Tag Archives: feisty heroine

SUNDAY POST – 29th January, 2023 #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 they’ve read and share what they have got up to during the last week.

I really should know better… Last week I was celebrating the fact that I’d not had a Long Covid relapse since November – and from Wednesday through to Friday I was back in bed, again. The good news is that it wasn’t longer and although I felt a bit washed out yesterday, I wasn’t shaky and sick – which is a good result.

It’s been another tough week, what with one thing and another – but the light shining in amongst the dark is that my son and his girlfriend have just moved from L.A. to Germany, which is so much closer to us here in the UK. And the reason why is that Zoe, having had a fabulous season playing with the Texas Longhorn’s volleyball team that came top of their league, has now signed up with Munster and played her first professional match against Aachen last night. I don’t know how that went, as I’m writing this on Saturday morning – but my thoughts are with her.

We are just emerging from over a fortnight of freezing nights and bitterly cold days – though at least the rain finally stopped. It’s now slowly warming up – it’s been a treat not to have to thaw out the car before leaping in to ferry the grandsons to various places, as the taxicab of Gran and Papa is in great demand. If only we could charge them – that would set up our pensions into our old age!!

Last week, I got more reading done, particularly audiobooks as lying in bed and listening was all I was fit for. You’ll notice that apart from one Netgalley read, all the books I turned to were by trusted, favourite authors – I wanted the comfort of a solidly written, escapist read and they all delivered, bless them. Thank goodness for books – I’d have gone raving into the night years ago if it wasn’t for my love of reading!

Last week I read:-

Cast Adrift – Book 1 of the Cast Adrift series by Christopher G. Nuttall
Five hundred years ago, the human race discovered it was not alone in the universe when Earth was invaded and forcibly integrated by the Alphan Empire. Over the years, humans have grown used to their position within the empire, serving as soldiers and spacers for alien masters as well as building a place in the universe for themselves. But now, in the aftermath of a violent interstellar war that shattered the power of the Alphans, humanity has rediscovered its pride. Humanity wants to be free.

Facing a war they will lose even if they win, the Alphans give humanity its independence once again. Humanity stands alone in a hostile universe, facing alien threats that regard humans as nothing more than servants – or weaklings, easy meat for armed conquest. And if the human race cannot learn to stand on its own two feet, without its masters, it will rapidly discover that it has traded one set of masters for another …

… And if they lose the coming war, all hope of independence will die with it.
Nuttall is one of my favourite authors. I loved his School of Magic series, as he is clearly a history buff and likes to explore possibilities based on real historical incidents and the progression of the series is smart and inventive. This is a classic alien invasion story – with a bit of a twist. Thoroughly enjoyable and I’m looking forward to tucking into the next one. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK – Hidden Truth – Book 2 of the Truth series by Dawn Cook
Alissa never believed in magic. But then she went to the Hold, a legendary fortress where human Keepers once learned magic from enigmatic Masters. Under the tutelage of the last surviving Master, Alissa discovered that she had inherited her father’s magical ability.

But the Hold is ruled by Bailic, the renegade Keeper who seized the First Truth, a book of magic he will use to harness the might of the city of the dead and wreak a war of total devastation. The book has thwarted Bailic’s every attempt to access it, while it continually calls to Alissa—who must summon all her will to resist it. For if she gives in to the First Truth’s ultimate power and knowledge, she will be utterly changed—and the man she loves could be lost to her forever.
This is a series I discovered on Audible before I realised that Dawn Cook is also the pen name of urban fantasy author Kim Harrison – and it shows in the smart character progression and magnificently nasty villain. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this book, though I do find the simpering, ringleted female on the cover rather annoying, given it’s supposed to be Alissa, who isn’t remotely like that. That said, I’m looking forward to tucking into the next book in the series as I can’t wait to discover what happens next. 9/10

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Fairies – Book 1 of the Emily Wilde series by Heather Fawcett
Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world’s first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party–or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.

So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, get in the middle of Emily’s research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.

