Tag Archives: feisty heroine

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Hummingbird – Book 1 of A Charade of Magic series by Helen Harper #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Hummingbirdbookreview

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I’m a fan of Helen Harper’s writing – see my reviews of Bloodfire and the Lazy Witch series – Slouch Witch, Star Witch and Spirit Witch. So when this one popped up on Netgalley I immediately requested it and was delighted to get hold of an arc.

BLURB: The best way to live in the Mage ruled city of Glasgow is to keep your head down and your mouth closed. That’s not usually a problem for Mairi Wallace. By day she works at a small shop selling tartan and by night she studies to become an apothecary. She knows her place and her limitations. All that changes, however, when her old childhood friend sends her a desperate message seeking her help – and the Mages themselves cross Mairi’s path. Suddenly, remaining unnoticed is no longer an option.

There’s more to Mairi than she realises but, if she wants to fulfil her full potential, she’s going to have to fight to stay alive – and only time will tell if she can beat the Mages at their own game. From twisted wynds and tartan shops to a dangerous daemon and the magic infused City Chambers, the future of a nation might lie with one solitary woman.

REVIEW: This fantasy magic-based class struggle adventure is set in a version of Glasgow in an approximation of the early Victorian period. Harper’s feisty heroine, Mairi, has had a tough time of it. Raised in an orphanage and determined to better herself, she is currently working as a shopgirl/general servant to an unpleasant couple who run a shop selling tartan cloth. The other thing to know about her is that she cannot speak.

Having a mute heroine could have really got in the way. But Harper’s clever writing and skill in getting us to care about her main character meant that it didn’t in any way slow down the action. The scene setting is excellent. Tension crackled off the pages as Mairi tries to keep a low profile in a city where anyone different is immediately at risk.

There is a zombie element – the Afflicted who roam the streets at night looking for anyone to snack on. Obviously there is also a curfew in place for the protection of everyday folk, who are understandably terrified of the Afflicted. Especially as no one really knows how they are made. Do they become infected by being scratched or bitten by an Afflicted? Is it an illness? Or is it magic? The Mages claim to protect the general population, but then they claim to work for the service of the city. And as far as everyone else is concerned, they live a life of luxury shrouded in secrecy and if anyone tries to get too close – the consequences are dire.

This one grabbed me from the beginning and didn’t let go until the end. And now, I’m desperate to know what is going to happen next. Very highly recommended for fans of gripping historical fantasy stories featuring a gutsy heroine. While I obtained an arc of Hummingbird from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Prison of Sleep – Book 2 of the Journals of Zaxony Delatree duology by Tim Pratt #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #PrisonofSleepbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this entertaining duology – Doors of Sleepsee my review. So I was delighted when I spotted this offering and it’s been one I’ve been really looking forward to tucking into.

BLURB: Every time Zaxony Delatree falls asleep he wakes up on a new world. His life has turned into an endless series of brief encounters. But at least he and Minna, the one companion who has found a way of travelling with him, are no longer pursued by the psychotic and vengeful Lector.

But now Zax has been joined once again by Ana, a companion he thought left behind long ago. Ana is one of the Sleepers, a group of fellow travellers between worlds. Ana tells Zax that he is unknowingly host to a parasitic alien that exists partly in his blood and partly between dimensions. The chemical that the alien secretes is what allows Zax to travel. Every time he does, however, the parasite grows, damaging the fabric of the Universes. Anas is desperate to recruit Zax to her cause and stop the alien. But there are others who are using the parasite, such as the cult who serve the Prisoner – an entity trapped in the dimension between universes. Can Zax, Minna, Ana and the other Sleepers band together and stop them?

REVIEW: This book is the second in a duology set in a fast-paced multiverse adventure tale, so my firm recommendation is to head for Doors of Sleep, the first book in the series, before getting stuck into Prison of Sleep.

The first book features Zaxony’s adventures as he is catapulted into travelling to another world every time he falls asleep. Early in his journey, he meets and falls for Ana – and inadvertently yanks her along with him as they sleep together. The catch is that she hasn’t been infected with the parasite that allows him to hop from one world to another and she suffers a terrible mental breakdown travelling through the Void without that protection and runs off. Guilt-ridden and grieving, Zaxony has tried to find her. So I really appreciated that in this second book, I got to discover what has become of Ana and get to know her better. I loved this romantic thread that added to the emotional tenor of the story without in any way clogging up the pace or distracting from the main narrative.

