Tag Archives: Marilyn Messik

My Outstanding Reads of 2020 #Brainfluffbookblogger #2020OutstandingReads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Science Fiction Series I’ve Discovered in 2020 #Brainfluffbookrecommendations #SciFiMonth2020

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It’s been a truly dreadful year – like everyone else, I cannot wait to see the back of it. But in one respect, it’s been wonderful – I have discovered some fabulous science fiction reads. Some are relatively newly published, others are a bit older. But the one thing they all have in common is that they provided me with an engrossing read that took me right away from the daily grind of social distancing, masks and lockdowns… Have you read any of these? I’m linking this post to #Sci Fi Month 2020.

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. To save everything that matters, she will need to uncover the secrets of ancient intelligences lost to time—and her own lost secrets, which she will wish had remained hidden from her forever.
Yes… I don’t deny there are some pacing issues. And that Bear does tend to muse about all sorts of philosophical issues that her character is chewing over – evidently being in a small tin can light years away from everyone else other than your own small crew can do that to you. But listening to this one, where the world seeped into my dreams and Haimey and I hung out together for a handful of days, was such a blessing… see my review. I’m currently listening to Machine, the second book in the series and enjoying that one, too.

Skyward and Starsight of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson
Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible—assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and (perhaps most importantly) persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul.
This one has more of a YA feel as Spensa is a teenager with family issues that make her reckless and a bit of an adrenaline junkie. Humanity is clinging onto existence, anyway as constant alien attacks are besieging their ghetto on a planet ringed by ordnance. I loved the sentient ship – and also where the adventure went in the second book. See my mini-reviews of Skyward and Starsight.

Termination Shock and Interdicted Space of the Interstellar Enforcement Agency series by Gillian Andrews
Ryler Mallivan’s comfortable life as an upstanding young freighter captain has just imploded. Avaraks are storming the training ship he is on and the bullets being fired are not blanks. Interstellar war has broken out and unless he moves fast they will all be as stone dead as the instructor lying at his feet. But this is one conflict they can never escape. The cause of the trouble is far closer than they know and will bring Mallivan and his ragbag fledgling crew under ferocious attack from all sides. They are going to need all their wits about them if they are to stay alive. And they have to, because there is nobody else to save all their worlds from a doomsday weapon which is set to obliterate the entire universe.
Just how much can one lone spaceship do?
This is a lot of fun with loads of action and engaging characters – see my reviews of Termination Shock and Interdicted Space. I’m looking forward to reading the third book in the series – Exceptional Point sometime in the New Year…

The Book of Koli and The Trials of Koli – of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey
Beyond the walls of the small village of Mythen Rood lies an unrecognizable world. A world where overgrown forests are filled with choker trees and deadly vines and seeds that will kill you where you stand. And if they don’t get you, one of the dangerous shunned men will.
Koli has lived in Mythen Rood his entire life. He knows the first rule of survival is that you don’t venture beyond the walls. What he doesn’t know is – what happens when you aren’t given a choice?
I absolutely loved this series. The slightly degraded English in Koli’s first-person narrative is beautifully handled and works very well. Too much more and it have been annoying, but it is an effective part of the worldbuilding. I’m really looking forward to reading the third book in the series – see my reviews of The Book of Koli and The Trials of Koli.

A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine
Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court. Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.
I have a particular fondness for stories where there are whodunits set in the future – done well, it makes for a wonderful, gripping read. And this is excellent – one of my outstanding reads of the year – see my review which is also going live today. I’m looking forward to getting hold of A Desolation Called Peace next year.

Relatively Strange, Even Stranger and Stranger Still – the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
It’s tricky to know what’s normal if you’re not, But Stella’s north west London upbringing is average enough, and her eccentric, protective (paranoid?) family are not given to making a fuss. Only when she finds herself smack dab in the middle of a situation, face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences, does she realise how sure she is of one thing. This hero stuff just isn’t her. Normal, or as near as damn it is what she wants for the future, and if that means smothering her instincts, so be it. At least she’ll know, should she slip off the wagon occasionally, it’ll be choice not chance.
Isn’t it a fact though, just when you think you’ve got yourself back on track, events can overtake and derail you.
This series has been one of the major reading highlights of my year – at a time when my need for enjoyable escapism has been intense, diving into these books was like a long cold drink of water on a steaming hot day… Love, love, love them all – here are my reviews – Relatively Strange, Even Stranger, Stranger Still.

