Tag Archives: family relationships

MANTIVORE DREAMS Cover Reveal and available ARCS #MantivoreDreams #GriffinwingPublishingbooks

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I am delighted to announce that I am about to release the first book in a new series, Mantivore Dreams. The Arcadian Chronicles follows the fortunes of a forgotten human colony and what happens to the aliens already living there.

Again, the cover has been designed by my awesome buddy Mhairi Simpson and I think she’s done a fabulous job. While continuing the branded look she has created for me, this design also gives a clear idea of the story with Vrox’s mantivore eyes lurking behind young Kyrillia.

I am also offering review copies for anyone who would like to read and review this book – there are currently 15 arcs available and here is the link where you can download a copy:
https://booksprout.co/arc/19092/mantivore-dreams

As I am offering it through Booksprout, there is a final date by which the review has to be posted, which is 10th September on Amazon – it doesn’t have to be more than a few lines.

I know many of my readers have fallen in love with Lizzy, so I am hoping that some of you will also find a place in your heart for Kyrillia and grumpy old Vrox, who I personally care about far too much. I’ve included the blurb and the opening scene to give you some idea of whether this one will tick your box…

BLURB: Seventeen-year-old Kyrillia Brarian has an imaginary friend, a kindly mantivore called Vrox. She can’t recall a time when he wasn’t there. And over the years, Vrox has been her main source of comfort and strength as she drudged for her mother and nursed her brain-damaged uncle, so she’s never given much thought as to how he got there. Of course, he can’t be real. But when only three or four other people in her dusty village even smile at her, Kyrillia isn’t about to turn her back on the happy, warm images crowding her mind.

Until a family quarrel spirals into something darker – and Kyrillia is forced to wonder if Vrox is imaginary, or even friendly…

