Tag Archives: S.J. Higbee

Review of NETGALLEY arc Making It Write – Book 3 of A Writer For Hire Mystery series by Betty Hechtman #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #MakingItWritebookreview

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I have been tucking into a variety of cosy whodunits recently. So when this one caught my eye, I was delighted to be able to get hold of the arc – especially as the author is unknown to me.

BLURB: As a writer for hire, Veronica Blackstone puts her keyboard to use to help others. That includes writing advertising copy for local businesses or love letters for those with romantic troubles, or helping people publish their memoirs. Maeve Winslow needs the latter.

Maeve is the wife of a famous artist nominated for a prestigious award, and the memoir is to be released ahead of the ceremony. All of Maeve’s notes are given to Veronica but for the final few pages. There’s a huge surprise within those last pages, but Maeve won’t reveal it yet. When Maeve is found dead at the foot of her stairs it looks like an accident, but Veronica isn’t convinced. Was the scene staged? Was Maeve murdered to keep her silent? Could clues to the surprise, and the identity of the murderer, be hidden within the notes? It’s up to Veronica to figure it out and write the real story.

REVIEW: I was interested to learn that this was the third book in the series – a fact I only discovered when searching for a copy of the cover after I’d finished the book. So if you are hesitating about plunging into the middle of a series, then don’t be. At no point did I feel I was missing vital information – in fact all the way through this one, I was under the impression that it was the first book in the series.

Part of the reason why I felt I was reading the first book is the pacing. It’s very leisurely – to the point that I’d begun to wonder if there was going to be a murder at all. That said, I enjoyed Hechtman’s smooth, accomplished writing and quickly bonded with the main protagonist, who narrates the story in first-person viewpoint, which meant that I wasn’t too worried. But I will say that if you prefer your murder mysteries to move along at a fair clip with regular dollops of action along the way, then this one might not tick the boxes for you.

Veronica doesn’t have a front row seat as to what is happening – and I did enjoy the fact that the police were in no mood to pour out all the details to her just because she has published a fictional detective story. So her initial sense of wrongness about Maeve’s death is gradually strengthened by the accretion of minor details. I really liked the premise – and the fact that Maeve hasn’t conveniently written down all the major issues surrounding her wish to write a memoir. In the circumstances, that wouldn’t have made sense, given that she knew the huge secret surrounding her husband’s sudden fame and had no reason to think she wouldn’t be in the middle of the project. And the final twist is a doozy – I had considered it fleetingly right at the beginning of the story, but Hechtman nicely redirects us with a strong line-up of plausible suspects. Overall, this is an enjoyable, well-plotted murder mystery featuring a sympathetic heroine. Recommended for fans of murder mysteries that concentrate more on characters and motivations and less on the gore and action. While I obtained an arc of Making It Write from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 21st September, 2022 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – The Immortality Thief – Book 1 of The Kystrom Chronicles by Taran Hunt – release date – 11th October, 2022

#science fiction #space opera #thriller

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

And he’s not the only one looking for the derelict ship. The Ministers, mysterious undying aliens that have ruled over humanity for centuries, want the data – as does The Republic, humanity’s last free government. And time is running out.

In the bowels of the derelict ship, surrounded by horrors and dead men, Sean slowly uncovers the truth of what happened on the ship, in its final days… and the terrible secret it’s hiding.

It was the title that caught my eye – and then the premise. While I find it difficult to cope with creepy stuff here on Earth – once it’s safely out in space, I find it thoroughly enjoyable. Particularly as the extremely hostile conditions of deep space always make it much harder to simply run awaaay – which is often what I’m urging protagonists who insist on visiting deserted houses with dubious histories… isolated wilderness spots with dodgy characters… or simply getting out of bed to confront the strange noises in the night – who does that??? Anyway, back to this offering – it sounds like there are all sorts of nasties lingering in the shadows and I’m looking forward to tucking into it😊.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna #BrainfluffNETGALLEYAUDIOBOOKreview #TheVerySecretSocietyofIrregularWitchesbookreview

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I have read quite a few fantasy book featuring witches recently in my quest for enjoyable, escapist reads. So I was delighted to see this offering featured and even more chuffed when I was approved for an audio arc.

