Tag Archives: magic

Review of KINDLE Ebook An Easy Death – Book 1 of the Gunnie Rose series by Charlaine Harris #Brainfluffbookreview #AnEasyDeathbookreview

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I’m a fan of Harris’s writing – see my review of Midnight Crossroad here. So when a steady trickle of enthusiastic reviews turned into a stream, I alerted Himself, who decided to treat both of us to this offering. Our book budget for this year hasn’t been busted – more like broken beyond repair…

Set in a fractured United States, in the southwestern country now known as Texoma. A world where magic is acknowledged but mistrusted, especially by a young gunslinger named Lizbeth Rose. Battered by a run across the border to Mexico Lizbeth Rose takes a job offer from a pair of Russian wizards to be their local guide and gunnie.

And that is as much of the very chatty blurb that I’m prepared to share. I would add that the States is very different to our version, as it also includes a Russian enclave in this alternate history where the Romanov dynasty didn’t die in a basement in a hail of bullets, but instead survived to flee across the Atlantic accompanied by their magic-user, Rasputin. As for Texoma, think Wild West complete with bandits. It’s an interesting world, where life is cheap, travel exceedingly dangerous and luxuries such as electricity tend to be erratic. Each settlement or town seems to have its own set of laws that those passing through need to know.

I really liked the character of Lizbeth Rose, whose tough, self-reliant attitude helps her bounce back after the initial devastating incident at the start of the book, which puts her in the path of the two Russian wizards. Harris is good at making us care for her protagonists and I was quickly invested in Lizbeth prevailing against the odds. This dystopian, broken-backed landscape where the remains of metalled roads and ruins of houses pock the countryside should have given this book a more downbeat feel, but Lizbeth’s first-person narrative rescued this from being a grim, post-apocalyptic exploration of a destroyed civilisation. While she mentions such features, she’s matter-of-fact about the whole business, which happened before she was born. And besides, she’s too busy trying to keep herself and her clients alive to spend too much time brooding about the past.

Harris perfectly paces this adventure, so that we have plenty of time to appreciate what is at stake, before the situation flips around to heighten said stakes and once more Lizbeth is engulfed in yet more life-threatening action. It became physically impossible to put this one down, as I kept turning the pages as if my life depended upon it – and once I reached the end of the story, I felt drained and a tad shaky, suffering a real book hangover, which doesn’t happen very often to me, these days.

If you like your fantasy with a sideorder of wild west action and backdrop, then track this one down. I’m looking forward to seeing how this one plays out on TV, too…
9/10

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Gilded Wolves – Book 1 of The Gilded Wolves series by Roshani Chokshi #Brainfluffbookreview #TheGildedWolvesbookreview

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I’m a real fan of Chokshi’s writing – see my review of her stunning debut The Star-Touched Queen – and when I requested an arc of this one, I was prepared for more of the same – a rich, lushly told fantasy story shot through with eastern allusions. But this one is completely different…

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.

Yes – this is a fantasy criminal heist adventure and if I’d realised that, I might not have so enthusiastically requested it, as I have DNF’d far too many third-rate copies of Scott Lynch’s gentlemen bastards and their adventures. But I’m very glad I did get my hands on this one. I’ve seen the constant comparison to Six of Crows and while the story has some similarities – a heist adventure featuring a team of misfits – there are also vital differences.

The setting is an alternate Paris where magical artefacts are used to assist the ruling families stay in power. While there is a team involved in a mission-impossible type of heist, the leader and arch-planner is Séverin, who yearns for the future he lost aged seven, when what should have been his induction into the golden circle of ruling families was abruptly snatched from him in a plot that falsely claimed he wasn’t his father’s true heir. After that he was passed around a series of abusive step-fathers, each one mistreating or using him in some nefarious fashion. Along the way, he teamed up with Tristen, who had the misfortune to be the actual son of one of these nasty characters.

Chokshi’s prose style comes into its own as she gives us a vivid insight to each of these characters and what matters to them, which meant that when it all hits the fan I really cared about each one. It also meant that I didn’t ever find myself muddled or confused as to who was who doing what to whom. I like the fact there is real racial and sexual diversity among the characters, which is presented in a nicely matter-of-fact manner as their energies are engaged in trying to track down a magical ‘thing’ which will change everything.

