Tag Archives: feisty heroines

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Killer in the Choir – Book 19 of The Fethering Mysteries by Simon Brett #Brainfluffbookreview #TheKillerintheChoirbookreview

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I was delighted to see this offering on Netgalley, having only recently had the pleasure of reading the previous book, The Liar in the Library – see my review here. So I was still in the groove with the Fethering regulars, as well as easily able to recall the foibles of the main protagonists, Jude and Carol.

Although she hadn’t known Leonard Mallett very well, nor liked him particularly, Carole Seddon feels duty bound to attend her fellow committee member’s funeral. As she suspected, the hymns, readings and sermon are all very predictable — not unlike Leonard himself. What she couldn’t have predicted was that the deceased’s daughter would use the occasion to publicly accuse her stepmother of murder. Did Heather Mallett really kill her husband, as many Fethering residents believe? Deciding to get to the heart of the matter, Carole’s neighbour Jude joins the new community choir – and discovers that amidst the clashing egos and petty resentments lurk some decidedly false notes. At least one chorister would appear to be hiding a deadly secret — and it’s up to Carole and Jude to unearth the truth.

What I particularly enjoy about this series, is that while the murder investigation is the engine that powers the plot, Brett also gives us a real slice of life within the Fethering community. We get an insight into what matters to this community – both good and bad – and Brett isn’t afraid to take a pop at the frailties of the characters he depicts. There is an edge to his observations and I enjoy seeing how he plays with our assumptions – and then throws in a twist, such as the fact that buttoned-up Carol previously had a fling with the village landlord. In fact, I don’t particularly like Carol, whose self-righteous, rather jealous behaviour frankly gets on my nerves – however those traits help to make her effective at worrying at a mystery until she has solved it to her satisfaction. It certainly doesn’t impact on my enjoyment, as her rather jaundiced, sour observations are also insightful and rather funny – and while I don’t like her, I do like the more easy-going, relaxed Jude.

I found this investigation even more enjoyable than the previous one – there were several real surprises that had me reading far into the night to find out what was going to happen next. I’d figured out what happened and why – until the denouement, when I realised that I’d got it completely wrong. Nonetheless, despite my complete misreading of the situation, the perpetrator and the reasons for the wicked deed made absolute sense – and the clues were there. In short, Brett writes a cracking whodunit with a very well-plotted mystery which is a joy to read.

I haven’t read all nineteen of these entertaining books – but given just how much I have enjoyed these last two, I am definitely going to be visiting Fethering again. This series is far too much fun to miss out on. While I obtained an arc of The Killer in the Choir from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

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Friday Faceoff … and it was all yellow #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffTheRulesofMagic

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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 is featuring a YELLOW COVER, so I’ve selected a book from one on my teetering TBR, The Rules of Magic – prequel to the Practical Magic series by Alice Hoffman.

 

This edition was produced by Simon Schuster in October 2017 and as soon as I read the subject for this week, it was a no-brainer. This is a beautiful cover that has me yearning to jump into this book. The sparkles… the face behind it… and for once I won’t be grumbling about the plain black font – it works brilliantly against the brightness of that cover. This is my favourite.

 

Published in November 2017 by Simon Schuster – what a difference a hardback makes! I confess to being rather puzzled as to why this edition is so completely different to the previous offering. Nevertheless, I do think it charming. My grizzle is with the font – why pink? And if you have to have pink – why Barbie pink?

 

This edition, published by Scribner in August 2018, is also beautiful. The amber colour of the cover is just lovely and I particularly like that you cannot see the girl’s face, while the detail of her hair, neck and shoulder is lovely. As for the font… rather ordinary and underwhelming, which is why this isn’t my favourite – but it is a close-run thing!

 

Produced by Uitgeverij Orlando in February 2019, this Dutch edition is also an eye-catching cover. I just love the freckle-faced girl glaring out at me in amongst the sunflowers. I particularly like the fact that she isn’t plastered in make-up. But I find the flat font very disappointing.

