Tag Archives: demons

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Against All Gods – Book 1 of The Age of Bronze series by Miles Cameron #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AgainstAllGodsbookreview

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I’m a fan of Miles Cameron’s writing – see my reviews of The Traitor Son series – The Red Knight, The Fell Sword, The Dread Wyrm and The Fall of Dragons – as well as his space opera adventure Artifact Space, which I very much hope he is going to continue. So when I saw this one on Netgalley, I was delighted to be approved for it.

BLURB: The gods play their games, looking down on the mortal realm and moving men as pawns. Sacrificing lives, towns, even civilisations as they make moves against each other, oblivious to and uncaring of the suffering it causes. They are above it all: worshipped, emulated and admired.

Yet there is one among them who exists to sow chaos, to challenge the way of things, and to stir up trouble. One who sees the gods growing indolent and contented and selfish . . . and who is ready to meddle in the world of men. Not as part of the immortal game, but because they believe it’s possible for men to challenge . . . and even topple . . . the gods themselves.

REVIEW: I’ve seen this book compared to Madeline Miller and her novels set within the Greek pantheon and I’m rather uncomfortable with that comparison – this one is far closer in tone and style to Dan Simmons, the other author cited in the strapline. While the Greek gods are certainly a self-absorbed lot, who don’t treat their mortal worshippers with much regard – they are frankly paragons of virtue when set against the sorry lot who feature in Cameron’s Heaven. Every single one of them is busy plotting to gain power or in revenge against another of their number. Most look upon humanity as merely insects to be disposed of with as little thought or care. And some of the bloody deeds that are suffered by said humanity are horrible – all the more so because the gods simply don’t care.

It took me a while to get through this one, despite it being well written with an engrossing plot – because I found the sheer bloodiness a bit of a problem at times. I’m well aware that is probably more about my own mindset at present, rather than an issue with the storytelling. But I’m giving it a mention because if you are a tad squeamish about scenes of senseless brutality and torture, then this one might not be for you. That said, out of the carnage stagger a number of characters who somehow survive the sacking of a city and terrible punishments designed to act as a deterrent. There is a dancer, an orphan boy and his donkey, a warrior, a former warlord and a scribe who end up on a boat managed and crewed by a merchanting family who belong to a sect of pacifists. And when together, there is a fair amount of humour within their interactions, albeit sometimes on the grim side. Some of these characters also have magical abilities they can wield with varying amounts of skill and strength. I do like the fact that any magic is very draining and can only be wielded for a finite amount of time, before it uses up the practitioner. They also have an extraordinary passenger – one of the Bright Ones, who often attack and kill travellers in the desert, except this creature seems intent on saving their lives.

This unlikely group are plunged into all sorts of extreme adventures which are described with verve and vividness. No one writes battle scenes better than Cameron, who is also an experienced historical battle re-enactor who has fought in armour. As the story gained momentum, I got to a point when I found this one difficult to put down – but do be warned, it does end on a cliff-hanger with a number of important plot points left dangling. Recommended for fans of epic fantasy stories featuring gods and plenty of action. While I obtained an arc of Against All Gods from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK Wolfbane – Book 9 of the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series by Michelle Paver #BrainfluffNEGALLEYAUDIObookreview #Wolfbanebookreview

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I have read a couple of books in this well-known and captivating series – see my review of Spirit Walker. While it’s labelled as a YA/children’s read, it has captured the hearts of many adults over the years, including me. So I was delighted when the audiobook for the latest book in the series popped up.

BLURB: It is early spring, a turbulent, perilous time of sudden storms, frozen river fractures and drifting ice. Fleeing from a demon intent on devouring his souls, Wolf is swept out to Sea far from the Forest and his pack. The ocean too teems with danger: sea wolves, sharks and hunters of the deep, and the demon is gaining ground. Torak and Renn must race to save their pack-brother, battling the harsh, icy waves and merciless torrents. If they can’t find Wolf in time, the bond between them will be severed for ever…

REVIEW: This is a compelling adventure set in prehistory, when our hunter-gatherer ancestors had to be clever, brave and highly skilled at a multitude of tasks just to get through an average day. They lived in close contact with the natural world surrounding them, from which they derived their food, clothes and shelter. Small wonder they also formed a strong spiritual attachment to the animals and plants that impacted their lives. I love how Paver has characterised that attachment, as I listened to this gripping adventure facing Torak and Renn.

Wolf now has a mate and so when he is yanked away by the machinations of a major demon, Torak and Renn are determined to save him. But it’s a perilous journey that takes them far away from their beloved forest, where they encounter other tribes whose customs are different from their own. This is a delight to listen to – partly because the writing style is clean and powerful, but also because Sir Ian McKellan happens to be the narrator. His rendition is masterful – I’d listen spellbound if he recited the football scores, and I hate football…

Paver’s scene setting is vivid – I could easily envisage the landscapes she describes in a world not yet reeling from the environmental damage we’ve inflicted. The story holds real tension – and there is also a very moving scene where a much-loved character is laid to rest. The death rites are fascinating as well as poignant. All in all, this is a treat and highly recommended for fans of prehistorical adventure – though don’t start with this one. Instead track down the first book in this series, Wolf Brother. And a bonus is Paver’s Afterword, where she describes her research into aspects of her characters’ lives – it brought this highly enjoyable book to a fitting end. While I obtained a copy of audiobook Wolfbane from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #16

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

Thank goodness little Eliza and my daughter have now recovered from their initial medical emergencies. Eliza is back at nursery school and I was able to spend some time with her to see she is back to her normal, bouncy self – more of that later! However my daughter has had to return work while also juggling the needs of three children all at very different stages, so she is at full stretch. To the extent that we’ve had our Boomerang Boy staying with us again.

After his first full week at his new school didn’t go very well, we offered to have our younger grandson to stay over for this last week. Himself is on annual leave and we have the time to give Oscar the support he needs to cope with such a major change, mostly by simply being there. It worked out really well and by Friday he was much happier and more settled, having made a friend and feeling less overwhelmed. He helped make tea, played Wordle with me and contributed to discussions around the table during the evening meal. He is such a star and we love his company – as you can see by the nonsense going on between Himself and Oscar when I was trying to take a photo!

Under normal circumstances, that would be my major news for this post – but this time around I’ve other tidings to share. I am definitely on the road to recovery! My energy levels have suddenly jumped up, so I don’t get exhausted so easily. Last Saturday Oscar and I (he came to stay last Friday evening) had a sleepover at my sister’s to listen to a nightingale singing in a nearby wood. She made us a lovely roast dinner and then we played cards – we taught Oscar to play knock-out whist and then he beat us both at Dobble. That level and length of interaction would have been unthinkable only a few weeks ago – but I not only coped, I was thoroughly enjoying it.

I am not yet fully recovered, as I’m still dealing with nasal drip, tinnitus, persistent pain in my upper right arm and chest that wakes me up at night. In addition I still have a swollen thyroid and lymph glands in my neck. And I am horribly unfit – unsurprising as I have spent a large part of the last fourteen months too tired to get out of bed. But I am so thrilled and massively relieved! I’d begun to fear that the almost constant tiredness constantly dogging me was going to be with me for the rest of my life. On Wednesday evening, I was able to join a Zoom meeting with my Writing group and got such a welcome… It was lovely to see everyone again, as the last time I’d been part of the group was 3rd March, 2021.

