Tag Archives: feisty heroine

#Sci Fi Month Review of INDIE Ebook On Silver Wings – Book 1 of the Hayden War Cycle series by Evan Currie #Brainfluffbookreview #SciFiMonthOnSilverWingsbookreview

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I’ve enjoyed Currie’s writing – see my review of Heirs of Empire – and this is a series Himself has been nagging suggesting that I read for a while now, so I’m linking my review with Sci Fi Month…

In the future, mankind has colonized other worlds, mined asteroid belts, and sent ships so far into the blackness of space that light from their drives won’t reach Earth for centuries. Through it all, life has been found in almost every system we visited and yet we’ve never encountered another intelligent species. Until now.

When the Colony on the planet known as Hayden’s World stops transmitting on their CASIMIR FTL system, a Solari Fleet Task Force is sent to investigate. When they arrive there are enough oddities in the situation that they in turn send in a special operations unit to contact the colonists and determine what happened. Only one of those operators survives to make planetfall. Sergeant Sorilla Aida finds herself against an alien force of unknown power and capability. Her only assets? A depleted suit of power armor, her rifle, basic kit, and a few hundred Hayden born civilians looking to take back their home. Just what she was trained for.

That is the starting point of the book and the opening sequence is punchy and full of drama. I love Sorilla and the cool high-tech toys she has to play with. I also enjoy the fact that the medical tech is also very whizzy and high-functioning so we don’t have a single soldier going up against a powerful alien enemy with a collection of serious injuries when by rights she shouldn’t be moving from a hospital bed. That’s a scenario I get a tad tired of in this sub-genre at times. Currie is careful to ensure the physical limits of his super-soldier are sufficiently realistic so that while I’m sympathetic and concerned about her pain – I’m not rolling my eyes at being yanked out of the story at the unfeasibility of it all.

Currie also handles the scene changes and inevitably wide cast of characters that have to be involved in this type of scenario without holding up the pace with lengthy info-dumps or those wincing, ‘As you know, Bob…’ conversations. I found some of the early engagements both exciting and the aftermath genuinely poignant. The outcomes matter – not just on an epic Earth-is-at-stake scale, but on the personal level where friends and lovers are lost.

There is plenty of action and tension to make me continue turning the pages in order to find out what happens next in this exciting military sci fi adventure. One of the reasons I wanted to continue turning those pages was to find out more about the mysterious aliens and their terrifying weapons. Currie’s deft handling of the steadily increasing bank of knowledge about these creatures was a major contribution to this enjoyable opener to this series. I now know why Himself kept banging on about it.

Highly recommended for fans of epic and engrossing military science fiction.
9/10

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Review of KINDLE Ebook Windhaven by George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle #Brainfluffbookreview #Windhavenbookreview

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While I cannot get on with his sprawling epic, A Song of Ice and Fire, I am a real fan of much of Martin’s writing – see my review of Tuf Voyaging here, and I also enjoyed Lisa Tuttle’s The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross – see my review here. So it was a no-brainer that I would pounce on this one when I spotted it. I’m so glad I did – and I’ll be linking this review to Sci-Fi Month.

The planet of Windhaven was not originally a home to humans, but it became one following the crash of a colony starship. It is a world of small islands, harsh weather, and monster-infested seas. Communication among the scattered settlements was virtually impossible until the discovery that, thanks to light gravity and a dense atmosphere, humans were able to fly with the aid of metal wings made of bits of the cannibalized spaceship.

