Tag Archives: swords and sorcery

My Outstanding Reads of 2020 #Brainfluffbookblogger #2020OutstandingReads

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The wonderful books I’ve encountered during this horrible year have, at times, kept my head straight when other pressures have added an extra twist of awfulness due to the pandemic. I have encountered a number of talented authors I’d previously not had the pleasure of reading (I’m looking at you Mary Robinette Kowal, Elisabeth Bear, Marilyn Messik and T. Kingfisher) and managed to complete 11 series, while working my way through 66 other series. I’ll get more nerdy in my post about the stats relating to my 2020 reads, later in the week.

During 2020 I read 184 books and wrote 155 full reviews, with 23 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give them a 10 – but these books have stayed with me, which is why they made the cut. And let’s forget any top ten nonsense – whittling down my list to this paltry number was painful enough!

Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Despite reading this one back in January, I often found myself thinking about brave, clever Emily and what she underwent. That is the mark of a special book – when it won’t leave you alone. I think it’s one of Tchaikovsky’s best, and given the man’s towering talent, that’s saying something. See my review.

AUDIOBOOK Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear
Elizabeth Bear is another wonderful author I discovered this year – and the good news is that she has a pleasingly long backlist. This one was an utter joy to listen to – Haimey’s first-person narrative held me throughout, even though the pacing was somewhat leisurely at times. This book at 500+ pages has it all – vivid action scenes, nail-biting tension, and plenty of plot twists and shocking reveals. And of course a space cat – who could resist that? See my review.

You Let me In by Camilla Bruce
By rights, this shouldn’t have worked for me – I really don’t like books featuring an abused child. But the way Bruce posits this situation is masterfully done, as Cassie narrates her adventures with Pepperman, a grumpy and dangerous fae entity, who draws the small child into the world of the fae. This book has also stayed with me throughout the year. Read my review.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey
This is such a simple book with lots of pictures. The story of four different creatures, who come together to help each other. It could so easily have turned into a treacly, sentimental mess. But it doesn’t. My lovely sister-in-law gave me my copy and it has been beside me ever since. Read my review.

TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier
The opening sequence of this book immediately hooked me and wouldn’t let me go. I enjoy Neumeier’s writing, anyway. But this amazing world and the vividness of her characters still have me regularly thinking about them. In particular, the depiction of being ensorcelled was brilliantly portrayed – I’ve never seen it done better. Read my review.

AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys
This riveting world has left me yearning for more after reading the first book Winter Tide, which made my Outstanding Reads of 2017. So I was thrilled to discover this offering. Aphra is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents, friends and relations when confronted with a new danger. Once more I was pulled into a tense adventure where Lovecraftian monsters were only part of the threat. Read my review.

Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron
This is as much about the celebration of this quirky, enjoyable series, as much as it is about the climactic battle that wraps up the story. Peopled with shape-shifting dragons, a powerful ghost who assumes the shape of a cat and an enraged nature goddess, this urban fantasy reaches epic proportions, with all sorts of surprises and twists along the way. Review to follow.

The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey
I very much enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts, but I liked this even better. Koli is an endearing character with his youth and restless energy that gets him into far too much trouble within his village. This book is set in post-apocalyptic England, where even trees have become feral – but there are welcome shafts of light, too. Read my review.

AUDIOBOOK The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel
This whole series is a tour de force and I loved listening to this extraordinary conclusion to Cromwell’s life, as an embittered Henry VIII becomes ever more difficult to deal with – and Cromwell’s many enemies begin to circle. I wept at the end, which was wonderfully handled – and I’m still trying to work out how Mantel managed to keep me spellbound for so long, when I already knew the outcome before listening to the first chapter. Read my review.

Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
This was one of those books I picked up and couldn’t put down again. Messik’s writing is utterly addictive, as far as I’m concerned and Stella is now my new best friend. I finished this one far too fast and was miserable until I picked up the next one in the series. I think this was the worst book hangover I endured during the year. Review my review.

The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal
This is another of those wonderful authors I discovered this year – and this series just blew me away. I loved Elma York and her battles to gain recognition during the first two books in the series – but when this story introduced me to Nicole, who finds herself trying to track down a saboteur on the Moon, I not only loved every single minute of the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, afterwards. Read my review.

A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Martine Arkady
I tracked down this one, after hearing it compared to the great C.J. Cherryh’s immersive writing style. And I wasn’t disappointed. I loved watching poor Mahit, replacement ambassador to the enigmatic Teixcalaani empire, flounder as she tries to work out just how her predecessor died. This tense murder mystery played out in the far future kept me up far too late as I couldn’t put it down. Read my review.

AUDIOBOOK Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer
I have always enjoyed reading Children’s fiction, because the very best is far too good just to leave to the kids. And this gem certainly falls into that category. A children’s classic that was published in 1969, it is written with depth and sophistication about two schoolgirls who cris-cross into each other’s times. Until something happens to Charlotte… I loved this one. Set in 1918, the period is beautifully portrayed and the bittersweet ending has stayed with me. Read my review.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher
This is another of those books for children, which engrossed and delighted me. Mona is a baker’s apprentice with a small magical talent, who suddenly finds herself caught up in a murder. Events snowball entertainingly – and I found myself thoroughly enjoying Mona’s ingenious creations to try and stay ahead of the baddies. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths
I enjoy Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, so decided to try this latest series and absolutely loved it. There is a tongue-in-cheek Gothic vibe that I found very appealing. Though I have a shocking memory, the twists and turns of this enjoyable murder mystery have stayed with me. Read my review.

