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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY Arc Like Never and Always by Anne Aguirre #Brainfluffbookreview #LikeNeverandAlwaysbookreview

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I was looking for something just a bit different, when I read of this premise during Can’t-Wait Wednesday (thank you who recommended it – and sorry for not name-checking you, but I simply cannot remember). So I was delighted when I was approved for the Netgalley arc.

On a hot summer night, a screech of brakes and shattering glass changes two lives forever. Liv wakes in the hospital, confused when they call her Morgan. She assumes it’s a case of mistaken identity, yet when the bandages come off, it’s not her face in the mirror anymore. It’s her best friend Morgan’s. Morgan always seemed to have the perfect life, yet Liv must navigate endlessly disturbing secrets of the criminal and murderous variety—and a romance that feels like a betrayal. Torn between the boy she loved as Liv and the boy she’s grown to love as Morgan, Liv still has to survive Morgan’s last request.

It’s an interesting premise – and that intriguing title comes from a Pablo Neruda poem. So does this YA thriller live up to the promise of a cracking read? Oh yes. I enjoy Aguirre’s writing, particularly her excellent space opera adventure featuring adrenaline-junkie pilot Sirantha Jax – see my review of Grimspace. The dramatic beginning hooked me in and I slummucked in bed, reading this offering in one greedy gulp. Liv’s first-person narrative is well realised. Although she suffers serious physical injuries and keeps encountering nasty discoveries of the knee-buckling sort, Aguirre manages to avoid her becoming some put-upon victim. Given the nature of some of the secrets that float to the surface, as she continues investigating Morgan’s life, that is harder to pull off than you might think.

I found myself rooting for Liv throughout and was even able to endure the dreaded love triangle. In fact, it actually made sense within the story’s premise. The character progression also works well and I was also pleased to see that while Liv initially dreads getting any kind of professional counselling, when it becomes crucial she does avail herself of it. I would have liked to see her make more use of it – and have her still attending some ongoing counselling sessions for the foreseeable future.

Other than that quibble, I thoroughly enjoyed this YA adventure, which had me turning the pages to find out what happens next. It’s an entertaining thriller that delivers plenty of surprises featuring a well-realised, sympathetic protagonist. Recommended for fans of family-based mystery thrillers. While I obtained an arc of Like Never and Always from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Redemption’s Blade: After the War by Adrian Tchaikovsky #Brainfluffbookreview #Redemption’sBladeAftertheWarbookreview

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After producing a steady stream of excellent, thought-provoking books, Adrian Tchaikovsky has now become one of my must-read authors – see my review of Spiderlight. And when I saw this one appear on Netgalley, I thought Christmas had come early – I just loved the premise…

Ten years ago, the renegade demigod known as the Kinslayer returned. His armies of monsters issued from the pits of the earth, spearheaded by his brutal Yorughan soldiers. He won every battle, leaving burnt earth and corruption behind. Thrones toppled and cities fell as he drove all before him. And then he died. A handful of lucky heroes and some traitors amongst his own, and the great Kinslayer was no more. Celestaine was one such hero and now she has tasked herself to correct the worst excesses of the Kinslayer and bring light back to her torn-up world. With two Yorughan companions she faces fanatics, war criminals and the monsters and minions the Kinslayer left behind as the fragile alliances of the war break down into feuding, greed and mistrust. The Kinslayer may be gone, but he cast a long shadow she may never truly escape.

So… the epic battle has been fought and won by the forces of good against the terrible evil threat. We are now in the realms of ‘and they lived happily ever after…’ Except they’re not. All manner of creatures ripped apart and horribly disfigured by the Kinslayer are still struggling to put their lives together in a land that has similarly been mutilated. Celestaine has devoted her live and the services of her magical blade to hunting down those still determined to carry out the wishes of their dead master. While she is feted as one of the heroes who overthrew the tyrant, she is left with far too many memories of her fallen companions and a burning need to make their sacrifice worth it by trying to make the world a better place.

