Tag Archives: crime

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #14

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

A Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate – and if you don’t, then I hope you are enjoying the holiday weekend. The weather the last two days has been glorious – lots of sunshine and for once, there isn’t a wind blowing. I just hope it holds for the rest of the long weekend so everyone can appreciate it.

I am steadily increasing my activity level, though I have had to tweak it a bit, thanks to my lovely friend Mhairi, who suggested how I could make it more gradual. My biggest problem is my very sore shoulder where I had my last booster vaccination – at night it prevents me from getting back to sleep so I’m only getting 3 or 4 hours a night. I then fall asleep after breakfast, finally surfacing at around midday. But that is far from ideal and is really hampering my recovery. I am hoping to find ways around it before I contact the Dr as I’m conscious that the NHS is under huge pressure. Though that didn’t stop them swinging into action magnificently earlier this week when my brother-in-law was admitted to hospital with a blood clot on the lung. After two days on oxygen, thank goodness he’s now at home and recovering.

I have new glasses! And luckily, although it was something of a challenge to peer at blurry old me in the mirror while choosing the frames, I do like the look of them. What is a shock, is what a huge improvement I’ve noticed in my eyesight since putting them on. I was terribly overdue, but simply hadn’t had the energy to face the test and all the messing around with lenses and whatnot that fitting varifocals takes. Himself is not very well – he went down with an almighty cold last week. At least we hope it was a cold – the lateral tests said so. But I’m aware that they aren’t all that accurate with some of the new variants of covid. He had a couple of days off work with a terrible, hacking cough and feeling absolutely wiped out. He is now on annual leave, and although he is better, he still hasn’t fully recovered. Though I’m aware that he’s exhausted. Having to look after me for 14 months, on top of keeping the house clean, doing the chores including the washing and all the shopping and cooking, as well as keeping a demanding job going is a constant grind. I just hope that sometime soon I can begin to lighten his load.

This week I’ve read:-

Tainted – Book 4 of The Taellaneth series by Vanessa Nelson
Woken from sleep by intruders, Arrow is shocked to realise that humans have managed to break through her wards. This was no simple break-in. It quickly becomes clear this was just part of a series, and the Erith’s ancient enemies may be involved.

Worse than that, the peace treaty that holds shape-changers, humans and Erith from all-out war is on the brink of collapse. Arrow is once more in the middle of a deadly power struggle.
I am really loving this unusual fantasy crime series. Nelson is a talented capable author, whose ability to set the wrongdoings Arrow investigates within a world with a High Fantasy flavour really makes this one stand out from the crowd. Arrow is also a strong protagonist with lots of baggage after years of neglect and abuse – but is trying to come to terms with it. This adventure took her in a different direction, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I just wish it wasn’t the penultimate book in the series…:( 10/10

Murder at the Car Rally – Book 3 of the Lady Sleuth Murder Mystery series by Sonia Parin
When Evie Parker, Countess of Woodridge, decides to spend a day in London unaccompanied she has no idea she will encounter the one person she has hoped to spend the rest of her life avoiding. There’s no escaping Isabel Fitzpatrick’s exuberant energy and desire to show off her new husband. However, the encounter sets off a series of events and brings trouble right to Evie’s doorstep.

Even when Evie manages to return to her country house in Berkshire, she finds the only way to avoid her childhood friend is to flee by joining a car rally group, but trouble pursues her and now a man has died under suspicious circumstances…
I’ve cut short the rather chatty blurb on this entertaining 1920s murder mystery adventure. I’ve grown rather fond of Evie – and found this latest instalment particularly effective. I especially liked the depiction of the ‘bright young things’ who end up being at the heart of the story. There is also plenty of humour in amongst the whodunit, which I appreciated. 8/10

The Body in the Transept – Book 1 of the Dorothy Martin series by Jeanne M. Dam
Dorothy Martin, new widow moved to England, enjoys the Christmas service in Sherebury Cathedral until she trips over the body of Canon Billings. With handsome Chief Constable Alan Nesbitt, neighbor Jane, cat Emmy, and amusing hats, she sorts through suspects: pompous dishonest verger Wallingford, fired student Nigel, philandering George – to the truth.

I read a previous offering of this author and was sufficiently impressed to give this established series a whirl. I very much enjoyed seeing a small cathedral city (which seems to have an uncanny resemblance to Salisbury) through the eyes of an American woman of a certain age. Dorothy is a slightly spiky, amusing protagonist and while the whodunit itself isn’t particularly complicated, the detailed descriptions of the city and the characters kept me turning the pages during a particularly wretched night. 8/10

NOVELLA Barbary by Vonda N. McIntyre
Even before the space transport Outrigger docked on research station Einstein, Barbary had heard about an alien ship that was moving into the solar system.

Some believed the vessel was drifting aimlessly; others were sure it was under conscious control. Either way, the team of scientists aboard Outrigger were prepared to investigate.