So on Thursday evening, Oscar’s last night with us, we asked if we could also borrow the other two children and celebrated my improvement by taking the grandchildren to The Dragon, their favourite Chinese restaurant. Even little Eliza came along – and without her mother, who couldn’t make it as she was busy with an online meeting. It was one of the best nights of my life. We got a lovely greeting from the staff, who remembered us even though we hadn’t been there since 2019 – and the children were wonderful. Eliza was as good as gold and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The food was fabulous and the service was brilliant. When our waiter spotted that Eliza was determinedly spooning up the plum sauce she was supposed to be sharing with her older brother, he brought two sachets of tomato ketchup just for her, tore them open and squeezed them onto her plate and invited her to dip her cucumber slices in that instead. The older children were chatty and easy-going, clearly enjoying the food and always polite – I’m so proud of them!

The highlight for me is that even a fortnight earlier – I simply couldn’t have envisaged feeling well enough to have taken part in such an outing. So it was a huge deal for me to be there. I hadn’t been anywhere for a meal since we went away for our wedding anniversary in September 2020. I’m very aware that I still have a long way to go – and I’m not going to rush ahead with a Graduated Exercise Programme, for example. That would probably tip me back into a relapse – after all, it has taken over a year to get here. So if it takes that length of time to regain my fitness, without running the risk of becoming bedridden again – that’s fine by me😊. I have a hospital appointment on Monday – fingers crossed it won’t find anything sinister!

This week I’ve read:-

Hummingbird – Book 1 of A Charade of Magic by Helen Harper
The best way to live in the Mage ruled city of Glasgow is to keep your head down and your mouth closed. That’s not usually a problem for Mairi Wallace. By day she works at a small shop selling tartan and by night she studies to become an apothecary. She knows her place and her limitations. All that changes, however, when her old childhood friend sends her a desperate message seeking her help – and the Mages themselves cross Mairi’s path. Suddenly, remaining unnoticed is no longer an option.

There’s more to Mairi than she realises but, if she wants to fulfil her full potential, she’s going to have to fight to stay alive – and only time will tell if she can beat the Mages at their own game. From twisted wynds and tartan shops to a dangerous daemon and the magic infused City Chambers, the future of a nation might lie with one solitary woman.
I’m a Helen Harper fan – and this one didn’t disappoint. It was a real page-turner and I’m now looking forward to reading the next one in the series, as I’m desperate to discover what happens next.

Murder in the Manor – Book 1 of A Lacey Doyle Cosy Mystery series by Fiona Grace
Lacey Doyle, 39 years old and freshly divorced, needs a drastic change. She needs to quit herjob, leave her horrendous boss and New York City, and walk away from the fast life. Making good on her childhood promise to herself, she decides to walk away from it all, and to relive a beloved childhood vacation in the quaint English seaside town of Wilfordshire.

Wilfordshire is exactly as Lacey remembers it, with its ageless architecture, cobblestone streets, and with nature at its doorstep. Lacey doesn’t want to go back home—and spontaneously, she decides to stay, and to give her childhood dream a try: she will open her own antique shop.

Lacey finally feels that her life is taking a step in the right direction—until her new star customer turns up dead. As the newcomer in town, all eyes are on Lacey, and it’s up to her to clear her own name. With a business to run, a next-door neighbor turned nemesis, a flirty baker across the street, and a crime to solve – is this new life all that Lacey thought it would be?
This is one of the books that Himself acquired – I was intrigued by the blurb and was in the mood for something a bit different from my usual fare. There is much to commend it – I liked the gutsy can-do attitude of the heroine. But timescales were ridiculously compressed (a week to get a temporary Visa to live in the UK????) and this offering couldn’t make up its mind if it was a cosy mystery or a cosy second-chance romance. 7/10

Under Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchings
Fleeing the final days of the generations-long war with the alien Felen, smuggler Jereth Keeven’s freighter the Jonah breaks down in a strange rift in deep space, with little chance of rescue—until they encounter the research vessel Gallion, which claims to be from 152 years in the future.

The Gallion’s chief engineer Uma Ozakka has always been fascinated with the past, especially the tale of the Fortunate Five, who ended the war with the Felen. When the Gallion rescues a run-down junk freighter, Ozakka is shocked to recognize the Five’s legendary ship—and the Five’s famed leader, Eldric Leesongronski, among the crew. But nothing else about Leesongronski and his crewmates seems to match up with the historical record. With their ships running out of power in the rift, more than the lives of both crews may be at stake.
This enjoyable timeslip space opera adventure has some interesting things to say about how History slants events to suit those writing said History. I grew very fond of the Fortunate Five and found myself rooting for them. 8/10

Herrick’s End – Book 1 of The Neath by T.M. Blanchet
Ollie’s only friend disappeared a few days ago, and now, he’s frantic to find her. But he doesn’t have much to go on until a mysterious note arrives which reads:
“Still looking for your friend? I know where she is.”
Unfortunately for Ollie, the trail leads to the last place he’d ever expect.

Somewhere dark.
Somewhere deep.
The kind of place where magic spills like blood, vengeance is merciless, and escape seems all but impossible.

Worse still, it soon becomes clear that someone-or something-was expecting him.
Now, time is running out.
If Ollie has any hope of ever seeing home again, he’s going to have to summon every last scrap of courage, smarts, and tenacity he can find. And none of it will matter if he can’t get some help. Fast.
This intriguing offering has been labelled YA, but it certainly didn’t come across as a YA read to me. I thought the story was going in a certain direction – when it suddenly turned into something completely different. And I was hooked. I was also intrigued by the strong morality story that underpins it, putting me in mind of Pilgrim’s Progress – although there isn’t any religion in this offering. Review to follow.

The Lending Library by Aliza Fogelson
When the Chatsworth library closes indefinitely, Dodie Fairisle loses her sanctuary. How is a small-town art teacher supposed to cope without the never-ending life advice and enjoyment that books give her? Well, when she’s as resourceful and generous as Dodie, she turns her sunroom into her very own little lending library.

At first just a hobby, this lit lovers’ haven opens up her world in incredible ways. She knows books are powerful, and soon enough they help her forge friendships between her zany neighbors—and attract an exciting new romance.
But when the chance to adopt an orphaned child brings Dodie’s secret dream of motherhood within reach, everything else suddenly seems less important. Finding herself at a crossroads, Dodie must figure out what it means to live a full, happy life. If only there were a book that could tell her what to do…
I wanted to like Dodie – but she’s the type of heroine that frankly gives millennials a bad name. She giggles and pouts over men as if she’s a mid-teen, turns her back on a friend looking for support and suddenly decides to adopt a baby without having any of the resources to do the job properly. Thank goodness the baby’s grandparents saw through her charm and realised just how flighty she is. I read on in fascinated horror to see how else she was going to mess up her life. Though given her addiction to every kind of sweet food on the planet, it might just be she’s making decisions in the throes of a sugar-blitzed brainstorm. 6/10

AUDIOBOOK Wolfbane – Book 9 of the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series by Michelle Paver, narrated by Sir Ian McKellan
It is early spring, a turbulent, perilous time of sudden storms, frozen river fractures and drifting ice. Fleeing from a demon intent on devouring his souls, Wolf is swept out to Sea far from the Forest and his pack.