But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones–the most elusive of all faeries–lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she’ll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all–her own heart.
This book is essentially Emily’s journal as she undertakes a field trip in order to discover more about the mysterious Hidden Ones in order to complete her encyclopaedia. I love her ongoing grumpiness and her narrow focus on her studies – as well as her regular rants about Wendell. While aspects of this plot are entirely predictable, I wasn’t sure some of the major characters were actually going to survive. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK – Diplomatic Immunity – Book 13 of the Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold
A rich Komarran merchant fleet has been impounded at Graf Station, in distant Quaddiespace, after a bloody incident on the station docks involving a security officer from the convoy’s Barrayaran military escort. Lord Miles Vorkosigan of Barrayar and his wife, Lady Ekaterin, have other things on their minds, such as getting home in time to attend the long-awaited births of their first children. But when duty calls in the voice of Barrayar’s Emperor Gregor, Miles, Gregor’s youngest Imperial Auditor (a special high-level troubleshooter) has no choice but to answer.

Waiting on Graf Station are diplomatic snarls, tangled loyalties, old friends, new enemies, racial tensions, lies and deceptions, mysterious disappearances, and a lethal secret with wider consequences than even Miles anticipates: a race with time for life against death in horrifying new forms. The downside of being a troubleshooter comes when trouble starts shooting back…
I read the whole series longer ago than I care to recall – but do remember that while I always enjoyed Miles and his madcap adventures, it was the later books after his Admiral Naismith days that I particularly loved. So picked this one up on a bit of a whim – and found it utterly gripping. I’d forgotten enough of the twisting plot that I once more was engrossed – as well as being impressed all over again by the sheer quality of the writing. I’ll be listening to more of this series, which has certainly stood the test of time and reminds me why this author has won so many awards for her writing. 10/10

Range of Ghosts – Book 1 of the Eternal Sky series by Elizabeth Bear
Temur, grandson of the Great Khan, is walking away from a battlefield where he was left for dead. All around lie the fallen armies of his cousin and his brother, who made war to rule the Khaganate. Temur is now the legitimate heir by blood to his grandfather’s throne, but he is not the strongest. Going into exile is the only way to survive his ruthless cousin.

Once-Princess Samarkar is climbing the thousand steps of the Citadel of the Wizards of Tsarepheth. She was heir to the Rasan Empire until her father got a son on a new wife. Then she was sent to be the wife of a Prince in Song, but that marriage ended in battle and blood. Now she has renounced her worldly power to seek the magical power of the wizards. These two will come together to stand against the hidden cult that has so carefully brought all the empires of the Celadon Highway to strife and civil war through guile and deceit and sorcerous power.

Bear is another favourite author – and this stunning first book in this epic fantasy series is a gem that deserves to be better known. I was immediately swept up in the savage aftermath of a terrible battle and couldn’t put this one down until the final scene, as the vivid writing and charismatic characters held me throughout. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – The Princess Paradigm by Lindsay Buroker
Then a fearsome warrior from the human empire arrives, a supposed diplomat. Mrothgar is tattooed, muscled, and looks like he’d rather slay elves than befriend them, but he takes an interest in Hysithea. He invites her to accompany him back to his land to visit its great libraries.

As an academic and a historian, Hysithea is tantalized by the offer, but she’s studied his language and overhears his true intent:
Mrothgar is there to gather intelligence on the elves as his emperor prepares an invasion force to conquer them. Hysithea has no choice but to join him, hoping to spy and find a way to sabotage the invasion. Her people need her, and this is her chance to atone for the past.

But Mrothgar is smarter than she realized, and those muscles and tattoos are more intriguing than they should be. Against her wishes, Hysithea finds herself drawn to him. And that’s a problem. She can’t save her people if she falls in love with the man who wants to conquer them.

