Tag Archives: S.J. Higbee

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Quicksilver Court – Book 2 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheQuicksilverCourtbookreview

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I love Caruso’s writing – see my reviews of her Sword and Fire series – The Tethered Mage, The Defiant Mage and The Unbound Empire. So last year, lockdown in June became less fraught when I got hold of the first book in this spinoff series – The Obsidian Tower. Would I enjoy The Quicksilver Court too?

BLURB: Ryxander, Warden of Gloamingard, has failed. Unsealed by her blood, the Door hidden within the black tower has opened. Now, for the first time since the age of the Graces, demons walk the world.

As tensions grow between nations, all eyes-and daggers are set on Morgrain, fallen under the Demon of Discord’s control. In an attempt to save her home from destruction, Ryx and the Rookery set out to find a powerful artifact. But powerful enemies are on the hunt and they’re closing in fast.

REVIEW: First things first – if you happen to pick up this offering without having read The Obsidian Tower, then put it back on the shelf and track down the first book. This one follows immediately on from the climactic ending, and you’ll struggle far too long trying to work who is doing what to who – and the plot doesn’t hang around.

I love this world. Caruso’s vivid depiction of this extraordinary place, where beauty is all too often lethal and people regularly die in horrible ways drew me in and held me entranced throughout. At 480 pages, it’s not a short book – but I tore through it as I was unable to put it down. I fell deeply in love with Ryx from the first time I encountered her and her heartbreakingly terrible magic – if she comes into contact with any living thing, it dies. Ways are found to halter her magical power, so that eventually she is able to touch plants, animals and people without harming them. But those long years when she couldn’t has left scars. At the end of The Obsidian Tower, I was left with some mighty big questions – and I’m delighted to say The Quicksilver Court answers them.

Ryx’s desperate gratitude that at last she has friends and allies who really care for her makes her wonderfully vulnerable, which works well in a character with such powerful magic. And the magical group she belongs to – the Rookery – all have complicated and desperate backstories that we learn about in amongst the plotting, politicking and mayhem that ensues. But… oh my goodness – I didn’t begin to guess the big plot twist that comes about three-quarters into the book. What a doozy! I was tempted to rush back to reread The Obsidian Tower and look for the clues and see what I’d missed. Though of course, I didn’t. But it literally changes the whole dynamic, ramping up the stakes and danger to the world – and of course, to Ryx. Caruso writes with power and commitment that makes all her main characters larger than life – particularly her antagonists. The demon, Nightmare, is really a satisfying villain I loved to hate.

This was one of the most intense, emotional reads of the year and I finished it with a sigh – because there is also a whopping big cliff-hanger right at the end. You may have gathered that I enjoyed this one – indeed, it’s made my Outstandings Reads of the Year list. Very highly recommended for those who like their fantasy swathed in mystery, vivid settings and charismatic characters possessed with murderous magic. While I obtained an arc of The Quicksilver Court from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #3

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This is my fortnightly (hopefully) Sunday Post update – hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer – on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 8 months since I first got ill . And as usual, it’s been a bit up and down. My wonderful sister suggested that I see a reflexologist as I felt I’d got a bit stuck. So I went ahead and found Laura – a lovely lady, who lives only a fifteen-minute drive from where I live, which is really important. Right now, I don’t have the energy for a long journey. We discovered that we both taught at the same Junior school back in the 1990s and I immediately liked and trusted her. I’ve had a couple of sessions so far and it’s going well.

During our first consultation, Laura suggested that I get my thyroid checked out, as she is concerned at the pressure I feel at the base of my throat, particularly when I’m tired. So I phoned up the Dr last week – and was given an immediate face-to-face appointment that morning. I saw a very sympathetic Dr, who suggested that I have a scan to check out my thyroid and arranged a blood test. Though she did warn me that in all likelihood, it will come back entirely normal, as Long Covid generally doesn’t present many symptoms during such investigations.

Having the reflexology appointment on the Friday, the Dr’s appointment on the following Monday and a blood test on Wednesday pretty much wiped me out for the rest of the week. Though I didn’t end up bedridden again, and all but one of the days, I was still well enough to shower – so I take that as a win. Himself had some annual leave this week and I really appreciated it. As I’m feeling more alert, I miss him when he’s working. Normally, I’m busy writing or blogging, or out and about so I am too occupied to sit around, wondering what he’s doing. Not so these days.

One of my lovely Creative Writing students suggested that I start writing haikus, as she was very concerned to learn that I have currently lost the ability to write my novels. I thought it an excellent idea – the Japanese three-line, seventeen-syllable poetry form seemed something that I should be able to manage. However, while the first one was reasonably positive – the next five I spent the early hours of the morning writing were so filled with rage and pain that I realised I couldn’t do this anymore. To be honest – it was a shock. I hadn’t appreciated all those feelings were lurking under the surface and while I need to sort them out at some stage, this isn’t the time. Not while I’m battling so hard to get better.

Thank goodness for fabulous books and gripping TV series! They’re a life-saver as they allow me to simply escape from the whole situation when I need to. Yay for The Gilmore Girls, which I loved – and I’m now up to date with Chesapeke Shores. I’ve also found meditation a huge help throughout the day to rest and relax both my body and mind. It also helps me keep a positive mindset.

Thank you so much. I really appreciate the stream of good wishes for my recovery that I have received since I started posting about Long Covid. I can’t have many visitors as I don’t have the energy to sustain much of a conversation. Though it was wonderful when Frank, our eldest grandson, popped in yesterday afternoon to catch up. It was such a relief to find that he’s settling in really well on his animation course at college and thoroughly enjoying it.

This week I’ve read:-

HMS Nightingale – Book 4 of the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland
For Lieutenant Alexis Carew, it should be the perfect assignment — a command of her own and a chance to return to her home star system.

