Tag Archives: historical adventure

My Outstanding Reads of 2020 #Brainfluffbookblogger #2020OutstandingReads

Standard

The wonderful books I’ve encountered during this horrible year have, at times, kept my head straight when other pressures have added an extra twist of awfulness due to the pandemic. I have encountered a number of talented authors I’d previously not had the pleasure of reading (I’m looking at you Mary Robinette Kowal, Elisabeth Bear, Marilyn Messik and T. Kingfisher) and managed to complete 11 series, while working my way through 66 other series. I’ll get more nerdy in my post about the stats relating to my 2020 reads, later in the week.

During 2020 I read 184 books and wrote 155 full reviews, with 23 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give them a 10 – but these books have stayed with me, which is why they made the cut. And let’s forget any top ten nonsense – whittling down my list to this paltry number was painful enough!

Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Despite reading this one back in January, I often found myself thinking about brave, clever Emily and what she underwent. That is the mark of a special book – when it won’t leave you alone. I think it’s one of Tchaikovsky’s best, and given the man’s towering talent, that’s saying something. See my review.

AUDIOBOOK Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear
Elizabeth Bear is another wonderful author I discovered this year – and the good news is that she has a pleasingly long backlist. This one was an utter joy to listen to – Haimey’s first-person narrative held me throughout, even though the pacing was somewhat leisurely at times. This book at 500+ pages has it all – vivid action scenes, nail-biting tension, and plenty of plot twists and shocking reveals. And of course a space cat – who could resist that? See my review.

You Let me In by Camilla Bruce
By rights, this shouldn’t have worked for me – I really don’t like books featuring an abused child. But the way Bruce posits this situation is masterfully done, as Cassie narrates her adventures with Pepperman, a grumpy and dangerous fae entity, who draws the small child into the world of the fae. This book has also stayed with me throughout the year. Read my review.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey
This is such a simple book with lots of pictures. The story of four different creatures, who come together to help each other. It could so easily have turned into a treacly, sentimental mess. But it doesn’t. My lovely sister-in-law gave me my copy and it has been beside me ever since. Read my review.

TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier
The opening sequence of this book immediately hooked me and wouldn’t let me go. I enjoy Neumeier’s writing, anyway. But this amazing world and the vividness of her characters still have me regularly thinking about them. In particular, the depiction of being ensorcelled was brilliantly portrayed – I’ve never seen it done better. Read my review.

AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys
This riveting world has left me yearning for more after reading the first book Winter Tide, which made my Outstanding Reads of 2017. So I was thrilled to discover this offering. Aphra is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents, friends and relations when confronted with a new danger. Once more I was pulled into a tense adventure where Lovecraftian monsters were only part of the threat. Read my review.

Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron
This is as much about the celebration of this quirky, enjoyable series, as much as it is about the climactic battle that wraps up the story. Peopled with shape-shifting dragons, a powerful ghost who assumes the shape of a cat and an enraged nature goddess, this urban fantasy reaches epic proportions, with all sorts of surprises and twists along the way. Review to follow.

The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey
I very much enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts, but I liked this even better. Koli is an endearing character with his youth and restless energy that gets him into far too much trouble within his village. This book is set in post-apocalyptic England, where even trees have become feral – but there are welcome shafts of light, too. Read my review.

AUDIOBOOK The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel
This whole series is a tour de force and I loved listening to this extraordinary conclusion to Cromwell’s life, as an embittered Henry VIII becomes ever more difficult to deal with – and Cromwell’s many enemies begin to circle. I wept at the end, which was wonderfully handled – and I’m still trying to work out how Mantel managed to keep me spellbound for so long, when I already knew the outcome before listening to the first chapter. Read my review.

Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
This was one of those books I picked up and couldn’t put down again. Messik’s writing is utterly addictive, as far as I’m concerned and Stella is now my new best friend. I finished this one far too fast and was miserable until I picked up the next one in the series. I think this was the worst book hangover I endured during the year. Review my review.

The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal
This is another of those wonderful authors I discovered this year – and this series just blew me away. I loved Elma York and her battles to gain recognition during the first two books in the series – but when this story introduced me to Nicole, who finds herself trying to track down a saboteur on the Moon, I not only loved every single minute of the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, afterwards. Read my review.

A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Martine Arkady
I tracked down this one, after hearing it compared to the great C.J. Cherryh’s immersive writing style. And I wasn’t disappointed. I loved watching poor Mahit, replacement ambassador to the enigmatic Teixcalaani empire, flounder as she tries to work out just how her predecessor died. This tense murder mystery played out in the far future kept me up far too late as I couldn’t put it down. Read my review.

