Tag Archives: space opera

Review of KINDLE arc Sol 2781 – Book 4 of the Drago Tell Dramis series by Janet Edwards #BrainfluffKINDLEbookreview #Sol2781bookreview

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My all-time favourite genre when it’s done well is science fiction – not that you’d know it if you’ve been reading my book reviews during the last two years. And that’s because I’ve been going through a really tough time – and a lot of sci fi is on the grim side. Not so the books of Janet Edwards, so I was delighted when she asked me if I would like a review copy of the latest offering in her enjoyable Drago Tell Dramis series. I’m a solid fan of her writing, see my reviews of of Earth Girl, Earth Star, Earth Flight, Earth and Air, Frontier and her short story collection Earth Prime which are all books set in her Earth Girl series, as well as Telepath, Defender, Hurricane and Borderline in the Hive Mind series, and Scavenger Alliance and Scavenger Blood in the Scavenger Exodus series, which is a spinoff prequel series set in the Earth Girl world. This series featuring disaster magnet Draco Tell Dramis is also set before the Earth Girl books in the same world – but only a few years before we get to meet young Jarra. This series featuring disaster magnet Draco Tell Dramis is also set before the Earth Girl books in the same world – but only a few years before we get to meet young Jarra. I’ve also reviewed Hestia 2781 and Array 2781 in this series, as well as the short story ‘Hera 2781‘, which kicks everything off.

BLURB: Major Drago Tell Dramis is celebrating the fact that the saboteur has been caught, and the Earth solar arrays will be safe now. The arrest of a member of the main board of Hospital Earth has consequences though. As Drago hits orbital levels of fury, and declares his own personal war against Hospital Earth, he’s hit by even more unexpected problems.

There’s a joke that says one birth member of the Tell clan attracts trouble, two birth members of the Tell clan invite minor disasters, while three is the critical mass that triggers cataclysmic events. As the danger mounts, the question is whether Drago and his two cousins, Jaxon and Gemelle, can prove an alternative theory. Are three members of the Tell clan really the critical mass that resolves cataclysmic events?

REVIEW: Firstly, if you encounter this book without having read any of the other offerings in the Drago Tell Dramis series – my firm advice would be to track down the first book, which is a novelette. ‘Hera 2781’ gives you an ideal opportunity to work out whether you’ll enjoy Edwards’ writing style and the storyline without having to invest a huge amount of time and money.

As for me – I’ll happily hoover up anything she writes. There is an energy and positivity in Edwards’ writing that I always thoroughly enjoy and is well matched with the young protagonists she portrays. That doesn’t mean they have an easy time of it – far from it. Drago Tell Dramis might come from a high-profile family, with the good looks and advantageous connections that goes with such a background – but Edwards also gives us a clear insight into some of the major snags of being instantly recognisable wherever he goes. Sometimes the consequent scrapes are dangerous, while at other times they are simply hilarious – so long as your name isn’t Drago… It doesn’t help that Drago is also a first-class disaster magnet, particularly when paired up with his cousin, Jaxon. Though Jaxon has problems of his own, given that he is battling with a terrible decision he made years ago, when he was too young to realise the consequences.

The premise could so easily have turned this book into a dark exploration of two conflicted, doom-ridden heroes. In Edwards’ hands, however, there is an optimistic vibe to the writing that gives the story an energy that impels me to keep turning the pages. And though there are tough times and even heartbreak – I always finish one of Edwards’ books feeling uplifted and more cheerful. This time around was no exception, apart from the sense of loss when you get to the end of a series featuring an engaging and enjoyable protagonist. Highly recommended for sci fi fans who appreciate regular dollops of humour alongside their futuristic action.
9/10

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 arc What Rough Beast – Book 3 of the Remembrance War by Michael R. Johnston #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #WhatRoughBeastbookreview

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This is the final book in this tumultuous and action-filled military space opera adventure – and I’m so very glad that I took the time to read the first two books before embarking on this one. Indeed, I listened to the first book on audio, which is very well done and I’m hoping the publishers will produce the next two books in this entertaining trilogy. I’ll definitely be keeping a lookout for Johnston’s next offering.