What she finds is a surly crew, the dregs of every frigate and ship of the line to pass through on the way to the war’s front, a first officer who thinks the command should have been his, and colonial worlds where they believe a girl’s place is somewhere very different than command of a Queen’s starship. Add to that the mysterious disappearances of ships vital to the war effort and an old enemy who seems intent on convincing her he’s changed. Then there’s the mongoose with an unnatural affinity for her boots.
I’ve really enjoyed this series so far – the ‘Hornblower in space’ scenario works well, which is largely down to the feisty character of Alexis Carew. She is a pleasing mix of aggression and vulnerability, without too much angst. That said, I’m also pleased to see symptoms of PTSD in this instalment as she’s been through some heavy-duty action. Good to see a strong protagonist who isn’t Teflon-coated with invincibility.
9/10

Buried Memories – Book 10 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green
As long-buried memories from his hidden past begin to resurface, Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny feel compelled to return to the small country town where Ishmael crash-landed in 1963; the place where his memories began. Norton Hedley is no ordinary town. Apparitions, sudden disappearances, sightings of unusual beasts: for centuries, the place has been plagued by a series of inexplicable events. Ishmael’s first task is to track down local author Vincent Smith, the one man he believes may have some answers.

Ishmael and Penny aren’t the only ones seeking the mysterious Mr Smith. When their search unearths a newly-dead body in the local mortuary – a body that’s definitely not supposed to be there – Ishmael becomes the prime suspect in the ensuing murder investigation. His only hope of discovering the truth about his origins lies in exposing a ruthless killer.
Another enjoyable offering in this intriguing and quirky series, where a disguised alien ends up trouble-shooting for a shadowy, undercover organisation tasked with keeping creepy things under control. These stories so easily could be a violent, dark, action-fuelled gore-fest – but while it is often dark, action-fuelled and more than a tad gory, it’s often also funny. I loved learning more about Ishmael’s origin story in this latest episode.
8/10

Inborn Magic – Book 1 of the Hidden Coven series by Kim McDougall
It should have been a simple spell…
Light into heat, heat into flame.
How did it all go so wrong?
Paralyzed … magic drained … Bobbi lies wondering …
Only the Mistress of the Hidden Coven can save her, but Quinn doesn’t want to let a stranger past the coven wards. It’s his job to keep strangers out. Especially when a demon is hell-bent on stealing their most precious resource—magic.


Can Quinn lower his shields enough to let Bobbi in?
Can Bobbi trust these witches to help her tame the wild magic inside her?
No one can stand alone against the coming darkness.
No witch can hide any longer.
This novella packs a punch with a gripping opening sequence that really showcases the author’s writing chops. I enjoyed where the story is going and despite being shorter than I usually like, I definitely will be reading the next book in the series.
8/10

Madrenga by Alan Dean Foster
A vital message. A desperate queen. A hero in the making.

He is plainly too young and too inexperienced for the mission, but on the advice of her aged adviser Natoum, and with her husband off at war, the Queen reluctantly assigns the task of delivery to…

Madrenga.

Accompanied only by a runt of a pony and a scrap of a pup, he sets off to transport the royal message to its destination. No matter what it might take. But things are not always what they seem. Heroes are sometimes made of the strangest stuff, and love is to be found in the most unexpected places. If one doesn’t die while treading the lethal path…
Himself bought this standalone fantasy quest adventure last year, so I tucked into it. And thoroughly enjoyed the twists and turns – as well as discovering exactly what or who Madrenga really is. It takes a writer with skill and experience to pull off an ongoing mystery that hooks readers throughout the book with such panache. But then, that’s who Alan Dean Foster is…
8/10

Magic’s a Hoot – Book 3 of the Owl Star Witch series by Leanne Leeds
Astra assumed every person the Star Card told her to save would be…well, worth saving. But when sister Ami turns over the glowing goddess card during Gloria Fisher’s reading on her perpetually drunk—and targeted for death—husband, William? The witch realizes the gods move in mysterious ways.
As she delves deep into the man’s complicated life, Astra’s investigation devolves into chaos when a painting William Fisher insured goes missing. What’s even worse? The police think he was in on the scheme.


Can Astra find the painting, clear the man, and keep his whole life policy in force? Or will William’s accidental death insurance have to pay out?
I’ve enjoyed the first two books in this well-written series, where the plotting is twisty and there is plenty of humour – but this is the one that really ramps up the stakes. Friendship and family feature heavily in this series, and while I enjoyed the mystery, it’s the interaction between siblings and friends that had me continuing to turn the pages. And a very grumpy owl, who is rapidly becoming my favourite sentient creature…
9/10

The Noose of a New Moon – Book 1 of the Wolfbrand series by Helen Harper

Devereau Webb is in uncharted territory. He thought he knew what he was doing when he chose to enter London’s supernatural society but he’s quickly discovering that his new status isn’t welcome to everyone. He’s lived through hard times before and he’s no stranger to the murky underworld of city life. But when he comes across a young werewolf girl who’s not only been illegally turned but who has also committed two brutal murders, he will discover just how difficult life can be for supernaturals – and also how far his own predatory powers extend.
This spinoff series fills in the gaps for those of us also following Harper’s very successful and enjoyable Firebrand series, set in London. I’m a real fan of this author, and this latest book didn’t disappoint. Devereau is an awesome protagonist, whose undeniable power doesn’t mean he’s invincible.
9/10

The Quicksilver Court – Book 2 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso
Ryxander, Warden of Gloamingard, has failed. Unsealed by her blood, the Door hidden within the black tower has opened. Now, for the first time since the age of the Graces, demons walk the world.

