Tag Archives: family relationships

*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

Review of NETGALLEY arc A Spell of Rowans by Byrd Nash #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #ASpellofRowansbookreview

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I saw this one on Netgalley and liked the look of the cover and it didn’t hurt that I’d also thoroughly enjoyed Nash’s romantic retelling of Cinderella. So would this fantasy offering set in the small town of Grimsby have the same fairytale vibe?

BLURB – truncated: As children Mother twisted our magic as part of her games.

My talent for reading other people’s feelings, my sister who could charm men, and my brother who knows with a touch the history of any object.

But when I returned to Grimsby to settle the estate, the police hauled in my autistic brother for questioning. And that hometown boy I dumped way back after high school? He’s in Grimsby and thinks he knows the truth about me.

REVIEW: As you might have gathered from the blurb, this one is told in first person viewpoint by Vic, the middle of the three siblings. And as for their mother, she has to be one of the nastiest villains I’ve encountered for a while. It’s heinous enough when baddies do horrible things to relative strangers – but evil is taken to a whole new level when it’s perpetrated against their own children.

So be warned – there is physical and emotional child abuse in this story, which could have turned this one into a really dark story. But despite all three siblings having been damaged by their mother’s treatment, and without in any way diminishing what happened to them – Nash manages to avoid this becoming overwhelmingly bleak. Indeed, there are moments of farce and humour as Pip, Vic and Liam try to untangle the trail of mayhem that follows their mother’s death. They are well equipped to discover who has done what to whom, given their specific talents.

But I also liked how these so-called gifts are also far more of a hindrance in modern life – particularly poor Vic, whose ability to read people’s feelings means that her love life in non-existent. Just imagine a first date, when you immediately know what your prospective partner is thinking… And Pip’s talent for charming men doesn’t necessarily mean that her choices are ideal, either. Nash’s smart, witty writing quickly turns this paranormal whodunit into something more memorably special than your usual urban fantasy. The characters are all layered and complex, the setting utterly convincing and the writing sufficiently edgy that I wasn’t convinced that the very appealing protagonists were going to prevail.

I read far long than I should have to discover what happens, as the plot twists kept coming, bodies started piling up and exactly what the Rowan’s horrible mother was actually up to gradually becomes clear. I also really enjoyed how Nash handled the denouement and wrapped up the story. All in all, I’m congratulating myself on having discovered yet another talented writer and highly recommend this one to fans of contemporary, paranormal crime. While I obtained an arc of A Spell of Rowans from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Array 2781 – Book 2 of the Drago Tell Dramis series by Janet Edwards #BrainfluffNEWRELEASEreview #Array2781bookreview

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I’m a huge fan of Janet Edward’s books – see my reviews of Earth Girl, Earth Star, Earth Flight, Earth and Air, Frontier and her short story collection Earth Prime which are all books set in her Earth Girl series, as well as Telepath, Defender, Hurricane and Borderline in the Hive Mind series, and Scavenger Alliance and Scavenger Blood in the Scavenger Exodus series, which is a spinoff prequel series set in the Earth Girl world. This series featuring disaster magnet Draco Tell Dramis is also set before the Earth Girl books in the same world – but only a few years before we get to meet young Jarra.

BLURB: Array 2781 is the second of three full-length novels set immediately after the short story ‘Hera 2781’.

Drago has now learned the secret that his Betan clan has been hiding for almost a decade. He’s currently alternating between moods of pitying his second cousin and fighter team leader, Jaxon, and wanting to strangle him.

They both have to put their feelings aside though, and concentrate on using lumbering solar array transport ships to help with the repairs of the five Earth solar arrays, because Earth is critically short of power. Fortunately, repairing solar arrays is perfectly routine work, so Drago definitely can’t get into trouble.

REVIEW: I’ve had the pleasure of reading both the short story ‘Hera 2781’ and Hestia 2781 see my review – which deal with events leading up to this book. And while I definitely recommend that you get hold of both of these books as they are stormingly good reads, if you did happen upon this one and decided to dive in without having read the previous books, I don’t think you’d flounder. Edwards does an excellent job of giving sufficient information without silting up the pace.

Picking up this one reminded me all over again just how much I enjoy Edwards’ bouncy, upbeat writing style. There is an energy and optimism in her work that is so often missing in sci fi writing, which often deals with the worst-case scenarios. That isn’t to say there aren’t disasters and action adventure within this book – they’re there, alright. But it is far more about the people who strive to do the best in difficult circumstances, rather than concentrating on those who are only out for themselves.

