Tag Archives: troubled hero

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Dead Man in a Ditch – Book 2 of the Fetch Phillips Archives by Luke Arnold #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #DeadManinaDitchbookreview

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I enjoyed the first book in this series, Last Smile in Sunder Citysee my review, so when I saw the second book was coming up, I was delighted to be approved to read it. Would I enjoy it as much as the first book?

BLURB: The name’s Fetch Phillips — what do you need? Cover a Gnome with a crossbow while he does a dodgy deal? Sure.

Find out who killed Lance Niles, the big-shot businessman who just arrived in town? I’ll give it shot.

Help an old-lady Elf track down her husband’s murderer? That’s right up my alley.

What I don’t do, because it’s impossible, is search for a way to bring the goddamn magic back. Rumors got out about what happened with the Professor, so now people keep asking me to fix the world.

But there’s no magic in this story. Just dead friends, twisted miracles, and a secret machine made to deliver a single shot of murder.

REVIEW: It starts well – I very quickly felt right back at home in this grim, noirish city where everything is a bleaker, more tattered version of itself because Magic has now disappeared. I settled into the first two adventures well enough. Though wincing somewhat as Fetch seems to take far more than his fair share of beatings, and I felt suitably sympathetic at his angst and guilt. But…

It’s a longish book at well over 400 pages, and generally that sort of length doesn’t bother me – but just about the halfway mark, I was conscious of this one starting to drag. Fetch’s constant misery became irritating and the fact that the plot seemed to cycle round in ever-widening circles, so that what initially seemed like a progression just became more of the same – Fetch investigating a case… feeling miserable… getting beaten up… Rinse and repeat. It didn’t help that there was precious little light and shade – it was basically all shades of dark.

I’m aware that right now I’m not really in the right place for lots of bleakness. But the quirky cover and the strapline comparing this book to Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series had me thinking that maybe this book would be a whole lot lighter, as by the end of the first book, Fetch seemed to have found some closure. The world is well described, and Arnold’s vivid descriptions of the once-magical characters are both imaginative and original – I love the premise. But Fetch’s constant angst was also annoying the other characters in the story – it comes to something when I find myself nodding in agreement as a major antagonist verbally shreds the hero.

If you are looking for a fantasy crime series with a real difference and enjoy your world on the grimy, grimdark side, then you may well find this one suits you. While I obtained an arc of Dead Man in a Ditch from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
6/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of INDIE Ebook Kept From Cages – Book 1 of the Ikiri duology by Phil Williams #Brainfluffbookreview #KeptFromCagesbookreview

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Last year, I read and thoroughly enjoyed Phil’s Ordshaw series – see my reviews of Under Ordshaw, Blue Angel and The Violent Fae – so when he contacted me and asked if I’d like the opportunity to read and review his latest book, I jumped at the chance.

BLURB: Reece’s gang of criminal jazz musicians have taken shelter in the wrong house. There’s a girl with red eyes bound to a chair. The locals call her a devil – but Reece sees a kid that needs protecting. He’s more right than he knows. Chased by a shadowy swordsman and an unnatural beast, the gang flee across the Deep South with the kid in tow. She won’t say where she’s from or who exactly her scary father is, but she’s got powers they can’t understand. How much will Reece risk to save her?

On the other side of the world, Agent Sean Tasker’s asking similar questions. With an entire village massacred and no trace of the killers, he’s convinced Duvcorp’s esoteric experiments are responsible. His only ally is an unstable female assassin, and their only lead is Ikiri – a black-site in the Congo, which no one leaves alive. How far is Tasker prepared to go for answers?

REVIEW: While this book is a spinoff from the Ordshaw series and set in the same world – it deals with a separate threat. So you don’t have to have read any of Phil’s previous books to enjoy this one. There are two main narrative threads – those of the Cutjaw gang, who encounter Zip while on the run from successfully pulling off a heist; and the exploits of Sean Tasker, who teams up with unhinged desperado Katryzna while trying to find answers to a series of horrible and mysterious killings taking place across the globe. While I enjoyed Phil’s Ordshaw series, this one impressed me with the sheer intensity and skill of the writing.

