Tag Archives: fantasy

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Deeplight by Frances Hardinge #Brainfluffbookreview #Deeplightbookreview

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Those of you know who know me won’t be shocked when I admit it was this lovely cover that prompted me to request this one – and that I’d heard a lot of good things about this author…

BLURB: For centuries the gods of the Undersea ruled the islands of the Myriad through awe and terror: they were very real, and very dangerous. Sacrifices were hurled into the waters to appease them, and every boat was painted with pleading eyes to entreat their mercy. They were served, feared and adored. Then, thirty years ago, the gods rose up in madness and tore each other apart. Now, none remain. The islands have recovered and the people have patched their battered ships and moved on. On one of these islands live Hark and his best friend Jelt. To them, the gods are nothing but a collection of valuable scraps to be scavenged from the ocean and sold. But now something is pulsing beneath the waves, calling to someone brave enough to retrieve it.

At long last – a really good blurb that gives a sense of the world and the stakes without deciding to spill all the major plotpoints in the first half of the book. And it would have been a crying shame if they had Spoiled this one, because it’s a real gem. I very quickly fell in love with dear little Hark, a streetkid who has been forced to live on his wits from a very early age. The main reason why he is still alive is because his bigger, smarter best friend Jelt has always looked out for him. Of course, nothing is for free and in return, Jelt expects him to fall in with his schemes to earn more. More money, more of a reputation… the kind of life that Jelt believes he should have – and Hark needs to be there alongside, whether he really wants to or not.

The story of these two boys unspools against the backdrop of a busy port, an increasingly profitable trading post now the savage sea gods who used to roam the Undersea are now all gone. Though there are still traces of them littering the seabed, or caught up in the barriers to keep out some of the more normal sea monsters, so there is a brisk trade in their remains littering the bed. As society is still adjusting to the apocalyptic changes caused by the death of the gods, more merchants arrive from other parts while there are factions still mourning the loss of the gods…

The depth of the worldbuilding is impressive and engrossing, given it is achieved without any holdup in the narrative, which gripped me throughout. I also loved the unpredictability, as just as I’d figured in which direction the story was going – it suddenly changed direction, dragging poor old Hark in its wake. The cast of supporting characters were all beautifully drawn, adding to the enjoyment and drama. I may have been initially attracted to this one because of the lovely cover, but it was the amazing writing that held me. I’ll definitely be tracking down more books by this talented author. Highly recommended for fantasy fans of wonderful worldbuilding and great storytelling.

The ebook arc copy of Deeplight was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Mysterious Howling – Book 1 of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood #Brainfluffbookreview #TheMysteriousHowlingbookreview

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This series was recommended to me by the Cap, of Captain’s Quarters, whose quirky book blogging site regularly uncovers true gems. It was Cap who pointed me in the direction of the glorious Lockwood & Co series, one of my all-time favourite reads of the decade, never mind the year, so when Cap suggested this offering, I scurried off to track it down…

BLURB: Found running wild in the forest of Ashton Place, the Incorrigibles are no ordinary children: Alexander, age ten or thereabouts, keeps his siblings in line with gentle nips; Cassiopeia, perhaps four or five, has a bark that is (usually) worse than her bite; and Beowulf, age somewhere-in-the-middle, is alarmingly adept at chasing squirrels. Luckily, Miss Penelope Lumley is no ordinary governess. Only fifteen years old and a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, Penelope embraces the challenge of her new position. Though she is eager to instruct the children in Latin verbs and the proper use of globes, first she must help them overcome their canine tendencies.

As you can probably tell from the blurb, there are aspects of this book which are very much tongue in cheek, but as with all the best exponents of parody, that doesn’t prevent Wood from serving up a cracking story. I love Penelope Lumley, who epitomises all those undaunted, intelligent governesses who featured so markedly in 18th and 19th century literature.

As she travels to Ashton Place, filled with ideas of teaching the children Latin and geography, she instead discovers they are being housed in a barn, filthy and afraid. Never mind about Latin – they cannot speak at all. Questions about what exactly they are doing running wild in the woods surrounding Ashton Place have to be put on hold as Penelope tackles the business of getting them to eat and drink without making a mess, and teaching them the basic phrases all good mannered children need to know. I love the kindness and empathy she demonstrates – as well as the fact that she clearly loved her time at the Swanburne Academy of Poor Bright Females and very much misses the companionship of her fellow students and her beloved mentor.