Their mission did not involve a passenger named Barbary. Yet she —and more importantly, the pet cat she smuggled on board—were about to play key roles in mans first contact with aliens…
This space opera children’s adventure story, first published in 1986, absolutely charmed me. Many thanks to … the person who featured this on their blog recently, where it caught my eye and encouraged me to get hold of it. And sorry for not remembering who you are! But it’s a delight. Barbary is a sympathetic protagonist and I was thoroughly rooting for her to succeed in her determination to take the only thing that really matters into space with her. I just wish it was longer! 8/10

AUDIOBOOK Dark Currents – Book 2 of the Emperor’s Edge Collection Books 1-3 by Lindsay Buroker
It’s been three months since former enforcer Amaranthe Lokdon and the notorious assassin Sicarius thwarted kidnappers and saved the emperor’s life. The problem? Nobody knows they were responsible for this good deed. Worse, they’re being blamed for the entire scheme. With enforcers and bounty hunters stalking them, and the emperor nursing a personal hatred for Sicarius, it’s going to be hard to earn exoneration.

When Amaranthe’s team discovers mutilated bodies in the city aqueducts and a mysterious illness incapacitates thousands of citizens, she and Sicarius see an opportunity to solve the mystery and prove their loyalty. But they’ll have to defeat vengeful shamans, man-eating predators, and deadly mechanical constructs, all while dodging imperial soldiers who would rather kill them than accept their help. Nobody said exoneration would be easy.
Buroker’s rollicking writing style, full of energy and humour – along with a hatful of unexpected plot twists now makes her one of my favourite authors. It has taken me a while to fully bond with this latest crew of misfits and troublemakers – but I found this adventure engrossing. And while I don’t like Sicarius at all, I was delighted to spend more time with Booksy and of course, our feisty heroine, Amaranthe. 8/10

Vengeance in Death – Book 6 of the In Death series by J.D. Robb
He is an expert with the latest technology…a madman with the mind of a genius and the heart of a killer. He quietly stalks his prey. Then he haunts the police with cryptic riddles about the crimes he is about to commit–always solved moments too late to save his victims’ lives. Police lieutenant Eve Dallas found the first victim butchered in his own home. The second lost his life in a vacant luxury apartment. The two men had little in common. Both suffered unspeakable torture before their deaths. And both had ties to an ugly secret of ten years past–a secret shared by none other than Eve’s new husband, Roarke.

I’m generally not a huge fan of murder mysteries featuring mad-but-brilliant serial killers. However I have a soft spot for Eve Dallas, and as Himself has bought alllll the books in this very long-running series, I thought I’d continue to work my way through it while I’m on a Crime reading spree. As ever with these books, the pages flew by as I found it hard to put down. I do enjoy the fact that Eve and Roarke have such a very passionate relationship as a married couple. 8/10

This week I have posted:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Stringers of Chris Panatier

Review of The Long Covid Self-Help Guide: Practical Ways to Manage Symptoms by the Oxford Long Covid Clinic

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Witness for the Persecution – Book 3 of the Jersey Girl Legal Mystery series by E.J. Copperman #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #WitnessforthePersecutionbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the very funny first-person narrative of criminal attorney Sandy in the first book of this series, Inherit the Shoes – see my review. So I jumped at the chance to read and review this offering.

BLURB: Former New Jersey prosecutor Sandy Moss moved to a prestigious Los Angeles law firm to make a new start as a family lawyer. So it seems a little unfair that they have created a criminal law division specifically for her. Just because she’s successfully defended two murder trials, it doesn’t mean she likes them!

But when abrasive Hollywood movie director Robert Reeves is accused of murdering a stuntman on set, Sandy finds she can’t say no when he demands her help. Robert might be an unpleasant, egotistical liar, but something tells Sandy that he’s innocent – even if no one else can see it. At least this time, she reassures herself, her charismatic, adorable, and oh so annoying TV star boyfriend Patrick McNabb isn’t involved in the case. He isn’t . . . right?

REVIEW: I have a fondness for murder mysteries, but these days I’m also looking for books that are lighter in tone. The two requirements don’t tend to marry up all that often – but with Witness for the Persecution Sandy’s very funny first-person narrative on all that is happening in her life makes this murder mystery huge fun. Copperman manages to achieve the ongoing humour without diminishing the seriousness of the death, which I also appreciated and is another indication that this author is an experienced wordsmith who knows what they’re doing.

I enjoyed the interesting aspect of this one – that Sandy’s client, who is at risk of going to jail for a very long time – is someone that she thoroughly dislikes. It adds an interesting dimension to the story, especially as all the evidence seems to point in his direction. As with Inherit the Shoes, the actual whodunit is well crafted, with plenty of twisty surprises and red herrings aplenty along the way. I had worked out who the actual perpetrator was well before the denouement – but that didn’t matter too much. Because there is still the issue of whether Sandy can convince the jury that Horrible Robert (as I ended up labelling him) is innocent.

I also thoroughly enjoyed reading the glitches in Sandy’s relationship with the gorgeous Patrick McNabb. What happens when you become increasingly convinced that the love of your life is more interested in the chase, than settling down to a regular live-in relationship? Sandy’s thoughts on the romance in her life are both poignant and funny, though well leavened by the strong support she has from best friend Angie, who moved to L.A. to be with her. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed jumping back into Sandy’s world and would highly recommend this one to anyone who enjoys a dash of humour with their courtroom dramas. While I obtained an arc of Witness for the Persecution from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Murder Most Vile – Book 9 of the Langham and Dupré series by Eric Brown #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #MurderMostVilebookreview

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Having read other books in this well-written, classy series – see my reviews of Murder at Standing Stone Manor, Murder Takes a Turn and Murder Served Cold – I was delighted to see this next offering. These books are set in 1950s England and have a flavour of the classic English private investigator stories of the time, which I thoroughly enjoy.