It starts with a bang and doesn’t let up. Normally action-led adventures tend to be a tad lighter on scene setting and characterisation, which is fair enough, given that a narrative that powers forward at full tilt simply cannot hang around for too much description or nuanced, complex characters. Not so in this case. Reece, Leigh-Anne and Zip ping off the page, full of personality. As for Sean and Katryzna – those of us who have had the pleasure of reading the Ordshaw series can see definite similarities between Katryzna and the psychotic fairy Lettie… Phil writes damaged characters with tenderness and passion so that folks whose behaviour would normally repel me, instead pull me in and make me care. It’s harder to achieve than Phil makes it look. The same dynamic applies to the scene setting – it was a pleasure to be taken across the US, or a certain village in Norway and then into the swamps of Louisiana and the jungle of the Congo.

But what really impressed me was the gothic slant that Phil gave to a mill in the heart of the English countryside. It should have been a quaint, cosy setting – and proved to be nothing of the sort. While this story isn’t full-on horror, it is definitely on the dark side of urban fantasy and once again, Williams gives it his particular spin. I’m delighted there is more to come with these characters – they get under the skin and won’t let go. Recommended for fans of high-octane, contemporary fantasy with strong characters and a swift-moving story.
9/10

Two MURDER MYSTERY mini-reviews: Salt Lane and The Outcast Dead #Brainfluffmini-reviews #SaltLanemini-review #TheOutcastDeadmini-review

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Mini-review of AUDIOBOOK – Salt Lane – Book 1 of the Alexandra Cupidi series by William Shaw
BLURB: DS Alexandra Cupidi has done it again. She should have learnt to keep her big mouth shut, after the scandal that sent her packing – resentful teenager in tow – from the London Met to the lonely Kent coastline. Even murder looks different in this landscape of fens, ditches and stark beaches, shadowed by the towers of Dungeness power station. Murder looks a lot less pretty. The man drowned in the slurry pit had been herded there like an animal. He was North African, like many of the fruit pickers that work the fields. The more Cupidi discovers, the more she wants to ask – but these people are suspicious of questions. It will take an understanding of this strange place – its old ways and new crimes – to uncover the dark conspiracy behind the murder. Cupidi is not afraid to travel that road. But she should be. She should, by now, have learnt.

REVIEW: I really enjoyed this well-crafted murder mystery. The actual storyline was quite bleak, highlighting the blight of illegal immigrants as they are exploited by unscrupulous gangmasters. But the progression was excellent, with the police procedures coming across as suitably modern – something that doesn’t always happen in this genre. I also particularly liked the development of the main protagonist and her unfolding relationship with both her daughter and her mother. Highly recommended for fans of Elly Griffiths’ books.
9/10


Mini-review of The Outcast Dead – Book 6 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths
BLURB: Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway uncovers the bones of a Victorian murderess while a baby snatcher threatens modern-day Norfolk in this exciting new entry in a beloved series.
Every year a ceremony is held in Norwich for the bodies in the paupers’ graves: the Service for the Outcast Dead. Ruth has a particular interest in this year’s proceedings. Her recent dig at Norwich Castle turned up the body of the notorious Mother Hook, who was hanged in 1867 for the murder of five children. Now Ruth is the reluctant star of the TV series Women Who Kill, working alongside the program’s alluring history expert, Professor Frank Barker.

DCI Harry Nelson is immersed in the case of three children found dead in their home. He is sure that the mother is responsible. Then another child is abducted and a kidnapper dubbed the Childminder claims responsibility. Are there two murderers afoot, or is the Childminder behind all the deaths? The team must race to find out-and the stakes couldn’t be any higher when another child goes missing.

REVIEW: I’m generally allergic to tales of missing or abducted children – and maybe if I’d realised up front that this slice of Ruth Galloway’s adventures featured snatched children, then I might have given this one a miss. But I’m glad I didn’t. I have become really fond of Ruth and her steady confidence as a mother and increasing growth in her professional reputation. What makes this series especially enjoyable is her sardonic humour, which acts as a welcome foil to some of the darker aspects of the story. It’s also great to see the return of a strong supporting cast – particularly Nelson and Cathbad. Griffiths ensures their ongoing stories also develop alongside Ruth, which makes following this series particularly rewarding.
9/10



Friday Faceoff – Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffminimalistcovers

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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 being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring MINIMALIST covers. I’ve selected The Hound of the Baskervilles – Book 5 of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Enhanced Classics, 2014

So who knew that such a classic would be a source of such minimalist covers? But this edition, released in September 2014 by Enhanced Classics is one of a number of pared back designs that trades on our abiding affection and knowledge of this quirky detective. I really like it – though I do wonder if the dog ought to feature on the cover, given the way the fear of the beast looms throughout this tense murder mystery.