BLURB: As the Zhen Empire descends into civil war, Tajen, Liam, and Katherine each have their own part to play in the final conflict between the human race and the Zhen Empire. As Tajen searches the outer regions in an attempt to find and recruit Zhen deserters to his side, Katherine heads for Marauder space to seek out technology their Tabran allies need.

Liam, believing his two best friends dead, must keep the human fleet alive as it is pursued across the Empire by Zhen forces. As the final battle approaches, each of them will be tested to their limits.

REVIEW: First things first – if you have picked up this one without reading the previous two books in this trilogy, instead seek out The Widening Gyre, which is the first book. While Johnston provides an excellent ‘Story So Far’ roundup at the beginning, you necessarily won’t get anything other than the bare bones of the story. And one of the main strengths of the narrative is how the main characters grow and change in the face of the challenges confronting them.

Secondly, for those of you who, like me, are interested in such things, I was intrigued by the titles – not least because they rang annoying bells that I know I’d have recalled before being smitten with Long Covid. And sure enough, Johnston helpfully provides a copy of the poem ‘The Second Coming’ by W.B. Yeats from where all his titles originate. It’s a fabulous piece of writing and nicely chimes with the overarching menace facing humanity in this adventure.

I’m not going to claim that this adventure is anything particularly original – the scenario of nasty aliens threatening to expunge humanity from the universe is as cosily familiar as a late-night cup of cocoa. However, the manner in which our hapless species has been done over by the Zhen Empire is particularly nasty. And yet makes absolute sense in a way that the reasoning behind alien hostility all too often doesn’t. I also appreciated the way that Johnston doesn’t simply lump all the nasty aliens together as ‘the baddies’, while put-upon humans are elevated to a minor sainthood. Nope – in his world there are human agents who believe the species can only ultimately survive by being in thrall to the Zhen and work against the fight to free humanity every bit as passionately as the most committed Zhen supremacist. Meanwhile, one of Tajen’s most loyal supporters is one of his former Zhen comrades. It’s enjoyable to see such nuances in play, as it keeps the reader wondering who is truly trustworthy, as well as feeling more believable.

Tajen is the main protagonist and his storyline is the overarching narrative arc. While he is the classic adrenaline-junkie hero who flings himself into risky scenarios, I was interested to note that he is also gay. His relationship with his husband is written with tenderness and conviction, giving it importance in the story, yet without any graphic sex scenes or a sense that Johnston is trying to make a point. So it works really well. Though in this book, Tajen doesn’t get much opportunity to spend time with his friends and family, as our plucky band are scattered throughout the galaxy as they desperately try to prevail against overwhelming odds. Indeed, it’s foot-to-the-floor action throughout and the pages turned themselves as I wanted to discover who was doing what to whom – and whether they would all survive. Space opera is difficult to write well and I enjoy it when I can simply relax and let the author do his thing, because he’s nailed the conventions and knows how to transfer from one scene to another without jarring or annoying the reader – which is a skill far too many don’t manage effectively.

All in all, this book was a thoroughly enjoyable conclusion to an entertaining, well-written space opera trilogy, and comes recommended to fans of the genre. I’m hoping Johnston is going to revisit this world in due course, as there is lots of scope for more adventures with some of the other characters we encountered. While I obtained an arc of The Veiled Masters from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Veiled Masters: a Twilight Imperium novel by Tim Pratt #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheVeiledMastersbookreview

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I enjoy Pratt’s writing – his delightful duology made up of Doors of Sleep and Prison of Sleep provides an original spin on the portal adventure premise that has me hoping for more in this intriguing world. And as I’ve also read another Twilight Imperium adventure – The Necropolis Empire – I was more than happy to revisit this entertaining world.