AUDIOBOOK Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer
I have always enjoyed reading Children’s fiction, because the very best is far too good just to leave to the kids. And this gem certainly falls into that category. A children’s classic that was published in 1969, it is written with depth and sophistication about two schoolgirls who cris-cross into each other’s times. Until something happens to Charlotte… I loved this one. Set in 1918, the period is beautifully portrayed and the bittersweet ending has stayed with me. Read my review.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher
This is another of those books for children, which engrossed and delighted me. Mona is a baker’s apprentice with a small magical talent, who suddenly finds herself caught up in a murder. Events snowball entertainingly – and I found myself thoroughly enjoying Mona’s ingenious creations to try and stay ahead of the baddies. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths
I enjoy Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, so decided to try this latest series and absolutely loved it. There is a tongue-in-cheek Gothic vibe that I found very appealing. Though I have a shocking memory, the twists and turns of this enjoyable murder mystery have stayed with me. Read my review.

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
I was utterly beguiled by Vish when I first encountered him during the fifth book of the series, The Case of the Reincarnated Client earlier in the year and have been eking out the rest of the series ever since. Vish Puri is fond of calling himself the Indian Sherlock Holmes and his energetic attitude and passion for justice are very endearing – even if he does dismiss his clever, streetwise Mummy-Ji, who often takes a close interest in his cases. This book has an extra dimension and Hall is adept at dealing with hefty issues of the painful events around India’s partition in a respectful manner, without making it dreary. Read my review.

While I’d like to think that each one of these books offers some brain fodder, none of them are gloomy, downbeat reads as this year I needed to escape. And my favourite book of 2020? Probably Ancestor Nights, though I’m likely to claim it’s The Relentless Moon if you ask me the same question again tomorrow. And then there’s Relatively Strange, of course…

Déjà vu Review of Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik – Book Five of the Temeraire series #Brainfluffbookreview #VictoryofEaglesbookreview

Standard

I have dusted off this review – which I first posted back in October 2010, nearly ten years ago – in honour of Naomi Novik’s recent release, A Deadly Education. Her Temeraire series is a real joy – and is one of the few series that I have been seriously tempted to reread…

If you enjoy alternative histories and have a weakness of dragons of any size and shape – then this is a must-read series. Novik revisits the Napoleonic era, with its wars and resulting widespread social dislocation – but also includes into the mix dragons that are bonded to humans from the moment they hatch, and then trained to become part of the French and English fighting machine.

The main protagonists in her series include a rare, highly prized Celestial dragon, called Temeraire, who was snatched from a French ship as an egg. His handler, Laurence, was destined for a distinguished naval career – until he accidentally happened to be present when Temeraire hatched and was chosen by the dragon to be his companion. Together they have experienced a variety of adventures in different surroundings with plenty of fighting – both set-piece battles and skirmishes – and both characters have become ever closer and more aware of each other. In this fifth book, Novik does it again. She gives her fans yet another completely different twist to the ongoing tale – a feat not always successfully achieved by multi-book authors.

It is a bleak time for Temeraire. Banished to the breeding grounds from active military service and constantly missing his human companion, Laurence, he finally begins to count the cost of his decision to help the French dragons. While his captain, Will Laurence, has been condemned to hang for treason. However, their fates pale into insignificance against the desperate conditions that Britain now faces. As Napoleon’s forces breach the Channel defences and invade southern England, it is clear that Napoleon intends to occupy London. So when Temeraire and Laurence once more serve King and Country, it is in the knowledge that their support is only tolerated – and that in certain quarters they are held indirectly responsible for the whole mess, anyhow…
As the story rolls over almost without a break from the previous books, I recommend that you read them all before embarking on this latest volume, which will be a joy if you haven’t yet encountered this very popular series.

While not as high-flown or wordy, Novik does nod in the direction of the more effusive manner of the 18th century style of writing. I am aware that this has hampered the enjoyment of at least one would-be fan, but I personally find the style eminently in keeping with atmosphere Novik has engendered. And as I was brought up on such staples as Pilgrim’s Progress, Jane Eyre and The Children of the New Forest, it wasn’t going to bother me, anyway. However, I give it a mention so that those among you who like your prose pared to the bone will know what to expect.

In amongst the swash-buckling action, Novik has some interesting themes running through her work. Temeraire, as a Celestial dragon, is highly intelligent and capable of fluently speaking a number of languages, reading and writing. However, he is officially regarded as a piece of military equipment by the English authorities, who are much slower than Napoleon or the Chinese to give their dragons any kind of special consideration. Novik interweaves this strand with the anti-slavery arguments of the day – with Temeraire discussing the issue with Wilberforce. Along with Napoleon, both Nelson and Wellington pop up in this book. While this historical time isn’t my speciality, my husband, who’s a military history enthusiast, reckons that Novik has done a particularly good job on Wellington. In my humble opinion, she’s done a particularly good job on this outstanding book in a fine series.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwarb #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheInvisibleLifeofAddieLaRuebookreview

Standard

I have a fondness for these types of books, where the protagonist is somehow caught up in a situation outside the norm – see my reviews of The Fifteen Lives of Harry August and one that this reminded me of – The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North.