Vintage Classics, 2008

Published in September 2008 by Vintage Classics, this is another simple design. Despite the apparent simplicity, there’s quite a lot going on here. I like the graduated colour fading to black at the outer edges, which essentially puts that magnifying glass and the title in the spotlight. It’s a clever move having the snarling muzzle of the dog within the magnifying glass. The cover projects tension and menace without a splash of blood, or any garish visual tricks regarding the title. My one grumble is that I think the title could do with being less Victorian and self-effacing.

Portuguese edition 2013

This Portuguese edition, published in 2013 by Zahar, is a real gem. Again, it has used the ubiquitous silhouette of Holmes to produce the heart of the design, before adding another layer that absolutely nails this one for me. Within the shadowed outline of Holmes is the ruined house where a certain character hid, thus thoroughly throwing dear old Watson right off the scent of the real villain. And then we have the cemetery and the dog, himself… I also absolutely love the way the smoke curls up from the pipe to give us the name of the author. This is my favourite.

Marathi edition, 2012

And this Marathi edition is another example of a simple outline featuring on the cover. Published in January 2012 by Diamond Publications, the almost cartoonish creature on the trail of his prey immediately draws the eye. Again, the background is effectively shaded, pulling our attention onto the snarling beast in the centre of the cover – while that hill than provides the text box for the title and author fonts. This one was so nearly my favourite – it was the wisping smoke turning into Conan Doyle’s name on the other other contender that edged for me.

Lithuanian edition, 2013

This Lithuanian edition, published in May 2013 by Baltos Iankos, is another effective and simple cover. The shaded background allows the black outline of the dog to stand out, so although he is running more or less towards us – a difficult angle when most of the details aren’t apparent – we can make him out with no difficulty. I like the fact the designer has taken the trouble to give him a shadow, thus anchoring him to the background, instead of just plonking him onto the top of it. I do think the title font could be a bit larger and punchier, but that is a personal preference. Which is your favourite?


*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Green Man’s Silence – Book 3 of The Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna #Brainfluffbookreview #GreenMansSilencebookreview

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I’m a fan of McKenna’s work – see my reviews of Dangerous Waters – Book 1 of the Hadrumal Crisis, Darkening Skies – Book 2 of the Hadrumal Crisis, Irons in the Fire – Book 1 of the Lescari Revolution, Blood in the Water – Book 2 of the Lescari Revolution, Banners in the Wind – Book 3 of the Lescari Revolution, The Green Man’s Heir – Book 1 of the Green Man series, The Green Man’s Foe – Book 2 of the Green Man series and the Cover Love feature I did of her canon of work to date. So I was extremely excited to get my hands on The Green Man’s Silence the latest book in this delightfully original series.

BLURB: Daniel Mackmain has always been a loner. As a dryad’s son, he can see the supernatural alongside everyday reality, and that’s not something he can easily share. Perhaps visiting East Anglia to stay with Finele Wicken and her family will be different. They have their own ties to the uncanny. But something is amiss in the depths of the Fens. Creatures Dan has never encountered outside folk tales are growing uneasy, even hostile. He soon learns they have good reason. Can he help them before they retaliate and disaster strikes the unsuspecting locals? Can the Green Man help Dan in a landscape dominated by water for centuries, where the oaks were cut down aeons ago?

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

REVIEW: This further set of adventures takes Dan right out of his comfort zone – not much in the way of forests and trees out on the Fens. And he’s staying over with Fin’s family – people he doesn’t want to let down, particularly as he isn’t completely sure about where his ongoing relationship with her is going. To complicate things further, the Green Man isn’t saying much about the emerging crisis, either.

McKenna has been clever in moving Dan away from his usual haunts, where we already know he has a certain amount of power. Now, both personally and as half-Fae, he is out of his depth. It was enjoyable to learn more about Fin and her background – seeing her within her own family and contrasting her sense of belonging, in comparison to Dan’s sense of isolation, brought home why he is quite so wary. It also nicely raised the stakes when recalling his criminal record, so that when problems get sufficiently out of hand to come to the attention of the police, Dan is at an immediate, major disadvantage. This further compromises him, as he deals with an entitled, arrogant character very sure of his own place in the scheme of things.