As tensions grow between nations, all eyes-and daggers are set on Morgrain, fallen under the Demon of Discord’s control. In an attempt to save her home from destruction, Ryx and the Rookery set out to find a powerful artifact. But powerful enemies are on the hunt and they’re closing in fast.
This is a fabulous read – but whatever you do – read The Obsidian Tower first if you haven’t already had the pleasure. This one follows straight on from the events that take place – and Caruso doesn’t hang around to catch you up. The book creaks with tension as the stakes are high – and then go on ramping up. A twisty plot, captivating characters and brilliantly evocative writing – this is one of my outstanding reads of the year so far. Review to follow.
10/10

Reviews published since my last Sunday Post:-

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of The Green Man’s Challenge – Book 4 of The Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of Buried Memories – Book 10 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Battle Ground – Book 17 of the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Last Graduate – Book 2 of the Scholomance series by Naomi Novik

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Green Man’s Challenge – Book 4 of The Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna #Brainfluffbookreview #TheGreenMansChallengebookreview

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I’m a huge fan of this series. I’ve always enjoyed McKenna’s writing – see my reviews of Dangerous Waters – Book 1 of the Hadrumal Crisis, Darkening Skies – Book 2 of the Hadrumal Crisis, Irons in the Fire – Book 1 of the Lescari Revolution, Blood in the Water – Book 2 of the Lescari Revolution, Banners in the Wind – Book 3 of the Lescari Revolution. But I think The Green Man series is something really special – see my reviews of The Green Man’s Heir, The Green Man’s Foe and The Green Man’s Silence.

BLURB: A while back, Daniel Mackmain’s life took an unexpected turn. Now the Green Man expects him to resolve clashes between those dwelling unseen in wild places and the ordinary people who have no idea what’s out there. Dan’s father is human and his mother’s a dryad, so he sees what’s happening in both these worlds.

Once upon a time, giants walked this land. So says everyone from Geoffrey of Monmouth to William Blake. This ancient threat is stirring in the Wiltshire twilight, up on the chalk downs. Can Dan meet this new challenge when he can only find half-forgotten fairy tales to guide him? Will the other local supernatural inhabitants see him – or the giant – as friend or foe?

A modern fantasy rooted in the ancient myths and folklore of the British Isles.

REVIEW: I often omit the final strapline of blurbs that describe the book as frankly, a lot of them aren’t particularly helpful. But this time around – that final line exactly describes this series of books, which is why they are so very special. We’re up to our necks in a rich, varied folklore in Britain, with all sorts of stories about faery creatures. And many of these have disappeared because oral traditions waned as regions have become more accessible and people move around more. But in this instalment of Dan’s adventures, McKenna has brilliantly utilised the likes of the giant figures cut into chalk hillsides and some of the numerous folk stories around hares to add to her intriguing Brit rural fantasy tale.

I really like Dan – his somewhat blokey persona rings true. He’s rough around the edges, but his heart’s in the right place and I also enjoy his growing relationship with Fin. If you like fantasy stories, yet have got a bit fed up with a continual diet of werewolves and vampires, then give this series a spin. You can pick up this book without having read the previous ones and quickly get into the groove of the story. However, in order to fully appreciate the full awesomeness of McKenna’s world, I’d advise that you first go back to the first book – The Green Man’s Heir.

Any niggles? Well, I for one didn’t feel the extra story at the back was necessary and frankly, I wish I hadn’t read it. The shift in viewpoint was jarring and I felt the explanation of what happened within the main narrative was sufficient. But it certainly isn’t a dealbreaker – and surely it’s better to have too much information than too little. I very much hope that there are more books featuring Dan and this wonderful, layered world embedded within old British folklore, as there simply isn’t anything else quite like it. Very highly recommended.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Buried Memories – Book 10 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #BuriedMemoriesbookreview

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Anyone who has spent much time visiting this blog will know that I enjoy Green’s writing – see my reviews of the other books in this series – The Dark Side of the Road, Very Important Corpses, Death Shall Come, Into the Thinnest of Air, Murder in the Dark, Till Sudden Death Do Us Part, Night Train to Murder, The House on Widow’s Hill and my review of his fantasy heist adventure, The Best Thing You Can Steal and The Man With the Golden Torc – so I was delighted to see the latest book in this paranormal murder mystery series.

BLURB: As long-buried memories from his hidden past begin to resurface, Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny feel compelled to return to the small country town where Ishmael crash-landed in 1963; the place where his memories began. Norton Hedley is no ordinary town. Apparitions, sudden disappearances, sightings of unusual beasts: for centuries, the place has been plagued by a series of inexplicable events. Ishmael’s first task is to track down local author Vincent Smith, the one man he believes may have some answers.

Ishmael and Penny aren’t the only ones seeking the mysterious Mr Smith. When their search unearths a newly-dead body in the local mortuary – a body that’s definitely not supposed to be there – Ishmael becomes the prime suspect in the ensuing murder investigation. His only hope of discovering the truth about his origins lies in exposing a ruthless killer.

REVIEW: I thoroughly enjoy Green’s clever mix of real tension and creepiness, along with touches of dark humour that at times have me laughing out loud. Ishmael is not human – he’s an alien that crashed to Earth in 1963 and has been trying to stay under the radar ever since. This has very much affected his choice to work for a number of shady organisations and consequently he mixes with some very dangerous people. These books could have been gritty and bleak – but Ishmael has been lucky enough to fall in love with the adorable Penny, who is now his sidekick and her company considerably lightens his violent adventures. Their teamwork and snarky interchanges particularly brightened things up during this creepy exploration into Ishmeal’s past. I was especially pleased to pick this one up, as Buried Memories addresses Ishmael’s origins on Earth. Due to the damage sustained by his spaceship, his memories of that time are very fragmentary. But he now believes that he wasn’t the only survivor and feels impelled to try to find his companion and learn more of why they visited Earth in the first place.

