Tag Archives: magical school adventure

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik – Book 2 of the Scholomance series #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheLastGraduatebookreview

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I am a fan of Novik’s writing – see my reviews of Spinning Silver, Uprooted and Victory of Eagles, Tongues of Serpents, Crucible of Gold, Blood of Tyrants and League of Dragons of the Temeraire series. So when I saw that she’d written a school-based fantasy, I immediately pre-ordered the first book, A Deadly Education and was thrilled to be able to get hold of this second one via Netgalley. Would I enjoy it as much?

BLURB: At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year—and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules…

REVIEW: I’m not sure if it’s because I was a teacher, but the magical schools sub-genre is a favourite and I thoroughly enjoyed A Deadly Education. Though I was a bit fed up with the cliff-hanger at the end – and I’m warning you now, there’s another at the end of The Last Graduate.

El isn’t such a hardcore, in-your-face character this time around. For starters, she now has a loyal group of friends, and other alliances with a handful of enclave kids who have far more resources and protections than those without that kind of advantage. And it’s just as well she’s got more going for her as this year, as the School has become a lot more aggressive – with El apparently a prime target. Novik writes action scenes really well and has a glorious suite of delightfully revolting monsters that squish satisfyingly when they meet their messy end. This series would make a wonderful TV series.

However, if you were one of those who found the descriptions of the magic and the world outside a tad tedious in A Deadly Education (I didn’t…), then you won’t fare any better in this offering. El has a lot to say about the political situation, the history of the school and the very complex magic system, particularly in the first half of the book. It didn’t bother me, partly because we need to know all the information, partly because I found it fascinating anyway. I’m a huge fan of El, who has a natural talent for horrific destruction but has had it dinned into her by her adorable mother, that she can’t afford to give into those instinct at all. And Novik manages to depict her absolutely following the rules without her coming off as sickeningly good.

El is bad-tempered, overly cynical, far too touchy and apt to push away those who genuinely want to befriend her – but despite that, she is rigid in trying to avoid doing harm. I really like the fact that she isn’t the overwhelmed, put-upon victim doing the best she can in awful circumstances, either. She’s far too powerful for that. That doesn’t stop her from becoming increasingly trapped in a terrible situation, where the right thing to do is plain terrifying. I also enjoyed the humour, albeit a tad dark-edged, that runs through this story. And I am impressed with Novik’s successful portrayal of a Brit main character, complete with the sardonic street-wise dialogue.

While there is plenty of action throughout, the pace and tension really picks up in the second half of the book, which was difficult to put down once it hit its stride. I was glad Himself had warned me about that ending, though – otherwise I think it would have gone flying across the room. Which is why I’ve passed the warning on. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining read – and I’m very much looking forward to the third book in the series. The ebook arc copy of The Last Graduate was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10

Sunday Post – 11th July, 2021 #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.

Overall, it’s been a much better week. And thank you so much for all the kind, encouraging comments I received after my rather frustrated rant, last week. They really helped me bounce back to a place where everything doesn’t seem so hopeless😊. Himself and I had a chat about everything, and we realised that I do need to get out more, even if it is only a matter of walking a handful of steps and then returning home. So on Wednesday, Himself and I were able to visit the local garden centre and have a pizza, and on Thursday, we went for a short walk along the river and ended up at the riverside café for a coffee. During the afternoons, I’ve been following the events at Wimbledon – and feel rather smug at correctly predicting that Mateo Berrettini would be playing in the Men’s Final, after watching him play his first match at Queen’s, back in mid-June. The pics this week are more from the garden…

The other bright spot is the fabulous quality of the books I’ve read this week – they are a lifeline by taking me away to another time and place. And one, in particular, has been outstanding…

Last week I read:

Into the Dark – Book 1 of the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland
At fifteen, Alexis Carew has to face an age old problem – she’s a girl, and only a boy can inherit the family’s vast holdings. Her options are few.

She must marry and watch a stranger run the lands, or become a penniless tenant and see the lands she so dearly loves sold off. Yet there may be another option, one that involves becoming a midshipman on a shorthanded spaceship with no other women.
This is a reread. For some reason, I didn’t follow up this series after reading the first book, so I read this one again to ensure that my memory hadn’t played tricks on me and that I definitely wanted to continue reading Alexis’s adventures. Which I certainly do…

Hestia 2781 – Book 1 of the Draco Tell Dramis series by Janet Edwards
Hestia 2781 is the first of two full-length novels set immediately after the short story Hera 2781.

