Tag Archives: adventure

Review of INDIE Ebook Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik #Brainfluffbookreview #RelativelyStrangebookreview

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I suffered a real book hangover after reading Witch Dust – see my review – so I was delighted when I discovered this paranormal psi-fi adventure. And right now I had no problem in bouncing it right to the stop of my very long TBR list…

BLURB: “I was five when I discovered I could fly, sixteen when I killed a man.
Both events were unsettling in their own way.”

It’s hard to know what’s normal, if you’re not, and it takes Stella a while to realise she’s in the definitely ‘not’ drawer. But we are who we are and we make adjustments to fit in – most of the time – and it’s only when she finds she’s not quite as unique as she thought, that things begin to acquire a whole new dimension. Forced to call on resources she didn’t know she possessed and thrust headlong into the violence of a situation for which nothing could have prepared her, Stella is suddenly face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences.

REVIEW: As in Witch Dust, it is the strong first-person narrative voice that beguiled me from the first line and held me throughout. It doesn’t hurt that Messik also had the pacing nailed and took us through the very conventional timeline of her infancy, youth and into her early adulthood with a mixture of anecdotes, scenes and humorous asides that pulled me right into her world. This story could have been presented with the emotional tone dialled up to the max, full of angst and pain – Stella has plenty of scary moments that had the capacity to knock her endways, after all. But that gutsy, determined toughness that characterised her grandmother and her great-aunts and their eccentricities has given her resilience and a self-belief nourished by her parents. I completely believed that her family successfully managed to keep her abilities shielded from prying eyes, while persuading her to keep them hidden, without overly daunting her.

The unfolding story of how she discovers that there are those who are far too interested into her and her abilities kept me turning the pages. Stella is a baby-boomer, born in the 1950s, and I completely believed the worldbuilding and historical era – and I’d have known if there had been any false notes, as I was also born just a few years later. The other characters who people this gripping adventure are vividly drawn. And although there are some shocking events, Stella’s narrative voice both manages to effectively depict the seriousness of what happens, yet offer a sense of hope – which I really need in my reading matter, these days.

I also like her trick of producing a number of plot twists that change up the stakes and pull Stella into a rescue mission that will place her in danger to the extent that she is exposed to a fate worse than death. And no – we’re not talking about any kind of sexual encounter – we’re talking about a real fate that would be worse than dying… Hamlet the dog is also awesome, by the way. I’m conscious that in my determination not to provide any kind of Spoiler, I have sold this book short, but the pacing, narrative voice and twisty plot provided one of the most satisfying reads of the year to date – and I’m delighted that I have two more books in this series waiting for me on my Kindle. Highly recommended.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – Bodice rippers… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFacebodiceripperscovers

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers for BODICE RIPPERS. I’ve selected Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier.

Reading a bedtime story?

This offering was produced by Pocket Books in 1964 certainly shows its age. The artwork is cramped and underwhelming, while the dreaded textbox is boringly white. Not even the infusion of a bit of colour for the author and title fonts can liven this one up. Apart from anything else, it looks as if our dashing Frenchman is sitting reading milady a bedtime story, rather than sweeping her off her feet.

Pity about that textbox…

Published in December 2013 by Little, Brown and Company, this cover is a lot more modern, which is why it’s even more of a shame that it has ended up being quite so vanilla. This cover gives no hint of the colourful romantic adventure within its pages. While I like the depiction of Lady Dona – especially that we don’t see her face – the pallid author font and charmless textbox manage to turn what could be a mysterious, intriguing cover into a boringly bland affair.

Just what is going on?

This Slovak edition, published by Slovenský spisovateľ in 1992 is at least trying to enter into the spirit of the thing. I really like the idea – the torn insert featuring a lady in a crinoline gown dejectedly reclining in what looks like an old barn. Unfortunately, the lack of clarity in either the outside image or some of the details around her skirt prevents the storytelling going on here being as effective as I’m sure the actual cover depicted would have shown, given it was created in the days before ebooks were thought of. And why there is a scallop shell containing an oversized pearl is also something of a puzzle… Nonetheless, at least this cover gets marks for effort.