BLURB: The balance of power is shifting, with bold new alliances, unknown invaders, and the rumored return of the galaxy’s ancient masters. When black-ops spy Amina Azad saves a Hacan ambassador from assassination, she draws him into her investigation of a vast conspiracy: unseen forces are destabilizing the whole galaxy, at the worst possible time. Pursued by agents from dozens of other factions, they can only make progress by allying with their apparent enemies. But even they might be compromised – duped into action by a secret puppet-master. How can they trust an alliance when they can’t trust themselves?

REVIEW: The first thing to get out of the way is the Twilight Imperium aspect. Apparently, this entertaining series of space opera adventure books is a spin-off from a popular board game, Twilight Imperium. I mention this in case some fans of the game are prompted to pick up the books. However, if you are a reader who generally avoids reading books connected to TV series, films and games (like me!) you can ignore this nugget of information. If I hadn’t told you the origin of the novel, there’s nothing in the storytelling, characterisation or worldbuilding that would give it away.

One of the aspects that I really like is that although this book is set within the same world as The Necropolis Empire, it is essentially a standalone, even though there are characters from previous adventures that pop up, giving us further insights into their motivations and vulnerabilities. This time, the conspiracy our plucky black-ops heroine is scrambling to head off is truly horrific. Space opera is difficult to write well, as the storyline is often pan-galactic in scope and requires frequent changes of scene and character in order to fully explore all aspects and consequences of the narrative arc. Pratt’s upbeat, energetic style skilfully avoids all the pitfalls, instead giving us intriguing, layered characters, despite the necessary scene changes; and a clear plotline that emerges from the twisty conspiring which held me from the beginning.

I very much like that fact that Pratt’s characters are morally ambiguous. Our protagonists are often self-serving and a bit dodgy. While the ultimate antagonists are not necessarily evil monsters – even though the fate they have in mind is a terrible one for millions of unsuspecting sentient beings. One of the big attractions of Pratt’s writing is that while he is often dealing with dark deeds, the tone of his books tends not to get overly grim, as there are some nice touches of humour throughout to leaven the enormity of the threat. I understand that this is the last of his Twilight Imperium novels – which I very much regret. As ever, tucking into this adventure was a blast and I look forward to reading more from this skilful, entertaining author. While I obtained an arc of The Veiled Masters from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 8th June, 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 Veiled Masters: A Twilight Imperium novel by Tim Pratt – release date – 21st June, 2022

#science fiction #space opera adventure #alien encounter #feisty heroine

BLURB: The balance of power is shifting, with bold new alliances, unknown invaders, and the rumored return of the galaxy’s ancient masters. When black-ops spy Amina Azad saves a Hacan ambassador from assassination, she draws him into her investigation of a vast conspiracy: unseen forces are destabilizing the whole galaxy, at the worst possible time. Pursued by agents from dozens of other factions, they can only make progress by allying with their apparent enemies. But even they might be compromised – duped into action by a secret puppet-master. How can they trust an alliance when they can’t trust themselves?

I thoroughly enjoy Tim Pratt’s writing and have read another book in this series – The Necropolis Empiresee my review. I hadn’t appreciated before I acquired the arc that the novel is a spin-off from the board game Twilight Imperium, because if I had, I wouldn’t have bothered with it. Which is a happy accident, as I thoroughly enjoyed the rip-roaring space opera adventure, which was full of twisty action with a thoroughly likeable protagonist. So I’m looking forward to some more enjoyable time in this engaging world.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Under Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchings #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #UnderFortunateStarsbookreview

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It was the cover of this one that initially drew my attention – I’m always a sucker for a beautiful spacescape. And then I was further intrigued by reading the blurb…

BLURB: Fleeing the final days of the generations-long war with the alien Felen, smuggler Jereth Keeven’s freighter the Jonah breaks down in a strange rift in deep space, with little chance of rescue—until they encounter the research vessel Gallion, which claims to be from 152 years in the future.