The year is 2781. Lieutenant Drago Tell Dramis’s first mission as a newly qualified fighter pilot ended with him and his team leader saving one of humanity’s oldest colony worlds, Hera, from destruction. Now he’s discovering that saving a world can be simple compared to living with the consequences.

Both Drago and his team leader and second cousin, Jaxon, are famous now, given rapid field promotions, and are due to be awarded medals. Worryingly, Drago learns Jaxon has a mysterious secret and a past history of erratic behaviour. It’s vital that Drago keeps both of them out of trouble and away from nosy reporters until the medal ceremony, because Jaxon could do or say something that deeply embarrasses both the Military and their Betan clan.

The Military is helping by sending their fighter team on a mission somewhere inconspicuously boring until the medal ceremony. That destination definitely won’t be Hestia, the perpetual trouble spot of humanity.
This series is a spinoff from Edwards’ very popular Earth Girl series and I highly recommend that you read the short story ‘Hera 2781’ before tucking into this one, as the events in that story impact on what happens in the book. As ever, I thoroughly enjoyed the upbeat vibe Edwards always manages create in her space opera adventures, and appreciated revisiting this complex, enjoyable world. Review to follow.

Mutineer – Book 2 of the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland
Just as Midshipman Alexis Carew thinks she’s found a place in the Royal Navy, she’s transferred aboard H.M.S. Hermione. Her captain is a tartar, liberal with the cat, who thinks girls have no place aboard ship.

The other midshipmen in the berth are no better. The only advice she’s offered is to keep her head down and mouth shut – things Alexis is rarely able to do.
This was another enjoyable, action-packed read – and a shocking one. This series is essentially Hornblower in Space – and vividly depicted the darker, more brutal side of the Senior Service, by showing what can happen when a sadistic brute ends up running a ship. Sutherland’s notes on the story discloses that many of the events were based on true events that happened on a particular ship. It made for a gripping read.

The Goblin Emperor – Book 1 of The Goblin Emperior series by Katherine Addison
Maia, the youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favour with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the spectre of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor.
And firstly – a grovelling apology… Someone last week had recommended this one, so I got hold of it and I just want to say – THANK YOU – I just wish I could remember who it was, so I can namecheck you! This wonderful, engrossing read is going to make my Outstanding Reads list of the year. And even better news – I’ve now managed to get hold of an arc of the upcoming sequel – yay!

De Oppresso Liber – Book 6 of the Hayden War Cycle series by Evan Currie
The war may be over, but the fighting continues as SOLCOM learns of an excursion by the Ross’El against an unaffiliated pre-space civilization in the no man’s land between Earth and the Alien Alliance. With always more questions than answers, SOLCOM dispatches a ship to quietly survey the situation and determine what, if any, course of action is best.

Captain Sorilla Aida and her team are the ground element assigned to the task, with the clear understanding that no matter what… they are to remain undetected by the alien overlords now controlling the moon world. Sorilla knows only one thing for certain as she learns more about the situation :
Oppression is universal, Freedom is never free… and this is EXACTLY what she trained for.
De Oppresso Liber…
I once more tucked into this military sci fi adventure series, which has been cleverly developed from the initial flashpoint into a well-rounded world, full of detail and political tensions. Sorilla Aida has also had an interesting journey – and I like how her previous adventures are now affecting her current decisions.

AUDIOBOOK – Prophecy – Book 2 of the Giordano Bruno series by S.J. Parris
A Tudor thriller featuring Giordano Bruno, renegade monk, philosopher and heretic, for fans of C. J. Sansom and The Name of the Rose
Autumn, 1583. Under Elizabeth’s rule, loyalty is bought with blood…
An astrological phenomenon heralds the dawn of a new age and Queen Elizabeth’s throne is in peril. As Mary Stuart’s supporters scheme to usurp the rightful monarch, a young maid of honour is murdered, occult symbols carved into her flesh.

The Queen’s spymaster, Francis Walsingham, calls on maverick agent Giordano Bruno to infiltrate the plotters and secure the evidence that will condemn them to death. Bruno is cunning, but so are his enemies. His identity could be exposed at any moment. The proof he seeks is within his grasp. But the young woman’s murder could point to an even more sinister truth…
Hm. Not sure about the comparison with The Name of the Rose – but this one certainly helped me cope with my C.J. Sansom withdrawal symptoms… Bruno is a likeable, sympathetic character, whose presence in Tudor England on the edges of Elizabeth’s court is convincing and intriguing. Tudor London is beautifully described and the plot worked well as both a mystery and meshed effectively with the historical events of the time. Recommended for fans of historical mysteries. I also really enjoyed Laurence Kennedy’s excellent narration.

