Tag Archives: family relationships

Friday Faceoff – Sometimes we need a little magic… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffcoverswithmagicinthetitle

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with the word MAGIC in the title. I’ve selected Industrial Magic – Book 4 of the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong.

Bantam, Oct 2004

This edition was produced by Bantam in October 2004, and is the default cover design for this book. While I like the colour tones and I think the image is quite intriguing, I think the very boring title and author font really lets the design down. It is such a cool title and they could have had a lot of fun playing around with it appearing out of the smoke. That said, I don’t dislike it, I just think a bit more thought could have gone into it.

Orbit, Sept 2004

Published in September 2004 by Orbit, I far prefer this cover. But that might be because it’s the one that I own. I love the slightly grungy reddish background with that heavy-looking metal door, which looks quite ominous – partly because the lighting around it gives the impression there is something powerful and not particularly friendly on the other side of it. This time around, I think that rather official, business-like font works – because it is… industrial. This one is so very nearly my favourite.

Vintage Canada, Jan 2010

This edition, published by Vintage Canada in January 2010, is frankly bizarre. I get that the chequered tights with the chess pieces are supposed to denote that young Paige is a clever strategist (I think!). It’s a while since I read the book, but I don’t recall her playing chess using her legs for a board… I feel these muted colours and the use of red in the title gives this book a horror vibe, which it didn’t have. This is the design I like least – I think it’s gimmicky and misleading.

Hatchette Digital, Sept 2008

This edition, produced by Hatchette Digital in September 2008, is my favourite. I love the intense blue that really draws the eye, particularly in thumbnail. The skyscrapers give a good indication of the modern, streamlined world, while those ominous clouds swirling across the top of them give a sense that all is not well. And what a clever touch to have that pop of magic playing across the building and running into the title font! What a shame that Bantam couldn’t have thought of something similar with that original cover… This one is my favourite.

French edition, August 2009

This French edition, published by Bragelonne in August 2009, is an attractive, well-crafted cover. I like that we cannot see the girl’s face, although she is clearly young, which gives a sense of mystery. And I also like the cityscape in the background with the full moon looming in the sky. And that funky, uneven font for the title nicely sets this cover off. While it is a tad generic, I feel some care has gone into it and I particularly love the red dress and the way it diffuses into a cloud of… magical energy? Which is your favourite?

Review of NETGALLEY arc Terra – Book 1 of the Terra series by Mitch Benn #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Terrabookreview

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I can’t lie – it was the cover of this one that first drew me – isn’t it lovely? And then I read the blurb and the opening chapter, given this offering was published last November – and I was hooked. Yes – I know it’s a children’s book, but so many books written for them are far too good just to be left to the youngsters in our lives…

BLURB: Abducted from Earth as a baby by a well-meaning alien, Terra has grown up far across the galaxy on planet Fnrr. Terra has always known she was different. Her skin isn’t grey. Her eyes are a weird blue colour. She has … ears. And now Terra is starting high school. A daunting prospect, even without being the only human in class.

There’s lots to like about life on Fnrr. Society is ordered and peaceful; founded on reason, logic and the pursuit of knowledge. However, its inhabitants are blissfully unaware of the impending invasion that could destroy their way of life forever …

REVIEW: I enjoyed Benn’s writing style, which is direct and confiding with slices of omniscient viewpoint, which tends to happen in children’s fiction. But it is also shot through with a wry humour, which is handy in diffusing the horror of some of the more shocking scenes in this book. This is far from being a cosy read – it deals very directly with prejudice on all sorts of levels, guilt, regret and loss. And it doesn’t necessarily offer any comforting answers, which is fine by me. I think that fiction is very good at demonstrating that the world is frequently a violent, messy, unjust place to be – and maybe offering some coping strategies, or clear warnings. That goes for adults as well as children.

What caught me was the poignant passage about Mr and Mrs Bradbury right at the start of this book, which contrasted starkly with Lbbp’s take on what is going on, and leads to him taking the baby home with him. It isn’t a long book and the pace motors along at a good clip, which is what you want for younger readers. If I have any grizzles, I felt Terra was just a bit too calm and up together, given that she is always the exception and oddity – but it wasn’t a dealbreaker. There were moments when I sniggered aloud – particularly at the reaction of the human scientists when they realise there is actually a spaceship headed their way.