I think it’s really clever to have left his origin story so late in the series, as I’m now thoroughly invested in dear old Ishmael and Penny. So I was brimming with curiosity to discover exactly where he came from and why. It also is a nifty entry point if you haven’t had the pleasure of the previous adventures, which is always helpful for readers in a long-running series. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. As well as the spooky parody of the idyllic English village, peopled with some nicely eccentric characters, I very much appreciated the additional insights into what makes Ishmael tick. Recommended for fans of quirky paranormal creepiness that doesn’t take itself too seriously. While I obtained an arc of Buried Memories from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Battle Ground – Book 17 of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #BattleGroundbookreview

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I’ve read and enjoyed all the books in this series so far – see my reviews of Peace Talks, Skin Game, Ghost Story and Turn Coat – and was delighted when I saw Battle Ground pop up on Netgalley.

BLURB: Harry has faced terrible odds before. He has a long history of fighting enemies above his weight class. The Red Court of vampires. The fallen angels of the Order of the Blackened Denarius. The Outsiders.

But this time it’s different. A being more powerful and dangerous on an order of magnitude beyond what the world has seen in a millennium is coming. And she’s bringing an army. The Last Titan has declared war on the city of Chicago, and has come to subjugate humanity, obliterating any who stand in her way. Harry’s mission is simple but impossible: Save the city by killing a Titan. And the attempt will change Harry’s life, Chicago, and the mortal world forever.

REVIEW: First things first – whatever you do, don’t pick this one up if you haven’t already at least read Peace Talks and preferably Skin Game before that. All three books run straight on from one another, with no recap or handy reminders about what happened before. So if you just happen to pick up this one on the grounds that you recall Harry with fondness from some of the earlier books, put it back on the shelf until you’ve read the other two.

Book titles generally relate to the contents in some way, although that can often be metaphorical, or slightly oblique. But in this case, Butcher has been literal as the whole book revolves around a single major battle in the middle of Harry’s home turf, Chicago. The earlier chapters cover the battle preparations, with Harry desperately trying to prepare for the worst – and the second half of the book, which isn’t short, covering that battle. I’ve read one other book that covered a single battle in a similar fashion – Last Dragon Standing by Rachel Aaron and overall, I think that one is more successful than Battle Ground.

Butcher is hampered by Battle Ground being narrated in limited first-person viewpoint, which means that Harry has to be in the middle of whatever action is going down. While we have the advantage of seeing everything through the filter of his laconic, dryly amusing characterisation, it also means that every encounter has his trademark fighting style, along with whoever is accompanying him. And although he has a number of different companions battling beside him throughout the night, inevitably a pattern develops. That said, almost anyone who has featured throughout the series puts in an appearance during this vital encounter. I was particularly delighted to see dear old Butters acquitting himself with such distinction as he’s a huge favourite of mine. There are major losses, too. A key character dies during one of the opening skirmishes – and I was more than a bit rocked to see them go. It rocked poor old Harry, too.

Having a full-on battle throughout the book also means there isn’t an opportunity for the reader to get a breather. I frequently put the book down simply because I needed a break from the bloody action and emotional intensity that came with it. And during the latter stages, I became a bit numbed by it all, so that I ended up rereading the ending just to get a more accurate sense of the emotional tenor around the ending.

That said, I don’t want you to go away with the impression that this is a poor book. The action scenes are gripping and immersive. Butcher portrays Harry’s experiences during the battle with vividness and emotion that packs a punch. And I’m fascinated to discover exactly how he’ll take the series forward from here. It was a calculated risk to split the original book in two, which I think Butcher has mostly pulled off. Recommended for fans of the Harry Dresden series who have at least read the previous two books. The ebook arc copy of Battle Ground was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik – Book 2 of the Scholomance series #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheLastGraduatebookreview

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I am a fan of Novik’s writing – see my reviews of Spinning Silver, Uprooted and Victory of Eagles, Tongues of Serpents, Crucible of Gold, Blood of Tyrants and League of Dragons of the Temeraire series. So when I saw that she’d written a school-based fantasy, I immediately pre-ordered the first book, A Deadly Education and was thrilled to be able to get hold of this second one via Netgalley. Would I enjoy it as much?

BLURB: At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year—and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules…

REVIEW: I’m not sure if it’s because I was a teacher, but the magical schools sub-genre is a favourite and I thoroughly enjoyed A Deadly Education. Though I was a bit fed up with the cliff-hanger at the end – and I’m warning you now, there’s another at the end of The Last Graduate.

El isn’t such a hardcore, in-your-face character this time around. For starters, she now has a loyal group of friends, and other alliances with a handful of enclave kids who have far more resources and protections than those without that kind of advantage. And it’s just as well she’s got more going for her as this year, as the School has become a lot more aggressive – with El apparently a prime target. Novik writes action scenes really well and has a glorious suite of delightfully revolting monsters that squish satisfyingly when they meet their messy end. This series would make a wonderful TV series.

However, if you were one of those who found the descriptions of the magic and the world outside a tad tedious in A Deadly Education (I didn’t…), then you won’t fare any better in this offering. El has a lot to say about the political situation, the history of the school and the very complex magic system, particularly in the first half of the book. It didn’t bother me, partly because we need to know all the information, partly because I found it fascinating anyway. I’m a huge fan of El, who has a natural talent for horrific destruction but has had it dinned into her by her adorable mother, that she can’t afford to give into those instinct at all. And Novik manages to depict her absolutely following the rules without her coming off as sickeningly good.