BLURB: As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon knows she has to hide her magic, keep her head down, and stay away from other witches so their powers don’t mingle and draw attention. And as an orphan who lost her parents at a young age and was raised by strangers, she’s used to being alone and she follows the rules…with one exception: an online account, where she posts videos pretending to be a witch. She thinks no one will take it seriously.

But someone does. An unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches how to control their magic. It breaks all of the rules, but Mika goes anyway, and is immediately tangled up in the lives and secrets of not only her three charges, but also an absent archaeologist, a retired actor, two long-suffering caretakers, and…Jamie. The handsome and prickly librarian of Nowhere House would do anything to protect the children, and as far as he’s concerned, a stranger like Mika is a threat. An irritatingly appealing threat. As Mika begins to find her place at Nowhere House, the thought of belonging somewhere begins to feel like a real possibility. But magic isn’t the only danger in the world, and when a threat comes knocking at their door, Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect a found family she didn’t know she was looking for…

REVIEW: It always helps if the narrator is good – and Samara MacLaren’s voice and reading style has become a solid favourite. So it was a bonus to discover her dulcet tones when I first tucked into this enjoyable offering.

Mika is a delightful protagonist. She’s had a tough time as a child. Due to a spell that went wrong several hundred years ago, all witches are orphaned early in their lives so are brought up by guardians instead of their parents. After the horrendous witch burnings of the 16th century, the community of witches scattered and now they only meet up very occasionally. For magic tends to gather around witches, making it easier for them to be discovered. So it’s deemed safer by formidable leaders like Primrose for witches to stay away from each other, making life lonely for adult witches who wish to continue to practise their magic. It would have been all too easy for Mika to have been portrayed as a classically tragic heroine – so I was very pleased to find her resolutely sunny-natured in all but the toughest situations.

Her three charges are funny without being too cute, unrealistically awful or revoltingly good – which is harder to achieve than Mandanna makes it look. There is also a rather sweet love story that unfolds in the middle of all the magical shenanigans, which I also enjoyed. However – there is a warning. The F-word is liberally sprinkled throughout, which didn’t really fit with the overall feel of the story. I certainly didn’t appreciate its use in front of the children, for instance. Apart from that one niggle, this is an enjoyable, often humorous and ultimately uplifting fantasy adventure with a dollop of romance with one steamy scene I fast-forwarded through. While I obtained an arc of The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 14th September, 2022 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Death Among the Diamonds – Book 1 of the Cressida Fawcett Mystery series by Fliss Chester – release date – 21st September, 2022

#historical cosy murder mystery #feisty heroine

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

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

I’m omitting the final two paragraphs of the blurb, as it suddenly gets far too chatty. I prefer to discover who exactly did what to whom between the covers, rather than in precis form on the back of the book. Although this time around, I’ve been lucky enough to land an audio arc of this one. I’m particularly enjoying historical murder mysteries right now as one of my chosen forms of escapism – and I’m really looking forward to tucking into the first audiobook in this series. Has anyone else got hold of this one?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Book Eaters By Sunyi Dean #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheBookEatersbookreview

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Being a huge fan of books, a story about a mysterious race being able to actually eat them seemed an intriguing premise, so I was delighted to be approved to read this one.

BLURB: Out on the Yorkshire Moors lives a secret line of people for whom books are food, and who retain all of a book’s content after eating it. To them, spy novels are a peppery snack; romance novels are sweet and delicious. Eating a map can help them remember destinations, and children, when they misbehave, are forced to eat dry, musty pages from dictionaries.

Devon is part of The Family, an old and reclusive clan of book eaters. Her brothers grow up feasting on stories of valor and adventure, and Devon—like all other book eater women—is raised on a carefully curated diet of fairytales and cautionary stories. But real life doesn’t always come with happy endings, as Devon learns when her son is born with a rare and darker kind of hunger—not for books, but for human minds.