The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky and The Relentless Moon of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal
On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process. Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too. Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.
This classy, alternate history where a meteorite accelerates Humanity’s reach for the stars is another highlight of the year. I loved Elma – and Nicole, who we get to spend more time with in the final book. See my reviews of The Calculating Stars and The Fated SkyThe Relentless Moon is to follow.

Have you read any of these series? Have you any other discoveries you’ve made this year, too? I have left off some others – Seven DevilsEmbers of WarUnconquerable SunEvery Sky A Gravewhich I also loved!




Review of INDIE Ebook Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik #Brainfluffbookreview #StrangerStillbookreview #SciFiMonth2020

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I love, love, LOVED the first two book in this series so much that it physically hurt when I got to the end. See my reviews of Relatively Strange and Even Stranger. Would this third offering provide the same insane happy longing? I have linked my review of this psi-fi adventure to #Sci Fi Month 2020.

BLURB: 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?

REVIEW: Stella is my new best friend – it’s official. Opinionated and often cranky, she has been defying expectations throughout her life. Firstly there’s those odd abilities of hers that have caused as many problems as they may have solved, though she is scaldingly aware that she was remarkably lucky to have been born into such a tough-minded, loving family. It doesn’t help that most of the time, all she wants is to lead a perfectly normal life and now she has found her niche, with her own business, and someone who loves her for who she is, it looks as though she is set fair.

But as the blurb makes clear, just when she starts to relax and assume everything is – more or less – okay, that’s when it generally goes wrong. I loved this one even more than the others. It’s when I realised how rarely we see a pregnant woman feature as a main protagonist – and it’s done very well. As is the growing sense of wrongness, which could be put down to the pregnancy, after all Stella isn’t sure if her baby has the same abilities and if they could be affecting her mind. It’s always a tricky balance, building up a slow-burn issue in this manner – too much and it becomes a boring repetitive mantra that holds up the pace; too little and the reader feels ambushed and a bit bamboozled when the enormity of the Big Bad slams into view. Messik nails it.

It doesn’t hurt that Stella is surrounded by a cast of vivid characters, many of them magnificently eccentric, ranging from her almost indestructible Aunt Kitty, who has somehow inserted herself into Stella’s business, to Laura, her pill-popping mother-in-law, whose appalled horror at her son’s marriage to Stella is hilarious. In fact, despite the fact that some of Stella’s adventures explore the darker side of human nature, the chippy humour throughout frequently had me laughing aloud. Though there were a couple of poignant moments that also had me tearing up. It’s a special book that makes you laugh and cry…

There is a doozy of a twist right at the end of this one, that has me yearning for more Messik goodness RIGHT NOW! Because I am struggling badly with a major book hangover.

Highly recommended for anyone who likes their paranormal thrillers narrated by a feisty, humorous woman who leaps off the page so vividly, I’ve been dreaming of her…
10/10

Review of INDIE Ebook Even Stranger – Book 2 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik #Brainfluffbookreview #EvenStrangerbookreview #SciFiMonth2020

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There is just something about this author’s writing that gets right under my skin. I feel so miserable when I finish reading one of her books – that I’ve broken one of my rules. I’ve gone straight from this book onto reading the next one in the series – read my review of Relatively Strange. I’m linking this review to #Sci Fi Month 2020, as this quirky series is one of my reading highlights of the year and deserves to be FAR better known. And I want to spread the joy…

BLURB: With the swinging sixties staggering, shamefaced and flustered, into the slightly staider seventies, life for Stella, isn’t going as smoothly as she’d like. As an ordinary person, who happens to have some extraordinary abilities, it’s frustrating to find that something as simple as holding down a job, throws up unexpected hurdles. She’d be a darn sight better off if she could ditch the conviction she knows best which, together with a chronic inability to keep her mouth shut and her nose out of other people’s business, has led her more than once off the straight and narrow into the dodgy and dangerous. Plans for a safer future, include setting herself up in business, squashing her over-active conscience and steering clear of risky and unpleasant. Unfortunately, the best laid plans can lead to the darkest places.