CHAPTER ONE

I held my breath. At last! I’d begun to think I’d never track down this music site. A picklist unfolded and I gawked at the strange words. Classical. Youth Cultures. Popular Cultures. Devotional. Ethnic.
What did they mean? Surely music was just a dance tune, or a song? I jabbed at the first one. Yet another picklist unpeeled onto the mat. Much longer. The words tasted strange as I sounded the musicians’ names aloud. “Beethave- no -hoven… Mozz-art…Ta-ch— simply don’t have the time to sound that one out.” I went for a short name – Bach. What did his Family do, to earn a Name like that?
My eyes slid down the picklist of his tunes and found a piece about organs with something about a minor D. Probably a comedy. I hoped so – I could do with a laugh.
“Play.” I breathed in the thick, sweet smell, storing up the sensation of Facs-mining on the Node – something I didn’t do nearly enough. Looking across at the bubbling organi-packs glowing in their transparent tanks, I wished I could spend more time here, rather than snatch these forbidden stints when Mother was away.
The sound pealed out. What was the instrument? The notes seemed to stop, then to stack up on each other as they roared around the room, making Mother’s flower vases buzz on the stone floor. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard. Torrents of melody attacked, drowning me in a rush of yearning. Everything seemed bright, and achingly beautiful.
The final crashing chord faded into silence.
Vrox sways, crooning with delight…
“Again.” I closed my eyes as the monumental music thundered around me. I was Tranced by Vrox’s joy as his emotion rolled through me, swept along by the reverberating climax—
I was stunned by a hard blow. And another. My hurt-hot ear rang with the impact. My cheek felt numb and heavy; my mouth filled with blood.
Vrox rears up, startled – sorry he hadn’t noticed her approach…
“Turn it off! Turn it off!” Mother shrieked over the music. Her distorted face shivered in my vision for a shock-stalled eternity. Snatches of her rant filtered through Bach’s bone-buzzing crescendo, making her fury seem even worse, “…-icked girl… -ways think you know best… –dare to override my passwor…” The organ tune stopped abruptly, just as she screamed, “…ate you! I hate you…
Her words echoed horribly in the small room.
I jerked to my feet. She’s finally admitted it. Axe-sharp hurt immediately snuffed out the flicker of relief, that I’d been right all these years. “Think I don’t know?” My voice shook, on the edge of tears. But grown girls of seventeen shouldn’t cry in front of their mothers. I spun round, stumbling over a vase, and ran. Out into the hot sunlight. Past the stable, whose sharp smell reminded me I still hadn’t mucked out the camel stall or goat pens. I scrabbled at the keycode on the sidegate, my shaking fingers making a hash of it.
She ran after me, yelling my name. Her panting echoed between the house and high fence, getting closer. Finally, as Vrox focused, I got the sequence right. The gate snicked open as she grabbed for my arm. I twisted away, the burn of her nails raking my skin. Skidding through the gate, I slammed it shut in her face. I sprinted across the front yard and past the first startled Node enquirer of the day, over the village courtyard, heading for Westgate. Heat settled like a greasy coat as I raced down Main Street, dust clotting my nose and throat.
At Westgate, Cupert Peaceman, the village security guard, dodged out of the way. Just as well, because I wasn’t stopping for him, or anyone else. Ignoring several calls, driven by the need to get away, I finally slowed, winded and hurting, on the open road where the verges were widened to discourage hostile wildlife. The sun beat down in a suffocating sheet.
Haven’t got a sunscreen – better find some shade. I tottered along on chewed-string legs, coughing up dust. Mother would say it was my punishment. The thought of her pushed me on.
Turning onto Mantivore Way was a relief. The palm tree clumps offered shade and the smell of the water strengthened my legs. I pushed through the shoulder-high reeds, which used to swish over my head, swallowing me whole. Moist leaves slapped against my sore legs. I broke off a brown-brittled stem, whipping it around and stamping noisily to frighten off any lone jaspers or nemmets sheltering from the sun. River silt seeped through my sandals, soothing my feet as I paddled in the murky water. Reaching my sanctuary – a stranded treetrunk – I sat down and rested my eyes on the river.
Sunslit water glitters through the swaying stalks. Scents of river ooze and crushed leaves tickle Vrox’s nostrils. Wind rocks the reeds with a sighing rattle…
See? I was right. She really hates me… For once Vrox, my imaginary childhood companion, was wrong. He reckoned mothers found their daughters annoying, but that, deep down, they cared.
Vrox croons comfort noises, his vari-colour scales flickering in shades of green and blue.
His image flashed on my inscape, while his sympathy finally broke my resolve not to cry. I buried my face in my hands and sobbed until no more tears would come, while the mantivore paced and huffed his sympathy. Finally, I wiped my eyes, blew my nose and stared across the river, where a cargo boat laden with olives throbbed downstream, headed for Reseda. I watched it disappear around the bend, wishing I was on the deck. But then I’d forfeit my right to be Brarian. Waste Uncle Osmar’s painful effort. Besides, I wanted the job – the Node was the only place I felt truly happy. Other than this place. I stared hungrily at the peaceful patterning of light and water. If I came here more often maybe life would seem worth the effort it takes to breathe.
Vrox churrs a strong agreement…
A swishing of reeds warned me, so he faded from my consciousness before I heard the voice. “Kyrillia?”
I relaxed. “Here, Onice.”
“You braced?”
“I’ve been better.”
She high-stepped into the small space surrounding the treetrunk, and carefully sat on the trunk, lifting her skirts clear of the muddy water. “Saw you pelting down the road, so I figured you’d be here.” Handing me a sunscreen, she added, “You’d better borrow this.”
Typical of Onice to worry about me getting fried to a greasy spot. “Oh! Many thanks. I’ll get it back to you tomorrow.”
“She on to you, again?” Onice’s forehead creased in concern.
Grabbing at a reed stem, I rolled it between my fingers.
I hate you… Mother’s wrath-reddened face blazed through my mind as I opened my mouth to frame the words. And closed it. What could I say? I’d watched Onice bask in her parents’ affection with shocked envy ever since I’d been old enough to understand it. She knew that Mother and I fought – she regularly tangled with her own father. But she’d never make sense of Mother’s loathing for me.
And if she did, maybe she’d realise I wasn’t worth her friendship. I stared at the river. “Found that Music site on the Node and played a song. That was when she caught me.”
Onice clicked her tongue. “Bet what had her steaming was you breaking through her passwords and sneaking onto the Node. Again.”
“Hm.” The reed stem mashed to a papery pulp between my fingers. Onice never understood why I persisted in using the Node, despite Mother’s strict ban. But then, I hadn’t told her about Vrox and his constant longing for the Node, either.
“There’s talk about restarting an inter-village apprentice network, Da says. Some girl drowned herself last month in Pistacia cos of her family’s beatings. Maybe you could get yourself signed up for it.” So Onice figures I’ve angered Mother to breaking point.
I hate you… I pushed the memory away, trying to think straight.
“And if I get apprenticed away from here, what happens to Uncle Osmar? She wouldn’t take proper care of him.” I tore at another reed stem.
Onice shrugged. “You got to live your own life. Your Uncle’s had his chances.”
I sighed. It seemed a hard way to treat the old man, especially after all he’d taught me. But it was a sharp-edged situation and if there’d been an easy option I’d already have taken it.
Onice stood up. “Got to get back. Just wanted to make sure you were alright.”
She’s worried I might follow that poor girl into the river. So she dropped all her chores and came after me. I let go of the reed and hugged her. Hard. “Thanks for coming.” I struggled for a solid way to show my gratitude. “If you’re working late, I’ll come by and lend a hand.”
She shook her head, laughing. “Well if I’m working late, you’ll be slogging even later, you crip-wit!”
“S’pose so.” I shakily joined in the laughter, before she left to face certain punishment from her parents, who didn’t like me.