Many generations later, among the scattered islands that make up the water world of Windhaven, no one holds more prestige than the silver-winged flyers, who bring news, gossip, songs, and stories. They are romantic figures crossing treacherous oceans, braving shifting winds and sudden storms that could easily dash them from the sky to instant death. They are also members of an increasingly elite caste, for the wings—always in limited quantity—are growing gradually rarer as their bearers perish. With such elitism comes arrogance and a rigid adherence to hidebound tradition. And for the flyers, allowing just anyone to join their cadre is an idea that borders on heresy. Wings are meant only for the offspring of flyers—now the new nobility of Windhaven. Except that sometimes life is not quite so neat…

The story charts the fortunes of Maris, who we first meet as a small child, foraging for anything of value on the beach when she makes a life-changing encounter. She meets a flyer called Russ who picks the child up and treats her dream of being a flyer as something more than just the imaginings of some land-bound brat. He eventually adopts her and trains her – until unexpectedly, he has a son. Maris helps to bring the motherless boy up, until the terrible day when she is forced to hand over the wings she has been flying with. For she is not entitled to keep them – they belong to Coll, Russ’s son, even though he yearns to be a singer and has already caught the eye of one of the best professional singers on Windhaven, who wishes to train him. But tradition says that Coll must follow Russ as a flyer, despite his inability to feel the wind.

As we follow Maris and her battle to continue to fly, we also learn of the original colonists and how they accidentally encountered Windhaven. The worldbuilding is excellent with wonderful descriptions of the storms that regularly sweep the planet and the air currents that generally keep the flyers in the sky – and occasionally fling them into the sea. It is a hard, dangerous life and flyers keep to themselves, forming close ties with each other, while despising those who are not able to fly.

A particular decision is made that overturns a tradition that has begun to cause problems – and in a less nuanced, clever book, we would get a variety of adventures involving talented flyer Maris and that would be that. However in this book, decisions have consequences that no one foresaw. The rest of the book continues to follow what befalls Maris, while also exploring the fallout from those decisions and how they impact upon the traditional way of life on Windhaven for both flyers and land-bound alike. I love the way this plays out and how the previous faultlines in society are not only heightened but previous prejudices are also strengthened.

This is a clever, thoughtful book that nonetheless also delivers an engrossing story full of adventure and incident, featuring a sympathetic and believable protagonist. Highly recommended for fans of quality colony adventure… quality fantasy… quality books, basically. Read it and you’ll see what I mean.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – When spiders unite, they can tie down a lion… #Brainfluffbookblog

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is SPIDERS, so I’ve selected Spider Bones – Book 13 of The Temperance Brennan series by Kathy Reichs.

 

This edition was produced by Scribner in August 2010. It is my favourite with that detailed scene with the river and fields providing the backdrop for that dew-beaded web. The hole in the middle where the spider ought to be somehow makes it creepier. If I have a grumble, it’s that the title font is rather plain and flat. I would have liked to have seen it embossed or at least bevelled. But I think it is effective and clear.

 

Published in August 2010 by Pocket, I love the brilliant yellow of the cover that glows, especially in thumbnail. The trees festooned with webs scrambling across the top of the cover gives a sense of menace. The font featuring Reichs’ name nicely pops and the lonely woman walking with the tree roots under her feet looks strikingly vulnerable. The problem I have with this one is that there is far too much chatter over the cover – otherwise it would be my favourite.

 

This edition, published by Arrow in July 2011, is also a good effort. I love the bones featured in the foreground with a trailing web around it, submerged under the water. But I’m particularly keen on the wonderful title font that really stands out in thumbnail.

 

Produced by William Heinemann in October 2010, this edition has an alternative title – Mortal Remains. I do like this effort – the title and author text contrasts well against the surface of the lake or river and looks particularly good in thumbnail. I do wonder exactly what those dear little fish are feeding on…

 

This edition, published by Arrow in March 2013 is a close contender for my favourite cover. I love the web of cracked glass caused by a bullet hole and the uneven title font scratched in it. Clever and effective, the forest is partially obscured by the thick dirt on the crazed windscreen. My problem with this version is that I think it looks as this is horror novel, instead of a murder mystery. Which is your favourite cover?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Poisoned Chalice Murder – Book 2 of the Black and Dods Mystery series by Diane Janes #Brainfluffbookreview #ThePoisonedChaliceMurderbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, The Magic Chair Murder, set in 1920s England – see my review here – where Frances Black and Tom Dods team up to discover what happened to a woman who disappeared in mysterious circumstances. So I was delighted when this offering became available and I was approved to read and review it.