REVIEW: I just love Stella. The depiction of this bossy, short-fused, and unwilling telepath is absolutely gripping, as well as being both funny and terrifying by turns. Messik has managed to produce one of the most compelling protagonists I’ve read in a long time and I can’t get enough of her. In addition, I find the prose absolutely addictive, which is a real shame because I am inhaling this series, far too fast. I want to know there are more books due to be published – because by the time I finished the next one in this series I am going to come down so hard, I’m liable to crack my reading glasses.

The writer in me is still scrambling to work out just why these books have got me in their thrall. No doubt the sparky, clever first person narrative has drawn me in; the series of hair raising adventures that teeter between farce and danger certainly kept me turning the pages right through into the early morning; and it’s also got to have something to do with the fact that the 1960s and 70s are portrayed with pin sharp accuracy. There is also a lovely group of supporting characters – it’s a pleasant change to find a character with such unusual powers surrounded by a very tight-knit, loving family and friends, who completely accept her for what she is, even if most of them aren’t aware of exactly what she is. No wonder she has such a strong sense of her own worth – and quite right too.

As ever, when confronted with such a wholly delightful reading experience, I’m conscious that anything I say here won’t fully convey the full measure of my emotional response. I’m not going to claim that these books are high literature – they aren’t. But they are a thumping good read that has completely transported me away from my own issues and into Stella’s world. Highly recommended.
10/10

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 Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik #Brainfluffbookreview #RelativelyStrangebookreview

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I suffered a real book hangover after reading Witch Dust – see my review – so I was delighted when I discovered this paranormal psi-fi adventure. And right now I had no problem in bouncing it right to the stop of my very long TBR list…

BLURB: “I was five when I discovered I could fly, sixteen when I killed a man.
Both events were unsettling in their own way.”

It’s hard to know what’s normal, if you’re not, and it takes Stella a while to realise she’s in the definitely ‘not’ drawer. But we are who we are and we make adjustments to fit in – most of the time – and it’s only when she finds she’s not quite as unique as she thought, that things begin to acquire a whole new dimension. Forced to call on resources she didn’t know she possessed and thrust headlong into the violence of a situation for which nothing could have prepared her, Stella is suddenly face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences.

REVIEW: As in Witch Dust, it is the strong first-person narrative voice that beguiled me from the first line and held me throughout. It doesn’t hurt that Messik also had the pacing nailed and took us through the very conventional timeline of her infancy, youth and into her early adulthood with a mixture of anecdotes, scenes and humorous asides that pulled me right into her world. This story could have been presented with the emotional tone dialled up to the max, full of angst and pain – Stella has plenty of scary moments that had the capacity to knock her endways, after all. But that gutsy, determined toughness that characterised her grandmother and her great-aunts and their eccentricities has given her resilience and a self-belief nourished by her parents. I completely believed that her family successfully managed to keep her abilities shielded from prying eyes, while persuading her to keep them hidden, without overly daunting her.

The unfolding story of how she discovers that there are those who are far too interested into her and her abilities kept me turning the pages. Stella is a baby-boomer, born in the 1950s, and I completely believed the worldbuilding and historical era – and I’d have known if there had been any false notes, as I was also born just a few years later. The other characters who people this gripping adventure are vividly drawn. And although there are some shocking events, Stella’s narrative voice both manages to effectively depict the seriousness of what happens, yet offer a sense of hope – which I really need in my reading matter, these days.

I also like her trick of producing a number of plot twists that change up the stakes and pull Stella into a rescue mission that will place her in danger to the extent that she is exposed to a fate worse than death. And no – we’re not talking about any kind of sexual encounter – we’re talking about a real fate that would be worse than dying… Hamlet the dog is also awesome, by the way. I’m conscious that in my determination not to provide any kind of Spoiler, I have sold this book short, but the pacing, narrative voice and twisty plot provided one of the most satisfying reads of the year to date – and I’m delighted that I have two more books in this series waiting for me on my Kindle. Highly recommended.
10/10

May 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging… #BrainfluffMay2020Roundup

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I recall I said something to the effect that there had never been a month like April in the whole of my life – except that May was exactly the same. Eerily so. Staying at home and seeing no one else, other than Himself. Though we did drive across to my daughter’s house and deliver her bike, so she could also cycle with the children. It was bittersweet seeing them after such a long time and I’m hoping this month, with the easing of the lockdown, I might once more be able to be a regular visitor, again. The weather continues to behave as if we are in July or August, further skewing the sense of abnormality. But thank goodness for books and writing projects!