The Princess Paradigm is set after the events of The Elf Tangent, and brings in a few familiar characters, but it is a complete stand-alone fantasy romance novel (no cliffhangers!) and can be read on its own.
I’ll be honest – if I had to judge this one by its blurb alone, then I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. But… it’s Lindsay Buroker, people! And besides, I’ve already listened to the wonderfully entertaining The Elf Tangent, so I knew how much romance versus fantasy adventure I was getting. And it didn’t disappoint. I love the world with its interesting backstory about the Elvish curse so recently lifted and how that is affecting the humans and their own complex politics. This was often funny, yet also poignant and I loved that Epilogue. I do hope Buroker revisits this beguiling world, as I want more. 9/10

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 22nd January, 2023

As you can see, it wasn’t a good week for blogging, or much else – come to think of it. Hoping this week will be a better one and wishing you all a happy, healthy week😊.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Waste of a Life – Book 3 of the Decluttering Mysteries by Simon Brett #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #WasteofaLifebookreview

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I always enjoy Brett’s twisty plotting and sardonic view on contemporary life in England – see my reviews of Death on the Downs, The Liar in the Library, The Killer in the Choir and Guilt at the Garage. I also have enjoyed Mrs Pargeter’s Public Relations. But I’ve a particularly soft spot for his current heroine, Ellen Curtis in the Decluttering Mysteries, see my reviews of The Clutter Corpse and An Untidy Death. So I was delighted to discover that another book in this entertaining series is hitting the shelves.

BLURB: Declutterer Ellen Curtis has been working to bring order into the life of Cedric Waites, a recluse in his eighties who hasn’t left his house or let anyone inside it since his wife died. On one of her regular visits, Ellen finds the old man dead.

Sad but, given his age, perhaps not unexpected. Nothing to get worked up about . . . until the police raise the suspicion that Cedric might have been poisoned! The cause seems be something he ate, and as Ellen cleared away the old man’s food containers, she is under suspicion. As is Dodge, who works for Ellen and has unhelpfully done a runner . . .

Meanwhile, a rival declutterer is out to sabotage Ellen’s reputable business, her two grown-up children are back home and in crisis, and she has a potential love interest. Ellen’s life has taken on a chaotic turn of its own! Can she uncover the killer and bring order back to her own life?

REVIEW: Before I go further, I need to mention a trigger warning – in Ellen’s past there is a suicide. While this book doesn’t go into huge detail about the event, ten years later it still reverberates through Ellen’s life in a poignant and realistic manner.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the previous two books, don’t be deterred from enjoying this one. Like many murder mystery series, while there is a narrative arc for the main protagonist, each whodunit is resolved within the book so you won’t be left to flounder. And an author of Brett’s skill and experience doesn’t do such things to his readers, anyway. I have huge affection for Ellen. She is at an age where she is of the middle generation squeeze – still looking after grown-up children, neither of whom are particularly thriving, as well as confronted with an ageing and increasingly frail mother. It doesn’t help that she isn’t on particularly good terms with her mother or her daughter.

I like Brett’s unsentimental approach to family life. There is often a rather unrealistic gloss around the key relationship between mothers and daughters in genre fiction, unless it is the darker psychological sort, or gritty murder mysteries. But while there is definitely a bedrock of love and concern in the relationship between Ellen and her children, she is also extremely careful to step around their adult sensibilities. The result is often poignant and humorous. In amongst all this family angst, Ellen is having to continue her daily routine – also refreshingly realistic.

The murder mystery in this story is a slow burn that gradually gains momentum. I won’t claim that the murderer is a huge surprise. But I wasn’t sure they would be satisfactorily uncovered so the police could step in – and I’m not telling you if that happens, as then we’d be lurching into Spoiler territory. Once more, I was pulled into this story to the extent that I didn’t put it down until I’d reached the end, so I read it in two greedy gulps. Highly recommended for fans of the gentler sort of murder mystery that nonetheless has an edged look at modern life. While I obtained an arc of Waste of a Life from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Tread of Angels by Rebecca Roanhorse #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TreadofAngelsbookreview

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I enjoy Rebecca Roanhorse’s writing, see my reviews of Trail of Lightning and Black Sun. So when I had the opportunity to get hold of the arc of this intriguing novella, I jumped at the chance.