The ocean too teems with danger: sea wolves, sharks and hunters of the deep, and the demon is gaining ground. Torak and Renn must race to save their pack-brother, battling the harsh, icy waves and merciless torrents. If they can’t find Wolf in time, the bond between them will be severed for ever…
What a treat… In this prehistoric world, our ancestors have formed a deep spiritual bond with the creatures around them. Paver depicts their hunter-gatherer lives with realism and respect – and I recommend you also listen to the Afterword, where she describes the research she has done to back up aspects covered in this gripping adventure. But then, you’ll probably want to listen on, anyway. With McKellan’s masterful narration, I’d listen to him reading aloud the soccer results. Review to follow.

This week I have posted:
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Hummingbird – Book 1 of A Charade of Magic series by Helen Harper

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Under Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchings

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
Weakness: Blood in the Water and Narcissist Sharks

50 Word Stories: Plain Bad

Friday Faceoff: Sunny and Bright – a cover that is predominantly yellow

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.

Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK The River of Silver: Tales from the Daevabad Trilogy S.A. Chakraborty #BrainfluffNETGALLEYAUDIOBOOKreview #TheRiverofSilverbookreview

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I’ve recently acquired the Netgalley app on my phone, enabling me to listen to audiobook arcs and so far it’s been a success. I recall reading this Sand and Sorcery trilogy with great fondness – read my reviews of The City of Brass, The Kingdom of Copper and The Empire of Gold – so when I saw that Chakraborty had released an audiobook of stories based in that world, I jumped at the opportunity to tuck into this offering.

BLURB: A prospective new queen joins a court whose lethal history may overwhelm her own political savvy…

An imprisoned royal from a fallen dynasty and a young woman wrenched from her home cross paths in an enchanted garden…

A pair of scouts stumble upon a secret in a cursed winter wood that will turn over their world…

Now together in one place, these stories of Daevabad enrich a world already teeming with magic and wonder. From Manizheh’s first steps towards rebellion to adventures that take place after The Empire of Gold, this is a must-have collection for those who can’t get enough of Nahri, Ali, and Dara and all that unfolded around them.

REVIEW: This collection of shorter tales showcases Chakraborty’s writing chops. It takes more technical skill to craft a successful short story than a novel, because there is less time to pull the reader into your world. And while in a novel-length work, the three pillars of strong storytelling – setting, plot and characterisation – don’t always have to be perfectly balanced, or even fully realised, that isn’t the case when writing shorter fiction.

It doesn’t hurt to have an accomplished narrator, like Soneela Nankani to bring these stories to life. To the extent that I had to make several starts before I could get through the first very emotional story, which had me in bits. Before each story, Nankani announces whereabouts within the trilogy the events take place and whether it provides a spoiler or not. This useful addition makes the collection an ideal companion read alongside the trilogy, providing extra insights into all the main characters who feature, along with interesting backstories that may have been mentioned within the main trilogy, but now are fully fleshed out.

I think that first wrenching story is my favourite – and it also provides a poignant insight into the suffering of a character whose subsequent anger has a profound effect on Daevabad. More than anything, this collection reminded me all over again just how the enmity within the city affects the main characters and what a claustrophobic, hurtful place it has become. Highly recommended for fans of the Daevabad Trilogy – and it is also worth reading alongside the series, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of immersing yourself in this classy sand and sorcery adventure. While I obtained an audiobook arc of The River of Silver from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Review of INDIE Ebook Shadows Over Kaighal – Book 3 of the Pacts Arcane and Otherwise series by Joanna Maciejewska #BrainfluffINDIEbookreview #ShadowsOverKaighalbookreview

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I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in this entertaining Sand and Sorcery adventure – see my reviews of By the Pact and Scars of Stone. So I was delighted to discover that Shadows of Kaighal is now available.

BLURB: To finally have a chance at freeing Veranesh, Kamira had made some risky decisions, surrendering herself to the mercy of the archmages and trusting that her companions, Veelk and Koshmarnyk, would carry out other essential parts of their plan.

In her wildest dreams she hadn’t expected that her actions would leave her with more trouble than less. Now she has a whole city on her shoulders, two demons around—one shrewder than the other, and plenty of enemies to pick from. Even with the demon invasion imminent, Gildya is fussing about Koshmarnyk’s presence in the city, the kingdom of Tivarashan is making its moves to conquer Kaighal, and Kamira would love to toss it all out for a lone journey to find out whether Veelk is still alive. But first, she will need to clean up her mess, one way or another.

REVIEW: Whatever you do – don’t pick up this one until you’ve at least read Scars of Stone and preferably also By the Pact. This is essentially a single story that has been broken into different volumes, so you’ll miss far too much of the vital backstory and character development if you plunge straight into this one. Indeed, before I tucked into this book – I went back and reread Scars of Stone to ensure that the major plotpoints and characters were sufficiently fresh in my head in order to fully enjoy this one.
Maciejewska’s world is delightfully complex.

The archmages spend as much time (maybe even more) infighting among themselves, as well as studying the high art of magic, unsullied by demonology. So they say, anyway. While the demonologists obtain their magic by forming a pact with a demon in order to share their magic, so are generally treated with contempt by the archmages. It very much depends on the power and importance of the demon as to how effective their magic will be – so understandably, demonologists generally aren’t all that chatty about who they’ve traded promises with. Then there are the political divisions within Kaighal among the non-magical community. And – best of all, in my opinion, we also get a ringside seat into the machinations of the various demons who have managed to gain entry and are currently roaming Earth. They also have schemes to increase their power and wealth, not just at the expense of the puny humans – but also to put a dent in each other’s powerbase.

In amongst this cauldron of scheming and counter-scheming, we follow the fortunes of a handful of main characters – Kamira, Veelk and Koshmarnyk feature most heavily, but there are also another three supporting characters that I’ve also come to care about. It would have been all too easy for this slice of the story to have become a snarl of cris-crossing storylines with a welter of characters. The fact that it hasn’t and I’m still pondering some Kamira’s slightly sketchy decisions several books after I finished this, is a testament to the author’s skill in plotting and characterisation. I was glad that Veelk made an appearance before the end of the book, as I really missed the snarky yet affectionate relationship he has with Kamira.

And I’m very much looking forward to reading the next instalment. Because the one thing I can guarantee with this entertaining series – is that there will be more plotting and twisty surprises that will keep me turning the pages late into the night. Highly recommended for fans of well-plotted Sand and Sorcery adventures.
9/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #13

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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.

I’m aware that I sound like a cracked record when I say that once again, it’s been a fortnight of ups and downs. For much of this week, once again I ended up feeling very tired and shaky. Though this time around, I didn’t ease off as much as I previously would have. I’ve recently finished reading The Long Covid Self-Help Guide written by the specialists at the Post-Covid Clinic, Oxford, which was the first one of its kind in the country. I will be reviewing it in due course, though right now I’m sorting through the tangle of feelings it caused.