REVIEW: I enjoyed the prospect of reading a book about beings who snacked on books to become their own walking libraries – though the premise that Dean presents is less cosy than the one I envisaged. Essentially, these are vampiric creatures whose superior strength and speed make them formidable opponents. And while they do absorb the knowledge of the books they read, there isn’t a sense that they put it to particularly good use. Indeed, they are portrayed as a dying breed desperately trying to avoid extinction as the handful of surviving Families farm out their rare daughters in arranged marriages to try to ensure the next generation. As for the girls, they are force-fed a diet of fairy tales featuring princesses waiting for their princes in an attempt to make them compliant about their fate.

However, Devon has never been the compliant sort – and when she produces a son with undesirable traits, she refuses to allow the patriarch to tidy him away according to the custom. She is an engaging protagonist – headstrong, courageous and passionate in her loyalty and love. It was refreshing to come across a book where the love story is all about the maternal bond – even if that takes Devon into some very dark places. I am always fascinated by the dynamic of power – who has it, the lengths they go to in order to keep hold of it, and who also craves it. So it was a huge treat for me that one of the major themes of this book is an exploration of power.

This dystopian fantasy proved to be a gripping read, full of tension and drama. But do be warned – it does tip into horror and there is an upsetting scene where a baby is harmed. While it was difficult to read in places, I liked Dean’s unflinching refusal to ever tip into sentimentality regarding the relationship between Devon and her young son, Cai. Highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The Book Eaters from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 7th September, 2022 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – What Song the Sirens Sang– Book 3 of the Gideon Sable series by Simon R. Green – release date – 4th October, 2022

#heist fantasy adventure #troubled hero #feisty heroine #humour

BLURB: Gideon Sable – legendary master thief, conman and well-dressed rogue – and his partner in crime Annie Anybody don’t want to be shopkeepers, but when the enigmatic Harry decides to retire, he blackmails the pair into taking the store on.

Before the grand reopening can happen, however, a menacing stranger arrives – with a rare and deadly item for them to appraise. A small piece of rock, with an unnerving aura, which ‘Smith’ claims contains the last echoes of the legendary sirens’ song. Before they can find out more, however, Smith vanishes . . . leaving only the stone.

Some valuables are more trouble than they’re worth. But before Gideon and Annie can work out if they’ve been set up, the stone is stolen from its impregnable hiding place. How? And why? Gideon only knows one thing for certain: no one steals from him and gets away with it . . .
I am a fan of this series – see my reviews of The Best Thing You Can Steal and A Matter of Death and Life – so I’m intrigued to see where Green takes Gideon and Annie next. However you can always crash midway into his series and still get plenty of enjoyment and fun out of the adventure. Green’s stories have lashings of tension and drama – but also tongue-in-cheek humour. And right now, I’m all about humorous escapism!

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID – 23

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

This is something of a momentous post. I’ve taken the decision that this will be the final Sunday Post where I’ll be focusing on the Long Covid that I’ve been dealing with since I got sick with Covid-19, back on 6th March 2021. That’s not to say I’m fully recovered. Yesterday, I needed to take it really easy as I suddenly ran out of energy the previous evening. But while I must always take into consideration how I’m feeling – the constant exhaustion that once blanketed me and turned me into a bedridden invalid is no longer defining my life and every single action I take. I will be writing another post, where I’ll sum up my experience with Long Covid and include the things that helped and those that didn’t. But unless I have a catastrophic relapse (fingers crossed that doesn’t happen!!) my regular account of my struggles with the ‘weird beast’, as my doctor calls it, are now ending. I want to thank everyone here. Many of you have been so supportive with encouraging words, while some have even been praying for me. Not being able to leave the house for months meant that all my interactions were online – and your kind comments and the knowledge that you were there and cared at a time when I didn’t know if I’d ever get better often gave me a burst of positivity and courage when I most needed it. Thank you, all of you, for being here and letting me know that you were thinking of me. Book people are the best😊.