BLURB: High in the remote mountains, the town of Goetia is booming as prospectors from near and far come to mine the powerful new element Divinity. Divinity is the remains of the body of the rebel Abaddon, who fell to earth during Heaven’s War, and it powers the world’s most inventive and innovative technologies, ushering in a new age of progress. However, only the descendants of those that rebelled, called Fallen, possess the ability to see the rich lodes of the precious element. That makes them a necessary evil among the good and righteous people called the Elect, and Goetia a town segregated by ancestry and class.

Celeste and Mariel are two Fallen sisters, bound by blood but raised in separate worlds. Celeste grew up with her father, passing in privileged Elect society, while Mariel stayed with their mother in the Fallen slums of Goetia. Upon her father’s death, Celeste returns to Goetia and reunites with Mariel. Mariel is a great beauty with an angelic voice, and Celeste, wracked by guilt for leaving her sister behind, becomes her fiercest protector…

REVIEW: I have cut short the rather chatty blurb and recommend that you give it a miss if you don’t want your reading experience Spoilt. Given this isn’t a long read, you really don’t want to go into it knowing more than the bare essentials.

I quickly bonded with Celeste, who hasn’t had an easy time of it. Her overwhelming need to keep her sister safe within a rapacious society where the Fallen are automatically at the bottom of the heap shines through. I found her protectiveness endearing, especially when I realised the price she’d already paid to keep looking after Mariel. This drive certainly informs her actions throughout the rest of the book, when a grisly murder occurs and Mariel is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I hadn’t initially appreciated that this was a novella, or I had and then completely forgot about it by the time I got around to reading it, which is probably more likely. But it’s a tricky length to write well and only a relatively few authors manage to pull it off entirely successfully, in my experience.

I was impressed at how much of the world and scene setting unfolds within the narrative, as Celeste desperately scrambles to exonerate her sister. It’s a fascinating world, where the Fallen are immediately identified by their eye colour and because their ancestors happened to be on the wrong side of a heavenly war – they are automatically a downtrodden underclass. However, it’s the Fallen who can identify the valuable remains of Abaddon, whose body fell to Earth during the war. While the Elect reap the financial rewards, it’s the Fallen who have to mine the precious element that powers their Divine inventions. This tension is played out within Celeste’s family, as her Elect father took her away from the rough mining town that is Goetia to mix with respectable Elect society while Mariel and their Fallen mother had to stay behind. Once their father died, Celeste immediately returned to look after her sister feeling guilty and ashamed at having abandoned her and promising never to do so again.

I was swept along by Celeste’s increasing desperation – and a bit floored by the ending. While it certainly works and has had me thinking a lot about the outcome, I’m also left with wanting more. The world is interesting and I found Celeste and Mariel’s adventure riveting, but ultimately also a tad frustrating, as I felt the story ended a bit abruptly. I want to know how both Celeste and Mariel cope with the sudden change in their circumstances. I very much hope that Roanhorse will revisit this world in the future – more please! While I obtained an arc of Tread of Angels from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of NETGALLEY arc The Ivory Tomb –Book 3 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheIvoryTombbookreview

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I’m a huge fan of Caruso’s writing – see my reviews of her Sword and Fire series – The Tethered Mage, The Defiant Heir and The Unbound Empire. And the misery of lockdown and Long Covid were eased more than a tad by the first two books in this Rooks and Ruin series – see my reviews of The Obsidian Tower and The Quicksilver Court.

BLURB: The Dark Days have returned. The Demon of Carnage mercilessly cuts through villagers and armies. The Demon of Corruption poisons/rots the land. The Serene Empire and the Witch Lords race towards war. And in the middle of it all stands Rxyander, the Warden of Gloamingard.

Burdened by conflicting loyalties and guilt, Ryx searches desperately for a way to defeat the demons before the world she loves is completely destroyed. To find answers, she’ll have to return to where it all started…the black tower at the heart of Gloamingard.

By blood the Door was opened and only by blood will the Dark Days end.

REVIEW: Firstly, whatever you do – don’t plunge into this slice of the adventure without reading the previous two books in the series. Caruso’s writing creaks with tension, plot twists and dangerous, unpredictable characters so that you won’t be in a position to appreciate the full awesomeness of the worldbuilding and some telling developments if you don’t have a full picture of what came before. And no… the helpful summary at the beginning of the book is designed to bump-start your memory, not act as replacement for reading the previous books.