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Teaser Tuesday – 20th August, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #TeaserTuesday

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

Sweep of the Blade – Book 4 of the Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
81% A moment passed.

Another.

The sticky coffee slid down her neck, dripping from her hair.

Another.

Seveline bared her fangs in a vicious grimace, spun on her heel, and stomped off. The door hissed shut behind her.

Maud sat very still. This could still go bad. If they came at her now, her best bet would be to jump out the window. It was a thirty-foot fall to the ledge below, but she could survive it.

Kavaline opened her mouth. Every pair of eyes watched her.

“My lady, we are dreadfully sorry. I do not know what came over her.”

“Clearly,” Maud said, her tone dry, “some people just can’t handle their coffee.”

BLURB: Maud Demille is a daughter of Innkeepers—a special group who provide ‘lodging’ to other-planetary visitors—so she knows that a simple life isn’t in the cards. But even Maud could never have anticipated what Fate would throw at her.

Once a wife to a powerful vampire knight, Maud and her young daughter, Helen, were exiled with him for his treachery to the desolate, savage planet of Karhari. Karhari killed her husband, and Maud—completely abandoned by his family—has spent over a year avenging his debts. Rescued by her sister Dina, she’s sworn off all things vampire.

Except… In helping Dina save the world, she met Arland, the Marshal of House Krahr, one of the most powerful vampire houses. One thing led to another and he asked for her hand in marriage. She declined. Arland is not used to hearing the word ‘no;’ and try as she might, Maud can’t just walk away from Arland…

I love this world. I love the characters… the adventures… the non-stop action and excitement… and the humour. I was so excited when I realised there was another book in the series and promised it to myself as a treat when the rewrite to Mantivore Prey was finished. So – here I am, treating myself:).

NETTED Cover Reveal!

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My near-future science fiction adventure, Netted, set in post-apocalyptic Maine is due to be released on 1st October by Grimbold Publishing – and here is the cover! My super-friend Mhairi, who designed it, has done a fabulous job. I particularly love the title font…

 

BLURB: In post-apocalyptic Maine, safety is the highest priority. Every citizen is Netted, their thoughts monitored for homicidal, lawless impulses. But being Netted can cause as many problems as it solves.

Years after everyone thought they’d died, a young family are discovered, safe and sound,
living in the wilderness. As their delighted relations race to pick them up, Boyce is
overwhelmed with relief that the daily battle to keep their small son, Hardy, safe has been
lifted from his shoulders.

His wife, Kris, dreads returning to the settlement where she was born and raised. Her mental
powers make living among others difficult, even dangerous, but even she is unprepared for
the catastrophic events that follow.
Safety comes at a price.

