Tag Archives: crime

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 28th September, 2022 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – And Justice for Mall – Book 4 of the Jersey Girl series by E.J. Copperman – release date – 1st November, 2022

#crime #cosy whodunit #legal murder mystery #feisty heroine #humour

BLURB: When Riley Schoenberg strides into family lawyer Sandy Moss’s office without knocking and coolly sits down, Sandy’s more irritated than amused. She has a client meeting to prepare for, and being interrupted by an eleven-year-old girl is not on her to-do list.

But then Sandy hears Riley’s pitch, and it’s a killer one: Riley’s father’s been convicted of murdering her mother . . . and the oddly intimidating pre-teen will do anything to get him out of jail.

Sandy, in turn, will do anything to get Riley out of her office. Which includes agreeing to look into her dad’s case for free. A decision she regrets when it turns out Riley’s inheritance has made her a multi-millionaire. Still, Sandy’s determined to get Riley the answers she needs. There’s just one tiny problem: Riley might be convinced her father’s innocent, but Jack Schoenberg is insisting he did it.

I was delighted when I saw this one pop up on Netgalley, as I’ve previously enjoyed other books in the series – see my reviews of Inherit the Shoes and Justice for the Persecution. I’ve a real soft spot for Sandy Moss and Copperman’s steady injection of humour throughout makes the ongoing puzzle as to whodunit always more enjoyable. So the fact that an eleven-year-old child is desperately fighting to free her remaining parent won’t be quite as grim as it initially sounds. I hope…

Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK Her Majesty’s Royal Coven – Book 1 of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven series by Juno Dawson #BrainfluffNETGALLEYaudiobookreview #HerMajestysRoyalCovenbookreview

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I saw the title and cover and immediately requested this one. It seemed like such a very cool premise and with that pink, I was sure I was getting a reasonably light book to listen to. So I was delighted to be approved – however, this one wasn’t what I was expecting…

BLURB: If you look hard enough at old photographs, we’re there in the background: healers in the trenches; Suffragettes; Bletchley Park oracles; land girls and resistance fighters. Why is it we help in times of crisis? We have a gift. We are stronger than Mundanes, plain and simple.

At the dawn of their adolescence, on the eve of the summer solstice, four young girls–Helena, Leonie, Niamh and Elle–took the oath to join Her Majesty’s Royal Coven, established by Queen Elizabeth I as a covert government department. Now, decades later, the witch community is still reeling from a civil war and Helena is now the reigning High Priestess of the organization. Yet Helena is the only one of her friend group still enmeshed in the stale bureaucracy of HMRC. Elle is trying to pretend she’s a normal housewife, and Niamh has become a country vet, using her powers to heal sick animals. In what Helena perceives as the deepest betrayal, Leonie has defected to start her own more inclusive and intersectional coven, Diaspora. And now Helena has a bigger problem. A young warlock of extraordinary capabilities has been captured by authorities and seems to threaten the very existence of HMRC. With conflicting beliefs over the best course of action, the four friends must decide where their loyalties lie: with preserving tradition, or doing what is right.

REVIEW: Looking at the shocking pink cover of the audiobook, I’d assumed that I was getting a reasonably light-hearted exploration of witchcraft and what it means to be a woman in the contemporary world. It’s nothing of the sort. Instead, nested within a cracking story that had me listening far later than I should, is a searing and comprehensive examination of female loyalties and expectations within our modern society. Just because the four young women are imbued with powerful magic, they aren’t insulated from the pressures the rest of us wrestle with on a daily basis. Issues such as dealing with chauvinist and abusive behaviour, racism, juggling work with motherhood, the push/pull of whether to settle down to have a family or prioritise a chosen career are all very recognisable problems also experienced by us non-magical Mundanes. In addition to dealing with these ongoing life decisions – our four protagonists are also still recovering from a savage war within the magical community between those who believed the magically gifted should be ruling the world and those who felt the status quo should prevail. Two of our heroines lost partners in the conflict, while Niamh’s twin sister was also on the opposing side, so the cost was high.