BLURB: London. April, 1957. Private investigator Donald Langham is approached by retired businessman Vernon Lombard to find his missing son, Christopher. But what appears to be a simple case of a missing artist becomes far more alarming when Langham realizes there’s more to Christopher’s disappearance than meets the eye, and then makes a terrible discovery.

Meanwhile, Langham’s business partner Ralph Ryland’s search for a missing greyhound forces him to confront a shameful secret from his own past, with terrifying consequences. Can Langham navigate London’s criminal underworld, fascism and deception to track down a killer and save Ralph’s life?

REVIEW: The first thing I need to clear up is the fact that this is the ninth book in the series. While the ongoing storyline gives the reader a ringside seat into the unfolding events in our plucky protagonists’ lives, if you’re looking for the occasional well-crafted murder mystery set in the 1950s, don’t be afraid to crash into the series. Brown is an experienced author who ensures that both steadfast fans and those new to his writing will get plenty of enjoyment from this latest adventure.

I like the fact that despite Langham and Ryland are partners, they see the world through different eyes as they come from such differing backgrounds. Donald Langham is a middle-class author, who enjoys taking part in the investigations as a break from the treadmill of his successful writing career, while Ralph Ryland is a working-class man. This story isn’t quite as cosy as the previous books I’ve read in the series. For starters, it’s set in London rather than the quintessential country house or tucked-away village. And while Langham’s investigation delves into the thickets of family feuds and loyalties – standard fare for classic historical whodunits – Ralph Ryland’s case takes him into far more grittier and murkier territory.

I always enjoy the way Brown sets out his mysteries and steadily spools out the clues and red herrings – and once again he doesn’t disappoint. The denouement is genuinely gripping and had me turning the pages to discover what happens next. And I also enjoyed the fact that despite these events happening some sixty-five years ago, the prejudice and racism uncovered is just as relevant now. Well… I say enjoyed – let’s say appreciated, instead. Because I’d love for the nastier side of tribalism to be a historical quirk, rather than something still alive and ugly in societies around the world. But it certainly makes the story resonate in these times, too. Highly recommended for fans of well-crafted historical whodunits. While I obtained an arc of Murder Most Vile from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc A Matter of Death and Life – Book 2 of the Gideon Sable series by Simon R. Green #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AMatterofDeathandLifebookreview

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I’m a fan of Green’s writing. See my reviews of his Ishmael Jones series, featuring an alien dark ops agent and his alluring sidekick, Penny, in Buried Memories, The Dark Side of the Road, Very Important Corpses, Death Shall Come, Into the Thinnest of Air, Murder in the Dark, Till Sudden Death Do Us Part, Night Train to Murder, The House on Widow’s Hill and his paranormal James Bond hero in The Man With the Golden Torc. I also thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this fantasy heist series, The Best Thing You Can Steal – so I was delighted when this offering appeared on the Netgalley dashboard.

BLURB: Judi Rifkin is one of the world’s most successful collectors of the weird and unnatural. In a London underworld filled with criminals with very special talents, Judi is a force to be reckoned with. And Gideon Sable—thief, rogue and chancer—owes her a very large favour.

Judi makes him an offer he can’t refuse: steal her the legendary Masque of Ra, tucked up safe in a Las Vegas casino, and she’ll wipe the slate clean. This isn’t Gideon’s first heist by a long shot. But with old grudges threatening to cloud his judgment, an unpredictable crew who don’t entirely trust each other and a formidable supernatural security team guarding his target, this job might be a gamble too far….

REVIEW: While I’m sure you would better appreciate some of the references about Gideon’s previous adventure if you have had the pleasure of first picking up The Best Thing You Can Steal – it isn’t necessary to thoroughly enjoy this entertaining fantasy heist tale.

Green’s writing is always full of energy and a certain darkness that is frequently alleviated by his humour. But this series dials up the humour and his sense of the fantastic and while there is plenty of tension and action – there wasn’t the underlying grimness that I’ve come to associate with the Ishmael Jones books. Right now, this lighter approach is very welcome as I’m currently reading to escape my own year-long battle with Long Covid – and it was lovely to be able to grin – and in places laugh aloud at the madcap antics of Sable and his band of rogues.

I thoroughly enjoyed Green’s flights of imagination regarding his characters, such as The Damned, Johnny The Wild Card and Annie Anybody – and what an impressive array of magically imbued artefacts can do. Without resorting to parody, or diminishing the story, Green’s cadre of ruffians manage to create mayhem wherever they went. And of course, it’s the deeply unpleasant and viciously bad who ultimately get their just deserts. All in all, this adventure is a delightful escapist read, providing plenty of surprises along with the humour – and my only grizzle is that I wanted it to go on longer. Recommended for fantasy fans who enjoy a dash of humour with their adventure. While I obtained an arc of A Matter of Death and Life from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Chapel in the Woods – Book 11 of the Jack Haldean Murder Mystery series by Dolores Gordon-Smith #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheChapelintheWoodsbookreview

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I can’t lie – once again, it was the lovely 1920s cover that first caught my eye. And then, skimming the blurb, the phrase ‘intricately-plotted 1920s mystery’ jumped out. I’m a sucker for a well-constructed whodunit and the 1920s setting generally means it won’t be too grisly or grungy. So I requested it and I’m so pleased I was approved for this one…

BLURB:There’s something in those woods that shouldn’t be there . . .”