This means that this book isn’t just from one viewpoint, which I enjoyed. Especially as I got to see what other characters think of Zaxony. As I’ve already mentioned, this story moves along at a brisk clip. Indeed, major events pile upon one another as we shuffle between the two main characters and I had to stay sharp to keep the narrative timelines straight. As with Doors of Sleep, the concept works really well. There is plenty of tension as Pratt isn’t afraid of killing off characters who have featured heavily in the storyline. So I was genuinely concerned for our plucky band of protagonists, throughout – and near the end of the story, I was more than a bit winded when one of the protagonists ended up being on the wrong side. I could appreciate all too well what powers his decision, even if it is a terrible one…

Pratt is very good at provided interesting, well-developed characters while mayhem continues to rain down upon them – which is technically far harder to achieve than he makes it look. But… I do have a frustration. A huge amount happens in this book and as I reached the end, I felt this series would have been improved if the events had unspooled over three books, instead of two. This particularly applies to the storyline featuring Lector, the primary antagonist in the first book. While the menace he poses is suitably sorted out – it did rather take back seat to the storyline featuring the Prisoner. And I would also have preferred seeing Pilgrim’s journey develop over a longer time, as it is another strand that feels a bit rushed. This is a wonderful bit of worldbuilding – and like other reviewers, I would appreciate reading other books in this series. Recommended for fans of multiverse adventures with strong protagonists and lots of action. While I obtained an arc of Prison of Sleep from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

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 NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK The River of Silver: Tales from the Daevabad Trilogy S.A. Chakraborty #BrainfluffNETGALLEYAUDIOBOOKreview #TheRiverofSilverbookreview

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I’ve recently acquired the Netgalley app on my phone, enabling me to listen to audiobook arcs and so far it’s been a success. I recall reading this Sand and Sorcery trilogy with great fondness – read my reviews of The City of Brass, The Kingdom of Copper and The Empire of Gold – so when I saw that Chakraborty had released an audiobook of stories based in that world, I jumped at the opportunity to tuck into this offering.

BLURB: A prospective new queen joins a court whose lethal history may overwhelm her own political savvy…

An imprisoned royal from a fallen dynasty and a young woman wrenched from her home cross paths in an enchanted garden…

A pair of scouts stumble upon a secret in a cursed winter wood that will turn over their world…

Now together in one place, these stories of Daevabad enrich a world already teeming with magic and wonder. From Manizheh’s first steps towards rebellion to adventures that take place after The Empire of Gold, this is a must-have collection for those who can’t get enough of Nahri, Ali, and Dara and all that unfolded around them.

REVIEW: This collection of shorter tales showcases Chakraborty’s writing chops. It takes more technical skill to craft a successful short story than a novel, because there is less time to pull the reader into your world. And while in a novel-length work, the three pillars of strong storytelling – setting, plot and characterisation – don’t always have to be perfectly balanced, or even fully realised, that isn’t the case when writing shorter fiction.

It doesn’t hurt to have an accomplished narrator, like Soneela Nankani to bring these stories to life. To the extent that I had to make several starts before I could get through the first very emotional story, which had me in bits. Before each story, Nankani announces whereabouts within the trilogy the events take place and whether it provides a spoiler or not. This useful addition makes the collection an ideal companion read alongside the trilogy, providing extra insights into all the main characters who feature, along with interesting backstories that may have been mentioned within the main trilogy, but now are fully fleshed out.

I think that first wrenching story is my favourite – and it also provides a poignant insight into the suffering of a character whose subsequent anger has a profound effect on Daevabad. More than anything, this collection reminded me all over again just how the enmity within the city affects the main characters and what a claustrophobic, hurtful place it has become. Highly recommended for fans of the Daevabad Trilogy – and it is also worth reading alongside the series, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of immersing yourself in this classy sand and sorcery adventure. While I obtained an audiobook arc of The River of Silver from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Witness for the Persecution – Book 3 of the Jersey Girl Legal Mystery series by E.J. Copperman #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #WitnessforthePersecutionbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the very funny first-person narrative of criminal attorney Sandy in the first book of this series, Inherit the Shoes – see my review. So I jumped at the chance to read and review this offering.

BLURB: Former New Jersey prosecutor Sandy Moss moved to a prestigious Los Angeles law firm to make a new start as a family lawyer. So it seems a little unfair that they have created a criminal law division specifically for her. Just because she’s successfully defended two murder trials, it doesn’t mean she likes them!

But when abrasive Hollywood movie director Robert Reeves is accused of murdering a stuntman on set, Sandy finds she can’t say no when he demands her help. Robert might be an unpleasant, egotistical liar, but something tells Sandy that he’s innocent – even if no one else can see it. At least this time, she reassures herself, her charismatic, adorable, and oh so annoying TV star boyfriend Patrick McNabb isn’t involved in the case. He isn’t . . . right?