One of the reasons why I’m so passionate about the above point is the glorious manner in which Ryx develops throughout the series. She goes from being shunned and desperately lonely without knowing why she has been so cursed at the start of the first book, to coming to terms with who she is and what she’s done by the end of the final book. There is a major reveal that explains a lot about her character and the formidable talent she has for causing mayhem during the second book, which also impacts on the action during The Ivory Tomb in a major way.

In epic fantasy, there nearly always is an overarching threat to the world. Most of the time, the fullest extent of said threat doesn’t come to pass. However this time around, the hammer has fallen and the world is reeling from devastating attacks on several fronts. This keeps the action and tension full on, as Ryx and the Rooks race from one crisis to another in an attempt to save as many lives as possible. Sometimes, such ongoing full-scale devastation comes at the expense of characterisation and description – not so in The Ivory Tomb. Caruso’s skill is evident as she manages to keep all those vital plates spinning, while keeping the pacing dialled up and the action thick and fast. I stayed up far later than intended to discover what happens and whether the denouement and ending matches the eventful, risk-ridden journey. It does.

It’s always something of a wrench when a much-loved series comes to an end, but Caruso brings the Ruin and Rook series back home in triumphant style, with real poignancy and emotion. This wonderful finale is one of my outstanding reads of 2022 and very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The Ivory Tomb from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Children of Memory – Book 3 of the Children of Time series by Adrian Tchaikovsky #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #ChildrenofMemorybookreview

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I was blown away by Children of Time see my review, which I think is one of the best terraforming adventures I’ve ever read. So I was especially keen to read Children of Ruin, which I didn’t think was so successful, though that was partly because it was extremely ambitious – see my review. It goes without saying that Children of Memory is one of my must-reads of the year – for starters, I was intrigued to see where Tchaikovsky was going with this story and how many of his highly unusual cast in this series would appear.

BLURB: Earth is failing. In a desperate bid to escape, the spaceship Enkidu and its captain, Heorest Holt, carry its precious human cargo to a potential new Eden. Generations later, this fragile colony has managed to survive, eking out a hardy existence. Yet life is tough, and much technological knowledge has been lost.

Then Liff, Holt’s granddaughter, hears whispers that the strangers in town aren’t from neighbouring farmland. That they possess unparalleled technology – and that they’ve arrived from another world. But not all questions are so easily answered, and their price may be the colony itself.

REVIEW: I loved the early section of the book which quickly drew me in. Liff is a delightful and sympathetic character, who is just at the age when questioning the status quo is what she should be doing. Unfortunately, this isn’t a society where any form of dissent is welcomed, particularly where her uncle is concerned. Sometimes, this merely causes a bit of family tension, other times her questions are met with blows and punishment. Time is highly mutable in this tale and we revisit key events with very different outcomes.

I enjoyed once more meeting Kern, Portia, Paul and Miranda in their current iterations as they grapple with the puzzle that lies at the heart of the colony. But about of the third of the way through, the pace stuttered. Obviously in a book dealing with time loops, there is a degree of repetition. But I did feel that there were just too many dialogues between the ravens that essentially ended up with them being stumped. And while their back and forth was initially amusing, by the final section I frankly hoped that someone in the colony would shoot the wretched birds and save me from yet another conversation between them.

Fortunately, Liff’s predicament and Miranda’s quirky character kept me turning the pages, along with the examination of memory, guilt and the role of outsiders within a closed society, all of which were nested within the story. The pace once more picked up again in the final section as Tchaikovsky drew all the elements together. I thoroughly enjoyed the ending, which left me moved. I don’t recommend you tuck into this one if you haven’t read at least one of the previous books in the series. Besides, Children of Time is definitely a treat if you haven’t yet had the pleasure. And while in my opinion, neither of the subsequent books in the series quite reach the same heights, both are interesting and thought-provoking reads. While I obtained an arc of Children of Memory from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Terraforming Mars: Edge of Catastrophe – Book 2 of the Terraforming Mars series by Jane Killick #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #EdgeofCatastrophebookreview

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I read and reviewed the first book in the series, In the Shadow of Deimos, and thoroughly enjoyed it – see my review. So when I saw this offering on Netgalley, I was delighted to be given an opportunity to scoop up the arc.