Once again, the fae characters ping off the page with their sense of otherness and evident threat – the hobs and their unnerving powers, and those sylphs… Who knew that creatures of the air could be so lethal? McKenna further flexes her skill in writing action with a particularly dramatic fight scene in the middle of a storm that had me holding my breath when Dan and his landrover take a beating. It makes a doozy of a climax.

While The Green Man’s Silence can be read as a standalone, I recommend you get hold of at least one of the other books in the series first, in order to get the best out of this outstanding book. Highly recommended for fantasy fans who are looking for well-written fae adventures with a difference.
10/10


*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Mother Code by Carol Stivers #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheMotherCodebookreview

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I put this one down feeling rather conflicted. It’s an ambitious book in its scope, as Stivers attempts to take the classic apocalyptic lethal plague scenario and give it an interesting twist.

BLURB: The year is 2049. When a deadly non-viral agent intended for biowarfare spreads out of control, scientists must scramble to ensure the survival of the human race. They turn to their last resort, a plan to place genetically engineered children inside the cocoons of large-scale robots–to be incubated, birthed, and raised by machines. But there is yet one hope of preserving the human order–an intelligence programmed into these machines that renders each unique in its own right–the Mother Code.

Kai is born in America’s desert southwest, his only companion his robot Mother, Rho-Z. Equipped with the knowledge and motivations of a human mother, Rho-Z raises Kai and teaches him how to survive. But as children like Kai come of age, their Mothers transform too–in ways that were never predicted. When government survivors decide that the Mothers must be destroyed, Kai must make a choice. Will he break the bond he shares with Rho-Z? Or will he fight to save the only parent he has ever known?

REVIEW: After I started reading this one, I discovered that Stivers is a scientist – which is evident by all the techy details she became engrossed in, which as far as I was concerned, slightly held up the pace. This book isn’t presented as a hard sci fi read – and the fact that a lot of the science surfaced at several crucial points, where the pacing should have been increasing didn’t help my bonding with the main characters.
I think this book had the potential to be a truly great read – but Stivers hasn’t quite pulled it off and that is because the story can’t make up its mind what it’s trying to do. It could have been a quirky, hard sci fi adventure about how saving the species got messed up from the viewpoint of the key scientists as the survivors desperately try to outwit the lethal robots protecting them. Or it could have been a gritted survival adventure from the viewpoint of the children battling to stay alive in the desert, accompanied by their robotic mothers. But what Stivers tried to do was straddle both stories and the result is a bit of a hot mess, particularly by the end.

I found it a rather frustrating read, because just as I was starting to care about one of the characters, the viewpoint shifted yet again, which meant that I didn’t bond with anyone in the book, though I came close to caring about poor little Kai and James Said. It didn’t help that I’m not a fan of the apocalyptic scenario where there is a steady attrition of main characters, but in fairness to me – this one wasn’t marketed as that kind of book. It’s a shame, because Stivers isn’t a bad writer and if only she’d had an editor who had given her more clarity as to what she really wanted to do with this story, it could have been awesome. Apparently, Stephen Spielberg has bought the rights to the story, and I’ll be interested to see if he’ll tell the more interesting, quirkier story – or turn it into a Hollywood cliché.

Recommended for fans who enjoy their apocalyptic adventures with a dollop of hard sci fi. The ebook arc copy of The Mother Code was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
7/10

Review of INDIE Ebook No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished – Book 3 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron Brainfluffbookreview #NoGoodDragonGoesUnpunishedbookreview

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I’m a fan of Rachel Aaron’s writing – see my review of Fortune’s Pawn under her penname Rachel Bach, as well my review of the first two book in this Heartstriker series – Nice Dragons Finish Last and One Good Dragon Deserves Another and Garrison Girl, as part of the Attack on Titans! series. I always enjoy strong urban fantasy in an intriguing world – and this one has it all. A fascinating blend of near-future apocalypse leading to an infusion of magic into the world, along with a very dysfunctional dragon clan…

BLURB: When Julius overthrew his mother and took control of his clan, he thought he was doing right by everyone. But sharing power isn’t part of any proper dragon’s vocabulary, and with one seat still open on the new ruling Council, all of Heartstriker is ready to do whatever it takes to get their claws on it, including killing the Nice Dragon who got them into this mess in the first place…

REVIEW: One of my hobbies is crashing midway into established series, so take my word for it when I say that if you pick this one up before you’ve read the first two books – put it right back on the shelf again and go hunting for Nice Dragons Finish Last and One Good Dragon Deserves Another instead. This is more of a continual story sliced into book-sized episodes, rather than stand-alone narratives linked by the world and characters. That said, each story arc is brought to a satisfactory conclusion at the end of each action-filled adventure, though once again, I found there were more intriguing questions raised at the end of this one, to which I wanted answers. Thank goodness I have the next book on my Kindle, so that I won’t have to wait too long.

