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Review of KINDLE Ebook A Trail Through Time – Book 4 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor #Brainfluffbookrevew #ATrailThroughTimebookreview

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I’ve read and enjoyed some of the books in this rollicking time travelling adventure tale and wanted more of Max’s escapades after reading a particularly intense YA dystopian tale.

Max and Leon are re-united and looking forward to a peaceful lifetime together. But, sadly, they don’t even make it to lunchtime. The action races from 17th century London to Ancient Egypt and from Pompeii to 14th century Southwark as they’re pursued up and down the timeline, playing a perilous game of hide and seek until they’re finally forced to take refuge at St Mary’s – where new dangers await them. As usual, there are plenty of moments of humour, but the final, desperate, Battle of St Mary’s is in grim earnest. Overwhelmed and outnumbered and with the building crashing down around them, how can St Mary’s possibly survive? So, make sure the tea’s good and strong…

Once again Taylor weaves her magic with this entertaining and uniquely Brit take on time travelling adventure. Very loosely inspired by Bletchley, the institution of St Mary’s investigates specific times in history for a shadowy organisation that we feel are a covert part of the government. Consequently, there is a lot of make do and mend as there is not much money in the kitty. This time around, Max discovers a new threat which not only endangers her and Leon, but also threatens the very existence of St Mary’s itself.

As ever, threading through the overarching threat posed, are a number of entertaining episodes set at intriguing times in history, as Max and Leon desperately try to evade their pursuers. These include struggling to evade Nile crocodiles in ancient Egypt, and dodging burning projectiles and smothering ash during the eruption that wipes out Pompeii. All this is told through the viewpoint of Max. She is an adrenaline-junkie with a troubled past and the desert-dry sense of humour that pervades the stories she tells. I love her character, the magnificent understatements regarding some of the madcap adventures she is describing, which makes the tragedy that inevitably accompanies some of the more dangerous exploits, even more poignant. This is indeed a book where I laughed out loud and a few pages later had a lump in my throat – Taylor is an author always manages to produce that reaction in me when I’m reading her books. The battle is a magnificent climax and, as ever, the book ends just in the right place. Thank goodness I have the next one on my Kindle, ready for me to tuck into…

Recommended for fans of time travelling adventure. Though whatever you do, start with the first book in the series, Just One Damned Thing After Another – see my review here – as otherwise, you simply won’t appreciate all the goodness that is layered within The Chronicles of St Mary’s series.
9/10

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Review of NOVELLA NETGALLEY arc Time Was by Ian McDonald #Brainfluffbookreview #TimeWasbookreview

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I was delighted when I saw this offering on NetGalley – and even more delighted when I was approved to read it. I enjoy McDonald’s writing and was particularly impressed with his lunar duology – read my review of Luna: New Moon here.

Struggling second-hand book dealer, Emmet, is trying to survive in the increasingly difficult financial climate – and then comes across a small poetry collection called Time Was which includes a love letter from Tom to Ben, set in WWII. It sets him out on an astonishing search to discover who Tom and Ben are – a search that takes him to a tucked-away corner of England where odd stories abound about the seas catching fire…

And no… You won’t find that blurb anywhere else, as I wrote it myself. I feel the official version is highly misleading and yet somehow also manages to reveal some of the major plot points. I’m very glad I didn’t read it before I picked up the book, because I would have approached it expecting something completely different.

The main protagonist is gripped by the need to track down the fate of the two young men caught up in WWII and more or less abandons his everyday life to do it. In contrast to the lyrical, slightly highflown prose produced by Tom when in his viewpoint, Emmet is far more down-to-earth with a dry, sarky humour that I thoroughly enjoyed and stopped this turning into a treacly read. In fact, Emmett isn’t a particularly likeable character – and that was okay, too.

Tom and Ben were the people in the story that snagged my sympathy and attention – and I think that is exactly how I was meant to feel, in effect, shadowing the main protagonist in his attempts to find out more about these two people. But history and historical research is inherently messy – it never delivers exactly what you want, in the way that you want it. And there are two major surprises at the end of this bittersweet story that summed up that premise.