As a consequence of some of the advice I read, I’ve started up-pacing – the process where I’m now trying to increase my level of physical activity without triggering another major relapse. It’s a tricky business. I’m aware that my Long Covid symptoms might well evolve into ME/CFS if I get this wrong. I’m in my mid-sixties and was formerly very active and healthy – far too young to continue living like a frail ninety-something for the rest of my life. Equally, I’ve also become aware that I could be compromising my recovery by being too inactive. And at present, I’m doing this more or less on my own, so finding the right balance is a huge challenge. Especially as if I do trigger a relapse like the one I had last August, I’ll probably lose all the progress I’ve made to date, as I’m still not back to the level of activity I had last July and the first half of August, before I became completely bedridden for a fortnight.

This week, I did have a scan at the local hospital to monitor my swollen thyroid and the painful glands in my neck. The radiologist reported there is no change, which I suppose is good news. Though to be honest – I would have preferred it if she had told me that my thyroid was returning to its normal size. I also had an eye test, which I had to attend on my own, due to Covid precautions. I was really pleased that during the whole rather intense two-hour session, I didn’t feel too exhausted. However, it was something of a challenge to try and choose glasses frames without being able to properly see what they looked like on my face. Fingers crossed I shan’t be too disappointed at my appearance when I pick them up!

We’ve had some amazingly mild weather for the time of year, with lots of sunshine. However, it couldn’t last and now the temperatures are in the 40s, with a bitter wind and the occasional flurry of sleety rain. Our grandson came to stay this week, and is always a ray of sunshine, no matter what the weather and my daughter finally moved into a lovely house that is just a short drive away. So no matter what else is happening – having family closer is a massive silver lining to any clouds I’m still battling.

This week I’ve read:-

AUDIOBOOK Cyteen – Books 1-3 by C.J. Cherryh
The saga of two young friends trapped in an endless nightmare of suspicion and surveillance, of cyber-programmed servants and a ruling class with century-long lives – and the enigmatic woman who dominates them all. Narrators Jonathan Davis and Gabra Zackman skillfully split up this sweeping sci-fi epic that is “at once a psychological novel, a murder mystery, and an examination of power on a grand scale.”

I listened to this one and was completely enthralled. And yes… I get that some folks found it slow and overwritten. But as the story unfolded in over 36 hours of listening, I became increasingly awed at the sheer level of detail Cherryh offers in this layered, dangerous world of post-humans who have been genetically engineered. I’m also full of admiration at how she portrays both the best of the worst of them, so that by the end – I had a strong sense of their whole personalities. I’ve been thinking about this book ever since I listened to it. Indeed, it was a struggle to be really fair to the next offering I heard, as part of me was in mourning that it wasn’t Cyteen. Very highly recommended. 11/10

Scars of Stone – Book 2 of the Pacts Arcane and Otherwise series by Joanna Maciejewska
The battle with a demonic foe had opened Kamira’s and Veelk’s eyes: they were unprepared for their task. If they want a chance of freeing Veranesh from his crystal prison, they need the help of a brilliant inventor imprisoned by Gildya, a man also desired by the refugee queen, Cahala, who will stop at nothing to slake her thirst for magic.

Time is also of the essence as Archmage Yoreus maneuvers for power. Once he claims the title of the first archmage for himself, he will tie up all loose ends, and that entails burying Kamira, Veelk, and a long line of secrets he’d prefer to be forgotten. Kamira and Veelk have a rule, “no heroics, survival first.”
When dealing with demons, avoiding heroics is easy. But survival? Not so much.
This is a reread. I suddenly realised that I’ve the next book on my Kindle, Shadows Over Kaighal which I pre-ordered and to get the best out of this Sand and Sorcery tale, I needed to remind myself of who is doing what to whom. This story is too good for me to compromise my reading experience otherwise. I love Kamira and the fact that Joanna’s characters are nuanced and layered. This classy and engrossing series deserves to be far better known. 9/10

Murder Most Vile – Book 9 of the Langham & Dupré series by Eric Brown
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?
This one is slightly darker than the previous books in this series, but that doesn’t prevent it from being a thoroughly engrossing read. Indeed, once I got past a certain point I couldn’t put it down. I loved the evocation of 1950s London and the bonus is that you don’t have to read any of the other books in the series to thoroughly enjoy it. Review to follow. 8/10

A Catastrophic Theft – Book 3 of the Reg Rawlins, Psychic Investigator series by P.D. Workman

Reg’s relationship with Sarah, who has been her loyal friend and protector since she arrived becomes strained when Sarah’s precious emerald necklace disappears. There is no shortage of suspects, with Reg herself at the front of the line.

This is the last book in the three-book box set I bought for a very reasonable price when I was looking for something a bit lighter. I’ve been impressed at the depth of Reg’s character and the ongoing development throughout the three books – to the extent that I have now bought the next box set of books 4-6 for much more money… Recommended for fans who enjoy a three-dimensional protagonist with darker aspects in their character. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK Battlestar Suburbia – Book 1 of the Battlestar Suburbia series by Chris McCrudden
In space, no one can hear you clean…

When Darren’s charge-cart gets knocked off the Earth-to-Mars highway and lost in space forever, he thinks his day can’t get any worse. When Kelly sees Darren accidentally short-circuit a talking lamppost, and its camera captures her face as it expires, she thinks her day can’t get any worse.

When Pamasonic Teffal, a sentient breadmaker, is sent on a top-secret mission into the depths of the internet and betrayed by her boss, a power-crazed smartphone, she knows this is only the beginning of a day that isn’t going to get any better. Join Darren, Kelly and Pam in an anarchic comic adventure that takes them from the shining skyscrapers of Singulopolis to the sewers of the Dolestar Discovery, and find out what happens when a person puts down their mop and bucket and says No.
The author narrates this one himself and just about gets away with it, despite the rather flat delivery and occasional stumble. I loved the genuinely witty and clever references that keep coming throughout which often made me laugh out loud. Yet I am also impressed at how much emotional heft there is within this adventure. Unlike some sci fi comedies, McCrudden never forgets that the characters caught in the middle of this are having a horrible time – at once point, I wept. And I don’t do that very often. Highly recommended for fans of quirky and cleverly written adventures. 9/10

Parallel Lies – Book 1 of the Ross duology by Georgia Rose
Madeleine Ross has life exactly as she planned it. Cosy cottage, friendly village, satisfying job. Company… when she wants it. It’s an enviable existence for an independent young woman, and one she’s keen to protect.

