Tag Archives: S.J. Higbee

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Hummingbird – Book 1 of A Charade of Magic series by Helen Harper #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Hummingbirdbookreview

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I’m a fan of Helen Harper’s writing – see my reviews of Bloodfire and the Lazy Witch series – Slouch Witch, Star Witch and Spirit Witch. So when this one popped up on Netgalley I immediately requested it and was delighted to get hold of an arc.

BLURB: The best way to live in the Mage ruled city of Glasgow is to keep your head down and your mouth closed. That’s not usually a problem for Mairi Wallace. By day she works at a small shop selling tartan and by night she studies to become an apothecary. She knows her place and her limitations. All that changes, however, when her old childhood friend sends her a desperate message seeking her help – and the Mages themselves cross Mairi’s path. Suddenly, remaining unnoticed is no longer an option.

There’s more to Mairi than she realises but, if she wants to fulfil her full potential, she’s going to have to fight to stay alive – and only time will tell if she can beat the Mages at their own game. From twisted wynds and tartan shops to a dangerous daemon and the magic infused City Chambers, the future of a nation might lie with one solitary woman.

REVIEW: This fantasy magic-based class struggle adventure is set in a version of Glasgow in an approximation of the early Victorian period. Harper’s feisty heroine, Mairi, has had a tough time of it. Raised in an orphanage and determined to better herself, she is currently working as a shopgirl/general servant to an unpleasant couple who run a shop selling tartan cloth. The other thing to know about her is that she cannot speak.

Having a mute heroine could have really got in the way. But Harper’s clever writing and skill in getting us to care about her main character meant that it didn’t in any way slow down the action. The scene setting is excellent. Tension crackled off the pages as Mairi tries to keep a low profile in a city where anyone different is immediately at risk.

There is a zombie element – the Afflicted who roam the streets at night looking for anyone to snack on. Obviously there is also a curfew in place for the protection of everyday folk, who are understandably terrified of the Afflicted. Especially as no one really knows how they are made. Do they become infected by being scratched or bitten by an Afflicted? Is it an illness? Or is it magic? The Mages claim to protect the general population, but then they claim to work for the service of the city. And as far as everyone else is concerned, they live a life of luxury shrouded in secrecy and if anyone tries to get too close – the consequences are dire.

This one grabbed me from the beginning and didn’t let go until the end. And now, I’m desperate to know what is going to happen next. Very highly recommended for fans of gripping historical fantasy stories featuring a gutsy heroine. While I obtained an arc of Hummingbird from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Eyes of the Void – Book 2 of The Final Architecture series by Adrian Tchaikovsky #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #EyesoftheVoidbookreview

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I read and really enjoyed Shards of Earth – the first book in this epic space opera adventure, in which Tchaikovsky explores the dynamic of family and the nature of being alien. So I was delighted when I saw this second book pop up on Netgalley.

BLURB: After eighty years of fragile peace, the Architects are back, wreaking havoc as they consume entire planets. In the past, Originator artefacts – vestiges of a long-vanished civilization – could save a world from annihilation. This time, the Architects have discovered a way to circumvent these protective relics. Suddenly, no planet is safe.

Facing impending extinction, the Human Colonies are in turmoil. While some believe a unified front is the only way to stop the Architects, others insist humanity should fight alone. And there are those who would seek to benefit from the fractured politics of war – even as the Architects loom ever closer.

Idris, who has spent decades running from the horrors of his past, finds himself thrust back onto the battlefront. As an Intermediary, he could be one of the few to turn the tide of war. With a handful of allies, he searches for a weapon that could push back the Architects and save the galaxy. But to do so, he must return to the nightmarish unspace, where his mind was broken and remade. What Idris discovers there will change everything.

REVIEW: If you have come across Eyes of the Void without having first had the pleasure of reading Shards of Earth, my firm advice is to put this one back on the shelf and head for the first book. This is a fast-paced, epic adventure where events are unspooling in various locations and features other main characters alongside hapless Idris. Even with the helpful Story So Far and list of Key Characters at the beginning, along with the excellent Timeline of Events at the end – I still think you’d flounder a tad. Apart from anything else, it would be a real shame to miss out on a chunk of this intriguing, layered examination of what it means to be alien.

