Tag Archives: troubled heroes

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Ghost Electricity – Book 1 of the Hawthorn House series by Sean Cunningham #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #GhostElectricitybookreview

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I liked the sound of this one and was in the mood for a strong urban fantasy set in London, so requested this arc.

BLURB: Do you know what happens to ghosts in London?

A girl with a monster in her shadow. A warlock believed dead four years ago. A werewolf outcast from the London packs.

Rob wants a good job, friends to head to the pub with and a solid cage to lock himself in three nights a month. Julian dropped off the face of the Earth four years ago. He’s back and trying to figure out what living looks like. Together they  will face the deadliest of threats hidden in one of the oldest cities in the world.

Fiona has a monster in her shadow but she doesn’t know how it got there. A creature in the shape of a man is on her trail  and he knows things about Fiona she doesn’t know herself. Her ten year old sister Jessica can build machines that defy the  known laws of physics. Accompanied by a brass tortoise and a glass-feathered raven, Jessica will help Fiona unravel the web  of lies that surrounds them both.

And beneath their feet the plague dead of centuries stir in their graves, waiting for the spell that holds them to break…

REVIEW: The thing about urban fantasy that sets it apart, is that it is generally set in a contemporary landscape – usually a city – and then peopled with otherworldly creatures. So a lot of the pleasure is derived from seeing our everyday settings collide with something other. I was immediately held by Cunningham’s opening sequence with Julian in the London Underground, which was very well done. Anyone who has ever stood on a crowded platform waiting for the train to come could visualise only too well how events unspooled. And that repeated question of Julian’s – Do you know what happens to ghosts in London? – was also nicely handled. Too much and that shiver of horror would have disappeared…

Initially, I was a bit fed up when I realised we wouldn’t be in Julian’s head throughout. But I soon found that I had no trouble bonding with the other protagonists, even when I wasn’t fully aware of what was going on. There’s plenty of tension in this urban fantasy adventure, which makes the sudden outbreaks of rather gory violence seem even more shocking. Underneath the bustling normality of London is a brutal world where mages, vampyres and shapeshifters jostle for power and far too often treat the rest of us as recreation and/or fodder. And in a stunning coincidence, Hawthorn House is where a number of these remarkable people pitch up. I liked all the protagonists, but I particularly bonded with poor old Rob, who just wants a nice normal life, where he rubs along with his work mates and can enjoy a night out down at the pub. Somehow, this never quite happens as all sorts of other distractions get in the way.

The rising tension was well paced and I loved a particular vampyre attack – and what happens to the van, afterwards. As with many urban fantasy tales, there are enjoyable shafts of humour that prevent it becoming too grim, which didn’t prevent the stakes rising such that I found this one difficult to put down as it reached its climax. Overall, this was a thoroughly entertaining read – and the good news is that there are two other books and a number of shorter stories already published in the Hawthorn House series. And I’ll certainly be tucking into them in the near future. While I obtained an arc of Ghost Electricity from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Hestia 2781 – Book 1 of the Drago Tell Dramis series by Janet Edwards #BrainfluffARCbookreview #Hestia2781bookreview

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I’m a huge fan of Janet Edward’s books – see my reviews of Earth Girl, Earth Star, Earth Flight, Earth and Air, Frontier and her short story collection Earth Prime which are all books set in her Earth Girl series, as well as Telepath, Defender, Hurricane and Borderline in the Hive Mind series, and Scavenger Alliance and Scavenger Blood in the Scavenger Exodus series, which is a spinoff prequel series set in the Earth Girl world. So I was delighted when Janet asked me if I would be interested in reviewing her latest novel, Hestia 2781.

BLURB: Hestia 2781 is the first of two full-length novels set immediately after the short story ‘Hera 2781’.
The year is 2781. Lieutenant Drago Tell Dramis’s first mission as a newly qualified fighter pilot ended with him and his team leader saving one of humanity’s oldest colony worlds, Hera, from destruction. Now he’s discovering that saving a world can be simple compared to living with the consequences.

Both Drago and his team leader and second cousin, Jaxon, are famous now, given rapid field promotions, and are due to be awarded medals. Worryingly, Drago learns Jaxon has a mysterious secret and a past history of erratic behaviour. It’s vital that Drago keeps both of them out of trouble and away from nosy reporters until the medal ceremony, because Jaxon could do or say something that deeply embarrasses both the Military and their Betan clan.

The Military is helping by sending their fighter team on a mission somewhere inconspicuously boring until the medal ceremony. That destination definitely won’t be Hestia, the perpetual trouble spot of humanity.

