Tag Archives: family relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Book Eaters By Sunyi Dean #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheBookEatersbookreview

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Being a huge fan of books, a story about a mysterious race being able to actually eat them seemed an intriguing premise, so I was delighted to be approved to read this one.

BLURB: Out on the Yorkshire Moors lives a secret line of people for whom books are food, and who retain all of a book’s content after eating it. To them, spy novels are a peppery snack; romance novels are sweet and delicious. Eating a map can help them remember destinations, and children, when they misbehave, are forced to eat dry, musty pages from dictionaries.

Devon is part of The Family, an old and reclusive clan of book eaters. Her brothers grow up feasting on stories of valor and adventure, and Devon—like all other book eater women—is raised on a carefully curated diet of fairytales and cautionary stories. But real life doesn’t always come with happy endings, as Devon learns when her son is born with a rare and darker kind of hunger—not for books, but for human minds.

REVIEW: I enjoyed the prospect of reading a book about beings who snacked on books to become their own walking libraries – though the premise that Dean presents is less cosy than the one I envisaged. Essentially, these are vampiric creatures whose superior strength and speed make them formidable opponents. And while they do absorb the knowledge of the books they read, there isn’t a sense that they put it to particularly good use. Indeed, they are portrayed as a dying breed desperately trying to avoid extinction as the handful of surviving Families farm out their rare daughters in arranged marriages to try to ensure the next generation. As for the girls, they are force-fed a diet of fairy tales featuring princesses waiting for their princes in an attempt to make them compliant about their fate.

However, Devon has never been the compliant sort – and when she produces a son with undesirable traits, she refuses to allow the patriarch to tidy him away according to the custom. She is an engaging protagonist – headstrong, courageous and passionate in her loyalty and love. It was refreshing to come across a book where the love story is all about the maternal bond – even if that takes Devon into some very dark places. I am always fascinated by the dynamic of power – who has it, the lengths they go to in order to keep hold of it, and who also craves it. So it was a huge treat for me that one of the major themes of this book is an exploration of power.

This dystopian fantasy proved to be a gripping read, full of tension and drama. But do be warned – it does tip into horror and there is an upsetting scene where a baby is harmed. While it was difficult to read in places, I liked Dean’s unflinching refusal to ever tip into sentimentality regarding the relationship between Devon and her young son, Cai. Highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The Book Eaters from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Daughter of Dr Moreau By Silvia Moreno Garcia #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheDaughterofDrMoreaubookreview

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I am a fan of Moreno-Garcia’s writing – see my reviews of Mexican Gothic, Gods of Jade and Shadow, Certain Dark Things, The Beautiful Ones, Prime Meridian and Velvet Was the Night. So when I saw this one appear on Netgalley, I immediately requested it and was delighted to be approved.

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

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

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

All of them living in a perfectly balanced and static world, which is jolted by the abrupt arrival of Eduardo Lizalde, the charming and careless son of Doctor Moreau’s patron, who will unwittingly begin a dangerous chain reaction. For Moreau keeps secrets, Carlota has questions, and in the sweltering heat of the jungle, passions may ignite.

REVIEW: Silvia Moreno-Garcia is very comfortable writing across an impressive range of genres and styles. The one common theme throughout all her books is that they either feature Mexican protagonists, or they are set in or around Mexico – and this one is no exception. While the original story by H.G. Wells is set on an island, this version is set on the Yucatán Peninsula on an isolated estate well off the beaten track. Moreno-Garcia is masterful at scene-setting and the world-building in this story is no exception. Through both protagonists, we get a vivid sense of the intense, humid heat, vegetation and creatures inhabiting the estate – particularly when in Carlota’s viewpoint as she loves the place with a deep-seated abiding sense of belonging. And as the story progresses, we begin understand just why she is so very comfortable living in the heart of the wilderness.