The Gallion’s chief engineer Uma Ozakka has always been fascinated with the past, especially the tale of the Fortunate Five, who ended the war with the Felen. When the Gallion rescues a run-down junk freighter, Ozakka is shocked to recognize the Five’s legendary ship—and the Five’s famed leader, Eldric Leesongronski, among the crew. But nothing else about Leesongronski and his crewmates seems to match up with the historical record. With their ships running out of power in the rift, more than the lives of both crews may be at stake.

REVIEW: This is an intriguing premise. Two ships separated by 150 years get caught up in a mysterious rift where nothing is getting in or out. So far, so average. What has everyone on the Gallion completely freaked out is that the battered little trader they eventually haul aboard is the most famous ship in recent history – the Jonah. It played a crucial role in saving two species from destroying themselves. However… the crew aren’t remotely similar to the brave Five depicted in the history books. In fact, several key figures appear to be missing.

I really enjoyed where this one goes, particularly as I am a bit of a History buff. This book skips between timelines, as we gradually build up a more complete picture of the main characters involved in this key event – and what actually has happened to them, as opposed to what the history books say about them. There are also some nice touches of humour – I particularly like Hutchings’ depiction of the corporate space liner and its risk-averse policy.

The descriptions of the ships, the steadily building tension as time runs out, the characterisation of the main protagonists – these aspects of the story are all very well handled. But I did have a problem with the pacing. Right at the start of the story, we learn of the crucial role of the Jonah and its five crew members, so the reader is ahead of the little ship’s crew for quite a chunk of the book. While I was never tempted to DNF this one, as I enjoyed the overall premise, there was a middle section when I wanted to story to speed up. Once we got past a certain stage where I no longer could predict what would happen, I once again found the story a wholly engrossing and pleasurable read. And the ending packs a real emotional punch which I found very moving. Recommended for space opera fans who appreciate something a bit different in their alien encounters. While I obtained an arc of Under Fortunate Stars from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #13

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

I’m aware that I sound like a cracked record when I say that once again, it’s been a fortnight of ups and downs. For much of this week, once again I ended up feeling very tired and shaky. Though this time around, I didn’t ease off as much as I previously would have. I’ve recently finished reading The Long Covid Self-Help Guide written by the specialists at the Post-Covid Clinic, Oxford, which was the first one of its kind in the country. I will be reviewing it in due course, though right now I’m sorting through the tangle of feelings it caused.

As a consequence of some of the advice I read, I’ve started up-pacing – the process where I’m now trying to increase my level of physical activity without triggering another major relapse. It’s a tricky business. I’m aware that my Long Covid symptoms might well evolve into ME/CFS if I get this wrong. I’m in my mid-sixties and was formerly very active and healthy – far too young to continue living like a frail ninety-something for the rest of my life. Equally, I’ve also become aware that I could be compromising my recovery by being too inactive. And at present, I’m doing this more or less on my own, so finding the right balance is a huge challenge. Especially as if I do trigger a relapse like the one I had last August, I’ll probably lose all the progress I’ve made to date, as I’m still not back to the level of activity I had last July and the first half of August, before I became completely bedridden for a fortnight.

This week, I did have a scan at the local hospital to monitor my swollen thyroid and the painful glands in my neck. The radiologist reported there is no change, which I suppose is good news. Though to be honest – I would have preferred it if she had told me that my thyroid was returning to its normal size. I also had an eye test, which I had to attend on my own, due to Covid precautions. I was really pleased that during the whole rather intense two-hour session, I didn’t feel too exhausted. However, it was something of a challenge to try and choose glasses frames without being able to properly see what they looked like on my face. Fingers crossed I shan’t be too disappointed at my appearance when I pick them up!

We’ve had some amazingly mild weather for the time of year, with lots of sunshine. However, it couldn’t last and now the temperatures are in the 40s, with a bitter wind and the occasional flurry of sleety rain. Our grandson came to stay this week, and is always a ray of sunshine, no matter what the weather and my daughter finally moved into a lovely house that is just a short drive away. So no matter what else is happening – having family closer is a massive silver lining to any clouds I’m still battling.