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
I was utterly beguiled by Vish when I first encountered him during the fifth book of the series, The Case of the Reincarnated Client earlier in the year and have been eking out the rest of the series ever since. Vish Puri is fond of calling himself the Indian Sherlock Holmes and his energetic attitude and passion for justice are very endearing – even if he does dismiss his clever, streetwise Mummy-Ji, who often takes a close interest in his cases. This book has an extra dimension and Hall is adept at dealing with hefty issues of the painful events around India’s partition in a respectful manner, without making it dreary. Read my review.

While I’d like to think that each one of these books offers some brain fodder, none of them are gloomy, downbeat reads as this year I needed to escape. And my favourite book of 2020? Probably Ancestor Nights, though I’m likely to claim it’s The Relentless Moon if you ask me the same question again tomorrow. And then there’s Relatively Strange, of course…

Sunday Post – 6th December, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

It’s been another really busy week. I was able to attend my first session of Fitstep in over a month and I’m hoping to start back at Pilates, now that our second lockdown has eased and we are designated as a Tier 2 risk. It’s not the same as we have to dance within separate squares and be socially distanced, but flinging myself around to music again was a real treat. This week was dominated by Tim’s annual review and getting the paperwork up together for that, as well as conducting a conference call instead of the usual meeting. And yesterday was my mother’s birthday. We sent her a bouquet of flowers and a card and spoke to her on Skype. She looks marvellous, which is a comfort, but it’s not the same as seeing her…

The photos this week come from a walk along the beach with Himself on the last day of his holiday, before he returned to work on Wednesday. Just look at the millpond smoothness of the water…

Last week I read:

AUDIOBOOK Machine – Book 2 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear
Meet Doctor Jens. She hasn’t had a decent cup of coffee in fifteen years. Her workday begins when she jumps out of perfectly good space ships and continues with developing treatments for sick alien species she’s never seen before. She loves her life. Even without the coffee.

But Dr. Jens is about to discover an astonishing mystery: two ships, one ancient and one new, locked in a deadly embrace. The crew is suffering from an unknown ailment and the shipmind is trapped in an inadequate body, much of her memory pared away. Unfortunately, Dr. Jens can’t resist a mystery and she begins doing some digging. She has no idea that she’s about to discover horrifying and life-changing truths.
I thoroughly enjoyed accompanying Dr Jens as she tried to uncover exactly what was going on. Mystery thrillers set in space are always enjoyable – and though Jens does spend quite a lot of time musing about Life, the Universe and Everything – it was only in the later stages of the mystery that I wanted the pace to pick up. Review to follow.


Forged – Book 11 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka
To protect his friends, Mage Alex Verus has had to change–and embrace his dark side. But the life mage Anne has changed too, and made a bond with a dangerous power. She’s going after everyone she’s got a grudge against–and it’s a long list.
The penultimate book in this series, it certainly has a sense of cranking up the stakes as high as they could possibly go. I like the fact that despite there being a lot of battle scenes – Verus still very much minds about the fact that he is causing the deaths of a lot of people. Review to follow.

Swordheart by T. Kingfisher
Halla is a housekeeper who has suddenly inherited her great-uncle’s estate… and, unfortunately, his relatives. Sarkis is an immortal swordsman trapped in a prison of enchanted steel. When Halla draws the sword that imprisons him, Sarkis finds himself attempting to defend his new wielder against everything from bandits and roving inquisitors to her own in-laws… and the sword itself may prove to be the greatest threat of all.
This was such fun! I have previously read A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, which I’d loved and when I saw Himself had added this one to our TBR, I was delighted. I shall be reading more of this author in the coming year…

My posts last week:
Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

Review of Girls of Paper and Fire – Book 1 of the Girls of Paper and Fire series by Natasha Ngan

November 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging…

Friday Face-off featuring The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Review of Fallen – Book 10 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka

Covet the Covers 13 – Elizabeth Bear

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Forged – Book 11 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka

Tuesday Treasures – 20

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Dark Archive – Book 7 of The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman

12 Science Fiction Reads I’m Looking Forward to in 2021

Sunday Post – 29th November 2020

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

December Countdown: One prompt per day https://lynns-books.com/2020/11/29/december-meme-one-prompt-per-day/ This looks like a lot of fun! I may well join in from time to time… Why don’t you think up appropriate books, too?

Christmas Gift Ideas for Book Lovers/Blogmas https://comfortreadsbookblog.wordpress.com/2020/12/03/christmas-gift-ideas-for-booklovers/ Of course book lovers love books – but sometimes you want to give those readers in your life something else…

The Ukrainian Muse and the Paradox of Life https://dalocollis.com/2018/03/29/the-ukrainian-muse-and-the-paradox-of-life/ Occasionally you stumble over an extraordinary blog – and then you just have to share it… Thank you Diane for pointing me towards this!