Overall, I think this is a haunting, really well written novella with a misleading blurb that isn’t doing it any favours whatsoever. Take my advice – skip the blurb and instead pick up this short story without any prior expectation and let the plot unfold around you.
9/10

Review of Library book #Remnants of Trust – Book 2 of the #Central Corp novel series by #Elizabeth Bonesteel #Brainfluffbookreview #bookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series – The Cold Between – see my review here. Luckily, the library also had the second book, so I was able tuck into this one before I’d forgotten the plot of the first space opera adventure.

Six weeks ago, Commander Elena Shaw and Captain Greg Foster were court-martialled for their role in an event Central Gov denies ever happened. Yet instead of a dishonourable discharge or time in a military prison, Shaw and Foster and are now back together on Galileo. As punishment, they’ve been assigned to patrol the nearly empty space of the Third Sector. But their mundane mission quickly turns treacherous when the Galileo picks up a distress call: Exeter, a sister ship, is under attack from raiders.

This space opera adventure is a cracker – I love the complex characterisation and nuanced responses of the main protagonists. While this is a continuation from the first book, if you haven’t read it, I think you could still work out who was doing what to whom without too much difficulty. And while you might miss out on some of the extra ramifications, you certainly would be able to negotiate the world and follow the action, while appreciating what is at stake – which is a lot. However, to get the best out of this book, I do recommend that you get hold of The Cold Between and read it before tucking into this offering.

However, Bonesteel’s great strength is the portrayal of her cast. Elena is a great main character – she is a skilled mechanic as well as brave and stubborn. However, she also has vulnerabilities and weaknesses, too. As does every other character in this engrossing story, where as well as trying to fulfil their mission – or otherwise – they are all reacting off each other in highly stressful circumstances in ways that feel completely realistic. The pacing in this story is slower than the previous headlong pelt through the book, where Elena’s pairing with an unjustly accused PSI captain triggered many of the events that are reverberating through this more complex story with a wider scope.

I took my time reading this one – something I don’t do very often, because I simply didn’t want it to end. I love character-led adventures and Bonesteel’s writing really chimes with me. Other than Elena, whom I love, my favourite character is the abrasive, intelligent Raman Çelik, the captain of poor old Exeter, the ship that is attacked in the opening passage of the book. He isn’t very nice – in fact, he isn’t nice at all. But his charisma and tendency to jab at everyone around him to wind them up and his dogged determination to track down those responsible for the damage done to his ship and crew helps to power this story forward.

The final denouement is suitably exciting and an appropriate payoff for readers who have invested their time to read this gripping story – and I certainly didn’t realise who the traitor was. The initial main plotline – who is responsible for attacking the Exeter and why – is certainly adequately addressed in this adventure, but this is part of a trilogy and there is a massive plotpoint dangling with a sudden heartbreaking twist right near the end of this adventure. I’m very glad that the final book, Breach of Containment is due to arrive on the library shelves any day now – I’ve got an order in to read it as soon as it does, because I really, really want to know what happens next.

Highly recommended for fans of character-led space opera adventure.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of #Child I by #Steve Tasane #Brainfluffbookreview #bookreview

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This isn’t a very long book – I read it in one sitting. But it certainly packs a punch…

Today the mud is dry and crusted and blowing in my eyes. Today is also my birthday. I think today is my birthday. I asked on of the grown-ups what is today’s date.
‘Is it July third?’ I asked.
‘Something like that,’ they said.
July third is the date of my birthday. I think it is that date of my birthday.
I’m sure it is. I’ll be ten. I am ten. I am certain.

And that’s the blurb – I think. That’s actually what is on the cover of the book in lieu of any kind of cover art, which is on the back… Back to front. Slightly wrong. Which actually fits with this amazing little book quite well.

Being me, I initially thought this was a post-apocalyptic tale of climate disaster and a child living in a dystopian near-future camp. It isn’t. This is the story of a child living right now in a refugee camp. His experiences are taken from the lives of real children living across a number of camps and can be corroborated with pictures and video footage, according to the author. He is called Child I, because with no family or papers – which were stolen from him – the authorities have given him a letter, instead of his name.

