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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc A Murder at Rosings by Annette Purdey Pugh #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AMurderatRosingsbookreview

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I was looking for an enjoyable whodunit, when I came across this offering – and was delighted to be approved to read it. I’ve largely enjoyed the Jane Austen-inspired books that I’ve read. Would I enjoy this one?

BLURB: When Mr Collins is found stabbed to death in Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s garden, simmering tensions are revealed beneath the elegant Regency surface of the Rosings estate.

The prime suspect is Mr Bennet, who was overheard arguing with Mr Collins over the entail of Longbourn in the days before the murder was committed, and who stands to benefit more than anyone from the Rector’s death. Will he end up hanged, with the rest of his family shunned by polite society?

REVIEW: I’ve tweaked the end of the blurb and omitted the final paragraph, which gives the impression that it’s Mary who is at the heart of uncovering the murder mystery. And whoever wrote that clearly hadn’t read the book. Because while Mary makes more of an appearance in this book than in Pride and Prejudice, she isn’t part of the investigation. It’s a shame the blurb is so misleading, because I kept waiting for her to become swept up in the murder mystery – and was a bit taken aback when it didn’t happen.

So my advice is to ignore the blurb and just relax into the story. I think Purdey Pugh has nailed the setting and the atmosphere at Rosings. We see another side of Lady Caroline de Bourgh, rather than the overly entitled harridan portrayed by Austen. Lady Caroline is depicted as a stickler for the rules, but also someone who is genuinely concerned about her servants and is grieved at the violent death of Mr Collins, to the extent that she is willing for the local magistrate, Sir John Bright, and the village constable, Robert Archer, to freely question both the servants and the high-born occupants of Rosings, given that it soon becomes clear that whoever murdered Collins had to have close ties with the household. She also deeply loves her daughter, which becomes increasingly clear throughout the book. So while I started this one expecting to thoroughly dislike her, my initial prejudice towards her softened into genuine respect for her.

I also liked the depiction of Mr Bennet, who although isn’t as witty as he appears in Pride and Prejudice, nonetheless does make the occasional light-hearted comment. But then, this event takes place several years after the events of P & P. Mr and Mrs Collins are now blessed with three children and the three married Bennet daughters are all in an interesting condition. So Bennet has a particular and pressing reason to visit his cousin, Mr Collins, who is the heir to Longbourn on Mr Bennet’s death. I also appreciated seeing more of Mary, who is more of a retiring, desperately shy scholar who dreads social occasions in this version. She and Anne de Bourgh, Lady Catherine’s timid daughter, immediately form a close relationship as they attempt to study Greek together without the aid of a tutor. While Lady Caroline loathes the Bennets, after Lizzy treacherously stole Mr Darcy from the arms of her daughter, she is prepared to make Mary Bennet welcome for the sake of Anne’s happiness.

There is also a darker sub-plot running through the story. There are young and vulnerable female servants among Rosings’ large staff – and the dangers they are subjected to makes for a thought-provoking read. Especially as the investigators and most of the main characters are clearly striving to do the best they can for the people in their charge. Thus demonstrating that it only takes one or two of the other sort to cause real harm. So there’s a trigger warning for sexual assault.

I think the murder mystery is handled very well. Although I soon guessed who the perpetrator was – until I was proved utterly wrong. Meanwhile, there are plenty of twists and turns along the way, before the unexpected and rather shocking solution came to light. Overall, I found this to be an engrossing read that took me convincingly into Austen’s world, treating it with respect while giving us a different view of some of her characters. Highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of A Murder at Rosings from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Loch Down Abbey by Beth Cowan-Erskine #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #LochDownAbbeybookreview

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It was the wordplay regarding the title and that rather gorgeous cover that snagged my attention – and the blurb ensured that I requested a copy of this one. And I’m very glad I did…

BLURB: It’s the 1930s and a mysterious illness is spreading over Scotland. But the noble and ancient family of Inverkillen, residents of Loch Down Abbey, are much more concerned with dwindling toilet roll supplies and who will look after the children now that Nanny has regretfully (and most inconveniently) departed this life.