El is bad-tempered, overly cynical, far too touchy and apt to push away those who genuinely want to befriend her – but despite that, she is rigid in trying to avoid doing harm. I really like the fact that she isn’t the overwhelmed, put-upon victim doing the best she can in awful circumstances, either. She’s far too powerful for that. That doesn’t stop her from becoming increasingly trapped in a terrible situation, where the right thing to do is plain terrifying. I also enjoyed the humour, albeit a tad dark-edged, that runs through this story. And I am impressed with Novik’s successful portrayal of a Brit main character, complete with the sardonic street-wise dialogue.

While there is plenty of action throughout, the pace and tension really picks up in the second half of the book, which was difficult to put down once it hit its stride. I was glad Himself had warned me about that ending, though – otherwise I think it would have gone flying across the room. Which is why I’ve passed the warning on. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining read – and I’m very much looking forward to the third book in the series. The ebook arc copy of The Last Graduate was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #2

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In my previous article, I wrote about the run-up to the crisis that had me in despair, which happened just after my last major relapse in the third week of August. In this Sunday Post, hosted by Kimberly, the Caffeinated Reviewer, I’ll talk about what I discovered when I was well enough to be able to go online and search for more information.

The first couple of times I’d searched, I’d found some rather generic advice and a couple of accounts by other sufferers. But there was nothing specific that I could actually use to help me form any kind of coherent recovery plan. The doctor had organised a blood test, which discovered that I was slightly deficient in vitamin D, which I promptly fixed by ordering the recommended dose of tablets. However, that didn’t appear to make any difference. This time around, my online searching hit the jackpot.

Almost immediately, I came across an article recommending that Long Covid sufferers struggling with chronic fatigue get hold of a book – Classic Pacing: For a Better Life with ME by Ingebjørg Midsem Dahl, which I immediately ordered. I went for the print version, which is a bit of a beast, but I use a bookstand so I’m not holding it and I think it’s by far the better option. There are tables and lists, which are much easier to read on a real page, rather than on an ebook. At long last, I had a measure of the extent of my condition and – even more importantly – a strategy to try and stabilise my symptoms, so that I wasn’t trapped in this miserable pattern of recovery and relapse. The book recommends that I gauge my energy levels, then attempt to operate below my limit to ideally avoid becoming bedridden again.

That said, I was a bit chastened when I realised just how limited my life would be – no more quick trips to the beach for the foreseeable future. But we reckoned it was worth it if it helps my ultimate recovery from Long Covid. It also recommends that I take advantage of any equipment to enable me to rest – like using a bath stool to sit while showering, for example. This has meant I’m able to shower more frequently, which helps my mental health. When I am too weak to shower, most days I can still manage a quick wash while sitting at the sink. I went to the physio to get a set of very gentle exercises I can do lying down, on my good days, to try and stop my body becoming a flabby blob. Though fortunately, so far I haven’t put on any weight. On really good days, I take a walk around the block with Himself, using my walking staff as support to help with my balance issues. I think I’m getting a bit quicker, but a dozing snail could still overtake me with ease.

The other major recommendation was to rest frequently during the day, after each task. This prospect would have left me dismayed – but for the fact that someone online had recommended using meditation. Not only does it assist in resting the mind and body, it also teaches calmness and focus. When I mentioned this to my son, he immediately pointed me towards Headspace, an app I could upload onto my phone. This has been a huge help in helping me rest mindfully, but also to meditate on getting better, keeping positive and being kinder to myself. There are also sleepcasts and meditations to help relax before bedtime, which is important as I have a dysfunctional relationship with sleep that goes back years.

I now keep an activity journal, where I write down what I do every day and give each day a mark out of 10 for my mental and physical state. Himself has been putting these in a graph – I’ve now two months of data, as I’d started keeping the score before my relapse. This is important as Time now feels very odd. Each day runs quite slowly, but when I look back, days and weeks seem to bleed into one another so my perception of what has gone before is completely impaired. And obviously, to aid my recovery I need to understand whether I’m getting better or not, so I need a clear record of what happens on a daily basis.

I no longer make any plans – and this was initially something of a struggle as I’m an inveterate list-maker and each night, I’d work out what the coming day’s tasks would be. But I simply can’t, as I never know how I’ll be feeling. I can have three good days in a row – and the next morning wake up feeling fragile and slightly sick when I move. So it’s best not to add an extra twist of disappointment by then having to put a line through any activities I was looking forward to doing.

I pay close attention to what I eat and drink. Fortunately, I don’t have much of an appetite so I’m not tempted to snack or comfort-eat – but I learnt early on that sugar is not my friend in any form. It makes me tired, depressed and causes joint pain, particularly in my back where I have a dodgy disc, anyway. So no sweets, biscuits, or cakes – I’ve even discovered they put sugar in lots of bread. So it’s sourdough slices for my morning toast and in the evening, there’s plenty of fresh vegetables, often with a side salad, all prepared by Himself. I love my lapsang souchong, but limit myself to two cups a day – and then it’s onto a variety of herbal teas, including peppermint and liquorice; lavender and oat; redbush and turmeric. While I’m aware that caffeine can be inflammatory and it would be ideal to cut it out – there’s a balance. And right now, I reckon I need those two cups of tea in my life.