Tom Dod’s Aunt Hetty is worried – three sudden deaths have occurred in the sleepy village of Durley Dean. They might seem like tragic accidents, but Aunt Hetty isn’t so sure. After all, all three took a stand against Reverend Pinder, the new vicar of St Agnes Church, whose controversial changes have divided the congregation. But is there really a killer among the parishioners? And while Fran leaps at the chance to spend a weekend at Aunt Hetty’s sleuthing with Tom, could the trip prove to be a poisoned chalice in more ways than one?

While the mystery obviously takes centre stage and needs to be successful, for me the added pleasure with this series is the really likeable, intelligent main character, Fran Black. She is compromised, having been deserted by her husband at a time when divorce carried with it a huge social stigma and was difficult and costly to acquire. Her mother is querulous and demanding, having lost both sons in the Great War and while Fran is able to live on a fixed income without having to work, she is more than happy to become involved in the intricacies of an investigation as an escape from her unsatisfactory home life.

Janes is adept at slipping in all sorts of social and political details of the time without holding up the investigation, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I do like the fact that when someone is arrested and charged with murder, Fran and Tom become very aware that if they cannot find the real murderer, an innocent man will hang, which nicely ups the stakes. As with the previous murder mystery, this one owes its inspiration to the likes of Agatha Christie, with plenty of suspects.

I got there before the big reveal, but to be honest, that wasn’t a dealbreaker as it was only a couple of chapters ahead of the denouement and with all the other issues going on relating to Fran and Tom’s relationship – or lack of it – the plot didn’t stand or fall on the mystery alone. The pacing was nicely judged, the characters memorable and I kept thinking what a cracking TV show this would make. In the meantime, I look forward to the next one in the series as I’m keen to see where Janes will take these characters next. Highly recommended for fans of historical cosy murder mysteries. While I obtained an arc of The Poisoned Chalice Murder from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 6th November, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog #TeaserTuesday

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

Second Star – Book 1 of the Star Svendotter series by Dana Stabenow

42% The worst thing about Charlie was that I couldn’t slug someone that much shorter than I was and look myself in the mirror the next morning. I began to feel that it might be something I could overcome, given time.
Reaching for a cutting board, she took another, closer look at me, and paused with the knife poised over a green pepper. “You look exhausted, Star. What’s really worrying you?”

BLURB: Earth’s first space colony is overrun by spacepirates, politicians and saboteurs. One person dedicates her life to keeping her beloved colony safe: Esther “Star” Svensdotter. She’s dealt with all kinds of human troublemakers, but the rules change when the colony receives its first contact from aliens.

I’ve read and enjoyed Stabenow’s successful best-selling Kate Shugak series – see my review of Less Than Treason. I’d had this space opera adventure on my Kindle for a while and decided to give it a whirl. So far I’m really enjoying Stabenow’s alternative take on our history, if those pesky aliens hanging out in the Beetlejuice sector really had roused themselves to get in touch…

Interview with JEAN LEE – Author of Fallen Princeborn: STOLEN #Brainfluffauthorinterview #JeanLeeauthorinterview

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I’d like to welcome Jean Lee, author of the recently released Fallen Princeborn: STOLEN which blew me away – see my review here. I’ve been reading Jean’s amazing blog for a while now and it’s always a pleasure so I was delighted to have a chance to chat to her about her writing.

How does Wisconsin inspire you as a writer?

Wisconsin breeds the fantastic.

We are home to peculiar, toothsome beasts like the Hodag, devourer of all-white bulldogs.

We are home to unique, word-some writers like Neil Gaiman: “There’s that tiny off-kilter nature in the Midwest that’s in the details,” he says when asked about writing…

Neil Gaiman says ‘American Gods’ is

rooted in Minnesota-Wisconsin weirdness

The writer found a strange quality in the Midwest that fuels his “American Gods.”