I’ve seen comparisons with Lemony Snickett’s series, but there isn’t the sharp-edged darkness here that runs throughout A Series of Unfortunate Events, unless the first book is very much a sheep in wolf’s clothing. As far as I’m concerned, this is another series that is too good to leave to the children, and I’m delighted to report that I’ve just got hold of the second book in the series. Highly recommended for children of all ages who appreciate both the enjoyable story and humour, most of which is clearly aimed at those of us considerably older than the nine-years-old and upwards this book has been written for.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson #Brainfluffbookreview #TheRithmatistbookreview

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I’d just finished a rather intense read and was away on a weekend break, so I wanted something a bit lighter. Browing through my Kindle, I came upon this offering and dived right in. I’m so glad I did…

BLURB: More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles. As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery—one that will change Rithmatics—and their world—forever.

I was looking for a school adventure with a bit of a difference, but to be honest, I hadn’t expected too much of this one, so was absolutely delighted when it delivered a really enthralling read with a fabulous premise. In this alternate fantastic world, Rithmatists are those who are able to attack and kill using chalk drawings. Their chalklings are able to strip the flesh from bones, cause fires and destroy. Sanderson’s straightforward, flowing prose quickly drew me into this world, where Joel is obsessed by the geometric designs that will keep the chalklings at bay.

Joel is a scholarship student whose rather blinkered approach to his studies means that he is regularly in trouble with his tutors. And while he isn’t necessarily bullied or hassled (which I liked, because it made a very nice change), neither is he ever invited home during the holidays to stay at the families of the rich and powerful. Being the son of the school cleaning lady means he isn’t well connected enough.

I liked his lack of self pity, as he deals with this dynamic, and his rather spiky character. The supporting cast are also well done – there is a pleasing mix of adults, so that while some are not particularly sympathetic or kind, there are a number who are all of those things. But the relationship that rolls this lovely story forward is his friendship with Melody. While Joel would give anything to be a Rithmatist, Melody hates her gift as it forces her into a life she resents and fears. Not surprisingly, this dynamic creates a lot of sparks between these two and I loved that it wasn’t a relationship that ever settles down into something easy and straightforward. She is also a strong, vibrant character with a flair for the dramatic and a tendency to draw cute unicorn chalklings.

As for the story – well, that’s a doozy! I had, of course, realised the identity of the antagonist creating all the havoc and kidnapping the promising young Rithmatists, until it became apparent that I’d got it completely wrong… The pages flew by as I was gripped by the plot, desperate for Joel and the kindly professor to succeed.

While the main puzzle is solved, the conclusion clearly sets this one up to be followed by another book, which so far hasn’t seen the light of day. It’s a real shame – and I’m glad I didn’t know the second book hadn’t appeared before I tucked into this one, or I might never have started it. And if I hadn’t done that, then I would have missed out on one of my most entertaining, quirkily clever reads of the year so far. Highly recommended, even if the second book isn’t available…
10/10

Review of KINDLE EBOOK Lady of Magick – Book 2 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Izzo Hunter #Brainfluffbookreview #LadyofMagickbookreview

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I read and enjoyed the first book in this series, The Midnight Queen, which charts the fortunes of Sophie and Gray and if you haven’t yet read this first book, then I recommend you do so before plunging into this one.

BLURB: In her second year of studies at Merlin College, Oxford, Sophie Marshall is feeling alienated among fellow students who fail to welcome a woman to their ranks. So when her husband, Gray, is invited north as a visiting lecturer at the University in Din Edin, they leap at the chance. There, Sophie’s hunger for magickal knowledge can finally be nourished. But she must put her newly learned skills to the test sooner than expected. All is not well in the Kingdom of Alba, and before long the Marshalls find themselves beset by unexpected dangers.

And that’s as much of the very chatty blurb that I’m prepared to divulge – I read a stream of reviews complaining on how the pace dragged in the first half of the book, which I found rather surprising. Until I read the blurb after I finished the book and realised that it gave away a major plotpoint that occurs just over halfway through the book – which the author clearly intends to come as a nasty surprise to the reader. However, not if you started the book expecting it to crop up from the first page…

Hunter does a good job of depicting a world where Christianity didn’t gain ascendancy, so there are a variety of religions, including some of the Roman deities and a lot more, besides. Latin is the lingua franca and magic is part of the everyday, though not everyone has magical ability and as we are in an alternate Regency period, women don’t have much agency, though if they are particularly magically gifted they do have more opportunities.