Enjoying a weekend in the country with his cousin Isabelle, Jack Haldean is intrigued to learn that the neighbouring estate of Birchen Bower has been bought by wealthy Canadian businessman Tom Jago. Determined to restore the place to its former glory, Jago has invited the local villagers to a fete to celebrate the grand re-opening of the 17th century family chapel.

But the afternoon’s entertainment is cut short by the discovery of a body, mauled to death as if by a wild animal. Previously owned by the eccentric Cayden family, Birchen Bower has a long and colourful history, and is rumoured to be haunted. Is there any truth to the ancient family legend of the Jaguar Princess . . . and could she have claimed another victim? And what’s happened to Jago’s employee, Derek Martin and his wife, who have disappeared without trace . . . along with Mrs Jago’s diamonds? Refusing to believe the wild tales of man-eating beasts prowling the grounds, Jack sets out to uncover the truth. But then a second badly-ravaged body is discovered . . . Could the rumours be true after all?

REVIEW: You’ll probably have noticed that I’ve done it again – jumped midway into a series, given this is the eleventh book. And while I’m sure that if I’d have read the previous ten instalments, there would be allusions and plot threads that I’ve missed, but having all that go over my head didn’t stop me appreciating this thumping good murder mystery.

The setup is wonderfully familiar – a small social clique when an acquaintance issues an invitation to our plucky protagonist and his lovely wife and they are confronted with an upsetting and mysterious death. Gordon-Smith has a nice grasp of her characters and writes well in the conventions of the golden age of murder mysteries without sounding forced or tongue-in-cheek. The pages flew by as the initial disappearance and subsequent murders became a real puzzle that flummoxed the protagonists to the extent that I became a bit concerned that the denouement would be unbelievably silly – something I hate. I needn’t have worried – there were a cascade of plot-twisting surprises that suddenly had me rethinking the whole situation. I love it when I find myself flipping back through the book to ensure the author hasn’t cheated.

Not only did Gordon-Smith play it absolutely straight, I was then able to see the various clues that she’d seeded throughout that made complete sense now that I understood what was going on. Nicely done! The plotting and whole approach reminded me of Agatha Christie’s writing – and I don’t generally make those kinds of comparisons. All in all, this is cracking whodunit and very highly recommended for fans of the genre. I shall certainly be backtracking and getting hold of more of Jack Haldean’s former adventures. While I obtained an arc of The Chapel in the Woods from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Murder in the Park – Book 1 of the Oak Park Village Mystery series by Jeanne M. Dam #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #MurderintheParkbookreview

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I’m a fan of 1920s historical murder mysteries – and this one caught my attention as I noticed that the heroine had also been affected by the fallout of WWI. The other plus point is that it’s the first book in the series and although one of my hobbies is crashing midway into established series – it’s a habit I’m trying to break.

BLURB: June, 1925. Having been widowed in the First World War, Elizabeth Fairchild lives a quiet life at the home of her wealthy parents in genteel Oak Park village, Illinois. Although she does her best to avoid emotional entanglements, determined never to be hurt again, Elizabeth forms a close friendship with gentle Mr Anthony, who owns the local antiques store.

But tragedy strikes when Mr Anthony is found stabbed to death in the alley behind his shop. Why would anyone murder a mild-mannered antiques dealer who simply loved beautiful things? A robbery gone wrong? A gangland execution? Or could it have something to do with the mysterious customer who bought a gold pocket watch from Mr Anthony on the day he died? When one of her father’s oldest friends is accused of the crime, Elizabeth determines to expose the real killer. But her investigations soon attract unwelcome attention. With gangsters moving into the neighbourhood from nearby Chicago, Oak Park is no longer the safe haven it once was. Could Elizabeth be seriously out of her depth?

REVIEW: It’s always something of a challenge to write a heroine who tends to be rather stoic – she can so easily come across as uncaring. But Dams is an experienced author with the long-running Dorothy Martin series under her belt and that sure-footedness shows in her characterisation of Elizabeth and the dynamic within her family.

I really liked how the shock of the murder within the close-knit community shakes Elizabeth up and causes her to rethink her own attitude towards those around her, as well as hardening her determination to not let a flagrant injustice lie. Dams shows just what a gutsy decision that proves to be, as some unsavoury, dangerous people crawl out of the woodwork to try and intimidate her into piping down and accepting the status quo. It had even more heft as Dam’s painstaking research has uncovered that those elements could easily have been living within Oak Park Village at the time.

The setting is very well established. While the book focuses on Elizabeth’s daily routine as a young, wealthy white woman, Dams is unflinching in also featuring the gulf between the haves and have-nots of the time, which I really liked. Often historical whodunits tend to skate over the societal faultlines of the time and kudos to Dams for not taking that comfortable route. As for the whodunit, I won’t pretend that the solution provides a huge surprise – but that isn’t what powers the story. It’s far more about what unrest this murder stirs up, both societally and personally for Elizabeth, which is depicted really successfully making this a memorable and enjoyable story. Highly recommended for fans of historical murder mysteries with a splash of gentle romance and a very well-researched setting. While I obtained an arc of Murder in the Park from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Spirits and Smoke – Book 2 of the Maddie Pastore mysteries by Mary Miley #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #SpiritsandSmokebookreview

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I was delighted to come across the first book in this entertaining series last year, The Mystic’s Apprenticesee my review. So when I saw this second book on Netgalley, I immediately requested it and I’m very glad I did.