Thursday Doors – Follow the Wall https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2020/12/03/thursday-doors-follow-the-wall/ Jean takes us on a walk alongside a wall built a long time ago for quite a different purpose…

George Ezra’s ‘Shotgun’ Sung by 109 Movies and TV Shows https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xX0TDSQkf54&feature=youtu.be Tim has been busy again – mixing up another song using clips from films and TV programmes – he really has some amazing skills…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Scarlet Odyssey – Book 1 of the Scarlet Odyssey series by C.T. Rwizi #Brainfluffbookreview #ScarletOdysseybookreview

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This one was recommended to me by one of my book blogging buddies and I scampered across and pre-ordered it. I’m so sorry – I cannot recall who it was who suggested it! So… did I enjoy it?

BLURB: Magic is women’s work; war is men’s. But in the coming battle, none of that will matter.
Men do not become mystics. They become warriors. But eighteen-year-old Salo has never been good at conforming to his tribe’s expectations. For as long as he can remember, he has loved books and magic in a culture where such things are considered unmanly. Despite it being sacrilege, Salo has worked on a magical device in secret that will awaken his latent magical powers. And when his village is attacked by a cruel enchantress, Salo knows that it is time to take action.

REVIEW: This epic fantasy is set in an African landscape, where the warring tribes and kingdoms are firmly nested within the culture and magic of the continent. I absolutely loved it, particularly as Rwizi tips us into the world and expects the reader to work a bit to put it all together. I always enjoy SFF that presents a strong three-dimensional world, full of nuances and strong characters – and if I have to pay attention to work out exactly how it all fits together, then that’s fine.

I quickly fell in love with Salo, the apparently timid boy who is paralysed with fear when facing dangerous creatures and can’t fight all that well. Having become very familiar with the dynamic where women and girls are ostracised for wanting to move out of the domestic sphere, I found it a refreshing change that Salo is shunned for not being a warrior, instead being drawn to magic – normally the preserve of the women of the tribe.

Though this form of sorcery isn’t for the faint-hearted. Mastery of magic requires pain and sacrifice and in order to access some of the more powerful layers, lines have to be crossed. It rapidly becomes a lot darker, when the requirement becomes what you have to offer up what you love most… and no, we’re not talking about your favourite item of clothing or jewellery. I was a bit shaken at the brutal cost of it. However, I thought about my reaction and wondered why this magical system struck me as particularly violent. Because it’s not as if European fantasy is remotely cosy, either – but I’ve grown up with that dynamic and am accustomed to how it works. Ditto the stories of sand and sorcery I’ve been reading recently, such as the Daevabad trilogy – just think of Dara’s bloody backstory – but I was acclimatised to tales about djinn since I was a girl. Not so with African magic, which I know very little about. Aspects of it are bloody, coercive and thoroughly dark – like magic systems everywhere else and I think it’s the unfamiliarity of its workings that makes it seem particularly grim.

My mention of S.A. Chakrobarty’s Daevabad trilogy isn’t accidental – the immersive worldbuilding, strong characterisation and complex magical system in Scarlet Odyssey reminded me of many aspects of The City of Brasssee my review – including the long, eventful journey. The major difference is the lack of a romantic thread, which I don’t mind at all. I am so impressed with this debut novel – and I’m very much looking forward to reading the next slice of the adventure. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy in an African setting.
9/10


Sunday Post – 7th June, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

Apologies for the grotty appearance of this post. Unless I pay £147 a year, I can no longer use WordPress Classic editor. I am exploring other options, as having to struggle to this degree to get even this unsatisfactory result isn’t feasible – I’ve better things to do with my time…

We’re now into flaming June and our summer weather has abruptly departed. I would be happy to report that we’ve got rain – we haven’t. Gale force winds are savaging the garden and drying it out still further. Oh well.

It has been a busy week as I have been getting Picky Eaters ready to see the light of day – and I’m thrilled at the wonderful cover my mate Mhairi Simpson has produced. Many thanks to her for donating her time to this project. Other than that, more editing and working on Mantivore Warrior. Tonight there is another Zoom family gamesnight which we’re looking forward to joining – hopefully I won’t be smitten with another headache!

Last week I read:

The Obsidian Tower – Book 1 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso
The mage-marked granddaughter of a ruler of Vaskandar, Ryx was destined for power and prestige at the top of Vaskandran society. But her magic is broken; all she can do is uncontrollably drain the life from everything she touches, and Vaskandar has no place for a mage with unusable powers. Then, one night, two terrible accidents befall Ryx, bringing far too much unwanted attention to this small, but strategically vital country – all centred on an ominous ancient tower in the heart of her family’s castle…
I loved the Swords and Fire series – see my review of The Defiant Mage and found the unfolding situation at the start of this gripping tale immediately pulled me into the story. A great start to this spinoff series.

AUDIOBOOK The Naturalist – Book 1 of The Naturalist series by Andrew Mayne
Professor Theo Cray is trained to see patterns where others see chaos. So when mutilated bodies found deep in the Montana woods leave the cops searching blindly for clues, Theo sees something they missed. Something unnatural. Something only he can stop. As a computational biologist, Theo is more familiar with digital code and microbes than the dark arts of forensic sleuthing. But a field trip to Montana suddenly lands him in the middle of an investigation into the bloody killing of one of his former students.
This was great fun – though there were various plot holes large enough to haul a grizzly through, it was well narrated and I really liked Theo Cray, so was happy to go along for the ride.