REVIEW: Janet also helpfully provided me with a copy of her short story ‘Hera 2781’. And I’m very glad she did, as the events that occur in Hestia 2781 immediately follow on from the short story. While I don’t think I’d have been floundering without having read the story, I definitely got a lot more out of the novel by having read it first and my firm advice is to track it down, before tucking into this one.

This offering is set in the same world as Janet’s best-selling and successful Earth Girl series, and provides an intriguing and rather poignant glimpse into Jarra’s background. Jarra – the Earth Girl – is the main protagonist of the series, and I loved this extra raft of information regarding her backstory, even though she doesn’t make an appearance in the book.

The main character who tells the story in first-person viewpoint, is young Drago. He is a Betan, whose culture and traditions revolve around family, honour and service. And the demands that culture makes on its young people is the main theme that is explored in this story – amongst the adventure and action that is also kicking off. Drago and his cousin Jaxon are frankly disaster magnets of the first order – and after their escapades have made them famous across all human-settled worlds, they need to lie low for a while. You won’t be surprised to learn that the plan to keep the pair of them gainfully occupied somewhere they can’t get into further trouble doesn’t work…

I always enjoy Janet’s writing. Her books and short stories radiate a positive, upbeat energy often lacking in science fiction and which right now, I find particularly appealing. That doesn’t prevent her from tackling some gnarly subjects, such as prejudice, terrorism and kidnapping – but she manages to approach these issues without slipping into the world-weary cynicism that often pervades such adventures. As ever, Janet delivers a cracking good read set in a detailed, complex world that I think works particularly well – and I’m very happy to note that there is another planned featuring Drago. While the author provided me with a review copy of Hestia 2781, this hasn’t affected my honest opinion of the book.
9/10

Covet the Covers – 18 #Brainfluffcovetthecovers #CovetthecoversNevilShute

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Welcome to another helping of Covet the Covers. This week I’m featuring Nevil Shute’s books. Last week I featured A Town Like Alice on my Friday Face-off, which reminded me just how much I loved his books. I’ve gone for the older covers, though there are lots of options for each of these titles. I absolutely loved Requiem for Wren, which I cried buckets over, and In the Wet (published in 1953) which goes forward in time to 1983 – and had nightmares about On the Beach. But I loved all his books. What about you – have you read any of these and if so, which are your favourites? And which of these covers do you like best?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #WintersOrbitbookreview

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Tammy of Books, Bones and Buffy gave this one a mention – and when I saw the cover and read the premise, I immediately requested it. And I’m so very glad I did…

BLURB: Ancillary Justice meets Red, White & Royal Blue in Everina Maxwell’s exciting debut.

While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control. But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other.

REVIEW: Well, this is great fun! I was immediately drawn into the story by the immersive writing, and my sympathy for happy-go-lucky Kiem went up several notches at his evident horror in being married off to someone so recently bereaved. Jainan, the Thean representative is far more difficult to get to know, but again, is likeable and sympathetic. Given the romance strand in this story runs alongside the wider ramifications of what will happen if the coming Treaty isn’t successfully ratified, it is very important that we bond with the two main protagonists.

I’ve read several other reviews that regard this story as mostly about the romance, with the rest of the storyline dealing with the tangle over the Treaty and growing suspicions regarding Taam’s death providing a convenient backdrop. I disagree. While I thoroughly enjoyed the unfolding romance, which is of the slow-burn variety fraught with misunderstandings all around, my attention was mostly drawn to the political situation developing within the Court. If it was written merely as a cardboard setting for the romance, I would have spotted it in a heartbeat and while I wouldn’t have necessarily DNF’d the book – the overall dynamic between them worked far too well for that – I certainly wouldn’t be giving it a nine.

I was impressed at the depth of the worldbuilding and how much I enjoyed the dynamic of the Iskat Empire, though in control of a solar system of seven planets, needing wider protection from bigger, more rapacious neighbours. I also liked the plurality on display – some Theans want to break away from Iskat, while others are clearly loyal to the Empire, such as Jainan, and within the Court there are also a number of factions. I also like the way same-sex relationships are treated. Not so much as an eyebrow is raised, demonstrating that it is clearly completely normalised within both Thean and Iskat societies.