It turns out that she isn’t the only one seeking powerful magical gismos and given that her two closest companions were created in the bowels of the earth by the Kinslayer for the express purpose of killing on his behalf (think orcs…) they don’t generally get a great welcome. Her intrepid band overcome all manner of obstacles and adventures on this quest – which makes this an engrossing read with plenty at stake…

I absolutely love this one. Tchaikovsky has taken many of the classical fantasy tropes and given them a thorough shaking, so along with high drama and adventure, we get asides on the nature of faith and what happens to gods once they are overthrown, given they are immortal. The supporting characters are wonderful – I love the two Yorughan warriors, particularly Heno with his snarky asides, as well as Dr Catto and his accomplice Fisher who are the delightfully insouciant antagonists intent on scooping up anything magical after Celestaine and her band have gone to the effort of overcoming the opposition. The character who tugged at my heartstrings is Kul, the prince of flying people, whose wings were savagely mutilated during the war, so there is no one now alive to teach youngsters how to fly. This means they drag their wings around as they join the earth-bound drudgery that is the lot of their parents, or hack them off… I’ve thought a lot about Kul since I completed this book.

This being Tchaikovsky, he brings this adventure to an entirely satisfactory end. I’d love to see more stories set in this world – please? But even if there isn’t, I’m glad to have been along for this particular ride – another outstanding addition to this author’s canon. While I obtained an arc of Redemption’s Blade: After the War from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Wild Dead – Book 2 of The Bannerless Saga by Carrie Vaughn #Brainfluffbookreview #TheWildDeadbookreview

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I loved Vaughn’s YA space opera adventure Martians Abroad – see my review here – so when this one popped up on Netgalley, I immediately requested it and I’m so very glad I did…

A century after environmental and economic collapse, the people of the Coast Road have rebuilt their own sort of civilization, striving not to make the mistakes their ancestors did. They strictly ration and manage resources, including the ability to have children. Enid of Haven is an investigator, who with her new partner, Teeg, is called on to mediate a dispute over an old building in a far-flung settlement at the edge of Coast Road territory. The investigators’ decision seems straightforward — and then the body of a young woman turns up in the nearby marshland. Almost more shocking than that, she’s not from the Coast Road, but from one of the outsider camps belonging to the nomads and wild folk who live outside the Coast Road communities. Now one of them is dead, and Enid wants to find out who killed her, even as Teeg argues that the murder isn’t their problem. In a dystopian future of isolated communities, can our moral sense survive the worst hard times?

Post-apocalyptic society is slowly recovering, though with far less resources. As far-flung communities live hard-scrabbled lives by scavenging and living off the land, law and order is imposed by travelling investigators. Enid is one such investigator, paired with a newbie and on a straightforward assignment that should have her returning home for the birth of a longed-for baby. And then, just as they are in the process of wrapping up the issue that brought them to Estuary, a dead body is found, washed up on the mud flats…

The world is beautifully depicted through Enid’s first person viewpoint. I felt the humidity, the reek of the mud and got to know the shocked, cagey characters living there. They were already wary of investigators due to a twenty-year-old scandal involving one of the women cutting out her birth control implant – a major infraction in a society where resources are so very scarce and birth rates are rigidly controlled to ensure no one starves. Even after all this time, Neeve is still ostracised by her neighbours and banished to Far House, where she lives with others who don’t really fit in. So no one is freely talking the investigators and Enid is left with a sense that there is something else going on…

This is a cracking whodunit. Enid is a sympathetic, capable protagonist with years of experience behind her and yet yearning to return home in time to be there at the birth of the baby – a baby that her efforts have helped to bring into being by earning the banner that allows her family to reproduce. She is further hampered by her raw new partner, who pounces on a pet theory and won’t let it go. The tension rises, along with the stakes, as Enid is determined to discover who the unknown young woman is and why she has been murdered. I picked this one up and couldn’t put it down until I reached the end. Though I had guessed part of the puzzle, I was still shocked to discover the perpetrator. Highly recommended for fans of science fiction murder mysteries. While I obtained an arc of The Wild Dead from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Fawkes by Nadine Brandes #Brainfluffbookreview #Fawkesbookreview

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This offering came to my attention due to the excellent cover and really intriguing premise. As I knew a bit about the historical facts surrounding this turbulent time, I was interested to see how Brandes tackled it and integrated the magical elements.