When a young, traumatised warlock is discovered after a destructive fire, Helena and Niamh initially agree on a course of action. However, as events unfold, the former allies suddenly find themselves on opposing sides of an issue that is also ripping apart Feminists – that of transgenderism. It was brilliant to see this difficult, emotive topic so effectively covered within a gripping tale, where both sides of the argument were so well covered.

I’m conscious that I’ve given the impression that this is a worthy story, full of pertinent issues that affect modern women within Western society. But what I’ve perhaps omitted to tell you is that all this goes on within a wonderful tale full of drama and some fabulous action scenes, shot through with wry humour that occasionally had me laughing aloud. And there was one particular scene that had me close to tears. The book also finishes on a doozy of a plot twist that has me desperate to read the sequel RIGHT NOW – because I’ve got to know my all-time favourite character is alright. In short, this is a fabulous tale that gives us four nuanced, believable characters facing familiar and contemporary problems with an extra, complicating twist of magic that makes the story leap off the page. I can’t wait to get hold of the next book. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an audiobook arc of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #21

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

A lot has happened since I last reported in. The morning of my Dr’s appointment, the surgery contacted me to apologise that my consultation would have to be postponed as they had four doctors off with covid. I immediately got back in touch and explained that I was really struggling with a suspected sinus infection so I had a telephone appointment and was prescribed a course of antibiotics. The improvement in my condition was immediate, with the congestion easing and the lymph glands on the right side of my neck no longer so swollen and sore. Even the top of my head stopped aching. I felt on top of the world – I hadn’t felt so well since I’d become ill with covid back in March 2021. The only downside was that the tablets made me photosensitive, so during yet another week of soaring temperatures and bright sunshine, I had to keep covered up and indoors as much as possible. Still, it was a small price to pay. I even felt well enough to start sorting out my clothes in the wardrobes in the boys’ rooms so they would have sufficient space for their own possessions, given that they are now staying with us for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile I was convinced that I had now beaten the long covid and it was all behind me. Until the beginning of this week, when I once more woke up to the far too familiar feeling of dragging, bone-deep exhaustion that made getting up a struggle. The worst day was Wednesday when I wasn’t able to get out of bed and shower before midday – but it could have been so much worse. The last time I’d been hit by such a relapse, I’d spent several days in bed unable to get up before 5 pm. By Friday I was starting to recover again, although my energy levels still aren’t back to what they were, but at least now I know that I’ll get there. And an indicator that I am really on the road to recovery – at long last, I’m able to walk at the same pace as the rest of the family. For the longest time, although I was no longer walking with a stick, I was still moving really slowly, which forced the boys and Himself to check their pace so I wasn’t left behind. I hated it. I felt old before my time and also often got caught behind other slow-moving folks, because I didn’t have the acceleration to step past them. I also felt vulnerable on a crowded pavement, as I was also aware if someone wasn’t paying attention, I couldn’t react fast enough to avoid a collision. The ability to stride out and walk quickly again is such a joy – though I quickly get puffed as I have no stamina. Never mind, that will come.

The boys, as ever, are being brilliant. They are such good company and are always helpful with the chores, especially when I’m not feeling at my shiny best. Ethan is getting ever busier working in a shop that sells workwear and school uniforms as the summer holiday is coming to an end. While his younger brother is enjoying sessions in the local gym. We went down to the beach one lovely summer evening and I’m hoping to take them more often as I get stronger again. While all this has been going on, reading, writing and blogging have taken rather a hit.

I’ve recently read:-

AUDIOBOOK – The Daughter of Dr Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Carlota Moreau: a young woman, growing up in a distant and luxuriant estate, safe from the conflict and strife of the Yucatán peninsula. The only daughter of either a genius, or a madman.

Montgomery Laughton: a melancholic overseer with a tragic past and a propensity for alcohol. An outcast who assists Dr. Moreau with his scientific experiments, which are financed by the Lizaldes, owners of magnificent haciendas and plentiful coffers.