As a young man, Idris volunteered to become an Intermediary in the face of the planet-wrecking Architects – and was key to stopping them during the terrible battle for survival. Now they are back and this time around, the protection given by mysterious artefacts left behind by Originators no longer work. And when Idris manages to make a connection to the Architect rampaging through the system – he discovers that it isn’t destroying the worlds on some whim, it is being ordered to do so. Which means that unlike the last time, his own pleas go unregarded.

As the situation falls away into a desperate scramble for survival, the precarious peace between the major factions splinters. I loved this particular aspect of the book, which absolutely rings true. I enjoy epic space opera when done well – but it’s difficult to pull off. Inevitably, characters can’t be written with the depth of protagonists featured in smaller settings. So writers have to know and understand all their main characters profoundly well to be able to convey that complexity with a shorter word count – and understandably, that doesn’t always happen. Not so with Tchaikovsky. His writing in this story effortlessly expands in breadth and heft to encompass the big questions hovering behind the adrenaline-fuelled action – exactly what defines difference? Is it the engineered human whose brain now functions so differently? Or is it the vat-grown women warriors designed to protect Earth, whose culture now seems so threatening? Surely, it must be the Architects with their terrifying ability to rework planets… asteroids… space station… into twisted, lifeless caricatures of what they once were? And the mysterious Originators, who appear to have designed the passages through unspace, allowing FTL travel – they are the ultimate aliens, aren’t they? He also examines the nature of family and identity. As worlds fall and humanity faces extinction, how do we ultimately define ourselves when facing our own ending?

While these questions are raised, an epic story of tragedy and ruin, rescue and compassion pulled me in and held me throughout. Though, due to my own fragile health and shaky wellbeing, I needed to take several breaks from the intensity and immensity of the story which is in no way a reflection on the writing. Highly recommended for fans of well-written epic space operas. While I obtained an arc of Eyes of the Void from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #15

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This is my update on how I’m coping with Long Covid now it’s been fourteen months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

It’s been a bit of a torrid time for our family. Poor little Eliza when down with chicken pox so badly she ended up in A & E twice last week with complications. It doesn’t help that she also suffers with severe asthma and is only three years old. Huge kudos to the doctor at the A & E dept at Worthing Hospital who went the extra mile, ringing around the local pharmacies and tracking down the necessary medication to alleviate her pain and discomfort. After nursing Eliza through such a traumatic time my daughter, unsurprisingly, then went down with a kidney infection that needed yet another trip to hospital. Fortunately she didn’t need to stay, but ended up on a course of very strong antibiotics. The upshot was that we ended up looking after our middle grandchild, Oscar, for much longer than originally planned. He went home, then returned to us, Twice. So we called him our Boomerang Boy. In the middle of all this, he started a new school much closer to home, so we also ended up buying the new school uniform, which brought back all sorts of memories. And I saw him off on his first two days, setting the alarm to drag myself out of bed, then crawling back after the taxi came to take him to school.

It was lovely having him to stay. He is a superstar – unfailingly helpful and good tempered – he introduced me to Wordle and we played together most days he was with us. But it did take a bit of a toll on my energy. I unexpectedly hit a wall after climbing the stairs in M & S on our school-shoe buying expedition. No sweating, or being particularly breathless, I just felt that I was wading through treacle and got steadily slower. Then my legs folded under me and I ended up on the floor, after announcing that I needed to sit down. I felt a bit of a fool, but everyone was extremely kind. When Oscar finally went home on Wednesday, the house was sad and quiet without him.

I’ve been struggling with my sleep again and so I’m turning off the TV and computer at least 45 minutes before bedtime and doing a relaxing meditation. I have already noticed a difference to my Deep Sleep scores, which is important as that’s the healing sleep. If only I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night and then struggle to go back to sleep before dawn, I’d be golden😊.

On Friday, Himself met up with his sister and brother and visited his father’s grave, as it was the first year anniversary of my father-in-law’s death. It was a bright sunny day, however I wasn’t able to go as it’s too far away. But in the afternoon, after he returned home, I travelled with him and the children to meet up with my daughter’s former partner and do the handover for the two younger grandchildren. It was the first time since my relapse in August that I’ve managed such a long car journey. So I am making steady progress.