Hostile Takeover – Book 1 of the Vale Investigation series by Cristelle Comby
PI Bellamy Vale’s near-immortality doesn’t give him a moment to rest. Completely worn down as Death’s supernatural detective, he’s starting to think he got the short-end of his do-or-die deal. So when a string of savage attacks grip the city, Vale abandons all hope of sleep and sets out to discover who let the Otherworld beast free…
This was an intriguing dynamic, where poor old Bell finds himself indentured to Lady McDeath, who sends him to sort out the most dangerous and messy tasks popping up around Cold City. I’m glad I have the second book on my Kindle, ready to read when I get the time. Review to follow.

The House on Widows Hill – Book 9 of the Ishmael Jones mysteries by Simon R. Green
Set high on top of Widows Hill, Harrow House has remained empty for years. Now, on behalf of an anonymous prospective buyer, Ishmael and Penny are spending a night there in order to investigate the rumours of strange lights, mysterious voices, unexplained disappearances, and establish whether the house is really haunted. What really happened at Harrow House all those years ago? Joined by a celebrity psychic, a professional ghost-hunter, a local historian and a newspaper reporter, it becomes clear that each member of ‘Team Ghost’ has their own pet theory as to the cause of the alleged haunting.
Yet another quirky paranormal murder mystery – it’s been something of a theme this week – I enjoyed this addition to this entertaining series and will be reviewing it in due course.


My posts last week:

PICKY EATERS – Cover reveal

Friday Face-off featuring Searching for Dragons – Book 2 of the Enchanted Forest series by Patricia C. Wrede

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Obsidian Tower – Book 1 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

May 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL * Review of The Clutter Corpse – Book 1 of The Decluttering Mysteries by Simon Brett

Sunday Post – 31st May 2020


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

Tips to Photograph Bees https://wanderingambivert.com/2020/06/03/tips-to-photograph-bees/ Given that a lot of us are still in lockdown, wandering around the garden, or going for walks might give you the opportunity to take a pic of bees, here is some advice on how to do it well…

A Teacher’s Story #1 https://jenniefitzkee.com/2020/06/03/a-teachers-story-1/ What an inspirational tale…

Talking with Kids about Racism https://platformnumber4.com/2020/05/30/talking-with-kids-about-racism/ Many thanks to Becky for posting this really useful resource. I very highly recommend the article ‘What White Children Need to Know About Race’…

The Last Video Store on Earth https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2020/06/04/guest-post-the-last-video-store-on-earth/ I loved this article…

Kvetch – 22 https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2020/06/03/kvetch-22/ And if you’re in need of a laugh, or two…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

Review of KINDLE Ebook Witch – Book 2 of the Doppleganger duology by Marie Brennan #Brainfluffbookreview #Witchbookreview #WyrdandWonder2020

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I love Brennan’s writing, particularly the awesome Lady Trent series – see my review of A Natural History of Dragons, The Tropic of Serpents, The Voyage of the Basilisk, and Within the Sanctuary of Wings and the first book the spinoff series, Turning Darkness into Light. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this entertaining duology, Warrior, so didn’t leave it too long before diving into this second offering. I am linking this review to Wyrd and Wonder 2020.

BLURB: When a witch is born, a doppelganger is created. For the witch to master her powers, the twin must be killed. Until now…
Created by the merging of witch and doppelganger, Mirei is a unique being. Her extraordinary magic makes her the most poweful witch alive—and a notorious social outcast. While Satomi, the leader of the witches’ ruling Primes, hails Mirei as a miracle, rival Primes proclaim that Mirei is an evil abomination… and that those who champion her must be destroyed.

I am a real fan of a premise that throws up unintended consequences. Given the first book finished in quite an unexpected place, I didn’t leave it too long before diving into this one – and once more Brennan quickly threw in a couple of curved balls I didn’t see coming. I love it when that happens… Interestingly, Mirei, who was the focus of the first book is slightly pushed to one side as the consequences of what happened to her ripples through the layers of the magical community and the group of assassins, both of whom have been directly affected. As you can imagine, when a number of powerful people within both these groups become a tad fed up, the consequences are dire.

Due to the fast paced, twisting nature of the plot and the fact that I am allergic to spoilers, I can’t really comment in any detail about the events that unfold. However, Brennan manages to provide a solid, believable world without resorting to pages of description, which is important in such a tightly constructed, pacey read. Desperate to find out what would happen next, I burned through this one, staying up far later than I should to discover what happens next. While her Memoirs of Lady Trent series is very well known, this duology is far less so – and it deserves to be far more widely read. Highly recommended for fans of Marie Brennan and page-turning fantasy adventures with twisty plots.
9/10

Series I Completed in 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SeriesICompletedin2019

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The High King’s Vengeance – Book 2 of Malessar’s Curse duology by Stephen Poore
The duology takes the classic ingredients of an epic fantasy, gives them a jolly good shake and tips them out… I loved the way we find the protagonist is as much the most convenient fool in the neighbourhood as the special chosen one. And that she discovers in the second book that most of the assumptions she’d made in The Heir to the North were wrong. Disastrously so, as it happens. Both The Heir to the North and The High King’s Vengeance are highly recommended – despite the dodgy covers.