BLURB: Return to the Red Planet as the saga of Terraforming Mars continues, in a sweeping science fiction thriller of planetary progress, set in the universe of the award-winning boardgame

In the 26th century, Mars is thriving: the huge crater made by the crashed moon of Deimos is now a vast domed city, buzzing with industry and a burgeoning Martian-born and immigrant workforce. Ecoline scientist Mel Erdan is at the forefront of vital research to feed and maintain Mars’ increasing population. But when her viral enhancer transforms lush green plants into a blackened swathe of dead crops, it triggers a wave of violent unrest across Deimos City, and Mel is accused of deliberately sabotaging Mars’ fragile viability. With resources rapidly dwindling, conspiracy theories flying, and criminal gangs rioting, Mel must prove her innocence, uncover the truth, and revitalise Mars’ harvest before it’s too late – for everyone.

REVIEW: As mentioned in the blurb, this book series is based on the popular boardgame Terraforming Mars – a fact that I hadn’t realised until I came to review the first book. And if I hadn’t told you, you wouldn’t know on reading the book, so please don’t give it a thought, unless you’re a particular fan of the game and want to spend more time in the world.

As you might think from a spin-off, the world is well established with a strong backstory and believable history, with a nicely detailed social and political landscape that collide as tensions grow and food supplies dwindle. I really like Mel, whose dedication and sense of duty drives her to try and put right the horrible error that creates the virus. However, this time around there is a sub-plot around a group of young workers who are deeply unhappy with the status quo and want Mars to have more freedom from Earth. In the earlier stages of the story, I found it difficult to fully sympathise with their actions – although I’m well aware that the stunts they pull are all too realistic.

I guessed who the main villain was behind the troubles well before the denouement, although that didn’t particularly impede my enjoyment as by that stage the story is rocketing along at a fair lick. While this story doesn’t have quite the tension and finesse of the previous book, it still provides plenty of excitement and page-turning action that had me sorry when it all came to an end. While I obtained an arc of Edge of Catastrophe from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK Murder Most Royal – Book 3 of Her Majesty the Queen Investigates series by S.J. Bennett #BrainfluffNETGALLEYAUDIOBOOKreview #MurderMostRoyalbookreview

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I was in the mood for something a bit different, when this offering caught my eye. I was initially a bit hesitant – until I saw that Samantha Bond was narrating this one which gave me confidence to go for it. I particularly didn’t want to plough through some second-rate parody of Her Majesty, especially in the wake of her sudden death.

BLURB: December 2016 – A severed hand is found washed up on a beach next to the Queen’s estate at Sandringham. Elizabeth has become quite accustomed to solving even the most complex of murders. And though she quickly identifies the 70-year-old victim, Edward St Cyr, from his signet ring, the search for his killer is not so straightforward. St Cyr led an unconventional, often controversial life, making many enemies along the way in the quiet, rural world of North Norfolk, where everyone knows each other’s business.

But when a second man is found dead, and a prominent local woman is nearly killed in a hit-and-run, the mystery takes an even darker turn. With the Christmas break coming to an end, the Queen and her trusted assistant Rozie must race to discover how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. Or the next victim may be found even closer to home.

REVIEW: I’m so glad that I went for this one. It’s a joy. Although it’s the third book in the series, I was blissfully unaware of the previous two books until I came to write up this review so don’t worry if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the other books – neither have I. Yet.

Set in 2016, the Queen is a battling a head cold as she and Prince Philip travel to Sandringham for the usual Christmas festivities. I loved the little additions, like the Queen’s chat with the PM. In fact, Bennett’s writing is enormously clever – she manages to avoid pinning the Queen down to any strong political opinion, which is entirely realistic. But neither does Her Majesty come across as too wishy-washy either. The only moment when I wasn’t completely happy with the depiction of the Queen is when she chooses to go wandering across the field, when the sensible option would be to stay in the Range Rover. But that is a minor niggle set against the rest of the book. In addition to the Queen, I loved Prince Philip’s character and the staff. I thought the relationship between the Queen and the royal household was very well done, particularly Rozie Oshodi, her Assistant Private Secretary.