Overall, this is a thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining science fiction adventure aimed at pre-teens, though this granny also found it great fun. While I obtained an arc of Terra from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – Every great story seems to begin with a snake… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffserpentinecovers

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with serpentine images. I’ve selected The Reptile Room – Book 2 of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snickett.

Scholastic, September 1999

This edition was produced by Scholastic in September 1999, and is the default cover design for this book. While I like the artwork, as you’ll know if you visit this meme regularly, I have an unreasonable dislike of textboxes. So this cover, where the artwork is squashed into a small box in the middle, bordered by a bleh-beige colour hasn’t endeared itself to me. Given how quirky this series is, that ultra-boring title font doesn’t do it justice, either. In fact, it seems to me that this cover is a study in how to transform a funny, original book into something that looks dutifully boring.

Egmont Books, May 2003

Published in May 2003 by Egmont Books, this is altogether more successful. The intention to make this cover look like one of those old-fashioned photo albums is far clearer in this iteration of the cover. The black border, contrasting with the bright green of the spine, with the red cord is both attractive and eye-catching. The styling of the font also gives a strong hint that this book is humorous, as well as an action adventure tale. I also think the choice of image, focusing on the interaction of the snake and the Baudelaire baby is far more effective. This one is definitely a contender…

HarperCollins, May 2007

This edition, published by HarperCollins in May 2007, had done away with the original cover design and opted for more artwork, which I really like. I’m not a fan of either textbox, although I’ll concede that the top one does the job of successfully featuring the author name, which is the selling point of this series, rather than the title. I certainly like this cover more than the top one.

Egmont Books (UK), 2010

This edition, produced by Egmont Books (UK) in 2010, is my favourite. I like the artwork that takes the original image and redesigns it to focus still further on the dramatic interaction between the deadly serpent and Sunny. I also think the treatment of the author font fits well with the overall design and the series and title information looks as if they have been considered as part of the overall look, rather than simply been plonked across the image, as so often seems to happen. Overall, this is the cover that would persuade me to pick this one off the shelves.

German edition, May 2002

This German edition, published by Distribooks in May 2002, is one of the very few covers that hasn’t referenced the original artwork in some form. This one has departed from the Edwardian feel of the original image, so the colours and style are fresher and more vivid. The result is attractive and eye-catching. My only niggle is that I think the dramatic, gothic treatment of the title is at odds with the artwork, but overall I think this is a successful cover. Which is your favourite?

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Life #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonLife #PickyEaters

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Fixes for a draconic mid-life crisis #4 – Go on that round-the-world flight you’d planned to do before settling down.

Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

Review of AUDIOBOOK Eating Things on Sticks by Anne Fine #BrainfluffAUDIOBOOKreview #EatingThingsonSticksbookreview

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I found this one on my grandson’s Audible library – and it sounded a bit of fun. So would I enjoy it?

BLURB: Harry is in trouble. He’s burned down the family kitchen so now has to spend a week of his summer hols with his uncle Tristram – who’s heading off to stay with a new girlfriend – Morning Glory – on a tiny British island. Harry doesn’t expect it to be a lot of fun – with just a wacky competition at the end of the week to look forward to. He certainly didn’t expect to discover all the beards. Or the angel on the mountain. Or the helicopters circling overhead all week. And he definitely didn’t think it would be so wet!

REVIEW: Well this is fun! Harry is a disaster magnet, and we know exactly how he is going to grow up, because his Uncle Tristram is the adult version. Yes, it’s a bit daft in places – but I loved the quirky humour and the fact that as the reader, I was well aware of what was going on when Harry didn’t. That can get annoying quite quickly, but the clever pacing and the entertaining characterisation that tripped into the kind of Roald Dahl-like caricature, kept me grinning throughout. It didn’t hurt that there isn’t the darker edge of cruelty that I always find in Dahl’s writing – or that Tom Lawrence’s narration is spot on.