Below is the opening section of the book to give you an idea of whether it’s your kind of read – if you would like a review copy, let me know in the comment section below. I have EPUB and MOBI versions available.

CHAPTER ONE
Kris
‘This is the way we stamp on our clothes…’ We sang the usual washing song.

Well, I sang it. Hardy bawled the words at the top of his voice.

We were having a lot of fun, so why was I thinking of Cora and Raif? In a flyer. Looking drawn and sad. Raif, in particular, was dreading the moment they’d arrive at the cabin and start the task of clearing out the place. Still guilt-reamed. Still uselessly wishing he’d done it differently. If only I’d kept my cave-sized mouth shut. If only I hadn’t suggested Boyce take Kris to the cabin, they’d be alive today. And we wouldn’t be here…

I froze, tingling with shock. They’re on their way. Here. Now.

Hardy jerked my hands. ‘Mama, Mama, dance. Again.’

I stared down at my waterbaby. Your whole life is about to change. Every single thing in it will be different from this day forward. And there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

Because right on the heels of the knowledge that we were about to be rescued, was the sharp-edged realisation that I didn’t want to return to Sebago Hold.

Before I had time to absorb this info-bomb, Boyce’s excitement fizzed across my mind like a glowing firework. For sure, Kris – they’re really coming? We’ve done it! Kept Hardy alive and well. All these years… His relief and joy was so intense I could taste it.

My skin heated with his emotion, while my own reaction shrank to a cold ball in the pit of my stomach as I scooped up a protesting Hardy and made for the cabin. Being naked when I met my in-laws for the first time in four years wasn’t an option. I jigged Hardy in my arms as I ran up the path, stilling his yells over our interrupted water play, wishing I could shield him from all the change about to cascade around him.
Boyce sprinted along the lake path, his delight pulsing through me.

Has he really hated it out here so much? It was a hurtful thought. I watched the muscles flex beneath his tanned skin, his sunbleached hair streaming behind him, aware I wouldn’t see him like this again for a long time. If ever… Back in the cabin, I hauled on some clothes, then rushed around tidying up so Raif and Cora wouldn’t think I hadn’t been looking after things.

While Boyce pulled on a pair of trousers, I heard him mentally debating whether to suggest that it wouldn’t matter to his parents if the table was cluttered with breakfast things. So I felt better when he joined in my frantic efforts to make the place look more suitable for visitors.

Visitors. Here in the cabin. It felt plain wrong.

Boyce looked across at Hardy, who’d retreated under the table with his sticks and stones. Should you get him dressed?

Hardy was going through a phase of not wanting to wear clothes, and I hadn’t bothered to butt heads with him about it. Who was around to care? In this humid summer heat, I couldn’t blame him. I reconsidered – should I put him in a shirt? I shuddered at the thought of his screams while he ripped it off as soon as he could. Not the best way to meet his grandparents for the first time, that was for sure.
I sensed Boyce’s agreement, along with an undercurrent of anxiety that they’d approve of Hardy.

Another hurtful thought. It’s not their business. They haven’t the right to judge us. No one else knows what it’s been like, raising a child out here. But even as I railed against it, I knew that everyone would be watching our son, drawing their own conclusions over his behaviour. I stopped ramming the dirty crocks in the solar steriliser and shut my eyes. This is just some weird dream. Please…

Boyce folded me in his arms. It’ll be fine. You’ll see. I understand why you’re afraid – but things will be better.

I tried to smile up at him. But that was the problem with being NetLinked. He knew just how I felt. And the fact that we saw this business so differently wasn’t helping one bit.

