Tag Archives: fantasy

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna #BrainfluffNETGALLEYAUDIOBOOKreview #TheVerySecretSocietyofIrregularWitchesbookreview

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I have read quite a few fantasy book featuring witches recently in my quest for enjoyable, escapist reads. So I was delighted to see this offering featured and even more chuffed when I was approved for an audio arc.

BLURB: As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon knows she has to hide her magic, keep her head down, and stay away from other witches so their powers don’t mingle and draw attention. And as an orphan who lost her parents at a young age and was raised by strangers, she’s used to being alone and she follows the rules…with one exception: an online account, where she posts videos pretending to be a witch. She thinks no one will take it seriously.

But someone does. An unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches how to control their magic. It breaks all of the rules, but Mika goes anyway, and is immediately tangled up in the lives and secrets of not only her three charges, but also an absent archaeologist, a retired actor, two long-suffering caretakers, and…Jamie. The handsome and prickly librarian of Nowhere House would do anything to protect the children, and as far as he’s concerned, a stranger like Mika is a threat. An irritatingly appealing threat. As Mika begins to find her place at Nowhere House, the thought of belonging somewhere begins to feel like a real possibility. But magic isn’t the only danger in the world, and when a threat comes knocking at their door, Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect a found family she didn’t know she was looking for…

REVIEW: It always helps if the narrator is good – and Samara MacLaren’s voice and reading style has become a solid favourite. So it was a bonus to discover her dulcet tones when I first tucked into this enjoyable offering.

Mika is a delightful protagonist. She’s had a tough time as a child. Due to a spell that went wrong several hundred years ago, all witches are orphaned early in their lives so are brought up by guardians instead of their parents. After the horrendous witch burnings of the 16th century, the community of witches scattered and now they only meet up very occasionally. For magic tends to gather around witches, making it easier for them to be discovered. So it’s deemed safer by formidable leaders like Primrose for witches to stay away from each other, making life lonely for adult witches who wish to continue to practise their magic. It would have been all too easy for Mika to have been portrayed as a classically tragic heroine – so I was very pleased to find her resolutely sunny-natured in all but the toughest situations.

Her three charges are funny without being too cute, unrealistically awful or revoltingly good – which is harder to achieve than Mandanna makes it look. There is also a rather sweet love story that unfolds in the middle of all the magical shenanigans, which I also enjoyed. However – there is a warning. The F-word is liberally sprinkled throughout, which didn’t really fit with the overall feel of the story. I certainly didn’t appreciate its use in front of the children, for instance. Apart from that one niggle, this is an enjoyable, often humorous and ultimately uplifting fantasy adventure with a dollop of romance with one steamy scene I fast-forwarded through. While I obtained an arc of The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 7th September, 2022 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – What Song the Sirens Sang– Book 3 of the Gideon Sable series by Simon R. Green – release date – 4th October, 2022

#heist fantasy adventure #troubled hero #feisty heroine #humour

BLURB: Gideon Sable – legendary master thief, conman and well-dressed rogue – and his partner in crime Annie Anybody don’t want to be shopkeepers, but when the enigmatic Harry decides to retire, he blackmails the pair into taking the store on.

Before the grand reopening can happen, however, a menacing stranger arrives – with a rare and deadly item for them to appraise. A small piece of rock, with an unnerving aura, which ‘Smith’ claims contains the last echoes of the legendary sirens’ song. Before they can find out more, however, Smith vanishes . . . leaving only the stone.

Some valuables are more trouble than they’re worth. But before Gideon and Annie can work out if they’ve been set up, the stone is stolen from its impregnable hiding place. How? And why? Gideon only knows one thing for certain: no one steals from him and gets away with it . . .
I am a fan of this series – see my reviews of The Best Thing You Can Steal and A Matter of Death and Life – so I’m intrigued to see where Green takes Gideon and Annie next. However you can always crash midway into his series and still get plenty of enjoyment and fun out of the adventure. Green’s stories have lashings of tension and drama – but also tongue-in-cheek humour. And right now, I’m all about humorous escapism!