I didn’t read much during Oscar’s stay, so I haven’t managed to get through quite so many books.

This week I’ve read:-

AUDIOBOOK Alexander X – Book 1 of The Battle for Forever series by Edward Savio
Alexander Grant is about to take his 3000th history test. You know how you feel like you’ve been going to school for a thousand years? Well, he actually has. Although he looks like a normal teenager, no one knows he’s actually 1500 years old. Not the girl he likes. Not his best friend. No one.

That is until someone tries to kidnap Alexander and use him as bait to catch his father, the only man capable of stopping a plan that would change humanity forever. And the start of an journey that will take him far from the sleepy town he’s been hiding out in. Ingenious storytelling. Screenwriter and novelist Edward Savio’s ongoing epic adventure is fresh, funny, and thought-provoking.
This YA teen action adventure, narrated by Wil Wheaton was a welcome contrast to some of the tension-filled science fiction political thrillers I’ve been listening to recently. Lots of action and excitement! Full review to follow. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK Chosen For Power – Book 4 of the Dragon’s Gate series by Lindsay Buroker
Jak and his allies venture through the portal in search of the longevity plant their king demands, but all Jak wants is to find the elder dragons. Some say they’re extinct. Some say they’re in hiding.

If he can’t locate them, there won’t be anyone to teach his hatchling how to fly. Or to protect the dragon eggs preserved within a glacier on another world. Or to help him free his people from the tyrannical rule of the wizards. Jak has no choice. He must find the dragons.
But some ancient secrets were buried for a reason. What he discovers may jeopardize not only Jak and his allies—the survival of the entire species of dragons may be at stake.
I love this adventure about Jak and his scientist mother, who put all these events in motion with their discovery of the portal way back in the first book. As ever, a detailed and interesting world and a plot full of unexpected twists and action, as well as dollops of humour in amongst the ever-present danger. Buroker also writes most satisfyingly nasty villains. The next book hasn’t yet been released as an audiobook – but these stories make such wonderful listening, they are worth the wait. 9/10

Eyes of the Void – Book 2 of The Final Architecture series by Adrian Tchaikovsky
After eighty years of fragile peace, the Architects are back, wreaking havoc as they consume entire planets. In the past, Originator artefacts – vestiges of a long-vanished civilization – could save a world from annihilation. This time, the Architects have discovered a way to circumvent these protective relics. Suddenly, no planet is safe.

Facing impending extinction, the Human Colonies are in turmoil. While some believe a unified front is the only way to stop the Architects, others insist humanity should fight alone. And there are those who would seek to benefit from the fractured politics of war – even as the Architects loom ever closer.

Idris, who has spent decades running from the horrors of his past, finds himself thrust back onto the battlefront. As an Intermediary, he could be one of the few to turn the tide of war. With a handful of allies, he searches for a weapon that could push back the Architects and save the galaxy. But to do so, he must return to the nightmarish unspace, where his mind was broken and remade. What Idris discovers there will change everything.
I loved the first book in this epic space opera series about a lethal, world-killing alien, Shards of Earth. So I was delighted when the arc for this one became available and thrilled to be approved to read it. Tchaikovsky brilliantly charts the ongoing reactions by various groups within humanity and some of the aliens to the dire threat posed by the Architects. I very much appreciated his list of characters and timeline leading up to the events covered by the story, which helped me keep tabs on who was doing what to whom. Full review to follow.

Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons – Book 1 of A Miss Percy Guide series by Quenby Olsen
Miss Mildred Percy inherits a dragon.

Ah, but we’ve already got ahead of ourselves…

Miss Mildred Percy is a spinster. She does not dance, she has long stopped dreaming, and she certainly does not have adventures. That is, until her great uncle has the audacity to leave her an inheritance, one that includes a dragon’s egg.

