Tag Archives: outstanding book

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Deeplight by Frances Hardinge #Brainfluffbookreview #Deeplightbookreview

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Those of you know who know me won’t be shocked when I admit it was this lovely cover that prompted me to request this one – and that I’d heard a lot of good things about this author…

BLURB: For centuries the gods of the Undersea ruled the islands of the Myriad through awe and terror: they were very real, and very dangerous. Sacrifices were hurled into the waters to appease them, and every boat was painted with pleading eyes to entreat their mercy. They were served, feared and adored. Then, thirty years ago, the gods rose up in madness and tore each other apart. Now, none remain. The islands have recovered and the people have patched their battered ships and moved on. On one of these islands live Hark and his best friend Jelt. To them, the gods are nothing but a collection of valuable scraps to be scavenged from the ocean and sold. But now something is pulsing beneath the waves, calling to someone brave enough to retrieve it.

At long last – a really good blurb that gives a sense of the world and the stakes without deciding to spill all the major plotpoints in the first half of the book. And it would have been a crying shame if they had Spoiled this one, because it’s a real gem. I very quickly fell in love with dear little Hark, a streetkid who has been forced to live on his wits from a very early age. The main reason why he is still alive is because his bigger, smarter best friend Jelt has always looked out for him. Of course, nothing is for free and in return, Jelt expects him to fall in with his schemes to earn more. More money, more of a reputation… the kind of life that Jelt believes he should have – and Hark needs to be there alongside, whether he really wants to or not.

The story of these two boys unspools against the backdrop of a busy port, an increasingly profitable trading post now the savage sea gods who used to roam the Undersea are now all gone. Though there are still traces of them littering the seabed, or caught up in the barriers to keep out some of the more normal sea monsters, so there is a brisk trade in their remains littering the bed. As society is still adjusting to the apocalyptic changes caused by the death of the gods, more merchants arrive from other parts while there are factions still mourning the loss of the gods…

The depth of the worldbuilding is impressive and engrossing, given it is achieved without any holdup in the narrative, which gripped me throughout. I also loved the unpredictability, as just as I’d figured in which direction the story was going – it suddenly changed direction, dragging poor old Hark in its wake. The cast of supporting characters were all beautifully drawn, adding to the enjoyment and drama. I may have been initially attracted to this one because of the lovely cover, but it was the amazing writing that held me. I’ll definitely be tracking down more books by this talented author. Highly recommended for fantasy fans of wonderful worldbuilding and great storytelling.

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

Review of LIBRARY book The Fall of Dragons – Book 5 of The Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron #Brainfluffbookreview #TheFallofDragonsbookreview

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I’d read the previous books in this series and enjoyed them – see my review of The Dread Wyrm, The Red Knight and The Fell Sword – then somehow this one slipped through the cracks, so when I saw it on the library shelves, I scooped it up, despite blanching at the prospect of reading 600+ pages of reasonably small print…

BLURB: In the climax of the Traitor Son Cycle, the allied armies of the Wild and the Kingdoms of men and women must face Ash for control of the gates to the hermetical universe, and for control of their own destinies. But exhaustion, treachery and time may all prove deadlier enemies. In Alba, Queen Desiderata struggles to rebuild her kingdom wrecked by a year of civil war, even as the Autumn battles are fought in the west. In the Terra Antica, The Red Knight attempts to force his unwilling allies to finish the Necromancer instead of each other. But as the last battle nears, The Red Knight makes a horrifying discovery… all of this fighting may have happened before.

One of the reasons why I’d hesitated in getting hold of this one, was my concern that I would have forgotten too many details about the series that would make getting back into this world something of a struggle. In the event, that didn’t prove to be a problem. Cameron’s smooth writing and delivery ensured that I was quickly brought up to speed where necessary, and at no time did I flounder in trying to work out what was going on. This is a feat on his part, because just like in George RR Martin’s a Song of Ice and Fire series, the action takes place in a variety of locations and the viewpoint shifts between a wide cast of characters. I often find this structure to be annoying, as my preferred scenarios tend to play out in tightly confined backdrops featuring a small number of well-developed and highly nuanced characters to get the depth of story that I really appreciate.