We are home to hidden towns, small growths of community where railroads and highways meet, places that no one finds unless they mean to find it. Picturesque, perhaps? Plainfield was indeed picturesque once—until Ed Gein was arrested in November of 1957. You may know the rest. Basically, Gein inspired many of the fictional horror icons we know today: Norman Bates, Leatherface, and Buffalo Bill are all rooted in the reality of Ed Gein.
We drove through the wild patches between the hidden towns often when I was a child. I never tried to occupy myself with books or toys in the car. There was too much to see, out there in those scattered homesteads, too much to wonder about. What happened inside that dying barn? Why is that gravel drive roped off, and where does it lead? Where are all the people for those rusted cars littering the field?

This is the Wisconsin I live in now. The land dips and rises in unexpected places. The trees may crowd a rural highway so much you can lose yourself driving, only to have the tunnel burst open to sunshine and a white-crested river running beneath a bridge you’d swear had never seen a car before. In the small farming town of my youth, I could stand on the lone highway through town and hear snowflakes land beneath the orange street lights.

Wisconsin is filled with hidden towns, small growths of community where railroads and highways meet, places that no one finds unless they mean to find it. Rock Springs was a town of 600 when I was a child, a little grain-fill stop for the railroad. We didn’t even have a gas station until I turned 5, and our library, a small portion of the town’s community center, could fit in a utility closet (it probably was a utility closet at one point). Farms and wild wood filled the gaps between towns. Unless, of course, you went towards Wisconsin Dells, where the wilderness is trimmed and prepped and ready for its mandatory close-up before the tourist rushes to the proper civilization of water parks and casinos.

We drove through those wild patches often. I never tried to occupy myself with books or toys in the car. There was too much to see, out there in those scattered homesteads, too much to wonder about. What happened inside that dying barn? Why is that gravel drive roped off, and where does it lead? Where are all the people for those rusted cars littering the field?

This is the Wisconsin I live in now. The land dips and rises in unexpected places. The trees may crowd a rural highway so much you can lose yourself driving, only to have the tunnel burst open to sunshine and a white-crested river running beneath a bridge you’d swear had never seen a car before. In Rock Springs, one could stand on the lone highway through town and hear snowflakes land beneath the orange street lights.

Both Charlotte and Liam, the Fallen Prince, are strong, nuanced characters – when you first started writing this book whose story did you most want to tell?

At the outset, the story was all about Charlotte. It was strictly in her point of view, the story opened with more of Charlotte and her sister’s life before boarding the bus, and so on. I wanted Charlotte to escape her wretched life and fly. But once I got her into River Vine, I began to see an ensemble take shape, a family of characters bearing their own shames and despairs, all struggling to free themselves and find hope in the future.

Liam wasn’t much to me at the outset–just a pompous artist who had some growing up to do. It was Arlen, the teacher, that got me to slow down and see what he saw: a kind heart that had been brutalized so often it had forgotten what it meant to feel. The more I drafted, the more I came to see Liam’s inner struggle to grow beyond his cage.

When did you start writing Fallen Princeborn: Stolen?

2010. Yup, that’s a while ago, but life tends to fill the years, and in my case, I had just become a mom. Postpartum depression hit hard. Very, very hard. I felt very cut-off from life. I couldn’t feel the joy of motherhood. I found myself often staring out a window, trapped in walls yet somehow exiled outside of feeling. I’d look upon my sleeping baby and feel nothing but guilt because I couldn’t feel complete with motherhood. Then a friend introduced me to the awesome challenge that is National Novel Writing Month. From November 1st-30th, you are to write 50,000 words of a story not yet started (that’s cheating. Outlines are permissible, though.). The story may need more than 50K words, but what matters is that you reach that length in thirty days.

I swung it that year, and felt AMAZING. I was escaping the trap, driven to feel with characters outside of this world. I couldn’t just sit and dwell on individual lines or plot points—I had to keep going, and because I had to march on in the narrative, I found myself marching on in real life, too. I wasn’t staring out the window waiting for minutes to pass. I was…I was back, you know?