The egg – as eggs are wont to do – decides to hatch, and Miss Mildred Percy is suddenly thrust out of the role of “spinster and general wallflower” and into the unprecedented position of “spinster and keeper of dragons.” But England has not seen a dragon since… well, ever. And now Mildred must contend with raising a dragon (that should not exist), kindling a romance (with a humble vicar), and embarking on an adventure she never thought could be hers for the taking.
I tucked into this one when the enormity of Tchaikovsky’s alien threat felt a bit overwhelming – which is all about my mindset and in no way a reflection on the writing. I was rooting for Mildred all the way. However, the reader starts this one knowing exactly what the peculiar rock is – there is a picture of him on the cover. So I found the pacing rather slow in places, as the protagonist evidently doesn’t have a clue as to what the peculiar rock is and takes a long time deciding what he is after the hatching. There are times when the author breaks the fourth wall, which I also found a bit jarring. However, overall it’s a charming, enjoyable read with nice shafts of humour throughout. 8/10

This week I have posted:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Prison of Sleep by Tim Pratt

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Prison of Sleep – Book 2 of the Journals of Zaxony Delatree duology by Tim Pratt #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #PrisonofSleepbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this entertaining duology – Doors of Sleepsee my review. So I was delighted when I spotted this offering and it’s been one I’ve been really looking forward to tucking into.

BLURB: Every time Zaxony Delatree falls asleep he wakes up on a new world. His life has turned into an endless series of brief encounters. But at least he and Minna, the one companion who has found a way of travelling with him, are no longer pursued by the psychotic and vengeful Lector.

But now Zax has been joined once again by Ana, a companion he thought left behind long ago. Ana is one of the Sleepers, a group of fellow travellers between worlds. Ana tells Zax that he is unknowingly host to a parasitic alien that exists partly in his blood and partly between dimensions. The chemical that the alien secretes is what allows Zax to travel. Every time he does, however, the parasite grows, damaging the fabric of the Universes. Anas is desperate to recruit Zax to her cause and stop the alien. But there are others who are using the parasite, such as the cult who serve the Prisoner – an entity trapped in the dimension between universes. Can Zax, Minna, Ana and the other Sleepers band together and stop them?

REVIEW: This book is the second in a duology set in a fast-paced multiverse adventure tale, so my firm recommendation is to head for Doors of Sleep, the first book in the series, before getting stuck into Prison of Sleep.

The first book features Zaxony’s adventures as he is catapulted into travelling to another world every time he falls asleep. Early in his journey, he meets and falls for Ana – and inadvertently yanks her along with him as they sleep together. The catch is that she hasn’t been infected with the parasite that allows him to hop from one world to another and she suffers a terrible mental breakdown travelling through the Void without that protection and runs off. Guilt-ridden and grieving, Zaxony has tried to find her. So I really appreciated that in this second book, I got to discover what has become of Ana and get to know her better. I loved this romantic thread that added to the emotional tenor of the story without in any way clogging up the pace or distracting from the main narrative.

This means that this book isn’t just from one viewpoint, which I enjoyed. Especially as I got to see what other characters think of Zaxony. As I’ve already mentioned, this story moves along at a brisk clip. Indeed, major events pile upon one another as we shuffle between the two main characters and I had to stay sharp to keep the narrative timelines straight. As with Doors of Sleep, the concept works really well. There is plenty of tension as Pratt isn’t afraid of killing off characters who have featured heavily in the storyline. So I was genuinely concerned for our plucky band of protagonists, throughout – and near the end of the story, I was more than a bit winded when one of the protagonists ended up being on the wrong side. I could appreciate all too well what powers his decision, even if it is a terrible one…

Pratt is very good at provided interesting, well-developed characters while mayhem continues to rain down upon them – which is technically far harder to achieve than he makes it look. But… I do have a frustration. A huge amount happens in this book and as I reached the end, I felt this series would have been improved if the events had unspooled over three books, instead of two. This particularly applies to the storyline featuring Lector, the primary antagonist in the first book. While the menace he poses is suitably sorted out – it did rather take back seat to the storyline featuring the Prisoner. And I would also have preferred seeing Pilgrim’s journey develop over a longer time, as it is another strand that feels a bit rushed. This is a wonderful bit of worldbuilding – and like other reviewers, I would appreciate reading other books in this series. Recommended for fans of multiverse adventures with strong protagonists and lots of action. While I obtained an arc of Prison of Sleep from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Written in Red – Book 1 of The Others by Anne Bishop #Brainfluffbookreview #WritteninRedbookreview

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Himself bought this series a while ago, and has been gently nagging me to make a start on it, so I decided to do so. After all, if he says it’s a good read, then he’s generally right…

BLURB: As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.

Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.

REVIEW: I really liked the immediate sense of tension, as we’re tipped headlong into this story with very little warning. Indeed, I had to double-check to ensure that I’d opened up the first book in the series, seeing as Himself had stacked up the next three books on my Kindle. Meg is an appealing protagonist – initially terrified and disorientated, I liked how quickly she finds her feet and begins to bond with the creatures around her. She has a strong streak of common sense that constantly surfaces and she isn’t all that easily spooked – a major plus when living in close proximity to the Others.

I also liked the cast of supporting characters, though Simon is regularly a bit of an arse – grumpy, short-fused and entitled, basically. Though the fact that he is trying hard to integrate humans into the Others’ community and find ways to live alongside them, rather than simply regard them as meat is a major plus in his favour. Sam, the youngster, is adorable and I also loved the ponies – so particularly appreciated the twist in the story when they show another aspect of their nature.

All in all, Bishop manages to establish a paranormal version of the small-town community that American authors are so good at evoking, which works really well when it comes under attack. I more or less inhaled this book, finding it difficult to put down. No wonder it has proved to be so successful – and I’m now delighted that I have the other books in the series stacked up on my Kindle, ready to go. Himself is right, again – bless him.
9/10

Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK The River of Silver: Tales from the Daevabad Trilogy S.A. Chakraborty #BrainfluffNETGALLEYAUDIOBOOKreview #TheRiverofSilverbookreview

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I’ve recently acquired the Netgalley app on my phone, enabling me to listen to audiobook arcs and so far it’s been a success. I recall reading this Sand and Sorcery trilogy with great fondness – read my reviews of The City of Brass, The Kingdom of Copper and The Empire of Gold – so when I saw that Chakraborty had released an audiobook of stories based in that world, I jumped at the opportunity to tuck into this offering.

BLURB: A prospective new queen joins a court whose lethal history may overwhelm her own political savvy…

An imprisoned royal from a fallen dynasty and a young woman wrenched from her home cross paths in an enchanted garden…

A pair of scouts stumble upon a secret in a cursed winter wood that will turn over their world…

Now together in one place, these stories of Daevabad enrich a world already teeming with magic and wonder. From Manizheh’s first steps towards rebellion to adventures that take place after The Empire of Gold, this is a must-have collection for those who can’t get enough of Nahri, Ali, and Dara and all that unfolded around them.

REVIEW: This collection of shorter tales showcases Chakraborty’s writing chops. It takes more technical skill to craft a successful short story than a novel, because there is less time to pull the reader into your world. And while in a novel-length work, the three pillars of strong storytelling – setting, plot and characterisation – don’t always have to be perfectly balanced, or even fully realised, that isn’t the case when writing shorter fiction.

It doesn’t hurt to have an accomplished narrator, like Soneela Nankani to bring these stories to life. To the extent that I had to make several starts before I could get through the first very emotional story, which had me in bits. Before each story, Nankani announces whereabouts within the trilogy the events take place and whether it provides a spoiler or not. This useful addition makes the collection an ideal companion read alongside the trilogy, providing extra insights into all the main characters who feature, along with interesting backstories that may have been mentioned within the main trilogy, but now are fully fleshed out.

I think that first wrenching story is my favourite – and it also provides a poignant insight into the suffering of a character whose subsequent anger has a profound effect on Daevabad. More than anything, this collection reminded me all over again just how the enmity within the city affects the main characters and what a claustrophobic, hurtful place it has become. Highly recommended for fans of the Daevabad Trilogy – and it is also worth reading alongside the series, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of immersing yourself in this classy sand and sorcery adventure. While I obtained an audiobook arc of The River of Silver from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Dark Theory – Book 1 of the Dark Law series by Wick Welker #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #DarkTheorybookreview

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BLURB: On the fringe of a broken civilization, a robot awakens with no memories and only one directive: find his creator. But in the village of Korthe, Beetro finds only radioactive pestilence, famine, and Miree—a tormented thief with dreams of retiring after her final score. Meanwhile, the fiefdom is plunged further into chaos when a new warlord seizes control, recasting serfs as refugees and leaving derelict robot peasants in his wake. With a shared interest in survival, Beetro and Miree team up to pull off an impossible castle heist: steal a single flake of dark matter, the world’s most valuable and mysterious ore.