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheMonstersWeDefybookreview

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It was the cover of this offering that caught my eye – it’s just so very attractive. But then I read the blurb and knew I wanted to read it. I’m a sucker for the 1920s era – and I loved the spiritualist element of this fantasy heist adventure.

BLURB: Washington D. C., 1925

Clara Johnson talks to spirits, a gift that saved her during her darkest moments in a Washington D. C. jail. Now a curse that’s left her indebted to the cunning spirit world. So, when the Empress, the powerful spirit who holds her debt, offers her an opportunity to gain her freedom, a desperate Clara seizes the chance. The task: steal a magical ring from the wealthiest woman in the District.

Clara can’t pull off this daring heist alone. She’ll need help from an unlikely team, from a jazz musician capable of hypnotizing with a melody to an aging vaudeville actor who can change his face, to pull off the impossible. But as they encounter increasingly difficult obstacles, a dangerous spirit interferes at every turn. Conflict in the spirit world is leaking into the human one and along D.C’.s legendary Black Broadway, a mystery unfolds—one that not only has repercussions for Clara but all of the city’s residents.

REVIEW: This is a cracking read. I thoroughly enjoyed Clara’s spiky character. She is short-fused and in the habit of pushing away people, though that doesn’t stop her from helping those who seek her out. Given her gift, she could so easily have been portrayed as a noble, self-sacrificing heroine, brimful of the desire to help her fellows. While that is what she does – because she is so crotchety about it, I found her far more appealing. Especially when those around her make it their business to break through the façade she has erected – and we are shown just how vulnerable she actually is.

As well as Clara being a thoroughly sympathetic protagonist, the pacing was pretty much perfect. In any historical adventure, there is always a balance between giving the reader sufficient period details to make the background believable and ensuring the narrative moves along at a reasonable clip. Penelope nailed it, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve read several books recently featuring a POC protagonist and this was right up there with the best in portraying the casual and unthinking racism that was rife at that time. Indeed, it is part of the ongoing difficulty stacking up against Clara and her associates that a black person finds it hazardous to try and travel to certain parts of the city. Not only does this aid the narrative in upping the stakes – it is a visceral reminder of the extra burden the black community were coping with in their daily lives just because of the colour of their skin. I’d love to think such attitudes were consigned to history – but sadly, daily racist crime shows this isn’t the case, so reading entertaining, well-written fiction that highlights the issue can only help.

The spirit world was also well portrayed. There is a real sense of menace around those who want agency within the mortal world in order to steal human destinies. I liked the way Penelope gradually revealed the enormity of the threat, making this one of those reads that was very difficult to put down. All in all, this was a thoroughly engrossing tale that had me reading far later than I should. Highly recommended for those who like their fantasy within a compelling historical setting. While I obtained an arc of The Monsters We Defy from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 31st August, 2022 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Unraveller by Frances Hardinge – release date – 1st September, 2022 – (tomorrow, in fact…)

#YA #fantasy

BLURB: In a world where anyone can cast a life-destroying curse, only one person has the power to unravel them.
Kellen does not fully understand his unique gift, but helps those who are cursed, like his friend Nettle who was trapped in the body of a bird for years. She is now Kellen’s constant companion and his closest ally.
But the Unraveller carries a curse himself and, unless he and Nettle can remove it, Kellen is a danger to everything—and everyone—around him….
Just look at this fabulous cover! Hardinge’s covers are always fabulous – and after reading the wonderful Deeplight, which for some reason was aimed at children, I am really looking forward to getting to this one. Right now, I’m a tad behind with my Netgalley reads – but if you’re keen to get hold of a quality fantasy adventure featuring interesting young protagonists, then this offering is available tomorrow.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Knave of Secrets By Alex Livingston #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheKnaveofSecretsbookreview

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I was intrigued by the premise. After suffering withdrawal symptoms after the completion of Sebastian de Castell’s wonderful Spellslinger series – see my reviews of Spellslinger, Shadowblack , Charmcaster, Soulbinder, Queenslayer and Crownbreaker – I thought another fantasy adventure involving card games and magic would be fun.