Hunter is a beguiling author – when I’m in the middle of her tales, I find I’m swept along by the intensity of her writing and the nuanced characterisation. It wasn’t until I put this one down with a sad sigh and had cleared my head a little, I realised that the lassitude that afflicted two of the main characters did flatten the pace of the story at times – and I’m not sure how that could have been avoided.

I did thoroughly enjoy watching Joanne coming into her own and finding her feet, after all the hardship and emotional turbulence of the last couple of years. I do like the spiky relationship she has with her sister, and also the sense of loss she feels now that Sophie is no longer there. She is the character who comes to the fore and is by far the most successfully depicted in this book, I think. Not that any of the characters fail to convince – apart from her portrayal of a complex, conflicted world, Hunter’s strength is her characterisation.

While I don’t agree that the pace drags during the first half, I do think that the game-changing climactic scene in the grove near the end is a tad rushed. But I am definitely going to continue reading this enjoyable, engrossing series – it’s worth it for the worldbuilding alone… Recommended for fans of Brit-based fantasy with roots in our rich, historical past.
8/10

Sunday Post – 13th October, 2019 #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 busy week. Last Sunday evening we had a microwave mishap. Himself wanted to defrost a delicious apple pudding he’d made with the apples from my daughter’s garden the week before, but instead of defrosting it for ten minutes, it was on full power. The plastic container was set alight and I awoke to the whole house filled with thick choking smoke… Thankfully, Mr Google provided the answers to the urgent question – how do you get rid of the stench of burnt plastic? As well as dumping the microwave, we were boiling lemons, washing down all surfaces, cleaning the carpets, burning scented candles and filling containers with distilled vinegar. And by Wednesday, it was nearly gone so that I was able to teach Tim safely.

I attended Pilates again on Wednesday and on Thursday, I looked after Baby Eliza on my own for the first time as my daughter and her partner celebrated his birthday together. We had a lovely day – she is a real sunshine baby. I took a couple of pics, but it was the only time she was shy and so I put the camera away and just played. Though I felt it the following day! Every joint ached as trudging up and down stairs with her was a whole lot harder than it had been fourteen years ago with her teenage sister – where do the years go? On Saturday, I joined my sister as she measured up her new place for furniture and discussed new colour schemes for when she moves in.

On the writing front, I’m making good progress with Mantivore Warrior – I’m going to be blogging about that tomorrow. And I have now completed the editing pass on Mantivore Prey, which I am planning to release on 30th November.

Last week I read:

The Rithmatist – Book 1 of The Rithmatist series by Brandon Sanderson
More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood…
This one has been hanging around on my Kindle for far too long – it was a cracking read. I hope the second book will be written at some stage. Review to follow.

 

Bringing Stella Home – Book 1 of the Gaia Nova series by Joe Vasicek
The New Gaian Empire is crumbling. An undefeatable enemy from the outer reaches is sweeping across the frontier stars, slagging worlds and sowing chaos. Soon, they will threaten the very heart of civilized space. James McCoy never thought he would get caught up in the Hameji wars. The youngest son of a merchanter family, he just wants the same respect as his older brother and sister. But when the the Hameji battle fleets conquer his home world and take them away from him, all of that is shattered forever. No prisoner has ever escaped from the Hameji alive, but James isn’t going to let that stop him. He’ll do whatever it takes to save his family-even if it means losing everything in the process.
This is one I picked up during the last promo sale run by Book Funnel I participated in. I thoroughly enjoyed this kidnap adventure played out within a space opera setting. Review to follow.

 

The Mysterious Howling – Book 1 of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood
Found running wild in the forest of Ashton Place, the Incorrigibles are no ordinary children: Alexander, age ten or thereabouts, keeps his siblings in line with gentle nips; Cassiopeia, perhaps four or five, has a bark that is (usually) worse than her bite; and Beowulf, age somewhere-in-the-middle, is alarmingly adept at chasing squirrels.

Luckily, Miss Penelope Lumley is no ordinary governess. Only fifteen years old and a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, Penelope embraces the challenge of her new position. Though she is eager to instruct the children in Latin verbs and the proper use of globes, first she must help them overcome their canine tendencies.