The main protagonist, Draco, could so easily have come across as a bit of a Gary Stu – he comes from a rich, well-connected family, can charm the stars out of their solar systems and is classically handsome. But without having him seem unduly victimised or whiny – Edwards also demonstrates that those traits can also be a major disadvantage. It’s cleverly done and a lot harder to achieve than Edwards makes it look. She is also adept at providing all sorts of details about the solar array that powers Earth in 2781, without any of it coming across as remotely boring. It reminds of when she took us on all those futuristic archaeological digs in Earth Girl, which had me rapt. As I read this one the pages turned themselves, until I was approaching the final chapter with dread as I didn’t want the adventure to end – which is always a sure sign I’m reading a well crafted story with charismatic characters, moments of humour and a cracking plot.

Very highly recommended for science fiction fans who appreciate science fiction that isn’t painted in shades of dread. I was provided with a review copy of Array 2781 by the author, which in no way has influenced my honest, unbiased opinion.
9/10

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

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Haunted Homecoming – Book 10 of the Southern Ghosts series by Angie Fox #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheHauntedHomecomingbookreview

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I’ve done it again… I thoroughly enjoyed Angie Fox’s Monster M*A*S*H series – see my reviews of The Monster MASH, The Transylvania Twist and Werewolves of London. So during lockdown, I also tucked into the first couple of books in this engaging Southern Ghosts series and was delighted to find new release, The Haunted Homecoming, appear on Netgalley. What I hadn’t appreciated was that it was the tenth book! Would I be able to enjoy it anyway?

BLURB: Apple cider, bonfires, football, and—ghosts.

It’s homecoming weekend in Sugarland, Tennessee and ghost hunter Verity Long is tickled to see so many souls—living and dead—back in town to celebrate. But not all reunions are happy ones, and when Verity stumbles upon a dead body by the football field, it appears someone has already evened the score.

REVIEW: Despite having missed out books 3-9 in this delightfully warm-hearted, cosy murder mystery, I don’t think newcomers to this series would have any difficulty in crashing into this series, as Verity’s enjoyable first-person narration sweeps up the reader and draws them into Sugarland’s festivities. Right now, I particularly appreciate dollops of humour along with my urban fantasy shenanigans – and Fox provides just the right amount of snark and delightful moments of comedy. I particularly relished getting to know Verity’s mother, who returns to Sugarland for Homecoming Week, along with her husband. The tension between mother and daughter was both funny and, at times, poignant. Humour can often have a cruel edge – but Fox’s exuberant, upbeat writing style doesn’t go there.

For all the excitement and loving descriptions of lots of sugar-laden treats – I wouldn’t recommend this book if you’re trying to diet – Fox also has a sharp eye for small-town friction. We have a good spread of suspects with strong reasons for wanting Ashley to keep quiet. Although I was pleased to see that the perpetrator wasn’t someone I had initially suspected. All in all, this was a really enjoyable read and I look forward to going back and catching up with more of Verity’s adventures. While I obtained an arc of The Haunted Homecoming from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Hestia 2781 – Book 1 of the Drago Tell Dramis series by Janet Edwards #BrainfluffARCbookreview #Hestia2781bookreview

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I’m a huge fan of Janet Edward’s books – see my reviews of Earth Girl, Earth Star, Earth Flight, Earth and Air, Frontier and her short story collection Earth Prime which are all books set in her Earth Girl series, as well as Telepath, Defender, Hurricane and Borderline in the Hive Mind series, and Scavenger Alliance and Scavenger Blood in the Scavenger Exodus series, which is a spinoff prequel series set in the Earth Girl world. So I was delighted when Janet asked me if I would be interested in reviewing her latest novel, Hestia 2781.

BLURB: Hestia 2781 is the first of two full-length novels set immediately after the short story ‘Hera 2781’.
The year is 2781. Lieutenant Drago Tell Dramis’s first mission as a newly qualified fighter pilot ended with him and his team leader saving one of humanity’s oldest colony worlds, Hera, from destruction. Now he’s discovering that saving a world can be simple compared to living with the consequences.

Both Drago and his team leader and second cousin, Jaxon, are famous now, given rapid field promotions, and are due to be awarded medals. Worryingly, Drago learns Jaxon has a mysterious secret and a past history of erratic behaviour. It’s vital that Drago keeps both of them out of trouble and away from nosy reporters until the medal ceremony, because Jaxon could do or say something that deeply embarrasses both the Military and their Betan clan.

The Military is helping by sending their fighter team on a mission somewhere inconspicuously boring until the medal ceremony. That destination definitely won’t be Hestia, the perpetual trouble spot of humanity.

REVIEW: Janet also helpfully provided me with a copy of her short story ‘Hera 2781’. And I’m very glad she did, as the events that occur in Hestia 2781 immediately follow on from the short story. While I don’t think I’d have been floundering without having read the story, I definitely got a lot more out of the novel by having read it first and my firm advice is to track it down, before tucking into this one.