BLURB: Never stake more than you can afford to lose.

When failed magician turned cardsharp Valen Quinol is given the chance to play in the Forbearance Game—the invitation-only tournament where players gamble with secrets—he can’t resist. Or refuse, for that matter, according to the petty gangster sponsoring his seat at the table. Valen beats the man he was sent to play, and wins the most valuable secret ever staked in the history of the tournament.

Now Valen and his motley crew are being hunted by thieves, gangsters, spies and wizards, all with their own reasons for wanting what’s in that envelope. It’s a game of nations where Valen doesn’t know all the rules or who all the players are, and can’t see all the moves. But he does know if the secret falls into the wrong hands, it could plunge the whole world into war…

REVIEW: I’ll be honest – I wanted to love this one more than I actually did. There is a huge amount of explanation regarding the world, which is full of complicated names, a tangled and even more complicated political situation and characters who all have complicated backstories. Livingston’s insistence of giving a lot of the information in big lumps throughout, rather than letting the reader absorb it alongside the unfolding action meant that I always felt distanced from the characters.

The writing style favours telling over showing, which isn’t my personal preference. And while the characters are all layered and nicely ambiguous, I didn’t ever feel particularly close to them as Livingston tends to keep them at one remove from the reader. The same applies to the action scenes – while they were vividly depicted, some of the urgency and snap was diluted by yet more explanation that should really have gone elsewhere. The overall plot, which was suitably twisty and surprising, worked well and came to a solidly good conclusion – although I did feel the ending was a tad abrupt.

That said, for those who are fans of detailed worlds with huge amounts of background detail, including maps, historical events and long explanations of a variety of fantasy card games – this is a solid treat. I was particularly impressed at the sheer intricacy of the games Livingston constructed and the appendices make fascinating reading. While I obtained an arc of The Knave of Secrets from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
7/10

Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK Wolfbane – Book 9 of the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series by Michelle Paver #BrainfluffNEGALLEYAUDIObookreview #Wolfbanebookreview

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I have read a couple of books in this well-known and captivating series – see my review of Spirit Walker. While it’s labelled as a YA/children’s read, it has captured the hearts of many adults over the years, including me. So I was delighted when the audiobook for the latest book in the series popped up.

BLURB: It is early spring, a turbulent, perilous time of sudden storms, frozen river fractures and drifting ice. Fleeing from a demon intent on devouring his souls, Wolf is swept out to Sea far from the Forest and his pack. The ocean too teems with danger: sea wolves, sharks and hunters of the deep, and the demon is gaining ground. Torak and Renn must race to save their pack-brother, battling the harsh, icy waves and merciless torrents. If they can’t find Wolf in time, the bond between them will be severed for ever…

REVIEW: This is a compelling adventure set in prehistory, when our hunter-gatherer ancestors had to be clever, brave and highly skilled at a multitude of tasks just to get through an average day. They lived in close contact with the natural world surrounding them, from which they derived their food, clothes and shelter. Small wonder they also formed a strong spiritual attachment to the animals and plants that impacted their lives. I love how Paver has characterised that attachment, as I listened to this gripping adventure facing Torak and Renn.

Wolf now has a mate and so when he is yanked away by the machinations of a major demon, Torak and Renn are determined to save him. But it’s a perilous journey that takes them far away from their beloved forest, where they encounter other tribes whose customs are different from their own. This is a delight to listen to – partly because the writing style is clean and powerful, but also because Sir Ian McKellan happens to be the narrator. His rendition is masterful – I’d listen spellbound if he recited the football scores, and I hate football…

Paver’s scene setting is vivid – I could easily envisage the landscapes she describes in a world not yet reeling from the environmental damage we’ve inflicted. The story holds real tension – and there is also a very moving scene where a much-loved character is laid to rest. The death rites are fascinating as well as poignant. All in all, this is a treat and highly recommended for fans of prehistorical adventure – though don’t start with this one. Instead track down the first book in this series, Wolf Brother. And a bonus is Paver’s Afterword, where she describes her research into aspects of her characters’ lives – it brought this highly enjoyable book to a fitting end. While I obtained a copy of audiobook Wolfbane from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Herrick’s End – Book 1 of The Neath series by T.M. Blanchet #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #HerricksEndbookreview

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I liked the look of the cover and thought the premise sounded rather unusual – and I wasn’t wrong. This proved to be a story that took me on an unexpected and entertaining journey.

