Tag Archives: troubled hero

Review of Library book #Remnants of Trust – Book 2 of the #Central Corp novel series by #Elizabeth Bonesteel #Brainfluffbookreview #bookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series – The Cold Between – see my review here. Luckily, the library also had the second book, so I was able tuck into this one before I’d forgotten the plot of the first space opera adventure.

Six weeks ago, Commander Elena Shaw and Captain Greg Foster were court-martialled for their role in an event Central Gov denies ever happened. Yet instead of a dishonourable discharge or time in a military prison, Shaw and Foster and are now back together on Galileo. As punishment, they’ve been assigned to patrol the nearly empty space of the Third Sector. But their mundane mission quickly turns treacherous when the Galileo picks up a distress call: Exeter, a sister ship, is under attack from raiders.

This space opera adventure is a cracker – I love the complex characterisation and nuanced responses of the main protagonists. While this is a continuation from the first book, if you haven’t read it, I think you could still work out who was doing what to whom without too much difficulty. And while you might miss out on some of the extra ramifications, you certainly would be able to negotiate the world and follow the action, while appreciating what is at stake – which is a lot. However, to get the best out of this book, I do recommend that you get hold of The Cold Between and read it before tucking into this offering.

However, Bonesteel’s great strength is the portrayal of her cast. Elena is a great main character – she is a skilled mechanic as well as brave and stubborn. However, she also has vulnerabilities and weaknesses, too. As does every other character in this engrossing story, where as well as trying to fulfil their mission – or otherwise – they are all reacting off each other in highly stressful circumstances in ways that feel completely realistic. The pacing in this story is slower than the previous headlong pelt through the book, where Elena’s pairing with an unjustly accused PSI captain triggered many of the events that are reverberating through this more complex story with a wider scope.

I took my time reading this one – something I don’t do very often, because I simply didn’t want it to end. I love character-led adventures and Bonesteel’s writing really chimes with me. Other than Elena, whom I love, my favourite character is the abrasive, intelligent Raman Çelik, the captain of poor old Exeter, the ship that is attacked in the opening passage of the book. He isn’t very nice – in fact, he isn’t nice at all. But his charisma and tendency to jab at everyone around him to wind them up and his dogged determination to track down those responsible for the damage done to his ship and crew helps to power this story forward.

The final denouement is suitably exciting and an appropriate payoff for readers who have invested their time to read this gripping story – and I certainly didn’t realise who the traitor was. The initial main plotline – who is responsible for attacking the Exeter and why – is certainly adequately addressed in this adventure, but this is part of a trilogy and there is a massive plotpoint dangling with a sudden heartbreaking twist right near the end of this adventure. I’m very glad that the final book, Breach of Containment is due to arrive on the library shelves any day now – I’ve got an order in to read it as soon as it does, because I really, really want to know what happens next.

Highly recommended for fans of character-led space opera adventure.
9/10

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Review of KINDLE Ebook #Willnot by James Sallis #buddyread #bookreview #bookblog #bookblogger

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My book blogging friend Emma Littlefield and I decided to teamread a book recommended by the other – and as James Sallis is a favourite author of Emma’s, we started off by reading Willnot.

Did you pick this book up thinking it was going to be a murder mystery?
No. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. Having read quite a few Sallis books now, one thing I like about his stories is that they never quite end up where I think they might. A number of his trilogies have detectives or private investigators as central characters and they do investigate murders but it’s never the be all and end all of everything. Sometimes, they don’t even get solved. It’s more about the journey’s the characters take and that’s what I like.

Is this book a classic example of James Sallis’s writing?
Yes, I would say so. I always end up describing it to people as quite sparse as there isn’t a word wasted. Some people I’ve recommend him to say that nothing happens in the books but I disagree, I think a lot happens to the characters it’s just it tends to be small things that build up to big changes.