BLURB: December, 1924. Young widow Maddie Pastore feels fortunate to be employed by the well-meaning but fraudulent medium Carlotta Romany. Investigating Carlotta’s clients isn’t work she’s proud of, but she’s proud of how well she does it. Maddie’s talents, however, draw them unwelcome attention: sharp-eyed Officer O’Rourke from the Chicago Police. He doesn’t believe in spiritualism – but in a city packed with mobsters, con artists and criminals, he’ll take any help he can get.

It’s not long before Maddie has a case to bring him. Why did teetotal banker Herman Quillen die of alcohol poisoning? And who is the gold-toothed man claiming to be his brother, and demanding the spirits reveal where Herman hid his money? All Maddie wants is to uncover the truth – but to her horror, she’s soon mixed up in a tangled web of secrets and deception that leads to the heart of Chicago’s violent gangs . . . and she’ll need all her wits about her if she, and her loved ones, are going to make it out again alive.

REVIEW: While I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, The Mystic’s Apprentice, and recommend you get hold of it if you enjoy historical murder mysteries set in the 1920s – it’s not vital to have read it before plunging into this offering. Though do be aware that at one point the first book was released under the pen name, Mary Miley Theobold. That now has been changed, but I mention it in case you come across a copy with the previous name across the cover.

It was a real joy to once again read a story featuring Maddie’s gutsy first-person narrative. She has had a terrible year, going from being a happily married young woman expecting her first child, to being suddenly widowed and out on the streets and penniless in 1920s Chicago. Thanks to the kindness of strangers and her own courage, she has now managed to rebuild her life. Miley portrays this without any sentimentality, which I appreciated. As you’d expect in this genre, it isn’t too long before Maddie’s job collecting information on the clients of her employer and landlady, the medium Madam Carlotta, brings her up against another suspicious death. And while this is a major narrative engine to the plot, I also enjoyed the fact that it isn’t Maddie’s major priority, because her main concern is looking after Baby Tommy. Knowing that so many working mothers have to perform similar daily juggling acts – it was enjoyable to read a book that reflects that reality.

She is also trying to keep him safe from the attentions of the mob. However, given how much the criminal gangs are raking in from Prohibition and how much they have pervaded all levels of Chicago society, that task is harder than it might seem. At the back of the book, Miley explains just how money the likes of Al Capone were making – and the amounts are truly eye-watering. The pages more or less turned themselves, as the vivid characters, complete with seances, mob members and Maddie, along with her friends, leap to life with Miley’s easy prose style. There is plenty of tension and danger, but we also have interludes where Maddie has a brainwave about a present for Freddie, the young orphan that Madam Carlotta has taken under her wing, as they get ready to celebrate Christmas.

All in all, it was a thoroughly satisfying read that completely immersed me from the first page to the last – and I’m looking forward to more books in this entertaining series. Highly recommended for fans of historical whodunits, particularly 1920s America. While I obtained an arc of Spirits and Smoke from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

SUNDAY POST – CHRISTMAS WITH LONG COVID

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This is an update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 10 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Review.

Like everyone else, my runup to Christmas was full of chores that don’t normally occur, despite my best intentions to dial it right back and make it a much quieter affair. In the event, Christmas Day was lovely, as my sister came over to spend it with us, while Himself cooked a wonderful meal. I’d been able to help by gathering sage from the garden for the stuffing and roll vegan bacon slices around prunes, replacing the stones with almonds. My sister brought along a chicken breast and Himself cooked a nut roast for us. While it wasn’t as nice as the one I usually prepare using fresh chestnuts, the meal was still delicious. And we then collapsed in front of the TV, too full to move. But I woke up the following morning exhausted once more and it took several days to recover – by which time we’d both gone down with a cold. Or maybe it was Omicron. Despite the fact that the lateral flow tests all were negative, given that my daughter and young granddaughter got sick with covid over the Christmas holidays, it had to be a possibility even though they’d stood at the door and not come into the house when we saw them the one time during the Christmas period. Fortunately they recovered without any ill effects, which was a huge relief.

To be safe, I cancelled my reflexology appointment and we stayed in. Until the glorious morning two days into the New Year when I woke up feeling much, much better – and no longer smelling horrible. Since I got sick in March, I’ve been aware that I smell bad – a musty sick smell that I hate. And for two whole days it disappeared. In addition I had much more energy – that wasn’t new, but the absence of that horrible smell was. So… perhaps I’d had Omicron after all, I thought – and like a number of other people, maybe contracting another version of covid actually cured my Long Covid! I felt fantastic – but decided to take it easy… not push myself too much. So I did a couple of two-minute exercise sessions, spent some time working on the timeline for my Castellan stories and actually cleaned the bathroom for the first time in ages. Hm. Turns out I wasn’t cured and had only succeeded in flattening myself allll over again.