BLURB: France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets. Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

REVIEW: I really enjoyed this one. Addie’s reason for making the deal and her whole mindset really engaged my sympathy, so that very early on in the book I was right alongside her. This is important, because while Schwarb goes on to describe her trials and travails in poignant and gripping detail, those very experiences could have taken her outside the everyday orbit of the rest of us and make her less relatable. This is the problem that I sometimes encounter in North’s writing – while I enjoy reading the alterative premise, I’m conscious of a gulf opening up between the protagonist and myself.

However, Schwarb’s poetic, accomplished prose didn’t allow that barrier to occur – which allowed me to continue to very much care for Addie, and later on – Henry. What I hadn’t expected, was the stunning quality of the writing. The descriptions of the span of experiences in Addie’s life – the terrible lows and the marvellous highs, are brilliantly captured on the page. Schwarb’s writing encompasses the full range of sensory experiences, so that we not only can visualise it, we can smell, taste and touch it, too. It takes serious writing chops to pull it off, such that the author not only encapsulates all of that – she does so within the confines of the narrative arc, in a way that doesn’t derail the pace and tension.

I am not a huge fan of literary fiction, as far too often the style prevails over the story. So I’m very impressed that Schwarb has managed to produce nuanced, complex characters who interact in a really complicated way with each other. Luc and Addie’s relationship is a tortured one, and the story hinges on our understanding of just how complex that becomes. I absolutely loved the whole narrative arc, particularly the final twist.

In short, this is a tour de force – a really intriguing read that has had me pondering Addie’s plight since I put it down, and executed by a writer at the height of her powers. Very highly recommended for fans of the literary end of fantasy – and those who simply love a cracking read with an interesting premise. While I obtained an arc of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys #BrainfluffAUDIOBOOKreview #OutstandingAUDIOBOOKofthemonth #DeepRootsbookreview

Standard

I absolutely loved Winter Tide, which is a gem of a book – see my review – and so impressed me that it made my 2017 Outstanding Reads List. Would Deep Roots be as compellingly good?

BLURB: Aphra Marsh, descendant of the People of the Water, has survived Deep One internment camps and made a grudging peace with the government that destroyed her home and exterminated her people on land. “Deep Roots” continues Aphra’s journey to rebuild her life and family on land, as she tracks down long-lost relatives. She must repopulate Innsmouth or risk seeing it torn down by greedy developers, but as she searches she discovers that people have been going missing. She will have to unravel the mystery, or risk seeing her way of life slip away.

REVIEW: This series is marvellous and deserves to be far better known. Aphra is desperately searching for more relatives, as far too many houses stand empty in Innsmouth after most of the town was wiped out by the Government years earlier. Such unused real estate is starting to draw unwelcome attention. If Aphra cannot find more of her own kind, they not only risk dying out, but she will no longer be able to meet up on the beaches of her childhood with her Grandfather and the other Deep Ones, who have now transformed and live below the waves. So she is in New York with her brother and a small band of friends, following up on reports of a cousin who has the same bulbous eyes and odd skull configuration as Aphra and her brother.

Gabra Zackman’s excellent narration helped weave the pervading sense of tension throughout this gripping fantasy, imbued with Lovecraftian monsters. I love Aphra’s character and was delighted that this book continues in her viewpoint. She is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents and community, but trying to move on and recreate a safe place for others like herself and her brother. This book is set in 1940s America, just as the Cold War with Russia is starting to gather pace – indeed there is a point in the book where there is an announcement that the USSR has detonated a nuclear device – and there is also increasing paranoia about anyone who looks are sounds different. Emrys has nailed the sense of time, just as she has also beautifully woven Lovecraft’s pantheon through this engrossing, well written fantasy.

I love books that creak with tension – but then the author has to deliver sufficient plot and action to merit the buildup, which Emrys does in spades. I loved the pacing, which works really well. At no stage was anything unduly hurried, yet the story clips along with plenty happening along the way and the reader fully aware of the consequences should it all go wrong. The supporting characters work well – there were several that I’d encountered in the first book and I was pleased to see that one in particular, who was badly injured, is still battling with the fallout from her encounter in this book, too. All in all, this is another accomplished, utterly engrossing read that left me longing for more in this world. Highly recommended for fans of intelligent, well crafted fantasy with Lovecraftian overtones – though whatever you do, start with Winter Tide.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheSinEaterbookreview

Standard


It was the cover that did it for me with this one – isn’t it sumptuous? I’ve also recently been enjoying my SFF with a serving of history in some form. So I requested this one and was delighted when I received the arc.

BLURB: Can you uncover the truth when you’re forbidden from speaking it?

