Tag Archives: Netgalley arc

Review of NETGALLEY arc The Immortality Thief by Taran Hunt – Book 1 of The Kystrom Chronicles #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheImmortalityThiefbookreview

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I’m always a sucker for a cracking good space opera thriller – and the cover and the blurb had me looking forward to this offering. Would it deliver?

BLURB: Refugee, criminal and linguist Sean Wren is made an offer he knows he can’t refuse: life in prison, “voluntary” military service – or salvaging data in a long-dead language from an abandoned ship filled with traps and monsters, just days before it’s destroyed in a supernova. Data connected to the Philosopher’s Stone experiments, into unlocking the secrets of immortality.

And he’s not the only one looking for the derelict ship. The Ministers, mysterious undying aliens that have ruled over humanity for centuries, want the data – as does The Republic, humanity’s last free government. And time is running out. In the bowels of the derelict ship, surrounded by horrors and dead men, Sean slowly uncovers the truth of what happened on the ship, in its final days… and the terrible secret it’s hiding.

REVIEW: I’ll be honest – when I finally got around to reading this one, I wasn’t really in the mood for a creepy deserted space ship, which I’ll own is my problem rather than anything wrong with the writing. So it’s a testament to the author’s skill that by the time I was a quarter of the way into this one, I was thoroughly hooked.

The reason why I found myself so wrapped up in this adventure is that I became thoroughly invested in Sean. The main protagonist is masterfully handled by Hunt. In the early stages of the book, I found him hard work. His ‘cheeky chappie’ façade started to wear thin very quickly – and by their reactions, I realised the other crew of Viper felt much the same way. But as the book wore on, I began to appreciate that Sean’s wisecracking, irreverent attitude hides a deep belief in the sanctity of life. And a strong sense that the dumb stroke of luck that allowed him to survive the massacre of his family, friends and neighbours has left him with a need to pass it on whenever he finds someone wanting help. Hunt does a really good job in conveying this belief without portraying Sean as some futuristic Pollyanna.

I also got thoroughly caught up in learning more about the two other characters Sean finds himself sharing his terrifying adventures with – initially, they both seem utterly horrible and extremely dangerous. In fact, they remain extremely dangerous throughout, which provides some interesting plot twists along the way. I’m aware that I’ve only really discussed the characters – but this is principally an action adventure novel, brimful of action set on a derelict space ship on the brink of catastrophic disaster. And it provides plenty of tension and nasty surprises along the way, which makes for an engrossing page-turner I found hard to put down.

A completely unexpected twist right at the end has me keen to read the next book in this series and it comes very highly recommended for fans of tension-filled space opera adventure with memorable, excellently portrayed characters. While I obtained an audiobook arc of The Immortality Thief from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK arc The Thirty-One Doors by Kate Hulme #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheThirty-OneDoorsbookreview

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I’ve a weakness for country house historical murder mysteries and that intriguing cover set in a very snowy landscape caught my eye. So I was delighted when I received an audiobook arc for this tale.

BLURB: Scarpside House is famed for its beauty, its isolation and its legendary parties.
Tonight, it hosts the Penny Club soiree, an annual gathering of lucky men and women from all walks of life, coming together to celebrate their survival against the odds.
But this year, their luck is running thin. Accidents do happen, after all….
And some are long overdue….

REVIEW: The premise is a very familiar one – there’s a country house full of guests with murky pasts which make them either liable to murder their fellow party-goers, or be murdered due to something they’ve done. And no… when it becomes obvious that there’s a serial murderer on the loose, they can’t just rush to the front door and summon their chauffeur, because this house can only be accessed by a funicular ride. And someone sabotages it after our plucky detective arrives.