What is both uplifting and heartbreaking is that Child I isn’t the sad-faced victim with tears welling in his eyes that we see on our TV sets during appeals from various charities – he is a typical ten-year-old boy. Those of us who have spent any time with children of this age will instantly recognise him – endlessly curious, energetic, playful and wanting to reach out to those around him. He tells us about his surroundings. The condition of the mud that rules their lives – where he sleeps, what the weather is like, what he can find to eat – he is constantly hungry as the unaccompanied children seem to be the ones that fall between the cracks when it comes to being looked after in refugee camps. But above all, he tells us of the games he plays and the adventures he has and who joins in…

The writing could so easily have tipped into sentimentality, portraying Child I as a victim, but it doesn’t. The voice is absolutely authentic. I can hear his earnest voice explaining what is going on – and managing to write as an adult portraying a child protagonist is a tricky business. Tasane succeeds in bringing Child I’s life to us in wrenching detail in this simple short book. It is both shocking and uplifting. It should be required reading for politicians around the world – and I’m donating my copy to a local school. Other children, luckier than Child I need to read what is happening in other parts of the world. Read it. It won’t take up much of your time, I promise, but if we don’t know – how can we all try to fix it so that Child I gets a name and home?
10/10

Review of #Gwithyas: Door to the Void by Isha Crowe #Brainfluffbookreview #book review

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This is another offering from Grimbold Publishers – a quirky, YA fantasy, featuring hapless Zircon Gwithyas, who is the main protagonist.

Zircon Gwithyas just wants to be a normal teenager, preferably one with a girlfriend. If you’re a spotty nerd with glasses as thick as jam jars, that isn’t easy. It’s even harder when you live in a derelict manor on a haunted hill with a bunch of spooky eccentrics for a family, and the object of your affection is an irritable sword-wielding college student. It becomes virtually impossible when you are dragged into a dark, chaotic semi-reality where your moderately-deceased ancestors expect you to save the world from a horde of grotesque demons with a fondness for torture…

I love this one. Zircon’s exasperated view of his life puts an amusing spin on this Gothic tale of overweening ambition, pride, as the terrible consequences reverberate down the generations of this afflicted family. I really like the fact that Zircon is gawky, physically unappealing and unfailingly bad at interacting effectively with the people around him. He doesn’t even want to be a Guardian – in fact, he didn’t realise this was his fate, until circumstances give him a hefty nudge.

Crowe has played with the classic Hero’s Journey, so beloved of screenwriters and SFF authors, by including many of the necessary ingredients, such as the Call to Action as the initial emergency engulfs the family – his initial resistance to said Call is entirely according to the script. But the wise Mentor, whose counsel is supposed to help Zircon on his way, becomes otherwise engaged and Zircon’s trusty sidekick, Joanna, thoroughly despises his physical ineptitude and evident terror. In the end, of course, he tackles the monsters, or there wouldn’t be a story. But it isn’t until well into the book, the reader begins to appreciate exactly what has been going on – and realises just how cleverly Crowe has played with our expectations.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, (no internet!) I’ve been unable to post my review when I scheduled to do so, therefore it’s been a while since I read this one. But it won’t leave my head. I find myself thinking of Zircon rather a lot at times when I should be thinking of something else – it’s special when a book gets under my skin to that degree. Highly recommended for fans of fantasy – this one is a gem.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Ebook NOVELLA #The Flowers of Vashnoi Book 14.1 of The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold #Brainfluffbookreview #bookreview

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It’s been a while since we read the last book in the Vorkosigan Saga, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen – see my review here – which didn’t feature much about Miles or Ekaterina, so I was thrilled to see this one was in the pipeline…

Still new to her duties as Lady Vorkosigan, Ekaterin is working together with expatriate scientist Enrique Borgos on a radical scheme to recover the lands of the Vashnoi exclusion zone, lingering radioactive legacy of the Cetagandan invasion of the planet Barrayar. When Enrique’s experimental bioengineered creatures go missing, the pair discover that the zone still conceals deadly old secrets.