I need to stay upbeat and positive to get through this – and not just for my sake. Himself has been an absolute trooper throughout – unfailingly kind and nurturing. But I’m very aware that he is under enormous strain, not only holding down an important, safety-critical job, but then coming home and looking after me, while doing all the housework, shopping and cooking. Whenever I’m tempted to feel sorry for myself, I remember that in many ways he has it worse than I do. And whatever the future holds – there isn’t a quick fix ahead of us. I’m banking on being part of the statistical cohort that eventually recovers – I have to believe that. I had a wonderful life before this happened and I want it back. But realistically, I still have months ahead of me – maybe years – whereby I have to focus on pacing myself below what I can do in the hope that gives my body sufficient surplus energy to devote to healing itself. Wish me luck! In the meantime, I’ll try to post updates on my progress and anything I’ve encountered or experienced that might help others in my situation. Thank you so very much for your comments and good wishes – it’s been lovely to reconnect with so many of you. Though please understand that I’m likely to disappear again, as being able to spend any time in front of the computer only happens when I’m feeling at my very best.

I’ve been reading like a fiend during my illness – thank goodness for books, both audio and digital! Without them I’d be gibbering at the moon by now. I lead a very limited life and being able to escape into all sorts of intriguing worlds and adventures has helped to pass the time and keep me entertained. This week I’ve read:-

Assassin’s Bond – Book 3 of the Chains of Honor series by Lindsay Buroker
Yanko and his friends must escape a Turgonian prison and find passage back home before their enemies claim an advantage that could change the world. And not for the good of the Nurian people.

But even more trouble awaits at home. Civil war has broken out, Yanko’s family is in danger, and the man who sent him on his mission has disappeared. If Yanko can’t find Prince Zirabo, he’ll forever remain a criminal and be hunted down by his own people. Worse, his only chance to survive and redeem his honor may be to rely on the one person who’s been trying to kill him since his adventure began.
This next instalment in this entertaining adventure is full of action, incident, quirky amusing characters and laugh-aloud moments. Buroker has become a favourite author of mine over the last few months. I’m so impressed at her ability to tell a cracking story full of tension and emotion and yet still manage to inject real humour throughout.
9/10

The Necropolis Empire: A Twilight Imperium novel by Tim Pratt
Bianca Xing has spent a lifetime on a provincial planet, dreaming of travelling the stars. When her planet is annexed by the Barony of Letnev, Bianca finds herself being taken into custody, told that she’s special – the secret daughter of a brilliant scientist, hidden away on a remote planet for her own safety.

But the truth about Bianca is stranger. There are secrets hidden in her genetic code that could have galaxy altering consequences. Driven by an incredible yearning and assisted by the fearsome Letnev Captain, Dampierre, Bianca must follow her destiny to the end, even if it leads to places that are best left forgotten.
This is a real treat. Pratt’s breezy tone drives this adventure forward with verve and pace which had me really caring for the protagonists. He writes truly nice characters very well, which is harder than he makes it look. Review to follow.
9/10

The Broken Throne – Book 16 of the Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
The Kingdom of Zangaria has fallen into civil war. On one side, King Randor and his forces, determined to impose his rule over the entire kingdom; on another, the noblemen who want to crush the king; on a third, Princess Alassa and the Levellers.

Caught in the middle, Emily must steer a course between her loyalty to her friend, her duty to people who put their faith in her and her fears for the future. But King Randor has unleashed forces even he may be unable to control…
This is another cracking series that has continued to deliver all sorts of unexpected twists and turns that has me enthralled. This particular episode charts some of the fallout caused by Emily bringing inventions from contemporary Earth to a feudal system driven by magic.
9/10

Battle Ground – Book 17 of the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher
Harry has faced terrible odds before. He has a long history of fighting enemies above his weight class. The Red Court of vampires. The fallen angels of the Order of the Blackened Denarius. The Outsiders.

But this time it’s different. A being more powerful and dangerous on an order of magnitude beyond what the world has seen in a millennium is coming. And she’s bringing an army. The Last Titan has declared war on the city of Chicago, and has come to subjugate humanity, obliterating any who stand in her way. Harry’s mission is simple but impossible: Save the city by killing a Titan. And the attempt will change Harry’s life, Chicago, and the mortal world forever.
Don’t pick this one up unless you have read Peace Talks and clearly recall the story or you’ll flounder. The action moves forward from the previous book and Butcher doesn’t hang around. And the title is spot on – the whole book essentially describes an epic battle, from the build-up to the immediate fallout. Review to follow.
8/10

Scorched Heart – Book 4 of the Firebrand series by Helen Harper
My parents were brutally murdered when I was five years old. Their killer has spent the last twenty-five years in prison for his terrible crimes – but I still have unanswered questions. After all, I am the phoenix. When I die, I am reborn in fire and brimstone. It happens again and again and again. I have no idea where my strange ability came from and nobody to ask.

Now another shocking murder has been committed in the small village where my parents died and there is evidence which suggests the killer is supernatural. The crime gives me the perfect reason to return to my childhood home. I can offer my expertise as a Supe Squad detective – and seek the truth behind what I really am. The trouble is that I might not like what I find.
In this, the fourth instalment of this exciting Brit-based urban fantasy featuring Emma, we finally discover the mystery behind the tragedy that has overshadowed her life since she was five. Harper’s pacy plotting and engaging characters have drawn me into this world and I really enjoyed the twisty climax to this tense murder mystery.
9/10

Owl’s Fair – Book 2 The Owl Star Witch series by Leanne Leeds
Once Astra Arden realized her life’s direction had been chosen for her by the goddess Athena, the former witch tracker did her best to adjust. After all, there were destinies you could fight to change, and there were destinies that, when refused, might get you turned into a stone statue for eternity.