Which was when we heard the flyer. Boyce sped down to the beach, frantically rushing around with stones and bits of stick. Hardy emerged from under the table and scampered off to join him. Hardy majorly related to sticks and stones. I shoved more stuff under the bed and cursed my decision to skip indoor chores in favour of washing the blankets. And I tried – very hard – to feel excited at the prospect of returning to Sebago.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of INDIE Ebook Whom Shall I Fear? by Anne Clare #Brainfluffbookreview #WhomShallIFearbookreview

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I know Anne Clare as a book blogger and when – belatedly – I realised her debut novel had been released, I nicked across to Amazon to pick up a copy, especially after reading Jean Lee’s excellent interview when I discovered Clare had written about the WWII Italian campaign. My grandfather had also endured the fighting at Monte Casino…

All that Sergeant James Milburn wants is to heal. Sent to finish his convalescence in a lonely village in the north of England, the friends he’s lost haunt his dreams. If he can only be declared fit for active service again, perhaps he can rejoin his surviving mates in the fight across Sicily and either protect them or die alongside them.

All that Evie Worther wants is purpose. War has reduced her family to an elderly matriarch and Charles, her controlling cousin, both determined to keep her safely tucked away in their family home. If she can somehow balance her sense of obligation to family with her desperate need to be of use, perhaps she can discover how she fits into her tumultuous world.

All that Charles Heatherington wants is his due. Since his brother’s death, he is positioned to be the family’s heir with only one step left to make his future secure. If only he can keep the family matriarch happy, he can finally start living the easy life he is certain he deserves. However, when James’s, Evie’s and Charles’s paths collide, a dark secret of the past is forced into the light, and everything that they have hoped and striven for is thrown into doubt.

Yes… it’s a rather long blurb – but for once I haven’t been forced to tweak or cut it – kudos to Clare for keeping it spoiler-free. What it does do is give you a feel for the three main characters and their priorities. This is an interesting book – set during WWII, the unfolding romance powers some of the narrative, but I hesitate to call it a wartime romance. While I think the love story is well handled and I was convinced by the growing feelings between the two characters, it is the depiction of the desperate fighting that lodges in my memory. Clare gets right under the skin of her main character and gives us a ringside seat into his reaction as he is pushed right to the edge of his emotional and physical limits during the brutal campaign.

There is also an unfolding situation back at home with Evie, so we aren’t given any opportunity to relax when we are in her viewpoint, either. I felt that Clare caught the earnestness and strong faith many women of the time used to get through such a tough time. Evie could have easily become a two-dimensional little mouse, given her sheltered upbringing and her domineering aunt’s insistence that she stay close – and it is a testament to Clare’s writing skill that she doesn’t.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this one, which had me staying up later than I should have to see what happens during that dramatic climax. Highly recommended for fans of books with WWII setting and a strong domestic drama.
9/10

Review of INDIE Ebook Honor’s Flight – Book 2 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsey Buroker #Brainfluffbookreview #Honor’sFlightbookreview

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I loved the first book in the series – see my review of Star Nomad  – so was delighted when I realised Himself had picked up the sequel and it was languishing in amongst my TBR pile…

After spending four years fighting for the Alliance, fighter pilot Alisa Marchenko only wants one thing: to reunite with her young daughter. But this involves a journey to her former home world, which has become the last imperial stronghold. Since the imperials have a lot of reasons to loathe members of the Alliance right now, just getting down to the planet will be a challenge, and it doesn’t help that her passengers are stirring up trouble of their own…

I love the ongoing relationship that Alisa has with her various passengers – and the prickling knowledge that some of their interests are on a collision course. The ongoing tensions help to keep the stakes raised – and when it all kicked off, I was unsure whether former or current loyalties would prevail. The action scenes worked well because of this additional consideration, though it didn’t hurt that they were well-written and nicely paced so that I had no difficulty in following exactly who was doing what to whom without having to go back and reread it.

The other bonus with this book is the fact that the driver powering the overarching narrative is Alisa’s search for her lost daughter – I find it really refreshing that it is a family dynamic taking the story forward in a space opera adventure. It doesn’t hurt that in amongst the tension, danger and inevitable worry about her lost child, there is also plenty of humour in the form of Alisa’s smart mouth. The more dodgy the situation gets, the more Alisa copes by coming out with inappropriate humour – it certainly helped me bond with her. I tend to have a similar tic, but mostly keep my off-colour comments to myself and I suspect I’m not the only one.