The pacing works well. While this story starts fairly slowly, before winding up to the mayhem that ensues as the adventure goes awry, Chokshi also effectively manages the aftermath, which could have dragged into something a lot more downbeat and depressing. With this story, I get the sense that Chokshi has fully matured as a writer, gaining confidence to set her stories and characters outside the eastern backdrop that fuelled her previous adventures. One of the reasons why I regularly DNF fantasy heist adventures featuring a team of misfits, is that it is very difficult to write well. But when it all comes together, as it does here, it is a powerful, emotional read. I staggered away from this intense story with my head full of Séverin, Tristan, Hypnos, Zofia, Laila and Enrique – and hoping I don’t have to wait too long to discover what happens next…

The ebook arc copy of The Gilded Wolves was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10

My Outstanding Reads of the Year – 2018 #Brainfluffbookblogger #MyOutstandingReadsoftheYear2018

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It’s been another great reading year with loads of choice within my favourite genres, so I ended up reading 162 books with 125 reviews published and another 23 in hand. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out from the rest in the best way. Some of them might not even have garnered a 10 from me at the time – but all those included have lodged in my head and won’t go away. And none of this nonsense about a top 10 – I can’t possibly cope with a limit like that.

The Stone Sky – Book 3 The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
The whole trilogy is an extraordinary read – a mash-up between fantasy and science fiction and sections of it written in second person pov. It shouldn’t work, but it does because her imagination and prose fuses together to make this more than a sum of its parts. See my review.

 

Hyperspace Trap by Christopher G. Nuttall
I like this author’s writing anyway and I’m a sucker for a well-told space opera adventure, so I read a fair few. However, something about this one has stuck – I often find myself thinking about those passengers on the space liner and the crew looking after them, while marooned by a malign presence. See my review.

 

The Cold Between – A Central Corps novel by Elizabeth Bonesteel
This is the start of a gripping space opera adventure with interestingly nuanced characters, whose reactions to the unfolding situation around them just bounces off the page. I love it when space opera gets all intelligent and grown-up… See my review.

 

The Green Man’s Heir by Juliet E. McKenna
This fantasy adventure is set in contemporary Britain with the protagonist very much hampered by his fae ancestry and trying to discover more about that side of his family. It gripped me from the first page and wouldn’t let go until the end, when I sulked for days afterwards because I wanted more. See my review.

 

Head On – Book 2 of the Lock In series by John Scalzi
This is such a smart, clever premise. The paralysed young protagonist is able to live a nearly-normal life because his consciousness is uploaded into a robot, when he pursues a career fighting crime. Science fiction murder mysteries are one of my favourite genres, when it’s done well – and this is a great example. See my review.

 

Before Mars – Book 3 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman
This has been an outstanding series – and this tight-wound thriller is no exception. I love the fact that Newman tackles the subject of motherhood, which isn’t a subject that comes up all that often in science fiction. See my review.

 

Child I by Steve Tasane
I’ve been haunted by this book ever since I read it. It’s not long and the language is very simple. The little boy telling the story is bright and funny and not remotely self pitying. When I started reading it, I assumed it was set in a post-apocalyptic future – and then discovered that it was set right now and is the distilled experience of children from all over the world. And I wept. See my review.

 

The Wild Dead – Book 2 of The Bannerless Saga by Carrie Vaughn
This was the most delightful surprise. This is another murder mystery set in the future – this time in post-apocalyptic America once law and order has been re-established. I loved the atmosphere, the society and the above all, I fell in love with Enid, the no-nonsense, practical lawgiver sent to sort out the puzzle of a body of a girl that nobody appears to know. See my review.

 

The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah
As well as being a story of a family, this is also a homage to Alaska and a time when it was a wilder, less organised place. It isn’t one of my normal reads, but my mother sent me this one as she thought I’d love it – and, being my mum, she was right. See my review.

 

Fallen Princeborn: Stolen by Jean Lee
I’ve come to know the author from her amazing blog and was happy to read a review copy of her book – what I wasn’t prepared for was the way her powerful, immersive style sucked me right into the skin of the main character. This contemporary fantasy is sharp-edged, punchy and very memorable. See my review.

 

Eye Can Write: a memoir of a child’s silent soul emerging by Jonathan Bryan
This is another amazing read, courtesy of my lovely mum. And again, she was right. This is a non-fiction book, partly written by Jonathan’s mother and partly written by Jonathan himself, whose severe cerebral palsy locked him into his body, until he found a way to communicate with the outside world using one letter at a time. See my review.

 

Windhaven by George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle
This remarkable colony world adventure is about a girl yearning to break into the closed community of flyers – and what happens when she does. I love a book all about unintended consequences and this intelligent, thought-provoking read thoroughly explores the problems, as well as the advantages of throwing open this elite corps to others. See my review.