I felt a part of life again, enjoying the touch of my daughter’s tiny hands around my finger and her boundless grey-blue eyes. I reveled in these things. I felt…complete.

How did you figure out the names of your characters?

Charlotte’s name came from a baby book in the long, long, LONG process of choosing a name for our firstborn. After weeks of highlighting and crossing out names, we had narrowed ourselves down to Charlotte and ____. Well, we went with ____ for our kid, so I kept the name Charlotte for my heroine. I’d grown attached to the name over those weeks. It carries both feminine and masculine traits, both delicacy and strength. A perfect fit.

Nature was ripe for names, since this small society has been cut off from the rest of the world for centuries. From this I uprooted names like Poppy, Ember, and even Campion (it’s a kind of rose). Many of the other names I chose after studying The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook. I loved having this broad overview of names across various cultures. It’s through this book I discovered names that fit some aspect of my characters’ nature, such as Dorjan—“Dark Man” and Liam—“strong-willed warrior.” It’s important to have names that matter. Be it the history, the meaning, or because my child almost carried it—the name needs to matter.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Writing’s a must. When I write, I channel the depression away from my family and into a universe where my characters can fight it.

It’s never completely gone, you know, depression. We can slay it, burn it, bury it—but it never dies. Only by spinning stories can I transplant some of that darkness into villains, heroes, and worlds. From the darkness grows the adventure and the hope.

What has it been like – juggling writing, teaching and three kids?

Three years ago, you may as well have asked what it’s like to juggle three bowling pins with spikes on fire. Back when I was trying to write in bedlam, I stole whatever time I could before dawn. The television usually bought me at least an hour in the day to outline, draft dialogue, or keep up with my blog. The children’s naptime never felt long enough, but I made due.

Once the boys began preschool, I could at least promise myself one hour of writing time a day. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But that’s the thing about writing and keeping a job and running a household: every minute to write’s a blessing. Sometimes those days crash and burn. Other times—like when the boys didn’t have school—we found other ways to be creative.

Now that Blondie, Biff, and Bash are in school all day, I always have time for writing, be it for the blog, editing, drafting, etc. Granted, summer’s still a trial, but because I didn’t give up on writing when time was scarce, I have many stories to share here in the daylight hours.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Research can feel like a big time-suck, but when it comes to publishing, DO YOUR RESEARCH! There are so many scammers out there with their “author services” and “exclusive anthologies.” They’re going to talk you up, make you feel amazing, and before you know it you’ve paid four digits for lousy editing on a slap-dash affair no one’s going to see. Scope out the small presses. Join author groups online to gather recommendations for editors, book designers, and cover artists. Your story deserves to be seen, but when it’s ready.

Yes, an author platform really does help. Don’t think of it as yet another time suck; rather, treat it as the regimented prose exercise. Reading countless other voices, writing tight posts on a regular basis—all helps the craft, not hinders it. No, it’s not the novel you dream hitting the best-seller list, but making a website, commenting on social media—these simple actions give your name an author’s history. Other writers/publishers/agents/readers can trace your name back to studies, comments, and whatever else you write. You build that platform, you build a writer’s resume for the publishing business to see.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

When my sons’ principal calls. Nothing f***s over the creative mindset when you have to come and talk about one son, or the other, or both. Again.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I do write under a pseudonym, actually. When you’re a preacher’s kid, all your actions and talents are scrutinized—“you play piano just like your mom!” “You sing just like your dad!” “You write just like your father.” “You should be just like your mom and become a teacher.”

There comes a time when you get sick of all the comparisons, and just want to be known for something YOU do, not what your parents do. So when I started my site Jean Lee’s World, I wanted to see who’d like my writing for my writing, NOT because of who I am or whomever I’m related to. Writing under another name’s also allowed me to work through past traumas and current depressions without bringing any family members under fire, which is important to me. These are my demons, not theirs.