Enter Daniel – strong, dependable and a danger to everything she’s built. He’s not something she was looking for, but hearts can’t be controlled and maybe, just maybe he might be worth letting into hers. But, all is not what it seems. Because Madeleine is hiding a lifetime of secrets. Deep secrets. And they never stay buried for ever. Her darkest secret returns, like the proverbial bad penny. He is her first love, shadowy, dangerous, the baddest of bad boys. No matter how far she runs, or how well she hides, she can never escape him. Or her past…
Yep. A contemporary story of someone trying to outrun a very dark past and grappling with a new love in her life. Not my usual fare – and the reason why I kept turning the pages was the tension that Rose managed to engender in her writing. I rapidly really cared for Madeline and wanted her to prevail – it didn’t hurt that once upon another lifetime ago, I used to live in a village not unlike the one she finds herself in, either. If you enjoy a sympathetic protagonist in a contemporary setting, then you might well find this one difficult to put down. Though it ends on a cliff-hanger… Be warned – there is a rape scene and a severely abused child. 8/10

The Cunning Man – A Schooled in Magic spinoff by Christopher G. Nuttall
Adam of Beneficence wanted to be a magician, and even undertook a magical apprenticeship, but there isn’t a single spark of magic in his entire body. In desperation, his master arranged for him to study at Heart’s Eye University, a former school of magic that has become a university, a place where magicians and mundanes can work to combine their talents and forge the future together.

But all is not well at Heart’s Eye. The magical and mundane apprentices resent and fear each other, the teaching staff is unsure how to shape the university and, outside, powerful forces are gathering to snuff out the future before it can take shape. As Adam starts his new apprenticeship, and stumbles across a secret that could reshape the world, he finds himself drawn into a deadly plot that could destroy the university …

… And leave Lady Emily’s legacy in flaming ruins.
Himself is definitely a keeper – I’d mentioned that I was suffering from withdrawal symptoms from the Schooled in Magic series, and he went and bought this offering for me. It charts events at the new university that Emily has set up, in the hope that mundanes and magicians can learn to work together. However, events take a dark turn. I loved this one. Adam is an engaging protagonist and it was enjoyable to see the world through the eyes of someone born into it. It would make a good introduction for someone who hasn’t read any of the other books – or who, like me, wants more Schooled in Magic goodness… 9/10

Witness for the Persecution – Book 3 of the Jersey Girl Legal Mystery series by E.J. Copperman

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?
I love Sandy’s first-person narrative – it’s pacy, smart and very funny. So – what happens when an attorney finds herself representing a complete jerk that she quickly comes to loathe? This book explores the issues surrounding that dilemma. Complete review to follow. 9/10

The Broken Cage – Book 7 of the Crow Investigations series by Sarah Painter
Get the Crow

A man dies in a locked room, leaving a message written in blood and a lot of unanswered questions.

Lydia is still recovering from the fallout with her psychopathic cousin, but there are new threats to the Crows, and she must fight to maintain her position as leader of the Family.
Meanwhile, an actor has gone missing and Fleet is under pressure to find him fast. But there seems to be more to his tension than he is letting on… Can Lydia solve the mysterious murder before she gets arrested for it?
This urban fantasy series, set in London and featuring crow shapeshifter, Lydia, is now a firm favourite. Painter’s atmospheric and strong writing powerfully evoke the sheer otherness of Lydia’s world in a way that I don’t often encounter within the genre. And as Lydia really begins to explore her scary new powers – a whole host of problems once more beset her. Very highly recommended – but whatever you do, start with the first book and work through the series. It’s far too good to miss any aspect of the world or Lydia’s ongoing development. 9/10

This week I have posted:
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of AUDIOBOOK The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

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.

Review of INDIE Ebook Scars of Stone – Book 2 of the Pacts Arcane and Otherwise series by Joanna Maciejewska #BrainfluffKINDLEbookreview #ScarsofStonebookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this entertaining Sand and Sorcery fantasy adventure – see my review of By the Pact. So I was delighted when I belatedly realised that Joanna had published the second book in the series, giving me the opportunity to scoop it up and read it.

BLURB: Discovering the truth about magic is one thing. Doing something about it will require bloodletting, backstabbing, and a bunch of lies.

The battle with a demonic foe had opened Kamira’s and Veelk’s eyes: they were unprepared for their task. If they want a chance of freeing Veranesh from his crystal prison, they need the help of a brilliant inventor imprisoned by Gildya, a man also desired by the refugee queen, Cahala, who will stop at nothing to slake her thirst for magic.

Time is also of the essence as Archmage Yoreus maneuvers for power. Once he claims the title of the first archmage for himself, he will tie up all loose ends, and that entails burying Kamira, Veelk, and a long line of secrets he’d prefer to be forgotten. Kamira and Veelk have a rule, “no heroics, survival first.” When dealing with demons, avoiding heroics is easy. But survival? Not so much.

REVIEW: Firstly, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading By the Pact, then put this offering back on the shelf and grab a copy. Initially these two books were written as a single volume, so the opening action in Scars of Stone follows on immediately from the final scene in By the Pact. While I think most experienced readers would eventually pick up what is going on – it’s a shame to compromise such an entertaining read by initially floundering.

I have a real weakness for this Sand and Sorcery sub-genre, where demons or djinn frequently feature with some kind of magical possession in a desert world. Kamira and Veelk are interesting, nuanced protagonists who have their own edges as they have spent years working together and trying to survive against formidable odds. I also like the fact that their partnership isn’t a romantic one, despite the fact that they spend weeks and months relying on each other to the extent that they have saved each other’s lives on a number of occasions.

While there is a romantic thread running through the book, it’s not straightforward. Joanna has provided Kamira with a couple of prospective partners – but she is wary of committing to any kind of long-term anything. Which, given the huge task ahead of her, is a wise move. Right now, it’s debatable as to whether she’ll survive what lies ahead. I love the degree of plotting and politicking going on in amongst the action scenes, both by the demons and the high mages. There is also the complicating factor of the refugees, who are all getting steadily sicker as their addiction to magical essence starts to bite, while trying to resettle in a city where there is no magic freely available.

All in all, it provides plenty of tension and excitement that meant the pages flew by. Once again, this one ends on the cliff-hanger. So I’m very much looking forward to reading the third book, Shadows of Kaighal, which is hitting the shelves in March 2022. Highly recommended for fans of enjoyable fantasy adventures, where characters are nuanced and the stakes are high.
9/10

SUNDAY POST – 12th December 2021

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This is my roundup of my reading and blogging week, hosted by Kimberly at the Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s only been the last few days that I’ve appreciated just how quickly Christmas is looming. What with one thing and another – it’s been on the backburner. And when I finally surfaced sufficiently to realise how quickly it is approaching, I also realised that this long weekend is going to be the time when we get it sorted out.

Himself got the decorations down from the loft yesterday. We’re not going to be fully decorating the house – the children’s rooms won’t be touched, for instance. And I’m cutting back on the amount of ornaments going around the lounge and kitchen – but I do want the lights up, the tree decorated and the nativity on display. And of course the kitchen dresser should be decked out, too. It always looks fabulous… Himself will be doing most of it this year. Normally it’s my job, along with the grandchildren. But this year, everything is different – and I refuse to think in terms of it being miserable, or depressing. It’s just a break from the normal run of things.

We are having my sister over for the Christmas meal, so we have sorted out the menu. Himself will be cooking it, which is what usually happens. I won’t be making homemade mince pies, sausage rolls, stuffing or my special Dorset Apple pudding this time around, however.

