Tag Archives: Barbara Hambly

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #19

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This is my update on how I’m coping with Long Covid now it’s been over sixteen months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

I’ve always loved the heat and found the lack of light and warmth in English winters an ongoing challenge. But as with so many other things that have changed since I had covid last March, that apparently is no longer the case. I was a bit taken aback last winter when I kept having to turn down the heating – and now I’m finding the warm nights and hot days simply exhausting, whereas before, they used to fire me up and fill me full of energy. So I spent two days in bed last week, though I did manage to get up to see our boomerang boy off to school in the mornings without too much difficulty.

I never used to have any windows open at night, even in the warmest weather. And that was partly because I was never that hot, but also because the cooler weather would bring down the pollen and trigger my hay fever, which otherwise these days is very well behaved. We’ll have to go back to keeping those windows shut as I’m now in a position where I could take a role in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves as Sneezy. And I’m here to tell you that sneezing 20+ times in a row leaves you wrung out. Thank goodness I wasn’t trying to drive the car! Today is supposed to be the start of the hottest spell we’ve ever endured in the UK – and I’m dreading it. I don’t like to think of the poor souls living in big cities, as at least we get the benefit of the onshore sea breeze most afternoons which helps a bit. We also live in a brick-built house, so it tends to keep warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. In common with almost everyone else in the UK, we don’t have aircon although we do use fans throughout the night.

I have been watching a bit more TV in this heat – Boomerang Boy and I are enjoying Stranger Things together and I’ve just finished watching The Midwich Cuckoos, which I thought was brilliantly updated and adapted for a contemporary audience.

This week I’ve read:-

AUDIOBOOK – Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen – The Jane Austen Collection: an Audible original
Pride and Prejudice – narrated by Claire Foy

Pride and Prejudice is centred around the Bennet family, their five unmarried daughters and their mother’s desperation for at least one of them to make a wealthy match to save the family from destitution. When Charles Bingley moves into Netherfield, a nearby estate, it seems that Jane, the eldest daughter, may have found her match, but it also introduces our heroine Elizabeth to Bingley’s friend, the aloof Mr Darcy.

Directed by Nicolette Chin. With Tarrick Benham, Nicole Davis, Barnaby Edwards, Billie Fulford-Brown, Rebecca Front, Emma Gregory, Ferdinand Kingsley, Chris Lew Kum Hoi, Tim McInnerny, Heather Nicol, Sarah Ovens, Janet Prince, Jenny Rainsford, Jennifer Saayeng, Sam Stafford, Katy Sobey, Homer Todiwala, Patience Tomlinson and Simon Yadoo.
I’ve already had the pleasure of listening to Sense and Sensibility and this offering is the next one in this excellent collection of Jane Austen novels to listen to. It’s a solid favourite and has been dramatised very well. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – A Free Man of Color – Book 1 of the Benjamin January series by Barbara Hambly
It is 1833. In the midst of Mardi Gras, Benjamin January, a Creole physician and music teacher, is playing piano at the Salle d’Orleans when the evenings festivities are interrupted by murder.

Ravishing Angelique Crozat, a notorious octoroon who travels in the city’s finest company, has been strangled to death. With the authorities reluctant to become involved, Ben begins his own inquiry, which will take him through the seamy haunts of riverboatmen and into the huts of voodoo-worshipping slaves.

But soon the eyes of suspicion turn toward Ben for, black as the slave who fathered him, this free man of color is still the perfect scapegoat. . . .
And this is why I’m such a huge fan of Netgalley. Not long ago, I read and thoroughly enjoyed Death and Hard Cider, which was the nineteenth book in the series. So I went hunting and discovered the audiobook of this, the first book. What an absolute treat! A cracking murder mystery in a decadent and luscious setting with a thoroughly likeable protagonist. I’m definitely going to be revisiting this series again. 10/10

Against All Gods – Book 1 of The Age of Bronze series by Miles Cameron
The gods play their games, looking down on the mortal realm and moving men as pawns. Sacrificing lives, towns, even civilisations as they make moves against each other, oblivious to and uncaring of the suffering it causes.

They are above it all: worshipped, emulated and admired.