Overall, I found this sequel an enjoyable continuation of the series and it won’t be too long when I need more space opera goodness in my life, before I’ll be hunting down Starseers, the third book in this entertaining series. Recommended for fans of character-led space opera adventure.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The First Time Lauren Pailing Died by Alyson Rudd #Brainfluffbookreview #TheFirstTimeLaurenPailingDiedbookreview

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I requested this one as I am always a sucker for any book that mucks about with time – and was delighted when I was approved…

Lauren Pailing is a teenager in the eighties, becomes a Londoner in the nineties. And each time she dies, new lives begin for the people who loved her – while Lauren enters a brand new life, too. But in each of Lauren’s lives, a man called Peter Stanning disappears. And, in each of her lives, Lauren sets out to find him.

Strictly speaking this is historical, as the story starts back in the late 1960s, but like many others reading this one, the period covered also deals with my past. So the first question – does Rudd convincingly portray the recent past without holding up the narrative? Yes – she manages to slip in all sorts of little details that I had forgotten, yet were immediately recognised as I encountered them. I didn’t spot any anomalies, either – which, along with the accomplished writing and strong characterisation, helped to pull me completely into the story.

Lauren was well depicted as a small child, which isn’t as easy as Rudd makes it look, which is important, given her age when the first jolt out of time occurs. I was shaken at how Rudd tackles this – Lauren resurfaces into another timestrand where things are slightly different but largely the same. It would have been so easy to make this tediously slow-paced, or not quite convincing – showing slight differences is always harder to achieve than large, dramatic flourishes. But Rudd handles all this with ease, giving us a ringside seat into Lauren’s struggles to come to terms with what is happening to her, as well as allowing us to see how her death has affected her close relatives. As time goes by, we continue to track everyone most hurt by Lauren’s untimely death in a way that had me unable to put down the book.

Meanwhile, I also really liked how the two personalities are merged as Lauren copes in her new timestrand and learns not to mention what went before. However, the question of Peter Stanning and his sudden disappearance slowly emerges throughout all the timelines – and once Lauren realises this, she clings to the mystery of his absence, determined to try to hunt him down…

I’ll be honest – I’m not convinced that this particular plotline is wholly successful. While I liked the idea of Peter’s disappearance running through all the timelines, I felt this was built into a major mystery that was at odds with the final denouement. However, this could well have been deliberate, as the circumstances surrounding what happened to Peter and how that affected both his wife and sons, also added to the poignancy of his death.

While I had been expecting an entertaining read, I was unprepared for the elegance of the writing and plotting, or the excellent characterisation. Highly recommended for fans of timeslip adventures of the sliding doors variety. The ebook arc copy of The First Time Lauren Pailing Died was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – There is no friend as loyal as a book… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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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 currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is something STRIPED – and I officially declare myself beaten. The only cover I found I didn’t like all that much, anyway. So I decided to play a WILD CARD that Lynn has suggested we use – and I’ve featured a book that I loved – The Stone Sky – Book 3 of The Broken Earth series by the mighty N.K. Jemisin.

 

This edition was produced by Orbit in August 2017. I love this cover and it’s my favourite. The intense colours are beautiful and the artwork otherworldly and haunting. Small wonder this cover is the default with only a few exceptions. I even like the rather ordinary font, which this time around works well. Of course, it could just be that I was so blown away by the intense reading experience I encountered when diving into this book that I’m somewhat biased.

 

Published in September 2018 by J’ai Lu, I really like this French edition. The intense blue of the sky, the great orb hanging in the sky below and those stones breaking the soil at odd angles give this cover eye appeal and correlate with the book’s story. What absolutely doesn’t work are those ugly white textboxes bisecting the artwork. The effect looks like two strips of paper with the typewritten information have been stuck across the covers – what a shame!

 

This Hungarian edition, published by Agave Könyvek in August 2018 has gone back to the colours of the default cover, but taken a less abstract approach. The result is a really cool, very attractive cover. If this had been the cover of my reading copy, I think I would have been more torn, because I think it is very effective. As it is, it comes a close second.