Then Lord Inverkillen, Earl and head of the family, is found dead in mysterious circumstances. The inspector declares it an accident but Mrs MacBain, the head housekeeper, isn’t so convinced. As no one is allowed in or out because of the illness, the residents of the house – both upstairs and downstairs – are the only suspects. With the Earl’s own family too busy doing what can only be described as nothing, she decides to do some digging – in between chores, of course – and in doing so uncovers a whole host of long-hidden secrets, lies and betrayals that will alter the dynamics of the household for ever.

REVIEW: I’ve been reading a fair amount of historical fiction recently – but I can safely say that nothing has been quite like this offering. The Inverkillen clan are all thoroughly spoilt and entitled – and quite right, too. After all, they’re part of an aristocracy that goes back hundreds of years and everyone in the village and beyond acknowledges their superiority over the common sort. Indeed, they employ lots of the common sort to wait upon them hand, foot and finger. So when a mysterious and rather virulent illness strikes the domestic staff just when Lord Inverkillen is found dead by the weir, dramatic changes have to be made in domestic arrangements – and that’s before the Will is read…

This is a funny and engaging read – but do keep the character cast list bookmarked, at least for the first few chapters, because there are quite a lot of Inverkillens and events keep happening. Think of a cross between the televised version of P.G. Wodehouse’s stories and Agatha Christie’s country house mysteries. And I won’t compare Cowan-Erksine’s writing with Wodehouse, because his prose is far more hilarious. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed her dry humour and found myself laughing aloud more than once. And as I’m struggling with post-Covid fatigue syndrome, I’m not inclined to chuckle over anything that isn’t genuinely funny.

Since I’ve finished this one, I’ve found myself looking around for something similar – and I haven’t yet found it. If you are looking for a mystery that doesn’t take itself too seriously, then this one comes very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Loch Down Abbey from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Mystic’s Accomplice by Mary Miley Theobold #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheMysticsAccomplicebookreview

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I’ve read a 1929s murder mystery by this author writing as Mary Miley and thoroughly enjoyed – see my review of Renting Silence. So when this first book in a new series caught my eyes, I was delighted to be able to get hold of it.

BLURB: It’s 1924, and Maddie Pastore has it made. A nice house, a loving husband with a steady job – even if it is connected to Chicago’s violent Torrio-Capone gang – and a baby on the way. But then Tommy is shot dead, and she learns her husband had a secret that turns her life upside down. Penniless and grieving, Maddie is only sure of two things: that she will survive for the sake of her baby, and that she’ll never turn to the mob for help.

So when she’s invited to assist a well-meaning but fraudulent medium, she seizes the chance. She’s not proud of her work investigating Madam Carlotta’s clients, but she’s proud of how well she does it. When Maddie unearths potential evidence of a dark crime, however, she faces a terrible dilemma: keep quiet and let a murderer go unpunished, or follow the trail and put herself and her baby in mortal danger . . .

REVIEW: Poor Maddie’s life disastrously falls apart at the start of this book. Bad enough to suddenly find herself suddenly widowed and pregnant – but when she then loses everything, she’s desperate. Fortunately, she’s blessed with a lovely nature that people warm to and while she doesn’t want to be a charity case, Maddie is on the receiving end of a lot of genuine kindness. Though once Baby Tommy is born, she needs to find a job so she can keep a roof over their heads and feed herself – and it’s a huge struggle. She is caught in the all-too familiar dilemma facing working women with children, especially as she is breastfeeding him.

No… this book isn’t all about that. But I’m glad to see one of the plot threads running throughout the story is Maddie’s constant worry about how she will keep Baby Tommy safely cared for while she holds down a job. It certainly means that once she has a measure of financial security while helping Madam Carlotta gain information about her clients, she can’t easily find another position. Even though she is uneasy about what she is doing at times.

I was aware that in the wake of the Great War and the terrible Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, there was a huge upsurge of interest in spiritualists on both sides of the Atlantic. Millions of grieving relatives struggled to come to terms with the loss of far too many young people well before their time and turned to spiritualists for comfort. So Madam Carlotta feels she is called upon by a higher power to help people. And there are occasions when she clearly has flashes of genuine insight that can’t be explained away. However they are infrequent and fleeting. Therefore Maddie finds out as much as she can about the clients who book in advance to attend a séance, so Madam Carlotta can drop these details in. And it is when she discovers one family who have been particularly afflicted with more than one death that it occurs to her that the latest tragedy may not have been natural.