Yet there is one among them who exists to sow chaos, to challenge the way of things, and to stir up trouble. One who sees the gods growing indolent and contented and selfish . . . and who is ready to meddle in the world of men. Not as part of the immortal game, but because they believe it’s possible for men to challenge . . . and even topple . . . the gods themselves.
I am a fan of Cameron’s writing – I thoroughly enjoyed The Traitor Son series and last year his space opera adventure Artifact Space was a reading highlight of the year. But this one was very bloody, despite being well written, which I found a tad difficult at times. I also would have liked at least one of the plotpoints to be tied up by the end, rather than the whole storyline left on a cliff-hanger. 8/10

Last Wish – Book 4 of the Highland Magic series by Helen Harper
It’s not easy pretending to be dead – especially when it feels as if you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. Between an unfulfilled prophecy, the demon-occupied Lowlands, the continuing power of murderous Aifric Moncrieffe – not to mention her constant yearnings for Byron – Integrity Adair has a lot to worry about.

Still, how hard can it really be to save Scotland, maintain her morals, get the guy and keep her sense of humour?
This is the last book in this delightfully quirky fantasy series. I suppose it’s urban fantasy as it hits many of the genre tropes – a feisty heroine, lots of snark, a few steamy interludes. But it’s set in a Scotland where the Lowlands, including Edinburgh, have been occupied by demons for the past 300 years. Integrity Adair is huge fun and this was one of those reads where I was torn between wanting to know what happens next – and wanting the book to go on for a long, long time, as I didn’t want to part company with Integrity. Or Bob the genie. Or Tipsy. Or May the demon… It takes skill and technique to successfully bring an entertaining series to a satisfying close, but then Harper never disappoints. She has become one of my go-to authors when I want a fun-filled read full of action and humour.
10/10

Half a Soul – Book 1 of the Regency Faerie Tales series by Olivia Atwater
Ever since she was cursed by a faerie, Theodora Ettings has had no sense of fear or embarrassment – a condition which makes her prone to accidental scandal. Dora hopes to be a quiet, sensible wallflower during the London Season – but when the strange, handsome and utterly uncouth Lord Sorcier discovers her condition, she is instead drawn into dangerous and peculiar faerie affairs.

If Dora’s reputation can survive both her curse and her sudden connection with the least-liked man in all of high society, then she may yet reclaim her normal place in the world. . . but the longer Dora spends with Elias Wilder, the more she begins to suspect that one may indeed fall in love, even with only half a soul.
This was another enjoyable escapist read full of fun and tension. Dora is beautifully written – compromised protagonists take a lot of skill to get right and Atwater nails it. I loved the unfolding romance and the social reform aspect, which was very well depicted within the narrative. Review to follow. 9/10

This week I have posted:

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring The First Binding – Book 1 of the Tales of Tremaine series by R.R. Virdi

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Against All Gods – Book 1 of The Age of Bronze series by Miles Cameron

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #17

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This is my update on how I’m coping with Long Covid now it’s been over fifteen months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

My grandmother had a saying, “What goes up must come down.” And yes… it absolutely applies to my current situation. After celebrating my triumphant return to something approaching my life before I got sick with Covid – I then had another relapse that lasted nearly a fortnight, where I spent most of the day in bed again, feeling utterly exhausted. And this time around it was a lot harder to endure after having once more felt like the person I used to be.

The good news is that I know exactly what triggered this setback – my hospital appointment at the Breast Care Clinic, where I had a thorough exam by a consultant, a mammogram and ultrasound scan – just to ensure that some of my Long Covid symptoms weren’t masking something far more sinister and life-shortening. I was so impressed at the efficient and kindly staff and I’m delighted to be able to report that all is well. But the appointment was over three hours long and entailed having to get dressed and undressed a number of times and was also rather emotionally gruelling, as well as extremely painful at times. Small wonder that I was knocked back afterwards.