As for the murder mystery, it’s a slow burn affair that throws out all sorts of puzzling details which at once stage had me wondering how the murder mystery was going to be wrapped up. I needn’t have worried. Bennett is clearly an experienced and able writer, who delivers a thoroughly enjoyable denouement. There were times when I listened to this with a lump in my throat for the loss of the amazing lady who ruled over us for a whole generation. Highly recommended for fans of quirky murder mysteries that is also well researched with a wealth of historical detail. I’m looking forward to tracking down the previous two books. While I obtained an audiobook arc of Murder Most Royal from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 23rd November, 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 Luminaries by Susan Dennard – release date – 26th January, 2023

#YA #magic adventure #feisty heroine

BLURB: Hemlock Falls isn’t like other towns. You won’t find it on a map, your phone won’t work here, and the forest outside town might just kill you…

Winnie Wednesday wants nothing more than to join the Luminaries, the ancient order that protects Winnie’s town―and the rest of humanity―from the monsters and nightmares that rise in the forest of Hemlock Falls every night. Ever since her father was exposed as a witch and a traitor, Winnie and her family have been shunned. But on her sixteenth birthday, she can take the deadly Luminary hunter trials and prove herself true and loyal―and restore her family’s good name. Or die trying.

But in order to survive, Winnie must enlist the help of the one person who can help her train: Jay Friday, resident bad boy and Winnie’s ex-best friend. While Jay might be the most promising new hunter in Hemlock Falls, he also seems to know more about the nightmares of the forest than he should. Together, he and Winnie will discover a danger lurking in the forest no one in Hemlock Falls is prepared for. Not all monsters can be slain, and not all nightmares are confined to the dark.

I thoroughly enjoyed Truthwitch and Windwitch, so when I saw this one on Tammy’s blog, I immediately nicked across to Netgalley to see if it was available – and was delighted when I was approved for an arc. It sounds as if there’s a slight Hunger Games vibe going on, which I’m happy about if it’s being handled by an experienced author like Dennard.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK arc The Thirty-One Doors by Kate Hulme #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheThirty-OneDoorsbookreview

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I’ve a weakness for country house historical murder mysteries and that intriguing cover set in a very snowy landscape caught my eye. So I was delighted when I received an audiobook arc for this tale.

BLURB: Scarpside House is famed for its beauty, its isolation and its legendary parties.
Tonight, it hosts the Penny Club soiree, an annual gathering of lucky men and women from all walks of life, coming together to celebrate their survival against the odds.
But this year, their luck is running thin. Accidents do happen, after all….
And some are long overdue….

REVIEW: The premise is a very familiar one – there’s a country house full of guests with murky pasts which make them either liable to murder their fellow party-goers, or be murdered due to something they’ve done. And no… when it becomes obvious that there’s a serial murderer on the loose, they can’t just rush to the front door and summon their chauffeur, because this house can only be accessed by a funicular ride. And someone sabotages it after our plucky detective arrives.

I wanted to like this one more than I actually did. Hulme’s prose is lush and highly descriptive, both of her characters and Scarpside House, evidently going for a gothic vibe. However this sub-genre demands loads of tension and fraught sense of wrongness, tipping into horror at times. That means that the reader needs to be invested in at least the main character, so that when Detective Sergeant Frank Glover is in peril, or at least struggling with the investigation – we need to care. Despite David Morley Hale’s excellent narration, I never really bonded with Glover. I found his initial aloofness towards the recently bereaved guests rather off-putting. We spent a great deal of time in his head as he roamed around Scarpside House on a ceaseless hunt for clues, when he mused about the loss of his mother as a small boy and his feelings for a young woman who was caught up in a previous case he was working on. I thought him rather self-absorbed and didn’t like him all that much. This was a problem as we are clearly supposed to care about him when he gets into several dangerous situations. Whereas I worried more about poor Dotty.