Given that most of the book is concerned with an ongoing war, wherein an increasing number of skirmishes lead up to a large set-piece battle, this clearly wasn’t going to happen. Yet I was pulled into the book almost from the first page and found the pages turned themselves as I was swept along by the action, identifying with each character’s motives.

One of the reasons why this worked so well was Cameron’s mastery of the pacing. Just as I was beginning to wonder what would be filling the rest of the book, there was a sudden twist in the story that gave the whole world a completely different dimension. I’m not going to say more on the grounds that it would be a real spoiler, but it certainly worked well and added an extra layer of poignancy to the current struggle. One of my difficulties with epic fantasy is that it frequently lacks that layer of emotional connection that I particularly enjoy – hardly a surprise when the action is often the driving force in the narrative with each character playing a relatively small piece in the overarching battle plan. Cameron manages to make his characters matter to the extent that one of the reasons why those pages kept turning was that I really cared about a number of his cast and was keen to see what would happen to them. Inevitably, in this war scenario a number of them don’t make it – something else that I generally heartily dislike. And yet this time around I took a deep breath and just kept on reading.

Of course, the catch in this form of writing is that the final battle has to deliver with plenty of heart-stopping action and a huge climax that also packs an emotional punch sufficient to satisfy the reader who has slogged through the previous 600+ pages to get here. Again, Cameron triumphantly succeeds. I finished this book with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes, feeling hollowed out by the resultant drama. This book is a marvellous end to a really high-quality series. Recommended for fans of epic and high fantasy.
10/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Empty Grave – Book 5 of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud #Brainfluffbookreview #TheEmptyGravebookreview

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It took me a while to summon up the courage to listen to this slice of Lockwood & Co’s adventures, because it’s the last book in the series – and I so very much didn’t want the awesomeness to end…

BLURB: Five months after the events in THE CREEPING SHADOW, we join Lockwood, Lucy, George, Holly, and their associate Quill Kipps on a perilous night mission: they have broken into the booby-trapped Fittes Mausoleum, where the body of the legendary psychic heroine Marissa Fittes lies. Or does it? This is just one of the many questions to be answered in Book 5 of the Lockwood & Co. series. Will Lockwood ever reveal more about his family’s past to Lucy? Will their trip to the Other Side leave Lucy and Lockwood forever changed? Will Penelope Fittes succeed in shutting down their agency forever? The young agents must survive attacks from foes both spectral and human before they can take on their greatest enemy in a climactic and chaotic battle.

As is apparent from the blurb, this isn’t a series you can easily crash into. As each of the stories, while standalone for each of the mysteries they pose, adds another piece of the puzzle that Lockwood and his young associates are struggling to solve – what caused the Problem in the first place, some fifty years ago. Why did ghosts suddenly take to infesting the world of the living, causing fear, havoc and so many countless deaths?

By now, I am thoroughly at home with Lucy, the main protagonist whose dry humour leavens the creepier moments, and her companions – the dashing young Anthony Lockwood, clever, spiky George, precise and poised Holly and acerbic Kipps – not to mention Flo Bones and the Skull, who Lucy carries about in a rucksack in a jar. While this apparently a children’s book, there are plenty of moments that are genuinely creepy – sufficiently so that when my grandson was listening, he decided that he’d rather hear them during the day rather than when he was trying to get to sleep. In my opinion, this series is definitely more suited to the eleven to fifteen age-group, though this rather picky granny absolutely loved it.

There is a layering in the characterisation, a real sense of poignancy when dealing with Lockwood’s loss of his family and a depth of scene setting and worldbuilding that is a solid delight throughout. While I loved the Bartimaeus series, I’ve enjoyed Lockwood & Co even more, given those footnotes got a bit annoying halfway through.