Reading
I read fifteen books in May, but as I also broke off to read a couple of my own books on editing runs, that did impact on my general reading time. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my selection, so there were no DNFs. They were:

Oranges and Lemons – Book 17 of the Bryant and May: Peculiar Crimes Unit series by Christopher Fowler
The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North – see my review
Hammered – Book 1 of the Jenny Casey series by Elizabeth Bear
The Physicians of Vilnoc – Book 8 of the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold – see my review
Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik – this is my outstanding read of the month
AUDIOBOOK Starsight – Book 2 of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson
The Valhalla Call – Book 4 of the Hayden War Cycle by Evan Currie
Even Stranger – Book 2 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
The City of Brass – Book 1 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakrobarty
The Kingdom of Copper – Book 2 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakrobarty
AUDIOBOOK The Fire Court – Book 2 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor – this is my outstanding audiobook read of the month
Night’s Tooth – Tales of the River Vine novella by Jean Lee
Gravity is Heartless – Book 1 of the Heartless series by Sarah Lahey
The Obsidian Tower – Book 1 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso

Writing
I finished the first draft of my Wordmanship Handbook – How to Write Convincing Characters, which went really well. While I had intended this to be part of a series, I decided that if I found it too much of a trudge, then it would be a standalone, but it ended up being quite a lot of fun to write. So during the year I am hoping to write at least another book in the Wordmanship series. The handbook aspect of it – with a quick checklist so an author can tick off possible issues as they go, either during the writing phase, or during an editing run – ended up being about the right length, too.

I then turned back to Mantivore Warrior to do the first editing pass. This is always slightly nerve-wracking. Once I’ve gained a bit of distance, I can work out whether it’s a hot mess, or if it hangs together. And as it is the first book that I thoroughly plotted before I started, I was keen to see how it held up. And I’m delighted – those fixes I put in last month strengthened the overall narrative, so there was only one major addition and then it was a question of smoothing the prose and looking for mistakes.

So once again, it’s been a wonderful writing month. Overall, I wrote just under 43,000 words in May, with just over 15,500 on the blog, and just under 26,000 on my writing projects.

Blogging
The big event during May was Wyrd and Wonder 2020, which I discovered thanks to Tammy from Books, Bones and Buffy. It was about alll things fantastical and I really enjoyed taking part. Huge thanks go to Imyril of There’s Always Room for One More, Lisa from Dear Geek Place and Jorie Loves a Story for all their hard work and effort throughout May to make this such a success.

I hope everyone is managing to keep well and healthy, both physically and mentally – the situation has been a strain on everyone, not helped by some dodgy decisions by those in charge. Take care and stay safe.x






Sunday Post – 24th May, 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.

Again no rain, and on Wednesday and Thursday we were back to high summer temperatures and sitting outside. So Himself is trudging around with the watering can. The yarrow is now flowering and here is the first bloom on my elder. I don’t know what the dear little pink fluffy flowers are – I bought the plant because I love the leaves, but they work really well with the rest of the colour scheme in that bed. And the echium spires are now in full flower and have stopped growing – don’t they look fabulous? For reference, I am 5’5″.

I completed my How-To book this week and am really pleased with it. Himself is compiling the bibliography for me, but I’ve added the writing exercises – there are 50 – to help with characterisation, along with the quick check-list. I am now starting the edits to Mantivore Warrior.

Other than that, I had an editing session with my friend Sally, working on the second book about her experiences with Tim. We took our scooters for a run along the sea front. It was hard work scooting against the wind, but great fun and nice to get out. Sadly, I missed the family games evening last night as I had a rotten headache.


Last week I read:
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?
Something almost unheard of – I actually read the last two books in this series back to back. It was so much fun – but I am now pining for Stella and hoping that the author has nearly finished the next book! Review to follow.