The huge light at the end of this tunnel is that I am now able to write, once my energy levels improved again. I’ve been editing for a while – but not said too much about it, as initially every time I mentioned I was able to work on my manuscripts, I then promptly found I couldn’t. And it massively mattered to me that I’d lost my ability to write – to be honest, it’s been one of hardest things I’ve had to cope with. And – yes – I know I’ve been regularly knocking out a steady stream of reviews. But while I enjoy recording my responses to the books I’ve read, I don’t define myself creatively by my non-fiction output. For me, it’s always been about the stories I tell. I’ve been writing science fiction and fantasy for longer than I care to think and to quote the late great Terry Pratchett, ‘Writing is the most fun you can have by yourself.’ I’ll fully endorse that! And when I simply didn’t have the mental energy to hold a character and his story in my head long enough to get it down onto the page, I was devastated. Though the big silver lining was said lack of energy meant that devastation was overlaid by a Zenlike calm caused by my inability to feel very much about anything. So when this week, I finally completed the chapter I’d started before I went down with Covid, I wept with relief that my secret dread – that I’d never regain my ability to write – hasn’t come to pass. I’m thrilled that dear old Castellan is back in my life in all his grumpy glory😊.

Our Boomerang Boy is back with us this weekend, which is another joy. He cycled over on Friday night and will be going home again later today. We went shopping together in Rustington yesterday – he is such good company. And today, my sister is coming over to see us, which is also such a treat. Himself is, as ever, my rock and my saviour – even though my relapse coincided with his annual leave so that we ended up doing very little and going nowhere together, despite optimistic plans for day trips to places we’ve missed seeing for the past year and bit. I’m so blessed that his love, constancy and care has never faltered.

This week I’ve read:-

Veiled Threat – Book 3 of the Highland Magic series by Helen Harper
Integrity Taylor has regained possession of her ancestral lands – and inherited a whole host of new problems. The spectre of what really happened to her parents is casting a shadow over everything while Fomori demons are being sighted up and down the Highlands. It doesn’t help that Aifric Moncrieffe still seems determined to see her dead and emerald-eyed Byron remains stubbornly blind to his father’s true nature.

Integrity is determined to stay in control of her own destiny, however, even if it means confronting the darkness across the Veil yet again. And at least she’s still got a sense of humour…
Harper has nailed writing feisty heroines facing huge odds, who cope with dollops of often inappropriate humour – which I thoroughly enjoy. This latest adventure also has brought some intriguing twists to the ongoing narrative arc, which means it won’t be long before I tuck into the next book, which I think is the final one in this entertaining series. Which, I’m dreading – as I’ve grown very fond of Integrity. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – Od Magic by Patricia A. McKillip
Brenden Vetch has a gift. With an innate sense he cannot explain to himself or describe to others, he connects to the agricultural world, nurturing gardens to flourish and instinctively knowing the healing properties each plant and herb has to offer. But Brenden’s gift isolates him from people–and from becoming part of a community.

Until the day he receives a personal invitation from the wizard Od. She needs a gardener for her school in the great city of Kelior, where every potential wizard must be trained to serve the Kingdom of Numis. For decades the rulers of Numis have controlled the school, believing they can contain the power within it–and punish any wizard who dares defy the law.But unknown to the reigning monarchy is the power possessed by the school’s new gardener–a power that even Brenden isn’t fully aware of, and which is the true reason Od recruited him…
This standalone fantasy adventure is a joy. I was hugely impressed by McKillip’s The Forgotten Beasts of Eld – see my review. So jumped at the chance to tuck into this one when it came up as a freebie with my Audible membership. And I wasn’t disappointed – it’s stood the test of time very well. I particularly enjoyed the shafts of dry humour throughout and loved dear Brendon. Though it’s a pity that the cover decided to depict Od as some glamorous maiden, when McKillip is at such pains to describe her so very differently. 9/10

Death and Hard Cider – Book 19 of the Benjamin January series by Barbara Hambly
September, 1840. A giant rally is being planned in New Orleans to stir up support for presidential candidate William Henry Harrison: the Indian-killing, hard-cider-drinking, wannabe “people’s president”. Trained surgeon turned piano-player Benjamin January has little use for politicians. But the run-up to the rally is packed with balls and dinner parties, and the meagre pay is sorely needed.