I loved the actions scenes and the way the tension grew, making it all but impossible to put this one down until the end – and then I crashed quite hard once I finished it. All in all, this has been a wonderful start to my science fiction reads of 2021, and Everina Maxwell is clearly One To Watch. While I obtained an arc of Winter’s Orbit from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Night Parade of 100 Demons – A Legend of the Five Rings novel by Marie Brennan #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheNightParadeof100Demonsbookreview

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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 also enjoyed the entertaining duology, Warrior and Witch, the novella Cold-Forged Flame, and the first two books of the Onyx book series Midnight Never Come and In Ashes Lie. And I’ve made a Covet the Cover feature of her books. So I was thrilled to see this offering on Netgalley.

BLURB: A thrilling epic fantasy adventure in the astonishing realm of Legend of the Five Rings, as two rival clans join forces to investigate a lethal supernatural mystery

Chaos has broken out in the isolated Dragon Clan settlement of Seibo Mura. During the full moon, horrifying creatures rampage through the village, unleashing havoc and death. When the Dragon samurai Agasha no Isao Ryotora is sent to investigate, he faces even greater danger than expected. To save the village, he must confront his buried past – not to mention an unexpected Phoenix Clan visitor, Asako Sekken, who has his own secrets to hide. The quest to save Sebo Mura will take the two samurai into the depths of forgotten history and the shifting terrain of the Spirit Realms… and bring them face to face with an ancient, terrifying evil.

REVIEW: What is speedily apparent by the blurb alone, is that this swords and sorcery adventure takes place within a Japanese setting, using their pantheon of demons and otherworldly creatures. While the trained samurai dealing with the outbreak are two very different young men from completely different backgrounds. What might not be quite so apparent – I certainly hadn’t realised it while reading the book – is that the world is also part of a very popular role-playing game. To be honest, I offer that info-nugget more as a matter of interest. If it encourages you to go and out and get hold of a copy, then I’m delighted – what I don’t want it to do is discourage you from doing so. Because you’ll be missing out on a wonderful story.

This tale drew me in from the first. Told in third person viewpoint through the characters of the two samurai who end up in the village trying to help this desperate state of affairs, I loved the setup right from the start. Brennan’s brilliant characterisation and scene setting came to the fore – and then the plot grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let me go. I’m a tad tired this morning as I stayed up far too late into the wee hours of the morning, unable to put this one down. And I dreamt of it as I slept…

The plot is also a joy – I didn’t see any of the twists coming, and the growing relationship between the two young men is beautifully and tenderly handled. I’m not the most romantic soul – but from halfway into this book, I was willing both these likeable characters to get together. There is plenty of action and lots of tension as the stakes go on growing ever higher – so the appearance of a very sassy cat in the last third of the book was a welcome slice of humour, in amongst the threat and battle. All in all, this is an absolutely cracking read and comes very highly recommended to all fans of excellent fantasy – whether you’ve heard of The Legend of the Five Rings game, or not… While I obtained an arc of The Night Parade of 100 Demons from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Sunday Post – 24th January, 2021 #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.

I was expecting another quiet week, but my daughter was suddenly unwell and needed us to step in and look after the younger two children on Friday morning. As we are part of her support bubble, we were able to do so. To add to the pressure, little Eliza had the previous day been diagnosed with asthma and needed to get to grips with the medication – she’s two… Suddenly I was talking about the birds in the garden… the sun going to bed… our chiming clock – which fascinates Eliza… Basically having a ringside seat as a small person grapples with learning about the world around her. It’s a joy and a privilege, though I do need to get fitter! My steps counter on my phone went from 437 steps on Thursday to over 6,500 on Friday and recorded 15 flights of stairs…

The pics this week are of a bitterly cold trip to the beach on early Saturday morning with little Eliza. Right now we have the eldest, Frank, staying for a couple of days as the younger two went home last night. I’m glad to say that my daughter is now feeling a lot better.

Mantivore Dreams, the first book in my Arcadian Chronicles trilogy, is now free for the rest of the day – just click on the link or the cover in the sidebar, if you’d like a copy. It is an adventure based on a colony planet featuring a teenager whose harsh life is softened by a pretend friend – an ancient alien who offers comfort when things get tough…

Last week I read:

By the Pact – Book 1 of the Pacts Arcane and Otherwise series by Joanna Maciejewska
When Kamira, a once high mage student turned arcanist, discovers an imprisoned demon in underground ruins, she is forced into a pact that grants her powerful magic, but also ties her to the very demon that once devastated the continent… and Veranesh wants his freedom.

With one friend by her side, Veelk, a mage killer bound on protecting her, Kamira will have to outwit the archmages, other demons, and possibly her own demonic benefactor to survive. Her chances are slim, but with Veelk’s ever-present sarcastic repartee, Kamira might just pull through.