 

Strange the Dreamer – Book 1 of Strange the Dreamer duology by Laini Taylor
I loved her first trilogy – but this particular book has her writing coming of age. The lyrical quality of her prose and her amazing imagination has her odd protagonist pinging off the page. See my review.

 

Battle Cruiser – Book 1 of the Lost Colonies series by B.V. Larson
This is just such fun. William Sparhawk is a rigidly proper young captain trying to make his way in the face of enmity from his superiors due to his family connections, when he’s pitchforked right into the middle of a ‘situation’ and after that, the tale takes off and buckets along with all sorts of twists and turns that has William becoming less rigid and proper… See my review.

 

Certain Dark Things by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia
That this author is a huge talent is a given – and what she does with a tale about a vampire on the run in a city that has declared it is a no-go area for the destructive creatures is extraordinary. Review to follow.

 

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
I’ll be honest – I liked and appreciated the skill of this book as I read it, but I didn’t love it. The characters were too flawed and unappealing. But it won’t leave me alone. I find myself thinking about the premise and the consequences – and just how right the setup is. And a book that goes on doing that has to make the list, because it doesn’t happen all that often. Review to follow.

Are there any books here that you’ve read? And if so, do you agree with me? What are your outstanding reads for last year?

Monday Post – 10th December, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog #NotaSundayPost

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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.

This week has been a busy one, winding up my Creative Writing class and teaching Tim until after Christmas. I am hoping that during the break I can regain my health and stamina. My wonderful writing buddy, Mhairi and I also completed our tax returns – she comes over and we tackle them together, which makes the whole process a lot more fun and a lot less scary. It was one of those chores we’d planned to do much earlier this autumn, but I’d had to postpone as I wasn’t feeling well enough.

Other than that, I’ve started buying Christmas and birthday pressies as far too many family members saw fit to get themselves born in December, including my mother, daughter and number one grandchild. This weekend I had the grandchildren stay over for the first time in over two months – it will be the last time I’ll see them before Christmas – and we had a great time. We all went shopping yesterday morning, started decorating the house in the afternoon and went out for a Chinese meal at our favourite restaurant in the evening. So Sunday morning we spent a lazy morning recovering, before Oscar tackled the Christmas tree, while Frankie experimented with different looks. It seemed far too soon that I had to load them back into the car, ready to take them home yesterday afternoon and then sank onto the sofa, too tired to move for the rest of the evening. Hence being a day late…

Last week I read:

Ichor Well – Book 3 of the Free-Wrench series by Joseph Lallo
Ever since Nita Graus left her homeland and joined the crew of the Wind Breaker, the reputation of the airship and its crew has been growing. The destruction of the mighty dreadnought, the escape from the legendary Skykeep, and the inexplicable ability to remain hidden from the ever-watchful eye of the Fug Folk have combined to make her and her fellow crew the stuff of legend. Alas, legendary heroes cannot exist for long without attracting a worthy villain. Luscious P. Alabaster strives to be just that foe.
This steampunk adventure is great fun – though it’s a real shame that I mistakenly tucked into the third book in the series. However, I’ll be backtracking to the first two books, because I really enjoyed this one.

 

Six of Crows – Book 1 of the Six of Crows series by Leigh Bardugo
Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…
I’d heard so much about the criminal underworld fantasy adventure, so decided to give it a whirl as a break from all the science fiction I’ve recently been reading. And I’m so glad I did as I thoroughly enjoyed it.

 

 

An Easy Death – Book 1 of the Gunnie Rose series by Charlaine Harris
Set in a fractured United States, in the southwestern country now known as Texoma. A world where magic is acknowledged but mistrusted, especially by a young gunslinger named Lizbeth Rose. Battered by a run across the border to Mexico Lizbeth Rose takes a job offer from a pair of Russian wizards to be their local guide and gunnie.
I was wittering at Himself about this one and next thing I knew – he’d bought it for me… And Himself, of course – I love it that we often love the same books. We certainly both thoroughly enjoyed this one. Lizbeth’s first person narration during the variety of adventures that engulf her during a particular job had me thoroughly rooting for her. She is feisty, tough and smart and yet doesn’t come off as a Mary Sue. I found it hard to put this one down until I’d finished it.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 2nd December 2018

Review of Eye Can Write by Jonathan Bryan

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Murder in the Dark – Book 6 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green

Friday Face-Off featuring The Lost Hero – Book 1 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan

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

Fragment(s): Monday Maps and Diagrams (Science Fiction) 12/3/18 – Mark S. Geston’s Lords of the Starship (1967) https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2018/12/03/monday-maps-and-diagrams-science-fiction-12-3-18-mark-s-gestons-lords-of-the-starship-1967/
This is a quirky post about the sci fi equivalent of those fantasy maps that are so common – and it’s worth clicking on the link that gives you access to loads of others…

Top Ten Tuesday – Welcome to the Comfort Zone https://lynns-books.com/2018/12/04/welcome-to-the-comfort-zone/ Lynn’s Book Blog is one of my regular go-to visits as I love her often quirky approach and consistently high quality reviews. This list was a real treat…

Wildlife destinations in Africa that you need to check out http://chechewinnie.com/wildlife-destinations-in-africa-that-you-need-to-check-out/ This is another site I regularly check in on – the facts and fabulous pics are a real pick-me-up on a dank December day.

Write a Winter Haiku & Get the Kids Writing Too – “Snowfalls” (Haiku from MY MAINE by Bette A. Stevens https://4writersandreaders.com/2018/12/04/s-writing-too-snowfalls-haiku-from-my-maine-by-bette-a-stevenswrite-a-winter-haiku-get-the-kid/ A lovely example of a popular verse form.

The Captain’s Log – the egg (Andy Weir) https://thecaptainsquartersblog.wordpress.com/2018/12/04/the-captains-log-the-egg-andy-weir/ The Cap is a great reviewer with decided views – and in this article he provides a link to a gem of a short story by Andy Weir of The Martian fame. I loved it…

In the meantime, many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog and have a great week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Athena’s Champion – Book 1 of the Olympus trilogy by David Hair and Cath Mayo #Brainfluffbookreview #Athena’sChampionbookreview

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One of my lovely blogging friends recommended this, though I’m really sorry I can’t remember who is was, or I would namecheck her as this is a real gem.

Prince Odysseus of Ithaca is about to have his world torn apart. He’s travelled to the oracle at Pytho to be anointed as heir to his island kingdom; but instead the Pythia reveals a terrible secret, one that tears down every pillar of his life, and marks him out for death. Outcast by his family, hunted by the vengeful gods, Odysseus is offered sanctuary by Athena, goddess of wisdom, and thrust into the secret war between the Olympians for domination and survival. Only his wits, and his skill as a warrior, can keep him ahead of their power games – and alive.

Odysseus staggers away from this rite of passage an outcast, when he was expecting it to be part of his preparation and training for ruling Ithaca, a small rocky island off the Greek mainland. So he is out of options when Athena appears and offers to provide him with sanctuary, in return for his service. I’ve always had a soft spot for poor old Odysseus, whose – like Heracles – pays a high price for serving the gods, becoming entangled in the Trojan War and then taking ten long years to return home, to the extent that his name has come to mean a long, important journey… odyssey.

This retelling, however, deals with the events that lead up to the Trojan War and explains why the Greeks were such a quarrelsome lot. Once Odysseus has sworn his allegiance to Athena, he is automatically regarded with enmity by other members of the Olympian family, given they spend much of their time plotting against each other, terrified they will lose influence and get swallowed up by competing deities with more worshippers.
In this dangerous, uncertain world, where young Odysseus no longer even has the safety of his own family, he is forced to spend far more time than he’d like with Athena’s other champion, the mighty Theseus. This depiction has the great warrior as a bullying drunken braggart, convinced he is irresistible to woman. I like the fact that the events leading up to the Trojan War are not just explained by the gods’ insecurities, but also by Troy’s growing power as a trading centre that threatens the economy of the Spartan kingdom and the surrounding states.

I am conscious that I haven’t conveyed the pace and drama of this retelling – in amongst the intriguing backstory and strong characterisation, there is a cracking action adventure, full of fights, plots, desperate schemes and dangerous situations. Odysseus, though strong and well trained, is also too short to be able to prevail against might of a gigantic warrior like Theseus in hand-to-hand combat. However, he is clever, quick-witted and able to spin a tale to get himself out of a tricky situation, which is just as well…

I loved this one. And if you have a fondness for well-told retellings of Greek gods and heroes, this comes very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Athena’s Champion from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Sunday Post – 4th November, 2018 #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.

November – really? This year has sped past in a blur. Everyone says that as I get older, the years will go on speeding up. All I can think is that if I make it to my 70s without ending up under the proverbial bus, I’ll probably be unable to function… too giddy with the rate at which my days and weeks are whipping by.