 

The Fall of Dragons – Book 5 of The Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron
This epic fantasy comprises The Red Knight, The Fell Sword, The Dread Wyrm, A Plague of Swords and this concluding book – The Fall of Dragons. This high fantasy swords and sorcery adventure is chockfull of action with the battle scenes being particularly outstanding. Cameron wears armour and takes part in historical martial arts – and his own experience means he writes those aspects very well. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy and brilliant battle scenes.

 

 

Within the Sanctuary of Wings – Book 5 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan
This gave the whole series an enjoyable twist as a huge development occurs in this particular book that is a complete gamechanger. I’ve loved following the feisty Lady Trent through all her adventures, comprising A Natural History of Dragons, The Tropic of Serpents, The Voyage of the Basilisk, In the Labyrinth of Drakes – as well as this final instalment. This is historical fantasy adventure is completely original take on dragons and is very highly recommended.

 

No Going Back – Book 5 of the Jon and Lobo series by Mark L. Van Name
You’re going to think I mostly read five-book series… But once I finished this military sci fi thriller, where a mercenary teams up with a discarded sentient warship, published in 2012 by Baen, I was really sad to see there were no other books featuring these two likeable, battle-scarred characters. The series comprises Jump Twist Gate, an omnibus edition of the first two books – One Jump Ahead and Slanted Jack, Overthrowing Heaven, Children No More and No Going Back – review to follow. Highly recommended if you like your military sci fi on the quirky, thoughtful side.

 

 

The Poison Song – Book 3 of The Winnowing Flame trilogy by Jen Williams
I’ve always enjoyed the sheer mapcap energy that pings off the page with Williams’ writing, but this trilogy is where she showed what she could really do in this genre mash-up, where science fiction and fantasy collide in a magnificent shower of sparks… This series comprises  The Ninth Rain and The Bitter Twins, in addition to The Poison Song. Very highly recommended.

 

 

The Unbound Empire – Book 3 of the Swords and Fire trilogy by Melissa Caruso
I loved these books right from the first line onwards. Caruso pulled me right into the middle of her delightful world, where each magic-user needed to be bound to a controller. So what happens when this happens by accident, rather than by design? The intense, assured writing won me over, and it was with real pain that I took the decision that this one couldn’t make the final cut in my 2019 Outstanding Reads list. This series comprises The Tethered Mage and The Defiant Heir as well as The Unbound Empire. This YA fantasy is very highly recommended.

 

 

AUDIO The Empty Grave – Book 5 of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud
This outstanding children’s alternate fantasy, where people who have died in troubled circumstances turn into feral ghosts who are capable of appearing at night and killing the living. And only children are able to see and fight them… Lucy tells her gripping tale throughout these books, which are funny, poignant and genuinely frightening in places. This series comprises The Screaming Staircase, The Whispering Skull, The Hollow Boy, The Creeping Shadow as well as The Empty Grave. This outstanding series is very highly recommended.

 

 

A Season of Spells – Book 3 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Hunter
It’s the world that Hunter has created here that makes this one stand out. I’ll be honest – I think the first book is the best one. But I’m glad I also read the other two, as they added breadth and depth to this intriguing and complex version of Regency Britain, where Christianity never prevailed, Roman gods are acknowledged and the country is still a patchwork of smaller kingdoms loosely united by treaties. This series comprises The Midnight Queen and Lady of Magick in addition to A Season of Spells – review to follow.

 

 

AUDIO How To Fight a Dragon’s Fury – Book 12 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
Written for reluctant readers, this children’s epic fantasy adventure featuring a small, very ordinary-looking Viking boy, who isn’t all that good at most of the Viking pasttimes. And whose hunting dragon is very small and very, very naughty drew me in from the first by the sheer quality of the characterisation and plotting. I have read these adventures to both children, until they both decided they wanted to complete the books on their own. So I finally finished listening to the last handful of books on my own. Hiccup’s exploits were funny, gripping and ultimately absolutely heart-breaking, so I wept as I listened to the epilogue of this instalment, feeling like I’d lost a cherished friend. This series comprises How To Train Your Dragon, How To Be a Pirate, How To Speak Dragonese, How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse, How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale, A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons, How to Ride a Dragon’s Storm, How to Break a Dragon’s Heart, How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword, How to Seize a Dragon’s Jewel, How to Betray a Dragon’s Hero as well as How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury. Very highly recommended for children of all ages, who believe in dragons ages…

 

The Violent Fae – Book 3 of The Ordshaw series by Phil Williams
Lynn of Lynn’s Book Blog recommended this series – and I thoroughly enjoyed this quirky urban fantasy adventure with a difference. Letty the foul-mouthed fairy who bounces right back became a solid favourite with me. This trilogy comprises Under Ordshaw, Blue Angel as well as The Violent Fae. Recommended for urban fantasy fans who are looking for something different.

 

 

 

AUDIO The Last Olympian – Book 5 of Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
This children’s re-telling of the Greek myths, updated and made fresh when told through the eyes of young dyslexic half-blood, Percy Jackson. Frankie absolutely loved this series and so I thought I’d better discover what all the fuss was about. This clever, entertaining series comprises Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters, Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse, Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth as well as The Last Olympian. Highly recommended for those who enjoy teenage coming-of-age fantasy adventures. I didn’t review any of these books on my blog, as I felt most of what I had to say had already been covered about this very popular series.