When you finished the book were you elated and blown away, or just the tiniest bit disappointed?
I was very happy. The last Sallis book I read (The Killer is Dying) is actually the first one I haven’t enjoyed and I was a bit worried I had burnt out on the author. I was also a bit worried that he’d lost his writing way. This had all the elements I love in his work and, while it wasn’t the best of the books I’ve read, it was by no means the worst. Content is maybe the best way to describe it.

How does this rate alongside other books by this author?
I would say it’s probably right in the middle (maybe high middle). My favourite books are Drive and Driven and his Turner Trilogy because I just feel in love with his characters in these books.

As you can see from her answers, Emma is a thoughtful, intelligent reader whose opinions I value – you can pop over to her blog here to read her questions to me along with her review of Willnot. And here is my review…

In the woods outside the town of Willnot, the remains of several people have suddenly been discovered, unnerving the community and unsettling Hale, the town’s all-purpose general practitioner, surgeon, and town conscience. At the same time, Bobby Lowndes–his military records disappeared, being followed by the FBI–mysteriously reappears in his hometown, at Hale’s door. Over the ensuing months, the daily dramas Hale faces as he tends to his town and to his partner, Richard, collide with the inexplicable vagaries of life in Willnot.

I love the writing style. Sallis builds up a vivid picture of daily life in this small, US community with a wealth of everyday occurrences, delivering them with pace and a vividness that pulled me into the book. Hale, his protagonist, is a thoroughly nice chap who is one of those lynchpins that all communities need. His duties as the town’s doctor, surgeon and coroner put him right in the centre of all the major events in Willnot in a manner that appears completely unforced and realistic.

Sallis’s smooth, accomplished prose has a lovely rhythm that evokes Hale’s character and the setting without ever putting a foot wrong – there is so much about this book that is an absolute delight… However, if you’re sensing a but – you’d be right. My quibble isn’t with the writing, or the characterisation, or even the plot progression and storyline – all that works beautifully. What wrongfooted me was after reading the blurb, I was expecting a murder mystery – a whodunit where this busy, responsible man takes it upon himself to solve the puzzle of those bodies discovered right at the beginning of the story and clearly rock the small town, where daily life is generally quieter and more peaceful.

But that wasn’t where the focus or impact of this story lay – and while appreciating all the strengths that I’ve already enumerated about this book, I kept turning the pages, waiting for the denouement and drama surrounding this mystery. Or any mystery… While there is some drama and an unexpected shooting, the overall plot didn’t seem to be about that at all, which is absolutely fine – apart for my expectations.

Would I read another James Sallis novel? Oh yes – he’s evidently a fine writer and I really enjoyed being introduced to him – thank you, Emma!
8/10

#Teaser Tuesday featuring #Gwithyas: Door to the Void – 23rd May, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

Gwithyas: Door to the Void by Isha Crowe
20% Old, yellow paper that crumbles, so I have to hold it carefully. The first words, in elaborate old-fashioned handwriting, are: ‘I will mourn you forever, my love.’
I put it aside. Too labour-intensive to read, and way too depressing. At the moment I don’t want to learn about the miserable fates of my pathetic ancestors. I feel bad enough as it is, and really don’t need to be reminded of how hopeless our situation is, how impossible it is that Mum will ever live in the nice, sunny house she so desires, that my sisters will ever go to school, that Dad will ever smile. Or that I will ever live the life of a normal boy.

BLURB: Zircon Gwithyas just wants to be a normal teenager, preferably one with a girlfriend. If you’re a spotty nerd with glasses as thick as jam jars, that isn’t easy.
It’s even harder when you live in a derelict manor on a haunted hill with a bunch of spooky eccentrics for a family, and the object of your affection is an irritable sword-wielding college student.
It becomes virtually impossible when you are dragged into a dark, chaotic semi-reality where your moderately-deceased ancestors expect you to save the world from a horde of grotesque demons with a fondness for torture…

This is a delightful, quirky read that I’m really enjoying. It reminds me more than a little of Matt Haig’s The Radleys as this teenage boy in the middle of paranormal mayhem is yearning for a normal existence. I have yet to discover if his dream comes true – I’m going to guess it probably doesn’t.