This offering is set in the same world as Janet’s best-selling and successful Earth Girl series, and provides an intriguing and rather poignant glimpse into Jarra’s background. Jarra – the Earth Girl – is the main protagonist of the series, and I loved this extra raft of information regarding her backstory, even though she doesn’t make an appearance in the book.

The main character who tells the story in first-person viewpoint, is young Drago. He is a Betan, whose culture and traditions revolve around family, honour and service. And the demands that culture makes on its young people is the main theme that is explored in this story – amongst the adventure and action that is also kicking off. Drago and his cousin Jaxon are frankly disaster magnets of the first order – and after their escapades have made them famous across all human-settled worlds, they need to lie low for a while. You won’t be surprised to learn that the plan to keep the pair of them gainfully occupied somewhere they can’t get into further trouble doesn’t work…

I always enjoy Janet’s writing. Her books and short stories radiate a positive, upbeat energy often lacking in science fiction and which right now, I find particularly appealing. That doesn’t prevent her from tackling some gnarly subjects, such as prejudice, terrorism and kidnapping – but she manages to approach these issues without slipping into the world-weary cynicism that often pervades such adventures. As ever, Janet delivers a cracking good read set in a detailed, complex world that I think works particularly well – and I’m very happy to note that there is another planned featuring Drago. While the author provided me with a review copy of Hestia 2781, this hasn’t affected my honest opinion of the book.
9/10

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Caring for Grandchildren #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonChildcare #PickyEaters

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Don’t let the youngsters play with dragonfire before their scales have fully hardened, unless you have a large pool of water nearby. They make an awful fuss if you have to pee on them to put the flames out.

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 NETGALLEY arc Willow – Book 1 of The Pepper Lane Club series by Grace Parks #BrainfluffNETGALLEYreview #Willowbookreview

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Yes… I know, I’m writing a review about a romance – that’s certainly different! Well, I’ve been reading lots and lots of SFF – and the latest military SF adventure was superb, but also a bit grim. And I needed something a little more soothing, so when I saw this one land in my Inbox, I decided to request it and see what happens. I’m glad I did…

BLURB: Willow Lawson is a fun loving social media expert, who helps companies stand out from their competitors. Yet, despite her bubbly personality, her social life is mostly work-related, and her love life is non-existent. That’s when she starts The Pepper Lane Club, a chance to get away once a month from her maddening life and reconnect with her friends. It’s at this very first meeting that she meets Thomas Greer, who owns the café. He’s everything she’s not. He’s serious, unsociable, unfashionable, and dead set against social media. She decides to take him on as a client despite his refusals. She wants the challenge, and she wants to prove to him that he needs her help. He frustrates her, but there’s something about his old fashioned ways that also intrigues her.

REVIEW: In order to thoroughly enjoy a romance, I need to really care about the main protagonist(s). And Parks did a solid job in creating a sympathetic, amusing protagonist with sufficient depth of character to hold me throughout the story – and yet not too much so that it unduly slowed the pace.

Willow is interesting in that she is one of twins – and I liked the fact that for a refreshing change, they came from a loving family, with nice parents. Indeed, Willow looks at her parents’ relationship with some envy. She also has a close relationship with her twin sister, as well as a wide circle of acquaintance and a busy social life. But… how close are those friendships she has fostered online? Other than her family, Willow realises that she is missing a relationship with a group of people she is really close to, outside her Facebook and Instagram accounts – and decides to do something about it.

I thought this aspect of the story was smart, as this is an ongoing dilemma for so many of us, now staggering out of the various lockdowns and grappling with the reality of face-to-face meetings, after having thrown our energy into keeping our social networks going digitally. While Parks doesn’t allude to any of that – this must be a hurdle for so many folks. And Willow’s idea of meeting up once a month for a lovely meal with women she likes and trusts is also a really good one.

I’m conscious that I haven’t said much about the romance. But I also liked that dynamic, too. It wasn’t groundbreakingly original – going along the lines of fake relationship deepening into something more substantial. But Willow’s confusion regarding Thomas worked well, and didn’t get too ridiculously muddled – a common moan I have about romance stories – before resolving into a believable, cute relationship that was founded on a genuine respect and liking for each other. Highly recommended for fans of romance stories. While I obtained an arc of Willow from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Loch Down Abbey by Beth Cowan-Erskine #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #LochDownAbbeybookreview

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It was the wordplay regarding the title and that rather gorgeous cover that snagged my attention – and the blurb ensured that I requested a copy of this one. And I’m very glad I did…

BLURB: It’s the 1930s and a mysterious illness is spreading over Scotland. But the noble and ancient family of Inverkillen, residents of Loch Down Abbey, are much more concerned with dwindling toilet roll supplies and who will look after the children now that Nanny has regretfully (and most inconveniently) departed this life.