I wanted to like this one more than I actually did. Hulme’s prose is lush and highly descriptive, both of her characters and Scarpside House, evidently going for a gothic vibe. However this sub-genre demands loads of tension and fraught sense of wrongness, tipping into horror at times. That means that the reader needs to be invested in at least the main character, so that when Detective Sergeant Frank Glover is in peril, or at least struggling with the investigation – we need to care. Despite David Morley Hale’s excellent narration, I never really bonded with Glover. I found his initial aloofness towards the recently bereaved guests rather off-putting. We spent a great deal of time in his head as he roamed around Scarpside House on a ceaseless hunt for clues, when he mused about the loss of his mother as a small boy and his feelings for a young woman who was caught up in a previous case he was working on. I thought him rather self-absorbed and didn’t like him all that much. This was a problem as we are clearly supposed to care about him when he gets into several dangerous situations. Whereas I worried more about poor Dotty.

The other issue is the constant over-description of the house. Hulme clearly has a vivid visual imagination, but I really didn’t need an intricate description of the colour of the walls in every single bedroom or the curtains, cushions and carpets. It defuses much of the tension built up by the growing body count. The creepy atmosphere caused by the snowstorm and the knowledge that there is at least one highly dangerous person roaming around the building is also compromised by the over-long descriptions as it slows the pace far too much and took my attention away from what really matters.

I wasn’t convinced that Glover would have co-opted Dotty, the servant in quite the way he did – but I was prepared to suspend my disbelief on that score as she is the only person in the book I really liked. The tone of murder mystery did seem rather overblown at the beginning, instead of building up that sense of dark wrongness that permeates a gothic thriller, so I wondered if Hulme would pull off a successful denouement that adequately explained all the rather elaborate and varied styles of killing. I think she manages it, just about.

I’m aware that writing a classic murder mystery these days, with a nod to those who went before, takes a great deal of technical skill. While I was never tempted to DNF this one, as I was invested sufficiently to stick to the end to discover whodunit, I do think Hulme’s editor should have been more rigorous with the red pen and murdered a few more of her descriptive passages along with the various victims. While I obtained an audiobook arc of The Thirty-One Doors from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Sorcerer’s Edge – Book 3 of The Tethered Citadel series by David Hair #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #SorcerersEdgebookreview

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I loved the first two books in this highly readable epic fantasy adventure – Map’s Edge and World’s Edge, so I was delighted when the publisher contacted me and asked if I’d like an arc of this final book.

BLURB: After all they’ve suffered, rebel sorcerer Raythe Vyre and his fortune-seekers are still empty-handed, but they’ve found real treasure: peace.

Deep inside the Ice wastes, Raythe’s people stumbled upon Rath Argentium, the legendary Aldar city, and the long-lost Tangato people. After fighting through betrayal, treachery and powerful magic, they forged a hard-won treaty with the Tangato and their extraordinary queen, Shiazar. Now they’ve put aside their dreams of wealth and revenge and embraced something better: a life outside the tyrannical Bolgravian Empire. But the Bolgravian Empire never gives up.

The empire hasn’t forgotten Raythe Vyre, and his enemies know where he is. Guided by Toran Zorne, the implacable imperial assassin, they are coming to claim Rath Argentium for themselves. Raythe and Shiazar know all too well that courage and cunning won’t be enough this time: they are outnumbered, out-gunned and out of time. Faced with total annihilation, it’s up to Raythe to find an edge . . .

REVIEW: In many ways, this epic fantasy has a slightly old-school feel. That isn’t bad by any means – I’ve loved the strong story-telling, the constant plots twists and intelligent character progression throughout. And I particularly enjoyed The Story So Far… summation at the start, which nicely reminded me of a number of details that I’d have forgotten. A pity that other authors don’t do it – though I suppose they are worried about readers coming across this one without having read the previous books and thinking that a condensed account would suffice. If you do encounter this one without having read the previous books, despite the handy catch-up notes, my firm advice would be to put this offering down and track down Map’s Edge instead. This classy, well-written adventure is far too good to compromise by not reading it in its entirety.