Review of KINDLE Ebook #Scourged – Book 9 of the Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne #Brainfluffbookreview #bookreview

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I’ve followed this series right from the start, thoroughly enjoying the mayhem and the humour that Hearne has created, so it was with some sadness that I picked up this final book in the series – see my review of the first book, Hounded, here.

Unchained from fate, the Norse gods Loki and Hel are ready to unleash Ragnarok, a.k.a. the Apocalypse, upon the earth. They’ve made allies on the darker side of many pantheons, and there’s a globe-spanning battle brewing that ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan will be hard-pressed to survive, much less win.

Granuaile MacTiernan must join immortals Sun Wukong and Erlang Shen in a fight against the Yama Kings in Taiwan, but she discovers that the stakes are much higher than she thought.

Meanwhile, Archdruid Owen Kennedy must put out both literal and metaphorical fires from Bavaria to Peru to keep the world safe for his apprentices and the future of Druidry.

And Atticus recruits the aid of a tyromancer, an Indian witch, and a trickster god in hopes that they’ll give him just enough leverage to both save Gaia and see another sunrise. There is a hound named Oberon who deserves a snack, after all.

This book features the three main protagonists listed in the blurb above and I’m very grateful to the author for providing a ‘story so far’ summary covering the whole series. I just wish other authors writing long-running series would provide similar assistance to their readers. Some of us have the memory of a goldfish…

I started this one with some trepidation – after all, the stakes are high. I have followed this series for the previous eight books and was concerned that if Hearne fumbled this one, it would spoil my experience of the complete Iron Druid series. In the event, I’d need not have worried. All three main characters still are appealing in quite different ways – my personal favourite is Owen, who started out as the archetypal grumpy old man and has considerably mellowed as he continues getting to grips with the modern world. While the apocalyptic Ragnarok loomed across the book – as well it should – there were a whole series of delightful interludes with my favourite being Owens new best friend, Slomo the sloth.

What appears to have split opinion amongst readers is the manner in which the book ends. As for Granuaile’s decision, I was really pleased. I felt it showed her increasing confidence and desire to extend her druidic skills and had a real ring of reality about it which I thoroughly welcome. As for the Iron Druid, Atticus, what befalls him is a real shock, but given the weight of prophecy promising bad things happening to him, I can’t see how this could have ended any better without compromising a major plot point throughout the latter half of the series.

All in all, I think Hearne has produced a thoroughly satisfactory conclusion to an excellent series which I particularly enjoyed as – unlike so many others – it didn’t become unbearably bleak by the end. Recommended for fans of godpunk and epic fantasy with a strong contemporary twist.
9/10

#Teaser Tuesday featuring #Scourged – 15th May, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

Scourged – Book 9 of the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne
8% The fancy law is the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and it says if ye have an isolated system, then entropy will increase and—gods damn it, let’s just say things turn to shite and be done with it, all right? We can call it the First Law of Owen.

BLURB: Unchained from fate, the Norse gods Loki and Hel are ready to unleash Ragnarok, a.k.a. the Apocalypse, upon the earth. They’ve made allies on the darker side of many pantheons, and there’s a globe-spanning battle brewing that ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan will be hard-pressed to survive, much less win.

Granuaile MacTiernan must join immortals Sun Wukong and Erlang Shen in a fight against the Yama Kings in Taiwan, but she discovers that the stakes are much higher than she thought.

Meanwhile, Archdruid Owen Kennedy must put out both literal and metaphorical fires from Bavaria to Peru to keep the world safe for his apprentices and the future of Druidry.

And Atticus recruits the aid of a tyromancer, an Indian witch, and a trickster god in hopes that they’ll give him just enough leverage to both save Gaia and see another sunrise. There is a hound named Oberon who deserves a snack, after all.

