filtered through Al’s viewpoint. As ever, Hearne tells a cracking tale, full of action and suspense. As the mystery of the missing sigil agents deepens, Hearne’s warm-hearted, larger-than-life characters are genuinely concerned. When we meet the horrible monsters intent to tearing apart everyone they meet, I did wonder if we’d ever see them again. Because for all his folksy fun, Hearne isn’t afraid to kill off a likeable, affectionate character if it fits the plot.

A large part of the story is set in the Australian outback, which is effectively evoked and certainly adds to the vividness and tension, while Al and his gang attempt their desperate rescue. As ever with Hearne, I didn’t see the denouement coming – but that didn’t stop it being entirely satisfying. While there is lots of action and humour, I also appreciated the discussions and stories between the characters and the philosophical deliberations. All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read, and is highly recommended for urban fantasy fans with a liking for their fantasy with a strong Celtic twist and lots of quirky humour. While I obtained an arc of Paper & Blood from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 11th August, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Paper & Blood – Book 2 of The Ink & Sigil series by Kevin Hearne – release date 12th August, 2021

#urban fantasy #Iron Druid world #troubled hero #magic #monsters and fae #humour

BLURB: There’s only one Al MacBharrais: Though other Scotsmen may have dramatic mustaches and a taste for fancy cocktails, Al also has a unique talent. He’s a master of ink and sigil magic. In his gifted hands, paper and pen can work wondrous spells.

But Al isn’t quite alone: He is part of a global network of sigil agents who use their powers to protect the world from mischievous gods and strange monsters. So when a fellow agent disappears under sinister circumstances in Australia, Al leaves behind the cozy pubs and cafes of Glasgow and travels to the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria to solve the mystery.

The trail to his colleague begins to pile up with bodies at alarming speed, so Al is grateful his friends have come to help—especially Nadia, his accountant who moonlights as a pit fighter. Together with a whisky-loving hobgoblin known as Buck Foi and the ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, along with his dogs, Oberon and Starbuck, Al and Nadia will face down the wildest wonders Australia—and the supernatural world—can throw at them, and confront a legendary monster not seen in centuries.

I love The Iron Druid series – see my reviews of Hounded, Hammered, Shattered, Staked and Scourged. Atticus is a fabulous hero and his dogs are adorable and the steady humour they provide prevent the series from getting too dark as the enemies get angrier and more powerful. So I was delighted when Ink & Sigil, the first book in a spin-off series, appeared. I love dear old Al, who is the victim of two nasty curses, and find it refreshing to have a sixty-something-year-old protagonist, even if he can protect himself magically from the worst that the baddies can throw at him. I just started this one yesterday. But if you, too, are a fan of Hearne’s sparky, enjoyable style then you won’t have to wait long – this one is due out tomorrow😊.

Tuesday Treasures – 36 #Brainfluffbookblog

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This week on Tuesday Treasures, I am featuring our first walk along Littlehampton beach for a very long time. Despite deciding it would be a good idea to get out in the fresh air well over a month ago, after Oscar left we were beset by weeks of thunderstorms and sudden downpours and given I don’t move very fast, I would have been drenched. And then I became ill again. So now I’m once again recovering, yesterday we ventured out – and though it was blowing a hoolie, it was wonderful to get down to the beach again. I was interested to see all the young gulls feeding down on the sand together. During the day, the nest next door is now quiet, so this must be where they spend their time. The plants are from the borders lining Pier Road, which look fabulous at this time of the year.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Rookery – Book 2 of The Nightjar series by Deborah Hewitt BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheRookerybookreview

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This offering caught my eye, as I loved the sound of an alternate London and an intriguingly different magic system. But I hadn’t got very far into it, when I realised that it was the second in a series – and that this time around, my reading experience was being seriously compromised by not having read The Nightjar. So I stopped and got hold of the first book – and I firmly advise that you do the same thing, if by chance you have also picked up The Rookery before having already tucked into The Nightjar.

BLURB: After discovering her magical ability to see people’s souls, Alice Wyndham only wants three things: to return to the Rookery, join the House Mielikki and master her magic, and find out who she really is.

But when the secrets of Alice’s past threaten her plans, and the Rookery begins to crumble around her, she must decide how far she’s willing to go to save the city and people she loves.

REVIEW: I enjoyed this one far more than The Nightjar. To some extent, that might be because I’d compromised my reading experience of the first book in this series by already knowing some of the main plotpoints. However, I don’t necessarily think that was the main problem. I’d become a tad exasperated by Alice during The Nightjar, as she made some really daft decisions. And I’m increasingly allergic to heroines who are determined to throw themselves into the most insanely dangerous situations they can find for the sake of the plot, while all the time professing there isn’t any other option.