Then Lord Inverkillen, Earl and head of the family, is found dead in mysterious circumstances. The inspector declares it an accident but Mrs MacBain, the head housekeeper, isn’t so convinced. As no one is allowed in or out because of the illness, the residents of the house – both upstairs and downstairs – are the only suspects. With the Earl’s own family too busy doing what can only be described as nothing, she decides to do some digging – in between chores, of course – and in doing so uncovers a whole host of long-hidden secrets, lies and betrayals that will alter the dynamics of the household for ever.

REVIEW: I’ve been reading a fair amount of historical fiction recently – but I can safely say that nothing has been quite like this offering. The Inverkillen clan are all thoroughly spoilt and entitled – and quite right, too. After all, they’re part of an aristocracy that goes back hundreds of years and everyone in the village and beyond acknowledges their superiority over the common sort. Indeed, they employ lots of the common sort to wait upon them hand, foot and finger. So when a mysterious and rather virulent illness strikes the domestic staff just when Lord Inverkillen is found dead by the weir, dramatic changes have to be made in domestic arrangements – and that’s before the Will is read…

This is a funny and engaging read – but do keep the character cast list bookmarked, at least for the first few chapters, because there are quite a lot of Inverkillens and events keep happening. Think of a cross between the televised version of P.G. Wodehouse’s stories and Agatha Christie’s country house mysteries. And I won’t compare Cowan-Erksine’s writing with Wodehouse, because his prose is far more hilarious. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed her dry humour and found myself laughing aloud more than once. And as I’m struggling with post-Covid fatigue syndrome, I’m not inclined to chuckle over anything that isn’t genuinely funny.

Since I’ve finished this one, I’ve found myself looking around for something similar – and I haven’t yet found it. If you are looking for a mystery that doesn’t take itself too seriously, then this one comes very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Loch Down Abbey from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #WeAreSatellinesbook review

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That cover first attracted me – and then the blurb. Any parent will recognise that opening line as the battlecry their offspring invariably use when they want the latest gismo – and the truth of it snagged my attention. And the fact that Tammy of Books, Bones and Buffy was highlighting it also made me look twice – she has a great knack for sniffing out the special ones…

BLURB: Everybody’s getting one.
Val and Julie just want what’s best for their kids, David and Sophie. So when teenage son David comes home one day asking for a Pilot, a new brain implant to help with school, they reluctantly agree. This is the future, after all. Soon, Julie feels mounting pressure at work to get a Pilot to keep pace with her colleagues, leaving Val and Sophie part of the shrinking minority of people without the device.

Before long, the implications are clear, for the family and society: get a Pilot or get left behind. With government subsidies and no downside, why would anyone refuse? And how do you stop a technology once it’s everywhere? Those are the questions Sophie and her anti-Pilot movement rise up to answer, even if it puts them up against the Pilot’s powerful manufacturer and pits Sophie against the people she loves most.

REVIEW: Initially, I started this one waiting for the family dynamic to twist into something darker… For there to be a hidden, nasty past that would catch up with Val or Julie; for there to be something dire about the children’s origins; for an alien something to come crawling out of the woodwork and capitalise on the Pilot. And I’m delighted to say that nothing like that happened. This book is more intelligently plotted than that.

Instead, it is a real look at a likely scenario that could unfold within our present near-future if an app is invented to increase the brain’s ability to multi-task and focus – and it’s ongoing impact on a specific family over a number of years… And if that sounds a bit dull, or workaday, it isn’t. While this isn’t the book to go to if you want full-on action with lots of explosive battles, the dilemmas created by using the Pilot had me turning the pages waaay into the night to discover how it pans out. And what happens to those who can’t or won’t use the Pilot, once it has been successfully rolled out to most of the population…

I loved both Val and Julie, who are thoughtful, caring parents who want the best for their children and agonise about David’s desperate desire to be able to keep up with his richer classmates. Julie, who works for a high-profile politician, also comes under pressure to acquire a Pilot to keep on top of her boss’s schedule. And then, there’s Val who hates the very idea of having anything so intrusive anywhere near her brain, especially as their daughter, Sophie, will never be able to have one fitted because of her epileptic seizures. We follow their fortunes as the consequences of their difference decisions unspool over a number of years.

The depth of the characterisation, the quality of the narrative arc and the final fallout worked really well for me. In particular, I found David’s plight really poignant – and I would just add a trigger warning for drug abuse and PTSD. I’m aware that I might have made this sound rather drearily worthy. It’s nothing of the sort – there are shafts of humour within the family snark, the prose is punchy and the tight pacing keeps the story rolling forward at a brisk lick. I haven’t encountered this author before – but this certainly won’t be the last time I’ll be reading her work. Highly recommended for both sci fi fans and those who enjoy reading family-centred stories with an unusual dynamic. While I obtained an arc of We Are Satellites from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10