Tag Archives: book review

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Festival Murders – Book 1 of the Francis Meadowes series by Mark McCrum #Brainfluffbookreview #TheFestivalMurdersbookreview

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I’ve been reading and reviewing a fairly intense diet of science fiction recently and wanted to ring the changes – then came across this author on Netgalley. Would I enjoy this classical-sounding cosy mystery set at a literary festival?

BLURB: At the start of one of the English summer’s highlights, the annual literary festival in the pretty little country town of Mold-on-Wold, famous critic Bryce Peabody is found dead in his bed at the White Hart Hotel. At first it seems as if fifty-something Bryce might have succumbed to a heart attack, but the forensics team soon uncover evidence of something more sinister. Bryce had made many enemies in the past, with his scandalous private life and scathing reviews. Could it be that one of the many writers he insulted in print has taken a bitter revenge? Or perhaps there’s a more personal reason? Unable to help himself, crime writer Francis Meadowes, who is also staying at the White Hart, is drawn into a role he knows only from his own fiction, that of amateur detective.

If you are looking for a foot-to-the-floor action-packed read, full of chases and gun battles, this isn’t it. This is one of those murder mysteries where there is a dead body which sparks our sympathetic protagonist into deciding to track down his killer…  I liked the steady parade of suspects, who all had reasons of their own to wish Bryce dead and the sudden shift in pace and urgency, when there is another death. McCrum is good at giving us a steady drip-feed of plausible, three-dimensional characters without breaking the rhythm of the writing. I always prefer to really like the main protagonist – if I’m going to invest time and energy in reading a book, I’m not all that thrilled if I’m constantly grinding my teeth at the stupidity or sheer nastiness of a lead character. Francis is a thoroughly nice chap, with his own emotional wounds, that somehow drives him on to want to sort out the tangled mess surrounding Bryce’s death.

Any niggles? One that stood out glaringly. A big problem for modern writers of this particular style of genre is the sheer professionalism of our modern police force. No perspiring DI is going to turn to our brilliant-but-quirky investigator to solve the case for her, these days. I think McCrum successfully navigated his way around that hurdle throughout the investigation… just about. And then blew all believability out of the water by staging the classic denouement, where he gathered together all the suspects and walked everyone through the whole thing, before dramatically announcing the murderer. It frankly graunched, yanking me right out of the story and I’ve knocked off a point for that stunt, alone.

Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed this classy, well plotted and enjoyable whodunit and I’ll definitely be reading more in this series. The ebook arc copy of The Festival Murders was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

Review of INDIE Ebook Valkyrie Rising – Book 2 of The Hayden War Cycle by Evan Currie #Brainfluffbookeview #ValkyrieRisingbookreview

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I read and enjoyed the first book in this entertaining military science fiction adventure, On Silver Wings so this was an obvious choice from my TBR pile when I yearned for more full-on action with some nasty aliens.

BLURB: Two years after the initial invasion of Hayden’s World, the newly reinforced Hayden Militia is in a state of stalemate with the remaining enemy forces but neither side is content to leave things at that. The alien alliance has dispatched their varsity to clean up the resistance on Hayden while the USF has officially activated Task Force V, the latest and most advanced combat ships built by humans. In the end there are some things you decide in the skies, but some can only be settled in the mud.

While I am sure you could pick up this one without having had the pleasure of reading On Silver Wings, my firm advice would be to read it first as I think you could slightly flounder at the start of the second book, otherwise. I was pleased that this book opened with my favourite character, the scary super-soldier Sorilla, who featured so memorably in the previous book. But this time, we see her gritting her teeth at the prospect of a series of invasive surgical procedures as her military wetware is being upgraded. I was pleased to see this, as authors often airily allude to these additions, but it is relatively rare to see our protagonists having to pay the price for all those awesome fighting skills.