This is my favourite…

This edition, published by Triangle Books in 1946, has finally produced the goods. Our Lady Dona swooning in the arms of her French pirate during a moonlight tryst, with a galleon in full sail in the background, improbably festooned with numerous fleur de lys – just in case we don’t get the fact that he is French from that shifty, foreign-looking moustache… The title and author fonts are suitably clear, without cluttering up the artwork and this is my favourite.

Cornwall? I don’t think so!

This edition published by Doubleday Books is so nearly a contender. To be honest, I prefer this Frenchman – far more dashing and piratical than the previous version. But points are knocked off for the lush jungle backdrop. And yes… I know Cornwall has a microclimate where all sorts of tender plants can grow, but this setting isn’t giving me any West Country vibe. And while they are clearly flirting, I want to see a bit more passion… Which is your favourite?


Review of KINDLE Ebook Sacred Bride – Book 3 of the Olympus trilogy by David Hair and Cath Mayo #Brainfluffbookreview #SacredBridebookreview #WyrdandWonder2020

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I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this series, retelling the adventures of Odysseus in the first two books, Athena’s Champion – see my review here; and Oracle’s War – see my review here. So I was delighted to be able to get hold the final book, hoping it would do justice to this intelligent and gripping action-packed version of Odysseus’s adventures before the Trojan War kicked off… I am linking this to Wyrd and Wonder 2020.

BLURB: Prince Odysseus and the daemon Bria must penetrate the haunted caverns beneath Dodona, seeking a way to save their doomed nation, Achaea, from the might of Troy. The startling revelation that follows will set Odysseus on his most daunting mission yet, as he seeks to reunite the divided Achaean kingdoms before the rapacious Trojans strike. His journey will pit him against wrathful gods and legendary heroes, in a deadly contest for the hand of Helen of Sparta, the daughter of Zeus, upon whose choice the fate of Achaea rests…

Once again, I was swept up in Odysseus’s adventures, narrated in first person viewpoint, which helped to make it far more immediate. He comes across as a clever, resourceful character, though with a unique talent for annoying powerful people, who would like to see him dead. However, while I do think he makes an excellent main character, it is the worldbuilding and the Hair/Mayo take on what powers the gods and motivates them to act in the way they do that, for me, makes this series really stand out. It isn’t a new idea – the gods are only as powerful as the number of worshippers they can muster – but works extremely well in this series.

However, I would just mention that if you have somehow managed to get your hands on a copy of Sacred Bride without having first read the first two books, put it back on the shelf and read those first. As an experienced mid-series crasher, I’m here to tell you that too much of importance to the events in this book has previously happened for you to be able to get away with that kind of malarkey this time around. And it would be a real shame to short-change a series of this calibre, anyway.

As for the ending, Hair and Mayo have successfully brought this trilogy to an appropriate close. Though I don’t think I’m providing too much in the way of spoilers if I say that the peace Odysseus has been responsible for engineering is somewhat fragile. I am very much hoping that Hair and Mayo are going to continue working on Odysseus’s adventures during the Trojan War – the cast of characters are so vividly drawn and well presented, it would be a joy to read their telling of such a keynote event. Highly recommended for fans of well written and researched Greek retellings.
9/10

 

 

Review of INDIE Ebook Bringing Stella Home – Book 1 of the Gaia Nova series by Joe Vasicek #Brainfluffbookreview #BringingStellaHomebookreview

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I picked this one last year during a Book Funnel sales promotion, when the cover and blurb caught my eye. Would I enjoy it?

BLURB: The New Gaian Empire is crumbling. An undefeatable enemy from the outer reaches is sweeping across the frontier stars, slagging worlds and sowing chaos. Soon, they will threaten the very heart of civilized space. James McCoy never thought he would get caught up in the Hameji wars. The youngest son of a merchanter family, he just wants the same respect as his older brother and sister. But when the the Hameji battle fleets conquer his home world and take them away from him, all of that is shattered forever.