 

This Russian edition, published by Эксмо in October 2017 is the second cover with an abstract floral design – and in my opinion this is by far the more successful. I love the symmetry and striking colours – the dark purple background, with the teal leaves and orange/golden flowers is eye-catching and beautiful. While the title and author fonts are plain and on the dinky side of small, at least they look as if they are nested within the design, rather than slapped across the top of it. So… which is your favourite?

Sunday Post – 28th July, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

At last I have had a slightly easier week. I wasn’t teaching on Monday or Tuesday, though I had my very last Creative Writing course on Friday, when I was running my one-day Summer Surgery. It was a low-key affair with just six students so we were able to relax a bit as we heard people’s writing and discussed any writing issues. The mighty Ros, our wonderful admin assistant who has been unfailingly prompt, professional and supportive, presented me with a lovely bouquet of flowers that she had made for me. And in case you are now heartily sick of hearing about my leaving Northbrook – I promise that was my very last course for them, ever…

I painted the bathroom cupboard and towel rail this week, as well as made a start on sorting out the grandchildren’s rooms. We have broken the back of sorting out the toys they no longer play with and probably would have finished spring-cleaning their rooms, but we were coping with record-breaking heat as the temperature climbed to the high 70s and into the 80s during Wednesday and Thursday. Himself was struggling as he far prefers the cold and even I was finding it a bit of a struggle – the desk fans we have throughout the house were not up to job of keeping it remotely cool, especially as the back door had to be shut as that dangerous concrete canopy was removed. The builders have done a wonderful job – it came down with the minimum of mess and drama and having seen some of the horrible situations our former neighbours got into when tackling that job, I was very grateful. This coming week our new back door is due to be fitted.

Yesterday, my sister and I went into Chichester to shop for her son’s wedding next week. It went like a dream – she found a fabulous dress with matching jacket, shoes, handbag and fascinator as well as another dress, jacket and gorgeous sandals for the evening reception. Fortunately, I have a dress already in my wardrobe that will do – and today we collected a linen suit we ordered for Himself and added a shirt, belt, shoes and socks. It’s been a while since we have had a wedding in the family, so we are all really excited about it.

Last week I read:
The Orphans of Raspay – Book 7 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold
When the ship in which they are traveling is captured by Carpagamon island raiders, Temple sorcerer Penric and his resident demon Desdemona find their life complicated by two young orphans, Lencia and Seuka Corva, far from home and searching for their missing father. Pen and Des will need all their combined talents of mind and magic to unravel the mysteries of the sisters and escape from the pirate stronghold. This novella follows about a year after the events of The Prisoner of Limnos.
I thoroughly enjoyed this latest slice of the ongoing adventures of Penric and his demon as he struggles to free himself and two small girls caught by pirates who are planning to sell them into slavery.

 

Valkyrie Rising – Book 2 of the Hayden War Cycle by Evan Currie
Two years after the initial invasion of Hayden’s World, the newly reinforced Hayden Militia is in a state of stalemate with the remaining enemy forces but neither side is content to leave things at that. The alien alliance has dispatched their varsity to clean up the resistance on Hayden while the USF has officially activated Task Force V, the latest and most advanced combat ships built by humans. In the end there are some things you decide in the skies, but some can only be settled in the mud.
This military science fiction series continues with the second book, where events go on ramping up as those dastardly aliens show no sign of going home…

 

A Room Full of Bones – Book 4 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths
On Halloween night, the Smith Museum in King’s Lynn is preparing for an unusual event — the opening of a coffin containing the bones of a medieval bishop. But when forensic archaelogist Ruth Galloway arrives to supervise, she finds a nasty surprise waiting for her…
Listening to this one on audiobook, it is my favourite book in this series so far as I just love the way the occult is so skilfully entwined amongst the action in this classy police procedural.