Wedding Hells – Book 8 of the Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
After her victory over Master Grey, Emily wants nothing more than to relax and give herself time to recover from the duel. Her magic, pushed to the limits, is no longer reliable, forcing her to learn to control it from scratch. Every time she delays using her magic, she risks headaches … or worse. But she must return to Whitehall to complete her fourth-year exams and bid farewell to those of her friends who are not returning for fifth year. And then, she must return to Zangaria to play her role in Princess Alassa’s wedding to Jade. It seems, if nothing else, a brief diversion before she goes off on a tour of the Allied Lands.

But all is not well in Zangaria and the kingdom is fast approaching a major crisis. Junior aristocrats are demanding their rights and titles from the king, while King Randor himself is dangerously unstable and hiding a secret that could spark off a civil war … and the peasants are threatening to revolt. Emily herself is isolated, unsure how to balance her obligations to her closest friends with her belief in freedom, justice and democracy. And, as Emily finds herself used as a political pawn by the different sides in the growing dispute and no longer sure who she can trust, she may find herself confronting a choice between doing the right thing, regardless of the cost…

…And losing everything she’s built over the past four years.
This intriguing magical school adventure has quickly developed into a far more interesting scenario, where a girl from Earth has been dumped into the middle of a medieval society. And then has been very quick to share ideas that are fast transforming the world around her. I enjoyed the ongoing story and was rather shocked at where it ended – though I’m pleased that Himself had got hold of the next book in the series, so I’ll be able to discover what happens next without too much delay…

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Life

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Antiques Carry On – Book 15 of the Trash n’Treasures Mystery series by Barbara Allan

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Ferryman and the Sea Witch by D. Wallace Peach

Sunday Post – 4th July 2021

Unfortunately, I haven’t been online enough to recommend any blogs or articles. And neither have I been visiting my fellow bloggers all that much, either… I’m very sorry. Thank you for those of you who continue to visit and comment – I really do appreciate you taking the time and effort to do so😊. I hope you all have a happy, healthy week.

Sunday Post – 2nd May, 2021 #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.

Here we are at the start of May… When did THAT happen?? Apologies for having been AWOL – last week I was ill again. Another spell of exhaustion, nausea and giddiness meant that I didn’t even open the computer most days – and I certainly wasn’t up to working. Or even getting out of bed… It was only yesterday that I started feeling like me, instead of the doddery old bat who’d insisted on invading my body. And my daughter and small granddaughter popping in to say hallo and pick up a postal label further helped to cheer me up.

Other than that, it’s been a quiet week, only enlivened by falling over when the nice chap came to administer our monthly swab and blood tests. So I also have a spectacular bruise on the side of my knee, where I missed smearing on the arnica cream.

I’m afraid I’ve no photos this week, as I haven’t made it outdoors.

Last week I read:
Ravenwood – Book 1 of the Tanyth Fairport Adventures series by Nathan Lowell
After twenty winters on the road, Tanyth makes one last pilgrimage in her quest to learn all she can about the herbs and medicinal plants of Korlay before settling down to write her magnum opus.

Her journey is interrupted when she stops to help a small village and learns that much of what she knows of the world may not be quite as it seems.
I loved Lowell’s space opera series, which I inhaled during March once I was well enough to read. So was pleased to get my hands on this one. I loved the protagonist, who is a middle-aged woman, who walked out of an abusive marriage and became a healer. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK Necessity’s Child – Book 16 of the Liaden Universe series by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
The kompani see none as an enemy, and yet few as friend. The kompani exist in many places, living quietly in the shadows, thriving off the bounty that others have no wit to secure, nor skill to defend. Their private history is unwritten; their recall rooted in dance and dream.

The Clan Korval is in many ways the opposite of the kompani. The interstellar trading clan is wealthy in enemies, and fortunate in friends. Korval protects itself with vigor, and teaches even its youngest children the art of war. And when representatives of Clan Korval arrive on the planet Surebleak where the kompani has lived, secret and aloof, the lives of three people intersect—Kezzi, apprentice to the kompani’s grandmother; Syl Vor, Clan Korval’s youngest warrior; and Rys, a man without a world, or a past.
I have read a couple of books from this entertaining, well written space opera series that reminds me at times of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. Unfortunately, one of the things they share is a very long backlist whose internal chronology doesn’t line up with the release dates… So I ended up listening to Book 16! That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and it reminded me all over again why I liked this series so much. Review to follow.