 

 

AUDIO Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Audio Collection by Arthur Conan Doyle, with forewords written and narrated by Stephen Fry
This marvellous collection of the four novels and all the short stories provided over seventy hours of quality listening as I was decorating the bathroom during the summer. I broke it up, listening to other books in between each of the six sections, stretching it out as long as I could – so it was with a real sense of loss that I finally arrived at the last section. Overall, I was impressed at how well much of Conan Doyle’s canon stood the test of time, although there were a handful of horribly racist stories I simply skipped.

These were the series I completed during 2019. I’ll be posting another article charting those I’m intending to continue throughout 2020. What about you – have you read any of these and did you enjoy them, too?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton #Brainfluffbookreview #LadyHotspurbookreview

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It was the blurb that attracted me – a retelling of Shakespeare’s Henry IV sold this one. I studied the play at school and it sank into my soul. What I hadn’t realised is that this is the second book set in this world of Innis Lear as neither Goodreads or Amazon mention it. However, I think reading The Queens of Innis Lear would have helped enormously. So before picking this one up, go and track down the first book.

BLURB: Hal was once a knight, carefree and joyous, sworn to protect her future queen Banna Mora. But after a rebellion led by her own mother, Caleda, Hal is now the prince of Lionis, heir to the throne. The pressure of her crown and bloody memories of war plague her, as well as a need to shape her own destiny, no matter the cost. Lady Hotspur, known as the Wolf of Aremoria for her temper and warcraft, never expected to be more than a weapon. She certainly never expected to fall in love with the fiery Hal or be blindsided by an angry Queen’s promise to remake the whole world in her own image—a plan Hotspur knows will lead to tragedy. Banna Mora kept her life, but not her throne. Fleeing to Innis Lear to heal her heart and plot revenge, the stars and roots of Innis Lear will teach her that the only way to survive a burning world is to learn to breathe fire. These three women, together or apart, are the ones who have the power to bring the once-powerful Aremoria back to life—or destroy it forever.

Unusually, I’ve included the full blurb as it neatly sums up the dynamic of the plot about three young women who were once firm friends, as their relationships change into a more complex dynamic that has consequences not just for them, but for two kingdoms. This long book (600+ pages) is very ambitious, given it claims to be a retelling of one of the Shakespeare history plays. While there are echoes of that dynamic, I wouldn’t get too hung up on that thread, as there are also important differences that occur very quickly.

It took me a bit of time to really bond with the characters, but then I hadn’t appreciated that this was the second book and I recommend you read the first one before tackling Lady Hotspur. The title is actually misleading as the book equally deals with Prince Hal and Bana Mora just as much as Hotspur. It covers their joint and individual journeys extremely well. Gratton is an accomplished author who drew me into a world of complex magic and layered characterisation so that despite the heftiness of the read, I was held throughout. I was all set to give this one a ten, before I got to the final act and that crucial defining battle…

As I don’t want to lurch into Spoiler territory, you’ll have to bear with me if I’m a tad vague. But the trajectory of the book charts the relationships and competing claims, both personal and societal, upon three young women who already had high expectations thrust upon them. I felt Gratton did an outstanding job in making those genuinely gripping and very poignant – the relationship between Hotspur and Hal was particularly well done, I felt. But I was very dissatisfied with the manner in which the story was tied up. I think Gratton committed the unpardonable sin of raising reader expectations for one type of outcome, only to pull a switch that didn’t convince me at all. The conclusion was far too tidy for such a tortuous journey – by the end, I wasn’t even sure why they went to war at all, given the outcome.

The other issue I had was the role of women in the story. This magical tale is set in a late medieval setting when political marriages secured dynasties and land and Might is Right. Why we suddenly have a cadre of highborn, marriageable women, able to fight in battle alongside their male counterparts, is never fully explained. And I mind. It seems to me that you cannot sweep away all the impediments to women’s full equality within a story without addressing these obstacles, or factoring in a different dynamic that will give these women some tangible advantage in hand-to-hand fighting. Because their ability to prevail against fully armoured men due to their unique skill never convinced me. And I’m not prepared to go with the flow on this one – what sort of message does that give generations of us who watched our male work colleagues sail past us simply because of their genitalia? That we’re not strong enough? That we need magic? Or that just reading about a cosy world where it’s all just different is going to make me feel better? Systemic inequality of opportunity for women is far too widespread to be treated in such a flippant manner.

Furthermore, it’s supposed to be a retelling of a Shakespearean play. He might have been the greatest playwright that ever lived, but he was still a product of his time – so women were never found on the battlefield fighting alongside their men in his stories. If Gratton had wanted to change that aspect after specifically referencing Shakespeare in her worldbuilding, then she needed to spend at least some time and effort demonstrating what made it possible for these women to be able to learn the martial arts and take part in the bloodletting alongside the men. And she doesn’t.