Keepers think the Igniters caused the plague. Igniters think the Keepers did. But all Thomas knows is that the Stone Plague infecting his eye is spreading. And if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be a lifeless statue. So when his Keeper father, Guy Fawkes, invites him to join the Gunpowder Plot—claiming it will put an end to the plague—Thomas is in.

This is part of the chatty blurb, but you’ll gather there are two major magical factions. Both believe absolutely that their viewpoint is right and that if they don’t prevail, disaster will overtake the country. This point of view also sums up the attitudes of the religious differences prevailing at the time, which was the underlying cause of the Gunpowder Plot and is a nifty way of generating added interest in the religious divide that fractured the country for generations, but that our modern secular society finds difficult to understand. However, I did find it a bit of a problem. While I knew all about the differing beliefs of the Catholics and Protestants of the time, I wasn’t clear exactly how the colour system of magic operated. As James, the main protagonist, isn’t a magic-user, he doesn’t have an intimate knowledge of how it works and while I realised that white magic is the dealbreaker, I wasn’t sure what happened with the likes of teal and crimson, for instance. I was able to let this go for the sake of the story, but I did feel it was a weakness.

James’ determination to search out his absent father and persuade him to craft him a mask which would allow him to access his magical ability, snagged my sympathy – especially as that father happened to be Guido Fawkes. And once James tracks down his father, as we already know, his problems are only beginning. Elements from the actual plot are woven into this tense historical thriller, which I really enjoyed. But the character who really stole the show for me was Emma.

Personally, I would have preferred to have had the story told from her viewpoint as I think she was a stronger, feistier character who pinged off the page and whose story arc is more interesting than James. The problem with James is that he is only ever on the edge of the plot and spent much of the story grappling with the plague. I felt that Brandes got a tad overwhelmed with the sheer richness and complexity of the elements in her story and consequently, there was a stronger, more coherent version struggling to surface.

Nonetheless, Brandes is clearly a skilful, capable writer with an interesting tale that has had me pondering many of the elements since I finished reading it. Recommended for readers interested in fantasy with a historical twist. While I obtained an arc of Fawkes from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc novella Prime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia #Brainfluffbookreview #PrimeMeridianbookreview

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I read and thoroughly enjoyed The Beautiful Ones by Moreno-Garcia – see my review here – so when I caught sight of this novella on Netgalley, it was a no-brainer.

Amelia dreams of Mars. The Mars of the movies and the imagination, an endless bastion of opportunities for a colonist with some guts. But she’s trapped in Mexico City, enduring the drudgery of an unkind metropolis, working as a rent-a-friend, selling her blood to old folks with money who hope to rejuvenate themselves with it, enacting a fractured love story. And yet there’s Mars, at the edge of the silver screen, of life. It awaits her.

I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting – but it wasn’t this. Less escapist space opera and far more dystopian, very-near-future, this novella packed a punch. I’ll be honest – given what else was going in my life, this was not the read I would have chosen to pick up. But I’m glad I did.

Amelia has edges – and quite right, too. So would I if I’d endured the lack of opportunity and dead-end options facing her. She has fixated on going to Mars – right from the time she was old enough to be ambitious and despite having had a series of unlucky breaks, she still is determined to get there. It’s the only thing that really matters… so it is painful to read of her constant struggles that seem to go nowhere. She is constantly angry and hostile to those around her – not ideal when one of her hard-scrabble jobs is to sell her companionship in response to an app.