REVIEW: I have a fondness for murder mysteries, but these days I’m also looking for books that are lighter in tone. The two requirements don’t tend to marry up all that often – but with Witness for the Persecution Sandy’s very funny first-person narrative on all that is happening in her life makes this murder mystery huge fun. Copperman manages to achieve the ongoing humour without diminishing the seriousness of the death, which I also appreciated and is another indication that this author is an experienced wordsmith who knows what they’re doing.

I enjoyed the interesting aspect of this one – that Sandy’s client, who is at risk of going to jail for a very long time – is someone that she thoroughly dislikes. It adds an interesting dimension to the story, especially as all the evidence seems to point in his direction. As with Inherit the Shoes, the actual whodunit is well crafted, with plenty of twisty surprises and red herrings aplenty along the way. I had worked out who the actual perpetrator was well before the denouement – but that didn’t matter too much. Because there is still the issue of whether Sandy can convince the jury that Horrible Robert (as I ended up labelling him) is innocent.

I also thoroughly enjoyed reading the glitches in Sandy’s relationship with the gorgeous Patrick McNabb. What happens when you become increasingly convinced that the love of your life is more interested in the chase, than settling down to a regular live-in relationship? Sandy’s thoughts on the romance in her life are both poignant and funny, though well leavened by the strong support she has from best friend Angie, who moved to L.A. to be with her. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed jumping back into Sandy’s world and would highly recommend this one to anyone who enjoys a dash of humour with their courtroom dramas. While I obtained an arc of Witness for the Persecution from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Murder in the Park – Book 1 of the Oak Park Village Mystery series by Jeanne M. Dam #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #MurderintheParkbookreview

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I’m a fan of 1920s historical murder mysteries – and this one caught my attention as I noticed that the heroine had also been affected by the fallout of WWI. The other plus point is that it’s the first book in the series and although one of my hobbies is crashing midway into established series – it’s a habit I’m trying to break.

BLURB: June, 1925. Having been widowed in the First World War, Elizabeth Fairchild lives a quiet life at the home of her wealthy parents in genteel Oak Park village, Illinois. Although she does her best to avoid emotional entanglements, determined never to be hurt again, Elizabeth forms a close friendship with gentle Mr Anthony, who owns the local antiques store.

But tragedy strikes when Mr Anthony is found stabbed to death in the alley behind his shop. Why would anyone murder a mild-mannered antiques dealer who simply loved beautiful things? A robbery gone wrong? A gangland execution? Or could it have something to do with the mysterious customer who bought a gold pocket watch from Mr Anthony on the day he died? When one of her father’s oldest friends is accused of the crime, Elizabeth determines to expose the real killer. But her investigations soon attract unwelcome attention. With gangsters moving into the neighbourhood from nearby Chicago, Oak Park is no longer the safe haven it once was. Could Elizabeth be seriously out of her depth?

REVIEW: It’s always something of a challenge to write a heroine who tends to be rather stoic – she can so easily come across as uncaring. But Dams is an experienced author with the long-running Dorothy Martin series under her belt and that sure-footedness shows in her characterisation of Elizabeth and the dynamic within her family.

I really liked how the shock of the murder within the close-knit community shakes Elizabeth up and causes her to rethink her own attitude towards those around her, as well as hardening her determination to not let a flagrant injustice lie. Dams shows just what a gutsy decision that proves to be, as some unsavoury, dangerous people crawl out of the woodwork to try and intimidate her into piping down and accepting the status quo. It had even more heft as Dam’s painstaking research has uncovered that those elements could easily have been living within Oak Park Village at the time.

The setting is very well established. While the book focuses on Elizabeth’s daily routine as a young, wealthy white woman, Dams is unflinching in also featuring the gulf between the haves and have-nots of the time, which I really liked. Often historical whodunits tend to skate over the societal faultlines of the time and kudos to Dams for not taking that comfortable route. As for the whodunit, I won’t pretend that the solution provides a huge surprise – but that isn’t what powers the story. It’s far more about what unrest this murder stirs up, both societally and personally for Elizabeth, which is depicted really successfully making this a memorable and enjoyable story. Highly recommended for fans of historical murder mysteries with a splash of gentle romance and a very well-researched setting. While I obtained an arc of Murder in the Park from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of For the Murder – Book 1 of The Murder series by Gabrielle Ash #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #FortheMurderbookreview

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The title first caught my attention and then the blurb, when I realised the murder they were talking about wasn’t a crime, but the collective noun as in a murder of crows. So I was really pleased when I was approved for an arc, especially as I haven’t read anything else by this author.