In the meantime, we get a vivid insight into a vibrant Chicago where Prohibition is in full swing and speakeasys and illegal gin joints have sprung up on every street. This gives the major crime families a licence to print money, by getting involved in the production of illegal liquor and distributing it. Gang warfare is simmering just below the surface – and given that Tommy was driving for one of the major outfits, Maddie needs to tread very carefully if she is going to keep herself and her newborn son free of their pernicious influence.

The story rattles along full of incident and suffused with Maddie’s gutsy can-do attitude, which I found very endearing. While the murder mystery is enjoyable and well done, it isn’t the narrative engine that powers this story – that is Maddie’s struggle to regroup after two devastating blows take everything, other than her child, away from her. That’s fine by me – the pages more or less turned themselves as I was fascinated to discover what happens next. And I’m definitely going to be looking out for the next book in this enjoyable series. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction, particularly 1920s America. While I obtained an arc of The Mystic’s Accomplice from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Murder at Beaulieu Abbey – Book 11 of the Abbess of Meux series by Cassandra Clark #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #MurderatBeaulieuAbbeybookreview

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I’ve been reading some excellent historical murder mysteries recently, so this offering on Netgalley caught my eye. As usual, I didn’t research it properly before requesting it. So I was slightly surprised to discover it was Book 11 of a long-running series. Oh well – it’s been a while since I crashed midway into a series with such style!

BLURB: February, 1390. The Church seethes with rebellion. Newly elected Pope Boniface faces a challenger: the anti-pope Clement, who sows discord from his power base in France.

The quarrel threatens the very survival of the Cistercian Order. So when suspicions grow that distant Beaulieu Abbey may turn traitor, Hildegard’s prioress summons her with a mission she can’t refuse: travel to the isolated royal abbey and spy out their true allegiance. The public reason for Hildegard’s trip is more prosaic. A young Cornish heiress, promised in marriage to the son of local aristocrat Sir William, needs escorting to her new home. It’s not often Hildegard joins a betrothal party, and she’s looking forward to meeting the girl.

But little does Hildegard know, death and danger wait at Beaulieu – and even the protection of her travelling companions, the monks militant Brother Gregory and Brother Egbert, may not be enough to keep her safe from harm . . .

REVIEW: As luck would have it, I know this part of the world rather well. In another life, we owned a yacht and Beaulieu River was a favourite destination when cruising up and down The Solent. So I was especially keen to read this murder mystery set in this beautiful, atmospheric part of the world.

Hildegard is a sympathetic protagonist, who is clearly intelligent and courageous. I also liked the fact that she is a widow with grown children that brought a steadiness and experience she demonstrated throughout. It makes a nice change to have a female protagonist who is a bit older and past her physical prime. However, this murder mystery is clearly action led, despite being told from the viewpoint of a single protagonist. There are so many twists and turns and so much going on that at times Hildegard’s thoughts and reactions – other than those about the mystery – aren’t apparent, so by the end of the book I didn’t know her as well as I wanted. While she is in some very dangerous situations. I didn’t ever get the sense of her real fear, or her ongoing dialogue with God, which would have been the case in those days.

However, Clark’s depiction of the surroundings, infrastructure and all the topographical features are spot on. Once I realised the limits of the characterisation, I was perfectly happy to relax into the story and appreciate the plotting, which was very well done. Though three- quarters in, I was a bit dismayed to have worked out exactly what was going on – until the denouement when I realised that I was completely wrong. And that is always the mark of a cracking good plot. Checking back, I realised that Clark has not cheated her reader in any way while achieving such a volte-face, which is the mark of an experienced, skilled writer.