But as they trek through the feudal wasteland in search of answers, they realize the true extent of the chaos surrounding them: the stars are disappearing from the sky and the entire galaxy is unraveling. As he uncovers his origin, Beetro discovers he may be the key to the salvation of the cosmos—or its destruction. Time, space, and loyalty become relative as he learns the real reason he was created.

REVIEW: I’d picked this one up under the impression that the robot mentioned in the blurb was the main protagonist. However, that wasn’t the case. This post-apocalyptic adventure is more of an ensemble narrative, as there are several major characters whose progression is charted throughout this quest story.

I did struggle to get through this one – though I want to make it clear that wasn’t because of a lack in the story or writing. It was due to my misjudgement over how grim the world was. And that was absolutely down to me – in no way am I claiming that I was misled. After all, the word dark features in both the book and series title, which is a fairly heavy hint that it wouldn’t be full of unicorn sprinkles and giggles. It wasn’t. The world is in a dire state after catastrophic wars in the past – and Welker’s atmospheric writing fully explores the wretched state of the environment and the desperate people trying to scratch a living from it. You won’t be surprised to learn that some of the characters have unpleasant edges as they battle to survive – Miree, in particular, jumped out as being utterly and unpleasantly self-absorbed. I was also very shaken at a death fairly early on in the book.

That said, while I found I had to pull away and read other books while working my way through this one – something I rarely do – at no point was I seriously tempted to DNF it. For starters, Welker’s energetic storytelling had hooked me. While I didn’t particularly like a number of the cast, I was intrigued to know what would happen next. And as one plot twist after another unfolded, I went on reading because of the sheer unpredictability of the story. Despite the dire situation, which only went on getting worse – there emerged a strong upbeat vibe that steadily grew as the story progressed. By the end, I’d gone from hoping Miree would be bumped off, to really rooting for her.

All in all, if you enjoy post-apocalyptic adventures – particularly ones that include plenty of discussions about quantum physics, gravity and parallel universes in amongst the mayhem – then this is one for you. While I obtained an arc of Dark Theory from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Review of INDIE Ebook Shadows Over Kaighal – Book 3 of the Pacts Arcane and Otherwise series by Joanna Maciejewska #BrainfluffINDIEbookreview #ShadowsOverKaighalbookreview

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I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in this entertaining Sand and Sorcery adventure – see my reviews of By the Pact and Scars of Stone. So I was delighted to discover that Shadows of Kaighal is now available.

BLURB: To finally have a chance at freeing Veranesh, Kamira had made some risky decisions, surrendering herself to the mercy of the archmages and trusting that her companions, Veelk and Koshmarnyk, would carry out other essential parts of their plan.

In her wildest dreams she hadn’t expected that her actions would leave her with more trouble than less. Now she has a whole city on her shoulders, two demons around—one shrewder than the other, and plenty of enemies to pick from. Even with the demon invasion imminent, Gildya is fussing about Koshmarnyk’s presence in the city, the kingdom of Tivarashan is making its moves to conquer Kaighal, and Kamira would love to toss it all out for a lone journey to find out whether Veelk is still alive. But first, she will need to clean up her mess, one way or another.

REVIEW: Whatever you do – don’t pick up this one until you’ve at least read Scars of Stone and preferably also By the Pact. This is essentially a single story that has been broken into different volumes, so you’ll miss far too much of the vital backstory and character development if you plunge straight into this one. Indeed, before I tucked into this book – I went back and reread Scars of Stone to ensure that the major plotpoints and characters were sufficiently fresh in my head in order to fully enjoy this one.
Maciejewska’s world is delightfully complex.