TRUNCATED BLURB: A lone crow is a dead crow.

That’s what Diana Van Doren, exiled crow shifter, has always believed. The last murder of crow shifters known to exist wouldn’t accept her into the flock, leaving her vulnerable. Worse, her kleptomaniacal father’s schemes put them in a demon’s crosshairs. Without the support of the murder, Diana fears death will come all too quickly. So when an opportunity to steal a rare blade that can kill anything—even demons—crosses their path, she decides to play her father’s games one last time.

However, she isn’t the only one hoping to take the blade. Sasha Sokolov, a clairvoyant, has been forced from childhood to serve the very demon hunting Diana and her family. After two decades of service, his boss finally offers him what he can’t refuse: freedom. All he has to do is bring in the knife and the Van Dorens, and his bloodline will be free from serving the demon forever…

REVIEW: This is an intriguing urban fantasy, where Diana is a crow shapeshifter who has been exiled from the murder she was born into through no fault of her own. This is a disaster for her as crows are highly sociable birds and being alone not only is emotionally damaging, but crow magic works best in concert. Worse, she is in thrall to her uncaring, abusive parents who are far too caught up in their own woes to waste any time worrying about their daughter. An unsuccessful con merchant, her father also has a bad habit of seriously upsetting very powerful, dangerous beings. Diana’s vulnerability and fragility is well portrayed without tipping over into pitiful victimhood, which would have made me lose patience with her. I was always rooting for Diana to survive throughout, which didn’t feel as if it was a guarantee.

I also liked Sasha, the lethal fixer for demon-general Madame. His uncaring façade and world-weary acceptance of the vicious deeds he is forced to commit comes over well. So the initial encounter and growing relationship between the two main protagonists is intriguing and mostly well handled. However, I do have a niggle that knocked off a point – there were times when I felt the pace stuttered as Ash reiterated, yet again, how much Sasha worried about his mother/the odd sensations he’s experiencing since first meeting Diana, while she is goes on reeling at the odd sensations she’s experiencing since first meeting Sasha and wondering whether to tell him why. The book would have been a more satisfying read if some of those internal musing were edited out, especially as the reader learnt nothing new in the process.

That said, this is an enjoyable world. The general nastiness is graphically conveyed in some gripping and brutal action scenes that are all the more shocking as a contrast to the delicate and nuanced characterisation. Ash is clearly an accomplished writer with a strong, individual writing style and I kept turning the pages to discover what happened next. I look forward to reading the next book in the series in due course. Highly recommended for fans of urban fantasy who enjoy a convincing, dangerous world, unusual characters and strong romantic thread running through the story. While I obtained an arc of For the Murder from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Charming Man by C.K. McDonnell – Book 2 of The Stranger Times series #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheCharmingManbookreview

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I read and thoroughly enjoyed The Stranger Times, which is the first book in the series so I immediately requested the sequel and was delighted to be approved. Would I enjoy it as much?

BLURB: Vampires do not exist. Everyone knows this. So it’s particularly annoying when they start popping up around Manchester . . .
Nobody is pleased about it. Not the Founders, the secret organisation for whom vampires were invented as an allegory, nor the Folk, the magical people hidden in plain sight who only want a quiet life. And definitely not the people of Manchester, because there is nothing more irksome than being murdered by an allegory run amok. Somebody needs to sort this out fast before all Hell really breaks loose – step forward the staff of The Stranger Times.

It’s not like they don’t have enough to be dealing with. Assistant Editor Hannah has come back from getting messily divorced to discover that someone is trying to kidnap a member of their staff and while editor Vincent Banecroft would be delighted to see the back of any of his team, he doesn’t like people touching his stuff – it’s the principle of the thing. Throw in a precarious plumbing situation, gambling debts, an entirely new way of swearing, and a certain detective inspector with what could be kindly referred to as ‘a lot of baggage’ and it all adds up to another hectic week in the life of the newspaper committed to reporting the truth that nobody else will touch.

REVIEW: I’m always a bit wary about humorous fantasy. Far too often I’ve been assured that I’ll find a book absolutely hilarious when – as far as I’m concerned – it’s nothing of the sort. But on reading the first book of the series, I regularly laughed aloud as I inhaled the trials and tribulations of the staff working for a newspaper that features the weird and whacky. In amongst the adventure are also some delightful snippets featured in the paper – it’s these that mostly had me howling with laughter. The humour is very British, as this series is based in Manchester, a northern, industrial English city renowned for its soggy weather, which will give you an indication as to whether this is your type of thing.