The other issue is the constant over-description of the house. Hulme clearly has a vivid visual imagination, but I really didn’t need an intricate description of the colour of the walls in every single bedroom or the curtains, cushions and carpets. It defuses much of the tension built up by the growing body count. The creepy atmosphere caused by the snowstorm and the knowledge that there is at least one highly dangerous person roaming around the building is also compromised by the over-long descriptions as it slows the pace far too much and took my attention away from what really matters.

I wasn’t convinced that Glover would have co-opted Dotty, the servant in quite the way he did – but I was prepared to suspend my disbelief on that score as she is the only person in the book I really liked. The tone of murder mystery did seem rather overblown at the beginning, instead of building up that sense of dark wrongness that permeates a gothic thriller, so I wondered if Hulme would pull off a successful denouement that adequately explained all the rather elaborate and varied styles of killing. I think she manages it, just about.

I’m aware that writing a classic murder mystery these days, with a nod to those who went before, takes a great deal of technical skill. While I was never tempted to DNF this one, as I was invested sufficiently to stick to the end to discover whodunit, I do think Hulme’s editor should have been more rigorous with the red pen and murdered a few more of her descriptive passages along with the various victims. While I obtained an audiobook arc of The Thirty-One Doors from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Sorcerer’s Edge – Book 3 of The Tethered Citadel series by David Hair #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #SorcerersEdgebookreview

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I loved the first two books in this highly readable epic fantasy adventure – Map’s Edge and World’s Edge, so I was delighted when the publisher contacted me and asked if I’d like an arc of this final book.

BLURB: After all they’ve suffered, rebel sorcerer Raythe Vyre and his fortune-seekers are still empty-handed, but they’ve found real treasure: peace.

Deep inside the Ice wastes, Raythe’s people stumbled upon Rath Argentium, the legendary Aldar city, and the long-lost Tangato people. After fighting through betrayal, treachery and powerful magic, they forged a hard-won treaty with the Tangato and their extraordinary queen, Shiazar. Now they’ve put aside their dreams of wealth and revenge and embraced something better: a life outside the tyrannical Bolgravian Empire. But the Bolgravian Empire never gives up.

The empire hasn’t forgotten Raythe Vyre, and his enemies know where he is. Guided by Toran Zorne, the implacable imperial assassin, they are coming to claim Rath Argentium for themselves. Raythe and Shiazar know all too well that courage and cunning won’t be enough this time: they are outnumbered, out-gunned and out of time. Faced with total annihilation, it’s up to Raythe to find an edge . . .

REVIEW: In many ways, this epic fantasy has a slightly old-school feel. That isn’t bad by any means – I’ve loved the strong story-telling, the constant plots twists and intelligent character progression throughout. And I particularly enjoyed The Story So Far… summation at the start, which nicely reminded me of a number of details that I’d have forgotten. A pity that other authors don’t do it – though I suppose they are worried about readers coming across this one without having read the previous books and thinking that a condensed account would suffice. If you do encounter this one without having read the previous books, despite the handy catch-up notes, my firm advice would be to put this offering down and track down Map’s Edge instead. This classy, well-written adventure is far too good to compromise by not reading it in its entirety.

Over the previous two books, there are a handful of outstandingly unpleasant antagonists that I’ve loved to hate. So it was enjoyable to be confronted with them again – and this time around in far more detail, so that I got to know exactly what their motivations were. Once more, Hair has taken some of my assumptions, played with them and bounced them on their head, which put a certain powerful woman in a completely different light. I love it when that happens. The story starts with a bang and goes on delivering yet more surprises and shocks so that instead of going to bed at a reasonably sensible time, I stayed up faaar too late into the night to discover what happened next.

The setting is vividly realised, the characters nicely complex and changing in reaction to the privations and danger they’ve been undergoing, and the plotting masterfully handled. All in all, this is a cracking ending to an excellent epic fantasy adventure that I’ve loved from start to finish. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Sorcerer’s Edge from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10