 

Produced by Subterranean Press in September 2018, this is also a very attractive, powerful offering. I like the way it features the two main protagonists – the mother and her lost daughter and having that beautiful triangular text box slicing them apart works really well. The other thing I love about this cover – Jemisin has clearly written these characters as black and I’m delighted the publishers have featured them as such.

 

This Chinese edition, published by 天地出版社 in March 2018 is another strong offering. I love the image of the skyscape where it looks as though you could actually step on those clouds in shades of an attractive tangerine. The downside for me is that black textbox slammed across the bottom of the cover, cutting off the rest of the artwork. There also seems to be a great deal of chatter across the cover – but as my understanding of Chinese isn’t worth a nocked nail, it may well be the explanation might be necessary to an audience unused to the genre, so I’ll give them a pass on that.
Which is your favourite?

Review of INDIE Ebook Broken Heart Attack – Book 2 of the Braxton Campus Mysteries series by James J. Cudney #Brainfluffbookreview #BrokenHeartAttackbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, Academic Curveball – see my review here, so when I realised the second book was already out, and given the major cliff-hanger ending, I got hold of this one.

When an extra ticket becomes available to attend the dress rehearsal of Braxton’s King Lear production, Kellan tags along with Nana D and her buddies, sisters-in-law Eustacia and Gwendolyn Paddington, to show support for the rest of the Paddington family. When one of them appears to have a heart attack in the middle of the second act, Nana D raises her suspicions and asks Kellan to investigate who killed her friend. Amidst family members suddenly in debt and a secret rendezvous between an unlikely pair, Kellan learns the Paddingtons might not be as clean-cut as everyone thinks. But did one of them commit murder for an inheritance?

Cudney’s smooth, readable style scooped me up and swiftly drew me back into life on Braxton campus. While you might initially flounder slightly if you hadn’t had the pleasure of reading Academic Curveball, Cudney ensures you’ll soon make sense of what is going on – and indeed, there’s plenty to keep poor Kellen on the back foot.

His main relationship is with his feisty, sharp-tongued grandmother, Nana D. I really like the intergenerational dynamic within the story. Kellen’s grandmother isn’t introduced just to give us a few smiles at his expense as her snarky replies leaves him waving in the wind, Nana D is important to the story as a character in her own right. I also like the fact that the victim is one of her elderly friends – and that her death is investigated with the same rigour as the hapless youngster in the previous book. Far too much casual ageism is exhibited within this genre, so encountering Cudney’s take on the older characters in his story is refreshing change.

The mystery is nicely twisty, with plenty of potential suspects. I also liked the character development moving forward through the series – while the Sheriff was extremely hostile towards Kellen’s involvement in the previous book, she becomes less so during this investigation, as Kellen proves his worth and gains her rather grudging trust. Once more, Cudney’s skill in handling the whodunit is apparent, while I had a couple of candidates in mind for the wicked deed – neither of them were responsible and yet the culprit had a solid motive.

Any niggles? Well, I was floored by the revelation at the end of the first book and very eager to find out exactly what had happened – to the extent of skimming the first few pages to discover the outcome. If I have a grizzle, it would be that this major plotpoint was slightly squeezed out of the story at the expense of the investigation. So I’m hoping the next book will put Kellen’s personal issues right in the centre of the story, because I’m very keen to see him finally face up to that cauldron of regret, anger and thwarted love…
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Unbound Empire – Book 2 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso #Brainfluffbookreview #TheUnboundEmpirebookreview

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I really enjoyed the first book in this series, The Tethered Mage, – see my review here – I thought the premise was a really smart one. The idea that lethal magic-users need to have their power curtailed from the time their talent becomes evident makes complete sense – as do the inevitable consequences following from that necessity… I recently read and reviewed the second book, The Defiant Heir, and liked it even more, so was delighted to be approved to read and review The Unbound Empire

While winter snows keep the Witch Lord Ruven’s invading armies at bay, Lady Amalia Cornaro and the fire warlock Zaira attempt to change the fate of mages in the Raverran Empire forever, earning the enmity of those in power who will do anything to keep all magic under tight imperial control. But in the season of the Serene City’s great masquerade, Ruven executes a devastating surprise strike at the heart of the Empire – and at everything Amalia holds most dear.