A Sin Eater’s duty is a necessary evil: she hears the final private confessions of the dying, eats their sins as a funeral rite, and so guarantees their souls access to heaven. It is always women who eat sins – since it was Eve who first ate the Forbidden Fruit – and every town has at least one, not that they are publicly acknowledged. Stained by the sins they are obliged to consume, the Sin Eater is shunned and silenced, doomed to live in exile at the edge of town. Recently orphaned May Owens is just fourteen, and has never considered what it might be like to be so ostracized; she’s more concerned with where her next meal is coming from. When she’s arrested for stealing a loaf of bread, however, and subsequently sentenced to become a Sin Eater, finding food is suddenly the last of her worries.

REVIEW: It took me a while to really get into this one, chiefly because I was slightly irritated at the sheer thinness of the disguise regarding the world. The names of the kings and queens were very nearly taken from the Tudor dynasty and the religious turmoil was depicted, but with different names. The Old King even had six wives… I found it distracting and a tad annoying that this fantasy version followed the actual world so very closely – but the town where May lives didn’t feel large or sufficiently varied to be the London of Elizabeth I. The court didn’t feel right, either.

However, as I continued reading and became more emotionally invested in May and engrossed in the story, I ceased minding so much. I have, however, knocked a point off because it initially did affect my pleasure and the speed with which I became invested in the story. That said, once I got over my issues with the scene setting, I really cared about May and really enjoyed her progression through the story. She starts out as a half-starved waif, still reeling from the death of her father, and then finds herself in a terrible situation – that of a Sin Eater. I was aware of the custom, but Campisi makes it far more widespread than it actually was, by also having specific foodstuffs representing particular sins, which is something May has to learn. I also enjoyed how Campisi tweaked several old nursery rhymes to allude to rite of sin-eating.

The distressing aspect of becoming a Sin Eater is how ostracised May becomes. No one will look at her, speak to hear or touch her. She is treated as a leper. Campisi deals well with May’s shock and sense of loss very well, and as we see her start to become acclimatised to her new status, I also appreciated her innate gutsy outlook and instinct for survival. However, despite being a social outcast, the Sin Eater also has access to the best houses in the land, once someone is dying or has died. And May discovers this is a very mixed blessing when that access means she becomes inadvertently caught up in a high-level plot.

Throughout the book, she is constantly trying to work out whether she is a pious, upstanding young woman her father would be proud of – or essentially wicked like her mother’s family. How should she cope with the temptations that come her way? I really appreciated that Campisi gave May the opportunity to tussle over these questions – because it is exactly what would have occupied a girl in the 16th century, who would have been very concerned about the state of her soul and whether she would suffer the agonies of everlasting fire, or at last find her way to heaven.

In amongst the steady growth of May’s confidence in her way of life, there is also that plot concerning the Queen’s attendants. I did know of the stories that this alludes to, though I think it was well handled and provided a climactic and suitably dramatic ending to what proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable and gripping read. While I obtained an arc of The Sin Eater from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10










Friday Faceoff – We lose ourselves in books, we find ourselves there too… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffholidinganobjectcovers

Standard

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 being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers depicting someone HOLDING AN OBJECT – and of course what could be better than holding a book? I’ve selected The Book Thief by Markus Zusak…

Alfred A. Knopf 2006

This edition was produced by Alfred A. Knopf in March 2006 and is the first US hardcover edition. You’re right – it hasn’t got anyone holding anything, but someone is about to knock over the line of dominoes. I don’t much like this cover, which is a shame as it is one of the default covers. The symbol is very generic and rather a cliché, which shortchanges such a remarkable book. Neither do I like the textbox across the top of the cover. It’s not a terrible cover, but it isn’t great, either.

Bodley Head 2007

Published in 2007 by Bodley Head, this cover is quite a different proposition. What an arresting image – a girl reading a book while apparently lying in a crypt, or is it an attic? The rich curtains framing that image being the only splash of colour is a stroke of genius, essentially drawing us into the monochrome picture of young Liesel engrossed in her book. I love how her ankles are crossed, showing she is relaxed while lost within the covers of the story. This one is my favourite.

RAO 2014

This Romanian edition, published by RAO in February 2014, is another version of Liesel, this time staring straight out at us. She is clearly older in this depiction and improbably pretty, clutching a book to her as if it is her only hope as the world explodes behind her. It’s another powerful image and again, is one of the default images for this best-selling book that, according to Goodreads, runs to 331 editions. I like this one more than most of the other offerings – because although she is older, she is still terribly vulnerable and her hair and clothing is right for the period. Reminding me that hundreds and thousands of youngsters of her age must have been equally helpless and frightened as their world got twisted or swept away as Word War II hammered across their lives. This cover is certainly a contender.

Definitions (Young Adult) 2008

This edition, produced by Definitions (Young Adult) in January 2008, has changed the dynamic. The young Liesel reading has been drawn, with Death looming in the background. This is the cover I very, nearly went for. I love the border of flames apparently licking the paper and the uncluttered look. What finally decided me against choosing this one, is the scale. I think Liesel is too small for the size of the cover – and I know it’s probably to underline her vulnerability, but I do think she could have been made just a bit bigger without losing that feeling.