The island isn’t identified, but sounds very much like one of the rainsoaked, windblasted small isles that are dotted around the seas off the Scottish mainland. Harry’s insouciant description of the inhabitants, his take on Morning Glory’s behaviour, the weather and the food on offer had me chuckling throughout and there were times when I sat down to focus better on listening to this little gem. If you have a child between the ages of nine and twelve, particularly a boy, I think he would thoroughly enjoy this one – and if the youngster in your life doesn’t appreciate it, then do yourself a favour and tuck into this one yourself. I loved it.
9/10

My Outstanding Reads of 2020 #Brainfluffbookblogger #2020OutstandingReads

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The wonderful books I’ve encountered during this horrible year have, at times, kept my head straight when other pressures have added an extra twist of awfulness due to the pandemic. I have encountered a number of talented authors I’d previously not had the pleasure of reading (I’m looking at you Mary Robinette Kowal, Elisabeth Bear, Marilyn Messik and T. Kingfisher) and managed to complete 11 series, while working my way through 66 other series. I’ll get more nerdy in my post about the stats relating to my 2020 reads, later in the week.

During 2020 I read 184 books and wrote 155 full reviews, with 23 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give them a 10 – but these books have stayed with me, which is why they made the cut. And let’s forget any top ten nonsense – whittling down my list to this paltry number was painful enough!

Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Despite reading this one back in January, I often found myself thinking about brave, clever Emily and what she underwent. That is the mark of a special book – when it won’t leave you alone. I think it’s one of Tchaikovsky’s best, and given the man’s towering talent, that’s saying something. See my review.

AUDIOBOOK Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear
Elizabeth Bear is another wonderful author I discovered this year – and the good news is that she has a pleasingly long backlist. This one was an utter joy to listen to – Haimey’s first-person narrative held me throughout, even though the pacing was somewhat leisurely at times. This book at 500+ pages has it all – vivid action scenes, nail-biting tension, and plenty of plot twists and shocking reveals. And of course a space cat – who could resist that? See my review.

You Let me In by Camilla Bruce
By rights, this shouldn’t have worked for me – I really don’t like books featuring an abused child. But the way Bruce posits this situation is masterfully done, as Cassie narrates her adventures with Pepperman, a grumpy and dangerous fae entity, who draws the small child into the world of the fae. This book has also stayed with me throughout the year. Read my review.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey
This is such a simple book with lots of pictures. The story of four different creatures, who come together to help each other. It could so easily have turned into a treacly, sentimental mess. But it doesn’t. My lovely sister-in-law gave me my copy and it has been beside me ever since. Read my review.

TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier
The opening sequence of this book immediately hooked me and wouldn’t let me go. I enjoy Neumeier’s writing, anyway. But this amazing world and the vividness of her characters still have me regularly thinking about them. In particular, the depiction of being ensorcelled was brilliantly portrayed – I’ve never seen it done better. Read my review.

AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys
This riveting world has left me yearning for more after reading the first book Winter Tide, which made my Outstanding Reads of 2017. So I was thrilled to discover this offering. Aphra is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents, friends and relations when confronted with a new danger. Once more I was pulled into a tense adventure where Lovecraftian monsters were only part of the threat. Read my review.

Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron
This is as much about the celebration of this quirky, enjoyable series, as much as it is about the climactic battle that wraps up the story. Peopled with shape-shifting dragons, a powerful ghost who assumes the shape of a cat and an enraged nature goddess, this urban fantasy reaches epic proportions, with all sorts of surprises and twists along the way. Review to follow.

The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey
I very much enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts, but I liked this even better. Koli is an endearing character with his youth and restless energy that gets him into far too much trouble within his village. This book is set in post-apocalyptic England, where even trees have become feral – but there are welcome shafts of light, too. Read my review.

AUDIOBOOK The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel
This whole series is a tour de force and I loved listening to this extraordinary conclusion to Cromwell’s life, as an embittered Henry VIII becomes ever more difficult to deal with – and Cromwell’s many enemies begin to circle. I wept at the end, which was wonderfully handled – and I’m still trying to work out how Mantel managed to keep me spellbound for so long, when I already knew the outcome before listening to the first chapter. Read my review.

Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
This was one of those books I picked up and couldn’t put down again. Messik’s writing is utterly addictive, as far as I’m concerned and Stella is now my new best friend. I finished this one far too fast and was miserable until I picked up the next one in the series. I think this was the worst book hangover I endured during the year. Review my review.