As you can see, I’m right at the beginning of this one – and Hearne has done me a great favour by giving ‘The story so far’ roundup to remind me of what the stakes are with this one… I’ve just encountered Owen – see above – who has become my favourite character in this series.

Review of KINDLE Ebook #Bound – Book 8 of the #Alex Verus series by #Benedict Jacka #bookreview #Brainfluffbookreview

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This excellent series has been frequently compared to the Harry Dresden Files – and there are similarities. The protagonists both had bumpy childhoods where their abilities were exploited and are therefore edgy and distrustful. But where Harry is just plain powerful, Alex Verus is relatively weak as his ability lies in being able to see into the future, though only by a handful of seconds, sometimes stretching into minutes. That, so far, has been enough to keep him alive… As the series is now stretching forward and getting steadily darker, is it still as enjoyable as when it started?

Alex Verus can see the future. But he never thought he’d see this day. Manoeuvred by forces beyond his control, the probability mage has made a terrible choice: he’s agreed to work for his old master once more. Richard Drakh, the sadistic dark mage Alex escaped as an apprentice, has him in his clutches again. And this time, he won’t let go so easily.

While I have always enjoyed this series, – see my review of Fated – I think the last couple of books have nocked up the tension and pace so that once I started reading, they were difficult to put down. Moreover, if you have randomly picked this one up intending to read it, while you inevitably will have missed huge chunks of the backstory, given this is the eighth book in the series, you wouldn’t unduly flounder. Told in first person viewpoint, Alex’s terse narrative does a good job of explaining the stakes and any necessary information for new readers. I’m not sure if this book is specifically designed as an entry point to the series, but I think it could certainly work like that.

I used to wish I had magical abilities – but I’m very relieved I haven’t, if Jacka’s take on the British magical community is anything like the reality. The Council deals with policing mages and are supposed to be Light mages. But having witnessed the very rough justice they hand out with little accountability, it is clear they aren’t much better than the Dark mages, who are supposed to be the villains. Alex has spent all his adult life trying to stay out of the clutches of his former mentor, the powerful and very unpleasant Richard Drakh – and at the start of this book, he is right back where he didn’t want to be…

The world is well depicted with strong supporting characters who ping off the page, but what elevates this book from the rest is Jacka’s handling of Alex’s prescient abilities, particularly in a fight. I think the description and manner in which this particular talent works is just plain brilliant and if you enjoyed the Harry Desden Files, then give this series a go. It comes very highly recommended.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Blood Book 3 of the Jem Flockhart series by E.S. Thomson

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For once, it wasn’t the cover that caught my eye with this one – it was the premise. I recall reading about these hospital ships with horror and reading a murder mystery that was based on one of these floating hulks seemed quirkily original.

Summoned to the riverside by the desperate, scribbled note of an old friend, Jem Flockhart and Will Quartermain find themselves on board the seamen’s floating hospital, an old hulk known only as The Blood, where prejudice, ambition and murder seethe beneath a veneer of medical respectability.

Thomson does a marvellous job of vividly recreating the grim and effluvia of this stinking corner of London. At this point, the poor old Thames is little more than an open cesspit and London is generally draped in sooty smoke, with far more mists and fogs than you’d normally expect, caused by the runaway air pollution. Unsurprisingly, there is a high rate of illness, though The Blood specialises in the ailments brought into London from sailors and passengers who have returned from the Empire with all sorts of nasty complaints.

Jem Flockhart is an interesting protagonist – he is a young apothecary, continuing his father’s business and producing herbal remedies and medicines for the physicians coping with the high rate of illnesses. The team working on The Blood are mostly young medical practitioners without any money or support behind them, seeking to make a reputation by either publishing a brilliant paper on one of these new diseases, or catching the eye of an established medical man. However, the likes of Dr Proudlove, a black doctor whose mother ran a brothel, is highly unlikely to gain the reputation he wishes, despite being both clever and hard-working.
Jem teams up Will Quartermain, a young architect, when investigating this entangled case that lays open the seamiest side of London life, after they discover the body of a young woman in a derelict boatyard. While it’s evident she was drowned, the water in her lungs is clear, whereas she was discovered floating in a vile-smelling thick soup that could scarcely be described as water…

I thoroughly enjoyed this. Jem is a wary character who despite his obvious youth, clearly knows his way around this lawless, blighted area – and has an almighty secret of his own. This means that he is relatively free of many of the prejudices of the time – which also rings true. While there is clearly a rich backstory to his and Will’s current relationship, I had no difficulty in working out exactly what was going on and this book works well as a standalone, despite being the third in the series.