BLURB: Ollie’s only friend disappeared a few days ago, and now, he’s frantic to find her. But he doesn’t have much to go on until a mysterious note arrives which reads:
“Still looking for your friend? I know where she is.”
Unfortunately for Ollie, the trail leads to the last place he’d ever expect.

Somewhere dark.
Somewhere deep.
The kind of place where magic spills like blood, vengeance is merciless, and escape seems all but impossible.

Worse still, it soon becomes clear that someone-or something-was expecting him.
Now, time is running out. If Ollie has any hope of ever seeing home again, he’s going to have to summon every last scrap of courage, smarts, and tenacity he can find. And none of it will matter if he can’t get some help. Fast.

REVIEW: This book is labelled on Goodreads as a YA read. Now I know that YA can be a bit tricky to exactly pin down – but I was a tad surprised, because this didn’t feel like a book particularly aimed at younger readers. Which isn’t to say that they wouldn’t enjoy it, but there are more mature readers who tend to avoid stories where emotions are dialled up high and the romance is the narrative engine that drives the action. This isn’t one of those.

Which begs the question as to exactly what it is… To be honest, it reminded me a bit of The Pilgrim’s Progress minus the religious component. There is a strong sense of morality running through the book – very bad things happen to those who set out to hurt others. And even those who don’t transgress, but simply are aware and do nothing – they don’t fare all that well, either. I rather enjoyed that aspect, particularly as it ends up being more nuanced and sophisticated as the story progresses. It took me a while to completely bond with Ollie. I suspect that’s because right now I’m significantly overweight after over a year of illness and I found his obsession with his weight rather annoying. However, once he’s up to his neck in all sorts of trouble, he turns out to be a thoroughly endearing hero.

Overall, this is a quirky read that starts off rather downbeat but ends up being inspirational with a strong message for all of us. Recommended for fantasy fans who appreciate something a bit different. While I obtained an arc of Herrick’s End from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 18th May, 2022 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston – release date – 7th June, 2022

#fantasy #magical card game #shady protagonist #heist adventure

BLURB: A twisty tale of card sharps and con artists, in a world of magic where secrets are traded and gambled like coin. The Lies of Locke Lamora meets Casino Royale

Never stake more than you can afford to lose.

When failed magician turned cardsharp Valen Quinol is given the chance to play in the Forbearance Game—the invitation-only tournament where players gamble with secrets—he can’t resist. Or refuse, for that matter, according to the petty gangster sponsoring his seat at the table. Valen beats the man he was sent to play, and wins the most valuable secret ever staked in the history of the tournament.

Now Valen and his motley crew are being hunted by thieves, gangsters, spies and wizards, all with their own reasons for wanting what’s in that envelope. It’s a game of nations where Valen doesn’t know all the rules or who all the players are, and can’t see all the moves. But he does know if the secret falls into the wrong hands, it could plunge the whole world into war…

I haven’t yet started reading this one – but I’m looking forward to tucking into it😊. I always like a story where an unlikely chancer is scrabbling against uneven odds – and the fate of the world is at stake. Is anyone else looking forward to getting hold of this one?

Review of KINDLE Ebook Written in Red – Book 1 of The Others by Anne Bishop #Brainfluffbookreview #WritteninRedbookreview

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Himself bought this series a while ago, and has been gently nagging me to make a start on it, so I decided to do so. After all, if he says it’s a good read, then he’s generally right…

BLURB: As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.

Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.

REVIEW: I really liked the immediate sense of tension, as we’re tipped headlong into this story with very little warning. Indeed, I had to double-check to ensure that I’d opened up the first book in the series, seeing as Himself had stacked up the next three books on my Kindle. Meg is an appealing protagonist – initially terrified and disorientated, I liked how quickly she finds her feet and begins to bond with the creatures around her. She has a strong streak of common sense that constantly surfaces and she isn’t all that easily spooked – a major plus when living in close proximity to the Others.