As it is the final book in the series, there isn’t much to say that won’t immediately lurch into Spoiler territory – but don’t start at The Empty Grave, please do begin with the first book, The Screaming Staircase. Right now, I wish I had a timeturner so I could give it a twist and begin allll over again. I’m feeling drained and a tad emotional… the way you do when a world has sunk its hooks right into your heart and you know that even if you reread the story, you can’t ever experience it in quite the same way again. Highly recommended for everyone and an outstanding ending to an outstanding series.
10/10

Sunday Post – 6th October, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

It’s been a busy week, as on Tuesday, Netted, my post-apocalyptic thriller set in Maine and published by Kristell Ink, an imprint of Grimbold Publishing, was let loose on the world. I’m delighted that it already has two 5-star reviews. It was a lovely, sunny day which I spent in Brighton with my daughter and baby granddaughter, Eliza, who is now babbling away and starting to walk around the furniture.

I attended Pilates again on Wednesday and suffered for it on Friday, when I was packing as Himself and I had a belated weekend away to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We stayed at a lovely pub, The Horse and Groom on the outskirts of Chichester – I know… we didn’t go very far afield. But we love the countryside around here anyway (which is why we live here) and we didn’t see the point in driving for miles in Friday afternoon traffic for a relaxing break. We spent Saturday wandering around Chichester, including walking around the ancient walls and through the Bishop’s Gardens, which we’d done together as students way back in 1992 when we first met as part of our History course. And in the evening, we went to see a production of Macbeth at the Chichester Festival Theatre, which we enjoyed, despite some rather odd choices regarding the costumes and casting.

The other piece of marvellous news is that my sister’s offer for the home she wanted has been accepted. We’re thrilled for her and it means she will be even closer to us – a mere five minute drive and fifteen minute walk away😊.

Last week I read:
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
Jason Dessen is walking home through the chilly Chicago streets one night, looking forward to a quiet evening in front of the fireplace with his wife, Daniela, and their son, Charlie—when his reality shatters.

It starts with a man in a mask kidnapping him at gunpoint, for reasons Jason can’t begin to fathom—what would anyone want with an ordinary physics professor?—and grows even more terrifying from there, as Jason’s abductor injects him with some unknown drug and watches while he loses consciousness. When Jason awakes, he’s in a lab, strapped to a gurney—and a man he’s never seen before is cheerily telling him “welcome back!”

Jason soon learns that in this world he’s woken up to, his house is not his house. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And someone is hunting him.
I’d heard so many good things about this one – and was very glad that I got hold of it. I can certainly see why it created so much excitement.

Lent by Jo Walton
Young Girolamo’s life is a series of miracles. It’s a miracle that he can see demons, plain as day, and that he can cast them out with the force of his will. It’s a miracle that he’s friends with Pico della Mirandola, the Count of Concordia. It’s a miracle that when Girolamo visits the deathbed of Lorenzo “the Magnificent,” the dying Medici is wreathed in celestial light, a surprise to everyone, Lorenzo included. It’s a miracle that when Charles VIII of France invades northern Italy, Girolamo meets him in the field, and convinces him to not only spare Florence but also protect it. It’s a miracle than whenever Girolamo preaches, crowds swoon. It’s a miracle that, despite the Pope’s determination to bring young Girolamo to heel, he’s still on the loose… and, now, running Florence in all but name.

That’s only the beginning. Because Girolamo Savanarola is not who—or what—he thinks he is. He will discover the truth about himself at the most startling possible time.
Browsing through Jo Walton’s reads, I realised that this one had been released and somehow slipped under my radar. I love her writing… I think she is one of the greatest writing talents alive today – a genius. And this book just confirms it. Review to follow.

Doing Time – Book 1 of The Time Police by Jodi Taylor
At some time in the future, the secret of time-travel became available to all. Chaos ensued as people sought to take advantage. Because there will always be nutters who want to change history…
And so the Time Police were formed. Internationally sanctioned thugs whose task it was to keep the timeline straight by any and all means possible. And they succeeded. The Time Wars are over. The Time Police won. But who will win the peace?

Doing Time follows three hapless new Time Police recruits – Jane, Luke and Matthew – as they try to navigate their first year on the beat. It’s all going to be fine. Obviously.
This spin-off series from Taylor’s best-selling series The Chronicles of St Mary’s doesn’t need you to have read any her previous work to appreciate her pacey, humorous writing. I thoroughly enjoyed this one – and it reminded me that there was more St Mary’s goodness out there I haven’t yet tucked into. Review to follow.