All in all, this whodunnit is a thoroughly enjoyable, well-crafted read. Though I would have preferred more insight into the character, it certainly wasn’t a dealbreaker and I would happily go on to read more books in this entertaining series. While I obtained an arc of Murder at Beaulieu Abbey from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley #BrainfluffNEGALLEYbookreview #TheKingdomsbookreview

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I’ve heard good things about this author, and when I saw that the blurb mentioned England as a French colony, I was immediately intrigued and requested the arc. I’m always a sucker for a well-written alternate history…

BLURB: Joe Tournier has a bad case of amnesia. His first memory is of stepping off a train in the nineteenth-century French colony of England. The only clue Joe has about his identity is a century-old postcard of a Scottish lighthouse that arrives in London the same month he does. Written in illegal English—instead of French—the postcard is signed only with the letter “M,” but Joe is certain whoever wrote it knows him far better than he currently knows himself, and he’s determined to find the writer.

The search for M, though, will drive Joe from French-ruled London to rebel-owned Scotland and finally onto the battle ships of a lost empire’s Royal Navy. In the process, Joe will remake history, and himself.

REVIEW: Think of a mash-up of The Time Traveller’s Wife and David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks and you’ll have some idea of what Pulley is aiming for in this highly ambitious novel that dances around different strands within two main times – 1805 and 1898/99. And as the blurb doesn’t give away any spoilers as to why one of those dates, in particular, is significant, then I shan’t do so here.

Both times are very well evoked, particularly just how hard life is – and how cheaply it is held. Particularly the lives of sailors, slaves and soldiers. There are some quite shocking scenes in the book of murder and violence – and as we also have a naval battle portrayed and a ringside scene of the injuries inflicted, this one isn’t for the squeamish. We also see what this does to the main characters in the story, especially Missouri Kite who is scarred both physically and emotionally. He is capable of wonderful leadership that undeniably saves the lives of those in his charge; real tenderness in an age that doesn’t value or regard such an emotion. And absolute, lethal savagery.

I’ve been quite conflicted by this one. Terrible things happen and we are encouraged to feel it’s okay, because at the heart of it all is a love story. And while there is an upbeat ending, I wasn’t convinced that Joe wouldn’t wake up one morning full of longing for someone in a lost time and simply walk away, again, driven to desperately seek her out… But that kernel of uncertainty demonstrates the power of Pulley’s writing, which packs a strong emotional punch, throughout. She portrays Joe’s constant, terrible yearning for someone he can’t quite recall with a visceral vividness that had me wanting to weep at times.

What is undeniable is the technical skill Pulley displays in dealing with the scrambled timelines, the depiction of the historical times and the changes brought about by alternate circumstances. Her handling of those elements is masterful, as is her pacing and the management of a complex plot, complete with a number of twists that kept me paying attention. I saw a couple of them coming – but not the full picture. And that bittersweet ending adds up to a challenging book that has raised some awkward questions it leaves to the reader to figure out. I’m not sure if this is a story demonstrating just what a destructive force love is, for instance. Very highly recommended for fans of alternate historical tales. While I obtained an arc of The Kingdoms from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #WeAreSatellinesbook review

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That cover first attracted me – and then the blurb. Any parent will recognise that opening line as the battlecry their offspring invariably use when they want the latest gismo – and the truth of it snagged my attention. And the fact that Tammy of Books, Bones and Buffy was highlighting it also made me look twice – she has a great knack for sniffing out the special ones…

BLURB: Everybody’s getting one.
Val and Julie just want what’s best for their kids, David and Sophie. So when teenage son David comes home one day asking for a Pilot, a new brain implant to help with school, they reluctantly agree. This is the future, after all. Soon, Julie feels mounting pressure at work to get a Pilot to keep pace with her colleagues, leaving Val and Sophie part of the shrinking minority of people without the device.

Before long, the implications are clear, for the family and society: get a Pilot or get left behind. With government subsidies and no downside, why would anyone refuse? And how do you stop a technology once it’s everywhere? Those are the questions Sophie and her anti-Pilot movement rise up to answer, even if it puts them up against the Pilot’s powerful manufacturer and pits Sophie against the people she loves most.

REVIEW: Initially, I started this one waiting for the family dynamic to twist into something darker… For there to be a hidden, nasty past that would catch up with Val or Julie; for there to be something dire about the children’s origins; for an alien something to come crawling out of the woodwork and capitalise on the Pilot. And I’m delighted to say that nothing like that happened. This book is more intelligently plotted than that.