We are now busy getting ready for school, as Oscar goes back tomorrow. He’s not looking forward to it, but I’m hoping that once he gets back into the swing of the daily routine, he will find it’s not quite as bad as he thinks. Ethan finished his summer job yesterday and resumes college next week. We are thrilled that he got a Distinction for his final first year project, which is such an achievement given his severe dyslexia.

I’m not quite sure where the summer went – I’m sure that when I was a girl, six weeks lasted a lot longer. Given the shoddy quality of politicians these days, I wouldn’t be surprised if the scallywags in the Government have gone and devalued the length of days behind our backs. It seems the sort of shifty nonsense they’d get up to. While the weather is now pleasantly cooler, we are still seeing plenty of sunshine, with temperatures in the high 60s and low 70s during the day. I just wish we were getting more rain – which is something I never thought I’d say…

Last week I read:-

AUDIOBOOK – Her Majesty’s Royal Coven – Book 1 of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven series by Juno Dawson, narrated by Nicola Coughlan
If you look hard enough at old photographs, we’re there in the background: healers in the trenches; Suffragettes; Bletchley Park oracles; land girls and resistance fighters. Why is it we help in times of crisis? We have a gift. We are stronger than Mundanes, plain and simple.

At the dawn of their adolescence, on the eve of the summer solstice, four young girls–Helena, Leonie, Niamh and Elle–took the oath to join Her Majesty’s Royal Coven, established by Queen Elizabeth I as a covert government department. Now, decades later, the witch community is still reeling from a civil war and Helena is now the reigning High Priestess of the organization. Yet Helena is the only one of her friend group still enmeshed in the stale bureaucracy of HMRC. Elle is trying to pretend she’s a normal housewife, and Niamh has become a country vet, using her powers to heal sick animals. In what Helena perceives as the deepest betrayal, Leonie has defected to start her own more inclusive and intersectional coven, Diaspora. And now Helena has a bigger problem. A young warlock of extraordinary capabilities has been captured by authorities and seems to threaten the very existence of HMRC. With conflicting beliefs over the best course of action, the four friends must decide where their loyalties lie: with preserving tradition, or doing what is right.
This has been one of the reading highlights of the summer. I’ve been suffering from a real book hangover since I finished listening to this one. The cracking story with plenty of drama and magic, alongside relevant contemporary issues has left me yearning for the next one in the series. Very highly recommended. 10/10

Witchy Reservations: A Paranormal Cozy Mystery – Book 1 of the Mystic Inn Mystery series by Stephanie Damore
There’s nothing practical about magic—which is why I ditched my wand years ago.

Thirteen years, to be exact. The day I left Silverlake.

Except now, a family emergency has called me back home, and quite frankly, I’d rather be anywhere but here. But when my aunt raises her wand to cure a friend and he ends up dead, it becomes abundantly clear I’m not leaving anytime soon.
This cosy murder mystery is escapist fun with plenty of twists and suspects along the way. I liked the engaging protagonist, whose first-person narrative makes the story go with a swing. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK – The Accidental Alchemist – Book 1 of The Accidental Alchemist series by Gigi Pandian, narrated by Julia Motyka
Unpacking her belongings in her new hometown of Portland, Oregon, herbalist and reformed alchemist Zoe Faust can’t help but notice she’s picked up a stowaway. Dorian Robert-Houdin is a living, breathing three-and-half-foot gargoyle – not to mention a master of French cuisine – and he needs Zoe’s expertise to decipher a centuries-old text. Zoe, who’s trying to put her old life behind her, isn’t so sure she wants to reopen her alchemical past… until the dead man on her porch leaves her no choice.

Includes recipes!
This is huge fun. And I loved the fact that the very scrummy-sounding recipes are all vegan😊. Apart from the food, other enjoyable ingredients are a quirky gargoyle, nicely snarky teenagers and a sympathetic protagonist with a long, sad past, who is desperate to escape official notice. I really cared for the characters and enjoyed listening to this one, as Portlanders begin to succumb to mysterious poisoning. 8/10

The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean
Out on the Yorkshire Moors lives a secret line of people for whom books are food, and who retain all of a book’s content after eating it. To them, spy novels are a peppery snack; romance novels are sweet and delicious. Eating a map can help them remember destinations, and children, when they misbehave, are forced to eat dry, musty pages from dictionaries.