The really aggravating aspect is that it wouldn’t have taken much to have turned this well-written, but slightly flawed effort into an outstanding read, as far as I’m concerned. And despite my real gripes with the book, I am still awarding it a solid eight. But it could have been a ten with just a little bit more thought… The ebook arc copy of Lady Hotspur was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

Sunday Post – 22nd December, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

It’s been madly busy and great fun… We finally completed putting up the Christmas decorations on Monday and Mhairi and I went out for lunch together – I have missed her! It was lovely being able to catch up with each other as she stayed over for a few days, happy to spend evenings writing while I gadded about. On Tuesday evening, I picked up Sally and we went to a local pub for an excellent meal with some former teaching colleagues. While there, I ran into a couple of former students and caught up on what they are now doing, which was lovely. One works for the police and the other for the ambulance service… They were the hardest-working girls I’ve ever taught. On Wednesday evening, I was out with my writing group – we went to a tapas bar, which was a new gastronomic experience and one I’d like to repeat as it was absolutely delicious.

On Thursday, Himself and I drove to Ringwood to visit his parents and give his mother her birthday presents and drop off Christmas pressies. It started raining on the way there, and then properly set in, absolutely pouring throughout our visit, so we set off early as we didn’t fancy doing the journey back along the motorway in the torrential rain in the dark. It was a good call, as the rain was pelting down and fields either side of the road were flooding. On Friday morning, Sally and I had a meeting to determine the new direction that Tim’s syllabus should take now we have finished with external exams. It was very productive and we got a lot done.

We were due to spend Saturday and today at my daughter’s looking after the grandchildren as she and her partner had planned a night away to celebrate her birthday, but the flooding put paid to that. They decided not to go, as they didn’t want to get trapped away from the family. I felt so sorry for her… So I am popping up to see her tomorrow with her cards, presents and a cake I’ve iced for her. In the meantime, I’ve now sent out cards, bought nearly all the presents, wrapped most of them, and organised a couple of games for Boxing Day. I haven’t yet started on the cooking I want to get done in advance for Christmas Day, but hopefully I’ll manage to get most of that sorted out on Christmas Eve.

Last week I read:

AUDIOBOOK A Hat Full of Sky – Book 32 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
No real witch would casually step out of their body, leaving it empty. Tiffany Aching does. And there’s something just waiting for a handy body to take over. Something ancient and horrible, which can’t die.

To deal with it, Tiffany has to go to the very heart of what makes her a witch . . .

This audio version is a delight. I’d read this one a couple of times – but still ended up laughing aloud at the humour. I just LOVE Granny Weatherwax, who is now definitely going to be my role model in dealing with people from now on. Though I may pass on the ratty hat, scruffy black dress and hobnail boots. Review to follow.

 

Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton
Inspired by Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Lady Hotspur continues the saga of Innis Lear, centuries later, as revolution, love, and a betrayal corrupt the descendants of two warring kingdoms.

Hal was once a knight, carefree and joyous, sworn to protect her future queen Banna Mora. But after a rebellion led by her own mother, Caleda, Hal is now the prince of Lionis, heir to the throne. The pressure of her crown and bloody memories of war plague her, as well as a need to shape her own destiny, no matter the cost.

Lady Hotspur, known as the Wolf of Aremoria for her temper and warcraft, never expected to be more than a weapon. She certainly never expected to fall in love with the fiery Hal or be blindsided by an angry Queen’s promise to remake the whole world in her own image—a plan Hotspur knows will lead to tragedy.

Banna Mora kept her life, but not her throne. Fleeing to Innis Lear to heal her heart and plot revenge, the stars and roots of Innis Lear will teach her that the only way to survive a burning world is to learn to breathe fire.

These three women, together or apart, are the ones who have the power to bring the once-powerful Aremoria back to life—or destroy it forever.

This brick of a book took a while to get through and I’m rather conflicted. Part of it was very well done. I liked the world and I loved the character interaction most of the way through – but I reckon Gratton messed up the ending… Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Review of Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Friday Faceoff featuring Night Road by Kristin Hannah

Review of Navigating the Stars – Book 1 of the Sentinels of the Galaxy series by Maria V. Snyder

Teaser Tuesday featuring Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton

Sunday Monday Post 16th December 2019

Huge apologies – with a visitor staying for a chunk of the week and being out and about the rest of the time, I simply haven’t been online enough to interact, comment or be able to recommend any articles. Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week.

Friday Faceoff – Beware the jabberwock, my son… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is FANTASY BEASTS, so I’ve selected The Red Knight – Book 1 of The Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron – see my review here.

 

This edition was produced by Gollancz in October 2012 and is my favourite. It didn’t hurt that this is the cover of the edition that I read. I love the simplicity of the fully armoured knight fighting the wyvern – and how his foot is on the top of the title font, which is stylish and feels part of the overall design. The artwork is beautiful and detailed and it’s no surprise that this cover is the one that appears on most editions.

 

Published in January 2013 by Orbit, while this cover is clearly dramatic with the flames licking the sword – I find it rather generic. This could be any knight clutching any sword, though why anyone would want to roast their precious weapon is a puzzle. I do like the font, however, which works well within the design.

 

This German edition, published by Heyne in June 2013, is another strong offering. I really like the weathered parchment effect, with the slight blurring of the author and title fonts, as if this precious document has become wet at some stage. The engraving of the sword gives a sense of the medieval era, albeit an alternate timeline where wyverns and dark magic menaces the land.