Those who have come to Moreno-Garcia’s writing after having read Mexican Gothic or Certain Dark Things might have found this a slightly frustrating read. While readers who have also read Velvet Was the Night or Prime Meridian will be aware that the author is equally capable of delivering a slow-burn story full of pent tension and an increasing sense of wrongness as she is of providing full-on action. That said, there is action – an explosion of violence that I found all the more shocking due to the slow build-up. I enjoyed the manner in which the climax also provides answers regarding Dr Moreau, which expose him for the real monster in this story.

The characterisation of both main protagonists is pitch perfect. Each of them is flawed and trapped. I was rooting for both of them to find a way out of the murky wrongness caused by Moreau’s poisonous influence – and was also relieved that Moreno-Garcia didn’t go down the predictable route that I feared she would. Their relationship is beautifully nuanced, complicated and utterly believable. As ever, the pages turned themselves in this lush, memorable read and is highly recommended for those who like their historical science fiction adventures finely written in a vivid setting shot through with tension. While I obtained an arc of The Daughter of Dr Moreau from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of For the Murder – Book 1 of The Murder series by Gabrielle Ash #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #FortheMurderbookreview

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The title first caught my attention and then the blurb, when I realised the murder they were talking about wasn’t a crime, but the collective noun as in a murder of crows. So I was really pleased when I was approved for an arc, especially as I haven’t read anything else by this author.

TRUNCATED BLURB: A lone crow is a dead crow.

That’s what Diana Van Doren, exiled crow shifter, has always believed. The last murder of crow shifters known to exist wouldn’t accept her into the flock, leaving her vulnerable. Worse, her kleptomaniacal father’s schemes put them in a demon’s crosshairs. Without the support of the murder, Diana fears death will come all too quickly. So when an opportunity to steal a rare blade that can kill anything—even demons—crosses their path, she decides to play her father’s games one last time.

However, she isn’t the only one hoping to take the blade. Sasha Sokolov, a clairvoyant, has been forced from childhood to serve the very demon hunting Diana and her family. After two decades of service, his boss finally offers him what he can’t refuse: freedom. All he has to do is bring in the knife and the Van Dorens, and his bloodline will be free from serving the demon forever…

REVIEW: This is an intriguing urban fantasy, where Diana is a crow shapeshifter who has been exiled from the murder she was born into through no fault of her own. This is a disaster for her as crows are highly sociable birds and being alone not only is emotionally damaging, but crow magic works best in concert. Worse, she is in thrall to her uncaring, abusive parents who are far too caught up in their own woes to waste any time worrying about their daughter. An unsuccessful con merchant, her father also has a bad habit of seriously upsetting very powerful, dangerous beings. Diana’s vulnerability and fragility is well portrayed without tipping over into pitiful victimhood, which would have made me lose patience with her. I was always rooting for Diana to survive throughout, which didn’t feel as if it was a guarantee.

I also liked Sasha, the lethal fixer for demon-general Madame. His uncaring façade and world-weary acceptance of the vicious deeds he is forced to commit comes over well. So the initial encounter and growing relationship between the two main protagonists is intriguing and mostly well handled. However, I do have a niggle that knocked off a point – there were times when I felt the pace stuttered as Ash reiterated, yet again, how much Sasha worried about his mother/the odd sensations he’s experiencing since first meeting Diana, while she is goes on reeling at the odd sensations she’s experiencing since first meeting Sasha and wondering whether to tell him why. The book would have been a more satisfying read if some of those internal musing were edited out, especially as the reader learnt nothing new in the process.