So… a younger brother manages to flee the ruthless invaders along with his father, but then is determined to return to rescue his older brother and sister. This one is told in multiple viewpoints where we learn of James’ desperate efforts to get back to Ben and Stella, in between discovering what happens to them. The risk in swinging around the viewpoints is that the reader will identify more with one storyline and skimread the others. I have to say that Stella’s story particularly held me as her character developed from the panicky, desperate teenager quite rightly terrified by the prospect of what lies ahead of her, so at times I did whip through the other plotlines to get back to her. However, as the story moved forward, I found I was doing that less and less as Vasicek is good at showing character development and peopling his space opera adventure with characters I cared about, even some of the bit players. I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the eunuch detailed to serve Stella in her new life, since I finished the book.

The other strength of this story is that while events unspooled reasonably predictably at the start – they had to in order for the premise to work – Vasicek quickly allowed his plot to take several left turns into something for more edgy, so that by the time I was in the middle of this one, I genuinely couldn’t work out how it was going to end. Which was also something of a shock.

All in all, this pacey, well-crafted space opera adventure served up some real surprises and laid a strong groundwork for this series. Recommended for fans of space opera adventure, where the plot doesn’t go according to plan. But be advised the storyline involves forced abduction and rape, although that isn’t depicted in any detail.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Crownbreaker – Book 6 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell #Brainfluffbookreview #Crownbreakerbookreview

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This is a series that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed – here is my review of Spellslinger. For those of you who are interested, or have already read the series – here are my subsequent reviews for Shadowblack, Charmcaster, Soulbinder and Queenslayer.

BLURB: Once an outlaw spellslinger, Kellen Argos has made a life for himself as the Daroman Queen’s protector. A little magic and a handful of tricks are all it takes to deal with the constant threats to her reign. But when rumors of an empire-shattering war begin to stir, Kellen is asked to commit an unimaginable act to protect his queen.

To be honest, I have been putting this one off. I did have some issues with the previous book, Queenslayer, and given that Crownbreaker is the final book in the series. I was concerned in case de Castell didn’t bring this memorable series to a fitting conclusion. However, my worries were soon put to rest when I encountered that amazing opening to the book, signalling that de Castell was back to form. When he is at his best, there aren’t many who can rival his twisty plotting and the ingenious methods Kellen finds for getting out of difficult situations.

Of course, given that it is the last book in the series, there needs to be an even bigger threat to overcome and it is posed in the form of an incipient war. Everyone is keen for Kellen to step up and assassinate a key player on the grounds that this will prevent the political situation from escalating further. Kellen, despite having killed a string of people, is very reluctant to take on the job. While he has high-flown ideas about his refusal, I’ve noticed throughout the series that when someone requires him to undertake a task, he often finds reasons not to accede to their wishes – it’s called demand avoidance and it’s a trait teachers are only too aware of…

Despite the raised stakes, it’s striking that even in this final slice of an event filled, action-packed series, the tone hasn’t darkened appreciably since the first book, which is unusual. Normally several books down the line, everything is a whole lot more sombre – just think of the Harry Potter series, for instance. I appreciated the same chirpy interplay between Kellen and his murderous squirrel cat, which is largely responsible for keeping the tone lighter. The difficult relationship Kellen has with his family also comes to a head and is resolved in this book, in a totally unpredictable manner. I thought the ending worked well and all the plotpoints were tied up satisfactorily. And while I am sad that I will no longer be going on any more adventures with Kellen, I celebrate the fact that the whole series was safely brought home in a manner that does justice to such a quirky, enjoyable protagonist.
9/10


A reminder that the Kindle edition of Running Out of Space is still FREE – just click on the cover on the sidebar to claim it

An Easter Present from Me to You… Running Out of Space is FREE from today until Tues 14th April! #RunningOutofSpaceFREEOFFER

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This is the most surreal Easter I can recall. The sun is shining… the long weekend is upon us. And we’re all going NOWHERE and seeing NO ONE.