However, while she is recuperating, all is not well. Those pesky aliens are still causing havoc, which causes the infighting amongst the human spacefaring nations to abruptly stop their feuding and frantically begin arming against this technically superior threat. Since the disastrous first encounters that have wiped out so many captains, many posts are now being filled by suitably experienced women, giving rise to the derisive nickname by some of the more chauvinist elements of the Valkyrie Force… Disappointing to see that sexism is still alive and well in Currie’s future universe – but all too realistic, I feel.

Military sci fi often requires a number of viewpoint characters in order to give the reader a ringside seat in a variety of settings as the action swings around. This time around, we find ourselves in the head of an alien fighting on jungle planet, Hayden, along with Sorilla, Admiral Nadine Brookes amongst others. Sorilla is still a solid favourite, but Nadine runs a close second.

While the first book is characterised by some cracking action scenes on the colony planet fighting a rearguard action after having been initially overrun, this book contains some excellent space battles. Currie writes the techie stuff well – sufficient detail so that I could follow what was going on without silting up the forward action by too much description. He is also good at keeping the viewpoint character and her reactions to the fore in the middle of all the high-stakes fighting.

This book took a bit longer to get going than the first book – but then, we needed to find out what was happening in order to understand what is at stake, but once the full situation is laid out, I was whisked up in the tension of an incipient alien invasion. This is a strong second book, taking the action on yet leaving some major questions open – particularly around the aliens and their motivations. Recommended for fans of engrossing military science fiction, I will be continuing this series.
8/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK Fledgling – Book 2 of the Sorcery and Society series by Molly Harper #Brainfluffbookreview #Fledglingaudiobookreview

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I read and thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the series – see my review of Changeling – so was delighted when I saw this offering on Audible for a credit. Would I enjoy listening to this next book in the series as much?

BLURB: Days away from becoming completing her first year at Miss Castwell’s Institute for the Magical Instruction of Young Ladies, Changeling-born Sarah Smith might just get away with posing as an upper-class Guardian girl named Cassandra Reed. But strange visions of a Lightbourne destroyed by Miss Morton’s revenant army keep Sarah from enjoying her achievement. Plus, the Mother Book, Sarah’s one secret advantage and the ultimate entrée in Guardian society, suddenly stops revealing itself to her…putting her in a precarious position with the Guild.

On top of all that, her former lady’s maid left Miss Castwell’s, and the new hire is, well, taking some getting used to. If it weren’t for her two best friends, Alicia McCray and Ivy Cowel, who will do anything to protect her secret, Sarah doesn’t know if she’ll make it another year. When the three girls take summer holiday with Alicia’s family (chaperoned by an exacting and very disapproving Mrs. McCray), a relaxing vacation in Scotland is the last thing they’ll find…

That’s as much of the very chatty blurb I’m prepared to reveal and if you’re intending to read the book, my advice would be to give it a miss. Another piece of advice – read Changeling first. Because of the nature and progression of the story, it simply won’t make sense, otherwise.

Once again, I enjoyed Sarah’s first person pov. I’m aware some reviewers have been critical of her mature attitude, but given her very tricky upbringing and the difficulties she is currently operating under, I think she would have to grow up very fast. Having spent time with children who have coped in testing conditions, I’m often struck at their maturity compared to their more carefree peers. Initially, I enjoyed the progression of the story and the ongoing threat of Sarah’s enemies, who resent her position as Translator of the Mother Book, an ancient tome of lost magic that chooses its own magical human to communicate with.

The mayhem caused during the dancing lesson was both gripping and enjoyable and settled in to listen to more of the same as the scholars from Miss Castwell’s headed off for the summer break. This is where the pacing went awry, particularly when the plot took a sudden left turn and I wasn’t wholly convinced by Sarah’s actions, or the reactions of those around her. While I don’t mind if the overall pace of a story speeds up, it cannot be at the expense of the characterisation or in apparent opposition to what has gone before. And suddenly Sarah’s actions had me wondering if she really was as two-faced and scheming as she appeared, or if she’d been magically influenced in some way.