Trail of Lightning – Book 1 of The Sixth World series by Rebecca Roanhorse
While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine. Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.
I was thrilled when I realised this offering has finally been made available as a Kindle ebook – and that it was on Netgalley. I was even more thrilled when I was approved to read it. So I saved it for my weekend away… Review to follow.

My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Akin by Emma Donnoghue

Friday Faceoff featuring Grimm’s Fairy Tales

Kickass Divas in Sci Fi Book Funnel promotion

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Doing Time – Book 1 of The Time Police series by Jodi Taylor

Teaser Tuesday featuring Netted by S.J. Higbee

Review of The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury

Sunday Post, 29th September 2019

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

Peter Jackson’s THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD https://thenaptimeauthor.wordpress.com/2019/09/27/peter-jacksons-they-shall-not-grow-old-2/ Anne features this amazing film by famous film director Peter Jackson. Apparently Himself knows of it, but hasn’t yet seen it (Christmas pressie, perhaps???)

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Book Titles With Numbers
https://spaceandsorcery.wordpress.com/2019/10/01/top-ten-tuesday-book-titles-with-numbers/ The weekly TTT meme is always worth watching out for – but I was frankly amazed at just how many books have numbers in the title! How many have you read?

Head Over Heels https://yadadarcyyada.com/2019/09/18/head-over-heels/ Yes… I know this was posted a couple of weeks ago, but I somehow missed it and as I just love the sheer zany madcap energy of it, I needed to share it with you.

The Smiling Chipmunks of Riding Mountain https://charlesfrenchonwordsreadingandwriting.wordpress.com/2019/10/03/the-smiling-chipmunks-of-riding-mountain/ Charles French rightly reblogged this beautiful series of pics featuring these cute little chaps…

[MY BOOKISH OBSESSIONS] Quills + Parchments//LOVE LETTERS// https://thewitheringblog.wordpress.com/2019/10/03/my-bookish-obsessions-quills-parchments-love-letters/ I love it when I find a blogger pouring her soul out into an article, because she is that moved/excited/enthralled by something – and this is a lovely example.

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week…

Friday Faceoff – Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffautumncovers

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is AUTUMN. I’ve selected The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, which I absolutely loved.

 

This edition was produced by Random House in June 2010 and is an extraordinary design. The Japanese landscape is depicted in bold bright colours and for once, I cannot quarrel with the treatment of the font, which has been given a 3-D effect – I suspect so that it resembles those boxed Japanese landscapes you often see depicted in ivory. I love this – it’s quirky and different, yet beautiful, just like the book. This one is my favourite.

 

Published in March 2011 by Sceptre, this edition is another lovely effort, though completely different from the previous cover. The Japanese woman, half turned towards the reader, offering an apple, is both eye-catching and appealing. I love the way the apple contrasts with the muted blue of the kimono and background. The fact they are the same shade shouldn’t really work – but I think they do. And the font lettering is also beautiful. I may be influenced, because this is the cover of the book I owned, signed by David Mitchell. While I don’t love it quite as much as the previous offering, I still find it very appealing.

 

This Serbian edition, published by Laguna in 2013, goes back to the Japanese landscape for inspiration. Another lovely rendition – I do like the shadow effect of the leaves around the sky. And this one is clearly depicting the Japanese trade delegation on the island of Dejima watching the foreigners approach in their boats, so I appreciate the fact it relates directly to the story. Another attractive, well crafted cover.

 

It wasn’t until I saw this Croatian edition, published by Vuković&Runjić in 2014, that I realised how relatively rarely pouring rain features in a landscape. And here it’s coming down in stair rods – that chilly, miserable soaking stuff that drills right through to your bones so that you feel you’ll never be dry or warm again… Again, I also love the treatment of the font – this was so very nearly my favourite.

 

This Thorndike Press edition, published in January 2011, is another gorgeous affair. This is again, a typically Oriental setting with the beautiful fire-red acer trees blazing out amongst the sculpted order of the Japanese garden, with the classic bridge over a stream. The colours are lovely and so is the setting. This one was yet another close contender. This week, there isn’t a dud amongst my selection, so I’m fascinated to see which you will choose as your favourite… unless you dislike all of them, of course!