As with the second book, the political and personal stakes in this book continue to ramp up. Amalia continues to grow from the shy academic, whose real passion was studying magical practices, to a political player in her own right, determined to push through a piece of legislation that will impact every magic-user in the Empire. I love her character progression – along with the changes that every other major character undergoes. Caruso makes that aspect of writing a series look a lot easier than it is.

All the characters work well, but two in particular stand out – Ruven is a particularly satisfying villain, who I loved to hate. His arrogant dismissal of anyone non-magical and his tendency to inflict horrible tortures just because he can – as well as his targeting of our protagonist – makes him creepy and revolting. The cleverness in the writing is that Caruso manages also make the reader aware of what is powering his nastiness, so that he doesn’t come across as a pantomime villain. The other character I became a little in love with is one of those enigmatic, dangerous Witch Lords, Kathe. His entourage of crows, his courage, his love of games and his gradually emerging more vulnerable side made him very endearing. His odd courtship of Amalia made the romantic thread running through this series thoroughly entertaining.
Caruso’s other superpower is the pacing – I found The Unbound Empire almost impossible to put down because the narrative arc works so well. I quickly became caught up in her political fight – which then turned into something else far more challenging. Caruso’s ability to ramp up the stakes compelled me to keep reading far longer than I should. The final denouement in a series needs to be able to wrap everything up and give each of the major characters an ongoing path, so the reader gets a sense of their probable future, given the life-changing events they have undergone. Caruso manages to achieve this, making this trilogy one of my favourite, most memorable fantasy series I’ve read in recent years.

Please read these books in the correct order, though – it would a real shame to mess up such a well-crafted progression by crashing midway into this outstanding series. The ebook arc copy of The Unbound Empire was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10

Review of Library book The Defiant Heir – Book 2 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso #Brainfluffbookreview #TheDefiantHeirbookreview #LibraryLoveChallenge

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This is the sequel to The Tethered Mage – see my review – which so very nearly made my Outstanding Reads list for last year – I loved the idea that mages with their magical power needed to be contained. While it isn’t a new idea, this version where each mage has a minder who can release their power or shut it down works very well.

Across the border, the Witch Lords of Vaskandar are preparing for war. But before an invasion can begin, they must call a rare gathering of all seventeen lords to decide a course of action. Lady Amalia Cornaro knows that this Conclave might be her only chance to stifle the growing flames of war, and she is ready to make any sacrifice if it means saving Raverra from destruction. Amalia and Zaira must go behind enemy lines, using every ounce of wit and cunning they have, to sway Vaskandar from war. Or else it will all come down to swords and fire.

Thoughout the book, we stay in the viewpoint of Lady Amalia, whose mother, La Contessa, rules Raverra with a canny intelligence. Right from the beginning, Amalia knew she was destined for a life in politics, despite her interest in studying forms of magic as an academic subject. And then she inadvertently ends up in a situation where that academic interest suddenly becomes far more practical when she crosses paths with a mage with a rare but lethal talent. I think it’s a clever move to make Amalia bookish and rather shy at the start of the series – her character progression is noticeable from The Tethered Mage through to this book.

However the political crisis, where Raverra is threatened by the terrifying Witch Lords who rule Vaskandar, now needs her to represent her mother on a diplomatic mission where thousands of lives are at stake. The gathering sense of danger and sense of fear at what the Witch Lords are capable of doing, with the hideous beasts they are able to enchant, is palpable. From the first page, I was snagged by this one and found it difficult to put down. While I thoroughly enjoyed The Tethered Mage, I think The Defiant Heir is even better. The supporting cast are all well written and nicely three-dimensional – particularly Zaire and the unpredictable Kathe, who controls the crows…

The pacing is beautifully judged throughout, so that by the end I stayed up waaay later than I should to discover what happens at the end and found the conclusion completely satisfying – though leaving me with a real hankering for more from this world. Thank goodness I shan’t have to wait too long for the next book, The Unbound Empire. Highly recommended for fans of well written swords and sorcery with a splash of romance.
10/10