Those bioengineered creatures alluded to in the blurb are our old friends, the butterbugs, which made a very dramatic entrance in A Civil Campaign during a particularly important banquet. Those of us who read this excellent series won’t ever forget that particular scene… During this incarnation, they are being used to help clean up an irradiated area, when they start to go missing.

Bujold has nailed the pacing of the novella form – not something every author used to writing full-length novels manages to do, so we hit the ground running with this mini-adventure and the pacing is judged perfectly for a really satisfying ending.

In amongst the drama and sadness of their discovery in the middle of this irradiated wasteland, there are also flashes of Bujold humour, ensuring that while I felt emotionally connected and really cared about the outcome, it didn’t overwhelm the scale of the storyline. It was a treat to have Ekatarin’s viewpoint throughout, as she has always been a strong, interesting character who appears in several of the other books.

All in all, this novella is a real treat and my only quibble is that I wanted it to be longer. Recommended for fans of the Vorkosigan Saga and anyone interested in tackling this long-running established series who would like a taster of the world.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc #Furyborn – Book 1 of the Empirium series by #Claire Legrand #Brainfluffbookreview #bookreview

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It was the cover that grabbed my attention – and when I read enough of the blurb to realise it was an epic fantasy allll about two powerful women, I wanted to read on…

When assassins ambush her best friend, the crown prince, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing her ability to perform all seven kinds of elemental magic. The only people who should possess this extraordinary power are a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light and salvation and a queen of blood and destruction. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven trials to test her magic. If she fails, she will be executed…unless the trials kill her first.

A thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a mere fairy tale to bounty hunter Eliana Ferracora. When the Undying Empire conquered her kingdom, she embraced violence to keep her family alive. Now, she believes herself untouchable–until her mother vanishes without a trace, along with countless other women in their city. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain on a dangerous mission and discovers that the evil at the heart of the empire is more terrible than she ever imagined.

The blurb above gives a quick overview of the two main protagonists in this fast-paced epic fantasy, full of drama and emotion. Told in third person viewpoint with Rielle and Eliana featuring in alternate chapters, we build up a strong picture of how events lead to the shocking and bloody scene at the start of the story. I am still in two minds as to whether that works. Himself read a couple of chapters and once he realised who exactly Rielle was, he broke off announcing that it wasn’t worth slogging through a whole book when he already knew what had happened to one of the main characters. While I take his point, I am glad that I got swept up into this violent, difficult journey. I found the contrast between both of main characters intriguing. Eliana is definitely the more damaged of the two at the beginning of the book having been trained as an assassin and committed a series of bloody murders to keep her family safe. She is angry and cynical – and at times very funny.

This book would have been a lot less readable without the shafts of humour peppered throughout. At the beginning, Rielle is clearly the softer character, although she has had a tragic start in life by losing her mother in terrible circumstances, when only five years old. But circumstances and destiny push these two young women such, that by the end of the book, it is Rielle, who is the desperate, violent character driven by circumstances beyond her control and Eliana, whose cynical veneer is being stripped away in a desperate hunt to save those she loves.

Legrand can certainly write with the brakes off – an accomplishment that is harder than she makes it look. It would be all too easy to keep writing at full throttle, so that the light and shade is lost in amongst all that heightened emotion. She avoids that by peopling the world with strong supporting characters, so that we see these frightening women at their most vulnerable, as well as in ferocious attack mode. I also appreciated the world, which she effectively filters through the perceptions and knowledge of our main characters without resorting to boring info dumps.

All in all, this is an accomplished, full-on epic fantasy dealing with the themes of power and its corrupting influence, and what makes us human. It is a strong start to what promises to be a gripping series. Highly recommended for all fans of this genre. While I obtained an arc of Furyborn from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook #Willnot by James Sallis #buddyread #bookreview #bookblog #bookblogger

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My book blogging friend Emma Littlefield and I decided to teamread a book recommended by the other – and as James Sallis is a favourite author of Emma’s, we started off by reading Willnot.