Over the previous two books, there are a handful of outstandingly unpleasant antagonists that I’ve loved to hate. So it was enjoyable to be confronted with them again – and this time around in far more detail, so that I got to know exactly what their motivations were. Once more, Hair has taken some of my assumptions, played with them and bounced them on their head, which put a certain powerful woman in a completely different light. I love it when that happens. The story starts with a bang and goes on delivering yet more surprises and shocks so that instead of going to bed at a reasonably sensible time, I stayed up faaar too late into the night to discover what happened next.

The setting is vividly realised, the characters nicely complex and changing in reaction to the privations and danger they’ve been undergoing, and the plotting masterfully handled. All in all, this is a cracking ending to an excellent epic fantasy adventure that I’ve loved from start to finish. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Sorcerer’s Edge from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc What Song the Sirens Sang – Book 3 of the Gideon Sable series by Simon R. Green #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #WhatSongtheSirensSangbookreview

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I’m a fan of Green’s writing. See my reviews of his Ishmael Jones series, featuring an alien dark ops agent and his alluring sidekick, Penny, in Buried Memories, The Dark Side of the Road, Very Important Corpses, Death Shall Come, Into the Thinnest of Air, Murder in the Dark, Till Sudden Death Do Us Part, Night Train to Murder, The House on Widow’s Hill and his paranormal James Bond hero in The Man With the Golden Torc. I also thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in this fantasy heist series, The Best Thing You Can Steal and A Matter of Death and Life– so I was delighted when this offering appeared on the Netgalley dashboard.

BLURB: You can find everything you’ve ever dreamed of in the strange, old magical shop known as Old Harry’s Place. The problem is, not all dreams are kind. Gideon Sable – legendary master thief, conman and well-dressed rogue – and his partner in crime Annie Anybody don’t want to be shopkeepers, but when the enigmatic Harry decides to retire, he blackmails the pair into taking the store on.

Before the grand reopening can happen, however, a menacing stranger arrives – with a rare and deadly item for them to appraise. A small piece of rock, with an unnerving aura, which ‘Smith’ claims contains the last echoes of the legendary sirens’ song. Before they can find out more, however, Smith vanishes . . . leaving only the stone. Some valuables are more trouble than they’re worth. But before Gideon and Annie can work out if they’ve been set up, the stone is stolen from its impregnable hiding place. How? And why? Gideon only knows one thing for certain: no one steals from him and gets away with it . . .

REVIEW: This paranormal heist adventure can be read as a standalone, as Green ensures his readers aren’t left floundering – but in order to be fully invested in the characters, I’d advise that you read the two previous before diving into this one. I’m a solid fan of this author, because despite writing a rather dark world full of bloodshed and violence, there is always a humorous quirkiness to the tone that ensures that said darkness never becomes overwhelming or too bleak. And given that a great deal of SFF is on the darker side, I’ve found Green’s lighter touch immensely attractive over the years.

His tendency to humour doesn’t prevent Green from delivering yet another twisty, action-packed adventure where our plucky protagonists are flung (literally, courtesy of a magical mirror) into a highly dangerous situation. I am very fond of Gideon and Annie Anybody, so once more found the pages turning more or less by themselves as they find themselves confronted by a satisfyingly obnoxious antagonist, who has the capability to do them real harm. The denouement brings the adventure to a pleasing close – although I’m not sure that ‘happily ever after’ is on the cards for everyone in Gideon’s team. There is a new addition to the gang who I think is going to wreak havoc to their rather fragile dynamic – and I’m waiting for the next book in this entertaining series to see if I’m right! Highly recommended for fans of paranormal heist adventures that don’t take themselves so seriously that you give up the will to live halfway through. While I obtained an arc of What Song the Sirens Sang from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc Deadly Spirits – Book 3 of the Maddie Pastore Mystery series by Mary Miley #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #DeadlySpiritsbookreview

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I’ve become a solid fan of this series – see my reviews of The Mystic’s Accomplice and Spirits and Smoke – so I was delighted when I saw this offering pop up on Netgalley. I’ve been reading a lot of historical murder mysteries recently – and this one encompasses one of my favourite eras – the 1920s.