 

Produced by Bragelonne in January 2017, this French edition once again features a hand holding the sword, but I think it is far more successful than Orbit’s effort. For starters, the detailing on the sleeve and the blood-spattered gauntlet feels more connected to the book than some random character holding a sword in a fire. I also love the background, which also had been given some serious consideration. The ornate lettering capitalising the title font manages to give it a period feel without compromising the clarity. This classy effort is a close contender, but for the fact that I’m a sucker for that wyvern.

 

This Russian edition, published by Фантастика Книжный Клуб in December 2016 uses the original cover as its inspiration, going back to the battle between the red knight and the wyvern. I’d expected this to be my second favourite, but I find the figures – particularly the fabulous beast – lacking in the fluid lines that add to the drama of the original. This stilted version simply isn’t as well executed, however I do like the addition of that red border which works really well against the grey background. Which is your favourite?

 

Sunday Post – 28th April, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

It’s been another busy week. On Tuesday I returned to Northbrook to start the last course I’ll be teaching there – even as I type the words, it doesn’t quite seem real… I was delighted to be able to run all three classes again and meet up with my lovely students.

My friend, Mhairi also drove down from Lincolnshire and came to stay, so after arriving when I returned from college at around 9.30 pm, we stayed up until about 3 am in the wee small hours of Wednesday to catch up. Much later on Wednesday morning, we went out for breakfast to Morrisons and she joined in our Pilates session in the afternoon. After hobbling away, we both agreed we needed to go more often! On Thursday, I resumed teaching Tim, though last week I accompanied him and his mother when we went to the music college that has offered him a place on their songwriting course – the same course attended by Tom Odell… There are still a few issues to address, but whether he actually goes or not – it’s a massive achievement to have been offered the place.

Yesterday I went shopping with my sister in Worthing. Her 60th birthday is looming and we’re off to an all-expenses paid spa break together so some serious shopping needed doing… We were shattered by the time we finished and decided that it’s something we need to do more often! I was doing the driving so once I took her home, I stayed and we had a takeaway Chinese – yum – before I returned home.

Last week I read:

The Unbound Empire – Book 3 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso
While winter snows keep the Witch Lord Ruven’s invading armies at bay, Lady Amalia Cornaro and the fire warlock Zaira attempt to change the fate of mages in the Raverran Empire forever, earning the enmity of those in power who will do anything to keep all magic under tight imperial control. But in the season of the Serene City’s great masquerade, Ruven executes a devastating surprise strike at the heart of the Empire – and at everything Amalia holds most dear.
It’s always something of a risk, plunging into the final book of a much-loved series and I won’t deny that I was a bit apprehensive. But I needn’t have been – Caruso brought this outstanding series to a magnificent conclusion. This is one of my favourite series of the last few years…

Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Audio Collection – Collected Short Stories
Ever since he made his first appearance in A Study In Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes has enthralled and delighted millions of fans throughout the world. Now Audible is proud to present Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection, read by Stephen Fry. A lifelong fan of Doyle’s detective fiction, Fry has narrated the complete works of Sherlock Holmes – four novels and five collections of short stories. And, exclusively for Audible, Stephen has written and narrated nine insightful, intimate and deeply personal introductions to each title.
If I don’t listen to anything else – ever, this gem has made my foray into the world of audiobooks worth it and represents fantastic value as it cost me all of one credit for 72 hours of fabulous listening. While I wouldn’t want to read through this – listening to it while cleaning the bathroom transforms a miserable chore into a wonderful pleasure. It has been split into six sections and I am prolonging the joy by listening to something else in between.

My posts last week:

Review of The Defiant Heir – Book 2 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso

Teaser Tuesday featuring Children of Ruin – Book 2 of the Children of Time series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Emily Eternal by M.G. Wheaton

Friday Faceoff featuring A Hat Full of Sky – Book 2 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Unbound Empire – Book 3 of the Swords and Fire series by Melissa Caruso

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

I don’t believe in diabetes https://writerunboxed.com/2019/04/26/i-dont-believe-in-diabetes/ This thoughtful, passionate article on writers’ block is something I also feel strongly about, having taught a number of students whose writing mojo suddenly deserted them.

Monday Musing: Fangirling https://randombookmuses.com/2019/04/22/monday-musing-fangirling/ This moving article highlights just how important books and the imaginative worlds they create can become to readers…

The International Extinction Rebellion https://acstark.net/2019/04/19/the-international-extinction-rebellion/ I am increasingly dismayed at the tardy, inadequate response to the gathering catastrophic climatic changes around the world and ongoing struggles of our wildlife by all the leading governments – particularly ours which is currently paralysed.

Rainy Day Reads: Top Ten Tuesday https://aquapages.wordpress.com/2019/04/16/rainy-day-reads-top-ten-tuesday/ It’s always useful to have some solid recommendations and this selection particularly caught my eye…

How to Plan Your Protagonist’s Journey https://lorraineambers.com/2019/04/18/how-to-plan-your-protagonists-journey/ I really like the way Lorraine has approached this subject. Whether you are a planner or a pantzer, this can still be an invaluable aid to sorting out your thoughts before plunging into your w.i.p.

Many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog – I will catch up with you as soon as I can, so thank you also for your patience. In the meantime, have a wonderful week!