I’ll talk in more detail about what transpired healthwise, next week. But otherwise, I had a good reading week and enjoyed the books I tucked into. Storm Barra hit us on Monday and Tuesday with torrential rain and galeforce winds, but we were lucky not to have any power cuts or damage. J’s shift meant we weren’t able to get out until Friday, when I had to attend my reflexology appointment. Driving back along the coast on the way home, with the sun setting over the sea was glorious.

This week I’ve read:-
Beltane – Book 1 of The Spellworker Chronicles series by Alys West
When Zoe Rose stays at Anam Cara – a guest house in Glastonbury, a town steeped in magic and myth – she dreams of a handsome stranger. The next day she meets him. Tall with untidy brown hair and grey eyes, Finn is funny and intelligent but doesn’t open up easily. Instantly drawn to him, Zoe doesn’t initially recognise him as the man from her dream. When Finn finds out where Zoe is staying he warns her not to trust Maeve, the healer who owns Anam Cara.

His enigmatic comments fuel Zoe’s growing unease about what’s happening at Anam Cara. What power does Maeve have over the minds of the other guests? Is it coincidence that they become ill after she’s given them healing? Why does the stone table in the garden provoke memories of blood and terror? And how did the Green Man, carved on a tree in the garden, disappear during a thunderstorm?
I loved this one. It is quite slow-paced at the start, after the shocking prologue. But is full of tension and a palpable sense of danger that just goes on growing. While the romance is there, it isn’t the narrative engine of the story and this book has stayed with me since I read it.
10/10

Magical Midway Paranormal Cozy Mysteries Box Set – Book 5 – Irrelephant Omens by Leanne Leeds

Another poisoned ringmaster.
Colliding portents.
As dark forces gather, one witch must break the circus free of fate before destiny destroys them all.

Charlotte is at the end of her tether. With her best friend lecturing her about the past, a mysterious old woman demanding she comply with the future, and signs everywhere pointing in opposite directions, she’s not sure how her argumentative band of misfit carnies will be able to defeat the Witches’ Council.

When her boyfriend’s father, the only other magical Ringmaster, is found unconscious, Charlotte determines that she must unravel the mystery, protect the rival circus and save the cantankerous man–only to be told that to do so would defy the omens that say his death must take place. Will Charlotte rebel and save the dying Ringmaster? Or will she let the rival circus fall and her boyfriend’s father die?
This box set is the gift that keeps on giving. Whenever I feel the need for more of magical circus mayhem, I just dip into another of these entertaining, enjoyable stories. Charlotte’s obstinacy can be a tad annoying, but the rest of the cast of characters make up for it. This was just so much fun.
9/10

Mirror Image – Book 18 of the Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
Years ago, Heart’s Eye, a school built on top of a nexus point, was attacked and captured by a necromancer. The nexus point was snuffed out, the handful of survivors forced to flee and the once-great school turned into a forward base for a necromantic invasion. All seemed lost, until Emily killed the necromancer and retook the school. Now, she intends to lay the building blocks for a university, a place where magical knowledge and mundane technology are brought together for the benefit of all.

But dark secrets lie within the shadowed school. What happened when Heart’s Eye fell? What were the tutors doing when the wards fell and the necromancer invaded the school? And, as power flows back into the school, Emily finds herself caught between power struggles and a threat from the past, a shadow that has walked beside her for the last six years. It might bring about the end of everything. In a school full of mirrors, who knows what they reflect?
It’s been a while since I read the previous book in this entertaining series, which has constantly taken the story in unexpected directions. And this episode was no different. Those mirrors are downright creepy… I loved this story and couldn’t put it down until I found out what happened. Wonderful stuff!
9/10

The Snow Queen box set – Book 1 – Heart of Ice by K.M. Shea
Rakel, a princess by birth, has spent most of her life exiled on a barren mountain, despised because of her powerful snow magic. Though she longs to be accepted, she hides in her ice-castle and lives with the fear that her brother—the King—will one day order her execution.

Her empty life changes forever when an army of magic users—led by the enigmatic Colonel Farrin Graydim—invade her home country and plan to enslave its citizens. Swallowing her fear, Rakel joins forces with her jailers and uses her magic to save the people who scorned her. If Rakel cannot defend her homeland, the country will be lost.
This fairytale retelling is great fun. Full of adventure and excitement, Rakel’s character is convincing as a socially awkward, isolated young woman. So when she’s pitchforked into the middle of a war, all sorts of changes confront her. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and am delighted there is more to come.
9/10

Demons and Dragons: Dragon Reign Box Set – Book 1 – Rivals by Kit Bladegrave
Kate’s whole world just turned upside down. She’s hearing weird things, and seeing weird things. And Mama Lucy is a witch. No, really. Not like a capital B witch, but a capital W witch. And the guys Kate’s just saved from imminent death is part demon. And the guy that’s after her is a dragon. Her life redefines teen drama.

Craig’s a bastard son of a demon king. And he’s a thief. He’s just found the item he’s supposed to appropriate when his cousin stabs him with a poisoned dagger.

Forrest is out to collect the bounty for capturing the bastard son of a demon king. He doesn’t plan to save the girl, or the half-breed demon. He also doesn’t plan to be the one who needs saving. This unlikely trio find themselves chased by enemies, known and unknown as they slip into a different dimension called Burnt World.
This adventure definitely has YA overtones, but I’ve enjoyed the story and particularly like Kate’s feisty narrative. It was a quick, enjoyable read during a night when I was badly struggling to sleep and took me away from a lurid nightmare and teeth-clenching tinnitus.
8/10

AUDIOBOOK – The Corfe Castle Murders – Book 1 of the Dorset Crime series by Rachel McLean
Meet DCI Lesley Clarke. She’s a straight-talking city copper who doesn’t suffer fools gladly… and she’s been transferred to rural Dorset. After being injured in a bomb attack, Lesley is presented with a choice – early retirement, or a period of respite in a calmer location. But things don’t stay calm for long.

Before she’s even started her new job, Lesley is dragged into investigating a murder at one of England’s most iconic landmarks, the imposing Corfe Castle. Lesley must hit the ground running. Can she get along with her new partner DS Dennis Frampton, a traditionalist who doesn’t appreciate her style? How will she navigate the politics of a smaller force where she’s a bigger, and less welcome, fish? And most importantly, can she solve the murder before the killer strikes again?
This was another lifesaver during a miserable night. I listened to this one when I ran out of energy to read – and the twisting police procedural tale was a very welcome break. Particularly as I know the ruins of Corfe Castle quite well. I’m looking forward to reading more in this enjoyable series.
8/10

The Night Hawks – Book 13 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths
The Night Hawks, a group of metal detectorists, are searching for buried treasure when they find a body on the beach in North Norfolk. Ruth is more interested in the treasure, a hoard of Bronze Age weapons.

Nelson is called to an apparent murder-suicide of a couple at the isolated Black Dog Farm. Local legend talks of the Black Shuck, a spectral hound that appears to people before they die. All roads lead back to this farm in the middle of nowhere, but the place spells serious danger for anyone who goes near. Ruth doesn’t scare easily. Not until she finds herself at Black Dog Farm …
I’ve significantly edited the very blabby blurb which gives away far too many plot twists. This is a series that I’ve been enjoying for a long time and regard many of the main characters as old friends, so while I thoroughly appreciated the murder mystery – it was also a treat being reacquainted with them all over again.
9/10

The Untold Story – Book 8 of The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
Irene is trying to learn the truth about Alberich-and the possibility that he’s her father. But when the Library orders her to kill him, and then Alberich himself offers to sign a truce, she has to discover why he originally betrayed the Library.