The archmages spend as much time (maybe even more) infighting among themselves, as well as studying the high art of magic, unsullied by demonology. So they say, anyway. While the demonologists obtain their magic by forming a pact with a demon in order to share their magic, so are generally treated with contempt by the archmages. It very much depends on the power and importance of the demon as to how effective their magic will be – so understandably, demonologists generally aren’t all that chatty about who they’ve traded promises with. Then there are the political divisions within Kaighal among the non-magical community. And – best of all, in my opinion, we also get a ringside seat into the machinations of the various demons who have managed to gain entry and are currently roaming Earth. They also have schemes to increase their power and wealth, not just at the expense of the puny humans – but also to put a dent in each other’s powerbase.

In amongst this cauldron of scheming and counter-scheming, we follow the fortunes of a handful of main characters – Kamira, Veelk and Koshmarnyk feature most heavily, but there are also another three supporting characters that I’ve also come to care about. It would have been all too easy for this slice of the story to have become a snarl of cris-crossing storylines with a welter of characters. The fact that it hasn’t and I’m still pondering some Kamira’s slightly sketchy decisions several books after I finished this, is a testament to the author’s skill in plotting and characterisation. I was glad that Veelk made an appearance before the end of the book, as I really missed the snarky yet affectionate relationship he has with Kamira.

And I’m very much looking forward to reading the next instalment. Because the one thing I can guarantee with this entertaining series – is that there will be more plotting and twisty surprises that will keep me turning the pages late into the night. Highly recommended for fans of well-plotted Sand and Sorcery adventures.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Stringers by Chris Panatier #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Stringersbookreview

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I’d like to claim that I read the blurb and thought the concept cool and witty. But the two things that induced me to pick it up was the fabulous cover and that Angry Robot are the publishers. I’ve read enough of their offerings to know that I’m generally in for an interesting, well-written read.

BLURB: Knowledge can get you killed. Especially if you have no idea what it means.

Ben is NOT a genius, but he can spout facts about animals and wristwatches with the best of experts. He just can’t explain how he knows any of it. He also knows about the Chime. What it is or why it’s important he couldn’t say. But this knowledge is about to get him in a whole heap of trouble.

After he and his best friend Patton are abducted by a trash-talking, flesh-construct alien bounty hunter, Ben finds out just how much he is worth… and how dangerous he can be. Hopefully Patton and a stubborn jar of pickles will be enough to help him through. Because being able to describe the mating habits of Brazilian bark lice isn’t going to save them.

REVIEW: Panatier is clearly a gifted writer with an unusual way of looking at the world. I haven’t read his debut novel, The Phlebotomist, as my book blogging buddies confirmed that it is on the horror side of dark – and right now, I cannot deal with that. But once I’m better, it’s definitely on my ‘To Read’ list. This one, however, is right up my alley. Poor old Ben is on track to be one of the most unusual of this year’s protagonists that I’ll encounter. He’s afflicted with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the mating habits of insects, along with all sorts of other details regarding their lives. I learnt – thanks to one of the many, many footnotes – about the Australian Peacock spider, known as the ‘sparklemuffin’, which has now become a term of endearment in our household. Look it up – it is the most fantastical little creature.

The trouble is, that from the time he could talk, Ben is driven to share these facts, along with his other hyper-obsession about watches, with anyone and everyone who’ll listen. As well as those who won’t. It doesn’t win him friends, or even make him a particularly nice person. Although, he has got a friend – dear Patton, who has to be one of the kindest people I’ve encountered in a book, without coming across as unbearable. Indeed, Patton insists on accompanying Ben when he goes to meet up with someone who professes to suffer from the same problem. Quite rightly, Patton suspects a trap and wants to be there to look out for his buddy.

It doesn’t come as a massive surprise when they’re abducted by an alien, who is going to sell Ben for the contents in his head. There is also a parallel narrative about an alien pipe-fitter called Naecia, who has suffered the same fate. The resulting adventure takes us on a familiar journey with nasty, destructive aliens and a bunch of plucky protagonists trying to save the galaxy. So far, so familiar. What sets this one apart is Panatier’s quirky writing style, riddled with jokey allusions and footnotes, many of which are genuinely funny. Some… not so much. I enjoyed much of the humour and a lot of the nerdy scientific stuff – this one is on the harder side of sci fi genre – and all of the character development, which is outstanding.