Did you pick this book up thinking it was going to be a murder mystery?
No. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. Having read quite a few Sallis books now, one thing I like about his stories is that they never quite end up where I think they might. A number of his trilogies have detectives or private investigators as central characters and they do investigate murders but it’s never the be all and end all of everything. Sometimes, they don’t even get solved. It’s more about the journey’s the characters take and that’s what I like.

Is this book a classic example of James Sallis’s writing?
Yes, I would say so. I always end up describing it to people as quite sparse as there isn’t a word wasted. Some people I’ve recommend him to say that nothing happens in the books but I disagree, I think a lot happens to the characters it’s just it tends to be small things that build up to big changes.

When you finished the book were you elated and blown away, or just the tiniest bit disappointed?
I was very happy. The last Sallis book I read (The Killer is Dying) is actually the first one I haven’t enjoyed and I was a bit worried I had burnt out on the author. I was also a bit worried that he’d lost his writing way. This had all the elements I love in his work and, while it wasn’t the best of the books I’ve read, it was by no means the worst. Content is maybe the best way to describe it.

How does this rate alongside other books by this author?
I would say it’s probably right in the middle (maybe high middle). My favourite books are Drive and Driven and his Turner Trilogy because I just feel in love with his characters in these books.

As you can see from her answers, Emma is a thoughtful, intelligent reader whose opinions I value – you can pop over to her blog here to read her questions to me along with her review of Willnot. And here is my review…

In the woods outside the town of Willnot, the remains of several people have suddenly been discovered, unnerving the community and unsettling Hale, the town’s all-purpose general practitioner, surgeon, and town conscience. At the same time, Bobby Lowndes–his military records disappeared, being followed by the FBI–mysteriously reappears in his hometown, at Hale’s door. Over the ensuing months, the daily dramas Hale faces as he tends to his town and to his partner, Richard, collide with the inexplicable vagaries of life in Willnot.

I love the writing style. Sallis builds up a vivid picture of daily life in this small, US community with a wealth of everyday occurrences, delivering them with pace and a vividness that pulled me into the book. Hale, his protagonist, is a thoroughly nice chap who is one of those lynchpins that all communities need. His duties as the town’s doctor, surgeon and coroner put him right in the centre of all the major events in Willnot in a manner that appears completely unforced and realistic.

Sallis’s smooth, accomplished prose has a lovely rhythm that evokes Hale’s character and the setting without ever putting a foot wrong – there is so much about this book that is an absolute delight… However, if you’re sensing a but – you’d be right. My quibble isn’t with the writing, or the characterisation, or even the plot progression and storyline – all that works beautifully. What wrongfooted me was after reading the blurb, I was expecting a murder mystery – a whodunit where this busy, responsible man takes it upon himself to solve the puzzle of those bodies discovered right at the beginning of the story and clearly rock the small town, where daily life is generally quieter and more peaceful.

But that wasn’t where the focus or impact of this story lay – and while appreciating all the strengths that I’ve already enumerated about this book, I kept turning the pages, waiting for the denouement and drama surrounding this mystery. Or any mystery… While there is some drama and an unexpected shooting, the overall plot didn’t seem to be about that at all, which is absolutely fine – apart for my expectations.

Would I read another James Sallis novel? Oh yes – he’s evidently a fine writer and I really enjoyed being introduced to him – thank you, Emma!
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook A Pair of Docks – Book 1 of the Derivatives of Displacement by Jennifer Ellis

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I’ll be honest – I’m not quite sure how this book ended up on my Kindle. I have a hunch Himself bought it, but however it got there, I’m really pleased it did.

Fourteen-year-old Abbey Sinclair likes to spend her afternoons in the physics lab learning about momentum and gravitational pull. But her practical scientific mind is put to the test when her older brother, Simon, discovers a mysterious path of stones that allows them, along with Abbey’s twin, Caleb, to travel back and forth between their world and what appears to be…the future. Unfortunately, they’re not the only ones who know about the stones, and they soon realize their lives are in danger from a man known only as Mantis. Abbey, Caleb, and Simon must follow a twisting trail of clues that will lead them from their autistic neighbor, Mark, to a strange professor who claims to know the rules of the stones, and to multiple futures—some of whose inhabitants don’t want to stay put.