While I love the world, it’s the characters that keep me reading – dear Julius, a Nice Dragon, who has always been the runt of his clutch and as such, continually bullied by Bethseda, who should have some sort of award for being the worst mother in fiction. We’ve watched him develop over the last three books from being the under-dragon of all time, to gradually winning round far more powerful and influential dragons to start taking him seriously. Apart from anything else, in a genre that generally features powerful protagonists who use might, albeit sparingly and when there is no other choice – it is a refreshing change to come across a hero who refuses to resort to violence. And if he does, regards it as a defeat.

I have also grown fond of Chelsie, Justin, Ian and Bob – a few of his siblings who have also made the journey so far with him, more or less. At least a couple of the above have also made determined efforts to kill Julius, too. And then, there’s the mortal girl he’s teamed up with, Marci and her ghost cat called… Ghost. We’ve had the impression that Ghost is a bit more than he first seemed, particularly in the last book – and this is where we get a further glimpse of who he is and what the consequences are for Marci, as she continues as his friend and ally. Though there was a shock at the end of this book that had me reeling – I won’t be waiting all that long before I dive into the next one, A Dragon of a Different Color, as I am desperate to discover what happens next. As ever, Aaron’s characters have drawn me into this world and won’t let go. This is one of my favourite urban fantasy series for a very long time. Highly recommended.
9/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK of The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon #Brainfluffbookreview #ReviewofAUDIOBOOKThePrioryoftheOrangeTree

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This one kept coming up on other book blogging sites – that it was a beast of a book… that it was a single-book epic fantasy adventure featuring dragons and pirates… that it was beautifully written… So I scooped it up to lighten those boring household chores I hate doing. I can’t deny the pull of that cover, either.

BLURB: A world divided. A queendom without an heir. An ancient enemy awakens.
The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction – but assassins are getting closer to her door. Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained to be a dragonrider since she was a child, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel. Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.

REVIEW: This is a hugely ambitious book and hats off to Shannon for even attempting it. In many ways, it follows many of the classic tropes within epic fantasy – political fragility at a time of increasing threat… historical accretion that messes with the people and objects destined to help deal with said threat… a handful of chosen heroes whose lives have been given over to step up and deal with this threat, when it finally emerges… So good, so familiar. But Shannon nicely shakes it up – I particularly enjoyed the storyline around Queen Sabran, which was the most successful narrative throughout the book, both in terms of coherence and pacing. I also liked how Shannon plays with reader expectations, and then upends them. The romance was particularly well developed, with a convincing depth of emotion – yet there were still edges as two powerful women specifically raised to fulfil entirely different roles grappled to try and come to terms with their responsibilities without also sacrificing their personal happiness. But I was also very relieved to see that Shannon didn’t push the facile trope that true lurve solves everything – the storyline of one of the main characters is a vivid demonstration of what happens when someone loves too hard and cannot let go.

The characterisation was the main strength of this wide-ranging story and certainly held me, when the pacing – the weakest aspect – either flagged, suddenly dropping away, or speeded up and rushed through a scene which had been given a big build-up. My other irritation is that Shannon clearly felt, or was told, some of her major supporting cast, should die. She also clearly hated doing it. This manifested itself in these deaths either occurring off-stage, or being glossed over. And while their nearest and dearest did mourn their going, there wasn’t really a sufficient sense of loss, which given how effective Shannon’s writing is in depicting her main characters’ emotions, I found rather frustrating.

However, neither of these niggles are dealbreakers. Nor is the fact that while Liyah Summers’ narration very ably depicted the wide cast of characters with an impressive range of different voices – she also misprounced the word bow throughout, along with one or two odd examples that momentarily yanked me out of the story. Overall, I loved the world and the complex, nuanced story Shannon laid out for me and would recommend it to any fan of epic fantasy, who appreciates reading the whole story in one large volume, rather than having it broken up into instalments spanning years.
9/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 12th August, 2020 #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 Green Man’s Silence – Book 3 of The Green Man series by Juliet E. McKennarelease date 2nd September 2020

#urban fantasy #fae #English folklore #troubled hero

BLURB: Daniel Mackmain has always been a loner. As a dryad’s son, he can see the supernatural alongside everyday reality, and that’s not something he can easily share. Perhaps visiting East Anglia to stay with Finele Wicken and her family will be different. They have their own ties to the uncanny.