The hybrids: the fruits of the Doctor’s labor, destined to blindly obey their creator and remain in the shadows. A motley group of part human, part animal monstrosities.

All of them living in a perfectly balanced and static world, which is jolted by the abrupt arrival of Eduardo Lizalde, the charming and careless son of Doctor Moreau’s patron, who will unwittingly begin a dangerous chain reaction. For Moreau keeps secrets, Carlota has questions, and in the sweltering heat of the jungle, passions may ignite.
This slow-burn, atmospheric historical adventure creaked with tension throughout. I loved the depiction of two strong-minded, flawed people caught up in Dr Moreau’s machinations. Review to follow. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting by Sophie Irwin
Kitty Talbot needs a fortune. Or rather, she needs a husband who has a fortune. Left with her father’s massive debts, she has only twelve weeks to save her family from ruin.

Kitty has never been one to back down from a challenge, so she leaves home and heads toward the most dangerous battleground in all of England: the London season.

Kitty may be neither accomplished nor especially genteel—but she is utterly single-minded; imbued with cunning and ingenuity, she knows that risk is just part of the game.

The only thing she doesn’t anticipate is Lord Radcliffe. The worldly Radcliffe sees Kitty for the mercenary fortune-hunter that she really is and is determined to scotch her plans at all costs, until their parrying takes a completely different turn…
This is huge fun – and just the sort of escapist enjoyment I need right now. I thoroughly appreciated that Kitty has accepted the stark fact that she must make a financially favourable marriage to keep the rest of her family from foundering, which was an all-too common occurrence for women of a certain social class back in the day. Review to follow. 9/10

Breakup – Book 7 of the Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow
In Breakup, Kate Shugak’s loyalties – to the land, her heritage, her home – are put to the test when a series of mishaps lead to murder. April in Alaska is typically a period of rebirth and renewal, and after the long winter Kate has nothing more strenuous on her agenda than paying her taxes. But mayhem abounds as the meltoff flows; this year’s thaw is accompanied by rampaging bears, family feuds, and a plane crash quite literally in Kate’s own backyard. What begins as a series of headaches escalates into possible murder when a dead body is found near her homestead. Initially unwilling to involve herself in the investigation, preferring instead to write off each odd occurrence as a breakup-related peculiarity, Kate is drawn irresistibly to seek the truth.

Compelled by her friends to act as problem solver and guided by the spirit of her Aleut grandmother, she finds herself slowly taking on the role of clan leader, a post she is bound to by honor and blood. As breakup becomes increasingly fraught with danger and destruction, Kate must decide whether she can cross the line from passive observer to instrument of change, assuming the role of elder as the mantle of responsibility is passed.
I am slowly working my way through this engaging murder mystery series, set in Alaska and featuring a young woman born and bred in this extraordinary place. This particular book is a joy. I love the vivid depiction of place and Kate’s increasing frustration as she becomes sucked into local politics, despite her best intentions. The story see-saws between extreme danger and farce as events take on a life of their own, with an ugly murder emerging from the middle of all the mayhem. This is an outstanding read in an excellent series. 10/10

AUDIOBOOK – Sherlock Holmes & the Miskatonic Monstrosities – Book 2 of The James Lovegrove’s Sherlock Holmes series by James Lovegrove
It is the spring of 1895, and more than a decade of combating eldritch entities has cost Dr John Watson his beloved wife Mary, and nearly broken the health of Sherlock Holmes. Yet the companions do not hesitate when they are called to the infamous Bedlam lunatic asylum, where they find an inmate speaking in R’lyehian, the language of the Old Ones. Moreover, the man is horribly scarred and has no memory of who he is.