This book is categorised as a Children’s book, but please don’t let that put you off. Given the complexity of the story, the layering of the characters and the pacing, it feels far more like a YA offering to me. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. The time travel element has been done very well, with the initial hook pulling the reader into the story and then learning the very rich backstory as the adventure continues. The story progression and overall pacing are deftly handled.

Abbey is one of twins, and I enjoyed the fact that the siblings – along with their older brother – get together to try and sort out what is happening. Given they have very busy parents, they are quite a tight-knit unit, although that doesn’t prevent there being strains in their relationship. Ellis has provided a strong protagonist. Nerdy and very clever, Abbey is also observant and people-smart. I did enjoy her awareness, as I have become just a little tired of young protagonists who seem to do nothing but lurch from one major mistake to another.

There is an atmosphere of quiet menace pervading this book, which works very well and had me turning the pages long after I should have put the light out and gone to sleep. As for the antagonists, it was also refreshing to have nuanced, clever villains who are convinced they are doing nothing terribly wrong. In fact, it seemed to me that this book could quite as easily have been written from the viewpoint of at least one of them, desperately trying to search for a lost relative, and have us all terribly sympathetic with him.

The ending was suitably climactic, but left some important questions unanswered, and I am delighted that I have the sequel also on my Kindle as this is a world that won’t leave me alone. Highly recommended for fans of time travel adventures.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook #Scourged – Book 9 of the Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne #Brainfluffbookreview #bookreview

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I’ve followed this series right from the start, thoroughly enjoying the mayhem and the humour that Hearne has created, so it was with some sadness that I picked up this final book in the series – see my review of the first book, Hounded, here.

Unchained from fate, the Norse gods Loki and Hel are ready to unleash Ragnarok, a.k.a. the Apocalypse, upon the earth. They’ve made allies on the darker side of many pantheons, and there’s a globe-spanning battle brewing that ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan will be hard-pressed to survive, much less win.

Granuaile MacTiernan must join immortals Sun Wukong and Erlang Shen in a fight against the Yama Kings in Taiwan, but she discovers that the stakes are much higher than she thought.

Meanwhile, Archdruid Owen Kennedy must put out both literal and metaphorical fires from Bavaria to Peru to keep the world safe for his apprentices and the future of Druidry.

And Atticus recruits the aid of a tyromancer, an Indian witch, and a trickster god in hopes that they’ll give him just enough leverage to both save Gaia and see another sunrise. There is a hound named Oberon who deserves a snack, after all.

This book features the three main protagonists listed in the blurb above and I’m very grateful to the author for providing a ‘story so far’ summary covering the whole series. I just wish other authors writing long-running series would provide similar assistance to their readers. Some of us have the memory of a goldfish…

I started this one with some trepidation – after all, the stakes are high. I have followed this series for the previous eight books and was concerned that if Hearne fumbled this one, it would spoil my experience of the complete Iron Druid series. In the event, I’d need not have worried. All three main characters still are appealing in quite different ways – my personal favourite is Owen, who started out as the archetypal grumpy old man and has considerably mellowed as he continues getting to grips with the modern world. While the apocalyptic Ragnarok loomed across the book – as well it should – there were a whole series of delightful interludes with my favourite being Owens new best friend, Slomo the sloth.

What appears to have split opinion amongst readers is the manner in which the book ends. As for Granuaile’s decision, I was really pleased. I felt it showed her increasing confidence and desire to extend her druidic skills and had a real ring of reality about it which I thoroughly welcome. As for the Iron Druid, Atticus, what befalls him is a real shock, but given the weight of prophecy promising bad things happening to him, I can’t see how this could have ended any better without compromising a major plot point throughout the latter half of the series.

All in all, I think Hearne has produced a thoroughly satisfactory conclusion to an excellent series which I particularly enjoyed as – unlike so many others – it didn’t become unbearably bleak by the end. Recommended for fans of godpunk and epic fantasy with a strong contemporary twist.
9/10