With her allies endangered and her strongest loyalties under threat, she’ll have to trace his past across multiple worlds and into the depths of mythology and folklore, to find the truth at the heart of the Library, and why the Library was first created.
It was with mixed feelings that I picked this arc up, as this is the last book in the series. I’ve always enjoyed my visits to the Invisible Library, accompanied by disaster magnet Irene. And this finale was suitably gripping, as well as bringing the series to a satisfying and emotional end. Review to follow.
10/10

The reviews I’ve posted this week:-
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of A Marvellous Light – Book 1 of the Last Binding series by Freya Marske

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Firesky – Book 2 of The Chronicles of Stratus by Mark de Jager

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.

Sunday Post – 31st October, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

It’s been another very quiet week, as I continue to work towards recovering from Long Covid. There have been some developments, but I will talk about those in more detail next week. A major breakthrough is that I am now able to consistently edit my work, which is a huge deal as it gets me back in touch with my writing again. It’s been a joy to be able to spend time with Castellan, my dragon protagonist, as I’ve been going through Flame and Blame and tightening up my writing. I’ve also been reading a lot, as I’m spending a great deal of time in bed…

Last week I read:

Raven Cursed – Book 4 of the Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter
The vampires of Asheville, North Carolina, want to establish their own clan, but since they owe loyalty to the Master Vampire of New Orleans they must work out the terms with him. To come up with an equitable solution, he sends an envoy with the best bodyguard blood money can buy: Jane Yellowrock.

But when a group of local campers are attacked by something fanged, Jane goes from escort to investigator. Unless she wants to face a very angry master vampire, she will have to work overtime to find the killer. It’s a good thing she’s worth every penny.
This urban fantasy series, featuring shapeshifter Jane Yellowrock, stands out for the sheer quality of the writing. I’ve enjoyed every twisting adventure and Jane’s chippy attitude so far. And once again, this adventure doesn’t disappoint.
9/10

Dark Knight Station: Origins by Nathan Lowell
Three Men
Two Brothers
One Failing Station

When Edgar Vagrant down checks Verkol Kondur’s mining barge, Kondur gets swept up in station politics in spite of his best efforts to avoid them. When Edgar pushes his elder son, Malachai, into working on the station’s freighter, Malachai decides to take matters into his own hands. With Malachai gone, his brother Zachary gets to pick up the pieces of a management structure that he had no hand in making, no authority to control, and no wish to continue. When mysterious dark sun graffiti appears all over the station, it seems clear that the situation has attracted someone’s attention. The question is whose?
When I was in still suffering with Covid-19, back in March, Himself picked up this author. I started reading his linked series following a merchant apprentice in space and absolutely loved it. Lowell’s ability to keep me riveted while describing everyday details is unusual. I was yearning for more Lowell goodness, when I discovered this offering. And once again, I inhaled this one until I came to the end…
9/10

Knot of Shadows – Book 11 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold
When a corpse is found floating face-down in Vilnoc harbor that is not quite as dead as it seems, Temple sorcerer Penric and his chaos demon Desdemona are drawn into the uncanny investigation.

Pen’s keen questions will take him across the city of Vilnoc, and into far more profound mysteries, as his search for truths interlaces with tragedy.
This author is one of a handful that we tend to automatically buy as they come available. So it wasn’t a surprise to find that I quickly became immersed in this unusual murder mystery, featuring Penric and his unusual gifts – thanks to his demon, Desdemona. Though this one has a rather heartbreaking ending…
9/10

Poison in Paddington – Book 1 of the Cassie Coburn mysteries by Samantha Silver
After a car accident ended her medical career before it even started, Cassie moved to London on a whim, expecting to see the sights and live the typical tourist backpacker lifestyle. Instead she finds herself accompanying a French private detective, Violet Despuis, as they attempt to find out who poisoned four people in the middle of London.

Cassie’s life soon includes this crazy detective, an ancient landlady with a curious past, a mischeivous orange cat who likes going for walks on a leash, and a super hot pathologist that Cassie is sure is out of her league. And they haven’t even found the murderer yet…
This Sherlock Holmes-style murder mystery was just the ticket. Pacy and well written, with an appealing Watsonesque protagonist in the form of Cassie, I was charmed by this London-based cosy crime adventure.
8/10

The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling
Nine years ago, Vivienne Jones nursed her broken heart like any young witch would: vodka, weepy music, bubble baths…and a curse on the horrible boyfriend. Sure, Vivi knows she shouldn’t use her magic this way, but with only an “orchard hayride” scented candle on hand, she isn’t worried it will cause him anything more than a bad hair day or two.

That is until Rhys Penhallow, descendent of the town’s ancestors, breaker of hearts, and annoyingly just as gorgeous as he always was, returns to Graves Glen, Georgia. What should be a quick trip to recharge the town’s ley lines and make an appearance at the annual fall festival turns disastrously wrong. With one calamity after another striking Rhys, Vivi realizes her silly little Ex Hex may not have been so harmless after all.

Suddenly, Graves Glen is under attack from murderous wind-up toys, a pissed off ghost, and a talking cat with some interesting things to say. Vivi and Rhys have to ignore their off the charts chemistry to work together to save the town and find a way to break the break-up curse before it’s too late.
I was a bit surprised at the steamy romance – but couldn’t resist the seasonal charms of this witchy mystery set around Halloween.

Brother’s Ruin – Book 1 of the Industrial Magic series by Emma Newman
The year is 1850 and Great Britain is flourishing, thanks to the Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts. When a new mage is discovered, Royal Society elites descend like buzzards to snatch up a new apprentice. Talented mages are bought from their families at a tremendous price, while weak mages are snapped up for a pittance. For a lower middle class family like the Gunns, the loss of a son can be disastrous, so when seemingly magical incidents begin cropping up at home, they fear for their Ben’s life and their own livelihoods.

But Benjamin Gunn isn’t a talented mage. His sister Charlotte is, and to prevent her brother from being imprisoned for false reporting she combines her powers with his to make him seem a better prospect. When she discovers a nefarious plot by the sinister Doctor Ledbetter, Charlotte must use all her cunning and guile to protect her family, her secret and her city.
Newman is a wonderful writing talent and the pages turned themselves in this tense, atmospheric read. There is another book in this series – and I’ll definitely be reading that one, too. Charlotte is a wonderful protagonist and I love the world and the dynamic around magic that has been set up here…
9/10

A Ghost to Haunt Her: A Romance – Book 2 of The Ghosts of Riverside County by Alessa Winters
When a tremor rattles the spirit world, ghosts experience changes. Some are stuck in an endless loop. Others receive strange new powers. A few find themselves in forbidden places.
Heather, a ghost sensitive psychic, helps the dead achieve peace. She thought she had seen it all until she investigates a spector who believes he’s still alive.