Dead in the Water – Book 3 of the Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow
Two crewmen of the crab vessel Avilda are missing—presumed dead—under very suspicious circumstances. The Bering Sea offers ample means and opportunity, but without bodies, a motive, or evidence of foul play, the DA doesn’t have a case. And so, freelancing again for her former employer, Kate Shugak finds herself working undercover in one of Alaska’s most dangerous professions: crab fisherman.

It’s an assignment that will take her from the debauchery of Dutch Harbor to the most isolated of the Aleutians, and if the job itself doesn’t kill her, her unsavory crewmates just might.
I’ve read the first two books in this interesting and unusual crime series, set in the wilds of Alaska. And realised I’ve the rest sitting on my Kindle – so I tucked into this one and thoroughly enjoyed it. Mini-review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK A Fatal Flying Affair – Book 7 of the Lady Hardcastle Mysteries series by T.E. Kinsey
August 1911. Emily Hardcastle and her inimitable lady’s maid Florence Armstrong are enjoying a fine summer until Harry, Lady H’s brother, turns up out of the blue with a mystery for them to solve.

A routine parachute test at a local aeroplane factory has gone horribly wrong—with pilot Dickie Dupree plummeting to his death. Harry is certain there is more to this ‘tragic accident’ than meets the eye, having discovered that someone at the airfield is leaking top secret intelligence to foreign rivals.

In between strolls to the Dog & Duck and planning for the annual village show, the daring duo dust off the Crime Board and go undercover at Bristol Aviation. With international powers investing heavily in aeronautics, the stakes are high—sky high—and the suspects soon mount up. Can Lady Hardcastle find the culprit before someone else falls down dead?
I’ve grown very fond of this sparky pair of unconventional women who are now working for His Majesty’s Government as a pair of spies, once again. And the outstanding narration of this latest tale was a delight to listen to when I was too tired to read…

The Wedding Date by Zara Stoneley
When Samantha Jenkins is asked to be the maid of honour at her best friend’s wedding, she couldn’t be happier. There are just three problems…

1) Sam’s ex-boyfriend, Liam, will be the best man.
2) His new girlfriend is pregnant.
3) Sam might have told people she has a new man when she doesn’t (see points 1 and 2 above)

So, Sam does the only sensible thing available to her… and hires a professional to do the job.

Actor Jake Porter is perfect for the role: single, gorgeous and cheap! Sam is certain it’s the perfect solution: no strings, no heartbreak and hopefully no chance of being found out.

But spending a week in the Scottish Highlands with Jake is harder than she imagined. He is the perfect boyfriend, charming, sexy and the hottest thing in a kilt since Outlander! And his dog Harry is quite possibly the cutest things Sam has ever seen!

As the wedding draws closer, Jake plays his part to perfection and everyone believes he is madly in love with Sam. The problem is, Sam’s not sure if Jake is acting anymore…
This was all I could have wanted – an entertaining, funny story told in a chirpy first-person viewpoint, with a guaranteed happy ending. Himself has been reading a slew of these, recently. And I can see why…

Schooled in Magic – Book 1 of The Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
Emily is a teenage girl pulled from our world into a world of magic and mystery by a necromancer who intends to sacrifice her to the dark gods. Rescued in the nick of time by an enigmatic sorcerer, she discovers that she possesses magical powers and must go to Whitehall School to learn how to master them.

There, she learns the locals believe that she is a “Child of Destiny,” someone whose choices might save or damn their world … a title that earns her both friends and enemies. A stranger in a very strange land, she may never fit into her new world …
I’ve always enjoyed Nuttall’s writing and when I was looking for something well written and not too gory – I found this. I’m a sucker for a really enjoyable magic school adventure and this one delivered all sorts of entertaining twists I didn’t expect. As well as some darkly funny moments. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Recollection by Gareth L. Powell

I’m sorry, but as I haven’t been browsing online this last week, I’ve no recommendations. In the meantime, thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog. I hope you had a peaceful, healthy week – and do take care. x

Cover Love – 7 #Brainfluffcoverlove #CoverloveNaomiNovik

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Welcome to another helping of Cover Love. This week I’m featuring some of Naomi Novik’s covers, in honour of her recent release of A Deadly Education – Book 1 of The Scholomance series. If you are interested in reading reviews of some of her books: – Victory of Eagles – Book 5 of the Temeraire series, Tongues of Serpents – Book 6 of the Temeraire series, Crucible of Gold – Book 7 of the Temeraire series, Blood of Tyrants – Book 8 of the Temeraire series, League of Dragons – Book 9 of the Temeraire series, Uprooted, and Spinning Silver. Which ones do you particularly like?