Initially, I felt stupid for thinking it would be that easy. Why would I magically get a free pass and be able to skip the tricky slow recovery bit, when I hadn’t been cured by having the booster jab? But looking back, I’ve decided that it wasn’t stupidity – it was hope. And if I lose that, then I really am sunk. So no more beating myself up for wishing I was better, and accept that it isn’t going to work that way. Now I’m back to working on improving my sleep patterns, filling in my activity journal, enforcing my pacing routine, including regular meditations. And trying to hang onto my patience, as I now inconveniently have enough emotional energy to get very frustrated and fed up with the situation – unlike earlier on when I was too tired to care. And also celebrate the bright lights that shine in the gloom, like Himself’s constant caring presence. While he had to work right up to Christmas Eve, he’s been off work now since New Year’s Eve on annual leave, which I’m very grateful for. And our eldest grandson came to stay from Wednesday to Friday this week – which was a huge treat. He’s loving college and it’s a joy to see him blossom in an environment where he’s surrounded by other creative people who understand his enthusiasms. I’d like to send a huge shoutout to the lecturers and teachers out there doing a stellar job in increasingly difficult circumstances – thank you!

A very Happy 2022 to you all. Let’s hope that it is a MUCH better year than the previous two have been.

Since the start of the year I’ve read:-
The Stranger Times – Book 1 of The Stranger Times series by C.K. McDonnell
There are Dark Forces at work in our world (and in Manchester in particular) and so thank God The Stranger Times is on hand to report them. A weekly newspaper dedicated to the weird and the wonderful (but more often the weird) of modern life, it is the go-to publication for the unexplained and inexplicable . . . At least that’s their pitch. The reality is rather less auspicious. Their editor is a drunken, foul-tempered and -mouthed husk of a man who thinks little (and believes less) of the publication he edits, while his staff are a ragtag group of wastrels and misfits, each with their own secrets to hide and axes to grind. And as for the assistant editor . . . well, that job is a revolving door – and it has just revolved to reveal Hannah Willis, who’s got her own set of problems.

It’s when tragedy strikes in Hannah’s first week on the job that The Stranger Times is forced to do some serious, proper, actual investigative journalism. What they discover leads them to a shocking realisation: that some of the stories they’d previously dismissed as nonsense are in fact terrifyingly, gruesomely real. Soon they come face-to-face with darker foes than they could ever have imagined. It’s one thing reporting on the unexplained and paranormal but it’s quite another being dragged into the battle between the forces of Good and Evil .
Thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. I laughed aloud throughout this one. McDonnell manages to make his highly eccentric bunch of characters both sympathetic and engaging, while keeping their oddness – which isn’t all that easy to do. The pages turned themselves and it was a wonderful New Year’s treat to start 2022 by reading this offering – I look forward to reading more books from this series in due course. 10/10

A Familiar Sight – Book 1 of the Dr Gretchen White series by Brianna Labuskes

When a high-profile new case lands on Shaughnessy’s desk, it seems open and shut. Remorseless teenager Viola Kent is accused of killing her mother. Amid stories of childhood horrors and Viola’s cruel manipulations, the bad seed has already been found guilty by a rapt public. But Gretchen might be seeing something in Viola no one else does: herself. If Viola is a scapegoat, then who really did it? And what are they hiding? To find the truth, Gretchen must enter a void that is not only dark and cold-blooded, but also frighteningly familiar.
This contemporary murder mystery is a compelling read, made more so by the clever use of a fractured timeline which jumps between the lives of the victims and the investigation. It could have quickly turned into a hot mess, but the deftness of the writing and the strong characterisation instead made this one hard to put down. Highly recommended. 9/10

Spirits and Smoke – Book 2 of the Maddie Pastore series by Mary Miley
December, 1924. Young widow Maddie Pastore feels fortunate to be employed by the well-meaning but fraudulent medium Carlotta Romany. Investigating Carlotta’s clients isn’t work she’s proud of, but she’s proud of how well she does it. Maddie’s talents, however, draw them unwelcome attention: sharp-eyed Officer O’Rourke from the Chicago Police. He doesn’t believe in spiritualism – but in a city packed with mobsters, con artists and criminals, he’ll take any help he can get.

It’s not long before Maddie has a case to bring him. Why did teetotal banker Herman Quillen die of alcohol poisoning? And who is the gold-toothed man claiming to be his brother, and demanding the spirits reveal where Herman hid his money? All Maddie wants is to uncover the truth – but to her horror, she’s soon mixed up in a tangled web of secrets and deception that leads to the heart of Chicago’s violent gangs . . . and she’ll need all her wits about her if she, and her loved ones, are going to make it out again alive.
This historical murder mystery, set in 1920s Chicago, leaps off the page with a strong, sympathetic protagonist and the vivid depiction of the Prohibition era. I enjoyed the first book, The Mystic’s Apprentice, and loved this one. Review to follow.

Blood Trade – Book 6 of the Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter
The Master of Natchez, Mississippi has a nasty problem on his hands. Rogue vampires—those who follow the Naturaleza and believe that humans should be nothing more than prey to be hunted—are terrorizing his city. Luckily, he knows the perfect skinwalker to call in to take back the streets.