The City of Brass – Book 1 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty
Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.

But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.
As I had the great good luck to get hold of an arc for The Empire of Gold, I wanted to read The City of Brass, the first book in this series. It was a cracking read that swept me up into this enjoyable Sand and Sorcery tale. Review to follow.


The Kingdom of Copper – Book 2 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty
Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there. Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of the battle that saw Dara slain at Prince Ali’s hand, Nahri must forge a new path for herself, without the protection of the guardian who stole her heart or the counsel of the prince she considered a friend. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her family and one misstep will doom her tribe.
So… reading TWO series back to back?? I must have had a personality transplant! However, after reading the first book I decided I needed to put the second book into context, so reread it before starting the final book, so otherwise I felt I wouldn’t be giving it a fair go. It was also great fun – I’m a sucker for Sand and Sorcery tales…


AUDIOBOOK The Fire Court – Book 2 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor
The Great Fire has ravaged London, wreaking destruction and devastation wherever its flames spread. Now, guided by the incorruptible Fire Court, the city is slowly rebuilding, but times are volatile and danger is only ever a heartbeat away. James Marwood, son of a traitor, is thrust into this treacherous environment when his ailing father claims to have stumbled upon a murdered woman in the very place where the Fire Court sits. Then his father is run down and killed. Accident? Or another murder …? Determined to uncover the truth, Marwood turns to the one person he can trust – Cat Lovett, the daughter of a despised regicide. Marwood has helped her in the past. Now it’s her turn to help him. But then comes a third death … and Marwood and Cat are forced to confront a vicious and increasingly desperate killer whose actions threaten the future of the city itself.
This second book in this classy historical whodunit series took two sympathetic protagonists and wove a wonderful murder mystery around a fascinating time in English history that is oddly neglected in general fiction – the Great Fire of London and its aftermath. Review to follow.


My posts last week:

Review of Witch – Book 2 of the Doppleganger series by Marie Brennan

Friday Face-off featuring Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Shadow in the Empire of Light by Jane Routley

Five 5-Star Books in Five Words – Twice Over

Review of One Good Dragon Deserves Another – Book 2 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron

Sunday Post – 17th May 2020

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

Fiction Writing Contests Worth Your Time in Summer 2020 https://writerunboxed.com/2020/05/22/fiction-writing-contests-worth-your-time-in-summer-2020/ For those of you who on the hunt for competitions – here are a selection…

Photo Prompt Friday: Ethereal https://leighhecking.com/2020/05/22/photo-prompt-friday-ethereal/ Also recommended for those of you who enjoy looking at wonderful photos…

10 of the Best Poems of Remembrance https://interestingliterature.com/2020/05/remembrance-poems/ Another interesting, enjoyable list from this great site…

Senior Moments https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2020/05/20/senior-moments/ I can relate. I want an app that will tell me why I climbed the stairs – because I generally only remember once I’ve gone back down them again…

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover: Celebrating Fantasy Artwork https://onemore.org/2020/05/19/top-ten-fantasy-cover-art/ This is worth a visit to immerse yourself in some stunning covers – and make a note of some awesome reads along the way…

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

April 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging… #BrainfluffApril2020Roundup

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I’m conscious that I’ve never experienced a month like it in the whole of my life – and I’m not sure I ever will again… Or perhaps I will. Perhaps May and June will continue being in social isolation with lots of handwashing and staying at home. But what has kept my head straight is my love of reading and writing – thank goodness for both! I’ve also loved the wonderful sunny weather – it’s been a joy being able to sit in the garden and watch Spring springing… I’m conscious that I am very blessed. And given that none of us can guarantee if we will survive this, I’ve determined to be as thankful for every coming day as I can be. So despite everything, this has been a very precious April.