Soon, however, January has more to worry about than keeping his beloved family fed and safe. During an elegant reception thrown by New Orleans’ local Whig notables, the son of a prominent politician gets into a fist-fight with a rival over beautiful young flirt Marie-Joyeuse Maginot – and, the day after the rally is over, Marie-Joyeuse turns up dead. The only black person amongst the initial suspects is arrested immediately: January’s dear friend, Catherine Clisson. With Catherine’s life on the line, January is determined to uncover the truth and prove her innocence. But his adversaries are powerful politicians, and the clock is ticking . . .
What a treat. Hambly’s vivid evocation of the time and place had me dreaming of it – and I am just a bit in love with Benjamin January. It’s the first time I’ve read this series, but it certainly won’t be the last. 10/10

AUDIOBOOK – Destroyer – Book 7 (Sequence 3, Book 1) of the Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh
It has been two years since the starship Phoenix left Alpha Station on a rescue mission where over four thousand human spacers were under attack by a hostile alien race. Now, exhausted from their journey, the crew of the Phoenix yearns for home. But when the ship makes the jump into atevi space, they learn the worst: that supplies to the station have been cut off; that civil war has broken out on the atevi mainland; that the powerful Western Association has been overthrown; and that Tabini-aiji, Bren Cameron’s primary supporter and Ilisidi’s grandson and ally, is missing and may be dead.

With no one left to lead the Western Association, Ilisidi and Bren know that the survival of their allies lies in their hands. And with the atevi world at war, the only safe landing strip lies on the human colony at Mospheira. Although there are many dangers inherent in bringing a powerful atevi leader such as Ilisidi onto human lands, Bren realizes they have no other choice. But even if they safely survive their landing, will Bren and Ilisidi together prove strong enough to muster the remaining shards of the Western Association and regain control of their planet?

The long-running Foreigner series can also be enjoyed by more casual genre readers in sub-trilogy installments. Destroyer is the 7th Foreigner novel. It is also the 1st book in the third subtrilogy.
This audiobook was a lifesaver during a couple of particularly wretched nights when I simply couldn’t sleep, despite feeling utterly exhausted – not a combination I recommend. Daniel May’s brilliant narration brought poor old Bren’s current woes to life and had me crouching in the pouring rain alongside him, hoping that all his associates would survive the desperate battle raging around him. This series really comes into its own when listening to it and I’m delighted there are plenty more Foreigner adventures to enjoy. 9/10

Delusions of the Past – Reg Rawlins #6 – Books 4-6 of the Reg Rawlins, Psychic Investigator series by P.D. Workman
What kind of a monster poisons a psychic’s cat? When Starlight first fell ill, Reg thought that she was the cause of it. She should have been watching him more carefully. She should have found out about household plants and chemicals that could hurt her familiar. She was clearly a negligent owner.

But it soon becomes clear that there is some darker force at work, and Reg is going to need all of her resources to find the culprit before it is too late if she is to have any chance of saving her furry companion’s life.
I really enjoy this series. Some cosy mystery series are so slathered in treacle they become frankly sickly – this one isn’t. In amongst the cute pets and intriguing fantasy creatures is a hard edge that means the story can often take an unexpected turn to a place just dark enough to keep me turning the pages, desperate to discover what happens next. And with Workman, you can’t ever really predict what that will be… I’ve just spent money we don’t really have to buy the next bundle, because I want more Reg Rawlins in my life. 8/10

This week I have posted:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Death and Hard Cider – Book 19 of the Benjamin January series by Barbara Hambly

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring The Veiled Masters: a Twilight Imperium novel by Tim Pratt

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Death and Hard Cider – Book 19 of the Benjamin January series by Barbara Hambly #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #DeathandHardCiderbookreview

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The title grabbed my attention – what is hard cider? And after I read the blurb, I was hooked. I like historical whodunits – and what especially snagged my attention with this story is the political backdrop. Set in New Orleans in the febrile period some thirty years before the American Civil War, tensions are rising as French and American interests collide, along with increasing unease regarding the tricky issue of slavery. So freeman Benjamin January has to tread carefully at all times.

BLURB: September, 1840. A giant rally is being planned in New Orleans to stir up support for presidential candidate William Henry Harrison: the Indian-killing, hard-cider-drinking, wannabe “people’s president”. Trained surgeon turned piano-player Benjamin January has little use for politicians. But the run-up to the rally is packed with balls and dinner parties, and the meagre pay is sorely needed.