Harper did resolve the issue, but it was still a glitch that interfered with my enjoyment and I do agree with other reviewers who feel the ending was rushed. However, overall I liked the story and I am not deterred from reading the next slice of Sarah’s adventures.

Highly recommended for fans of school-based fantasy with a historical twist.
7/10

Review of INDIE Ebook The Violent Fae – Book 3 of The Ordshaw series by Phil Williams #Brainfluffbookreview #TheViolentFaebookreview

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I have read and enjoyed the first two books in this entertaining series, see my reviews of Under Ordshaw and Blue Angel. So when I learnt the third book in the series was being released, I was looking forward to continuing the adventure.

BLURB: They hid among us, until she exposed them. They’ll destroy everything to be hidden again. Pax is discovering that the smallest mistakes can have the deadliest impact. To protect her city, she’s uncovered monstrous truths and involved terrible people. The consequences are coming for her. The Sunken City is unstable. The Fae are armed for war. Can Pax stop the coming disaster?

Firstly, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading at least one of the previous books, then my firm advice is to put this one back on the shelf and go and track down Under Ordshaw. This one hits the ground running and we are in the middle of a complicated situation within an urban fantasy landscape that is both layered and nuanced. You certainly won’t get an appreciation of the stakes involved if you try crashing midway into this series.

That said, it’s hard to overstate the hurdles facing both Pax and the fairy Letty. It looks as though those running the human and Fae factions are determined to lock horns over what is going on in the Sunken City and neither seem in the mood to listen to anyone else.

Due to the complicated scenario, this book does take a bit of time to get going. However, when it picks up the pace and we are back in the swing of the story, I was once again swept along with this cast of quirky and original characters. I enjoyed the fact that both Pax and Letty took centre stage in this slice of the adventure, along with Sam Ward and the man I loved to hate in the first book, Cano…

While there is a lot of action in this original urban fantasy series, I also like the fact that Management is clearly at a loss to know what to do in the face of all the paranormal events and once they are aware of how badly they have misread the situation, send in a colourful character as a fixer. I enjoyed that dynamic as it had a real ring of authenticity about it. I also like the fact that one of the characters who I loathed in the first book has had his come-uppance – to the extent that I genuinely felt quite sorry for him. Williams ably negotiates these nuances so that while his cast of characters ping off the page with their vivid eccentricity, they are also capable of change and growth.

Inevitably, I am not going to be able to say much about the plot, as this is the third book in the series, but what I will say is that the overall narrative arc is satisfactorily tied up and I felt happy with the way all the characters completed this particular journey. However, I am very much hoping that this series will continue as it is peopled by too many fascinating characters with intriguing relationships. I definitely want to know what happens to them next.

Highly recommended for fans of urban fantasy with a difference.
9/10

Review of The Mermaid and the Bear by Ailish Sinclair #Brainfluffbookreview #TheMermaidandtheBearbookreview

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I have enjoyed the lovely photos of Scotland posted by the author on her delightful blog, Ailish Sinclair and when I discovered she had recently had a book published, I tracked it down to read and review it.

BLURB: Isobell needs to escape. She has to. Her life depends on it. She has a plan and it’s a well thought-out, well observed plan, to flee her privileged life in London and the cruel man who would marry her, and ruin her, and make a fresh start in Scotland. She dreams of faery castles, surrounded by ancient woodlands and misty lochs… and maybe even romance, in the dark and haunted eyes of a mysterious Laird. Despite the superstitious nature of the time and place, her dreams seem to be coming true, as she finds friendship and warmth, love and safety. And the chance for a new beginning… Until the past catches up with her.

Historical romance isn’t my go-to genre. But I was intrigued by the talk of faery castles and mermaids. Isabell is a delightful character who pings off the page. The first-person description of her struggles with seasickness is riveting and dramatic, establishing Sinclair as a talented writer with a flair for words. There is a lushness to the prose throughout, which could so easily have tipped into sentimentality, or just become a tad annoying. It doesn’t.