I also liked the cast of supporting characters, though Simon is regularly a bit of an arse – grumpy, short-fused and entitled, basically. Though the fact that he is trying hard to integrate humans into the Others’ community and find ways to live alongside them, rather than simply regard them as meat is a major plus in his favour. Sam, the youngster, is adorable and I also loved the ponies – so particularly appreciated the twist in the story when they show another aspect of their nature.

All in all, Bishop manages to establish a paranormal version of the small-town community that American authors are so good at evoking, which works really well when it comes under attack. I more or less inhaled this book, finding it difficult to put down. No wonder it has proved to be so successful – and I’m now delighted that I have the other books in the series stacked up on my Kindle, ready to go. Himself is right, again – bless him.
9/10

Review of INDIE Ebook Shadows Over Kaighal – Book 3 of the Pacts Arcane and Otherwise series by Joanna Maciejewska #BrainfluffINDIEbookreview #ShadowsOverKaighalbookreview

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I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in this entertaining Sand and Sorcery adventure – see my reviews of By the Pact and Scars of Stone. So I was delighted to discover that Shadows of Kaighal is now available.

BLURB: To finally have a chance at freeing Veranesh, Kamira had made some risky decisions, surrendering herself to the mercy of the archmages and trusting that her companions, Veelk and Koshmarnyk, would carry out other essential parts of their plan.

In her wildest dreams she hadn’t expected that her actions would leave her with more trouble than less. Now she has a whole city on her shoulders, two demons around—one shrewder than the other, and plenty of enemies to pick from. Even with the demon invasion imminent, Gildya is fussing about Koshmarnyk’s presence in the city, the kingdom of Tivarashan is making its moves to conquer Kaighal, and Kamira would love to toss it all out for a lone journey to find out whether Veelk is still alive. But first, she will need to clean up her mess, one way or another.

REVIEW: Whatever you do – don’t pick up this one until you’ve at least read Scars of Stone and preferably also By the Pact. This is essentially a single story that has been broken into different volumes, so you’ll miss far too much of the vital backstory and character development if you plunge straight into this one. Indeed, before I tucked into this book – I went back and reread Scars of Stone to ensure that the major plotpoints and characters were sufficiently fresh in my head in order to fully enjoy this one.
Maciejewska’s world is delightfully complex.

The archmages spend as much time (maybe even more) infighting among themselves, as well as studying the high art of magic, unsullied by demonology. So they say, anyway. While the demonologists obtain their magic by forming a pact with a demon in order to share their magic, so are generally treated with contempt by the archmages. It very much depends on the power and importance of the demon as to how effective their magic will be – so understandably, demonologists generally aren’t all that chatty about who they’ve traded promises with. Then there are the political divisions within Kaighal among the non-magical community. And – best of all, in my opinion, we also get a ringside seat into the machinations of the various demons who have managed to gain entry and are currently roaming Earth. They also have schemes to increase their power and wealth, not just at the expense of the puny humans – but also to put a dent in each other’s powerbase.

In amongst this cauldron of scheming and counter-scheming, we follow the fortunes of a handful of main characters – Kamira, Veelk and Koshmarnyk feature most heavily, but there are also another three supporting characters that I’ve also come to care about. It would have been all too easy for this slice of the story to have become a snarl of cris-crossing storylines with a welter of characters. The fact that it hasn’t and I’m still pondering some Kamira’s slightly sketchy decisions several books after I finished this, is a testament to the author’s skill in plotting and characterisation. I was glad that Veelk made an appearance before the end of the book, as I really missed the snarky yet affectionate relationship he has with Kamira.

And I’m very much looking forward to reading the next instalment. Because the one thing I can guarantee with this entertaining series – is that there will be more plotting and twisty surprises that will keep me turning the pages late into the night. Highly recommended for fans of well-plotted Sand and Sorcery adventures.
9/10