 

Whom Shall I Fear? by Anne Clare
All that Sergeant James Milburn wants is to heal. Sent to finish his convalescence in a lonely village in the north of England, the friends he’s lost haunt his dreams. If he can only be declared fit for active service again, perhaps he can rejoin his surviving mates in the fight across Sicily and either protect them or die alongside them.

All that Evie Worther wants is purpose. War has reduced her family to an elderly matriarch and Charles, her controlling cousin, both determined to keep her safely tucked away in their family home. If she can somehow balance her sense of obligation to family with her desperate need to be of use, perhaps she can discover how she fits into her tumultuous world.

All that Charles Heatherington wants is his due. Since his brother’s death, he is positioned to be the family’s heir with only one step left to make his future secure. If only he can keep the family matriarch happy, he can finally start living the easy life he is certain he deserves.

However, when James’s, Evie’s and Charles’s paths collide, a dark secret of the past is forced into the light, and everything that they have hoped and striven for is thrown into doubt.
This engrossing WWII thriller gives us a real taste of the terrible Italian campaign, in amongst a threat other than the German guns in this well-written page-turner. Review to follow.

 

The Dry – Book 1 of the Aaron Falk series by Jane Harper
After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead. Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk and the local detective question what really happened to Luke. As Falk reluctantly investigates to see if there’s more to Luke’s death than there seems to be, long-buried mysteries resurface, as do the lies that have haunted them. And Falk will find that small towns have always hidden big secrets.
I can see why this debut crime thriller caused such a fuss – I spent most of a warm evening engrossed in this one instead of tackling a stack of chores that needed doing. Review to follow.

 

The Forgotten Palace: An adventure in Presadia by Luke Aylen
Deep in the heart of Presadia’s Great Forest lie many secrets, including the ancient ruins of a once-magnificent palace. A chance encounter with a bedraggled stranger and the discovery of broken shards of a magical mirror lead Antimony, an unusually tall dwarf, on a journey of discovery.
It took me a while to get into this entertaining children’s fantasy adventure – but once I got into the world and the flashbacks ceased, it proved to be great fun. I shall certainly consider reading this one to my grandson next year…

 

 

How To Steal a Dragon’s Sword AUDIOBOOK – Book 9 of the How To Train a Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
Viking Berk heir Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III and his dragon, Toothless are target of dragon rebellion — filled with the meanest Razor-wings, Tonguetwisters, and Vampire Ghouldeaths. Only a King can save them, a champion with all of the King’s Lost Things. Hiccup will have to outwit a witch, fight his arch-enemy, and beat back an army of bloodthirsty dragons with just one sword.
I have read and reviewed this one, but this time around I had the pleasure of listening to David Tennant’s wonderful narration of the audiobook edition.

 

My posts last week:

Friday Faceoff featuring The Opposite House by Helen Oyeyemi

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of INDIE NOVELLA The Orphans of Raspay – Book 7 of the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Teaser Tuesday featuring Valkyrie Rising – Book 2 of the Haydon War Cycle series by Evan Currie

Review of INDIE Ebook Honor’s Flight – Book 2 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker

Sunday Post – 21st July 2019

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

Peanut Butter in the Middle, a New Release Children’s Book https://wandaluthman.wordpress.com/2019/07/22/peanut-butter-in-the-middle-a-new-release-childrens-book/ This is a book about and for the middle sibling, who often struggles to define their relationship within the family…

Does Gotham Need Batman? http://melfka.com/archives/16468 Joanna raises an intriguing issue in this thoughtful article about the role of the lantern-jawed hero versus those colourful villains.

10 Book Settings I Need More of in my Reading Life https://thebookishlibra.com/2019/07/23/top-ten-tuesday-10-book-settings-i-need-more-of-in-my-reading-life/ Suzanne, whose book review blog I enjoy following, listed her favourite settings – which had me wondering which ones I particularly enjoy. What about you?

Voting for the Hugo Awards https://earthianhivemind.net/2019/07/23/voting-for-the-hugo-awards/ Stephanie gives us the shortlist for this year’s Hugo Awards as it is now time to vote.

