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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Revenant Express by George Mann #Brainfluffbookreview #TheRevenantExpressbookreview

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This is the long-awaited next book in this entertaining steampunk, gothic series featuring our two heroic crime fighters Maurice Newbury and Veronica Hobbes.

Following their bloody encounter with the Executioner, Sir Maurice Newbury’s assistant Veronica Hobbes is close to death. Desperate to save her life, Newbury and Veronica’s sister Amelia board a sleeper train bound for St. Petersburg, in the hope that Gustav Faberge might have the answer. But there are enemies on board, and Newbury and Amelia will need all their strength and cunning to survive the Revenant Express.

This is an action-packed read, given that it is only just over 250 pages long. Mann certainly manages to keep the tempo fast and furious as both Veronica Hobbes and Maurice Newbury are both attempting to tackle a terrible threat. Although I enjoyed the excellent action scenes, particularly on the train – I am a tad concerned about a major anomaly. We are told in the blurb that Veronica is close to death – so I actually reread the opening chapter in which she features, and at no time do we get a sense in her viewpoint that she’s anything other than a tad cold and miserable while standing in the pouring rain. While close to death, she happily goes off to get involved in a demanding case with Sir Charles Bainbridge and doesn’t mention feeling slightly unwell at any stage.

While in the ordinary run of things, this issues would be a dealbreaker, they aren’t this time around, simply because I like the world and the characters so much. It doesn’t hurt that this particular adventure is largely set on a train travelling across Europe, so a lot of the action doesn’t impact the wider story arc. The gruesome nature of the infection causing all sorts of havoc presents a real danger to our trusty protagonists – and has Mann has already demonstrated that he isn’t shy of killing off some main characters, I found myself paying real attention to the very dramatic fights.

That said, something clearly occurred that threw a major spanner in the works regarding Mann’s writing. I hope he is able to get back on track to write the next exciting instalment, but if he can’t or doesn’t – that’s okay, too. I do wince sometimes at the angry impatience of some readers while waiting for the next book. Everyone experiences major upsets in their lives – including authors in the middle of writing a popular series. In the meantime this series is recommended for fans of steampunk adventure with a gothic feel.

While I obtained an arc of The Revenant Express 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 Ebook NOVELLA Knife Children by Lois McMaster Bujold #Brainfluffbookreview #TheKnifeChildrenbookreview

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Those of you who are regular visitors to my blog know that Himself and I are huge fans of Bujold. So it was a given that we had pre-ordered this novella in The Sharing Knife series, which was completed a number of years ago.

Lakewalker Barr Foxbrush returns from two years of patrolling the bitter wilds of Luthlia against the enigmatic, destructive entities called malices, only to find that the secret daughter he’d left behind in the hinterland of Oleana has disappeared from her home after a terrible accusation. The search for her will call on more of Barr’s mind and heart than just his mage powers, as he tries to balance his mistakes of the past and his most personal duties to the future.

Bujold’s claim that this novella can be read as a stand-alone is correct. While I suddenly recalled exactly who Barr was about a quarter of the way in, it really didn’t matter. As ever, Bujold absolutely nails the story. She has written a series of successful novellas, getting the story progression, characterisation and pacing spot on – something the majority of authors who attempt this writing form don’t often achieve in my experience.

I have always had a soft spot for this particular world, where mages a long time ago let loose terrible magical creatures who feast on living energy, growing stronger and evermore powerful with every victim they consume. Theses malices can only be stopped by the death energy of a Lakewalker, who are the descendants of those irresponsible magic-users. Unsurprisingly, there is a gulf between the non-magical community, mostly farmers, who are at major risk from the malices and the Lakewalkers, who are the only people able to kill the malices – but at a very high cost to themselves.