Devon is part of The Family, an old and reclusive clan of book eaters. Her brothers grow up feasting on stories of valor and adventure, and Devon—like all other book eater women—is raised on a carefully curated diet of fairytales and cautionary stories.

But real life doesn’t always come with happy endings, as Devon learns when her son is born with a rare and darker kind of hunger—not for books, but for human minds.
This is another reading highlight – I really have had a wonderful reading week. This dark fantasy packs a punch – it grabbed me by the collar and wouldn’t let go. I’ve seen comparisons with The Handmaid’s Tale and while I don’t agree, as there are far too many significant differences, I can see why some readers went there. Review to follow.

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m beginning to be able to visit more sites, although it all depends on whether I’ve enough energy – so I appreciate your patience if you’ve dropped by and I haven’t immediately responded. Take care and have a lovely week.

Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK Her Majesty’s Royal Coven – Book 1 of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven series by Juno Dawson #BrainfluffNETGALLEYaudiobookreview #HerMajestysRoyalCovenbookreview

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I saw the title and cover and immediately requested this one. It seemed like such a very cool premise and with that pink, I was sure I was getting a reasonably light book to listen to. So I was delighted to be approved – however, this one wasn’t what I was expecting…

BLURB: If you look hard enough at old photographs, we’re there in the background: healers in the trenches; Suffragettes; Bletchley Park oracles; land girls and resistance fighters. Why is it we help in times of crisis? We have a gift. We are stronger than Mundanes, plain and simple.

At the dawn of their adolescence, on the eve of the summer solstice, four young girls–Helena, Leonie, Niamh and Elle–took the oath to join Her Majesty’s Royal Coven, established by Queen Elizabeth I as a covert government department. Now, decades later, the witch community is still reeling from a civil war and Helena is now the reigning High Priestess of the organization. Yet Helena is the only one of her friend group still enmeshed in the stale bureaucracy of HMRC. Elle is trying to pretend she’s a normal housewife, and Niamh has become a country vet, using her powers to heal sick animals. In what Helena perceives as the deepest betrayal, Leonie has defected to start her own more inclusive and intersectional coven, Diaspora. And now Helena has a bigger problem. A young warlock of extraordinary capabilities has been captured by authorities and seems to threaten the very existence of HMRC. With conflicting beliefs over the best course of action, the four friends must decide where their loyalties lie: with preserving tradition, or doing what is right.

REVIEW: Looking at the shocking pink cover of the audiobook, I’d assumed that I was getting a reasonably light-hearted exploration of witchcraft and what it means to be a woman in the contemporary world. It’s nothing of the sort. Instead, nested within a cracking story that had me listening far later than I should, is a searing and comprehensive examination of female loyalties and expectations within our modern society. Just because the four young women are imbued with powerful magic, they aren’t insulated from the pressures the rest of us wrestle with on a daily basis. Issues such as dealing with chauvinist and abusive behaviour, racism, juggling work with motherhood, the push/pull of whether to settle down to have a family or prioritise a chosen career are all very recognisable problems also experienced by us non-magical Mundanes. In addition to dealing with these ongoing life decisions – our four protagonists are also still recovering from a savage war within the magical community between those who believed the magically gifted should be ruling the world and those who felt the status quo should prevail. Two of our heroines lost partners in the conflict, while Niamh’s twin sister was also on the opposing side, so the cost was high.

When a young, traumatised warlock is discovered after a destructive fire, Helena and Niamh initially agree on a course of action. However, as events unfold, the former allies suddenly find themselves on opposing sides of an issue that is also ripping apart Feminists – that of transgenderism. It was brilliant to see this difficult, emotive topic so effectively covered within a gripping tale, where both sides of the argument were so well covered.