That said, this is an enjoyable world. The general nastiness is graphically conveyed in some gripping and brutal action scenes that are all the more shocking as a contrast to the delicate and nuanced characterisation. Ash is clearly an accomplished writer with a strong, individual writing style and I kept turning the pages to discover what happened next. I look forward to reading the next book in the series in due course. Highly recommended for fans of urban fantasy who enjoy a convincing, dangerous world, unusual characters and strong romantic thread running through the story. While I obtained an arc of For the Murder from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #10

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This is my update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 11 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

I haven’t been here for a while. There are several reasons. I’ve had spells of feeling extremely tired again, which means I haven’t done much of anything – except sitting on the settee and watching TV. Thank goodness for the Winter Olympics which I loved. I have also been battling with back pain again, which means sitting at the computer isn’t something I felt like doing. And there were times when I had a bit more energy and my back was fine, but to be honest – I couldn’t see the point in bothering. With anything, really. I’m aware that is probably a sign of depression – I certainly struggle to get out of bed at times, even when I’ve got sufficient energy. I think I’m just battle weary as it was at the end of the first week last March that I got sick with Covid-19 and my busy, happy life disappeared. It now feels like it belonged to someone else.

We are trying to get out and about more. After a tumultuous week when we were battered by three storms in five days, this week there has actually been some sunshine. On Thursday after my reflexology appointment we went out for a coffee at a favourite river-side café. It wasn’t a total success, as I had underestimated the anxiety of ordering my own coffee, aggravated when their machine wouldn’t accept my debit card. And yesterday and the day before, we went for a walk down by the beach, getting down onto the sand as the tide was out. It was lovely. We weren’t there for long, but it was glorious to stand by the sea once again.

This week I’ve read:-

The Last of the Moon Girls by Barbara Davis
Lizzy Moon never wanted Moon Girl Farm. Eight years ago, she left the land that nine generations of gifted healers had tended, determined to distance herself from the whispers about her family’s strange legacy. But when her beloved grandmother Althea dies, Lizzy must return and face the tragedy still hanging over the farm’s withered lavender fields: the unsolved murders of two young girls, and the cruel accusations that followed Althea to her grave.

Lizzy wants nothing more than to sell the farm and return to her life in New York, until she discovers a journal Althea left for her—a Book of Remembrances meant to help Lizzy embrace her own special gifts. When she reconnects with Andrew Greyson, one of the few in town who believed in Althea’s innocence, she resolves to clear her grandmother’s name.
I really enjoyed this atmospheric story. It captures the strengths and weaknesses of a small community and I enjoyed watching a wary, aloof protagonist riven with far too much resentment try to come to terms with her troubled childhood. In amongst a page-turning story, there are strong messages we can all use in our lives – no wonder this one was a best-seller when it first came out. 8/10

For the Murder – Book 1 of The Murder series by Gabrielle Ash
A lone crow is a dead crow.
That’s what Diana Van Doren, exiled crow shifter, has always believed. The last murder of crow shifters known to exist wouldn’t accept her into the flock, leaving her vulnerable. Worse, her kleptomaniacal father’s schemes put them in a demon’s crosshairs. Without the support of the murder, Diana fears death will come all too quickly. So when an opportunity to steal a rare blade that can kill anything—even demons—crosses their path, she decides to play her father’s games one last time.

However, she isn’t the only one hoping to take the blade. Sasha Sokolov, a clairvoyant, has been forced from childhood to serve the very demon hunting Diana and her family. After two decades of service, his boss finally offers him what he can’t refuse: freedom. All he has to do is bring in the knife and the Van Dorens, and his bloodline will be free from serving the demon forever.
This intriguing shapeshifting urban fantasy adventure is alluding to the collective noun for crows – as in a murder of crows. The main protagonist is very well drawn and the slow-burn romance well handled. Full review to follow. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK – Rogue Prince – Book 1 of the Sky Full of Stars series by Lindsay Buroker
Starseer, pilot, and animal lover Jelena Marchenko wants to prove to her parents that she’s ready to captain her own freighter and help run the family business. When she finally talks them into getting a second ship and letting her fly it, it doesn’t faze her that the craft is decades old and looks like a turtle. This is the chance she’s craved for years.