When the altruistic Alice Windrow comes to Athena’s Garden for a tarot card reading, the cheerful young woman seems to not have a care in the world. Known throughout the town for her philanthropy funded by a distant relative’s substantial inheritance, she only wishes assurance that the marathon she sponsored will come off without a hitch. The reading takes a turn when Athena’s glowing Star Card flips—showing someone has it in for the innocent Alice. Can Astra and her sisters unravel the plot in time to stop Alice’s murder? Or will the generous girl find that her marathon is officially over—for good?
I’d found some of the reads this week a tad intense – so I went looking for something a bit more lighthearted. And recalled that I’d recently read the first book in this enjoyable urban fantasy series about poor old Astra having to move back home and being tasked to prevent murders before they happen on behalf of the goddess Athene. She even has a talking owl for help – though Archie provides all sorts of problems along the way, too. This enjoyable offering is skilfully plotted, with plenty of twists and tension along with the laughs. Just what I needed!
9/10

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m very aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be in a position to start to reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and have a lovely week:).

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of In the Shadow of Deimos by Jane Killick #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #IntheShadowofDeimosbookreview

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I’m a sucker for murder mysteries – and I have a particular fondness for whodunits in a sci fi setting. Stuck on the ship in deep space, or on a colony in a hab bubble where the outside atmosphere is lethal provides ideal locked room scenarios without having to reach for outlandish reasons why everyone is cut off and fleeing isn’t an option. So when I saw this offering, I immediately requested it.

BLURB: Mars, 2316. The recently created Terraforming Committee arbitrates the dramatic development of Mars by powerful rival corporations. When a rogue asteroid crashes into a research center and kills its lone technician, the fragile balance between corporations is shattered. The World Government’s investigation into the accident reveals a multitude of motives, while a corporation insider stumbles on a dark conspiracy. Two Martians with very different agendas must navigate a trail of destruction and treachery to uncover the truth and expose those responsible, before Mars falls to Earth’s corruption. As lines blur between progress and humanity, Mars itself remains the biggest adversary of all.

REVIEW: As I checked up on this book after finishing it, I discovered that a boardgame called Terraforming Mars provides the setting. I was blissfully unaware of the game while reading the book, so don’t let that nugget of information put you off. It doesn’t matter to anyone picking up the book, as it doesn’t impact your reading experience in any way.

This is a slow-burn mystery where the daily rhythm of the teams who are tasked with terraforming Mars is explored in some detail. So this isn’t one for murder mystery fans who only want a splash of sci fi in their crime scene. However, I appreciated the way Killick gives the reader a very clear picture of how the terraforming effort is progressing, while introducing us to the main protagonists. Inevitably there are strains between competing corporations – and also some major issues are discussed. Should Humanity be altering Mars to suit our needs at all? What if in doing so, we inadvertently destroy some biological organisms that we haven’t yet discovered? As a science fiction fan, I found all this fascinating, especially as running alongside these plotlines is the growing sense that all is not well within Mars’ fledgling community.

Killick’s smooth, unfussy writing style pulled me into the story, so that I stayed up faar later than I should to discover what happens next. Because while this one starts slowly, there are several excellent action scenes that are all the more shocking because of the relatively low key beginning. And the climactic episode out on the surface, where a man is struggling for his life after being double-crossed, is one I won’t forget in a hurry. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale – as well as the slightly bitter-sweet ending, which has stayed with me. I shall be looking around for more of Killick’s books and thoroughly recommend this Mars’ murder mystery. While I obtained an arc of In the Shadow of Deimos from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID – March to August 2021

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I’m aware that after mentioning on my blog that I was struggling with Long Covid, I would occasionally pop up for a few articles and then disappear again. Sometimes there would be a smiling pic of me and Himself, looking reasonably okay. However, there hasn’t been any continuity and I increasingly haven’t been visiting other blogs or being part of the lovely online bookish community that matters so much to me. So while I can, I thought I’d try to explain what has been happening over the last seven months during this Sunday Post article, hosted by the Caffeinated Reviewer. This section takes us to the third week in August…

Looking back, having Covid now seems a bit of a blur. I do know that Himself and I went down with it together. He was a lot sicker than me, as he had problems breathing which was aggravated by his severe sleep apnea. He needs a mask and a machine to help him breathe, but the breathlessness meant he couldn’t wear his mask. Neither could he manage breathing lying down. At its worst, he spent several days – at least four – sitting in his chair in the corner of the lounge, gasping like a fish out of water. His hands were freezing and yellow and he couldn’t get warm. That was the bit that really scared me – Himself hardly ever feels cold. And never in the house with the fire going.

Given that we’d gone down with the same illness at the same time, you’d think our symptoms would be similar, but they weren’t. I didn’t have any breathing problems and instead of Himself’s difficulty in keeping warm, I was running hot with a temperature. But more than anything else, I felt achy and tired. Overwhelmingly tired. Apparently I slept eighteen hours at a time – Himself several times struggled up the stairs to make sure I was still breathing. But then, I regularly also checked up on him during the middle of the night, after jerking awake bathed in sweat in the middle of a fever-dream, convinced he’d died in his chair in the corner of the lounge. I couldn’t sit in there with him, because it was unbearably hot and I was in too much pain with aching joints and a stiletto-sharp stabbing between the ribs on my right side. That still bothers me during my relapses. I remember becoming convinced that he’d die – and feeling utterly helpless. We had a finger monitor to check our blood oxygen levels and Himself was low enough that the Dr phoned him every day to ensure he wasn’t ill enough to go to hospital. I recall feeling that we were in the middle of a complicated nightmare and when I look back on it, that whole period seems like a very bad dream.

Thankfully, we gradually started to recover. However, I still slept a lot and would wake up, groggy and hot, feeling weary. It took me nearly another two weeks after Himself had returned to work in April, before I began to feel a bit more like myself. But every so often I would try to do something, only to be engulfed in a terrible sensation – as if I’d run a very long race. I’d be sweating, my body was shaky and weak, the room would start tilting and I’d feel as if I was about to be sick. Tiredness… fatigue… exhaustion… those words don’t begin to describe it. Sometimes, just putting my feet on the floor while getting out of bed brings it on.