What Sinclair is able to do is write contentment and happiness with verve, making it engrossing in a way that is far harder to do than she makes it look. I had a hunch fairly early on the direction in which this story was going and at least for the first three quarters of the book, on many levels, it was not a surprise. Generally, that doesn’t endear me to a story as I like surprises and unpredictability, but the sheer quality of the writing, the level of detail in the world building and the cast of varied and interesting characters meant that I couldn’t put this down.

However, during the last part of the book I genuinely didn’t know where it was going. There is a core of grittiness at the heart of this book, which despite the celebration of strong love and friendship, also examines the consequences of bitter envy, greed and lust.

What happens when you become a victim of such people? How do you deal with the aftermath? These are gnarly questions that Sinclair didn’t sidestep for the sake of a cosy read and this beguiling, wonderful book is the richer for it. I will be looking out for this author – this is an accomplished story by a gifted storyteller and highly recommended.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Trail of Lightning – Book 1 of The Sixth World series by Rebecca Roanhorse #Brainfluffbookreview #TrailofLightningbookreview

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It was Tammy at Books, Bones and Buffy that first enthused about this one and had me scurrying to track it down – to find it was only available as a paperback. So I was thrilled when subsequently, I discovered that not only was it about to become available as a Kindle edition, it was also a Netgalley arc…

BLURB: While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters. Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

There’s a snag to a highly anticipated read – it might not live up to my excited expectations. So I was very relieved when I quickly discovered that for all her edges, I really cared about poor, damaged Maggie and wanted her to succeed. This is important, because she spends a great deal of time pushing away those she cares about, convinced that she is also a monster.

In this post-apocalyptic world, everyone has edges. As catastrophic flooding swept away civilisation and families, those that survived had to become tough and resourceful. Roanhorse’s descriptions of this aftermath is well done. I loved the setting of a parched land that has been reshaped once more for the rise of the Native American nations and their gods – the Sixth World.

I was quickly completely immersed in this world and spend a happy afternoon relaxing while the pages turned by themselves as I was caught up in Maggie’s adventures. Alongside the monster-hunting and killing, she is also trying to cope with her own emotional problems. Actually, that’s not quite true – all she wants to do is get on and kill the monsters, but those emotional issues won’t leave her alone, as she has to confront those messing with her head.

If you enjoy richly drawn fantasy landscapes with plenty of action featuring a sympathetic, nicely complex heroine, who battles all sorts of odds without becoming whiny or pathetic, then this one comes very highly recommended. Thank you, Tammy!
10/10

Review of LIBRARY book Sparrow Falling – Book 2 of the Gears of Empire series by Gaie Sebold #Brainfluffbookreview #LoveYourLibrarychallenge #SciFiMonth2019

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series Shanghai Sparrow – see my review here – so when I spotted this one on the shelves, it was a no-brainer that I’d scoop it up. I am linking this review to SciFiMonth2019.

BLURB: Eveline Sparrow hopes to put her past experiences as a thief and con-artist to more legitimate use; which is why some of the girls at her Sparrow School receive private lessons in burglary, fakery, and other such underhand practices. But it’s hard to get honest work when few businesses will employ young ladies in the security professions. The duns are at the doorstep, her friend Liu the half-fox-spirit is in some sort of trouble, and the rivalries of the Folk are in danger of overspilling into the mundane world and forcing the Empire into a bloody and horrifying war. Can Eveline pull things out of the mire this time, or will the Sparrow’s wings be clipped once and for all?

Once I got into this entertaining steam punk adventure, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Evvie is a sympathetic protagonist, although I didn’t immediately reconnect with her as there didn’t seem to be a major bonding moment in the early stages of the novel. A strength of this series is the quality and depth of the supporting characters who are also depicted alongside Evvie Sparrow. One of my favourites is Ma Pether, the Fagin -like character who had scooped up Evvie off the streets and trained her to be a pickpocket and thief.