But mysteries abound at Ashton Place: Who are these three wild creatures, and how did they come to live in the vast forests of the estate? Why does Old Timothy, the coachman, lurk around every corner? Will Penelope be able to teach the Incorrigibles table manners and socially useful phrases in time for Lady Constance’s holiday ball? And what on earth is a schottische?
Recommended to me by the Cap from the excellent book blogging site, Captain’s Quarters, I was immediately swept up into this enjoyable, quirky adventure. Review to follow.

 

Starship Alchemon by Christopher Hinz
Far from Earth, the AI-guided vessel Alchemon discovers a bizarre creature whose malignant powers are amplified by the presence of LeaMarsa de Host, a gifted but troubled Psionic.The ship is soon caught in a maelstrom of psychic turbulence that drives one crewmember insane and frees the creature from its secure containment. Now Captain Ericho Solorzano and the survivors must fight for their lives against a shrewd enemy that not only can attack them physically, emotionally and intellectually, but which seeks control of their sentient ship as a prelude to a murderous assault on the human species.
I was delighted to be approved for an arc of this intriguing space opera adventure featuring an alien encounter in deep space, which never seems to end well. Review to follow.

 

Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Audio Collection narrated by Stephen Fry
Ever since he made his first appearance in A Study In Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes has enthralled and delighted millions of fans throughout the world. Now Audible is proud to present Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection, read by Stephen Fry. A lifelong fan of Doyle’s detective fiction, Fry has narrated the complete works of Sherlock Holmes – four novels and five collections of short stories. And, exclusively for Audible, Stephen has written and narrated nine insightful, intimate and deeply personal introductions to each title.
I’ve finally completed this listening marathon, interspersed with other audio treats to further prolong this absolute pleasure – all 71+ hours of it… It would have gone on for another 70 hours, if I’d had my way… Review to follow.

 

My posts last week:

Review of Lent by Jo Walton

Friday Faceoff featuring Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Body Tourists by Jane Rogers

Teaser Tuesday featuring Starship Alchemon by Christopher Hinz

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

Sunday Post, 6th October 2019

 

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last few weeks, in no particular order:

Update: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXXVI (Philip K. Dick, Tanith Lee, Paul Park, Gorden Eklund, and Poul Anderson) https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2019/10/05/updates-recent-science-fiction-acquisitions-no-philip-k-dick-tanith-lee-paul-park-gordon-eklund-and-poul-anderson/ I often pop by this fascinating site – the covers on many of these books are simply amazing…

10 of the Best Poems for the Weekend https://interestingliterature.com/2019/10/05/10-of-the-best-poems-for-the-weekend/ This is also a regular favourite of mine – I often swing by here to discover poems or books I haven’t yet encounters, along with thoughtful, readable analysis of them.

The Magic of Swamps https://mctuggle.com/2019/09/26/the-magic-of-swamps/ I’m a tad late in catching up with this one, but I just loved these pics of a wonderful, wonderful place…

Halloween: Tricks & Treats for Learning https://wandaluthman.wordpress.com/2019/10/07/halloween-tricks-treats-for-learning-4/ I’m in the privileged position of being able to teach one-to-one and harness a student’s own enthusiasms and interests as opportunities for learning, so I know how brilliantly it works.

Writers Injuring Characters https://jaceybedford.wordpress.com/2019/10/08/writers-injuring-characters/ Jacey Bedford, successful author of the Psi-Tech trilogy, makes a valid point in this thoughtful article…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week…

Sunday Post – 29th September, 2019 #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 the type of nose-to-the-grindstone, locked-onto-the-computer-screen sort of week, helped along by the company of a trusted friend. I attended the aerobics and Pilates sessions this week, resulting in my hobbling around like an old lady who hasn’t exercised enough over the summer… The pain was leavened by my lovely writing buddy, Mhairi coming to stay. And the wonderful news was that she was able to extend her visit so that she only went home today. We work so well together and she and I are very good at helping each other out with various writing problems, even though we write such different genres. I miss her so! I’m campaigning to have Lincolnshire towed southwards and tucked in behind Brighton… We have decided to Skype each other more often – and she is returning next month as we are going to Bristolcon together. Yippee!

As for that work I’ve been doing – I’d got to a point in Mantivore Warrior when I needed to firm up the narrative time in Mantivore Prey, so decided to produce my timeline edition at this stage, given that I’m now well along my edits for the book. I have also made a start on another paid editing project, as well as continuing my teaching duties. It seems odd to think that this time last year, I was up to my neck in Northbrook admin as I embarked on a new academic year with my Creative Writing students – where did I find the time?