How did you begin writing the short stories that accompany your novel?
The short stories began as a writing experiment last year. My husband had been listening to John Carpenter’s Lost Themes, and a story began to shape in my head of a child dying at the hands of a cuddly creature before a dark skulking thing gets involved. When I showed the short story to my publishers, they encouraged me to write more short stories as little introductions to the universe of Charlotte and these imprisoned shapeshifters. Thus Tales of the River Vine was born, with stories following both antagonists and protagonists across the years.

The challenge with such “prequels,” as they are, was to find emotional centers without chipping away at the emotional arc of Fallen Princeborn: Stolen. Take the last story of the collection, “Tattered Rhapsody.” Originally I intended the story to be called “Dirty Charlie,” featuring Charlotte the Wise-Ass taking on some gang members at her high school for profit. Girl’s got to earn bus money somehow, right?

But the story felt wrong. I couldn’t pin it at first. Charlotte’s there, she’s showing her strength, her protective instincts for her kid sister. And yet, the story felt…heartless.
Then it hit me: Charlotte’s heart doesn’t speak with her fists. It speaks with her music.
And just like that, the story’s heart found a pulse, a rhythm both despairing yet defiant. Just like Charlotte.

I hope you enjoy reading “Tattered Rhapsody” and the other Tales of the River Vine and telling me what you think. They’re all FREE on Kindle, Nook, and other publishing platforms!

 

 

 

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Fury – Book 3 of the Menagerie series by Rachel Vincent #Brainfluffbookreview #Furybookreview

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1986: Rebecca Essig leaves a slumber party early but comes home to a massacre—committed by her own parents. Only one of her siblings has survived. But as the tragic event unfolds, she begins to realize that other than a small army of six-year-olds, she is among very few survivors of a nationwide slaughter. The Reaping has begun.

Present day: Pregnant and on the run with a small band of compatriots, Delilah Marlow is determined to bring her baby into the world safely and secretly. But she isn’t used to sitting back while others suffer, and she’s desperate to reunite Zyanya, the cheetah shifter, with her brother and children. To find a way for Lenore the siren to see her husband. To find Rommily’s missing Oracle sisters. To unify this adopted family of fellow cryptids she came to love and rely on in captivity. But Delilah is about to discover that her role in the human versus cryptid war is destined to be much larger—and more dangerous—than she ever could have imagined.

On realising that this was the third book in the series, I broke with my usual habit of crashing midway into a series and got hold of the first two book and read them first. I was quickly swept up in the dark, intense world of Delilah, who is imprisoned and stripped of all her rights as a human after an incident at a local fair reveals her to be a cryptid in Menagerie – see my review here. This book is structured differently, in that it is largely a dual narrative so that as well as following Delilah’s story in first person viewpoint, we also learn a lot more about The Reaping as we go back in time to the event that causes all the fae to be treated so appallingly and track the consequences and fallout through Rebecca’s viewpoint.

I really enjoyed this aspect – having read allusions to The Reaping throughout the previous two books, it was satisfying to learn more about what happened, particularly as these events increasingly begin to link with Delilah’s storyline. It wasn’t until I read this book that I realised just how unusual it is to have a pregnant protagonist, or one who is coping with a newborn baby in fantasy. It was a plus that the subject was really well done.

The new spin on the story prevented this series becoming predictable and repetitive – and I certainly didn’t see that ending coming. It’s been a while since I’ve been quite so poleaxed by the final denouement of a story, but it really works. I would emphasise, however, that this series and book is not suitable for younger teens and is not a YA read, despite the fact that Vincent has written successfully for that age-group. While I obtained an arc of Fury from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Fallen Princeborn: STOLEN by Jean Lee #Brainfluffbookreview #FallenPrinceborn:STOLENbookreview

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Jean Lee writes excellent articles on her blog – slices of her family and writing life that leap off the page. So when she asked me if I would be interested in reviewing her first full-length fantasy book, I jumped at the opportunity. I will be posting her fantastic interview on Monday…

In rural Wisconsin, an old stone wall is all that separates the world of magic from the world of man—a wall that keeps the shifters inside. When something gets out, people disappear. Completely.