The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal
This is another of those wonderful authors I discovered this year – and this series just blew me away. I loved Elma York and her battles to gain recognition during the first two books in the series – but when this story introduced me to Nicole, who finds herself trying to track down a saboteur on the Moon, I not only loved every single minute of the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, afterwards. Read my review.

A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Martine Arkady
I tracked down this one, after hearing it compared to the great C.J. Cherryh’s immersive writing style. And I wasn’t disappointed. I loved watching poor Mahit, replacement ambassador to the enigmatic Teixcalaani empire, flounder as she tries to work out just how her predecessor died. This tense murder mystery played out in the far future kept me up far too late as I couldn’t put it down. Read my review.

AUDIOBOOK Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer
I have always enjoyed reading Children’s fiction, because the very best is far too good just to leave to the kids. And this gem certainly falls into that category. A children’s classic that was published in 1969, it is written with depth and sophistication about two schoolgirls who cris-cross into each other’s times. Until something happens to Charlotte… I loved this one. Set in 1918, the period is beautifully portrayed and the bittersweet ending has stayed with me. Read my review.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher
This is another of those books for children, which engrossed and delighted me. Mona is a baker’s apprentice with a small magical talent, who suddenly finds herself caught up in a murder. Events snowball entertainingly – and I found myself thoroughly enjoying Mona’s ingenious creations to try and stay ahead of the baddies. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths
I enjoy Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, so decided to try this latest series and absolutely loved it. There is a tongue-in-cheek Gothic vibe that I found very appealing. Though I have a shocking memory, the twists and turns of this enjoyable murder mystery have stayed with me. Read my review.

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
I was utterly beguiled by Vish when I first encountered him during the fifth book of the series, The Case of the Reincarnated Client earlier in the year and have been eking out the rest of the series ever since. Vish Puri is fond of calling himself the Indian Sherlock Holmes and his energetic attitude and passion for justice are very endearing – even if he does dismiss his clever, streetwise Mummy-Ji, who often takes a close interest in his cases. This book has an extra dimension and Hall is adept at dealing with hefty issues of the painful events around India’s partition in a respectful manner, without making it dreary. Read my review.

While I’d like to think that each one of these books offers some brain fodder, none of them are gloomy, downbeat reads as this year I needed to escape. And my favourite book of 2020? Probably Ancestor Nights, though I’m likely to claim it’s The Relentless Moon if you ask me the same question again tomorrow. And then there’s Relatively Strange, of course…

Review of INDIE Ebook End Game – Book 8 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker #Brainfluffbookreview #FallenEmpirebookreview

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After following this entertaining series and Alisa Marchenko’s search for her daughter for over a year now, here I am at the last book. See my reviews of Star Normad, Honor’s Flight, Cleon Moon and Perilous Hunt. As with all enjoyable series, I reach this point with very mixed feelings, which is why I often put off reading the final book – I don’t want the adventure to end. But as I know there’s now a spinoff series available and I have far more new series stacking up than I can possibly read, it’s time to get practical…

BLURB: Alisa Marchenko has reunited with her daughter, and even though she hasn’t figured out how to get Jelena to accept Leonidas yet, she dreams of the three of them starting a new life together. They can return the Star Nomad to its original purpose of running freight and staying out of trouble (mostly). Before that can happen, Alisa must fulfill the promise she made to Jelena: that she and her crew will retrieve young Prince Thorian, the boy who has become Jelena’s best friend. But Thorian was kidnapped by the rogue Starseer Tymoteusz, the man who wants to use the Staff of Lore to take over the entire system—and the man who may have the power to do it. Alisa doesn’t know why he kidnapped Thorian, but Tymoteusz once promised to kill the prince, so she fears they don’t have much time. Unfortunately, Tymoteusz hasn’t left a trail of breadcrumbs. Finding him will be difficult, and even if they’re successful, facing him could be suicidal. To have a chance of surviving, Alisa will have to come up with her greatest scheme yet.

REVIEW: Whatever you do – don’t crash into this series here. By now far too much has happened, and as this book picks up pretty much where Perilous Hunt left off, you’ll be floundering in a welter of names and places, before you figure out who is doing what to whom. Besides, it would be a crying shame to so short-change such a funny, entertaining series by such a talented author.