And when the man is taken from Bedlam by forces beyond normal mortal comprehension, it becomes clear that there is far more to the case than they initially suspected…
I have cut short the rather chatty blurb to this thoroughly enjoyable Sherlock Holmes adventure, where Lovegrove really hits his stride with this entertaining pastiche that also encompasses Lovecraftian aspects. The story takes all sorts of exciting twists and turns, yet remains true to the overall style and tone of Conan Doyle. Thoroughly recommended for Sherlock Holmes fans, who also appreciate a splash of fantasy with their historical murder mysteries. 10/10

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 NETGALLEY arc Augusta Hawke – Book 1 of the Augusta Hawke series by G.M. Malliet #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AugustaHawkebookreview

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I’ve been reading a lot of murder mystery series recently – and my attention was snagged by the concept of a writer of detective novels turning amateur sleuth. Yes… I know it’s not remotely original, but I’ve recently thoroughly enjoyed a TV series based on that premise and wanted to see if Malliet’s version would be similarly entertaining.

BLURB: Where are Niko and Zora Norman? Crime writer Augusta Hawke puts her sleuthing skills to the test to solve the mystery of her disappearing neighbors in the first entry in a new series. While Augusta Hawke is a successful author of eighteen crime novels, since her husband’s death she’s been living vicariously through her Jules Maigret-like detective Claude and his assistant Caroline. Then a handsome police detective appears investigating a real-life mystery.

Where are her neighbors, the Normans? No one has a clue what’s happened – except Augusta. Although she isn’t nosy, spending all day staring out the windows for inspiration means she does notice things. Like the Normans arguing. And that they’ve been missing a week.

REVIEW: Let’s get one thing straight – if you’re looking for an action-packed, foot-to-the-floor thriller, then pass on this one. Instead, you get a slow-burn building sense of wrongness that gradually develops into an investigation – although Augusta is the first to admit that she largely started looking into her neighbours’ disappearance because she’d hit a bit of a wall with her latest manuscript. Indeed, it’s debatable whether the pacing is a tad too slow at times, though I was never in any danger of abandoning this one. Augusta’s dry humour held me throughout. Her personality and my liking for her is the outstanding aspect of this book – I definitely am looking forward to reading more in the series.

Not in the first flush of youth, Augusta was widowed when her beloved husband died in a car crash. Upsettingly, the circumstances of his death led to very hurtful discoveries about him hand the double life he was leading. And since his death, she has retreated into her writing, watching the world from her window and her regular walks with her dog. I liked how the devastation of Marcus’s death slowly is revealed – this aspect of the story could have so easily slid into a self-pitying whine. However, Augusta uses humour as her defence and refuge, which had me grinning and thoroughly rooting for her. The writing is accomplished and Malliet is clearly an experienced storyteller with a particular talent for writing a strong, sympathetic protagonist capable of engaging this reader’s affection – I really cared about Augusta.

That is particularly important when the stakes suddenly become a whole lot higher as the book suddenly shifts up a couple of gears during the climactic denouement. And while I’d a suspicion about the actual villain – the backstory and extent of the antagonist’s wrongdoing came as a shock. Recommended for fans of contemporary mysteries that aren’t too gritty or dripping with gore and feature a strong female protagonist. While I obtained an arc of Augusta Hawke from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*RE-RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Death and the Decorator – Book 21 of the Fethering Mysteries by Simon Brett #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #DeathandtheDecoratorbookreview

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I’m a long-standing fan of Simon Brett, so have thoroughly enjoyed other books in this series, including Death on the Downs, The Liar in the Library, The Killer in the Choir and Guilt at the Garage. I also have enjoyed Mrs Pargeter’s Public Relations, as well as the first two books in his entertaining new series The Decluttering Mysteries – The Clutter Corpse and An Untidy Death. So when I saw this offering available, I immediately pounced – and I’m very glad I did…

BLURB: Having decided to redecorate Woodside Cottage, Jude has engaged the services of local man Pete, who has painted and decorated the homes of Fethering residents for many years. Pete is currently working on Footscrow House, a large Victorian building which is being converted into holiday flats by a local developer.