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Green Man’s Foe – Book 2 of the Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna #Brainfluffbookreview #TheGreenMansFoebookreview

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I absolutely fell in love with the previous book, which was one of my outstanding books last year – see my review of The Green Man’s Heir. This largely follows the genre conventions of urban fantasy where a protagonist with unique gifts helps to fight crime. The difference being that this isn’t in some city centre, it’s in the heart of the English countryside and the paranormal beings are dryads, naiads and nixes – not to mention the Green Man.

When you do a good job for someone, there’s a strong chance they’ll offer you more work or recommend you elsewhere. So Daniel Mackmain isn’t particularly surprised when his boss’s architect brother asks for his help on a historic house renovation in the Cotswolds.

Except Dan’s a dryad’s son, and he soon realises there’s a whole lot more going on. Ancient malice is stirring and it has made an alliance in the modern world. The Green Man expects Dan to put an end to this threat. Seeing the danger, Dan’s forced to agree. The problem is he’s alone in a place he doesn’t know, a hundred miles or more away from any allies of his own.

I dived back into this world with huge delight and immediately got swept back up into Dan’s problems. You don’t have to read The Green Man’s Heir to appreciate this one as each story is a standalone – but you are denying yourself a wonderful reading experience if you don’t. McKenna has managed to produce something unique – an urban fantasy adventure set in the heart of rural England. This gives the story a flavour all of its own as the countryside around the neglected stately home that Dan is working on is vividly described, along with the characters he encounters.

I liked the real sense of threat evoked by the creepy Aiden, a really well-rounded antagonist who I loved to hate throughout as he manipulates the lost teenagers who have drifted into his orbit because they come from socially deprived backgrounds with no prospects. The poignancy of their trapped existence is vividly depicted without any kind moralising or ‘telling’ by McKenna.

The aspect I also love about this series is the real sense of otherness about the supernatural beings – they are all disconcertingly odd and rather scary and despite the fact he is half-dryad, Dan doesn’t get any inside knowledge about their motivations. I read far later than I should have done as I couldn’t put this one down – but the snag is that I am now suffering from withdrawal symptoms as I am out the other side of this fabulous world and feeling rather bereft as a result. This is one of my outstanding reads of the year.
Highly recommended for anyone who has a pulse…
10/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Dark Lord of Derkholm – Book 1 of the Derkholm series by Diana Wynne Jones #Brainfluffbookreview #TheDarkLordofDerkholmaudiobookreview

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I had bought this one for my dyslexic grandson back in the day when he relied on his Audible reads to keep in touch with the world of books – but I didn’t have a kindle back then that could cope with audiobooks. I have now…

Everyone – wizards, soldiers, farmers, elves, dragons, kings and queens alike – is fed up with Mr Chesney’s Pilgrim Parties: groups of tourists from the world next door who descend en masse every year to take the Grand Tour. What they expect are all the trappings of a grand fantasy adventure, including the Evil Enchantress, Wizard Guides, the Dark Lord, Winged Minions, and all. And every year different people are chosen to play these parts. But now they’ve had enough: Mr Chesney may be backed by a very powerful demon, but the Oracles have spoken. Now it’s up to the Wizard Derk and his son Blade, this year’s Dark Lord and Wizard Guide, not to mention Blade’s griffin brothers and sisters, to save the world from Mr Chesney’s depredations.

I know this one is advertised as a children’s read – but it certainly didn’t feel that way to me. Mr Chesney’s Pilgrim Parties are portalled in from another, non-magical world (which sounds very much like our own…) where the pilgrims are promised – and expect – the full fantasy experience. Each group has a wizard guide as they are ushered around to take part in various skirmishes with pirates, avian monsters and a final full-scale battle against the forces of the Dark Lord, who they help overthrow. However, all these tours are taking their toll on the fabric and people exposed to this series of tourist incursions. While this is characterised as hilarious, and I found it both clever and witty – I wasn’t all that amused. I kept thinking of how the locals must feel on the Greek islands when they are overrun by hordes of British youngsters looking for loud music and drunken revelry… And they don’t have a Derk to deliver them from the constant, ongoing invasion. That’s only one example – I’m also aware of places like Indonesia where alongside five-star hotels are staff working long, thankless hours for a pittance as most of the income is hoovered up by the large multinational companies exploiting the natural beauty of the location.