I really liked how finding Jelena has switched Alisa’s priorities. Her burgeoning romance with hunky cyborg Leonidas pretty much slides to a halt, as they are both aware that Jelena’s telepathic abilities could read their frustrated longing for each other, and as Jelena is only eight and already afraid of Leonidas, that would prove to be… awkward. Not that is the only thing Alisa has to focus on. Once again, Star Nomad, her clunky little freighter, finds itself up to its star drives in more trouble than it can cope with – so ditto the crew. I love the way that in the middle of all the risk of imminent death and destruction, there are still laugh-aloud moments of humour. Mica, Alisa’s long-suffering engineer is particularly hilarious.

But given that this is the final book in the series, the burning issue has to be – does it satisfactorily bring all that angst, romantic longing, humour and page-turning adventure to a fitting conclusion? Absolutely. Buroker nails it. As I haven’t read her books before, I am so impressed at how she managed to tie everything up without making it seem too tidy, or unrealistically cosy – yet at the same time not leaving any stray strands waving in the wind to niggle at me. It takes skill and experience to achieve such an outcome – and means I’ll certainly be looking out for this author, again. It’s one thing to bring a single book to a satisfying ending – it takes another order of ability to do the same with an eight-book series. Highly recommended for fans of action-packed space opera with a splash of humour and romance thrown in for good measure.
9/10

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Life #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonLife #PickyEaters

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Of course you shouldn’t harbour a grudge. That’s not treating it with anything like enough respect – a grudge should be nurtured, pampered and fostered… Until it turns into satisfying revenge!

Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

Two MURDER MYSTERY Mini-reviews: The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne, and The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths #Brainfluffmurdermysterymini-reviews #TheNaturalistmini-review #TheGhostFieldsmini-review

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AUDIOBOOK The Naturalist – Book 1 of The Naturalist series by Andrew Mayne

BLURB: Professor Theo Cray is trained to see patterns where others see chaos. So when mutilated bodies found deep in the Montana woods leave the cops searching blindly for clues, Theo sees something they missed. Something unnatural. Something only he can stop.

As a computational biologist, Theo is more familiar with digital code and microbes than the dark arts of forensic sleuthing. But a field trip to Montana suddenly lands him in the middle of an investigation into the bloody killing of one of his former students. As more details, and bodies, come to light, the local cops determine that the killer is either a grizzly gone rogue… or Theo himself. Racing to stay one step ahead of the police, Theo must use his scientific acumen to uncover the killer. Will he be able to become as cunning as the predator he hunts—before he becomes its prey?

Ably narrated by Will Damron, who sounded exactly how I imagined Theo Cray would be like, I particularly enjoyed the opening where we were introduced to Theo, which was cleverly and originally handled. Overall, this was enjoyable, although the pernicky part of me was a tad annoyed at some of the plot holes and inaccuracies which could have been avoided with a bit more care. The progression of the story worked well, with some nice plot twists and a well-handled denouement. Highly recommended for murder mystery thriller fans, who like their protagonists nerdy and a bit too clever for their own good.
7/10

The Ghost Fields – Book 7 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths

BLURB: Norfolk is experiencing a July heatwave when a construction crew unearths a macabre discovery – a buried WWII plane with the pilot still inside. Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway quickly realizes that the skeleton couldn’t possibly be the pilot, and DNA tests identify the man as Fred Blackstock, a local aristocrat who had been reported dead at sea. When the remaining members of the Blackstock family learn about the discovery, they seem strangely frightened by the news…

Once again, Griffiths delivers a really strong, engaging murder mystery that manages to involve Ruth. A growing part of the enjoyment of this unfolding series is to catch up with the strong cast of characters who are alongside Ruth – and there are a couple of plotlines here that I followed with bated breath with probably more anticipation and interest than the unfolding murder mystery, if I’m honest. That said, the investigation once again ticks all the boxes with a suitably exciting denouement. Recommended for fans of murder mysteries that fall between the cosy kind – and those that are grittily drenched in gore, but whatever you do, don’t crash into the series here – go back and start with The Crossing Places.
8/10


Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Food and Drink #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonFoodandDrink #PickyEaters

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Don’t play with your food – you’ll look really silly if it manages to escape.

Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.