Author Jean Lee Interviews…Me! https://thenaptimeauthor.wordpress.com/2019/07/03/author-jean-lee-interviews-me/ No – confusingly, this is not me – it is book blogger Anne Clare discussing the interview with Jean about the release of her debut novel. It was this interview that prompted me to pop along to Amazon and buy a copy… And I’m very glad I did.

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Deathless – Book 1 of The Deathless series by Peter Newman #Brainfluffbookreview #TheDeathlessbookreview

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I had seen this one on Netgalley and then was invited to review it – and accepted. I liked the premise and assumed he’d be a solidly good writer, after all, he’s married to the great Emma Newman…

The demons… In the endless forests of the Wild, humanity scratches a living by the side of the great Godroads, paths of crystal that provide safe passage and hold back the infernal tide. Creatures lurk within the trees, watching, and plucking those who stray too far from safety.
The Deathless… In crystal castles held aloft on magical currents, seven timeless royal families reign, protecting humanity from the spread of the Wild and its demons. Born and reborn into flawless bodies, the Deathless are as immortal as the precious stones from which they take their names. For generations a fragile balance has held.
And the damned… House Sapphire, one of the ancient Deathless families, is riven by suspicion and madness. Whole villages are disappearing as the hunting expeditions holding the Wild at bay begin to fail.

Newman tips us right in the middle of the action – to the extent that at one point, I flipped back to ensure I was reading the first book in the series. But that’s okay – seeing as one of my hobbies is crashing midway into series, this approach works for me. I certainly prefer it to those stories that take forever to wind up into anything approximating an adventure. The world is overrun with demonic creatures who attack humanity – even the vegetation in the wild forests exact a price to keep them from attacking those desperate enough to seek refuge within such a lethal landscape. What stops the world from being completely overrun are the immortals who live in floating castles powered by crystalline power and the godroads, also crystal-enhanced which attacks and repels all demon-touched flora and fauna.

There are seven main dynasties who maintain their borders and keep all within them safe by their regular hunting expeditions. Until one House doesn’t and a village goes under… The House Sapphire is a mess after one of its most important representatives is accused of consorting with The Wild and is disgraced, before being driven out to fend for herself. Even more devastatingly, the vessel that houses her immortal soul is broken, so that once her current life ends – that’s it – she won’t be reborn into a young, healthy body, again.

The worldbuilding is fabulous – Newman manages to evoke a real sense of tension and menace once outside the castle walls, while providing an insight into what it’s like to live within the castle. I also liked the progression of the story and the pacing, which is really well-handled. The only problem I had was that while there were multiple viewpoints – only one of those characters really appealed, and that was Lady Pari, who is brave and sufficiently wilful to break the rules so she can be with her lover.

I appreciate the characters are not all good or bad – but most of the scions of the crystal families seem to be selfish and vengeful. They certainly seem to have forgotten that their primary vocation is to keep the wild safe for the mortals not fortunate enough to live in a floating castle. But as the adventure unspools, people are pushed to their limits outside their comfort zones and we get to see what they are made of.

I became increasingly absorbed in the story as it wore on and by the end, I was thoroughly engrossed – and I’m keen to read the next slice of the adventure. Because, as things stand – I have no idea where Newman will next take it. While I obtained an arc of The Deathless from the author via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. Recommended for fans of well written, fantasy with a strong, unusual world.
8/10

Review of INDIE EBOOK Under Ordshaw – Book 1 of The Ordshaw series by Phil Williams #Brainfluffbookreview #UnderOrdshawbookreview

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I read this book as Lynn from Lynn’s Book Blog recommended it and I very much liked the look of the cover. I was also in the mood for an entertaining urban fantasy with a twist.