BLURB: Summer, 1924. Young widow Maddie Pastore has been working for fraudulent spiritual medium Madame Carlotta for nearly a year – if ‘work’ you could call it. Investigating Carlotta’s clients, and attending seances as her shill, keeps Maddie and her young son Tommy fed and clothed, and she’s grown to love the kind, well-meaning spiritualist like family.

Still, Maddie – estranged from her abusive parents for over a decade – can’t help but wonder what fates befell her brothers and sisters. So when she lucks into two free tickets to a glamorous Chicago speakeasy and recognizes the star performer as her pretty little sister Sophie, she’s beyond delighted. But before Maddie can meet with Sophie again, the telephone rings. It’s Sophie’s husband, calling in a panic to tell her that his wife is locked in the Cook County jail, charged with first-degree murder . . .

REVIEW: I was thrilled to once more spend time with one of my favourite protagonists, Maddie Pastore. Widowed just weeks before giving birth to her son, Maddie has had a busy year keeping herself and baby Tommy from starving in 1920s Chicago at the height of Prohibition. She lives with spiritual medium Madam Carlotta and in return for bed and board, Maddie discovers details about Madam Carlotta’s clients before they attend her seances that she can use to convince them she’s the real deal. Endearingly, Madam Carlotta knows she is genuine and feels called to help the bereaved by relaying comforting messages from their dead departed – and very occasionally, those messages do seem to come from the other side. However, more often that isn’t the case, so Maddie and young Freddie resort to tricks to keep Madam Carlotta’s clientele happy.

Maddie isn’t particularly proud of what she does, but is fond of Madam Carlotta and grateful for having a place to stay where she and her baby are looked after and well fed. This being Chicago during a very violent time, it isn’t surprising that in her line of work, Maddie comes across occasional unsolved murders. And one that becomes her priority is a case in which her talented younger sister has been entangled. Far too many details don’t make sense – but the police aren’t willing to look any further when a young woman holding the murder weapon is conveniently placed at the murder scene.

This page-turning whodunit held me from the first page until the last, providing several satisfying surprises along the way. I certainly didn’t peg the murderer until all was revealed and once again, having gangsters like Al Capone make an appearance added extra tension to the story. I love Maddie’s can-do practicality and the way Miley also weaves real historical figures into her murder mysteries. While this is the third book in the series and I strongly recommend you read them all – they are far too good to pass up – you wouldn’t unduly flounder if you haven’t had the pleasure of tucking into the previous adventures. Highly recommended for fans of historical murder mysteries, particularly those set during the Prohibition era. While I obtained an arc of Deadly Spirits from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc Mindwalker by Kate Dylan #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Mindwalkerbookreview

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That eye-catching cover snagged my attention and I thought the premise looked intriguing – though I have tweaked and shortened the rather chatty blurb.

BLURB: Eighteen-year-old Sil Sarrah is determined to die a legend. In the ten years she’s been rescuing imperilled field agents for the Syntex Corporation—by commandeering their minds from afar and leading them to safety—Sil hasn’t lost a single life. And she’s not about to start now.

She’s got twelve months left on the clock before the supercomputer grafted to her brain kills her, and she’s hell-bent on using that time to cement her legacy. Sil’s going to be the only Mindwalker to ever pitch a perfect game—even despite the debilitating glitches she’s experiencing. But when a critical mission goes south, Sil is forced into a situation that for all her tactical knowhow and experience – came as a complete and very unpleasant surprise…

REVIEW: I really liked the premise that Sil’s impressive additions come at a huge cost. It made sense to me that a child’s brain, with its inherent plasticity, would be ideal to work on. And the fact that Syntex has managed to find a way around the law so their representatives can persuade suitable eight-year-olds to sign all the permissions necessary to be turned into a super-agent also rings true. As for Sil – I found her grim acceptance of her impending death at the ripe old age of nineteen both poignant and gutsy.