*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of A Deadly Education – Book 1 of the Scholomance series by Naomi Novik #Brainfluffbookreview #ADeadlyEducationbookreview

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I am a fan of Novik’s writing – see my reviews of Spinning Silver, Uprooted and Victory of Eagles, Tongues of Serpents, Crucible of Gold, Blood of Tyrants and League of Dragons of the Temeraire series, so when I saw that she’d written a school-based fantasy, which I have a real fondness for – we pre-ordered it…

BLURB: 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.


REVIEW: Galadriel Higgins is a hard case. Having been rejected for what she has the potential to do – and an unfortunately bleak prophesy by her dead father’s mother – all her life, she grits her teeth, hunkers down and gets on with it. And what she is getting on with, is getting an education in a magical school, where there are no teachers and the place crawls with deeply unpleasant monsters. Yes… I know – the business with no teachers bothered me when I first heard about it, but Novik makes it work.

However, the problem is that there are unpleasant monsters outside the school, too, where they tend to seek out magically gifted youngsters. At least within the school, there are some protections. And if you’re a member of an enclave, you also have a ready-made team to watch your back – although El, as she is known, doesn’t have that either… She is a gloriously spiky, bad tempered protagonist, whose contrariness is a joy to read. Novik weaves past and present details of her life in the first-person narrative really effectively and I was drawn in from the first page, and didn’t want to stop reading until I reached the end.

The story works well, with plenty of adventure and action – and throughout the story, El finally manages to gather a small team around her, who are also well depicted. I liked the fact that amongst the mayhem and deaths, there are some lovely humorous moments. The crisis point is deftly handled, with plenty of tension such that I read faaar into the early morning to discover what happens to whom. But what now has me itching to read the next book, The Last Graduate, is the final plot twist – which both Himself and I agree is a gamechanger and has us both impatient to get our hands on the sequel. Highly recommended for fans of magical school series.
9/10

Sunday Post – 11th September, 2020 #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.

I haven’t been around this last couple of weeks, as I’ve been away on a writing retreat with my sister-in-law in Bexhill in a lovely flat overlooking the sea. That’s where the photos are from. My sister-in-law is on the last lap of her thesis on looking at how the issue of despair was discussed within monastic circles during the Middle Ages. As for me, I took along Picky Eaters Part 2 and managed to write 27,000 words, charting the further adventures of Castellan the Black, in between watching storms and sunshine sweep across the bay. We have been working hard – only watching The Great British Bakeoff and writing into the night, hence the significant lack of books I managed to get through. Though what I lacked in in quantity, I made up for in quality…

Apologies for my lack of interaction, particularly visiting other blogs, but my laptop has major memory issues at present, so I had to disconnect from the internet, which I was only accessing with my phone. Hopefully I’ll be able to start catching up during the coming week!

Last fortnight I have read:

The Invisible Lives of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
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. But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.
I absolutely loved this one. Accomplished and unputdownable – this is a tour de force from a writer at the height of her powers. Review to follow.


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.
Another stormingly good read – though in case you’re wondering… Hogwarts it ain’t. No teachers – the students are instructed via the magical school and manage to keep safe from the constant threat of deadly monsters drawn by their magical abilities by forming allies and learning a raft of defensive spells. Gripping and highly readable. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths
A dark story has been brought to terrifying life. Can the ending be rewritten in time?

Clare Cassidy is no stranger to murder. As a literature teacher specialising in the Gothic writer RM Holland, she teaches a short course on it every year. Then Clare’s life and work collide tragically when one of her colleagues is found dead, a line from an RM Holland story by her body. The investigating police detective is convinced the writer’s works somehow hold the key to the case.