But something is amiss in the depths of the Fens. Creatures Dan has never encountered outside folk tales are growing uneasy, even hostile. He soon learns they have good reason. Can he help them before they retaliate and disaster strikes the unsuspecting locals? Can the Green Man help Dan in a landscape dominated by water for centuries, where the oaks were cut down aeons ago?

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

I am sooo excited about this one, which we have pre-ordered, as I’ve LOVED the first two books in this series. See my reviews of The Green Man’s Heir and The Green Man’s Foe. That said – McKenna has devised the series so each one can be read as a standalone, to the extent that neither Amazon or Goodreads mention the previous two books.

What sets it apart is the urban fantasy vibe – Daniel is half-dryad and not at all in touch with his mother’s heritage, but also has to deal with some of the consequences of being half-fae nonetheless – mixed with English folklore. It’s a very rich seam that McKenna uses to give this series a unique feel that produced a massive book hangover each time I’d finished the previous two books. So I’m looking forward to this one with HUGE anticipation! And while the cover is awesome, I think it parks the book in the horror genre – and it absolutely isn’t.



Review of INDIE EBOOK Flower Power Trip – Book 3 of the Braxton Campus mysteries by James J. Cudney #Brainfluffbookreview #FlowerPowerTripbookreview

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I enjoyed the first two books in this entertaining cosy whodunit series, featuring Kellan, see my reviews of Academic Curveball and Broken Heart Attack.

BLURB: At a masquerade ball to raise money for renovations to Memorial Library, Kellan finds a dead body dressed in a Dr. Evil costume. Did one of Maggie’s sisters kill the annoying guest who’d been staying at the Roarke and Daughters Inn, or does the victim have a closer connection to someone else at Braxton College? As Kellan helps school president Ursula bury a secret from her past and discover the identity of her stalker, he unexpectedly encounters a missing member of his family. Everything seems to trace back to the Stoddards: a new family who recently moved in. Between the murder, a special flower exhibit and strange postcards arriving each week, Kellan can’t decide which mystery in his life should take priority. But unfortunately, the biggest one of all has yet to be exposed – and when it is, Kellan won’t know what hit him.

REVIEW: Kellan is an engaging, likeable protagonist with a lot on his plate. On top of his academic duties at Braxton University, he is also trying to bring up his small daughter with the help of his beloved grandmother, Nana D. But his habit of tripping over dead bodies also means he gets caught up into trying to sort out who was responsible for these untimely deaths. A cosy murder mystery needs a few vital ingredients to be a truly enjoyable, engrossing read – there needs to be a sympathetic protagonist we enjoy following. Kellan certainly ticks that box.

We also need a steady supply of suitably plausible suspects with a sufficiently strong reason to off our murder victim. And this is why cosy murder mysteries are often set within small communities, where there are a pool of people at hand. Cudney is very good at this aspect – far too often the mystery component is rather neglected. But every single one of his books has been exceptionally well plotted.

The other tricky part of this demanding genre is ensuring that despite the fact we are dealing with a murder, the tone doesn’t get too dark or gritty – yet, neither can the mood be unduly flippant or descend into outright comedy. After all, there has been a murder. This balance is far harder to negotiate than Cudney makes it look – largely thanks to his knack of writing a varied cast of characters who are largely likeable, yet with edges that mean they aren’t too cute or unrealistic. And once again, the murder mystery part of this story is nailed, with plenty of twists and turns.

I also love the ongoing progression of the story, which also puts this series a cut above many others. Kellan’s relationships with some of the key characters in this community continues to evolve and develop, which gives readers of the series an extra reward that isn’t there for those who crash into it. That said, if anyone wanted to, there is no reason why this one wouldn’t work perfectly well as a standalone, or a prospective entry point. Although there is an ongoing major issue that Kellan is wrestling with regarding his personal life. And I was delighted to see that it is creating a fair amount of havoc – and leaves this story on a doozy of a cliffhanger. Fortunately, the fourth book, Mistaken Identity Crisis is available, so I will soon be diving back into this engaging world. Highly recommended for fans of well-written, cosy mystery murders.
9/10