I’m conscious that I’ve given the impression that this is a worthy story, full of pertinent issues that affect modern women within Western society. But what I’ve perhaps omitted to tell you is that all this goes on within a wonderful tale full of drama and some fabulous action scenes, shot through with wry humour that occasionally had me laughing aloud. And there was one particular scene that had me close to tears. The book also finishes on a doozy of a plot twist that has me desperate to read the sequel RIGHT NOW – because I’ve got to know my all-time favourite character is alright. In short, this is a fabulous tale that gives us four nuanced, believable characters facing familiar and contemporary problems with an extra, complicating twist of magic that makes the story leap off the page. I can’t wait to get hold of the next book. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an audiobook arc of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheMonstersWeDefybookreview

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It was the cover of this offering that caught my eye – it’s just so very attractive. But then I read the blurb and knew I wanted to read it. I’m a sucker for the 1920s era – and I loved the spiritualist element of this fantasy heist adventure.

BLURB: Washington D. C., 1925

Clara Johnson talks to spirits, a gift that saved her during her darkest moments in a Washington D. C. jail. Now a curse that’s left her indebted to the cunning spirit world. So, when the Empress, the powerful spirit who holds her debt, offers her an opportunity to gain her freedom, a desperate Clara seizes the chance. The task: steal a magical ring from the wealthiest woman in the District.

Clara can’t pull off this daring heist alone. She’ll need help from an unlikely team, from a jazz musician capable of hypnotizing with a melody to an aging vaudeville actor who can change his face, to pull off the impossible. But as they encounter increasingly difficult obstacles, a dangerous spirit interferes at every turn. Conflict in the spirit world is leaking into the human one and along D.C’.s legendary Black Broadway, a mystery unfolds—one that not only has repercussions for Clara but all of the city’s residents.

REVIEW: This is a cracking read. I thoroughly enjoyed Clara’s spiky character. She is short-fused and in the habit of pushing away people, though that doesn’t stop her from helping those who seek her out. Given her gift, she could so easily have been portrayed as a noble, self-sacrificing heroine, brimful of the desire to help her fellows. While that is what she does – because she is so crotchety about it, I found her far more appealing. Especially when those around her make it their business to break through the façade she has erected – and we are shown just how vulnerable she actually is.

As well as Clara being a thoroughly sympathetic protagonist, the pacing was pretty much perfect. In any historical adventure, there is always a balance between giving the reader sufficient period details to make the background believable and ensuring the narrative moves along at a reasonable clip. Penelope nailed it, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve read several books recently featuring a POC protagonist and this was right up there with the best in portraying the casual and unthinking racism that was rife at that time. Indeed, it is part of the ongoing difficulty stacking up against Clara and her associates that a black person finds it hazardous to try and travel to certain parts of the city. Not only does this aid the narrative in upping the stakes – it is a visceral reminder of the extra burden the black community were coping with in their daily lives just because of the colour of their skin. I’d love to think such attitudes were consigned to history – but sadly, daily racist crime shows this isn’t the case, so reading entertaining, well-written fiction that highlights the issue can only help.

The spirit world was also well portrayed. There is a real sense of menace around those who want agency within the mortal world in order to steal human destinies. I liked the way Penelope gradually revealed the enormity of the threat, making this one of those reads that was very difficult to put down. All in all, this was a thoroughly engrossing tale that had me reading far later than I should. Highly recommended for those who like their fantasy within a compelling historical setting. While I obtained an arc of The Monsters We Defy from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #22

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

As we now have our grandsons staying with us, it’s been another full-on week. Ethan’s summer job has become a lot busier as the back-to-school rush for uniforms hits its peak. He is coping really well with long days serving fraught parents and their miserable children. I can’t quite believe that the summer holidays have slipped by so fast and he is about to begin his final week before he starts back at college for the second year of his animation course. We took Oscar to the Wetland and Wildfowl Trust last Tuesday on a rainy day. Another year and I would be moaning about the weather – but after weeks of blistering heat, it was delightful to wander around in the misty drizzle and watch the birds enjoying themselves – as you can see from the pics.