The other major character who I have more than a soft spot for is Liu, the half-Fae trickster who travels between the Fae courts and the human world in an attempt to impress his father. And save his own life… The two parallel narratives running alongside one another that power the narrative arc are equally engrossing, so I was never tempted to skim one in order to get back to the other. While it took some time for the book to hit its stride, once both storylines got going this was difficult to put down, and I thoroughly enjoyed the manner in which the resolution came about.

It is always a treat to think you know where a story is going, only to find it shoots off in another direction. I am hoping that Sebold is busy writing an addition to this entertaining series – surely Evvie’s talent for finding trouble has not yet been exhausted and I want more of Ma and Liu as well.

Recommended for fans of well-written steam punk.
8/10

Review of LIBRARY book Shadow Captain – Book 2 of the Revenger series by Alastair Reynolds #Brainfluffbookreview #ShadowCaptainbookreview #SciFiMonth2019

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I’d read and enjoyed the dark, gothic Revenger – see my review – so was delighted when I spotted this one on the library shelf. I am linking this review to Sci Fi Month 2019.

BLURB: Adrana and Fura Ness have finally been reunited, but both have changed beyond recognition. Once desperate for adventure, now Adrana is haunted by her enslavement on the feared pirate Bosa Sennen’s ship. And rumors of Bosa Sennen’s hidden cache of treasure have ensnared her sister, Fura, into single-minded obsession. Neither is safe; because the galaxy wants Bosa Sennen dead and they don’t care if she’s already been killed. They’ll happily take whoever is flying her ship.

The lovely thing about spaceship thrillers is that you don’t have to make up complicated reasons why people don’t just wander off for a relaxing walk, or pop out to the shops – everyone is stuck. No one can leave. It gives a lovely claustrophobic sense of desperation when things are going wrong. Like… you’re not sure if you can trust your own sister, anymore. Or maybe several crew members are cracking under the strain. Or maybe – just maybe, you are being shadowed by another ship intent on exacting revenge upon the crazed manwoman who had formerly captained your vessel…

Ditto when you get to port. Again, no one can get very far away. Especially if said port is a space station that has seen far, far better days and is on the brink of financial ruin before it fell into the hands of the wrong sort of people. Another twist of tension-filled mayhem. Bring to it, Reynold’s gift for dark, brooding prose, complicated characters who don’t wear their hearts on their sleeves and I found this one equally unputdownable. It doesn’t have quite the violence level of the first book, which was brutal in parts, but that simmering threat had me on my toes all the same. As well as the knowledge that Reynolds is quite capable of killing off really nice characters that I liked a lot.

The pages more or less turned themselves as I read far into the night to discover what would happen next. And I was pleased to see that the current story arc was satisfactorily wrapped up, while leaving a couple of major plotpoints dangling, ready for the next slice of the adventure.

Highly recommended for those who like their space opera on the darker side…
9/10

Review of INDIE NOVELLA Pirate Bound – prequel to the Telepathic Space Pirates series by Carysa Locke #Brainfluffbookreview #PirateBoundbookreview #SciFiMonth2019

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I’ve read and enjoyed the first two full-length books in this series – see my review of Pirate Nemesis – so was pleased to see this addition and needed something full of escapist drama to relax with after reading some grittier offerings. I am linking this review to Sci Fi Month 2019.

BLURB: A desperate gamble… Sanah would do anything to protect her little sister, even if it means taking refuge with ruthless pirates. But the psychically Talented pirates terrorizing Commonwealth space are not quite the monsters she has been led to believe. When Sanah’s empathic gift shows her the truth behind the stories, she is no longer certain who the villains are in her world.

A race on the verge of extinction… Dem’s only goal is to protect his people, especially since a deadly bio-weapon decimated their population. Only a handful of women survived, and every day is a fight to rebuild. With Sanah’s empathy and her sister’s rare ability to heal, they could be the salvation Dem and his people have been looking for.