This week I’ve read:-

AUDIOBOOK Cyteen – Books 1-3 by C.J. Cherryh
The saga of two young friends trapped in an endless nightmare of suspicion and surveillance, of cyber-programmed servants and a ruling class with century-long lives – and the enigmatic woman who dominates them all. Narrators Jonathan Davis and Gabra Zackman skillfully split up this sweeping sci-fi epic that is “at once a psychological novel, a murder mystery, and an examination of power on a grand scale.”

I listened to this one and was completely enthralled. And yes… I get that some folks found it slow and overwritten. But as the story unfolded in over 36 hours of listening, I became increasingly awed at the sheer level of detail Cherryh offers in this layered, dangerous world of post-humans who have been genetically engineered. I’m also full of admiration at how she portrays both the best of the worst of them, so that by the end – I had a strong sense of their whole personalities. I’ve been thinking about this book ever since I listened to it. Indeed, it was a struggle to be really fair to the next offering I heard, as part of me was in mourning that it wasn’t Cyteen. Very highly recommended. 11/10

Scars of Stone – Book 2 of the Pacts Arcane and Otherwise series by Joanna Maciejewska
The battle with a demonic foe had opened Kamira’s and Veelk’s eyes: they were unprepared for their task. If they want a chance of freeing Veranesh from his crystal prison, they need the help of a brilliant inventor imprisoned by Gildya, a man also desired by the refugee queen, Cahala, who will stop at nothing to slake her thirst for magic.

Time is also of the essence as Archmage Yoreus maneuvers for power. Once he claims the title of the first archmage for himself, he will tie up all loose ends, and that entails burying Kamira, Veelk, and a long line of secrets he’d prefer to be forgotten. Kamira and Veelk have a rule, “no heroics, survival first.”
When dealing with demons, avoiding heroics is easy. But survival? Not so much.
This is a reread. I suddenly realised that I’ve the next book on my Kindle, Shadows Over Kaighal which I pre-ordered and to get the best out of this Sand and Sorcery tale, I needed to remind myself of who is doing what to whom. This story is too good for me to compromise my reading experience otherwise. I love Kamira and the fact that Joanna’s characters are nuanced and layered. This classy and engrossing series deserves to be far better known. 9/10

Murder Most Vile – Book 9 of the Langham & Dupré series by Eric Brown
London. April, 1957. Private investigator Donald Langham is approached by retired businessman Vernon Lombard to find his missing son, Christopher. But what appears to be a simple case of a missing artist becomes far more alarming when Langham realizes there’s more to Christopher’s disappearance than meets the eye, and then makes a terrible discovery.

Meanwhile, Langham’s business partner Ralph Ryland’s search for a missing greyhound forces him to confront a shameful secret from his own past, with terrifying consequences. Can Langham navigate London’s criminal underworld, fascism and deception to track down a killer and save Ralph’s life?
This one is slightly darker than the previous books in this series, but that doesn’t prevent it from being a thoroughly engrossing read. Indeed, once I got past a certain point I couldn’t put it down. I loved the evocation of 1950s London and the bonus is that you don’t have to read any of the other books in the series to thoroughly enjoy it. Review to follow. 8/10

A Catastrophic Theft – Book 3 of the Reg Rawlins, Psychic Investigator series by P.D. Workman

Reg’s relationship with Sarah, who has been her loyal friend and protector since she arrived becomes strained when Sarah’s precious emerald necklace disappears. There is no shortage of suspects, with Reg herself at the front of the line.

This is the last book in the three-book box set I bought for a very reasonable price when I was looking for something a bit lighter. I’ve been impressed at the depth of Reg’s character and the ongoing development throughout the three books – to the extent that I have now bought the next box set of books 4-6 for much more money… Recommended for fans who enjoy a three-dimensional protagonist with darker aspects in their character. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK Battlestar Suburbia – Book 1 of the Battlestar Suburbia series by Chris McCrudden
In space, no one can hear you clean…

When Darren’s charge-cart gets knocked off the Earth-to-Mars highway and lost in space forever, he thinks his day can’t get any worse. When Kelly sees Darren accidentally short-circuit a talking lamppost, and its camera captures her face as it expires, she thinks her day can’t get any worse.