Pax is one rent cheque away from the unforgiving streets of Ordshaw. After her stash is stolen, her hunt for the thief unearths a book of nightmares and a string of killers, and she stands to lose much more than her home. There’s something lurking under her city. Knowing it’s there could get you killed.
I’m not going to claim that the premise is anything particularly original – it isn’t. Ordshaw is a city with a dark underbelly where lethal creatures inhabit the network of tunnels hidden beneath the streets. Most people, particularly those who are out and about during the day, don’t have any inkling about the battle going on between the creatures and humanity – but those who are largely out at night have more of an idea that something isn’t quite right. Pax falls into this category, given she is a card player who spends most of her time working at night.

However, for me she isn’t the most interesting character in this book. Cano Casaria, an agent for the Ministry of Environmental Energy, in theory should be one of the good guys. In fact, the character seemed very familiar to me – driven by a desire to keep humanity safe; possessing a fanatical loathing of the terrible creatures wreaking havoc; determined to ensure that their agenda doesn’t prevail. In many other hands, Casaria would be the protagonist. But he’s not. While it’s his efforts that initially involve Pax in the whole business, his brutal methods characterised by the end absolutely justifying any means repel her, particularly after she encounters Letty the tiny fairy, whom Casaria cripples.

It is the interplay between these characters that had me turning the pages wanting to know what would happen next. While some of the monsters are definitely unpleasant and there is a great deal we don’t yet know about them, it wasn’t the battle between them and humanity that powered the story, but the rivalries and relationships formed between those who were trying to stop them.

In making this the focus of the story, Williams has succeeded in giving this urban fantasy a fresh twist so that while it started quite slowly, as it gathered pace I found it difficult to put down. Recommended for fans of well-written urban fantasy, who’d appreciate something a little different. While I obtained a review copy of Under Ordshaw from the author, the views I have expressed are my honest opinion of the book.
9/10

Sunday Post – 6th January, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Happy New Year! We were lucky this year that Himself had an early shift on New Year’s Eve, so he was able to join my sister and me seeing in 2019. We played games, nibbled nibbles and drank mulled apple and ginger juice (which is delicious, by the way). It was a peaceful, enjoyable way to see in 2019 and the following morning, we walked along the beach to watch the first sunrise of 2019, which was stunning – then adjourned to the Sea Lane Café for breakfast.

Since then, I have been busy completing work on this term’s Creative Writing course. Mhairi and I met up on Thursday, had lunch together at Haskins, before returning home where she helped me load the box set of The Sunblinded Trilogy on Amazon. Himself and I had a lovely meal over at my sister’s house last night – the first time we’ve been there for a while, given she was poorly for quite a while and then as she was recovering, I was ill and too exhausted to go out in the evening unless I had to. It was wonderful to get together over well-cooked food and indulge in the usual silliness the three of us get up to – there was a long conversation as to whether the deserted Paris scenes on the placemats were down to a zombie apocalypse or a Prussian invasion – even Google was consulted…

Today, we took down the Christmas decorations and returned them to the loft – a chore I always dread, so we nipped across to the local supermarket to cheer ourselves up with one of their delicious cupcakes after we finished. I start back at Northbrook tomorrow and am looking forward to seeing my students again.

Last week I read:
The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
In 1967, four female scientists worked together to build the world’s first time machine. But just as they are about to debut their creation, one of them suffers a breakdown, putting the whole project—and future of time travel—in jeopardy. To protect their invention, one member is exiled from the team—erasing her contributions from history. Fifty years later, time travel is a big business. Twenty-something Ruby Rebello knows her beloved grandmother, Granny Bee, was one of the pioneers, though no one will tell her more. But when Bee receives a mysterious newspaper clipping from the future reporting the murder of an unidentified woman, Ruby becomes obsessed: could it be Bee? Who would want her dead? And most importantly of all: can her murder be stopped?
This is an intelligently written, well-crafted book which takes a unique approach to the topic of time travel. I’m extremely impressed by the quality of the writing and look forward to reading more from this author. Review to follow.