I did feel that the pace stuttered a tad about two-thirds of the way through. Some of the humour by then was a bit annoyingly predictable, while I felt the techie details around what was going wrong and how to fix it got a tad too involved. However, Panatier managed to land the ending in a wonderfully poignant way that will stick in my memory for a very long time. So although this wasn’t a flawless read, it’s one that will definitely stay with me. And I’m looking forward to seeing what this clever, original writer does next. While I obtained an arc of Stringers from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Review of The Long Covid Self-Help Guide: Practical ways to manage symptoms by the specialists at the Oxford Post-Covid Clinic #BrainfluffLONGCOVIDbookreview #TheLongCovidSelfHelpGuidebookreview

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BLURB: The first practical, accessible self-help guide to managing symptoms of Long Covid

More than 1 million people suffer from Long Covid in the UK (with 400,000 people suffering symptoms for over a year), and many more globally. Yet there is no clear guidance available to the general public, and lots of misinformation out there. This handbook cuts through the confusing advice. Written by the medical experts working with Long Covid patients at one of the first specialist clinics set up, it is filled with helpful case studies and was written with the involvement of real Long Covid sufferers. The focus is on self-management with a simple, consistent message about improving symptoms.

Each chapter takes a different issue in turn and offers clear, friendly guidance on key areas such as breathlessness, psychological aspects, brain fog, fatigue, returning to exercise and returning to work.


REVIEW: I’m one of those 400,000 Brits who have now been battling with Long Covid since I got sick in March 2021. Before I went down with Covid, I enjoyed good health for my age (I’m in my mid-60s) and was active, enjoying two fitness classes a week, and loving my work as a writer and part-time Creative Writing tutor at the local college. My chief current symptoms are tinnitus, nasal drip, difficulty in sleeping, brain fog – though that is improving, swollen thyroid and lymph glands. And the one that concerns me most… fatigue – I had a terrifying relapse back in August that had me bedridden for a fortnight, where I could barely stagger to the toilet and back. And was too mentally exhausted to even care that I was so diminished. It’s taken months to get to a stage where I now feel confident enough to try to move on from spending hours a day either in bed or on the settee, because even now, I haven’t yet made up the ground I’d lost. So when I saw this book, I immediately ordered it.

It does exactly what it says on the tin. It takes us through each of the major symptoms – I feel blessed that I could completely skip the chapter on breathlessness – explaining what is going on and providing a range of tips and exercises on how to overcome, or live more easily with the symptoms described. I found the chapter on fatigue really helpful, as it confirmed my hunch that I’d become under-active and needed to – very gently – step up my daily activity. I am also finding the chapter on Up-pacing invaluable. It’s the first time I’ve encountered this term and provides me with a way to structure an exercise programme to recondition my unfit, bed-softened body while minimising the risk of another major relapse where I’m too shattered to get out of bed.

Overall, I’ve found the book massively helpful. And in amongst the good advice is the constant reminder that every patient is different, with varied experiences and health conditions, so will need to consider their own issues when working through their problems. It’s important and valuable advice to remember.

However, after reading through the book the first time around – I also had a bit of a meltdown when I read of patients leading busy lives who were trying to cope with the daily demands of work, housework and shopping. My initial reaction was one of fury – I bloody well wish! My life, which had been busy and full of going out with friends, is now confined to home. I find visitors exhausting and holding long conversations draining. And I haven’t been able to write creatively – other than book reviews which don’t really count, as far as I’m concerned – since I became bedridden in August. In short – I’ve lost my former life and now lead an existence more fitting for a frail ninety-year-old. And other than having my thyroid scanned regularly to monitor ongoing changes – for which I’m very grateful – I have no other help. I’m on the waiting list for the local Long Covid Clinic, but in the meantime, the days, weeks and months slide by and I have to keep going on my own. So I felt very angry to think that people far less compromised were able to get such help. That said, I’ve calmed down since then and remembered that each of us have our own difficulties. At least I’m not in chronic pain, or battling with breathlessness as so many Long Covid sufferers are.

Highly recommended for those suffering with Long Covid, or know someone close who is coping with this difficult chronic condition.
10/10