Pocket Jeunesse 2019

This French edition, published by Pocket Jeunesse in March 2019, pares the image right back to the basics. Therefore the details of Liesel’s striped dress, her hairband, her hand on her chin as she eats up the words of the book in her hand really stand out against the coffee-coloured flames with the bombers circling overhead. While I think this image has been very effectively crafted, its apparent cosiness makes me uncomfortable. Though I do love the title font, so reminiscent of the 1930s, and I think the design is successful. Which is your favourite?

The Mid-Year Freak Out Book Tag #Brainfluffbookreview #TheMidYearFreakOutBookTag

Standard


I’ve recently thoroughly enjoyed reading this book tag on a number of sites – but the first one was Maddalena, at Space and Sorcery, one of my favourite book bloggers on account of the steady stream of thoughtful, quality reviews that she produces. So I decided to also join in the fun…

Best Book You’ve Read So Far This Year
Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear
Haimey Dz thinks she knows what she wants. She thinks she knows who she is. She is wrong. A routine salvage mission uncovers evidence of a terrible crime and relics of powerful ancient technology. Haimey and her small crew run afoul of pirates at the outer limits of the Milky Way, and find themselves on the run and in possession of universe-changing information.

When authorities prove corrupt, Haimey realizes that she is the only one who can protect her galaxy-spanning civilization from the implications of this ancient technology—and the revolutionaries who want to use it for terror and war. Her quest will take her careening from the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s core to the infinite, empty spaces at its edge.

I found this layered, character-led exploration of a future human, who relies on technology not available to us in order to keep functional, absolutely riveting.

Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far This Year
Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
Telepathy, along with sundry other odd abilities, have landed Stella more than once, in situations at best controversial, at worst life-threatening. But she’s always known; you have to fight your own corner as best you can, no point beating yourself up about it.

Now though, times have changed, different priorities. She’s married, with a baby on the way and a flourishing business. She simply has to deal with a couple of worrying issues and then all should be smooth sailing. But, isn’t it a fact; just when you think you’ve got all your ducks in a row, life can turn right around and bite you on the bottom?

This series is an absolute gem. I love the quirky, humorous tone coupled with the often dark, twisty plot. It should be grim and angsty, but it isn’t. Messik is a wonderful writer and definitely my discovery of the year so far…

New Release You Haven’t Read Yet But Want To
Unconquerable Sun – Book 1 of The Sun Chronicles by Kate Elliott
GENDER-SWAPPED ALEXANDER THE GREAT ON AN INTERSTELLAR SCALE
Princess Sun has finally come of age. Growing up in the shadow of her mother, Eirene, has been no easy task. The legendary queen-marshal did what everyone thought impossible: expel the invaders and build Chaonia into a magnificent republic, one to be respected—and feared.

But the cutthroat ambassador corps and conniving noble houses have never ceased to scheme—and they have plans that need Sun to be removed as heir, or better yet, dead. To survive, the princess must rely on her wits and companions: her biggest rival, her secret lover, and a dangerous prisoner of war.

A retelling of Alexander the Great set in space with a princess as the protagonist – with the great Kate Elliott telling the story… It makes me go weak with longing just thinking about it.

Most Anticipated Release For the Second Half of the Year
A Deadly Education – Book 1 of the Scholomance series by Naomi Novik
A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets. There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere. El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.
I love a great school story and have read one book from another
cracking series this year – so am really looking forward to tucking into this one.

Biggest Disappointment
Q by Christina Dalcher
Every child’s potential is regularly determined by a standardized measurement: their quotient (Q). Score high enough, and attend a top tier school with a golden future. Score too low, and it’s off to a federal boarding school with limited prospects afterwards. The purpose? An improved society where education costs drop, teachers focus on the more promising students, and parents are happy.

Elena Fairchild is a teacher at one of the state’s elite schools. When her nine-year-old daughter bombs a monthly test and her Q score drops to a disastrously low level, she is immediately forced to leave her top school for a federal institution hundreds of miles away. As a teacher, Elena thought she understood the tiered educational system, but as a mother whose child is now gone, Elena’s perspective is changed forever. She just wants her daughter back.

Elena has to be the nastiest protagonist I’ve encountered this year. I kept reading, because I was convinced that at some stage she was going to redeem herself. She didn’t. Check out my review.

Biggest Surprise
You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce
Cassandra Tipp is dead…or is she? After all, the notorious recluse and eccentric bestselling novelist has always been prone to flights of fancy–everyone in town remembers the shocking events leading up to Cassie’s infamous trial (she may have been acquitted, but the insanity defense only stretches so far).
Cassandra Tipp has left behind no body–just her massive fortune, and one final manuscript.