This story, where Barr is forced to confront the consequences of his wild past and try to fix things, drew me in from the first line and wouldn’t let me go until the final full stop. Like most of the other people who have reviewed this book, my main regret was that it ended. However, it was brought to a fitting conclusion that I found unexpectedly emotional. This is Bujold at her awesome best and is highly recommended for any reader with a pulse, particularly if they enjoy well written fantasy.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Endgames – Book 12 of the Imager Portfolio series by L.E. Modesitt Jr #Brainfluffbookreview #Endgamesbookreview

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When I saw this offering on NetGalley, I immediately requested it and was delighted to be approved – see my review of the first book, Imager. No… I haven’t read all eleven of the previous books in this series – I think I got as far as eighth book. However, although I have a few issues with this book the fact that I hadn’t read the previous two in this particular story arc wasn’t a problem.

Solidar is in chaos. Charyn, the young and untested ruler of Solidar, has survived assassination, and he struggles to gain control of a realm in the grip of social upheaval, war, and rioting. Solidar cannot be allowed to slide into social and political turmoil that will leave the High Holders with their ancient power and privilege, and the common people with nothing. But the stakes are even higher than he realizes.

I always enjoy Modesitt’s protagonists and Charyn is no exception. He has the steady good sense and even temperament that is the hallmark of many of this author’s main characters. As ever in a Modesitt book, we get a progression of everyday details alongside the ongoing drama which tends to build slowly. I don’t know anyone else who writes fantasy in quite so much detail and gets away with it. However, the question has to be with this particular offering – is there just too much detail silting up the pace?

Unfortunately, I would have to say yes. While there were still many elements that I enjoyed and I found it difficult to put this book down, I also found myself skipping the love letters that passed between two of the main characters, along with the long-winded philosophical questions they discussed. I don’t dive into a high fantasy adventure to read several pages about the nature of evil being discussed between the protagonists – I would rather it was played out within the action. However, it wasn’t a dealbreaker and at no time was I tempted to DNF the book because I still cared about the characters and I really wanted to know how it was going to work out.

I was surprised at where the story went, with real poignancy during the aftermath of the action. This is one of the aspects that Modesitt handles really well – because we are pulled into his stories by following the day to day routines of his characters, it matters when bad things happen to them. Overall though I enjoyed this one and know that the next time I have an opportunity to get hold of another Modesitt book, I will jump at it. He may not always get the balance absolutely right, but he remains one of my favourite authors.

While I obtained an arc of Endgames from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Headlong – Book 21 of the Bill Slider mysteries by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles #Brainfluffbookreview #Headlongbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the previous book I read in this series, Shadow Play, and was delighted when I saw this offering on Netgalley, so tucked right in…

When one of London’s best-known literary agents is found dead in strange circumstances, having fallen headlong from his office window, DCI Slider is under pressure from the Borough Commander to confirm a case of accidental death. But when the evidence points to murder, Slider and his team find themselves uncovering some decidedly scandalous secrets in the suave and successful Ed Wiseman’s past. An embittered ex-wife. A discarded mistress. A frustrated would-be author. A disgruntled former employee. Many had reason to hold a grudge against the late lamented literary agent. But who would feel strongly enough to kill him?

This is a classic police procedural, where the focus of the story revolves around the main protagonist, Bill Slider, who heads up the murder squad. As the investigation progresses, we discover more facts about the dead man and his life. And along the way, we also get a ringside seat into Bill Slider’s life, too. I like the fact that he is married with a small son and between them, they sometimes struggle with childcare when work builds up. I also like the fact that he is happily married and a concerned boss who tries to do the best for the team working under him. He isn’t magnificently defiant to his irritable bosses, either. He keeps his head down and his sour thoughts to himself, which nonetheless make entertaining reading.

At the heart of the story is the murder, of course. And Harrod-Eagles once more delivers a nicely twisty mystery with all sorts of plausible suspects that give us interesting glimpses into the publishing world. I didn’t see the resolution coming, but it made absolute sense and I was also very taken with the sudden domestic bombshell that emerged at the end of the book, too.