My instinct is to tuck myself away with a good book in a sheltered nook of the garden. For anyone else who would like to join me, I offer you my escapist read, the KINDLE edition of Running Out of Space which is the first book in The Sunblinded trilogy, charting the adventures of young Lizzy as she tries to follow her dreams… It will be free over the period of the weekend, until Tuesday 14th April. Just click on the cover of the book below, or on the sidebar, and it will take you to your Amazon store where you will be able to get hold of it. Happy Easter, and may you all stay safe.

Lizzy Wright has yearned to serve on the space merchant ship Shooting Star for as long as she can remember – until one rash act changes everything…
Lizzy and her friends weren’t looking for trouble – all they’d wanted was to prove that fertile English girls could handle themselves when on shore leave without being accompanied by a sour-faced chaperone and armed guard. Looking back, maybe taking a jaunt off-limits on Space Station Hawking wasn’t the best idea – but no one could have foreseen the outcome. Or that the consequences of that single expedition would change the lives of all four girls, as well as that of the stranger who stepped in to save them.

Now Lizzy has more excitement and danger than she can handle, while confronting lethal shipboard politics, kidnapping, betrayal. And murder.

Review of KINDLE Ebook A Season of Spells – Book 3 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Hunter #Brainfluffbookreview #ASeasonsofSpellsbookreview

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I’d read and enjoyed the previous two books in this series, The Midnight Queen and Lady of Magick, so was pleased to see this third one was available – I love the depth of this enchanting world, where Christianity didn’t sweep through and wipe out all the pagan religions, which now exist in this Regency era alternate history.

BLURB: Three years after taking up residence at the University of Din Edin, Sophie and Gray return to London, escorting the heiress of Alba to meet the British prince to whom she is betrothed. Sparks fail to fly between the pragmatic Lucia of Alba and the romantic Prince Roland, and the marriage alliance is cast into further doubt when the men who tried to poison King Henry are discovered to have escaped from prison…

And that’s as much of the chatty blurb I’m prepared to include. I firmly advise you to read the previous two books in this series before attempting this one. The world where the UK and France are still fractured into a number of states, where the Roman and pagan gods exist side by side, which provides a complex backdrop to the action.

Things have moved on for Sophie and Gray and in this book, there is far more in the viewpoint of Joanna, Sophie’s feisty younger sister and her very close friend and the love of her life, Gwendolyn. I really liked their relationship, which is sparky as they also have to negotiate the social norms of the time, which does not approve of, or acknowledge their love.

What worked really well for me was how Lucia and Roland’s relationship had to unfold. It’s an arranged marriage, providing peace, stability and more prosperity for the population of two kingdoms and it’s unthinkable that it won’t go ahead. But when they meet, Roland in particular, is underwhelmed at Lucia’s attitude. Reading how they had to negotiate this issue, I was aware that it isn’t often an arranged union is looked upon as anything other than a bad thing in fantasy novels. I also was delighted just to once more sink into this unique world Hunter has created and which I really love, given the care and detail she provides in her magic-making and the political strains that a fractured kingdom causes – nicely done.

Any niggles? I’ll own to being a tad frustrated that poor old Gray and Sophie were once more wrenched apart – I do enjoy seeing them together. Though it did underline just what danger everyone is facing when the threat from the continent becomes clear, that he is sent on such a hazardous mission. I also found the pacing towards the end of the story a tad uneven, in that the build-up was brimful of tension and the denouement did wrap everything up rather rapidly. However, it wasn’t a dealbreaker. And if Hunter decides to turn this trilogy into a quartet, I’ll happily read the next one, too. I just love the world she has created. Recommended for those who enjoy interesting alternate historical settings with their fantasy adventures.
8/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK A Hat Full of Sky – Book 32 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett #Brainfluffaudiobookreview #AHatFullofSkybookreview #MoodboostingbookAHatFullofSky