Other than that, I’ve been up in the mornings to ensure Ethan has a good breakfast and give him a lift to work. Initially we’d thought he could walk it – but given the brutal heat, we took the decision to drive him to work. And although it’s now cooler, I am reluctant to make him walk over a mile there and back on top of working full shifts when he hasn’t had a chance to be acclimatised to it.

I am feeling more energetic than I did last week, although there are still good and bad days. I’m pleased to see I’ve started losing some of the weight I put on while spending so much time bedridden and exhausted and I can now wear some of my jeans. I’ve still got quite a way to go before I can get into most of my clothes, but right now that isn’t a priority as I’m still not sufficiently recovered to consider a full reconditioning and fitness programme. I am looking forward to the time when I can go swimming at the local leisure centre while Boomerang Boy is hitting the gym, instead of spending my time sitting in their very uncomfortable chairs reading a book. He’s very pleased to see some muscle development since he started attending at the start of the summer holidays and we’re hoping to continue attending once he returns to school. He has also grown more than an inch since we measured him in the second week of August.

While my writing progress has been hit and miss throughout the summer, I have made some progress on the third book of Castellan’s adventures, Problems With Power. I thought I’d discovered a plot hole near the end of the previous book, Trouble With Dwarves, but Himself pointed out that I was overthinking the issue and suggested that I sort it out with a suitable conversation, instead of several major scene changes and a whole new sub-plot. I’ll be taking his advice and adding said conversation in the coming week – full of relief that I won’t have to administer major surgery to the ongoing narrative!

I’ve recently read:-

Her Majesty’s Warlord – Book 2 of the Stuck in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
After being trapped in a very strange world, Elliot Richardson found his footing and led the forces of Damansara to victory, only to find himself under threat from jealous and resentful city fathers who thought he was on the verge of overthrowing their rule and taking their power for himself.

Isolated and alone, Elliot accepted an offer of employment from Princess Helen of Johor and finds himself travelling to the heart of her kingdom, to a city caught between the stagnant past, the hope of a better future and factions threatening to burn the world down rather than risk letting it be saved. And, as Elliot goes to work, he finds himself threatened by powerful enemies who will stop at nothing to see him brought down…
This is a spin-off from the gripping Schooled in Magic series that I’ve been working through during the last year – and I’m now following Elliot’s progress as he struggles to cope in a world where magic is the ultimate power, rather than technology. However, it’s also a world riven by social discontent as the agrarian culture, relying on peasants and downtrodden serfs to produce the food, is beset by sudden change. Once again, Nuttall has produced an action-packed read, full of plot twists and action that I thoroughly enjoyed. And being an indie book, it is also excellent value for money😊. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – Emma by Jane Austen, narrated by Emma Thompson
Emma Woodhouse is one of Austen’s most captivating and vivid characters. Beautiful, spoilt, vain and irrepressibly witty, Emma organizes the lives of the inhabitants of her sleepy little village and plays matchmaker with devastating effect.

I’m working my way through the collected novels of Jane Austen and I hadn’t particularly been looking forward to reaching Emma, as the last time I read the book I decided that Mr Knightly was a priggish misery. This time around, listening to the fabulous Emma Thompson, I didn’t find him such a pain. The humour of listening to both Emma and Mr K. being eaten up with jealousy without necessarily realising their feelings for each other was also more apparent. All in all, this was far more fun than I was expecting and turned out to be really enjoyable. However, I could do without all the music in this production. 8/10

The Half Killed – Book 1 of The Sundered Veil series by Quenby Olson
Dorothea Hawes has no wish to renew contact with what lies beyond the veil. After an attempt to take her own life, she has retired into seclusion, but as the wounds on her body heal, she is drawn back into a world she wants nothing more than to avoid.

She is sought out by Julian Chissick, a former man of God who wants her help in discovering who is behind the gruesome murder of a young woman. But the manner of death is all too familiar to Dorothea, and she begins to fear that something even more terrible is about to unleash itself on London.