Instead, it is a real look at a likely scenario that could unfold within our present near-future if an app is invented to increase the brain’s ability to multi-task and focus – and it’s ongoing impact on a specific family over a number of years… And if that sounds a bit dull, or workaday, it isn’t. While this isn’t the book to go to if you want full-on action with lots of explosive battles, the dilemmas created by using the Pilot had me turning the pages waaay into the night to discover how it pans out. And what happens to those who can’t or won’t use the Pilot, once it has been successfully rolled out to most of the population…

I loved both Val and Julie, who are thoughtful, caring parents who want the best for their children and agonise about David’s desperate desire to be able to keep up with his richer classmates. Julie, who works for a high-profile politician, also comes under pressure to acquire a Pilot to keep on top of her boss’s schedule. And then, there’s Val who hates the very idea of having anything so intrusive anywhere near her brain, especially as their daughter, Sophie, will never be able to have one fitted because of her epileptic seizures. We follow their fortunes as the consequences of their difference decisions unspool over a number of years.

The depth of the characterisation, the quality of the narrative arc and the final fallout worked really well for me. In particular, I found David’s plight really poignant – and I would just add a trigger warning for drug abuse and PTSD. I’m aware that I might have made this sound rather drearily worthy. It’s nothing of the sort – there are shafts of humour within the family snark, the prose is punchy and the tight pacing keeps the story rolling forward at a brisk lick. I haven’t encountered this author before – but this certainly won’t be the last time I’ll be reading her work. Highly recommended for both sci fi fans and those who enjoy reading family-centred stories with an unusual dynamic. While I obtained an arc of We Are Satellites from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Shards of Earth – Book 1 of The Final Architects series by Adrian Tchaikovsky #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #ShardsofEarthbookreview

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Anyone who has spent more than a few minutes on my blog will know that I’m a huge fan of Tchaikovsky’s writing. I’m always impressed with his sheer range and creativity, as well as his dry humour and interesting characters. If you’d like a sense of his writing, check out my reviews of Children of Time, Children of Ruin, The Expert System’s Brother, Ironclads, Dogs of War, The Doors of Eden, Firewalkers, The Expert System’s Champion and Bear Head. Though if you put his name into the SEARCH box on the right, you’ll also find more reviews of his fantasy writing. So when I saw that he had an epic space opera adventure in the works – my favourite genre – I was delighted.

BLURB: Idris has neither aged nor slept since they remade him in the war. And one of humanity’s heroes now scrapes by on a freelance salvage vessel, to avoid the attention of greater powers. After earth was destroyed, mankind created a fighting elite to save their species, enhanced humans such as Idris. In the silence of space they could communicate, mind-to-mind, with the enemy. Then their alien aggressors, the Architects, simply disappeared – and Idris and his kind became obsolete.

Now, fifty years later, Idris and his crew have discovered something strange abandoned in space. It’s clearly the work of the Architects – but are they returning? And if so, why? Hunted by gangsters, cults and governments, Idris and his crew race across the galaxy hunting for answers. For they now possess something of incalculable value, that many would kill to obtain.

REVIEW: Idris is a fascinating character – one of those so challenged by his previous experiences that he is difficult to relate to. I don’t normally enjoy these types of characters, but Tchaikovsky’s writing skill comes into play so even though I didn’t exactly warm to him, I could empathise with him. I also completely understood why those around him want to give him a wide berth…

This book hits many of the classic tropes within the genre – segments of humanity amongst the diaspora scattered throughout the galaxy, now separated by generations in different cultures and environments… an interesting mix of aliens… a great big nasty threat looming over everything else… But this being Tchaikovsky, he puts his own spin on these plot devices which sets this epic adventure apart, making it memorable. As well as poor old sleepless Idris, we have Solace, who is a vat-born warrior designed and raised in a female-only society in reaction to the atrocities carried out against women in a number of the differing societies emerging across different worlds. Needless to say, they aren’t universally welcomed or trusted by the Council of Human Interests, who govern the surviving human colonies after the fall of Earth.