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I’d read the hardback version of this book when it first was released and thoroughly enjoyed it – I love Tiffany Aching – and also read it aloud to the oldest grandchild. But this was the first time I’d had the pleasure of listening to the story…

BLURB: No real witch would casually step out of their body, leaving it empty. Tiffany Aching does. And there’s something just waiting for a handy body to take over. Something ancient and horrible, which can’t die. To deal with it, Tiffany has to go to the very heart of what makes her a witch . . .

While this book can be read as a standalone, it will make more sense if you have read the previous Tiffany Aching book, The Wee Free Men, which also features the little blue-skinned, tartan-wearing, fight-loving fae folk who live on the chalk. What you don’t have to do is read the previous thirty-one Discworld books to enjoy this offering, as it is part of a spin-off series more precisely aimed at younger readers. This adult, like many others, absolutely loved it.

I had registered, when reading, what a quirky authorial viewpoint Pratchett adopts but listening to it really brought home just how much he tends to cover in semi-omniscience, so that we get the author as storyteller nested within the narrative. I’m still trying to work out why it doesn’t grate with me, when generally it’s a point of view I hate. It probably helps that it is often very funny – which was the other aspect that struck me while listening. I was regularly laughing aloud at the exchanges between Tiffany and the Nac Mac Feegles and on one particular occasion, Tiffany and Granny Weatherwax.

The Nac Mac Feegle have adopted Tiffany as their ‘wee hag’ – their witch – and when they realise she is in danger, a hand-picked band of tiny warriors led by the brave Rob Anybody set off after her to try and save her. Their adventures are both hilarious and full of tension, something Pratchett does very well.

Tiffany is a wonderful character, yet reading this one reminded me all over again just how awesome Granny Weatherwax is – I’m aiming to use her as my role model. Though perhaps without the faded, tatty black dress, hand-made hat and hobnailed boots. I love Pratchett’s take on witchcraft and suspect, somewhat sadly, that many elderly women burnt in previous centuries as witches had adopted the role of doctor and agony aunt in the manner of hardworking Mistress Level, the witch to whom Tiffany is apprenticed. Because under the jokes and humour are some important messages – that there is power in giving, as well as taking and that often cruelty and aggression is often born of fear, rather than strength.

This read is definitely a mood-boosting book and comes highly recommended to fans of quirky, enjoyable writing – Pratchett is one of those rare authors who defies genre boundaries.
10/10



Review of Autonomous by Annalee Newitz #Brainfluffbookreview #Autonomousbookreview

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I liked the look of the cover and the premise intrigued me, so I was delighted to read and review this one…

BLURB: A notorious anti-patent scientist who has styled herself as a Robin Hood heroine fighting to bring cheap drugs to the poor, Jack’s latest drug is leaving a trail of lethal overdoses across what used to be North America—a drug that compels people to become addicted to their work. On Jack’s trail are an unlikely pair: an emotionally shut-down military agent and his partner, Paladin, a young military robot, who fall in love against all expectations. Autonomous alternates between the activities of Jack and her co-conspirators, and Elias and Paladin, as they all race to stop a bizarre drug epidemic that is tearing apart lives, causing trains to crash, and flooding New York City.

This was an interesting read. There was a lot about this book that was very familiar – the dystopian neo-future world, where large corporate firms, in this case, drug companies, were producing all sorts of drugs which were less about healing and more about extracting the maximum amount of efficiency from workers. Capitalism is red in tooth and claw, throwing away people when they no longer serve the bottom line, as in the profit margin. Slavery has become acceptable, both of cyborgs and by extension, humans, although they are known as indentured.