The world is richly depicted – which seems to be Moreno-Garcia’s trademark, along with indepth characterisation that doesn’t impede the storyline. She nearly has the pacing nailed, but I did feel the ending was a tad hurried in comparison to the rest of the story. Having said that, novellas are fiendishly difficult to get right.

I enjoyed the story and the awkward dynamic between Amelia and the rest of the characters. The times when she is most at peace with herself and those around her, are when thinking of Mars, or watching the movies with an ageing actress who employs her to listen to her past. And if you think that sounds rather poignant, you’d be right.

I would love to read a sequel to this thought-provoking story as I find myself wondering about the character and what happens next. Recommended for fans of literary fiction. While I obtained an arc of Prime Meridian from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Earth and Air – an Earth Girl novella by Janet Edwards #Brainfluffbookreview #EarthandAirbookreview

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I have been a solid fan of Edwards’ writing – see my review of Scavenger Alliance, here. So when she contacted me to ask if I would like an arc of her latest novella, Earth and Air, which is a spinoff from her popular Earth Girl series – see my review of Earth Girl here – I was delighted to accept in return for an honest review

2788. Only the handicapped live on Earth. While everyone else uses interstellar portals to travel between hundreds of colony worlds, 17-year-old Jarra is among the one in a thousand people born with an immune system that cannot survive on other planets. Sent to Earth at birth to save her life, abandoned by her parents to be raised a ward of Hospital Earth, she lives a regimented life in one of their impersonal residences. Jarra is spending the summer at New York Fringe Dig Site with her school history club. While her friends search for lost treasures on the ground, Jarra is airborne in a survey plane and hoping to become a qualified pilot, but the sprawling ancient ruins of New York contain the lethal legacies of the past as well as its treasures.

It was a real treat to rebond with Jarra, the chirpy disaster-magnet who is the main protagonist in Edwards’ popular Earth Girl series. I had forgotten just how effective Edwards’ writing style is when depicting the alliances and frictions between a group of young teenagers. It could so easily become tedious or petty, but never does. The other standout feature of this entertaining series is the fascinating backdrop – a ruined Earth, where buildings are lethally unstable yet packed with archaeological treasures and discoveries eagerly awaited by populations scattered across the stars.

Novellas are not generally my favourite reads – too often, I have just become engrossed only to find the story abruptly finishing. Only a handful of my favourite writers can, in my opinion, adequately control the pacing and narrative arc so that the ending isn’t an unpleasant jolt. Edwards is one of them. At no time did I feel I was being short-changed with either the characterisation, setting or the storyline which contains plenty of adventures and shocks. The other outstanding quality of Edwards writing, particularly with this series, is the chirpy, upbeat tone that pervades most of the story. Unlike so many YA books, I get the sense that most of the people are trying to do the best they can most of the time. This is definitely one I will be introducing my granddaughter to next time she comes to visit – I think she will love it. With the absence of bad language or gratuitous violence, it is an ideal read for young teens – as well as those of us a lot longer in the tooth. This one is far too good to leave just to the youngsters. Recommended for fans of adventure and science fiction.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Truth Sister by Phil Gilvin #Brainfluffbookreview #TruthSisterbookreview

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I was attracted by the title and the premise, so picked this up. Being a feminist, I was hoping that perhaps women would make a better fist of running the world – but that wasn’t to be…

The year is 2149. The Women’s Republic of Anglia seeks to harness forgotten technologies from the time when men ruled the world. Naturals are second-class citizens, while women born through cloning are the true children of the Republic. When Clara Perdue graduates from the prestigious Academy, she is ready to do her part to support the Republic and bring about a better future for all. But when she stumbles on information that the Republic has tried to keep hidden, she begins to realise that the society she has been taught to believe in and trained to defend is not all that it seems. A secret from Clara’s past puts herself, her family, and her friends in danger, and Clara must choose between subservience and rebellion.