Any niggles? Well, just one – there were some rather flashy noirish phrases in the early stages of the book that caught my attention, until they completely disappeared around the halfway mark. There should be either more of them, or none at all. That said, I’m conscious that this is an arc, so this issue may have been fixed by the time this book comes to publication. Recommended for fans of intelligent, well-written murder mysteries with not too much gore.

While I obtained an arc of Headlong from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

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

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

Paris, 1889: The world is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. In this city, no one keeps tabs on secrets better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier, Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. But when the all-powerful society, the Order of Babel, seeks him out for help, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance. To find the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin will need help from a band of experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian who can’t yet go home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in all but blood, who might care too much. Together, they’ll have to use their wits and knowledge to hunt the artifact through the dark and glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the world, but only if they can stay alive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This book cover looks creepy and rather horrific, but while there are murders and poor old Ishmael Jones is taking it all very seriously, this book has its tongue firmly in its cheek…

“The past is England’s dreaming, and not all of it sleeps soundly…”
Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny have been despatched to assist a group of scientists who are investigating a mysterious black hole which has appeared on a Somerset hillside. Could it really be a doorway to another dimension, an opening into another world? When one of the scientists disappears into the hole — with fatal consequences — Ishmael must prove whether it was an accident — or murder. But with no clues, no witnesses and no apparent motive, he has little to go on. Is there an alien predator at large, or is an all-too-human killer responsible? Only one thing is certain: if Ishmael does not uncover the truth in time, more deaths will follow…

I’m not sure at what point I began to see the funny side of this adventure, but when I did, there was a fair amount that set me quietly chuckling. Green’s dark humour is more apparent and gory in his Deathstalker series, but I found this version more enjoyable.

If you are looking for foot-to-the-floor action adventure, then you’ll be disappointed. Apart from the body count, which rises alongside the tension as Ishmael tries to work out exactly who or what is annihilating the wretched team of scientists stuck on the hill on a dark, dark night, there isn’t a lot that actually happens. Think of a locked room mystery in the middle of the English countryside. However, there are plenty of possible suspects – including what may or may not be emerging from that creepy hole – and lots of enjoyable character clashes and conflicts, which Green writes very well. The bonus for those who have followed the series, is that during this investigation we get to know a bit more about Jones’ shadowy past and hints that it might be catching up with him.

One of the joys of this series is his relationship with Penny, his girlfriend and dauntless sidekick – it’s rare to find a truly happy couple in these sorts of adventures and I hope it stays that way. Their snarky exchanges and domestic bickering about Penny’s driving and lack of cooking skills somehow helps to highlight just how weird it’s all got – and won’t it be nice to get back to normality…

Highly recommended if you like a bit of humour thrown in with the paranormal shenanigans – and the bonus is that this is the sort of series that you can jump in anywhere without losing too much of the context. While I obtained an arc of Murder in the Dark from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Consuming Fire – Book 2 of The Interdependency series by John Scalzi #Brainfluffbookreview #TheConsumingFirebookreview

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I am linking this post up for Sci-Fi Month, hence the fabulous banner designed by Imyril. I was thrilled that I’d been immediately approved to receive a review copy of this one, given I’d really enjoyed the first book, The Collapsing Empire, and getting hold of sequels on Netgalley has proved to be increasingly difficult. When it arrived, I realised I only had the first six chapters… I’m not quite sure what to do with those, given I cannot possibly post an honest review of a book based on the opening chapters. So I decided to get hold of the rest of the book so I could at least read the rest of the story…

The Interdependency, humanity’s interstellar empire, is on the verge of collapse. The Flow, the extra-dimensional conduit that makes travel between the stars possible, is disappearing, leaving entire star systems stranded. When it goes, human civilization may go with it—unless desperate measures can be taken. Emperox Grayland II, the leader of the Interdependency, is ready to take those measures to help ensure the survival of billions. But nothing is ever that easy. Arrayed before her are those who believe the collapse of the Flow is a myth—or at the very least, an opportunity that can allow them to ascend to power.