While Tchaikovsky is very good at writing slow-burn, tension-filled stories, this isn’t one of them. There is plenty of rich characterisation and vivid and varied backdrops, and in addition we are treated to lots of action and battle scenes, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s always a blast to be able to visualise exactly what is happening to whom as it all kicks off. Especially as the Big Bad in this story is absolutely terrifying – huge moon-sized aliens who tear apart and sculpt planets, moons and space stations into entirely different shapes. Unfortunately the hapless creatures inhabiting those places don’t survive the process, as inevitably the shapes are complex. And the Architects only ever select planets, moons, asteroids, space station – even ships – if they contain life…

This was a fast-paced read covering a detailed, complicated galaxy so I had to pay attention and slow down, or I would have floundered. Tchaikovsky has provided an extensive character and species list at the back of the book, in addition to a fascinating timeline of events leading up to the action in the story. I wish I’d known about it at the start, as I would have liked to refer to it at times along the way. Presumably it will be in the final Contents page, which wasn’t available in the arc.

I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining, well written space opera adventure and look forward to reading the next book in the series. Highly recommended for fans of space opera on a grand scale. While I obtained an arc of Shards of Earth from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Review of INDIE Ebook The Daydreamer Detective – Book 1 of the Miso Cosy Mysteries by Steph Gennero aka S.J. Pajonas #BrainfluffINDIEbookreview #TheDaydreamerDetectivebookreview

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I’m in an odd mood reading-wise, right now. So I was looking for something a bit gentle and quirky that could pull me into the story – and was delighted when this offering ticked all those boxes.

BLURB: Mei Yamagawa is out of luck and out of money. After five years in Tokyo, she has little to show for it besides a laundry list of unrealized dreams. Left without a choice, she returns to her rural Japanese hometown, ready to be branded a failure by her relatives and rivals. At the least, she looks forward to seeing her best friend, until Akiko is accused of murdering her own father.

As Mei helps her farmer mother with the crops, she scouts for clues to clear her friend’s name. But during her investigation, she can’t help but notice the celebrity chef looking in her direction. The amateur detective can balance a new love interest and a murder case… can’t she?

REVIEW: This one is an interesting mash-up. Yes, there is a murder mystery running through the middle of the narrative, which draws together the narrative. But it isn’t actually the pivot of the ongoing story. At the heart of this one is the fact that Mei, after being a bright, hardworking student and a talented artist, somehow has lost her way.

Instead of finding herself in charge of a project team and going from strength to strength, as she’d confidently expected when moving to the city some five years earlier, Mei has lost three jobs in a row. She has to return to her home town, in debt and rely on her mother’s help to get back on her feet, again. She feels an utter failure – and Pajonas has to tread a tricky path in convincing her readers of her protagonist’s misery and crippling self-doubt, without producing an annoyingly whiny heroine. I think she pulls it off.

What helps to jolt Mei from her own troubles is the news that her best friend’s father has been strangled and Akiko, her best friend since forever, is one of the chief suspects. The town is in the process of being regenerated, thanks to the interest of a large food corporation who are interested in buying up abandoned farms, building greenhouses and a large headquarters, thus providing much welcome jobs. As a consequence, after years of slow stagnation as young people left to seek jobs elsewhere, shops and businesses are now springing up. But there are farmers who don’t want to sell – and Akiko’s father had been one of them.

To be honest, the murder mystery doesn’t produce all that many convincing suspects, so it wasn’t difficult to work out whodunit. But as the Japanese setting was so intriguingly different – and Mei’s assistance is actually welcomed by the police, this detail wasn’t a dealbreaker. I also enjoyed the ongoing romance, which was sweet and well handled. Overall, this was a delightful, engrossing read that was just what I needed at a difficult time. I’ll certainly be reading more of this series.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Royal Secret – Book 5 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheRoyalSecretbookreview

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I’m a solid fan of this series – see my reviews of The Ashes of London, The Fire Court, The King’s Evil and The Last Protector. The first book starts during the Great Fire of London and introduces us to two young people caught up in the drama – Cat Lovett and James Marwood. They both have a shameful past – their fathers were for Oliver Cromwell and against Charles I – and that has impacted on their subsequent fortunes.