Clara starts off as a really unpleasant protagonist – this is a brave move on the part of Gilvin, as many readers, me included, don’t particularly enjoy reading a first-person narrative by someone so priggish and judgemental. My advice would be to stick with her, though, as she becomes less close-minded and brainwashed once she leaves the Academy. There are a number of strong, well-written characters supporting her. I particularly liked Clara’s mother and their manservant, Jamie.

Increasingly, Clara begins to realise that the Republic is nothing like the idealised system she has been taught to love and defend and we are right with her as her beliefs become unravelled, along with her life as the fault lines in society start breaking down. I enjoyed the fact that this story is set in a post-apocalyptic England, where recognisable place names are clearly very different places. London, in particular, is in all sorts of trouble as the Thames Barrier is in danger of failing. I became caught up in Clara’s adventures and thoroughly enjoyed the twisting plot which presented many surprises along the way.

My one niggle is that the main antagonist is presented as something of a caricature who I found it difficult to take seriously. Despite being told how very frightening she was, she seemed too over the top and ridiculous in comparison to the sympathetic, nuanced characterisations throughout the rest of the story. Having said that, it wasn’t a dealbreaker and I have found myself thinking a lot about this book since I finished it. Recommended for fans of post-apocalyptic fiction. While I obtained an arc of Truth Sister from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Murder Takes a Turn – Book 5 of the Langham and Dupré Mystery series by Eric Brown #Brainfluffbookreview #MurderTakesaTurnbookreview

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I picked this one up because the author is one I enjoy – as well as writing this historical murder mystery series, he also has written a number of successful science fiction novels. Indeed, Engineman, has one of the most memorable backdrops I’ve encountered in science fiction, outside a C.J. Cherryh novel.

When Langham’s literary agent receives a cryptic letter inviting him to spend the weekend at the grand Cornish home of successful novelist Denbigh Connaught, Charles Elder seems reluctant to attend. What really happened between Elder and Connaught during the summer of 1917, nearly forty years before – and why has it had such a devastating effect on Charles? Accompanying his agent to Connaught House, Langham and his wife Maria discover that Charles is not the only one to have received a letter. But why has Denbigh Connaught gathered together a group of people who each bear him a grudge? When a body is discovered in Connaught’s study, the ensuing investigation uncovers dark secrets that haunt the past of each and every guest – including Charles Elder himself …

And if the cover and tone of the blurb remind you of an Agatha Christie novel, you’re absolutely right. The way the book unfolds is clearly a nod in the direction of the Grand Dame of Crime. I liked the main protagonists – it’s a refreshing change to have a dear old chap like Charles Elder right in the middle of things and his business partner Maria and her husband Donald are the couple who doing the sleuthing on this case. The location – a country house in an isolated part of Cornwall – is classically cosy mystery and the method in which the unfortunate victim dies is suitably macabre.

This is an ideal summer holiday read, which plenty of twists and turns and an entertaining variety of possible suspects. I did guess the identity of the murderer before the final big reveal – but only because I read all Agatha Christie’s novels longer ago than I care to think. That said, it didn’t put a huge dent in my enjoyment, because this was more about being bathed in the experience of revisiting an imagined past that I’m sure never existed – although I wished it had. Recommended for fans of well written historical cosy mysteries.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Privilege of Peace – Book 3 of the Peacekeeper trilogy by Tanya Huff #Brainfluffbookreview #ThePrivilegeofPeacebookreview

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Himself spotted this was coming out and pre-ordered it. Quite right, too. We both love this series – question is, has Huff managed to tie up all the loose ends satisfactorily, given this is the last one in the trilogy?

Warden Torin Kerr has put her past behind her and built a life away from the war and everything that meant. From the good, from the bad. From the heroics, from the betrayal. She’s created a place and purpose for others like her, a way to use their training for the good of the Confederation. She has friends, family, purpose. Unfortunately, her past refuses to grant her the same absolution. Big Yellow, the ship form of the plastic aliens responsible for the war, returns. The Silsviss test the strength of the Confederation. Torin has to be Gunnery Sergeant Kerr once again and find a way to keep the peace.