Then again, there are enough bodies in her past–her husband Tommy Tipp, whose mysterious disembowelment has never been solved, and a few years later, the shocking murder-suicide of her father and brother.

This unsettling tale is both horrific and beautiful and has lodged in my memory since I read it early in the year. Fabulous debut novel that makes this author One To Watch. Here is my review.

Favourite New Author
Marilyn Messik
I just wish she would write faster… I suffered terrible book hangover pangs after completing the Strange series! This is my review of Relatively Strange.

Newest Fictional Crush
Hm. Don’t really like the term crush – I’m a very happily married woman. But I rather fell in love with Trouble Dog from Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell. This sentient ship doesn’t know when to quit…

Newest Favourite Character
Stella from the Strange series by Marilyn Messik. Yes, I know it seems that I’ve only read a handful of books this first half of 2020, given the fact that Messik’s books keep surfacing in this roundup, but I was obsessed by Stella – even dreamt about her… That doesn’t happen all that often, these days.

Book That Made You Cry
The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel
England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.

Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?

This was a heartbreaking ending to Cromwell’s long journey from being a brutal, brutalised teenager on the way to becoming part of his father’s criminal gang, to being the most powerful man in England, next to the King. The King who finally killed him… I wept while listening to Cromwell’s death, which was beautifully done.

Book That Made You Happy
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

A book of hope for uncertain times.
Enter the world of Charlie’s four unlikely friends, discover their story and their most important life lessons.

The conversations of the boy, the mole, the fox and the horse have been shared thousands of times online, recreated in school art classes, hung on hospital walls and turned into tattoos. In Charlie’s first book, you will find his most-loved illustrations and some new ones too.

A fabulous, uplifting book that appears to be very simple, but is so much more. It’s by my side at my computer where I work in these difficult times.

Favourite Book to Film adaptation
Sanditon by Jane Austen
Loved this one – and then got to the end… and – oh my word! THAT was a shock…

Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought This Year
Underland by Robert MacFarlane
In this highly anticipated sequel to his international bestseller The Old Ways, Macfarlane takes us on an extraordinary journey into our relationship with darkness, burial, and what lies beneath the surface of both place and mind. Traveling through “deep time”—the dizzying expanses of geologic time that stretch away from the present—he moves from the birth of the universe to a post-human future, from the prehistoric art of Norwegian sea caves to the blue depths of the Greenland ice cap, from Bronze Age funeral chambers to the catacomb labyrinth below Paris, and from the underground fungal networks through which trees communicate to a deep-sunk “hiding place” where nuclear waste will be stored for 100,000 years to come. Woven through Macfarlane’s own travels are the unforgettable stories of descents into the underland made across history by explorers, artists, cavers, divers, mourners, dreamers, and murderers, all of whom have been drawn for different reasons to seek what Cormac McCarthy calls “the awful darkness within the world.”
This was a present from my lovely sister-in-law. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of tucking into this one – but I fully intend to by the end of the year. That cover is to die for – and the writing is gorgeous. Have you read it?

What Book Do You Need To Read by the End of the Year?
As many as I can – so that I can be thrilled by favourite authors, who go on delivering the goods, and delighted by talented writers I haven’t previously had the pleasure of reading…

Sunday Post – 14th June, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

Standard

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

I’m late this week, because since Wednesday, I haven’t been feeling very well and so yesterday, I gave myself the day off. Hopefully during the coming week, I’ll throw off this lergy. At least I was able to take part in the family quiz we had last week, which was great fun, especially as Himself and I won. My sister organised the questions, and my nephews sorted out the technicality of getting a number of us together from around the country. We all had a great time and agreed that we should do more😊).

Finally we have had some rain, though as it was accompanied by lots of wind, I’m not sure whether the garden has been suitably soaked, but the weeds are really loving it. The raindrops trapped in the fennel leaves look lovely and my black-leaved sambucca is smothered in more blossom than I’ve ever seen, as is my rather heavily shaded David Austin rose…

On the work front, I spent much of the week going through my friend’s book, after we had something of a formatting disaster. Now I just need to load it onto my Kindle and see how it reads. I am slowly getting to grips with the WordPress block editor and making some changes to try and overcome the limitations I am encountering. But it’s time-consuming and frustrating…


Last week I read:

Set My Heart To Five by Simon Stephenson
10/10 Jared does not have friends.
Because friends are a function of feelings.
Therefore friends are just one more human obligation that Jared never has to worry about.
But Jared is worrying. Which is worrying. He’s also started watching old films. And inexplicably crying in them. And even his Feelings Wheel (given to him by Dr Glundenstein, who definitely is not a friend) cannot guide him through the emotional minefield he now finds himself in.
Given the blurb is something of a hot mess – this delightful book is in the viewpoint of a bot in a human body, designed to work as a dentist without any feelings, so incapable of love, excitement, or boredom and depression. Except that he begins to acquire such emotions after all… It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it.