But it’s not long before the opportunity to rescue mistreated lab animals lures her from her parentally approved cargo run and embroils her in a battle between warring corporations. To further complicate matters, her childhood friend Thorian, prince of the now defunct Sarellian Empire, is in trouble with Alliance law and needs her help. Torn between her duty to her family and doing what she believes is honorable, Jelena is about to learn that right and wrong are never as simple as they appear and that following your heart can get you killed.
Once again, I quickly was pulled into this entertaining space opera adventure by one of my favourite authors. The added bonus is that this is a spinoff series from Fallen Empire, which I’d read last year, so I already knew some of the characters. The action was non-stop and as ever, I found myself listening far longer than I intended to hear what happens next… 9/10

Monster by C.J. Skuse
At sixteen Nash thought that the fight to become Head Girl of prestigious boarding school Bathory would be the biggest battle she’d face. Until her brother’s disappearance leads to Nash being trapped at the school over Christmas with Bathory’s assorted misfits. As a blizzard rages outside, strange things are afoot in the school’s hallways, and legends of the mysterious Beast of Bathory – a big cat rumoured to room the moors outside the school – run wild. Yet when the girls’ Matron goes missing it’s clear that something altogether darker is to blame – and that they’ll have to stick together if they hope to survive.

This was recommended to me by one of my Creative Writing students in another lifetime and I decided to finally get hold of it. I love the opening scene, which really held me. The tension was well sustained – my only main grizzle was that Nash didn’t seem to have any long-term friends she could rely on and that seemed rather unrealistic. However, this thriller whodunit got me through a wretched night when I couldn’t sleep. 8/10

Scot on the Rocks – Book 3 of the Last Ditch series by Catriona McPherson
A community is devastated when the bronze statue of local legend Mama Cuento is stolen on Valentine’s Day. When Lexy Campbell arrives on the scene, a big bronze toe is found along with a ransom note – Listen to our demands or you will never see her again. There are nine more where this came from.

Then, Lexy’s ex-husband Bran turns up begging for help to find his wife, Brandee, who has disappeared. Lexy agrees to pitch in, but when she shows up at Bran’s house he has just discovered one of Brandee’s false nails and another ransom note with the same grisly message. Are the two cases linked or is a copycat on the loose? Who would want to kidnap a bronze statue or, come to that, Brandee? And can Lexy put aside her hatred for Bran long enough to find out?
I loved the fourth book in this series, so it was a joy to backtrack and get more Lexy goodness and a few more laughs at the confusion that her Scot’s dialogue poses for her American friends – and her surprise at everyone’s reaction when she mentions buying Della’s small son a rubber to take to school… Meanwhile the mystery is also delightfully whacky, too. 9/10

This week I have posted:
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of This Charming Man – Book 2 of The Stranger Times by C.K. McDonnell

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of The This by Adam Roberts

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Seven Mercies – Book 2 of the Seven Devils duology by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May #BrainfluffNETGALLEYreview #SevenMerciesbookreview

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I absolutely loved the first book in this dystopian space opera adventure, where a brave band of women from all walks of life attempt to overthrow a thoroughly horrible regime – see my review of Seven Devils. Would I enjoy this concluding slice of the story?

TRUNCATED BLURB: After an ambush leaves the Novantae resistance in tatters, the survivors scatter across the galaxy. Wanted by two great empires, the bounty on any rebel’s head is enough to make a captor filthy rich. And the seven devils? Biggest score of them all. To avoid attacks, the crew of Zelus scavenge for supplies on long-abandoned Tholosian outposts.

Not long after the remnants of the rebellion settle briefly on Fortuna, Ariadne gets a message with unimaginable consequences that forces the seven devils to act. Because if they don’t – there won’t be anything left to fight for…

REVIEW: My advice is not to read the blurb, as it’s far too chatty. I was very glad that I hadn’t, because when the hammer fell I was both surprised and horrified at the enormity of the game-changing twist that forces the devils back into the fray.