And so Dorothea risks her life and her sanity in order to save people who are oblivious to the threat that hovers over them. It is a task that forces her into a confrontation with her own lurid past, and tests her ability to shape events frighteningly beyond her control.
I had read Olson’s entertaining romp about a dragon’s egg surfacing in a small village and it in no way prepared me for the intensity of this fantasy thriller. The writing is rich and layered, giving a vivid evocation of London during a savage heatwave in a time when people’s clothing was all about keeping them sufficiently warm. I loved the world and the steadily escalating tension in this classy read, rooting for Dorothea all the way. 10/10

AUDIOBOOK – Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany
Babel-17 is all about the power of language. Humanity, which has spread throughout the universe, is involved in a war with the Invaders, who have been covertly assassinating officials and sabotaging spaceships. The only clues humanity has to go on are strange alien messages that have been intercepted in space. Poet and linguist Rydra Wong is determined to understand the language and stop the alien threat.

I’m generally not all that impressed with the classic sci fi reads from this era – far too often it’s all about the lantern-jawed hero with female characters providing bed partners and/or requiring to be rescued just to show the protagonist off as courageous and tough. Not so this one – the protag is a well-written, nuanced heroine, who engaged me throughout with her intelligence and resilience. I also enjoyed the diverse ethnic range of characters throughout, showing that Delany was well ahead of his time. The ideas raised regarding language aren’t new – not when considering books such as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Embassytown – but I enjoyed the way Delany explores the subject. The only reason this one didn’t get a 10 was that the end felt a bit rushed and was weak and ordinary when compared with the quality of the rest of the book. 9/10

The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope
Washington D. C., 1925

Clara Johnson talks to spirits, a gift that saved her during her darkest moments in a Washington D. C. jail. Now a curse that’s left her indebted to the cunning spirit world. So, when the Empress, the powerful spirit who holds her debt, offers her an opportunity to gain her freedom, a desperate Clara seizes the chance. The task: steal a magical ring from the wealthiest woman in the District.

Clara can’t pull off this daring heist alone. She’ll need help from an unlikely team, from a jazz musician capable of hypnotizing with a melody to an aging vaudeville actor who can change his face, to pull off the impossible. But as they encounter increasingly difficult obstacles, a dangerous spirit interferes at every turn. Conflict in the spirit world is leaking into the human one and along D.C’.s legendary Black Broadway, a mystery unfolds—one that not only has repercussions for Clara but all of the city’s residents.
This one is a gripping read. Clara is a sympathetic heroine, full of anger at how her life has been twisted by the gift bestowed upon her. The story also throws into relief the extra hardship being black is in Washington in the 1920s in a very matter-of-fact way, which gave me – a white middle-class Brit woman – a better appreciation of the unremitting harshness of being instantly judged by the colour of your skin. Review to follow.

A Date With Death – #0.5 of the Conjuring a Coroner series by S.C. Stokes
Whoever said blood is thicker than water hasn’t met the Harrington family. New York royalty, the Harrington family are old money with magic coursing through their entitled veins, and the only thing the Harringtons care less about than each other…is the law.

When Lester dies unexpectedly, his considerable estate is set to pass to his surviving heirs. But the coroner, Kasey Chase, has ruled Lester’s death a homicide, sparking a family feud that sees the Harrington heirs turn on each other in a lethal struggle where the only prize for second place is death.

With unlimited resources and a callous disregard for human life, the Harrington’s have to be stopped before the city pays the price for their petty war. Caught in the middle, Kasey is left fighting for her life. Fortunately, she’s been hiding a secret of her own. Kasey is a witch.
Kasey is an appealing heroine – and I liked how reluctant she is initially to get sucked into such a potentially tricky situation. I get a tad tired of protagonists who happily run towards danger the rest of us would instinctively back away from. And when this one finally kicked off – the action rolled forward and didn’t let up until the end. I’ll definitely be reading more Kasey goodness as this urban fantasy adventure is a page-turning read. 8/10

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a 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.