But what he doesn’t tell Jane is that there’s something different about these vamps. Something that makes them harder to kill—even for a pro like Jane. Now, her simple job has turned into a fight to stay alive…and to protect the desperately ill child left in her care.
Once again, the sheer quality of the writing shines through as Jane continues her dark journey in the employ of Leo, the Master of the City of New Orleans. While it’s violent and often blood-soaked, I never find the details gratuitious – and there are often amusing interludes as Jane also has a snarky mouth and isn’t afraid to use it. This is a classy series that stand above the rest, and highly recommended. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – Cytonic – Book 3 of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson
Spensa’s life as a Defiant Defense Force pilot has been far from ordinary. She proved herself one of the best starfighters in the human enclave of Detritus and she saved her people from extermination at the hands of the Krell—the enigmatic alien species that has been holding them captive for decades. What’s more, she traveled light-years from home as an undercover spy to infiltrate the Superiority, where she learned of the galaxy beyond her small, desolate planet home. Now, the Superiority—the governing galactic alliance bent on dominating all human life—has started a galaxy-wide war. And Spensa’s seen the weapons they plan to use to end it: the Delvers. Ancient, mysterious alien forces that can wipe out entire planetary systems in an instant. Spensa knows that no matter how many pilots the DDF has, there is no defeating this predator.

Except that Spensa is Cytonic. She faced down a Delver and saw something eerily familiar about it. And maybe, if she’s able to figure out what she is, she could be more than just another pilot in this unfolding war. She could save the galaxy. The only way she can discover what she really is, though, is to leave behind all she knows and enter the Nowhere. A place from which few ever return. To have courage means facing fear. And this mission is terrifying.
I’m not quite sure why this one didn’t hold me as much as Skyward or Starsight, but there were times when I felt the narrative pace slightly dragged. It was never sufficient for me to decide not to listen to the audiobook any more – but I did feel there was a bit too much repetition regarding Spensa’s feelings and her feisty A.I.’s exploration of its new emotions. That said – I was still fascinated to see where Sanderson was taking this story, as the plot delivered plenty of surprises along the way. 7/10

Bloodfire – Book 1 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
Mackenzie Smith has always known that she was different. Growing up as the only human in a pack of rural shapeshifters will do that to you, but then couple it with some mean fighting skills and a fiery temper and you end up with a woman that few will dare to cross. However, when the only father figure in her life is brutally murdered, and the dangerous Brethren with their predatory Lord Alpha come to investigate, Mack has to not only ensure the physical safety of her adopted family by hiding her apparent humanity, she also has to seek the blood-soaked vengeance that she craves.

Mack is certainly short-fused. All sorts of things make her angry, some justifiably and some not so much. Do be warned, though, part of her annoyance is expressed in her colourful swearing. I also liked her glorious disregard for rules, which makes entire sense once we realise exactly what is going on. Cornwall is one of my favourite places in the world and while we weren’t overwhelmed with details of the countryside, there was sufficient for me to be able to clearly visualise what is going on. REREAD 8/10

Bloodmagic – Book 2 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
After escaping the claws of Corrigan, the Lord Alpha of the Brethren, Mack is trying to lead a quiet lonely life in Inverness in rural Scotland, away from anyone who might happen to be a shapeshifter. However, when she lands a job at an old bookstore owned by a mysterious elderly woman who not only has a familiar passion for herbal lore but also seems to know more than she should, Mack ends up caught in a maelstrom between the Ministry of Mages, the Fae and the Brethren.

Now she has to decide between staying hidden and facing the music, as well as confronting her real feelings for the green eyed power of Corrigan himself.
Enjoyable sequel to Bloodfire, taking Mack into more scrapes and adventures while giving us more information about her mysterious origins. A nicely snarky protagonist. Recommended for fans of shape-shifting, paranormal adventures. REREAD 8/10

Bloodrage – Book 3 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
Mack begins her training at the mages’ academy in the hope that, by complying, the stasis spell will be lifted from her old friend, Mrs. Alcoon. However, once there, she finds herself surrounded by unfriendly adults and petulant teenagers, the majority of whom seem determined to see her fail.

Feeling attacked on all fronts, Mack finds it harder and harder to keep a rein on her temper. Forced to attend anger management classes and deal with the predatory attentions of Corrigan, the Lord Alpha of the shapeshifter world, her emotions start to unravel. But when she comes across a familiar text within the walls of the mages’ library, which might just provide the clues she needs to unlock the secrets of her background and her dragon blood, she realises that her problems are only just beginning…
It’s a while since I read the first two books – so I reread them both, thoroughly enjoying once more immersing myself in the problems stacking up for poor old Mack as she struggles to discover exactly who she is and what she does. I do enjoy how characters from previous books keep popping up, allowing us to get to know them better and the oh-so-slow burn romance that is gradually unfurling throughout the series is being very well handled. Given just how short-fused and grumpy Mack is, I liked how her loyalty and bone-headed refusal to compromise her principles regarding those she takes responsibility for balances up against her less likeable attributes – it works well. My main niggle is that I personally would prefer less swearing – it’s a book I’d like to recommend to younger members of the family, but can’t. 9/10

Sigma Protocol: Jane Poole Genesis – Part 1 by Michael Penmore
Disoriented and alone, Sigma wakes from enforced sleep with questions that need to be answered. Who is she? Where is she? How did she end up in this place? With only a cryptic message from the ship’s AI to guide her, the determined survivor sets out on a race against time to uncover the desperate story of Starship Copernicus and its crew. Sigma Protocol is the fast-paced first episode in the Jane Poole Genesis describing the beginnings of Jane Poole, aka Sigma.