For those of you who have read the previous two books, terms like Big Yellow, the Silsviss and Big Yellow will be happy reminders of a strongly depicted world crammed with memorable characters and a twisting plot. However if you are scratching your head because you haven’t yet had the pleasure of this series, then don’t pick up this one – track down An Ancient Peace instead. There is simply too much going on in the longer story arc you’ll miss if you don’t.

Gunny Torin Kerr isn’t actually a gunny any longer – but that is something she tends to remember more clearly than some of those around her. She now heads up a team of Wardens, who are essentially intergalactic policemen, now the war has ended and the Elder Races are keen the job doesn’t get seconded to the military. Indeed, now that the war has ended and the Younger Races, including Humanity, are starting to wonder if they are welcome within the Confederation, now they are no longer fighting on behalf of the Elder Races. It is providing major opportunities for the terrorist organisation Humans First, who very much resent the fact that Humanity is taking orders from other species.

I love this series. Torin’s team are always there to provide plenty of snark and banter, even in the trickier moments – but that feels entirely realistic. Despite the fact we stay focused on the main characters, the wider political situation is always well covered so we know what the stakes are. Which steadily ratchets up during this action-packed book. You need to pay attention, because things are always happening, or about to happen and this book particularly offers plenty of pace and excitement.

The denouement was gripping and held me long after I should have put the book down – and Huff then continued to bring the series to an entirely satisfactory ending – no mean feat, given this is a spinoff from the previously successful Valor series… This series is highly recommended for fans of well told military science fiction – and a must-read for those of you who have read the previous two books.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Netgalley arc Drop by Drop – Book 1 of the Step by Step trilogy by Morgan Llywelyn #Brainfluffbookreview #DropbyDropbookreview

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Once again, it was the cover that snagged by attention – and that scary premise of plastic objects melting across the world…

In this first book in the Step By Step trilogy, global catastrophe occurs as all plastic mysteriously liquefies. All the small components making many technologies possible―navigation systems, communications, medical equipment―fail. In Sycamore River, citizens find their lives disrupted as everything they’ve depended on melts around them, with sometimes fatal results. All they can rely upon is themselves.

I enjoyed the fact that we followed the same small band of folks as this disaster unfolds – and the fact that they lived in a small community. I have a fondness for books depicting small-town America… Initially, we quickly jump across a number of folks as plastic starts to dribble, which had me groaning somewhat. I get awfully tired of the apocalyptic convention of jumping into someone’s head, only for them to die in unpleasant circumstances due to whatever badness is coming to swallow the world. Thankfully, that wasn’t what drove this book, which settles down into something else and I think is a problem, especially for fans of apocalyptic sci fi, as this is small-town USA dealing with disaster – except it often wasn’t. It was more about the protagonists getting on with their lives, with the plastic issue sporadically causing a problem.

There is also an issue with narrative time – phones are now called Allcoms, so presumably this is set in a nearish future, which looks very much like right now. And the book was vague about the passing of time, so I couldn’t get a real sense of how long the townsfolk were dealing with the problem and there are no dates accompanying chapter headings to help out the reader.

However, I don’t want you to go away with the idea this was a trudge – I was able to settle down and enjoy most of the story, thanks to Llewelyn’s smooth prose and economical style. I got caught up in the characters’ lives and found the pages turning themselves – until it came to that ending… I don’t like being bounced at the end of a book, which appears to be winding everything up satisfactorily – only to turn it into a sudden cliff-hanger in the final paragraph. While I understand why it was done, it didn’t work. I shouldn’t finish a book feeling so irritated, which is a shame because those issues notwithstanding, overall this was an enjoyable read. Recommended for readers who enjoy their disasters on a very human scale. While I obtained an arc of Drop by Drop from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
7/10