This Charming Man is just as amusing and picks up more or less where The Stranger Times left off. That said, I don’t think you need to read the first book to fully appreciate this one, which is always an advantage with a series. I’ve seen this series compared with Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series – and for once, there is some mileage in that comparison. McDonnell also writes in third person semi-omniscient viewpoint – which means the author is actually telling the story, at least in places, rather than using the protagonists to do the task. I’m not a huge fan of this mode of narration in modern fiction, other than children’s books, as it’s easy to do badly and difficult to do well. But McDonnell is an experienced wordsmith – he also has written The Dublin Trilogy and the McGarry Stateside series under the pen-name Caimh McDonnell, which I haven’t yet read, but will be checking out very soon.

The mystery at the heart of the book has a nicely satisfying consequence of some thoroughly unpleasant behaviour. So there is a strong moral theme which comes through without being remotely finger-wagging – something else that Pratchett was adept at, particularly in the earlier books. While reading this offering, I enjoyed reacquainting myself with the characters, and was interested to discover why the ghastly Vincent Banecroft, editor of The Stranger Times, is quite so awful. As with most really funny books, there is light and shade within the story, so there are also moments of real poignancy.

All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read and I look forward to checking out more of McDonnell’s writing – while oh-so-impatiently waiting for the next adventure featuring the eccentrics working for The Stranger Times. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of This Charming Man from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Scot Mist – Book 4 of the Last Ditch Mystery series by Catriona McPherson #BrainfluffNETGALLEYreview #ScotMistbookreview

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I liked the look of the cover and the blurb sounded thoroughly intriguing. While I probably wouldn’t have wanted to pick up a murder mystery set in the early stages of lockdown last year, now those weird days of 2020 seem such a very long time ago. What I hadn’t appreciated is that this is the fourth book in the series.

BLURB: March 2020 and Operation Cocker is a go! The owners of the Last Ditch Motel, with a little help from their friend Lexy Campbell, are preparing to support one another through the oncoming lockdown, offering the motel’s spare rooms to a select few from the local area in need of sanctuary.

While the newbies are settling in, an ambiguous banner appears demanding one of them return home. But who is it for? Lexy and her friends put a plan into action to ward off the perpetrator, but the very next night, a resident disappears and a message scrawled in human blood is found. As California shuts down, the Last Ditchers make another gruesome discovery. They tried to create a haven but now it seems as if everyone’s in danger. Is the motel under attack from someone on the outside? Scary as that is, the alternative is worse by far.

REVIEW: Despite this being the fourth book in the series, this was my first foray into Lexy’s quirky world of eccentrics who all, for one reason or another, fall outside what society regards as the norm. Lexy, a Scot who has relatively recently arrived in California is the first person protagonist in this irreverent and unusual murder mystery. Noleen and her wife, Kathi, who is also a compulsive cleaner, are worried that the authorities will force them to hand over The Last Ditch Motel and Skweeky-Cleen laundrette as part of the national emergency sweeping across the country in the face of the looming pandemic. So Lexy comes up with a solution – fill the rooms with relatives of front-line workers who want to shield their families from possible infection. Or those who will be particularly vulnerable, which includes her boyfriend’s blind mother. In amongst those who are keen to move in are two spouses enduring physical and emotional abuse, along with two very small children. In fact, they end up with twelve adults and five children keen to join in their lockdown before it actually becomes a legal requirement. Meanwhile, Lexy is living a short distance away in her houseboat, which is connected to the motel by barbed wire fencing.

While the murder mystery certainly provides much of the narrative drive, the interaction between the guests and their unfolding stories also keeps the pages turning. McPherson’s humour ranges from pure farce, to witty wordplay and plenty of enjoyable snark. I was grinning while reading and on occasions laughed out loud. But what I loved most is the amount of heart and warmth in amongst the smart cynicism. Though this is a story about betrayal leading to murder, it is also a book about love and acceptance – though you won’t catch Lexy putting it in those terms. This noisy and extended found family all have their problems, and while there are irritations on a day to day level – providing much of the mayhem and hilarity that runs throughout the book – there is a basic fund of good will that is the bedrock of this small community.

So a murder that might incriminate one of the people living in the motel immediately undermines that cohesion and Lexy is determined to discover the culprit as fast as possible. As this is the fourth book in the series, she and her companions have a track record in solving murders – something the local police officer is determined won’t happen again. I liked how the stakes were raised in this story and I particularly enjoyed how the murder was solved. McPherson clearly has a profound understanding of how people tick, managing to keep a strong sense of compassion along with the humour, which is far harder to pull off than she makes it look. This might have been my first experience of McPherson’s writing, but it certainly won’t be my last. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Scot Mist from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10