This is aimed at the YA market, so the narration is in first person and the overall story arc follows a familiar route. That said, Sil isn’t as emotional or self-absorbed as YA heroines often are. And while I wasn’t particularly invested in the inevitable romance, as it wasn’t the aspect of the book that really interested me, it was well handled and I believed in the ups and downs of the relationship between two wary, battle-scarred young people.

What did drive me to keep turning the pages in this well-paced, enjoyable science fiction adventure, was Sil’s ongoing battle to stay ahead of those who wanted to get hold of her and shut her down. And while I did see the final twist coming before it finally dropped – there were ramifications that still managed to surprise me and raise the stakes still higher. All in all, this is an engrossing read about a post-apocalyptic future that is frightening and plausible, which I found hard to put down. Recommended for fans of dystopian near-future adventures featuring a likeable heroine. While I obtained an arc of Mindwalkers from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc Unraveller by Frances Hardinge #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Unravellerbookreview

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I love Hardinge’s writing – see my review of Deeplight – so when I caught sight of this breathtakingly lovely cover and registered the author, I immediately requested it. And was absolutely delighted to get hold of a review copy.

BLURB: Kellen and Nettle live in a world where anyone can create a life-destroying curse, but only one person has the power to unravel them. But not everyone is happy he can do so and, suddenly, he’s in a race to save both himself and all those who have been touched by magic…

REVIEW: The first issue to tackle is the fact that this book is labelled a children’s read. Hm. I suppose it can be read by youngsters in that there isn’t any swearing or any overt sex and the protagonists are young. But frankly, as with a number of books in this category, this one is simply too good to leave solely to the kids and I strongly advise you not to discount reading this one simply for that reason alone.

I fell in love with Nettle, who has supposedly recovered from a devastating curse thanks to Kellen’s unique gift. But instead of staggering off to try and pick up the threads of her previous life, she chooses to accompany him on his various jobs where he has to unravel curses and return the victims to their families. Nettle had been turned into a heron and still has periods where she stares into the middle distance and is easily startled. She’s also often quite grumpy at Kellen’s tendency to rush into situations, determined to fix people. And then he’s keen to swiftly move on to the next job, rather than hang around and try to deal with the fallout that often occurs once a curse has been reversed.

However, they make a great team. Nettle, for all her slightly birdlike gestures, is clever and particularly good at finding the weak spots in Kellen’s plans when he wants to rush to the rescue. I thought their exasperation with each other worked particularly well – and their mutually reliant relationship heightened the sense of loss when later on in the book, they have been separated.

As for the plot – it is one of the major strengths of the story. I always love it when I’m in the hands of a master storyteller, whose pacing and plotting continually provides unexpected surprises that never feel forced or contrived. And Hardinge is one such storyteller. I kept trying to slow down, knowing that I was thoroughly enjoying this particular reading experience – but at the same time, desperate to know what happens next. The story provides all sorts of reverses and difficulties for our plucky duo – and Hardinge always weaves a sufficiently convincing air of menace, that I’m not ever totally convinced that her protagonists will prevail. I’m conscious that I’ve made this book sound thrilling, yet a bit bleak – and that isn’t the case. There are lovely touches of dry humour throughout.

If you are looking for an engrossing, well-written fantasy adventure that is also a stand-alone, this one comes very highly recommended. While I obtained an audiobook arc of Unraveller from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc The First Binding – Book 1 of the Tales of Tremaine series by R.R. Virdi #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheFirstBindingbookreview

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BLURB: All legends are born of truths. And just as much lies. These are mine. Judge me for what you will. But you will hear my story first.