The Lost Gunboat Captain – Book 1 of the Jolo Vargas Space Opera series by J.D. Oppenheim
Alone in the cold black with 36 hours of oxygen. Jolo Vargas, Federation Gunboat Captain, is trapped in a runaway escape pod zooming towards Federation space. But will he be dead before he gets there? He’s in a tight spot. But he’s a war hero, just the type of man who could work his way out of this jam. But there’s just one little problem. He doesn’t remember who he is.
This was great fun, particularly that gripping opening which I thoroughly enjoyed. After that, there was plenty of foot-to-the-floor action with an entertaining supporting character cast.

 

 

The Gilded Wolves – Book 1 of The Gilded Wolves series by Roshani Chokshi
Paris, 1889: The world is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. In this city, no one keeps tabs on secrets better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier, Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. But when the all-powerful society, the Order of Babel, seeks him out for help, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance. To find the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin will need help from a band of experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian who can’t yet go home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in all but blood, who might care too much. Together, they’ll have to use their wits and knowledge to hunt the artifact through the dark and glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the world, but only if they can stay alive.
This crime adventure where exotic magical artefacts feature had me turning the pages in this tense thriller far too late into the night. I loved this change of direction by Chokshi, who is always worth reading.

My posts last week:

Shoot for the Moon 2018 – How Did I Do?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Hurricane – Book 3 of the Hive Mind series by Janet Edwards

Friday Face-Off featuring Windhaven by George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle

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

What is Contemporary Fantasy? https://shadowsinmind.net/2018/06/27/what-is-contemporary-fantasy/ The sub-genres can cause some confusion, particularly for those who don’t regularly read SFF, so this is a useful discussion.

Thursday Doors – New Doors, New Year https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2019/01/03/thursday-doors-new-door-new-year/ This is one of my perennial favourites and such a fitting way to beginning this year…

If somebody asked me what to read https://readerwitch.com/2019/01/03/book-recommendations/ Alexandra has a delightful selection of books for anyone asking the question at the start of the new year.

Getting Rid of Books – How To Decide When It’s Time To Part Ways https://thebookishlibra.com/2018/12/29/getting-rid-of-books-how-to-decide-when-its-time-to-part-ways/ This is a vexed question that all keen readers have to address – particularly at this time of year…

50 Most Anticipated SFF Book of 2019 https://fantasy-hive.co.uk/2018/12/50-most-anticipated-sff-books-of-2019/ A must-read for all SFF fans – I’ve bookmarked this one to return to in the coming months…

In the meantime, many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog – and have a wonderful 2019!

Review of KINDLE Ebook Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik #Brainfluffbookreview #SpinningSilverbookreview

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I’ve loved Novik’s writing for many years, being a fan of her fabulous Temeraire series – see my review of Victory of Eagles and I was also blown away by Uprooted – see my review here. So I was thrilled when Tammy of Books, Bones and Buffy mentioned Novik had released Spinning Silver.

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders… but her father isn’t a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife’s dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers’ pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed–and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold.

I’ve heard this one described as a retelling of the old fairytale ‘Rumplestiltskin’, but it isn’t that straightforward. Novik has taken elements of that story – just a few – and woven them into another, more detailed backdrop. The setting is a version of 19th century Russia, complete with isolated villages surrounded by hundreds of miles of thick woodland, nobility who have the power of life and death over their subjects and a simmering resentment against the Jewish community. They are the ones who lend money to those who need it, the ones who often also make music, jewellery and can read and write within their close-knit communities, so make a convenient target when those in power don’t want to pay back their debts. Add in the danger of the ferocious cold of a Russian winter, when the dreaded Staryk are more easily able to cross into the human world. These icy fae have mercilessly predated upon the humans who wander too far into their forests, killing and stealing from them – and when their actions further impact upon the protagonists in the story, these shadowy, terrifying beings end up at the heart of this story.