As for the mystery itself, it is one of those very twisty affairs, where one apparently solitary murder triggers a string of other incidents so that more people die, pulling in a wider circle of potential suspects. I thoroughly enjoyed the puzzle and the vivid world unflinchingly on display – though I’m humbly grateful that I don’t live in that time and place. I’ve thought about this one a lot since I finished reading it and will be looking out for the other books in this series. Recommended for fans of vividly depicted historical fiction, especially Victorian noir.
9/10

 

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of INDIE Ebook The Green Man’s Heir by Juliet McKenna

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I’m a solid fan of this author’s work – see my review of The Hadrumal Crisis – and have always enjoyed the politically aware worldbuilding and sharp characterisation of her epic fantasy novels, all set in the same world. This one, however, is a complete break from her former body of work. This is, in effect, a very Brit take on the urban fantasy sub-genre, where the supernatural world interacts with the human version in trying to get to the bottom of a crime. But instead of grimy city streets, the setting is an English stately home and instead of the usual fare of vampires and werewolves, we have dryads, boggats and wyrms…

A hundred years ago, a man with a secret could travel a few hundred miles and give himself a new name and life story. No one would be any the wiser, as long as he didn’t give anyone a reason to start asking questions. These days, that’s not so easy, with everyone on social media, and CCTV on every street corner. So Daniel Mackmain keeps his head down and keeps himself to himself. But now a girl has been murdered and the Derbyshire police are taking a closer look at a loner who travels from place to place, picking up work as he goes. Worse, Dan realises the murder involves the hidden world he was born into. When no one else can see the truth, who will see justice done?

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

And she has absolutely nailed it. This is a complete and utter joy. I loved the character of Daniel, part-dryad, who is desperate to meet up with others in his situation and when he finally tracks down someone who can help – it doesn’t end well… He is a sympathetic protagonist with a few chips on his shoulder – not surprising given his heritage and how it has caused him problems. He is tall, well-built and innately attracts women. While that might sound like dream attributes, in reality it has caused him a lot of problems with annoyed boyfriends and brought unwelcome attention from the police, when such incidents turn into brawls.

I love the setting of a country district – McKenna has got the social faultlines running through modern England spot on. While the beautiful setting, juxtaposed with the grim threat reaching back into history and now posing a possibility of creating havoc all over again, works beautifully. This one grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go until I put it down in the wee small hours, drained and slightly giddy.

The book hangover I’ve had since has been painful, because despite reading perfectly enjoyable, well written adventures, they haven’t been this world, with these characters. I want them back. I want more. And I’m hoping, fervently, that McKenna has plans to make this a series, because I’m already addicted.

Recommended for fans of urban fantasy and murder stories with a very cool paranormal twist.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Burn Bright – Book 5 of the Alpha and Omega series by Patricia Briggs

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Himself is a real fan of Patricia Briggs and pounced on this latest instalment of her werewolf urban fantasy series with glee. I idly opened it up, read the first couple of the pages – and was caught…

They are the wild and the broken. The werewolves too damaged to live safely among their own kind. For their own good, they have been exiled to the outskirts of Aspen Creek, Montana. Close enough to the Marrok’s pack to have its support; far enough away to not cause any harm. With their Alpha out of the country, Charles and Anna are on call when an SOS comes in from the fae mate of one such wildling. Heading into the mountainous wilderness, they interrupt the abduction of the wolf–but can’t stop blood from being shed. Now Charles and Anna must use their skills–his as enforcer, hers as peacemaker–to track down the attackers, reopening a painful chapter in the past that springs from the darkest magic of the witchborn…