I had a wonderful time at Bristolcon last week, which now feels like a distant memory, but one that is warming with all the friendliness on encountering folk I hadn’t seen for far too long. Thankfully, the journey there and back again on the trains went like clockwork, so Mhairi and I arrived home mid-afternoon on Sunday, having felt like we’d been away for much longer.

This has been another busy week – Himself has spent a fair chunk of it coping with his deafness until we made a major breakthrough on Friday. After syringing his ears yet again – he finally found he could hear. A huge relief – I’m startled at how much it impacted on our relationship with both of us feeling grumpy and insecure because of his hearing loss. It’s lovely to have my funny, witty companion back again.

Other than that, it’s been a week of catching up and teaching – I’m now halfway through this term at Northbrook, which is going well. Poor Tim had to have a toenail removed last Wednesday, so I caught up with Sally instead of teaching him on Thursday. I’ve also been announcing to everyone that I was off this weekend for a writing course – only to discover halfway through Friday that it’s in a fortnight, instead… So not only is Time speeding up, it’s now also playing tricks on me. Thank goodness, I’m not going to be a Timelord – I’d probably have the timeline looping back on itself with the human race heading back towards the Industrial Revolution and good old Queen Victoria’s reign… It is Wednesday, isn’t it? Whatever it is, have a great monthday… week, everyone!

Last week I read:

Survivor in Death – Book 20 of the In Death series by J.D. Robb
The only thing that kept young Nixie Swisher from suffering the same fate as her parents, brother, housekeeper, and young sleepover companion was the impulsive nine-year-old’s desire for an illicit orange fizzy at 2 a.m. Taking the bereft girl under her wing, Eve is determined to make sure the killers don’t get the chance to finish their lethal job. From the first, however, the investigation is baffling. The Swishers were a nice family, living on the Upper West Side in a house with an excellent security system. Ordinary almost to a fault, they seemed unlikely victims for this carefully planned and executed crime. Valuables at the scene were left untouched, there was no sign of vandalism — just the corpses of five people murdered in their sleep.
I tried this series once before, but couldn’t get to grips with it. Himself recommended this particular story – and I was hooked. At last I have fathomed his passion for this series of near-future murder mystery thrillers…

 

Satellite by Nick Lake
Moon 2 is a space station that orbits approximately 250 miles above Earth. It travels 17,500 miles an hour, making one full orbit every ninety minutes. It’s also the only home that fifteen-year-old Leo and two other teens have ever known. Born and raised on Moon 2, Leo and the twins, Orion and Libra, are finally old enough and strong enough to endure the dangerous trip to Earth. They’ve been “parented” by teams of astronauts since birth and have run countless drills to ready themselves for every conceivable difficulty they might face on the flight. But has anything really prepared them for life on terra firma?
Once I got used to the text-prose Lake has used to write this YA space-based adventure, I became engrossed in this powerful and emotional read.

 

A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan
After Grandmére Ursule gives her life to save her tribe, her magic seems to die with her. Even so, her family keeps the Old Faith, practicing the spells and rites that have been handed from mother to daughter for generations. Until one day, Ursule’s young granddaughter steps into the circle, and magic flows anew. From early 19th century Brittany to London during the Second World War, five generations of witches fight the battles of their time, deciding how far they are willing to go to protect their family, their heritage, and ultimately, all of our futures.
I found this saga, following a family cursed with the gift of magic through the ages, a real page-turner. And the angle Morgan takes on WW2 was fascinating…

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 28th October 2018

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Muse of Nightmares – Book 2 of the Srange the Dreamer series by Laini Taylor

Teaser Tuesday featuring Satellite by Nick Lake

Authoring Annals 3 – Bristolcon 2018

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of arc Fallen Princeborn: STOLEN by Jean Lee

Friday Face-off featuring Secret Seven Bonfire – Book 11 of the Secret Seven series Enid Blyton

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

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

Leopard: Fast and Beautiful http://chechewinnie.com/leopard-fast-and-beautiful/ I always look forward to reading Cheche’s fascinating articles on African wildlife and this one featuring leopards is packed full of wonderful pics along with all sorts of information I didn’t know…

Get to Know Ya Book Tag https://readerwitch.com/2018/11/03/different-books/ Alexandra tagged me for this one – thank you Alexandra! – and I loved both the questions and answers.