It’s a complicated tale with three main protagonists, Miryem, the moneylender’s daughter, Wanda, who becomes her servant and is desperate to escape her drunken abusive father and Irena, the Duke’s eldest daughter by his first wife, whose bookish nature and plain looks have been a constant disappointment – until the Tsar comes to visit…

The story bounces between these three young women as their fates increasingly become intertwined. There is a fair amount of explanation – with pages when Novik is telling the story rather than having her characters speak, which I normally dislike. But I’m going to give her a pass on this one – firstly because it didn’t jar with me. This is, after all, a fairy story, which is always told from the outside in. Secondly, because though there is a fair amount of exposition, it was necessary in this complex plot and it didn’t stop Novik from immersing us in the thoughts and fears of her main protagonists. Thirdly, it was a delightfully long book with an unusually dense story, which I loved.

I’m aware this is a Marmite book – those aspects I’ve listed above as pluses have also exasperated some readers, preventing them from bonding with this book. Normally, I love a story to unfold from the inside out, but I simply think this time around it wouldn’t have worked so effectively. All I would say is – give it a go and discover for yourself if this one is for you. If you enjoy it, you’ll thank me. This is one that has had me continuing to ponder it since I’ve read it – always a sign that a book has properly got under my skin and it’s recommended for fantasy fans who like detailed worlds with plenty of unexpected twists thrown in.
9/10

 

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Tethered Mage – Book 1 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso #Brainfluffbookreview #TheTetheredMagebookreview

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I had some tokens and after reading a number of really enthusiastic reviews about this one, I decided to get hold of it. The marvellous cover influenced me, too…

Zaira has lived her life on the streets to avoid this fate, hiding her mage-mark and thieving to survive. But hers is a rare and dangerous magic, one that threatens the entire empire. Lady Amalia Cornaro was never meant to be a Falconer. Heiress and scholar, she was born into a treacherous world of political machinations. But fate has bound the heir and the mage.

Amalia Cornaro lives in the shadow of her powerful, politically effective parent – and for a change, said parent is La Contessa. We don’t hear very much about Amalie’s father – it’s all about her trying to live up to her mother’s expectations. As the only child, those expectations weigh heavily. Especially as Amalia is more comfortable studying the art of magic and how to manufacture spells, even though she isn’t mage-touched. Because if she were, she wouldn’t be living in her mother’s palace – she would be residing in the fortified Mews with other magically-gifted individuals, wearing a small bracelet which would allow an ungifted companion to control her magical ability – her Falconer.

The story is about one such gifted individual, Zaira, whose magical gift is the ability to create balefire – a blue-flamed conflagration which feeds on the flesh of its victims and very quickly turns into a firestorm. Most balefire mages don’t make it past childhood without killing themselves. But Zaira has managed to eke out a living in the Tallows, the slums of Raverra – until an attempted kidnap draws her to the attention of the authorities running the Mews and she finds herself braceleted and carted off to live in luxury. The only catch being, she’s not free…

This approach to the whole issue of magic-users is a really intriguing one. I love the idea that they either run amok, becoming the entitled, despotic overlords – or the tools of the state, working for the greater good, while being magically tethered by their bracelets, or jesse. It’s a clever term, with its overtones of falconry, where the birds of prey are shackled by leather straps called a jesse.

I haven’t mentioned the story, or the plotting or even said much about the characters. And I should – because it’s a cracking tale, full of incident and adventure, narrated by Amalia, who is an engaging protagonist. While I enjoyed her character, my attention was inevitably drawn to Zaira – I thought it was a bold touch to have the main protagonist the less charismatic, gifted character, and it works very well. I also liked the fact that this world has a number of powerful women, alongside the men, who have agency.

I’m delighted I bought this one and look forward to reading the next book in the series, The Defiant Heir. Highly recommended for fantasy fans.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc #Furyborn – Book 1 of the Empirium series by #Claire Legrand #Brainfluffbookreview #bookreview

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It was the cover that grabbed my attention – and when I read enough of the blurb to realise it was an epic fantasy allll about two powerful women, I wanted to read on…

When assassins ambush her best friend, the crown prince, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing her ability to perform all seven kinds of elemental magic. The only people who should possess this extraordinary power are a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light and salvation and a queen of blood and destruction. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven trials to test her magic. If she fails, she will be executed…unless the trials kill her first.

A thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a mere fairy tale to bounty hunter Eliana Ferracora. When the Undying Empire conquered her kingdom, she embraced violence to keep her family alive. Now, she believes herself untouchable–until her mother vanishes without a trace, along with countless other women in their city. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain on a dangerous mission and discovers that the evil at the heart of the empire is more terrible than she ever imagined.

The blurb above gives a quick overview of the two main protagonists in this fast-paced epic fantasy, full of drama and emotion. Told in third person viewpoint with Rielle and Eliana featuring in alternate chapters, we build up a strong picture of how events lead to the shocking and bloody scene at the start of the story. I am still in two minds as to whether that works. Himself read a couple of chapters and once he realised who exactly Rielle was, he broke off announcing that it wasn’t worth slogging through a whole book when he already knew what had happened to one of the main characters. While I take his point, I am glad that I got swept up into this violent, difficult journey. I found the contrast between both of main characters intriguing. Eliana is definitely the more damaged of the two at the beginning of the book having been trained as an assassin and committed a series of bloody murders to keep her family safe. She is angry and cynical – and at times very funny.

This book would have been a lot less readable without the shafts of humour peppered throughout. At the beginning, Rielle is clearly the softer character, although she has had a tragic start in life by losing her mother in terrible circumstances, when only five years old. But circumstances and destiny push these two young women such, that by the end of the book, it is Rielle, who is the desperate, violent character driven by circumstances beyond her control and Eliana, whose cynical veneer is being stripped away in a desperate hunt to save those she loves.

Legrand can certainly write with the brakes off – an accomplishment that is harder than she makes it look. It would be all too easy to keep writing at full throttle, so that the light and shade is lost in amongst all that heightened emotion. She avoids that by peopling the world with strong supporting characters, so that we see these frightening women at their most vulnerable, as well as in ferocious attack mode. I also appreciated the world, which she effectively filters through the perceptions and knowledge of our main characters without resorting to boring info dumps.

All in all, this is an accomplished, full-on epic fantasy dealing with the themes of power and its corrupting influence, and what makes us human. It is a strong start to what promises to be a gripping series. Highly recommended for all fans of this genre. While I obtained an arc of Furyborn 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 Tiger’s Daughter – Book 1 of The Bright Ascendency by K. Arsenault Rivera

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This epic fantasy looked a bit different, so I requested it.

The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach―but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests. Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons. This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O-Shizuka, and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.

This is one of those lush, richly written fantasy tales that clearly has its roots in the Eastern tradition. Set in a large sprawling land that is a cross between Mongolia and Japan, it is the story of two girls born of two close friends. One is a Qorin ruler, leader of nomadic horse tribes, while the other is sister-in-law to the paranoid emperor. I was a bit concerned about the way the animosity between the Oorin and Hokkarans were depicted – would anyone call themselves flat-faced? While I enjoyed the fact this wasn’t a fantasy set in medieval/early modern Europe, I did wonder if it didn’t borrow rather too heavily from other historical conflicts.

These two girls, born close together, first meet as small children and then throughout their young lives, quickly forming a strong bond. This novel is actually a letter from one of the girls, written to the other and charting their adventures together and what they have done. It is a time-honoured structure and mostly successful – although I do think the pacing could have been improved, if only we had hints throughout of just what the stakes were, before they were fully revealed.

However, that grizzle doesn’t detract from the richness of the worldbuilding and the punchy characterisation of these powerful girls. While it is a coming-of-age romance, because of the manner in which their friendship turns into something far deeper and more passionate, it is certainly different. I thought the love between them was tender and convincing, though personally I could have done with less explicit sex scenes.

I liked the fact that though there is a great deal of powerful magic sloshing around, when people get hurt, there is a price to pay. This is a hefty book at 500+ pages, but especially towards the end, the pace really picked up and the story concluded with a nicely climactic ending.
7/10