So I’ll admit to starting this one without feeling hugely enthusiastic – and ended up getting completely pulled into the plot. The world had already beguiled me, and it was the prospect of revisiting the Rookery, the magical version of London, that had prompted me to dive into this one, anyway. But this time around, Alice’s decisions were far more logical. That doesn’t mean that she isn’t still a disaster magnet – but the situations she flung herself into at least made sense to me. And I was pleased to see that the political machinations around the magical houses were given sufficient attention, as that was one of the ongoing issues throughout The Nightjar that had intrigued me. All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable, immersive read – to the extent that I stayed up far later than is good for me to discover what happened.

So if you read The Nightjar and came away wondering what all the fuss is about – don’t let that deter you from tucking into this one. It provides a really enjoyable adventure in a pleasingly different world with a nicely original magic system. I highly recommend it to fans of slightly quirky fantasy adventures. While I obtained an arc of The Rookery from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc How to Talk to a Goddess and Other Lessons in Real Magic – Book 2 of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #HowtoTalktoaGoddessbookreview

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Being easily led astray, particularly where books are concerned – I’ll confess it was the gorgeous cover and quirky title that caught my eye, regarding this offering. I was in the mood for an enjoyable, engaging fantasy read that wouldn’t be too grimly dire – and this one seemed to fit the bill…

BLURB: Nora knows she needs to move on. And forget about magic.

She’s back in graduate school, and her life is going surprisingly well. She doesn’t need to think about other worlds, about enchantments and demons, or about magicians—even though she once aspired to become one herself. Most of all, she really should forget the magician Aruendiel, who shared the secrets of magic with her but fiercely guarded the deepest secrets of his heart.

Then a chance encounter gives Nora the opportunity to slip between worlds again—and the next phase of her magical education begins…

REVIEW: I’ve cropped the rather chatty blurb, as the ensuing paragraphs give away far too many plotpoints that are far better experienced within the book, rather than being anticipated.

I’ve read a number of books where protagonists have returned to their everyday, mundane existence after spending time in a dangerous, yet vibrant magical world. This one absolutely nails the mingled sense of relief at being relatively safe again – and the yearning sense of longing for the magic… the love… the excitement of what’s been lost. It’s nicely handled, as Nora could so easily have come across as a discontented whiner, but I found myself bonding with her plight and immediately rooting for her. And as once again, I’ve crashed into this series without reading the first book, this was my first introduction to the main protagonist.

Subsequent events plunge Nora into a situation where those yearnings are once more met – and again, I liked the fact that she finds the change a challenging one. Aruendiel, her powerful mentor, is generally grumpy, aloof and somewhat arrogant – basically your typical entitled sorcerer. And what takes place during their initial meeting had my jaw dropping. This clearly isn’t the romantic, enjoyable interaction Nora had been hoping for… And that is about as much as I can say about the plot without lurching into Spoiler territory.

I really enjoyed the depth of the characterisation and the fact that Barker is a fan of the ‘show, don’t tell’ school of writing, especially where the main characters are concerned. The setting, particularly at the Temple, completely convinced me and I enjoyed the exploration of the nature of faith and at what stage steady devotion becomes poisonous fanaticism. Though I don’t want you going away with the impression that there are pages of exposition describing such issues – Barker is far too smart at writing an enjoyable adventure story to commit such a crime. All in all, this is an engaging and pleasingly different fantasy story, still firmly set within many of the tropes of the epic fantasy tale. I’m guessing I would have enjoyed it even more if I’d read the first book, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic – and Himself, being the solidly marvellous husband that he is, has now bought this one as a gift for me. I’ll be shortly tucking into it – for I’m missing Barker’s world. Highly recommended for fantasy fans. While I obtained an arc of How To Talk to a Goddess and Other Lessons in Real Magic from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 28th July, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – The Rookery – Book 2 of The Nightjar series by Deborah Hewitt – release date 5th August, 2021.

#fantasy #alternate world #London setting #magic #feisty heroine

BLURB: The Rookery, city of secrets, lies and magic, is facing destruction. But does Alice have the power to save her new home?

When Alice discovered this alternate London, her life changed forever. She discovered she was seeing Nightjars – miraculous birds that guard our souls. But her newfound magic has a dark side. So in an effort to protect her friends, Alice is training to wield her rare abilities under House Mielikki – the House of Life. Yet something isn’t right. And after a series of attacks leaves her reeling, it’s clear someone wants her to fail.

Alice must plunge into a world of seductive magic and unimaginable perils to uncover the conspiracy. And when she discovers why Rookery itself is at risk, she realizes the price she must pay to save it.

I read and enjoyed The Nightjar – although there were times when Alice’s choices were a tad daft. But the world is intriguing and I like the magic, so I’m looking forward to tucking into this one. Has anyone else snagged a copy of this offering?