Last week I read:
Lady of the Ravens by Joan Hickson
My baptismal name may be Giovanna but here in my mother’s adopted country I have become plain Joan; I am not pink-cheeked and golden-haired like the beauties they admire. I have olive skin and dark features – black brows over ebony eyes and hair the colour of a raven’s wing…

When Joan Vaux is sent to live in the shadow of the Tower of London, she must learn to navigate the treacherous waters of this new England under the Tudors. Like the ravens, Joan must use her eyes and her senses, if Henry and his new dynasty are to prosper and thrive.
I loved this one. The worldbuilding is detailed and entirely convincing and Joan was an engaging, intelligent protagonist who I gave my heart to in the opening pages. Review to follow.

 

Akin by Emma Donoghue
Noah Selvaggio is a retired chemistry professor and widower living on the Upper West Side, but born in the South of France. He is days away from his first visit back to Nice since he was a child, bringing with him a handful of puzzling photos he’s discovered from his mother’s wartime years. But he receives a call from social services: Noah is the closest available relative of an eleven-year-old great-nephew he’s never met, who urgently needs someone to look after him. Out of a feeling of obligation, Noah agrees to take Michael along on his trip.

Much has changed in this famously charming seaside mecca, still haunted by memories of the Nazi occupation. The unlikely duo, suffering from jet lag and culture shock, bicker about everything from steak frites to screen time. But Noah gradually comes to appreciate the boy’s truculent wit, and Michael’s ease with tech and sharp eye help Noah unearth troubling details about their family’s past. Both come to grasp the risks people in all eras have run for their loved ones, and find they are more akin than they knew.
Another stormingly good read – I’ve had an amazing reading week. I absolutely loved the spiky, unsentimental relationship between the elderly professor and the damaged boy. This one will stay with me. Review to follow.

 

Deeplight by Frances Hardinge
For centuries the gods of the Undersea ruled the islands of the Myriad through awe and terror: they were very real, and very dangerous. Sacrifices were hurled into the waters to appease them, and every boat was painted with pleading eyes to entreat their mercy. They were served, feared and adored. Then, thirty years ago, the gods rose up in madness and tore each other apart. Now, none remain. The islands have recovered and the people have patched their battered ships and moved on. On one of these islands live Hark and his best friend Jelt. To them, the gods are nothing but a collection of valuable scraps to be scavenged from the ocean and sold. But now something is pulsing beneath the waves, calling to someone brave enough to retrieve it.
And the joy goes on… This was another marvellous book with a story that swept me up and held me in its watery embrace until the very end. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Review of Changeling – Book 1 of the Sorcery and Society series by Molly Harper

Friday Faceoff featuring The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Whispering Skull – Book 2 of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud

Teaser Tuesday featuring Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

Review of Queenslayer – Book 5 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell

Sunday Post – 22nd September 2019

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last few weeks, in no particular order:

The Poorhouse (1) https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2019/09/25/thursday-doors-the-poorhouse-1/ Jean’s posts are deceptive – these apparently gentle photo-posts featuring doors around Ireland can pack a punch. Like this week’s…

10 of the Best Poems About Despair https://interestingliterature.com/2019/09/28/10-of-the-best-poems-about-despair/ I have always found poetry and prose about despair enormously comforting for two reasons. Firstly, they often sum up the enormity of my bleak feelings far better than I can; secondly, that terrible sense of isolation arising from those dark emotions is alleviated when I can read of someone else’s pain…

Space News – update https://earthianhivemind.net/2019/09/28/space-news-update/ It was a joy to see the resumption of the roundup by Steph…

Greta Thunberg to World Leaders… ‘How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood…!!’ https://hrexach.wordpress.com/2019/09/23/greta-thunberg-to-world-leaders-how-dare-you-you-have-stolen-my-dreams-and-my-childhood/ I generally don’t mention the current political situation. Mostly because it tends to have me heading towards those poems about despair I mentioned earlier – but this one caught my attention. I wrote a sci fi thriller, currently lining the loft, about catastrophic climate change back in 1995. So I’m aware of exactly what young Greta is talking about, sadly.