What I hadn’t appreciated was that this is a short story with only 76 pages. So just as I was starting to relax into the narrative – it came to a sudden, abrupt stop. Which was a shame as I was just beginning to bond with poor old Jane and her problems. 7/10

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of In the Shadow of Deimos by Jane Killick #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #IntheShadowofDeimosbookreview

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I’m a sucker for murder mysteries – and I have a particular fondness for whodunits in a sci fi setting. Stuck on the ship in deep space, or on a colony in a hab bubble where the outside atmosphere is lethal provides ideal locked room scenarios without having to reach for outlandish reasons why everyone is cut off and fleeing isn’t an option. So when I saw this offering, I immediately requested it.

BLURB: Mars, 2316. The recently created Terraforming Committee arbitrates the dramatic development of Mars by powerful rival corporations. When a rogue asteroid crashes into a research center and kills its lone technician, the fragile balance between corporations is shattered. The World Government’s investigation into the accident reveals a multitude of motives, while a corporation insider stumbles on a dark conspiracy. Two Martians with very different agendas must navigate a trail of destruction and treachery to uncover the truth and expose those responsible, before Mars falls to Earth’s corruption. As lines blur between progress and humanity, Mars itself remains the biggest adversary of all.

REVIEW: As I checked up on this book after finishing it, I discovered that a boardgame called Terraforming Mars provides the setting. I was blissfully unaware of the game while reading the book, so don’t let that nugget of information put you off. It doesn’t matter to anyone picking up the book, as it doesn’t impact your reading experience in any way.

This is a slow-burn mystery where the daily rhythm of the teams who are tasked with terraforming Mars is explored in some detail. So this isn’t one for murder mystery fans who only want a splash of sci fi in their crime scene. However, I appreciated the way Killick gives the reader a very clear picture of how the terraforming effort is progressing, while introducing us to the main protagonists. Inevitably there are strains between competing corporations – and also some major issues are discussed. Should Humanity be altering Mars to suit our needs at all? What if in doing so, we inadvertently destroy some biological organisms that we haven’t yet discovered? As a science fiction fan, I found all this fascinating, especially as running alongside these plotlines is the growing sense that all is not well within Mars’ fledgling community.

Killick’s smooth, unfussy writing style pulled me into the story, so that I stayed up faar later than I should to discover what happens next. Because while this one starts slowly, there are several excellent action scenes that are all the more shocking because of the relatively low key beginning. And the climactic episode out on the surface, where a man is struggling for his life after being double-crossed, is one I won’t forget in a hurry. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale – as well as the slightly bitter-sweet ending, which has stayed with me. I shall be looking around for more of Killick’s books and thoroughly recommend this Mars’ murder mystery. While I obtained an arc of In the Shadow of Deimos from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of An Untidy Death – Book 2 of the Decluttering Mysteries by Simon Brett #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AnUntidyDeathbookreview

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I enjoy reading Simon Brett’s writing – see my reviews of Death on the Downs, Mrs Pargeter’s Public Relations, The Liar in the Library, The Killer in the Choir and Guilt at the Garage. But I’d particularly enjoyed the first book in this series, The Clutter Corpsesee my review. I snapped this one up with excitement when I saw it featured on Netgalley, though I was a tad worried at just how much I was looking forward to diving in, as that can often be a recipe for disappointment – would I enjoy this one as much?

BLURB: “My mother’s going to kill herself . . . That is, if I don’t kill her first.” When Alexandra Richards approaches professional declutterer Ellen Curtis to ask her to help sort out her mother’s chaotic flat, Ellen gets the impression Alexandra doesn’t like her mother very much. But after hearing the local news, Alexandra’s exasperated words don’t seem such a joke…

REVIEW: And that’s as much of this very chatty blurb that I’m inclined to share – don’t read it as it spoils far too much of the plot. I loved this one – indeed, it’s on my Outstanding Reads of the Year list. Ellen is a lovely character, who is briskly efficient and clearly extremely intelligent. She also has dealt with a devastating tragedy in her life with fortitude and resilience. And yes… I know she’s fictional, but I finished this book full of warmth towards this wonderful, three-dimensional protagonist. Brett is an accomplished, experienced author whose main characters are often a bit larger than life, but Ellen isn’t one of those. Her thoughtful, quieter outlook drew me right into the story as she tries to unpick what appears to be an accidental death that she increasingly feels is something else.

Ellen is also surrounded by a strong supporting cast – I love her relationship with her ebullient mother, who is clearly dissatisfied with Ellen’s life choices and delights in emphasising her closeness with Ellen’s daughter. Unlike so many fictional families, they don’t get to hurl hurtful truths at each other that in real life would probably cause complete estrangement. And I also found Ellen’s relationship with her son, who suffers from clinical depression, achingly realistic.

I’m conscious that I’ve managed to make this one sound a rather fraught, dreary read – and it’s nothing of the sort. Set in my neck of the woods, I found myself spluttering with laughter at Brett’s pithy descriptions of local settings. Meanwhile, the murder mystery is beautifully plotted. The pacing is spot on, there are a satisfying number of potential suspects – and of course, I’d spotted the perpetrator. Until halfway through the denouement scene, when I realised it wasn’t who I thought it was… Nicely done! All in all, this is by far the best written murder mystery I’ve read this year and while I’d recommend that you grab the first book, just because it’s also a cracking read – it isn’t necessary to appreciate this gem. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of An Untidy Death from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10