BLURB: Two young girls plot a murder by witchcraft. Soon afterwards a government clerk dies painfully in mysterious circumstances. His colleague James Marwood is asked to investigate – but the task brings unexpected dangers.

Meanwhile, architect Cat Hakesby is working for a merchant who lives on Slaughter Street, where the air smells of blood and a captive Barbary lion prowls the stables. Then a prestigious new commission arrives. Cat must design a Poultry House for the woman that the King loves most in all the world.

Unbeknownst to all, at the heart of this lies a royal secret so explosive that it could not only rip apart England but change the entire face of Europe…

REVIEW: I love this series – especially the way that Taylor has woven real historical events into his fiction. This latest book does a wonderful job of bringing both our protagonists into a fascinating area of history, involving Charles II in an intrigue that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond thriller.

Once more we revisit the lives of James Marwood and Cat Hakesby, who have now struck up a steady friendship due to their shared past – though it isn’t without some bumps along the road. Meanwhile a rich merchant who hires Cat to do some work for him has acquired a lion called Caliban. And his daughter-in-law and young granddaughter come to live with him, after a family tragedy. These are the threads that are woven into a wonderful, detailed adventure that had me turning the pages far too late into the early morning to discover what happened.

Reading this tale, I was glad all over again that I live now, rather than in a time when a woman doing anything else other than domestic chores drew surprise and unwelcome attention – a bit like that hapless lion. Taylor has nailed the period, which is vividly depicted right down to the clothing, the smells of the time, the food and drink. When Cat goes on a journey, it is more of an endurance test, particularly when the weather isn’t playing fair. No wonder everyone wore layers and layers of clothing, if they could afford it.

Meanwhile, Marwood is yanked from his usual duties to perform yet another dangerous, unpleasant task that will derail his career if he is caught, or fails to uncover what is going on. And once again, Cat somehow becomes emboiled in the middle of the nefarious events, so their interests collide – and so often seems to happen to this pair. Taylor’s writing means that I don’t find it difficult to believe how this happens.

The climax of this adventure is shocking – and left me thinking a great deal about this one after I’d finished reading it. All in all, a thoroughly accomplished, gripping historical adventure that comes very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The King’s Secret from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Recollection: Tenth Anniversary Edition by Gareth L. Powell #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheRecollectionbookreview

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I enjoy Powell’s writing – see my reviews of Ack-Ack Macaque and Hive Monkey and my mini-review of Embers of War, the first book in his successful space opera series of the same name. So when I saw this one come up, I jumped at the chance of getting hold of an arc.

BLURB: Four hundred years ago, Ed and Alice Rico threw themselves through a mysterious portal on the London Underground, hunting for Ed’s lost brother—Alice’s husband—Verne.

Now, starship captain Katherine Abdulov embarks on a desperate race against ruthless rival captain—and her former lover—Victor Luciano, to try and earn back her family’s trust.

Tomorrow, all their lives will be thrown together by disaster, as an ancient evil stirs among the stars, threatening the survival of all life…

REVIEW: The thing about dual narratives is that just as I’m getting into the swing of the story, I find myself yanked away and into another scenario with a completely different set of characters. It means that I need to bond closely and quickly with the main protagonists so that I don’t find being pulled between two storylines too jarring. And initially, I didn’t care all that much about either Ed or Katherine. So it took me a while to get into the story.

However, as the action kicked off and they both got caught up in different elements of the narrative, I also became invested and was able to relax into the world. I really liked the idea of the arches and why they suddenly appeared. Powell ensured that we were immersed in the worlds he spun, providing a vivid backdrop to the characters. And this is important as the stakes stack up, because these worlds are put in major peril.

I can’t claim that you’ll get the quirky originality of the Ack-Ack Macaque series – the tropes Powell explores in this space opera adventure are as cosily familiar as a late-night cup of cocoa. However, the story is written with flair and conviction, so that by the time we arrive at the climactic denouement, I didn’t want to put this one down. I’m intrigued to discover if this is going to continue as a standalone, or if Powell has plans to make it the beginning of a series – there is certainly plenty of depth in the worldbuilding that would sustain several more books with these characters. Either way, this is a solidly entertaining science fiction space opera adventure recommended for fans of the genre. While I obtained an arc of The Recollection from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10