Escaping from an abusive uncle, eighteen-year-old Charlotte is running away with her younger sister Anna. Together they board a bus. Little do they know that they’re bound for River Vine—a shrouded hinterland where dark magic devours and ancient shapeshifters feed, and where the seed of love sets root among the ashes of the dying.

This one starts with a bang. I love Lee’s immersive style as we immediately are caught up in Charlotte’s concerns once the bus comes to a stop and the passengers spill out. As well as keeping a firm eye on Anna, her rebellious teenage sister, Charlotte is busy checking out the reason why they’ve broken down… their fellow passengers… their surroundings… the odd behaviour of the local wildlife, particularly a certain raven… It’s clear she has a heightened sense of smell – and that while she is alert and apprehensive, she isn’t afraid. Lee does a masterful job of establishing Charlotte’s difference and concerns from the very first line. I loved her.

The worldbuilding is brilliant. Lee’s snappy prose style gives us a real sense of the surroundings – and thanks to Charlotte’s enhanced olfactory abilities, we not only get to see the world, we get to smell it, too. Once the turning point in the book occurs, Charlotte finds herself in a completely different place with different rules. We get to see her propensity to act first and consider later, even if she isn’t always sure that’s the best strategy. During her troubled and often violent past, this has proved to be successful and it also provides her with release for the simmering anger that drives her. I loved watching her progression as she very slowly starts to let her guard down – only for all her suspicions surge once more when she becomes convinced that she is being double-crossed.

The other main protagonist is Liam, the Bloody Prince, who makes a dramatic entrance thanks to Charlotte’s intervention. He is also an interesting mixture. Imbued with a great deal of innate power, his abilities have been compromised over the years by his tendency to use them for his own baser ends. I really liked this aspect – far too often protagonists pitch up with major abilities they have only used for the greater good, with only the baddies who give in to the darker side… But what if a main character’s upbringing is sufficiently skewed to lead him down some dark paths? Can he pull themselves free of such a compromised past and redeem himself? This is one of the main questions Jean asks.

And the clash of cultures between entitled, mesmerising Liam and embattled, bitter Charlotte ensures that plenty of sparks fly. His assumption that he can schmooze her with his usual mix of flattery and mind-power elicits her contemptuous fury, beginning to make him reconsider what he is doing.

He isn’t the only nuanced, interesting character – all the supporting cast have their own tales. I particularly love Arlen, who had the thankless task of raising Liam and his own gifted and powerful nephew and is still trying to hold everything together.

Those violet-eyed, murdering creatures are also fascinating, with their own tragic stories. Like the grief-stricken, trapped fae who has seen his children blown apart, and is intent on slaughtering any human he can get hold of. While he clearly shouldn’t prevail, I liked knowing why his behaviour is so savage. How refreshing to be sympathetic to the antagonists, especially given what they have done and what they are planning to do to humanity.

After the initial tension-filled opening and flurry of action, the pace eases up as we are given a ringside seat into Charlotte’s struggle to acclimatise and discover exactly what is going on. I didn’t mind – I was hooked. Once the story picked up again, gathering momentum for the final denouement I simply didn’t bother to put this one down. Lee’s spin on some of the classical mythical tropes, such as the Tree of Life and a usurped prince, is beautifully handled. There are a couple of short story collections set in this world, but I am hoping for another full-length book of more adventures in this savage, strange place.

Highly recommended for fans of quality, character-led fantasy.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Muse of Nightmares – Book 2 of the Strange the Dreamer series by Laini Taylor #Brainfluffbookreview #MuseofNightmaresbookreview

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I recently completed Strange the Dreamer, the first book in this amazing series and immediately went ahead and bought the second book – I had to know what would happen next…

Sarai has lived and breathed nightmares since she was six years old. She believed she knew every horror and was beyond surprise. She was wrong.
In the wake of tragedy, neither Lazlo nor Sarai are who they were before. One a god, the other a ghost, they struggle to grasp the new boundaries of their selves as dark-minded Minya holds them hostage, intent on vengeance against Weep.