The Empire of Gold – Book 3 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty
Daevabad has fallen. After a brutal conquest stripped the city of its magic, Nahid leader Banu Manizheh and her resurrected commander, Dara, must try to repair their fraying alliance and stabilize a fractious, warring people. But the bloodletting and loss of his beloved Nahri have unleashed the worst demons of Dara’s dark past. To vanquish them, he must face some ugly truths about his history and put himself at the mercy of those he once considered enemies.
This final book in this sand and sorcery epic fantasy draws us into a land of vengeful magical beings, where the past dictates the present and those in the middle of the story finally discover how they fit into the complex political web around them. A triumphant ending to a magnificent series.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region. Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.
This gothic tale certainly ticks all the boxes and had me reading into the small hours to find out what happened. A creepy house, miserable welcome and nasty, entitled family who don’t want strangers poking about. And that’s all I’m going to say about it – except that it will take a while before I can face a mushroom again…

My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Empire of Gold – Book 3 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty

Friday Face-off featuring Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Set My Heart to Five by Simon Stephenson

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi

Review of The City of Brass – Book 1 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Gravity is Heartless – Book 1 of the Heartless series by Sarah Lahey

Sunday Post – 7th June 2020

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

Black SFF Authors You Should be Reading https://booksbonesbuffy.com/2020/06/02/black-sff-authors-you-should-be-reading/ Like Tammy, I generally don’t discuss politics on my blog, but if you wish to widen your reading – this is a great place to start…

A Short Analysis of Robert Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’ https://interestingliterature.com/2020/06/a-short-analysis-of-robert-brownings-my-last-duchess/ This is one of my favourite poems – such a wonderful portrayal of a really nasty villain…

Music Monday: As Good as Hell by Lizzo https://saschadarlington.me/2020/06/08/music-monday-good-as-hell-by-lizzo/#.Xudmk-d7kaE I have heard parts of this song regularly from a certain ad – so it was a real treat to listen to the whole thing and jig along…

The Book Character Quarantine Tag https://spaceandsorcery.wordpress.com/2020/06/09/the-book-character-quarantine-tag/ Maddalena’s lovely and spot on post about how her favourite protagonists would fare under lockdown had me howling with laughter… I will be joining in this one!

Before He Was Scotty: James Doohan and World War II https://thenaptimeauthor.wordpress.com/2020/05/30/before-he-was-scotty-james-doohan-and-world-war-ii/ Anne’s wonderful article shows us Scotty and other members of the Star Trek cast as you’ve never seen them…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 10th June, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

Standard

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

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi
– release date, 23rd July, 2020


#historical fiction #thriller #feisty heroine

Isn’t this to die for? No wonder I buckled!

BLURB: For the crime of stealing bread, fourteen-year-old May receives a life sentence: she must become a Sin Eater—a shunned woman, brutally marked, whose fate is to hear the final confessions of the dying, eat ritual foods symbolizing their sins as a funeral rite, and thereby shoulder their transgressions to grant their souls access to heaven.

Orphaned and friendless, apprenticed to an older Sin Eater who cannot speak to her, May must make her way in a dangerous and cruel world she barely understands. When a deer heart appears on the coffin of a royal governess who did not confess to the dreadful sin it represents, the older Sin Eater refuses to eat it. She is taken to prison, tortured, and killed. To avenge her death, May must find out who placed the deer heart on the coffin and why.

Having the depth of a pavement puddle, I cannot deny it – this gorgeous cover bewitched me. Though I was also intrigued by the premise – it sounds both original and plausible in a twisted way. After all, there was a thriving trade in selling pardons to frightened sinners throughout the Middle Ages. So I’m really looking forward to tucking into this one.

Sunday Post – 17th May, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

Standard


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

It’s been a lot colder and cloudier, but we only had a bit of rain last Sunday and since then, despite high winds, it’s been dry. The garden is desperate for some rain… Himself managed to cut back the shrubs – a job we normally do much earlier in the year. The escalonia is now in full bloom, along with the pretty little fuschia. I love the bright yellow leaves contrasting with the deep pink flowers. My bronze fennel is sprouting, and those echiums just keep growing and blooming. The bees love the flowers so much, you can hear their hum from across the garden.

Last weekend’s writing retreat went really well. I am now in touching distance of the end of my How-To book, which is good, because I want to start editing Mantivore Warrior this coming week.

The other success last weekend was the family’s Sunday get-together to celebrate my sister’s birthday. It went so well, my nephews are organising an online games session for next Saturday night via Zoom – something to really look forward to. I might even dress up!