My Adventures – Pictorial Visit to Connecticut, Boston and Cape Cod #CapeCod #BostonRedSox http://www.fundinmental.com/my-adventures-pictorial-visit-to-connecticut-boston-and-cape-cod-capecod-bostonredsox/#.XZCRi2Z7nb1 And on a much lighter note, Sherry of Fundinmental posted these glorious photos of a holiday by the sea – and those sunsets are stunning…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week…

Review of KINDLE Ebook Changeling – Book 1 of the Sorcery and Society series by Molly Harper #Brainfluffbookreview #ChangelingBookReview

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This was one added by Himself, who is also a sucker for great school stories including magic – but would I also like it? This was quite important as I’d selected this read for a very long train journey…

If 14-year-old Cassandra Reed makes it through her first day at Miss Castwell’s Institute for the Magical Instruction of Young Ladies without anyone discovering her secret, maybe, just maybe, she’ll let herself believe that she really does belong at Miss Castwell’s. Except Cassandra Reed’s real name is Sarah Smith and up until now, she lived her whole life in the Warren, serving a magical family, the Winters, as all non-magical “Snipes” are bound by magical Guardian law to do. That is, until one day, Sarah accidentally levitates Mrs. Winter’s favorite vase in the parlor…

I very much enjoyed Cassandra/Sarah’s journey. She is a gutsy, cheerful character with lots of can-do energy – this story lacks the darkness of the Harry Potter series as Sarah has loving parents. While she initially finds it difficult to come to terms with ignoring her family and fitting into the world of the Guardians, she nonetheless accepts the situation and works hard alongside Mrs Winter to behave as her long-lost niece. The way their relationship gradually grows from a fear-based, resentful mess into mutual respect, trust and even affection is well depicted.

It doesn’t hurt that there are regular dollops of humour that leaven the darker aspects of the story, such as the bullying. I also really liked the fact that Cassandra was initially overwhelmed and silenced by the poisonous bully by considerations of social conventions and needing to fit in – it made her far more realistic than those intrepid souls who stoutly refuse to go with the flow. Harper is good at showing unfurling friendships without lapsing into sentimentality and I particularly liked how Cassandra gradually finds her feet at the upscale school after initially feeling adrift and isolated.

I didn’t see the twist coming, though I immediately realised how the antagonist was operating the moment the reveal came – and I was also pleased that I understood and to some extent, could sympathise with this character, who had also suffered injustice in their lives.
All in all, this was a well plotted, enjoyable magical children’s school adventure that pulled me into the world. Himself and I are keen to find out what happens in the next book, Fledgling. Highly recommended for fans of magical school adventures.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 24th September, 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:

Deeplight by Frances Hardinge
20% ‘That would be worth a fortune!’ Hark’s excitement flared, then fizzled. These were riches he couldn’t share. ‘That’s… amazing, Jelt. But you don’t need my help. You can sell it without me.’
‘No, I can’t!’ said Jelt. ‘If I tell too many people I’ve got it, the governor will find out, and then he’ll confiscate it, won’t he?’

BLURB: For centuries the gods of the Undersea ruled the islands of the Myriad through awe and terror: they were very real, and very dangerous. Sacrifices were hurled into the waters to appease them, and every boat was painted with pleading eyes to entreat their mercy. They were served, feared and adored. Then, thirty years ago, the gods rose up in madness and tore each other apart.

Now, none remain. The islands have recovered and the people have patched their battered ships and moved on.

On one of these islands live Hark and his best friend Jelt. To them, the gods are nothing but a collection of valuable scraps to be scavenged from the ocean and sold.

But now something is pulsing beneath the waves, calling to someone brave enough to retrieve it.

I haven’t read anything by this author before, but her name keeps cropping up – so when I saw this offering on Netgalley, I immediately requested it. So glad I did! I love the world, the ongoing tension and poor little Hark…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of A Jewel Bright Sea – Book 1 of the Mage and Empire series by Claire O’Dell #Brainfluffbookreview #AJewelBrightSeabookreview

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Yep – I’ve done it again… Seen a beautiful cover and scampered across to Netgalley to see if it’s available. And it was. Would my love of pretty cover art deliver yet another winner – or a dud?

BLURB: It was her talent for tracking magic that got Anna Zhdanov sent to catch a thief. A scholar’s daughter sold as a bond servant, she has no desire to recover the Emperor’s jewel for herself. But a chance to earn her freedom has driven her to the untamed Eddalyon province, awash with warm breezes, lapping waves, and more danger than she could possibly guess.