When Pamasonic Teffal, a sentient breadmaker, is sent on a top-secret mission into the depths of the internet and betrayed by her boss, a power-crazed smartphone, she knows this is only the beginning of a day that isn’t going to get any better. Join Darren, Kelly and Pam in an anarchic comic adventure that takes them from the shining skyscrapers of Singulopolis to the sewers of the Dolestar Discovery, and find out what happens when a person puts down their mop and bucket and says No.
The author narrates this one himself and just about gets away with it, despite the rather flat delivery and occasional stumble. I loved the genuinely witty and clever references that keep coming throughout which often made me laugh out loud. Yet I am also impressed at how much emotional heft there is within this adventure. Unlike some sci fi comedies, McCrudden never forgets that the characters caught in the middle of this are having a horrible time – at once point, I wept. And I don’t do that very often. Highly recommended for fans of quirky and cleverly written adventures. 9/10

Parallel Lies – Book 1 of the Ross duology by Georgia Rose
Madeleine Ross has life exactly as she planned it. Cosy cottage, friendly village, satisfying job. Company… when she wants it. It’s an enviable existence for an independent young woman, and one she’s keen to protect.

Enter Daniel – strong, dependable and a danger to everything she’s built. He’s not something she was looking for, but hearts can’t be controlled and maybe, just maybe he might be worth letting into hers. But, all is not what it seems. Because Madeleine is hiding a lifetime of secrets. Deep secrets. And they never stay buried for ever. Her darkest secret returns, like the proverbial bad penny. He is her first love, shadowy, dangerous, the baddest of bad boys. No matter how far she runs, or how well she hides, she can never escape him. Or her past…
Yep. A contemporary story of someone trying to outrun a very dark past and grappling with a new love in her life. Not my usual fare – and the reason why I kept turning the pages was the tension that Rose managed to engender in her writing. I rapidly really cared for Madeline and wanted her to prevail – it didn’t hurt that once upon another lifetime ago, I used to live in a village not unlike the one she finds herself in, either. If you enjoy a sympathetic protagonist in a contemporary setting, then you might well find this one difficult to put down. Though it ends on a cliff-hanger… Be warned – there is a rape scene and a severely abused child. 8/10

The Cunning Man – A Schooled in Magic spinoff by Christopher G. Nuttall
Adam of Beneficence wanted to be a magician, and even undertook a magical apprenticeship, but there isn’t a single spark of magic in his entire body. In desperation, his master arranged for him to study at Heart’s Eye University, a former school of magic that has become a university, a place where magicians and mundanes can work to combine their talents and forge the future together.

But all is not well at Heart’s Eye. The magical and mundane apprentices resent and fear each other, the teaching staff is unsure how to shape the university and, outside, powerful forces are gathering to snuff out the future before it can take shape. As Adam starts his new apprenticeship, and stumbles across a secret that could reshape the world, he finds himself drawn into a deadly plot that could destroy the university …

… And leave Lady Emily’s legacy in flaming ruins.
Himself is definitely a keeper – I’d mentioned that I was suffering from withdrawal symptoms from the Schooled in Magic series, and he went and bought this offering for me. It charts events at the new university that Emily has set up, in the hope that mundanes and magicians can learn to work together. However, events take a dark turn. I loved this one. Adam is an engaging protagonist and it was enjoyable to see the world through the eyes of someone born into it. It would make a good introduction for someone who hasn’t read any of the other books – or who, like me, wants more Schooled in Magic goodness… 9/10

Witness for the Persecution – Book 3 of the Jersey Girl Legal Mystery series by E.J. Copperman

Former New Jersey prosecutor Sandy Moss moved to a prestigious Los Angeles law firm to make a new start as a family lawyer. So it seems a little unfair that they have created a criminal law division specifically for her. Just because she’s successfully defended two murder trials, it doesn’t mean she likes them!