What sucked me into the first book is the energetic writing and gung-ho heedlessness that most of women displayed in the face of danger. At the start of Seven Mercies, however, the rebel group are reeling. They have suffered a terrible betrayal that has struck at the very heart of their resistance movement, and they are all counting the cost. The fallout from this catastrophic reverse makes for grim reading, given that it put the eek! in bleak. Now my inability to cope with well written devastation that spans a galaxy is far more down to me and my ongoing battle with Long Covid, rather than any failure of the writing. But do be aware – the dynamic energy that was the hallmark of Seven Devils doesn’t really get going until about 40% of the way through Seven Mercies.

Inevitably, in an ensemble narrative, there are favourites. There was no one I disliked, other than the truly odious villain, Damocles – and even he is also pitiable at times, having also been on the receiving end of his father’s ruthless cruelty. But the highlights for me were the toxic and layered relationship between Eris and her psychotic brother, Damocles, which was powerfully portrayed with surprising depth, given how much is going on throughout this book. And Ariadne’s poignant story – the young girl’s desperate loneliness as she tends to the powerful A.I., Oracle, is also beautifully conveyed, especially at a key moment in the narrative that nicely heightens the tension.

In the meantime we go on learning more about each woman and her backstory, which I enjoyed. I’ve seen this book promoted as a Feminist space opera adventure – and it’s a label I find a bit misleading. It actually features a group of desperate rebels who decide to use their skills and influence to oppose a shockingly brutal regime – who just happen to all be women. They aren’t proposing Feminist principles, or trying to change the society to be more mindful of women’s needs because the Tholosian rulers treat everyone – men, women and children – as if none of them matter.

Overall, this is a powerful and effective conclusion to the story and certainly a must-read if you enjoyed Seven Devils and your jaw dropped in disbelief at that shocking ending. The ebook arc copy of Seven Mercies was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Ivory Key – Book 1 of The Ivory Key duology by Akshaya Raman #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheIvoryKeybookreview

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That gorgeous cover drew me in – and then when I read the blurb I grew even more intrigued. It’s relatively rare that it’s the conflict between four siblings that powers the narrative, so I was delighted when I was approved to read this arc.

BLURB: Vira is desperate to get out of her mother’s shadow and establish her legacy as a revered queen of Ashoka. But with the country’s only quarry running out of magic–a precious resource that has kept Ashoka safe from conflict–she can barely protect her citizens from the looming threat of war. And if her enemies discover this, they’ll stop at nothing to seize the last of the magic.

Vira’s only hope is to find a mysterious object of legend: the Ivory Key, rumored to unlock a new source of magic. But in order to infiltrate enemy territory and retrieve it, she must reunite with her siblings, torn apart by the different paths their lives have taken. Each of them has something to gain from finding the Ivory Key–and even more to lose if they fail. Ronak plans to sell it to the highest bidder in exchange for escape from his impending political marriage. Kaleb, falsely accused of assassinating the former maharani needs it to clear his name. And Riya, a runaway who cut all family ties, wants the Key to prove her loyalty to the rebels who want to strip the nobility of its power. They must work together to survive the treacherous journey. But with each sibling harboring secrets and their own agendas, the very thing that brought them together could tear apart their family–and their world–for good.

REVIEW: This fantasy adventure, set in an Eastern-style country, takes a while to really get going. That didn’t bother me overmuch, as the narrative swings between all four siblings and we gradually learn about them and their motivations. I think I would have struggled more if I hadn’t grown to like each of them and understand their actions – even when I could see them making horrible mistakes. On the face of it, they are all pampered princes and princesses. But when we get to see exactly what has happened to each of them, then it becomes clear they are all essentially trapped in lives they didn’t choose and they are all desperately trying to break free, or make things better. The conflict rises as each of them approaches their problem in very different ways…

It takes deft writing and very clear characterisation skills to give us four such rounded and sympathetic protagonists within a relatively short time, before they finally embark on a major adventure together. And as it all starts kicking off, I simply couldn’t put this one down. Be warned – it ends on something of a cliff-hanger, but I loved it and have found myself thinking a lot about this one after I finished, which is a sure sign that it’s something a bit special. Highly recommended for fantasy fans who like an Eastern setting, strong characters and lots of adventure.
9/10