Last week I read:
The Physicians of Vilnoc – Book 8 of the Penric and Desdemona NOVELLA series by Lois McMaster Bujold
When a mysterious plague breaks out in the army fort guarding Vilnoc, the port capital of the duchy of Orbas, Temple sorcerer Penric and his demon Desdemona are called upon by General Arisaydia to resurrect Penric’s medical skills and solve its lethal riddle. In the grueling days that follow, Pen will find that even his magic is not enough to meet the challenges without help from dedicated new colleagues—and the god of mischance.
The series is always a high spot for us – and this latest addition was no exception. Although I had my doubts when I saw it was all about a mysterious plague. But I needn’t have worried – this author handled the whole subject really well.



Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
“I was five when I discovered I could fly, sixteen when I killed a man.
Both events were unsettling in their own way.”

It’s hard to know what’s normal, if you’re not, and it takes Stella a while to realise she’s in the definitely ‘not’ drawer. But we are who we are and we make adjustments to fit in – most of the time – and it’s only when she finds she’s not quite as unique as she thought, that things begin to acquire a whole new dimension.
That’s only part of the very chatty blurb. But this one blew me away. There are some authors I just fall for – hook, line and sinker… it doesn’t happen very often. But Marilyn Messik is one of them. I will recall May 2020 through the prism of this series. Review to follow.



AUDIOBOOK Starsight – Book 2 of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson
All her life, Spensa has dreamed of becoming a pilot. Of proving she’s a hero like her father. She made it to the sky, but the truths she learned about her father were crushing. Spensa is sure there’s more to the story. And she’s sure that whatever happened to her father in his starship could happen to her. When she made it outside the protective shell of her planet, she heard the stars–and it was terrifying. Everything Spensa has been taught about her world is a lie. But Spensa also discovered a few other things about herself–and she’ll travel to the end of the galaxy to save humankind if she needs to.
This second book in this entertaining space opera series took the initial premise and world and then gave it a good shaking and changed it up. I am very much looking forward to reading the next book in the series.


The Valhalla Call – Book 4 of the Hayden War Cycle by Evan Currie
Newly minted Lieutenant Sorilla Aida has a new mission and new allies, gear, and support as she is tasked with a job that could ensure that the human race stands a chance of reaching a technical parity with the mysterious alien alliance. Humans and SOLCOM are not the only ones making moves, however, and the Alliance has brought up their varsity to end the little side war before it gets out of hand. Are they really interested in humanity or human worlds, however, or is something more at play?
Currie has nailed battles in space – nobody does it better. And this addition to the series brought some game-changing twists I’m keen to find out about. Review to follow.



Even Stranger – Book 2 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
With the swinging sixties staggering, shamefaced and flustered, into the slightly staider seventies, life for Stella, isn’t going as smoothly as she’d like. As an ordinary person, who happens to have some extraordinary abilities, it’s frustrating to find that something as simple as holding down a job, throws up unexpected hurdles. She’d be a darn sight better off if she could ditch the conviction she knows best which, together with a chronic inability to keep her mouth shut and her nose out of other people’s business, has led her more than once off the straight and narrow into the dodgy and dangerous. Plans for a safer future, include setting herself up in business, squashing her over-active conscience and steering clear of risky and unpleasant. Unfortunately, the best laid plans can lead to the darkest places.
Yes – I broke my rule of never reading a series too close together. I was pining for more Marilyn Messik goodness, and this adventure alongside my new best friend, Stella, didn’t disappoint. Review to follow.


My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Physicians of Vilnoc – Book 8 of the Penric and Desdemona NOVELLA series by Lois McMaster Bujold

Friday Face-off featuring Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

April 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging…

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Ghost Ups Her Game – Book 9 of the Bailey Ruth series by Carolyn G. Hart

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Firewalkers by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Sunday Post – 10th May 2020

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

Top 5 Writing Hacks to Distract You From the Nightmare of Your Daily Life https://writerunboxed.com/2020/05/16/top-writing-hacks-to-distract-you-from-the-nightmare-of-your-daily-life/ Bill Ferris always worth reading – but his humour is especially welcome in the current situation…

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #9: Sewing Up Memories https://platformnumber4.com/2020/05/09/fantastic-find-at-the-bookstore-9-sewing-up-memories/ Becky once again has nailed it with this lovely trip into the past…

Liars, manipulators, tyrants, misogynists… top worst rulers… in books! Top 5 Tuesday http://bewareofthereader.com/liars-manipulators-tyrants-misogynistics-top-worst-rulers-in-books-top-5-tuesday/ I loved this one! So… who would be your worst rulers? In books, of course… let’s keep it escapist, people!

FRIDAY SMILES https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2020/05/08/friday-smiles/ We all need more smiles in our lives…

Ten of the Best Twentieth Century Books Everyone Should Read https://interestingliterature.com/2020/05/twentieth-century-novels/ This is a list all readers probably have an opinion on. Do you agree with it? Personally, I’m not big on everyone HAVING to read anything – I think we should all read what we love to read. And there’s a couple missing from here, as far as I’m concerned…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.