Jack, a former research scientist, who has crossed to many lines to be regarded as a legal citizen, now produces bootleg drugs for those who cannot afford the real thing. But when one of those drugs proves to be lethal, she finds that she has drawn down unwelcome attention. The team sent out to reel her in and put a stop to her activities is a partnership between experienced Elias and Paladin, a newly built military-grade cyborg which contains a human brain. However, his memory has been compromised and he is having to learn the craft of interacting with humans and putting the skills he’s learnt in a training programme to use in the field.

It took me a while to warm to this one. The characters are not innately likeable or easy to get to know. However, as we gradually learn more about Jack and her past, I became far more sympathetic to her stance. The interesting aspect of this book is the attitude to sex. It isn’t unusual for there to be a protagonist with a casual attitude towards sex, which Jack certainly demonstrates in her relationship with Threezed. However, it isn’t an equal relationship and although it is the young runaway who instigates sex, Newitz makes it clear that because the power relationship between the two characters is so unequal, the sexual relationship is almost inevitably abusive – something Jack would not perceive to be the case. The relationship between the experienced, not-quite-burnt-out human field agent and the raw, newbie cyborg is also an uncomfortable one. Paladin picks up the fact that Elias finds him physically attractive, despite struggling with the fact that he is defined as male. So Paladin decides to reinvent herself as female, in order to please him. It’s taken me a while to work out my thoughts on this interesting book.

Overall, it is an examination of power relationships. Not just those that go to make a dystopian society where selling children for sex and working people to death is the ultimate consequence of using profit margins and market forces to run society – but how such inequalities play out on a personal level. I enjoyed the world building and tech in this near-future world which I thought worked well. However, the pacing was a bit lumpy in places, particularly at the beginning. Overall, though, I enjoyed this one and recommend it to fans of dystopian near-future adventures.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – The Year of the Rat… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffratcovers

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week the theme for finding covers is RATS in honour of the Chinese New Year, which is the Year of the Rat. I’ve selected a book from a sci fi classic book series The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge – Book 4 of the the Stainless Steel Rat series by Harry Harrison.

 

This edition was produced by Ace Books in November 1986 and I just love that rat! Sadly, the rest sums up a lot of what I HATE in cover design. Someone went to the trouble of producing a really cool image. Then stuffed it in the bottom third of the cover, ensuring the rest of the cover is covered in a lot of chatter, interspersed with an uninspiringly pale blue title and author font.

 

Published in 1976 by Sphere Books, this edition is a far better effort. I love the horde of aliens sprinting towards us – an unusual tactic – but so very effective. The spaceships just add to the drama and incident, drawing my eye and keeping me riveted. And that isn’t the best thing about this one – it’s the wonderful bright colouring that sings out. The greenish hue around the alien warriors, looking threatening and the brighter orange shading around those ships – it’s so cleverly done. When looking down the list of covers, this one shouted at me. This is my favourite.

 

This edition, published by Bantam Books in July 1989, is another really striking effort. Again, I think the use of colour is both clever and effective in snagging readers’ attention. That bright yellow background is a fabulous contrast to the strong red title font. It’s interesting to note the ‘Bladerunner’ vibe in the styling of the cover design, particularly the figures.

 

This edition, produced by Berkley in February 1973, is frankly weird. Again the bright colouring pops, but what draws the eye here are those odd shapes. The man emerging from the mirrored metal female torso seems more disturbing, than anything else… I haven’t read this one, so I’m not sure what it is supposed to denote. Though many sci fi covers from that time made a point of featuring naked women, so perhaps this was as close as they could get…

 

This edition, published by Faber and Faber in 1971, is so nearly my favourite. I love the rat, looking suitably ferocious with a wind-up key in the side that adds an offbeat tone to the whole thing. And that funky font is clearly futuristic. This whole cover gives a sense of the genre with a strong humorous overtone – which as far as I can gather, is spot on as far as the book is concerned. What tipped the scales against it, is the rather dreary monochrome treatment – I would have appreciated more colour in this cover.

What strikes me is how remarkably different these covers all are, given they are for the same book! Which one is your favourite?