Not knowing who to trust, and afraid that the killer is someone she knows, Clare confides her darkest suspicions and fears about the case to her journal. Then one day she notices some other writing in the diary. Writing that isn’t hers…
This is a solid delight. I was attracted by the promise of a murder mystery after the style of Agatha Christie, within a contemporary setting with modern characters. And that is what I got. The audiobook works especially well and this one is highly recommended for those who enjoy gripping characters and nicely twisty plots with plenty of suspects. Review to follow.


Fallen Princeborn: Chosen – Book 2 of Fallen Princeborn series by Jean Lee
Charlotte just wanted to start a new life with her sister Anna out of the reaches of their abusive uncle. When their journey led to Anna’s disappearance from human memory, Charlotte hunted for her sister and the mysterious creatures that took her behind an ancient Wall that hid a land of magic the world had long forgotten. Charlotte woke the Princeborn Liam Artair, and with his return the conflict between factions of the magical Velidevour turned cursed and deadly.

Now Charlotte must end this conflict before the land of River Vine and the inhabitants she’s befriended are consumed by Orna, Lady of the Pits, who is still very, very eager to see her beloved return. And Orna is not the only one who wants hold of the Princeborn Liam’s heart. These Velidevour come armed with firey wings, crimson claws, and pale fire, and like dead magic, they know no kindness.

The Bloody Days are soon returning, and they will not end until a choice is made, a choice that could tear the heart of River Vine apart.
This book continues the story directly from the ending of Fallen Princeborn: Stolen – and immediately scoops the reader up into the high-stakes action, that just goes on growing, as Charlotte battles for Liam and his followers. Highly recommended for fantasy fans looking for sharp contemporary writing and a vivid fantasy setting. Review to follow.


My posts last week:

Review of The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall

Review of The Ruthless – Book 2 of The Deathless series by Peter Newman

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow

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

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

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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…

Review of INDIE Ebook The Zero Curse – Book 2 of The Zero Enigma by Christopher G. Nuttall #Brainfluffbookreview #TheZeroEnigmabookreview #Wyrd and Wonder 2020

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I was looking for something entertaining and escapist, given the current situation, so was delighted to find this one nestling in my TBR, as I particularly enjoyed the first book – see my review of The Zero Blessing. I enjoy Nuttall’s writing as his space opera adventure The Hyperspace Trap made my list of Outstanding Reads of 2018. I am linking this review to Wyrd and Wonder 2020.

BLURB: Caitlyn Aguirre is no magician … But that doesn’t make her useless. After discovering her true talent and uncovering the long-lost secret behind Objects of Power, Cat returns to school – intent on showing everyone what she can do. But her mere existence is a threat to the balance of power, convincing some to befriend her, some to try to use her … and some to remove her. And when she and her closest friends become the target of a deadly plot, she must use all her wits to save them and escape before she becomes the first casualty in a deadly war.

I thoroughly enjoy well-told fantasy school adventures and Nuttall’s first book in this series, The Zero Blessing, was an excellent start. If you haven’t yet read it, I recommend you go back and pick that one up before going any further, as there is a chunk of important backstory you’re missing. Caitlyn won’t make much sense to you if you don’t do so… Given the major twist at the end of the first book, I really liked the direction in which this one went – compared to the Molly Harper series, I think the sudden change in the dynamic is far more adroitly handled here.

While I wasn’t completely surprised when the shoe dropped and the stakes were abruptly raised, but I was impressed and gripped by the way the adventure then got a whole lot darker. I’m aware Nuttall is capable of killing off important supporting characters, so was on my toes throughout. As ever, I found it difficult to put this one down until it was over. I will definitely be continuing with this series during the year. He is an accomplished author, whose books are excellent value and this one is highly recommended for fans of exciting magical school adventures.

9/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK Fledgling – Book 2 of the Sorcery and Society series by Molly Harper #Brainfluffbookreview #Fledglingaudiobookreview

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I read and thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the series – see my review of Changeling – so was delighted when I saw this offering on Audible for a credit. Would I enjoy listening to this next book in the series as much?

BLURB: Days away from becoming completing her first year at Miss Castwell’s Institute for the Magical Instruction of Young Ladies, Changeling-born Sarah Smith might just get away with posing as an upper-class Guardian girl named Cassandra Reed. But strange visions of a Lightbourne destroyed by Miss Morton’s revenant army keep Sarah from enjoying her achievement. Plus, the Mother Book, Sarah’s one secret advantage and the ultimate entrée in Guardian society, suddenly stops revealing itself to her…putting her in a precarious position with the Guild.