Derk struggles to deal with numerous nit-picking organisational problems and as I continued painting the bathroom, I listened to the unfolding muddle, excellently narrated by Jonathan Broadbent. It was yet another joy – I am so enjoying my audiobook experience! This one is very highly recommended for anyone who enjoys intelligent fantasy adventures – but I shan’t be introducing it to my younger nine-year-old grandson, yet. Clever and precocious though he is, he simply won’t be able to fully appreciate the issues Wynne Jones is addressing in this clever, thoughtful book for another of handful of years.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – Adults are just outdated children… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is CHILDREN. I’ve selected Frozen in Time by Ali Sparkes, which is one of my favourite children’s books ever…

 

This edition was produced by Oxford University Press in January 2009 and is my favourite. I love the halo of supernatural light as the four children emerge from the underground bunker. If you look closely at the three children you can see clearly, you’ll see that two of them are dressed quite differently from the middle boy. I really like the fact that the artist has taken the trouble to depict the difference in their clothing, given it features so much in this timeslip adventure. I think it is plain from the cover that this is a science fiction adventure – another pluspoint for this polished, classy offering. It doesn’t hurt that this is the cover that I recall features on the audiobook, either.

 

Published in June 2013 by Oxford University Press, this retread isn’t quite so successful. While I like the artwork – I think it’s a real shame that over a third of the cover is given over to that intrusive, ugly text box. That marvellous font could easily have stood out against the forest canopy and looked more contemporary and interesting as a result.

 

This US edition, published by EgmontUSA in May 2010, so very nearly became my favourite. I love the fact that this one depicts the dramatic scene where the modern pair encounter their great aunt and uncle in suspended animation… But it’s a daft expression on Freddy’s face as he slowly surfaces in the chamber that ruins it for me. Other than that, I love the funky font and the marvellous artwork. This is definitely a contender…

 

This German edition, produced by Fischer KJB in November 2012, seems to have got their genres muddled. While there are some genuinely creepy moments in this fast-moving adventure, it is not a horror story – it is definitely a science fiction timeslip adventure with generous dollops of humour and some interesting things to say about how life has changed for children over the last fifty years. And this cover doesn’t give a hint of that.

 

This French edition, published in December 2016 by Bayard Jeunesse, has the feel of the old Enid Blyton books, which given the age of a couple of the children is more relevant than it might seem. What worries me is that I’m not sure this cover would attract modern independent readers as there is no sense of the smart, funny, thought-provoking writing in the artwork. Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia #Brainfluffbookreview #GodsofJadeandShadowbookreview

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This was a no-brainer for me as I love Moreno-Garcia’s writing – see my review of Certain Dark Things, which also gives the links for my reviews of The Beautiful Ones and Prime Meridian.

The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own. Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room – and opens it…

I have yet again shortened and tweaked the rather chatty blurb as the story arc is far too well crafted to be spoilt by prior knowledge of one of the main plotpoints. Suffice to say that once more, this remarkable writer has pulled me into her colourful world. I really liked and sympathised with Casiopea, who is the Cinderella-type character – however, don’t go away with the impression that she is anything like the Disneyfied saccharine character who coos over mice and trills to birds. Casiopea is much too coolly self-possessed to do such a girly thing. Indeed, it is her unspoken defiance and evident intelligence that nettles her unpleasant cousin, Martin – how dare the poverty-stricken drudge be their grandfather’s favourite? He is only too aware that if she’d been born a boy, she would have inherited the family fortune and even now, she forgets her place to answer back when he taunts her. So when a particular event takes place after she opens the box and she is offered a new life away from the family home, Casiopea is happy to leave without a backward look.