Having arranged to meet at ‘Fiasco House’, as it is known locally due to the many failed business enterprises over the years, Jude and Pete make a surprising discovery behind a wall panel: a woman’s handbag! The casual discovery becomes serious when the police identify the handbag’s owner as Anita Garner, a young woman who vanished in suspicious circumstances twenty years earlier.

Determined to find out what really happened to Anita all those years ago, Jude and her neighbour Carole’s investigations plunge them into a maze of deception and murder, as they uncover a number of uncomfortable secrets beneath the serene surface of Fethering life . . .

REVIEW: Jude and Carole are the proverbial odd couple. In other circumstances, it’s unlikely that they’d ever be more than acquaintances – let alone a duo who have gone on to solve a number of tricky murders. They are such very different personalities – Jude is warm-hearted, open-minded and easy-going, who mostly enjoys her life; while Carole is judgemental, bitterly lonely, socially insecure and naturally secretive. What they both have in common is huge curiosity, an eye for details and inconsistencies, sharp intelligence and a drive to see that Justice is done. There have been times in this series when I find the inevitable friction between them frankly annoying, as it can get in the way of the investigation and makes me want to upend Carole’s glass of wine over her head. However, this time around, I was glad that both women were playing to their strengths.

Brett is an experienced storyteller, with the ability to craft an enjoyably complex whodunit with a satisfying number of possible suspects. And I was delighted to discover that while I’d fleetingly considered the perpetrator – it wasn’t for the right reason, or for the right crime. I love it when an author has me flicking back through the pages to discover the little clues that I’d overlooked. As well as delivering a solidly good murder mystery – I always enjoy Brett’s cutting shafts of humour, as he takes lumps out of the smug, upper middle-class residents of Fethering. All in all, if you enjoy murder mysteries set in an English village that plays with the expectations of this crowded sub-genre in an interesting way, then this one comes highly recommended. And no – you really don’t have to have read any of the former twenty books in the series to thoroughly enjoy this particular offering. While I obtained an arc of Death and the Decorator from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Flightless Afternoon – Book 5 of the Ageless Mysteries by Vanessa Nelson #BrainfluffKINDLEbookreview #FlightlessAfternoonbookreview

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Vanessa Nelson is one of the excellent indie authors I’ve discovered since I started my battle with Long Covid. And this book dropped onto my Kindle as I pre-ordered it – something I very rarely do.

BLURB: The unthinkable has happened. One of the Ageless has been killed, their body left in a public space, displayed for all to see. The Archon is furious and threatens to burn the entire city, unless the person responsible is found and turned over to her for justice.

Thea March is called on to investigate again. As little as she wants to turn anyone over to the Archon, she also knows that the Ageless could burn the city to the ground and not care about the death and destruction they cause. Working with Niath, can Thea find the person responsible for the Ageless’ death? And, if she finds them, can she bring herself to turn them over to the Archon?

REVIEW: My first piece of advice – don’t start your Ageless Mysteries experience with the fifth book in the series. While Nelson is far too skilful to allow you to flounder for very long, there is an overarching narrative arc that is worth following by reading these in the correct order. So if you have encountered this one without having had the pleasure of reading the previous four books, instead tuck into Deadly Night, the first book in the series.

While I’m aware there are huge numbers of crime fantasy books out there – Nelson’s take is somewhat different. Her setting is a Medieval/Early Modern era with all sorts of non-human magical beings living in the large city, Accanter, alongside the humans. The world is ruled by the Ageless, long-lived, angel-like beings who inhabit the Citadel and can fly. That said, there’s nothing angelic about their behaviour – they are fearsome warriors and supremely arrogant, who think nothing of savagely punishing other races who get in their way. Our plucky heroine, Thea, works for The Watch, which is Accanter’s equivalent to the police, so it’s her task to track down wrong-doers. Which makes this series an essentially a police procedural set within an epic fantasy world.