I’ll be honest – I did check a couple of times to make sure that I was reading the first book as O’Dell tips us in the middle of this adventure and for a variety of reasons, I do think this one would have been even more effective if we’d seen at first hand Anna’s life with the unpleasant man who she finds herself in bondage to. However, once I sorted out exactly who was doing what to whom, I thoroughly enjoyed being swept up into the swashbuckling adventure and various twists and turns of this story. It’s always a challenge to keep the characterisation suitably three-dimensional when so much is going on, but overall O’Dell rose to that challenge and I really liked Anna in all her guises.

O’Dell’s writing works particularly during the magical scenes where her prose nocks up a notch to vividly portray what is happening to Anna, so that we are kept in touch with her as she is confronted with a powerful magic capable of ripping her away from her soul and killing her. I also like the fact that we, the reader, realise the extent of her abuse in a way that Anna isn’t fully able to process – it’s nicely done. And while it arouses our sympathy, it means that our heroine doesn’t come across as too much of a victim.

I also liked the variety of people she met and in amongst the violence and double-dealing, I enjoyed the fact that she also met a number of kindly folks who are prepared to help her. Most of these characters worked well, but I have to say, this book would have had another mark if I had been wholly convinced by a certain captain. Sadly, I wasn’t. I’m not sure why – but I’ll admit to my heart sinking a bit when he and Anna became more than friends.

However there is so much going for this entertaining, action-packed fantasy sea adventure that it wasn’t the dealbreaker it could have been and I’ll happily read the next book to find out what happens next to Anna. With a bit of luck, a sea monster will make away with that wretched captain… Recommended for fans of sea-going fantasy adventure tales. The ebook arc copy of A Jewel Bright Sea was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Midnight Queen – Book 1 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Hunter #Brainfluffbookreview #TheMidnightQueenbookreview

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I’d like to take credit and claim that I was the one that stumbled across this gem – but it was Himself, once again, who unearthed this enjoyable read, though if I’d come across it, I certainly would have succumbed, given the gorgeousness of that cover…

In the hallowed halls of Oxford’s Merlin College, the most talented – and highest born – sons of the kingdom are taught the intricacies of magickal theory. But what dazzles can also destroy, as Gray Marshall is about to discover . . .

Gray’s Britain is a fragmented kingdom of many tongues, many gods and many magicks. But all that concerns Gray right now is returning as soon as possible to his studies and setting right the nightmare that has seen him disgraced and banished to his tutor’s home – without a trace of his powers. And it is there, toiling away on a summer afternoon, that he meets the professor’s daughter.

That is the start of this story – we’re tipped right into the middle of the disastrous expedition that impacts so badly on Gray’s life, to the extent that I did wonder a couple of times whether this was the second book in the series. I’m conscious that some readers don’t enjoy this approach, but I happen to love it – so long as I’m not left floundering for too long – and I wasn’t. While I enjoyed the characters – Gray’s diffidence and cleverness are well portrayed in third person POV – what particularly enchanted me is the world.

This version of Britain doesn’t have Christianity sweeping through the country and wiping away the variety of pagan religions that proliferated before. So there are mentions of the Roman pantheon, along with several of the old Celtic deities and magic is also tied up with the worship of them. The historical era is Regency and while the story isn’t particularly original, there are plenty of twists and turns that held me right to the ending.

There is a slow-burn romance bubbling away throughout and if the book had been all about that, then I wouldn’t have enjoyed it so much, but as the viewpoints swing between the two main protagonists, Sophie and Gray, with a few extra characters giving their points of view from time to time – we get to see their relationship mature. This is a main subplot to the narrative driving the story – that of a shadowy conspiracy against the Master of Merlin College, that, perhaps goes even higher than that…

I found this one difficult to put down as the sense of tension held me throughout and while many elements of the plot were familiar, I enjoyed how Hunter played with our expectations and tweaked some of them. The climax of the story was suitably exciting and all the dangling plotpoints were all tidied away very neatly – a tad too neatly for the first book in a series, I felt. Because there is no way that I believe His Majesty is going to be content to let things lie as they’ve been arranged – but I’ll have to read the next book to see if I’m right, which I’m looking forward to doing. Recommended for fans of British-based fantasy with a splash of romance.
8/10