Winterwood Chapter 1 – Read It Here https://jaceybedford.wordpress.com/2018/11/03/winterwood-chapter-one-read-it-here/ I am two-thirds through Jacey Bedford’s entertaining space opera series, so was delighted to read this start to her fantasy trilogy…

New Poem Featured in Fall 2018 Issue of The Muddy River Poetry Review https://saraletourneauwriter.com/2018/10/31/fall-2018-muddy-river-poetry-review/ Fellow blogger and talented writer Sara Letourneau sent a link to this beautiful poem…

Britain by the Book: The Curious Origins of Mother Hubbard https://interestingliterature.com/2018/11/02/britain-by-the-book-the-curious-origins-of-mother-hubbard/ One of those menacing nursery rhymes we chant to our children, without necessarily thinking too much about those words…

Have a great week and thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Soulbinder Book 4 in the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell #Brainfluffbookreview #Soulbinderbookreview

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The fourth book in the page-turning SPELLSLINGER fantasy series. Perfect for fans of The Dark Tower, Firefly, Guardians of the Galaxy, Terry Pratchett, Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher.

And that’s the blurb – well, you can’t fault the publisher for giving away any crucial plotpoints here, can you? I’m interested in the line-up of authors that are compared to de Castell, because they all have initially humorous, often quite bouncy stories that steadily get darker and grimmer as the series wears on. Up to this point, the Spellsinger series kept the humour going, mostly provided by that pesky squirrel cat. But while Kellen’s caustic comments still are evident during Soulbinder – this is the book where the stakes are upped even further, there is even more mayhem, bloodshed and emotion. And yet, right at the end, back comes the humour, which I often loathe in TV series, but this time around, breathless and a tad hollowed out by all the excitement and the loss of characters I’ve grown fond of – something de Castell regularly does – it was a huge relief.

In this slice of the adventure, we learn more about the shadowblack – the disease that has marked Kellen and forced him to be outcast as the black markings around his eye will eventually cause him to be possessed by a terrible demon and start killing all those around him. The magical society he is born into, the Jan’Tep, abhor and fear all those with shadowblack, regarding them as monsters and mages can earn respect by tracking and killing those with a bounty on their head. I appreciated learning more about exactly what others infected by shadowblack feel about their affliction as Kellen encounters those like himself.

The action builds to a really exciting climax and the pages flipped past far too quickly as I couldn’t put this one down – de Castell has a knack of leading us from one engrossing adventure to another, without losing any depth in the characterisation or allowing the pacing to become too repetitive, which is harder to do than he makes it look.

And despite reading two books in this series within a week of each other – see my review of Charmcaster – I didn’t find the experience diminished my enjoyment of Soulbinder, which is a real testament to the writing skill of de Castell, who goes on delivering humour, shocks and plot-twists throughout this engrossing series. Highly recommended for fans of adventure fantasy featuring cool magical systems.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – Something wicked this way comes… #Brainfluffbookblog

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is HALLOWEEN, so I’ve selected Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.

 

This edition was produced by Simon Schuster in October 2017. It certainly catches the eye and makes the fabulous title the attention-grabber. The bold graphics and bright red background is designed to look like the carnival posters of yesteryear and is also relying on the fame and respect this amazing book has garnered. While I love it, there isn’t much here that shouts HALLOWEEN…

 

Published in June 1999 by William Morrow, I love the conceit behind this cover – that of a headless carousel horse with unspeakable things emerging from the severed neck – and the skull floating above the mayhem. However, they then go and ruin it by slapping one of those award blobs right in the middle of the artwork which ruins it. It’s a real shame, as they also went to the trouble of producing a cracking font, too. The only snag is that this design doesn’t work as a thumbnail.

 

This edition, published by Gollancz in August 2008, is both simple and eye-catching. The lurid green works well against the black, with the back of the ringmaster matching the lettering. It works well as in thumbnail and again, effectively trades on the fame of this book by paring down the design. I really like this one – it’s my favourite.

 

Produced by Bookspan in January 2001, this is also an intriguing cover. The wafting title rising from the paved ground like an evil spell works really well, while dark closes in, threatening and full of unknown terrors… This is a cracking cover that looks awesome full-sized, but the title shrinks to something indecipherable in thumbnail. It is so nearly my favourite…

 

This edition, published by Gollancz in March 2006 for the Fantasy Masterworks series is fabulous. I love that threatening sky… the bolt of lightning… that long road stretching onwards towards the something wicked. And then they make the title as small and insignificant as they possibly can – even the textbox announcing this is a Fantasy Masterworks book is punchier than the actual title! What is the point of a book cover where the title is all but invisible? But never mind about me and my rantings – which one is your favourite cover?