But when abrasive Hollywood movie director Robert Reeves is accused of murdering a stuntman on set, Sandy finds she can’t say no when he demands her help. Robert might be an unpleasant, egotistical liar, but something tells Sandy that he’s innocent – even if no one else can see it. At least this time, she reassures herself, her charismatic, adorable, and oh so annoying TV star boyfriend Patrick McNabb isn’t involved in the case. He isn’t . . . right?
I love Sandy’s first-person narrative – it’s pacy, smart and very funny. So – what happens when an attorney finds herself representing a complete jerk that she quickly comes to loathe? This book explores the issues surrounding that dilemma. Complete review to follow. 9/10

The Broken Cage – Book 7 of the Crow Investigations series by Sarah Painter
Get the Crow

A man dies in a locked room, leaving a message written in blood and a lot of unanswered questions.

Lydia is still recovering from the fallout with her psychopathic cousin, but there are new threats to the Crows, and she must fight to maintain her position as leader of the Family.
Meanwhile, an actor has gone missing and Fleet is under pressure to find him fast. But there seems to be more to his tension than he is letting on… Can Lydia solve the mysterious murder before she gets arrested for it?
This urban fantasy series, set in London and featuring crow shapeshifter, Lydia, is now a firm favourite. Painter’s atmospheric and strong writing powerfully evoke the sheer otherness of Lydia’s world in a way that I don’t often encounter within the genre. And as Lydia really begins to explore her scary new powers – a whole host of problems once more beset her. Very highly recommended – but whatever you do, start with the first book and work through the series. It’s far too good to miss any aspect of the world or Lydia’s ongoing development. 9/10

This week I have posted:
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of AUDIOBOOK The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Seven Mercies – Book 2 of the Seven Devils duology by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May #BrainfluffNETGALLEYreview #SevenMerciesbookreview

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I absolutely loved the first book in this dystopian space opera adventure, where a brave band of women from all walks of life attempt to overthrow a thoroughly horrible regime – see my review of Seven Devils. Would I enjoy this concluding slice of the story?

TRUNCATED BLURB: After an ambush leaves the Novantae resistance in tatters, the survivors scatter across the galaxy. Wanted by two great empires, the bounty on any rebel’s head is enough to make a captor filthy rich. And the seven devils? Biggest score of them all. To avoid attacks, the crew of Zelus scavenge for supplies on long-abandoned Tholosian outposts.

Not long after the remnants of the rebellion settle briefly on Fortuna, Ariadne gets a message with unimaginable consequences that forces the seven devils to act. Because if they don’t – there won’t be anything left to fight for…

REVIEW: My advice is not to read the blurb, as it’s far too chatty. I was very glad that I hadn’t, because when the hammer fell I was both surprised and horrified at the enormity of the game-changing twist that forces the devils back into the fray.

What sucked me into the first book is the energetic writing and gung-ho heedlessness that most of women displayed in the face of danger. At the start of Seven Mercies, however, the rebel group are reeling. They have suffered a terrible betrayal that has struck at the very heart of their resistance movement, and they are all counting the cost. The fallout from this catastrophic reverse makes for grim reading, given that it put the eek! in bleak. Now my inability to cope with well written devastation that spans a galaxy is far more down to me and my ongoing battle with Long Covid, rather than any failure of the writing. But do be aware – the dynamic energy that was the hallmark of Seven Devils doesn’t really get going until about 40% of the way through Seven Mercies.

Inevitably, in an ensemble narrative, there are favourites. There was no one I disliked, other than the truly odious villain, Damocles – and even he is also pitiable at times, having also been on the receiving end of his father’s ruthless cruelty. But the highlights for me were the toxic and layered relationship between Eris and her psychotic brother, Damocles, which was powerfully portrayed with surprising depth, given how much is going on throughout this book. And Ariadne’s poignant story – the young girl’s desperate loneliness as she tends to the powerful A.I., Oracle, is also beautifully conveyed, especially at a key moment in the narrative that nicely heightens the tension.