Soon, however, January has more to worry about than keeping his beloved family fed and safe. During an elegant reception thrown by New Orleans’ local Whig notables, the son of a prominent politician gets into a fist-fight with a rival over beautiful young flirt Marie-Joyeuse Maginot – and, the day after the rally is over, Marie-Joyeuse turns up dead. The only black person amongst the initial suspects is arrested immediately: January’s dear friend, Catherine Clisson. With Catherine’s life on the line, January is determined to uncover the truth and prove her innocence. But his adversaries are powerful politicians, and the clock is ticking . . .

REVIEW: Despite this being the nineteenth book in the series, it’s the first time I’ve had the pleasure of reading about Ben’s adventures. And what a ride it was… Hambly’s prose is richly descriptive of the lush, often hedonistic setting that starkly rubs shoulders with utter poverty and deprivation. We see all this through Ben January’s eyes, who was brought up in New Orleans – but then spent time in France, where he trained as a surgeon. So while he is very familiar with the neighbourhood, he isn’t as necessarily as accepting of the ingrained and cultural prejudice as many of his peers. It’s a tricky balance to achieve, but Hambly negotiates it well.

In New Orleans, Ben obviously isn’t able to earn a decent living as a skilled medical man – none of the well-heeled white folks would entertain the notion of being treated by black man. However, he is also a skilled musician and with a series of grand election rallies coming up, he is employed to play at all these events – both the Democrat and Whig functions. Hambly gives us a ringside seat as inflammatory speeches are made, food and drink is handed out to the crowd and rousing songs slurring the reputations of political opponents are sung.

And throughout all the hectic activity, the dark thread of institutional prejudice, exclusion, double-standards and hypocrisy winds across the society. It’s masterfully done – and brought home to me just how much damage slavery wrought. Not only upon those whose lives were shackled to unceasing hard labour with no prospect of anything better – but also to those responsible for it. The story is all the more effective for Ben’s bitter acceptance of such a miserable state of affairs, as Hambly is brilliant at showing, not telling. And since I finished this one, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the situation – particularly as slavery is still going on.

There is also a murder mystery to be solved. Initially, I thought the pacing was a tad slow – but I think that’s because of the rather chatty blurb. If I hadn’t been waiting for a certain key event, I don’t think it would have been an issue. After the murder, consequences roll forward and Ben has to get involved to save the life of someone very dear to him. To be honest, I would have been happy with this book if the whodunit aspect had been averagely good, given the quality of the backdrop and its vivid depiction. But the icing on the cake is that the murder mystery is very well executed, with a brilliant denouement. This might have been the first Ben January mystery I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last.

Very highly recommended for fans of historical murder mysteries. While I obtained an arc of Death and Hard Cider from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 25th May, 2022 #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 – Death and Hard Cider – Book 19 of the Benjamin January series by Barbara Hambly – release date – 7th June, 2022

#historical murder mystery #troubled hero

BLURB: September, 1840. A giant rally is being planned in New Orleans to stir up support for presidential candidate William Henry Harrison: the Indian-killing, hard-cider-drinking, wannabe “people’s president”. Trained surgeon turned piano-player Benjamin January has little use for politicians. But the run-up to the rally is packed with balls and dinner parties, and the meagre pay is sorely needed.

Soon, however, January has more to worry about than keeping his beloved family fed and safe. During an elegant reception thrown by New Orleans’ local Whig notables, the son of a prominent politician gets into a fist-fight with a rival over beautiful young flirt Marie-Joyeuse Maginot – and, the day after the rally is over, Marie-Joyeuse turns up dead. The only black person amongst the initial suspects is arrested immediately: January’s dear friend, Catherine Clisson.

With Catherine’s life on the line, January is determined to uncover the truth and prove her innocence. But his adversaries are powerful politicians, and the clock is ticking . . .

Yes… another series I’m crashing into without having read any of the other books! But I liked the look of the cover and the sound of the blurb, which I managed to read without noticing that it is the nineteenth in the series. However it is a murder mystery – so I should be able to still enjoy the story.