I buried the village of Ampur under a mountain of ice and snow. Then I killed their god. I’ve stolen old magics and been cursed for it. I started a war with those that walked before mankind and lost the princess I loved, and wanted to save. I’ve called lightning and bound fire. I am legend. And I am a monster. My name is Ari. And this is the story of how I let loose the first evil.

REVIEW: This one has been compared to The Name of the Wind – which was a major reason why I requested it. And the comparison is spot on. This is Ari The Storyteller, who conjures fires and special effects to beguile audiences, using magical folding techniques to control the magic. In amongst his current adventures, he encounters a beautiful, mysterious woman – and this time around he’s the one who is beguiled. She is also clearly more than she seems and persuades him to open up and tell his story. So we have two narrative timelines running – that of Ari and his current adventures, and his recitation of his past, which is every bit as compelling as what is going on in the present.

By now, you’ll be aware that in order to pull readers into the story and keep them equally engrossed in both narratives, Virdi has to be a talented author with serious writing chops. I’m delighted to report that Virdi is triumphantly successful in producing a highly readable page-turner, despite the ambitious premise and intimidating length. Because by the time I got around to reading it, I wasn’t necessarily in the mood for such a long, epic fantasy about a mysterious magic-user. And I was expecting to read a couple of chapters, then put it to one side and keep going back to it in between other, less hefty and taxing reads. In the event, that didn’t happen, because I simply didn’t want to stop reading the story. And given that it’s 800+ pages, that in itself is an impressive testimony to the compulsive pull of this tale.

I loved it. To the extent that I wasn’t even particularly cross that Virdi has the nerve to leave a book of this length on something of a cliff-hanger. If you’re a confirmed epic fantasy fan, who thinks fondly of Rothfuss, Martin and Hobb et al with a nostalgic sigh, then track this one down. It’s a big, beguiling read full of wit, humour and sadness and marks Virdi as One To Watch. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy reads the size of house bricks. While I obtained an arc of The First Binding from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK Death Among the Diamonds – Book 1 of the Cressida Fawcett Mystery series by Fliss Chester #BrainfluffNETGALLEYAUDIOBOOKreview #DeathAmongtheDiamondsaudiobookreview

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I have a real weakness for 1920s era cosy mysteries, so I was delighted when this one popped up on the Netgalley dashboard – and I was even more chuffed when I was approved to listen to it.

BLURB: Everyone in 1920s London knows the Honourable Cressida Fawcett: fiercely independent (though never apart from her little pug Ruby), lover of martinis and interior designer extraordinaire. She’s solved many crimes of fashion… so how about murder?

Cressida Fawcett is heading to the English countryside for a weekend of cocktails and partying at her friend’s glamorous mansion, the location of a recent diamond heist. But just hours after her arrival, Cressida is woken by an almighty scream. Rushing to the landing, she looks down into the great hall to find a trembling maid standing next to the body of Harry, the friendly young chandelier cleaner…

REVIEW: I’ve cut the rather chatty blurb short, as it gives away too much of the storyline. I was expecting an enjoyable slice of country house life in a glamorous era that I recall hearing a lot about when I was young, as my grandmother had been a flapper. What I hadn’t been expecting was quite such a twisty plot, full of events and all sorts of shenanigans. At one point, I was getting a bit fed up – as I knew exactly where the diamonds were hidden and was irritated that Cressida hadn’t put it together. Until it transpired that they weren’t there after all… I do love it when that happens!

Cressida is a feisty, headstrong young woman with an independent income and a nice life with no intention of spoiling it all by becoming someone’s wife. Her loving companion is her little pug dog, Ruby, who accompanies her in all her adventures and often is helpful in unravelling clues. I liked the fact that in amongst all the action, Ruby is never forgotten or overlooked, which can happen at times to fictional pets. And I’m also prepared to bet that Chester has owned or owns a little pug, as her descriptions of Ruby’s behaviour and appearance are always spot on.