Reading
I read eighteen books in April, which isn’t quite as marvellous as it sounds, as one of those was a short story and another was a novella. This is the list:

The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey
The Last Emperox – Book 3 of the Interdependency series by John Scalzi
Shorefall – Book 2 of The Founders Trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett
Scythe – Dimension Drift prequel NOVELLA #1 by Christina Bauer
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. This is my EBOOK read of the month
Dead Eye – Book 1 of the Tiger’s Eye Mystery series by Alyssa Day
Arkadian Skies – Book 6 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker
Q by Christina Dalcher
The Hedgeway SHORT STORY by Vivienne Tuffnell
A Little Bit Witchy – Book 1 of the Riddler’s Edge series by A.A. Albright
The Dark Side of the Road – Book 1 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green
Firewalkers by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel. This is my AUDIOBOOK read of the month
The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing – Book 2 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
The Palm Tree Messiah by Sarah Palmer – manuscript read
Witch Dust – Book 1 of the Witch series by Marilyn Messik
Girls of Paper and Fire – Book 1 of Girls of Paper and Fire series by Natasha Ngan
After Seth by Caron Garrod

Writing
I continued working on my Creative Writing How-To Book on Characterisation and I’m pleased with the progress, but I woke up on 11th April with an epiphany about some issues that had been niggling me with Mantivore Warrior – so I dropped my How-To book and immediately dived back into the manuscript to fix it. I’ve learnt from hard experience not to ever put those kinds of moments off – otherwise they pass and I forget!

I have also been working on another project that I’m hoping to be able to discuss in another couple of weeks. I don’t normally flit between so many different writing projects – but right now everything is extraordinary. So it makes sense that my writing patterns would suddenly go AWOL, too… Overall, I wrote just over 43,000 words in April, with just under 17,000 words on my blog and just under 25,500 words going towards my writing projects, which brings my yearly total to just under 180,000 words so far.

Blogging
I have found keeping up with my blog such a source of comfort and encouragement – I know social media can be responsible for some dark acts, but I happen to be fortunate enough to inhabit a really lovely corner, where I meet some of the nicest people on the planet. But that’s not a surprise, because they are readers, or writers, or both. I hope May is a good month for you and that you stay safe. Take care.xxx






Review of NETGALLEY arc Witch Dust by Marilyn Messik #Brainfluffbookreview #WitchDustbookreview #WyrdandWonder2020

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I had just surfaced from reading a fairly intense apocalyptic story, so wanted something light and amusing, but with sufficient story and adventure to engross me – would this fit the bill? I’m linking this to Wyrd and Wonder 2020, celebrating all things fantastical.

BLURB: For Sandra, daughter of illusionists, Adam and Ophelia, life’s never been run of the mill! But when Adam’s wandering eye lights on yet another conquest, it proves a chorus girl too far, and Sandra’s caught in the reverberations of her parents acrimonious parting. Coerced into restoring her depressed Mother to the bosom of a family Sandra never knew existed, she’s sucked into a situation that even for her is unnerving. From being without a single relative, she suddenly acquires several she’d rather do without, and learns a few home truths she’d prefer not to know.

That is the first section of a really long and chatty blurb – so my advice would be to skip it, as it reveals far too much that this accomplished author tells you in her own time, within the story. And that would be a real shame, because this is a little gem. I thoroughly enjoyed the first-person viewpoint of Sandra, whose odd upbringing has equipped her with superb organising skills, a hatred of muddle and a real sense of entitlement. That last one isn’t a bad thing – she has been brought up with two showbiz parents, both with egos the size of a planet, so she had two ways to go, either be cowed into permanent submission, or come back with an ego of her own. Which still is a whole lot more attractive than either of her parents, whom I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. The fact that she talks about them with exasperated affection says a lot for her inherent niceness, I think.

I very much appreciated the humorous thread running through this one – Sandra makes an amusing narrator, with her enjoyable descriptions. I also liked the fact that when it got dangerous and a whole lot darker – which it does – she neither becomes Supergirl, or collapses in a whimpering heap. In fact, she copes with discovering exactly what her family is and what they can do impressively well, and I appreciated that Messik took pains to set up a premise where it didn’t take a quarter of the book before Sandra accepted the weirdness that was unfolding around her.

And weird it certainly is… Sandra’s family is eccentric to the extent that she decides that marketing some of that oddness to build up the fortunes of the family hotel seems like the way to go. But it also draws down some seriously unwelcome interest and alongside the farcical humour, something a lot darker emerges. It’s very well done – never too much, but there were some genuinely creepy moments. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read, taking some familiar tropes and putting a pleasingly original spin on them. The ebook arc copy of Witch Dust was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10