This is an interesting series for a variety of reasons. Dystopian sci fi where corporate greed is rampant and unchecked is a familiar trope in epic science fiction – but the Interdependency was stitched together to try and smooth out the destructive cycles of boom and bust that afflict a capitalist system. Now the Flow, a sort of super-highway of extra-dimensionality that allows far-flung star systems to trade with each other, is beginning to fail, the scrabble for power is intensifying. The corporate wheeler-dealers are magnificently cynical and greedy and everyone has plenty of snark, with the exception of Grayland II, who seems genuinely sweet.

Like many epic science fiction stories, Scalzi has passages of semi-omniscience where he tells the reader what is going on, rather than depicting the whole situation from the viewpoint of one of his cast of characters. This keeps the pace going and allows the reader to know some of the finer points that Scalzi thinks is important – and he makes this info-dumps enjoyable by the dry tongue-in-cheek tone he adopts. His characters are vivid, with some almost parodies in their desperation for more power, more leverage, more anything-they-can-get. I am intrigued by others, like Kiva, who I haven’t yet worked out is on the side of the angels, or simply out for what she can get. But be warned, she swears up a storm so if extensive use of the f-word offends you, then this is one to avoid.

Epic sci fi isn’t my favourite sub-genre – too much telling me what I should think… too much earnestness from the protagonists… too many powerful, entitled male characters… And I’m loving the fact that Scalzi has upended every single one of those peeves. His politically dynamic and feisty female characters are a pleasant change. His snarky tone and trick of understating the terrible consequences if the Interdependency fractures at the same time the Flow fails gives this book an almost urban fantasy feel. Will I be getting the next book? Oh yes.
9/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Unwritten by Tara Gilboy #Brainfluffbookreview #Unwrittenbookreview

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I liked the sound of this children’s adventure and, conscious that I hadn’t read many children’s books this year, I was delighted when I was approved to read and review it.

Twelve-year-old Gracie Freeman is living a normal life, but she is haunted by the fact that she is actually a character from a story, an unpublished fairy tale she’s never read. When she was a baby, her parents learned that she was supposed to die in the story, and with the help of a magic book, took her out of the story, and into the outside world, where she could be safe. But Gracie longs to know what the story says about her.

Once again, I’ve abbreviated the rather chatty blurb, but you’ll get the gist that this is about a girl who feels she doesn’t belong. Don’t take the tone of this book from the Disney-looking cover – this book is a lot grittier than the cover design suggests. Gracie’s flashbacks of being in a fire become increasingly upsetting, so when random chance gives her an opportunity to track down the author of the unpublished book containing her story, she takes it.

I like this treatment of the classic portal fantasy trope – it works well. The bewilderment of the well-known author at Gracie’s odd questions and keenness to distance herself from the intense, peculiar girl works really well. Gracie isn’t all that likeable at time – she’s prickly, secretive and prone to lying which is something of a risk, given that children generally prefer a nicer protagonist. However, this is one of the main themes of the book – who is the villain in this story?

There is a lot going on in this thoughtful, well-crafted story. The archetypal wicked queen isn’t as much of a pantomime villain as Gracie first thought. And what about her parents’ behaviour? Her mother’s stubborn refusal to discuss any of the weirdness poor Gracie keeps encountering is at worst selfishly stupid and at best short-sighted; while Gracie’s father opts to stay out of her life. Again, not exactly stepping up to the plate, is he? The adventure deals with some hefty issues with Gracie making an unpleasant discovery about her own role as the royal princess in the story.

As a children’s adventure tale, it has been brought to a satisfactory, reasonably upbeat conclusion. I have found myself thinking a lot about this thought-provoking and intelligently written story that I think would be an ideal book to be read and examined as a class project.

While I obtained an arc of Unwritten from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10