In the meantime we go on learning more about each woman and her backstory, which I enjoyed. I’ve seen this book promoted as a Feminist space opera adventure – and it’s a label I find a bit misleading. It actually features a group of desperate rebels who decide to use their skills and influence to oppose a shockingly brutal regime – who just happen to all be women. They aren’t proposing Feminist principles, or trying to change the society to be more mindful of women’s needs because the Tholosian rulers treat everyone – men, women and children – as if none of them matter.

Overall, this is a powerful and effective conclusion to the story and certainly a must-read if you enjoyed Seven Devils and your jaw dropped in disbelief at that shocking ending. The ebook arc copy of Seven Mercies 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 Shattered Skies – Book 2 of The Cruel Stars series by John Birmingham #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheShatteredSkiesbookreview

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The gorgeous spacescape adorning the cover first snagged my attention when browsing – and for a change I also clocked the fact that this was the second book in the series. So before requesting it, I got hold of The Cruel Stars, which I thoroughly enjoyed. So when I was approved for a copy of The Shattered Skies, I was genuinely pleased – and reread The Cruel Stars just before tucking into this military space opera adventure.

BLURB: The Sturm, a group of “species purists” intent on destroying any human with genetic or cybernetic enhancements, returned from the far reaches of Dark Space to strike a devastating blow against humanity. Though their victory seemed inevitable, a small group of reluctant heroes managed to beat back the invading force. Now left with the remains of a crippled civilization, they must work together to rebuild–and to stand guard, in case those weren’t the only enemies hiding in the dark…

REVIEW: The first book is full of action right from the start, as the Sturm’s horrific weapon incapacitates all the crucial personnel holding power throughout the galaxy by dint of a terrifying attack that scrambles their brains. However in The Shattered Skies that impetus takes a while to get going. But it was a pleasure to get reacquainted with Commander Lucinda Hardy, who finds herself captaining the only surviving warship that can hold its own against the Sturm; Booker3, a super-soldier slated for total deletion before the hammer falls; Princess Alessia, the 12-year-old sole survivor of the most powerful ruling house throughout the system; Sephina L’trel, outlaw and smuggler with a small crew of misfits who have slipped through the cracks; and finally an elderly living legend – former war hero Admiral Frazer McLennan, who has been studying the crash site of the Sturm’s dreadnought to glean whatever information he can about their society. He is accompanied by an A.I. who looks after McLennan’s needs, while the two of them spend their time exchanging insults.

Inevitably in a cast of five protagonists, I had favourites. During The Cruel Stars, it was poor little Alessia’s plight that snagged my attention. Birmingham’s riveting depiction of her kidnap by the Sturm was the highlight of the book for me, as it was written with power and emotion without sliding into sentimentality. My least favourite character was Frazer McLennan and his Intellect, whose constant bickering became a tad tiresome. I was pleased to see that Birmingham was smart enough in The Shattered Skies to have Lucinda Hardy also find these exchanges annoying, too.

While it’s always better to read the first book in a series, particularly as The Cruel Skies is a cracking adventure from start to finish, Birmingham makes sure readers who haven’t had the pleasure won’t flounder too much. But once The Shattered Skies hit its stride, once again I was swept up in the conflict, though there were times when I felt the pacing could have been tightened up. The battles are vividly depicted with plenty of action and tension, so that I could easily visualise who was doing what to whom. Deaths are given plenty of emotional heft and matter to the protagonists, making me care, too – something that doesn’t always happen in this genre.

In this book, there is also the addition of an intriguing antagonist emerging from the ranks of the Sturm who is on the trail of our plucky freedom fighters. He is suitably menacing without sliding into the cliché of a pantomime villain. I liked the fact that he absolutely believes in the rightness of his cause and that we are given clear evidence to back up his point of view. Birmingham’s multi-layered society with its various factions convinced me and provided a strong backdrop for the unfolding story. I’m very much looking forward to reading the final book in this series and recommend this series to military sci fi fans looking for vivid, convincing characters and a high-stakes space war. While I obtained an arc of The Shattered Skies from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10