However, I was sure it would pass and very gradually, with a few hitches, I seemed to be getting better. It helped that we had a lot of sunshine in June and July. Indeed, by mid-June I was up and about, and although I did have the odd day when I felt terrible, I finally believed I was able to put the whole horrible experience behind me. Then came the curtain-washing incident. I wanted to clean the house thoroughly and decided one lovely sunny morning to wash the curtains. I managed the lounge curtains and the first set in the hall. But getting on a stool to take down the next set – I was hit again with the same symptoms – shakiness, terrible weakness, dizziness and suddenly I was retching. I crawled upstairs and back to bed. And spent days there, only able to stagger to the adjacent toilet when I had to.

And that has set the pattern ever since. I have intervals when I begin to feel a bit better, but the minute I try to do a little bit more, particularly writing – I am once more felled by incapacitating fatigue. It also blankets my emotions. I’m not upset, or sad when I’m bedridden – and I certainly can’t cry, as I don’t have the energy. I call it ‘zombie mode’. I was also coping with my hair coming out in handfuls. Thankfully that’s now stopped and I’m grateful that my hair used to be really thick, as I’ve lost about half of it. Everyone assures me that it will grow back. Additionally, I suffered badly with eczema across my back, itching terribly during the night sweats that still plague me, even when I’m not in the middle of a relapse.

That depressing routine – of starting to feel a little bit better, before suddenly finding I was overwhelmed by exhaustion – has laid waste to my life. I can’t even reliably empty the dishwasher, or clean the bathroom sink. Small bits of writing can only be done on very, very good days, and there aren’t many of those. I often cannot shower or get dressed and putting on make-up is a distant dream. And while everyone around me was unfailingly kind and encouraging – particularly Himself, who has been a superstar throughout – I began to increasingly feel that this was all that lay ahead of me.

There came a day, just after last relapse when I reached the bottom. I was in despair. Before I got sick, I’d had a wonderful life as a writer and teacher – a life that I’d worked hard to achieve. And now, it seemed to be lying in ashes at my feet. I knew I’d much to be grateful for. Unlike many Long Covid sufferers, I’m not in chronic pain and I don’t suffer the terrible breathlessness that afflicted Himself when he was ill. I’ve a wonderful, supportive husband, who is unfailingly nurturing and kind. But still… this seemed a terrible way to have to spend the rest of my life. I was taking vitamins and supplements, trying to be mindful of my energy – and yet, during August I suffered yet another relapse. This one stretched on for fourteen days and when I finally felt well enough to get up again, I was desperate not to end up in zombie mode again, too tired to think or feel. My previous efforts to find information online hadn’t amounted to much more than some vague advice, which hadn’t been all that useful.

And as if in answer to my prayers – the following day, that’s what happened. A major breakthrough. I’ll talk more about that in my next article – though I can’t promise when I’ll post it. In the meantime, I’m so very grateful for those of you who continue to visit and like and comment whenever I summon the energy to publish a review – thank you!

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of An Untidy Death – Book 2 of the Decluttering Mysteries by Simon Brett #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AnUntidyDeathbookreview

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I enjoy reading Simon Brett’s writing – see my reviews of Death on the Downs, Mrs Pargeter’s Public Relations, The Liar in the Library, The Killer in the Choir and Guilt at the Garage. But I’d particularly enjoyed the first book in this series, The Clutter Corpsesee my review. I snapped this one up with excitement when I saw it featured on Netgalley, though I was a tad worried at just how much I was looking forward to diving in, as that can often be a recipe for disappointment – would I enjoy this one as much?

BLURB: “My mother’s going to kill herself . . . That is, if I don’t kill her first.” When Alexandra Richards approaches professional declutterer Ellen Curtis to ask her to help sort out her mother’s chaotic flat, Ellen gets the impression Alexandra doesn’t like her mother very much. But after hearing the local news, Alexandra’s exasperated words don’t seem such a joke…

REVIEW: And that’s as much of this very chatty blurb that I’m inclined to share – don’t read it as it spoils far too much of the plot. I loved this one – indeed, it’s on my Outstanding Reads of the Year list. Ellen is a lovely character, who is briskly efficient and clearly extremely intelligent. She also has dealt with a devastating tragedy in her life with fortitude and resilience. And yes… I know she’s fictional, but I finished this book full of warmth towards this wonderful, three-dimensional protagonist. Brett is an accomplished, experienced author whose main characters are often a bit larger than life, but Ellen isn’t one of those. Her thoughtful, quieter outlook drew me right into the story as she tries to unpick what appears to be an accidental death that she increasingly feels is something else.

Ellen is also surrounded by a strong supporting cast – I love her relationship with her ebullient mother, who is clearly dissatisfied with Ellen’s life choices and delights in emphasising her closeness with Ellen’s daughter. Unlike so many fictional families, they don’t get to hurl hurtful truths at each other that in real life would probably cause complete estrangement. And I also found Ellen’s relationship with her son, who suffers from clinical depression, achingly realistic.

I’m conscious that I’ve managed to make this one sound a rather fraught, dreary read – and it’s nothing of the sort. Set in my neck of the woods, I found myself spluttering with laughter at Brett’s pithy descriptions of local settings. Meanwhile, the murder mystery is beautifully plotted. The pacing is spot on, there are a satisfying number of potential suspects – and of course, I’d spotted the perpetrator. Until halfway through the denouement scene, when I realised it wasn’t who I thought it was… Nicely done! All in all, this is by far the best written murder mystery I’ve read this year and while I’d recommend that you grab the first book, just because it’s also a cracking read – it isn’t necessary to appreciate this gem. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of An Untidy Death from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10