I love the dynamic, especially as Nelson does it very well. Thea and her mother have a troubled backstory that is gradually revealed throughout the series, which impacts on her ability to do her job, at times. For Thea doesn’t want to attract the attention of the Ageless, something that becomes increasingly difficult as time goes on. And in this book, that attention becomes lethal as the mentally unstable Archon, supreme ruler of the Ageless and the rest of the world, tasks Thea with discovering who has murdered two of her warriors in two days. Her life will be forfeit if she doesn’t and then the city will burn.

So Thea has a savage double murder to solve against the backdrop of a ticking clock. Fortunately, she also has a loyal team of investigators around her who are equally desperate to solve the case. The pages flew by, even as I tried to eke out the story knowing only too well that I’d end up with a miserable book hangover once I came to the end of this gripping story. And I was right. I love the world, the setting and the characters – particularly Thea’s dogged determination to see justice done for those who cannot help themselves. There are some dangling plotpoints, as the story isn’t wholly resolved and I’m now waiting for the next book in the series. Except, I’m also dreading it, as Nelson has announced it’s the final Ageless Mysteries book. Very highly recommended for fans of fantasy mystery murders.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Peacekeeper – Book 1 of The Good Lands series by B.L. Blanchard #BrainfluffKINDLEbookreview #ThePeacekeeperbookreview

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I read Maddalena’s excellent review of this one at Space and Sorcery – and immediately nipped across and got hold of a copy. I really love the premise as I’m always a sucker for a good whodunit in an unusual setting.

BLURB: North America was never colonized. The United States and Canada don’t exist. The Great Lakes are surrounded by an independent Ojibwe nation. And in the village of Baawitigong, a Peacekeeper confronts his devastating past.

Twenty years ago to the day, Chibenashi’s mother was murdered and his father confessed. Ever since, caring for his still-traumatized younger sister has been Chibenashi’s privilege and penance. Now, on the same night of the Manoomin harvest, another woman is slain. His mother’s best friend. This leads to a seemingly impossible connection that takes Chibenashi far from the only world he’s ever known.
The major city of Shikaakwa is home to the victim’s cruelly estranged family—and to two people Chibenashi never wanted to see again: his imprisoned father and the lover who broke his heart. As the questions mount, the answers will change his and his sister’s lives forever. Because Chibenashi is about to discover that everything about their lives has been a lie.

REVIEW: Yes… I do enjoy well-constructed thrillers, yes… I do appreciate complicated protagonists with a whole suite of luggage that skews their attitude towards the world. But for me, the highlight of this book – what makes it memorable and really stand out – is the setting. This is an alternate world, where the likes of Columbus and the hungry tide of conquistadors never landed on the shores of the Americas, so the indigenous people had the opportunity to develop on their own terms, with their own cultures largely intact. And while the inhabitants of the small village where the crimes occur still live in wigwams, this is a contemporary setting, so there are also mobile phones and high-speed trains. However, there is also a regard for the natural world that is woven alongside everyday life and I am delighted that Blanchard gives examples of how that works. I’d LOVE someone to make a film of this book – the twisty plot and anguished protagonist would work well on the big screen, but overwhelmingly, I think seeing Blanchard’s evocation of how modern life could work alongside Nature would be marvellous.

Getting back to the book, I did find it initially something of a challenge. Chibenashi, the main protagonist, isn’t someone I found easy to like – although learning of the terrible events that have destabilised his life did have me warming to him. Necessarily, the pacing at the start is a bit slow as the world also needs a lot of description. That said, I was never tempted to DNF it as the worldbuilding held me throughout.

Watching Chibenashi struggling to cope was also interesting – he isn’t a classic hero by any means and makes some really dodgy decisions – one in particular had me shaking my head at the time. I had guessed the murderer about two-thirds of the way through, but this time around that didn’t bother me all that much. In the event, the denouement was still shocking especially as the fallout was a bit heart-wrenching and messy, contributing towards making this one a very memorable read. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series to find out where it goes next. Highly recommended for fans of murder mysteries with unusual settings.
8/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #17

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

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

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

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

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

This week I’ve read:-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This week I have posted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.