Ian’s reality is shattered. Only one person, a strange girl, can hear and interact with him. Somehow he must rely on her to learn about this bizarre new land that he can barely understand. But he wants her to stop calling him a ghost. He’s not dead…right?
This author is another fabulous find. I was riveted by awkward, socially inept Heather, whose affinity with ghosts means she struggles with the everyday world. So when she discovers Ian, whose sudden appearance has caused havoc – she has to convince him that he is really a ghost. This story has stayed with me – and I’m delighted to find that this is Book 2, because that means there is also a Book 1 – yay!
9/10

Every Sky A Grave – Book 1 of The Ascendance series by Jay Posey
Mankind has spread out and conquered the galaxy by mastering the fundamental language of the universe. With the right training, the right application of words, truth itself can be rearranged. Language is literally power. Peace reigns now. Order reigns.

For if a planet deviates too far from what the authorities plan, an agent is sent out to correct that. To quietly and with great skill, end that world. One such agent is Elyth – a true believer. But on a clandestine mission to stop an uprising before it can truly begin, Elyth comes to realise she hasn’t been told the whole truth herself. There’s so much she doesn’t know. How can there be people whose truth is different to that of the authorities? Elyth’s faith in the powers that be is shaken just when she needs it most. While on her mission, a dark and unknown presence makes itself known at the edges of the galaxy – and it cannot be controlled, for nobody knows its name…
I reread this classy, action-fuelled science fiction thriller that I first encountered last year, as I’ve had the great good fortune to have been approved for the second book. Here is my review 9/10

Shifting Dreams – Book 1 of the Cambio Dreams series by Elizabeth Hunter
Somedays, Jena Crowe just can’t get a break. Work at her diner never ends, her two boys are bundles of energy, and she’s pretty sure her oldest is about to shift into something furry or feathery. Added to that, changes seem to be coming to the tiny town of Cambio Springs—big changes that not everyone in the isolated town of shapeshifters is thrilled about.

Caleb Gilbert was looking for change, and the quiet desert town seemed just the ticket for a more peaceful life. He never counted on violence finding him, nor could he have predicted just how crazy his new life would become.

When murder rocks their small community, Caleb and Jena will have to work together. And when the new Chief of Police isn’t put off by any of her usual defenses, Jena may be faced with the most frightening change of all: lowering the defenses around her carefully guarded heart.
While I loved the world, and the writing is strong and atmospheric – I wasn’t a huge fan of Caleb, who is waaay too forceful and pushy for my taste. I’m aware that this is a very personal take and if you like strong-willed passionate male protagonists, then this is probably right up your street.
7/10

Given To Darkness – Book 2 of the Ikiri duology by Phil Williams
Ikiri demands blood. Whose will it be?

A malevolent force stirs from the heart of the Congo. One child can stop it – but everyone wants her dead. Reece Coburn’s gang have travelled half the world to protect Zipporah, only to find her in more danger than ever. Her violent father is missing, his murderous enemies are coming for them, and her brother’s power is growing stronger. Entire communities are being slaughtered, and it’s only getting worse.

They have to reach Ikiri before its corruption spreads. But there’s a long journey ahead, past ferocious killers and unnatural creatures – and very few people can be trusted along the way.
Can two criminal musicians, an unstable assassin and a compromised spy reach Ikiri alive? What will it cost them along the way?
I began this rollicking fantasy adventure last year with Kept in Cagessee my review. Phil kindly offered me a review copy of this second half of the series, which I happily accepted. Review to follow.
9/10

Bombing in Belgravia – Book 2 of the Cassie Coburn series by Samantha Silver
When an ambassador’s children are killed in a deliberate gas explosion in the middle of the night, Violet Despuis is on the case.

Right from the start, not everything is as it seems, as Cassie confirms at the crime scene that one of the victims had been poisoned beforehand. What Cassie expects to be an open-and-shut case ends up becoming a case of international intrigue and suspicion, with MI5 doing their best to stop Violet and Cassie from pursuing the case.
This is another cosy murder mystery adventure in the Sherlock Holmes-type series, where Cassie is a lovely version of dear old John Watson – and Violet is every bit as patronisingly brilliant as Sherlock… The murder mystery was enjoyable, too.
8/10

My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Quicksilver Court – Book 2 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso

Sunday Post – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #3

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Quicksilver Court – Book 2 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheQuicksilverCourtbookreview

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I love Caruso’s writing – see my reviews of her Sword and Fire series – The Tethered Mage, The Defiant Mage and The Unbound Empire. So last year, lockdown in June became less fraught when I got hold of the first book in this spinoff series – The Obsidian Tower. Would I enjoy The Quicksilver Court too?

BLURB: Ryxander, Warden of Gloamingard, has failed. Unsealed by her blood, the Door hidden within the black tower has opened. Now, for the first time since the age of the Graces, demons walk the world.

As tensions grow between nations, all eyes-and daggers are set on Morgrain, fallen under the Demon of Discord’s control. In an attempt to save her home from destruction, Ryx and the Rookery set out to find a powerful artifact. But powerful enemies are on the hunt and they’re closing in fast.

REVIEW: First things first – if you happen to pick up this offering without having read The Obsidian Tower, then put it back on the shelf and track down the first book. This one follows immediately on from the climactic ending, and you’ll struggle far too long trying to work who is doing what to who – and the plot doesn’t hang around.

I love this world. Caruso’s vivid depiction of this extraordinary place, where beauty is all too often lethal and people regularly die in horrible ways drew me in and held me entranced throughout. At 480 pages, it’s not a short book – but I tore through it as I was unable to put it down. I fell deeply in love with Ryx from the first time I encountered her and her heartbreakingly terrible magic – if she comes into contact with any living thing, it dies. Ways are found to halter her magical power, so that eventually she is able to touch plants, animals and people without harming them. But those long years when she couldn’t has left scars. At the end of The Obsidian Tower, I was left with some mighty big questions – and I’m delighted to say The Quicksilver Court answers them.

Ryx’s desperate gratitude that at last she has friends and allies who really care for her makes her wonderfully vulnerable, which works well in a character with such powerful magic. And the magical group she belongs to – the Rookery – all have complicated and desperate backstories that we learn about in amongst the plotting, politicking and mayhem that ensues. But… oh my goodness – I didn’t begin to guess the big plot twist that comes about three-quarters into the book. What a doozy! I was tempted to rush back to reread The Obsidian Tower and look for the clues and see what I’d missed. Though of course, I didn’t. But it literally changes the whole dynamic, ramping up the stakes and danger to the world – and of course, to Ryx. Caruso writes with power and commitment that makes all her main characters larger than life – particularly her antagonists. The demon, Nightmare, is really a satisfying villain I loved to hate.

This was one of the most intense, emotional reads of the year and I finished it with a sigh – because there is also a whopping big cliff-hanger right at the end. You may have gathered that I enjoyed this one – indeed, it’s made my Outstandings Reads of the Year list. Very highly recommended for those who like their fantasy swathed in mystery, vivid settings and charismatic characters possessed with murderous magic. While I obtained an arc of The Quicksilver Court from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10