I make a habit of crashing into series out of order as anyone who has spent any time reading my reviews knows. Mostly, I manage to work out what is happening without too much difficulty, but I can’t deny that it sometimes causes a bit of confusion at the beginning of the book. Not this time, though. Immediately Briggs pulled me into the action so at no stage was I floundering, which demonstrates a great deal of skill, given this is the fifth book in the series. Of course, I was aware there was a hefty backstory and some of the previous events were mentioned, which has certainly whetted my appetite to read more about these engaging characters.

And it is all about the characters. I loved both Charles and Anna, so very different and yet so suited. I also enjoyed reading about the jockeying for position and the pinsharp awareness of their ranking within the pack and how that balances with the human side of their character. I’ve read one or three werewolf stories in my time, each with its own take on how the blend of wolf and human works, and this was a dynamic I particularly enjoyed. I also liked the fact that despite this is a world where lives are invariably lost – they matter. Near the beginning one of the deaths really winded me – I had expected that it was going to be alright and this particular character, whom I’d really liked, would prevail. It was a shock when it didn’t.

Another of Briggs’ skills is her ability to write broken, desperate characters with compassion and empathy. Some of the oldest fae and werewolves are overwhelmed by the weight of years and bloody experiences they have endured and are too dangerous to live in the socially supercharged atmosphere of the Pack. Briggs doesn’t just tell us how dangerous and unpredictable they are – her demonstrations of their lethal oddness had me reading waaay later into the night than I should have done.

As for the climax and solution – the risk is when I’m so thoroughly invested in a story so early on, I’ll find that the ending doesn’t quite live up to my expectations. This wasn’t an issue here – there was another surprising twist near the end that certainly changed everything once again. And then again, when another twist superseded that one… The conclusion tied up most of the plot points, leaving a major one dangling in the breeze, ready for the sixth book in the series. I’ll definitely be reading that one – and before that – I’ll also be backtracking and reading more about these charismatic, engaging characters in the meantime.

Highly recommended for fans of quality urban fantasy.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – Be as a tower firmly set…

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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 week the theme is a cover featuring a tower, so I’ve selected The Black Tower – Book 5 of the Adam Dalgliesh Mysteries by P.D. James.

 

This edition was produced by Touchstone in April 2012 and I want to like it more than I do. It seems a rather cool idea to envelope a rather haunting image of a tower in a very dark tint. In reality, I think the result is rather dreary and unappealing – though I’m unsure whether that’s really the case, or the fact that I am very much drawn to bright, sunshine colours.

 

Published in April 2010 by Faber and Faber, I much prefer this version – though it might also be because this is cover of the book that I’ve read. It is rather brooding with a stark beauty about it and I also like the way the author and title fonts have been handled. This one is my favourite.

 

This edition, published by Scribner Book Company in January 1975, must have had poor P.D. James sighing in disgust. What were they thinking? This is a sophisticated murder mystery featuring a nuanced, clever protagonist during a personal crisis. Yet, this looks like something out of a Boys’ Own Annual…

 

This Spanish edition, produced by B de Books in August 2012 is certainly a lot better than the previous effort. The tower perched on the edge of the cliffs with the sea in the foreground and the deep blue colour is certainly attractive, but I think this cover still lacks sufficient finesse for such a cleverly constructed book.

 

This German cover, published in December 1998, is a dreadful effort. Someone let the children loose in the graphics department and then accidentally forgot to erase the effort – surely? So we have the photo of a ruined tower grafted over the image of flames which aren’t even to scale, making the whole thing look completely false. And then they further ruined the dodgy effort by plonking a lot of writing on the cover – although, come to think of it, maybe they added it in a vain attempt to draw attention away from the shockingly bad job they’d made. Which is your favourite?