The character who she follows requires really good writing to portray effectively – he isn’t innately sympathetic, being aloof, cold and not particularly concerned with humanity, other than how the species can best serve him. He certainly isn’t someone I would generally care about – but then it is all about context. Moreno-Garcia is clever in setting him and his interests in opposition to someone much, much worse.

But one of the strengths of Moreno-Garcia’s writing – and one of the main themes she explores throughout this delightful adventure, is one of change. Casiopea and her companion affect each other. She is less angry and bitter away from the long list of dead-end chores she was forced to perform and finds a softer, kinder version of herself who isn’t afraid to intervene to stop someone being harmed. She also finds herself experiencing the world in ways she could only have dreamt of, which forces her to examine what she actually wants, as opposed to what she doesn’t want.

As for her companion, this remote, icily hostile character is shocked to find himself increasingly drawn to the girl, her mortal charm and her kindness, even though he is aware that his evident attraction to her is a sign that all is not well. The other character who undergoes a major change throughout the book is obnoxious Martin. I’m a fan of writers who give us a real insight into what makes their baddies behave so nastily – and Moreno-Garcia gives us a ringside seat to Martin’s plight when he is sent out by his grandfather to coax Casiopea to return home.

The Mexican setting, the 1920s era and above all, the increasingly dangerous tasks faced by these two mortals unwittingly caught up in a power struggle between two immortals who hate each other with a passion only reserved for sibling rivalry. I was fascinated as to how it was going to play out – and I have to say that the ending worked really well. I have found myself thinking about this one since I finished it – always the mark of a book that has sunk its claws into me.

Just a quick word, however – this retelling is a sophisticated, nuanced read designed for adults and is not suitable for youngsters, a detail that Moreno-Garcia is keen to make clear as it has been advertised as a YA read in certain quarters. Very highly recommended for fans of well written fantasy adventure. The ebook arc copy of Gods of Jade and Shadow was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Hidden World – Book 3 of the Imperials series by Melinda M. Snodgrass #Brainfluffbookreview #TheHiddenWorldbookreview

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I’ve loved this series. It starts off with all the necessary elements expected to make an enjoyable space opera coming-of-age story in the first book, The High Ground – see my review here. But events suddenly takes a left turn and what I thought would be a romance between the two main protagonists – the tailor’s son and the princess – turns out to be anything but…

Fourteen years have passed and former military officer Thracius “Tracy” Belmanor has built a new life for himself. Living under an assumed name as the captain of a small trading vessel crewed primarily by aliens, he and his crew engage in both legal and illegal deals just under the radar of the Solar League authorities. At the other end of the social hierarchy, Princess Mercedes de Arango has her own problems. With rumors of a coup swirling around the throne, Mercedes makes the desperate decision to undertake a military campaign and gain her people’s allegiance through a victory – though things don’t go according to plan…

I have seriously doctored the blurting blurb so those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading the first two books in this delightful series won’t find your experience spoiled. Once more, I’ve enjoyed being able to examine this society by looking at both the highest level and someone bumping along reasonably near the bottom. The crew often are asked to leave eating places where aliens are not welcome to eat alongside humans.

Mercedes’ life isn’t any easier, despite her more high-end lifestyle. She has problems regarding the succession and her fraying relationship with her husband – so when a commander-in-chief is required for a major military sortie to deal with a major threat to humanity, she is the obvious choice. Indeed, she is delighted to get the chance to go…

Tracy is suitably grumpy and hard-edged, given he is somewhat bitter at the hand Life dealt him, which makes him less likeable than Mercedes. But his courage, ability to act effectively under fire and his own unshakeable moral compass have firmly put me on his side. While I always loved Mercedes and still find her really appealing, so I was sad to see her rather ground down by the passing years and a life that had nibbled away her sense of worth. So it was lovely to see her grow into the person she was always meant to be…

This space opera still has the necessary political plotting, space battles and tension required to tick the genre expectations – with the icing on the cake being the really grown-up characterisation that makes these two protagonists such a delight. However, I firmly recommend that you read this series in order – while you undoubtedly could work out what is going on and treat each one as a standalone, the overarching narrative running across the books is the engine that powers this series. Very highly recommended for space opera fans who enjoy nuanced, well depicted characters.
10/10