I liked Cressida’s impulsiveness and constant curiosity. She is an adventurous soul who got into a number of scrapes at school and has been known to cut loose in memorable ways at certain London nightclubs, when the champagne cocktails are flowing. I enjoyed Chester’s habit of never spelling out exactly what she gets up to, giving the reader the opportunity to fill in the gaps. She is also innately kind with a strong sense of justice, despite a blithe disregard for authority if it doesn’t suit her. Daphne Kouma’s excellent narration brought her vividly to life, along with all the goings-on at a house party memorable for all the wrong reasons.

The denouement works well, making absolute sense – which isn’t always the case in whodunits where more than one murder has occurred – and bringing the whole affair to a satisfactory conclusion. All in all, this is a thoroughly entertaining country house whodunit featuring a pleasing protagonist and her loyal canine companion. Recommended for fans of 1920’s murder mysteries. While I obtained an audiobook arc of Death Among the Diamonds from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc Becoming Crone – Book 1 of The Crone Wars by Lydia M. Hawke #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #BecomingCronebookreview

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Having reached a certain age, I’m always looking out for entertaining fantasy books with older protagonists – and this one caught my eye. Apart from the pretty cover, I also liked the sound of the blurb – would I enjoy the book as much as the premise?

BLURB: For Claire Emerson, there is nothing ordinary about turning sixty. First, there are the crows. Then, a pendant that unlocks a gate to a house in the woods–which comes with a snarky gargoyle, an entirely too-sexy wolf shifter claiming to be Claire’s protector, and a legacy that turns her reality upside down.

Because divorced, menopausal grandmothers with creaky hips and hot flashes? They don’t just randomly discover they’re next in a long line of powerful women protecting the world from the dark magick of Mages.

Claire’s first instinct is to turn tail and run back to the safety of baking cookies and reading bedtime stories. But when it becomes clear the Mages have targeted her, she may have no choice but to accept her calling. There’s just one problem: she never got the lifetime of training she was supposed to have, and her magick is… well, unreliable would be an understatement. With the Mages threatening everything she loves, can Claire learn what she needs to in time to become Crone? Or will she be the one to lose an ancient war—and her life?

REVIEW: I am always delighted to come across heroines of a certain age who feature in fantasy adventure stories, especially as I’ve now also reached that certain age. That said, I’m allergic to the trope whereby they suddenly have access to an elixir that helps them overcome creaking joints and smooths out the wrinkles. Or find themselves wielding a magic sword with the skill and ease of a thirty-something swordmaster. So my track record with this sub-genre is a tad patchy.

I’m delighted to report that Claire is none of the above. In fact, at the start of the book she is hosting her own sixtieth birthday party with nothing much to celebrate. Her ex-husband has left her for a much younger woman with whom he has started a second family, her son and daughter-in-law are increasingly treating her as an elderly nonentity and she feels as if she’s spent her life putting everyone else first with not much to show for it. The problem is – on the cusp of becoming properly old, she has no idea what she really wants for herself… This could have been a really dismal opening, but for Claire’s wry humour which I found very appealing. The story starts quite slowly, something I didn’t mind as it gave me plenty of opportunity to bond with Claire. This is important, as she narrates the tale in first-person viewpoint.

However, once the action does start rolling it quickly picks up speed. I liked the fact that her transition from the normal everyday to the fantastic isn’t smooth or easy. Her attempts at magick are either non-existent or overwhelming to the point of catastrophic and she’s hopeless in any physical fight. Although she does have a gorgeous werewolf protector and a gargoyle assigned to train her. Hawke writes action vividly with some nicely original touches – I’ll never look at a garden gnome in the same way again – and while the shafts of humour continue, there is also loss and heartbreak.

Claire’s journey throughout the book is well handled, so that I believed in the character throughout. I’m keen to continue reading this series to discover what happens next. And the bonus is that the next two books are already available, so I won’t have to wait to tuck into A Gathering of Crones. Highly recommended for urban fantasy fans who enjoy older protagonists. While I obtained an arc of Becoming Crone from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10