On top of all that, her former lady’s maid left Miss Castwell’s, and the new hire is, well, taking some getting used to. If it weren’t for her two best friends, Alicia McCray and Ivy Cowel, who will do anything to protect her secret, Sarah doesn’t know if she’ll make it another year. When the three girls take summer holiday with Alicia’s family (chaperoned by an exacting and very disapproving Mrs. McCray), a relaxing vacation in Scotland is the last thing they’ll find…

That’s as much of the very chatty blurb I’m prepared to reveal and if you’re intending to read the book, my advice would be to give it a miss. Another piece of advice – read Changeling first. Because of the nature and progression of the story, it simply won’t make sense, otherwise.

Once again, I enjoyed Sarah’s first person pov. I’m aware some reviewers have been critical of her mature attitude, but given her very tricky upbringing and the difficulties she is currently operating under, I think she would have to grow up very fast. Having spent time with children who have coped in testing conditions, I’m often struck at their maturity compared to their more carefree peers. Initially, I enjoyed the progression of the story and the ongoing threat of Sarah’s enemies, who resent her position as Translator of the Mother Book, an ancient tome of lost magic that chooses its own magical human to communicate with.

The mayhem caused during the dancing lesson was both gripping and enjoyable and settled in to listen to more of the same as the scholars from Miss Castwell’s headed off for the summer break. This is where the pacing went awry, particularly when the plot took a sudden left turn and I wasn’t wholly convinced by Sarah’s actions, or the reactions of those around her. While I don’t mind if the overall pace of a story speeds up, it cannot be at the expense of the characterisation or in apparent opposition to what has gone before. And suddenly Sarah’s actions had me wondering if she really was as two-faced and scheming as she appeared, or if she’d been magically influenced in some way.

Harper did resolve the issue, but it was still a glitch that interfered with my enjoyment and I do agree with other reviewers who feel the ending was rushed. However, overall I liked the story and I am not deterred from reading the next slice of Sarah’s adventures.

Highly recommended for fans of school-based fantasy with a historical twist.
7/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson #Brainfluffbookreview #TheRithmatistbookreview

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I’d just finished a rather intense read and was away on a weekend break, so I wanted something a bit lighter. Browing through my Kindle, I came upon this offering and dived right in. I’m so glad I did…

BLURB: More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles. As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery—one that will change Rithmatics—and their world—forever.

I was looking for a school adventure with a bit of a difference, but to be honest, I hadn’t expected too much of this one, so was absolutely delighted when it delivered a really enthralling read with a fabulous premise. In this alternate fantastic world, Rithmatists are those who are able to attack and kill using chalk drawings. Their chalklings are able to strip the flesh from bones, cause fires and destroy. Sanderson’s straightforward, flowing prose quickly drew me into this world, where Joel is obsessed by the geometric designs that will keep the chalklings at bay.

Joel is a scholarship student whose rather blinkered approach to his studies means that he is regularly in trouble with his tutors. And while he isn’t necessarily bullied or hassled (which I liked, because it made a very nice change), neither is he ever invited home during the holidays to stay at the families of the rich and powerful. Being the son of the school cleaning lady means he isn’t well connected enough.

I liked his lack of self pity, as he deals with this dynamic, and his rather spiky character. The supporting cast are also well done – there is a pleasing mix of adults, so that while some are not particularly sympathetic or kind, there are a number who are all of those things. But the relationship that rolls this lovely story forward is his friendship with Melody. While Joel would give anything to be a Rithmatist, Melody hates her gift as it forces her into a life she resents and fears. Not surprisingly, this dynamic creates a lot of sparks between these two and I loved that it wasn’t a relationship that ever settles down into something easy and straightforward. She is also a strong, vibrant character with a flair for the dramatic and a tendency to draw cute unicorn chalklings.

As for the story – well, that’s a doozy! I had, of course, realised the identity of the antagonist creating all the havoc and kidnapping the promising young Rithmatists, until it became apparent that I’d got it completely wrong… The pages flew by as I was gripped by the plot, desperate for Joel and the kindly professor to succeed.

While the main puzzle is solved, the conclusion clearly sets this one up to be followed by another book, which so far hasn’t seen the light of day. It’s a real shame – and I’m glad I didn’t know the second book hadn’t appeared before I tucked into this one, or I might never have started it. And if I hadn’t done that, then I would have missed out on one of my most entertaining, quirkily clever reads of the year so far. Highly recommended, even if the second book isn’t available…
10/10