A dangerous secret that could destroy everything… But how can Sanah trust Dem with her life? Especially when he’d kill her if he knew the truth.
I generally don’t read much romantic science fiction, but this series is an exception. Do be aware that while there is a strong storyline and plenty of tension, there is also a big dollop of romance with some reasonably steamy action. However, what I really enjoyed about it was that the science fiction element wasn’t merely a vehicle for a boy-meets-girl scenario. The relationship is strongly nested within the world Locke has created, where a number of folks with telepathic abilities have turned their back on becoming a tool of the tyrannical governing authority and instead, plunder ships for the goods they need.

While their society is unquestionably violent, I also enjoy how Locke ensure my loyalties are firmly with the lawless outcasts. It was enjoyable to meet up with characters I’ve already encountered on other adventures, particularly Dem, whose brooding presence means that I didn’t previously bond much with him. But that’s the joy of a good prequel…

Overall, this was great fun and is highly recommended for those who enjoy engrossing space opera adventure with a side-order of romance on the spicy side.
8/10

Review of INDIE Ebook Cleon Moon – Book 5 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker #Brainfluffbookreview #CleonMoonbookreview #SciFiMonth2019

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I have been following this series and enjoying the unfolding adventure and likeable nonsense that accompanies all the various problems bedevilling disaster magnet Alisa Marchenko – see my review of the first book, Star Nomad. I am linking this review to Sci Fi Month 2019.

BLURB: Now that she’s retrieved the Staff of Lore, Captain Alisa Marchenko can finally dedicate herself and her ship to finding her kidnapped daughter. Her scant clues lead her to Cleon Moon. Unfortunately, since the fall of the empire, mafia clans have taken over the domed cities on the harsh moon, and exploring there isn’t easy. Even with the cyborg Leonidas at her side, Alisa struggles to survive vengeful mafia clans, rogue Starseers, and genetically engineered predators. To further complicate matters, she must worry about the ancient relic hidden on her ship, a beacon to anyone in the system who craves its power. If Alisa can’t navigate the moon’s chaos, she may lose her only chance to catch up with her daughter.

Alisa’s smart mouth is entertaining as the action gets hot and her adrenaline kicks in, while she finds herself in situations where she’d be better off heading in the opposite direction. The problem is, she’s looking for her eight-year-old daughter who was snatched by the infamous Starseers, telepaths with a dark history of trying to subdue the empire and use the bulk of the untalented population as serfs.

I also liked how the stories of the other main characters in the ship are also progressing – each adventure highlights one of the passengers so that we learn more about their backstory and/or continue to develop their character arc. This time around, it is aspiring chef, Beck, who is very much caught up in the action as he goes off to meet up with someone who might be interested in the sauces he makes… Meanwhile, Alisa has investigations of her own to make – where is Jelena, her daughter? If I have a slight grumble, is that she seems to be getting a tad too distracted with cyborg hunk, Leonidas, who she desires, rather than keeping focused on the search for her daughter. Meanwhile, her long-suffering engineer, Mica, keeps looking for a new position but somehow never getting around to leaving the ship and new-age, Yumi, with her rescued chickens, is also very excited at the prospect of landing on a moon where fungi is the main flora, given she knows how to make a drug from one of the rarer species…

Throw in dinosaur hunts, a knockabout space battle where weaving amongst the taller mushrooms is a thing and a devastating theft from their trusty ship, and the pages flew by so that I reached THE END with a sense of loss that this slice of the adventure is now over. I generally don’t embark on long-running series if I can avoid it – keeping up with them is too much like hard work. However, I have somehow reached the end of Book 5 of this whacky adventure without it seeming to be a big deal. And I’m definitely continuing with Book 6, Arkadian Skies – apart from anything else, this Indie series is very good value for money.

Recommended for fans of action-packed space opera, including a splash of romance.
8/10