Tag Archives: family relationships

*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

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

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Reason #2 why you shouldn’t boast about your own exploits – it provides the wretches with far too much warning as to just how sneakily lethal you can be…

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.

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

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Don’t allow the dragonets to play chess using your best set, until they’ve grown past the age where they erupt into a flaming tantrum when they lose. With lords, this might well take them until they’re… On second thoughts – don’t ever let ANY lord near your best chess set!

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.

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

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Fixes for a draconic mid-life crisis #6 – When a pretty young queen catches your eye, ask yourself if you’ll still feel the same about her when she’s wearing half your hoard and insisting on the juiciest parts of your kills.

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 INDIE Ebook Mistaken Identity Crisis – Book 4 of the Braxton Campus Mysteries by James J. Cudney #BrainfluffINDIEbookreview #MistakenIdentityCrisisbookreview

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I have been working through this entertaining cosy murder mystery series, featuring young single father, Kellen, who is trying to rebuild his life after his wife’s tragic death. This means moving back to be near his family to get help raising his young daughter and get a job teaching at the local college, though his tendency to trip over dead bodies rather gets in the way of things. See my reviews of Academic Curveball, Broken Heart Attack and Flower Power Trip.

BLURB: A clever thief with a sinister calling card has invaded Braxton campus. A string of jewelry thefts continues to puzzle the sheriff, given they’re remarkably similar to an unsolved eight-year-old case, back when Gabriel vanished one stormy night. When a missing ruby, and a body, are discovered at the campus, Kellan must investigate the killer’s motive to protect his brother. As if the latest murder isn’t enough to keep him busy, Kellan partners with April to end the Castigliano and Vargas crime family feud. What really happened to Francesca while all those postcards showed up in Braxton?

REVIEW: It’s been longer than I originally intended, before I became reacquainted with engaging Kellen and his eventful life. It was a delight to jump back into this busy world and get back in touch with not just our rather frayed hero, but many of the other characters that also feature in this charming series. Like many other readers, my personal favourite is Kellan’s feisty grandmother, Nana D, whose peppery comments hide a fierce love for her grandson and his daughter. Now she is local mayor, she is determined to root out any corruption and get things running more smoothly.

However, there are a string of jewellery thefts – and once again, Kellen does his trick of unexpectedly encountering a dead body. Fortunately, his relationship with the local sheriff has now markedly improved, and instead of having to run the gauntlet of her scornful remarks and prickly attitude, she is now prepared to accept his help. So long as it’s on her terms…

Once more, I’m struck at how strong the characterisation is and how very well plotted the mysteries are – both of the jewellery thefts and the murder. And bubbling away in the background is a massive issue that has thrown a shadow over Kellen’s whole life and also very much impacts his daughter’s wellbeing, too. It would have been all too easy for Cudney to have slightly faltered with a loss of momentum, or overlooked a plot hole, while keeping all these narrative arcs moving forward. But his assured, readable writing style rolls the story forward such that I stayed up far later than I’d intended to find out what happened.

The denouement of this one worked particularly well and I thoroughly enjoyed where the story went. Fortunately, I have the next book in this entertaining series already on my ereader – and I won’t be waiting so long before giving myself a treat and tucking into it. Highly recommended for fans of cosy murder mysteries with plenty of plot twists and a cast of likeable characters – though whatever you do, start this series at the beginning – you’ll miss far too much vital backstory and enjoyable shenanigans, otherwise.
9/10

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

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Keeping a mountain between yourself and a roaming ice giant ISN’T hiding – it’s protecting the wretch from the heat of your flame…

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.

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

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

Bantam, Oct 2004

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

Orbit, Sept 2004

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

Vintage Canada, Jan 2010

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

Hatchette Digital, Sept 2008

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

French edition, August 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scholastic, September 1999

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

Egmont Books, May 2003

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

HarperCollins, May 2007

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

Egmont Books (UK), 2010

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

German edition, May 2002

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