That’s as much of the blurb I’m happy to share with you, given that if you have picked up this book without reading the first book, then put it back down and track down Strange the Dreamer. Muse of Nightmares immediately picks up the tale from where Strange the Dreamer left off, so you’ll be floundering without appreciating the full awesome specialness of either Sarai or Lazlo if you try to plunge straight into the middle of this duology.

In this book, we also are introduced to two sisters, Kora and Nova. While Sarai and Lazlo are battling with Minya, we also learn of the hard-scrabbled existence endured by Kora and Nova as their mother was taken by the blue-skinned gods. They are both convinced they are also worthy to serve – that when the time comes, they, too, will be taken away from their cruel step-mother and uncaring father before they end up being married to men old enough to pay for them. And then the silver skyship comes… I particularly love this story arc and would have enjoyed more of it and a little less of the romantic scenes between Lazlo and Sarai. But it is supposedly a YA read, so I’m aware that I’m not the target audience. This isn’t necessarily a criticism, more of an observation.

What I particularly enjoyed was the way the story morphed from being a magical fantasy tale into a science fiction story – and then was linked with the Daughter of Smoke and Bone universe – nicely done! However, I was interested to note that most of the characters – at least the ones we cared about and even some of the ones we didn’t – had their story arcs completed in a more positive manner than I’d been expecting. While I knew that Taylor wasn’t writing grimdark or anything close to it, – I had rather assumed that there would be more losers, given the stakes were so very high and I’m not sure that I was completely convinced by some of the character transformations.

That said, I couldn’t put this one down until I’d finished it and if it didn’t contain quite the same atmosphere and magic of Strange the Dreamer as far as I’m concerned, it is still an amazing read and one I very highly recommend.
9½/10

Review of PAPERBOOK Strange the Dreamer – Book 1 in the Strange the Dreamer series by Laini Taylor #Brainfluffbookreview #StrangetheDreamerbookreview

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I loved Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series – I think she’s an extraordinary writer, who pushes the boundaries, so I was really excited to see Strange the Dreamer was due out. I treated myself to the paperback with my birthday money and then promptly became engulfed in a flood of Netgalley arcs that needed reading first. So I reckon I’m one of five people on the planet who haven’t yet got around to this one…

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

That’s as much of the rather chatty blurb that I’m prepared to share. I love, love, love Lazlo – his daydreaming as a child chimes with my own intense imaginary worlds I used as a refuge from a rather complicated childhood, though I hasten to add that’s where the resemblance ends. No one beat me for my imaginary adventures – unlike poor old Lazlo. But although he is bookish, he is also clever and unexpectedly courageous. Writing such a nuanced protagonist takes a lot of skill and talent, which Taylor possesses in shedloads.

As the story progresses, accounts of Lazlo’s life are interspersed by what is going on in the Citadel floating above the city of Weep, inhabited by five young people, who are the sole survivors of a savage attack that took place some fifteen years earlier. Their skins are bright blue and each one has a godlike talent, which they mostly use to eke out a difficult existence. Though one of them is determined to be revenged on the wicked humans below who stormed their stronghold and slaughtered everyone in the night…

As ever, Taylor takes an intriguing story and pushes it adrift from any comforting tethers where mercy or love prevent the worst atrocities happening. Yet she manages to do this while still keeping the book a thing of beauty and wonder by the lyrical quality of her prose and depth of characterisation. Even the antagonists have strong, plausible reasons for their behaviour. I was lost in this story, even dreaming of it, which doesn’t happen all that often these days. And despite the fact that Muse of Nightmares is more money than I’d usually pay for an ebook – when I came to the end of Strange the Dreamer, I bought it anyway, because I need to know what happens next.
10/10