Plots and schemes, power and means—sometimes the price for victory is choosing which friend will die, but when you only have one friend, the choice is… easy?
This is a packet of fun! I have a real weakness for good sand and sorcery tales so sniggering at the snark between Veelk and Kamira, while ferocious demons scheme and plot in the background was a wonderful treat. I’m now really looking forward to reading the next book Scars in Stone, which is due to be released later this year.

The Night Parade of 100 Demons – a novel in A Legend of the Five Rings World by Marie Brennan
A thrilling epic fantasy adventure in the astonishing realm of Legend of the Five Rings, as two rival clans join forces to investigate a lethal supernatural mystery

Chaos has broken out in the isolated Dragon Clan settlement of Seibo Mura. During the full moon, horrifying creatures rampage through the village, unleashing havoc and death. When the Dragon samurai Agasha no Isao Ryotora is sent to investigate, he faces even greater danger than expected. To save the village, he must confront his buried past – not to mention an unexpected Phoenix Clan visitor, Asako Sekken, who has his own secrets to hide. The quest to save Seibo Mura will take the two samurai into the depths of forgotten history and the shifting terrain of the Spirit Realms… and bring them face to face with an ancient, terrifying evil.
I hadn’t been aware that this riveting fantasy story in a Japanese setting was also in the world of a popular role play game Legend of the Five Rings until I sat down to write the review. And frankly, I’m only tossing that info-nugget at you as a matter of interest, because as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference. The book is one of the best I’ve read of the year so far, as Brennan weaves her usual magic. Review to follow.

Murder at the Ritz by Jim Eldridge
August 1940. On the streets of London, locals watch with growing concern as German fighter planes plague the city’s skyline. But inside the famous Ritz Hotel, the cream of society continues to enjoy all the glamour and comfort that money can buy during wartime – until an anonymous man is discovered with his throat slashed open.

Detective Chief Inspector Coburg is called in to investigate, no stranger himself to the haunts of the upper echelons of society, ably assisted by his trusty colleague, Sergeant Lampson. Yet they soon face a number of obstacles. With the crime committed in rooms in use by an exiled king and his retinue, there are those who fear diplomatic repercussions and would rather the case be forgotten. With mounting pressure from various Intelligence agencies, rival political factions and gang warfare brewing either side of the Thames, Coburg and Lampson must untangle a web of deception if they are to solve the case – and survive.
This was another highly enjoyable read. DCI Coburg is an engaging protagonist battling to do his job during one of the most difficult, stressful times in London’s history. I loved the confident evocation of WWII and the nicely twisty plotting. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of By the Pact – Book 1 of the Pacts Arcane and Otherwise series by Joanna Maciejewska

Friday Face-off featuring Bloodhype – Book 2 of the Pip and Flinx series by Alan Dean Foster

Covet the Covers featuring Robert A. Heinlein

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Black Sun – Book 1 of Between Earth and Sky series by Rebecca Roanhorse

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Murder at the Ritz by Jim Eldridge

Tuesday Treasures – 23

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Shadow in the Empire of Light by Jane Routley

TWO Fantasy Mini-Reviews: A Dragon of a Different Colour by Rachel Aaron and Of Dragons, Feasts and Murder by Aliette de Bodard

Sunday Post – 17th January 2021

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

Mantivore Dreams is free today! https://mybook.to/MDJan21 The first book in my Arcadian Chronicles trilogy is free today on a giveaway that ends at midnight. Just click on the universal link above or the cover on the sidebar which will take you to your local Amazon store.

Happy Squirrel Appreciation Day https://bluebirdofbitterness.com/2021/01/21/happy-squirrel-appreciation-day-3/ This is more cartoon nonsense to bring a smile to your face…

Coumshingaun Lough https://inesemjphotography.com/2021/01/18/coumshingaun-lough/ Ireland is one of those places I’ve never been to that is on my bucket list. And these stunning pics, along with Inese’s chatty, informative prose only sharpens that wish…

Samantha by Zoe Sparkes https://soundcloud.com/zoe-ann-sparks/samantha And now for a treat for the ears. Tammy of Book’s Bones and Buffy mentioned her daughter’s new release – it’s beautiful… Swing by and just listen.

Wrap Up: 2020 Reading Statistics… https://ajsterkel.blogspot.com/2021/01/wrap-up-2020-reading-statistics.html?spref=tw As you probably know, I also produce a series of pie charts on my reading year – but AJ’s attention to detail is awesomely impressive!

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog. I hope you had a peaceful, healthy week – and do take care. x

Review of AUDIOBOOK Mythos written and narrated by Stephen Fry #Brainfluffbookreview #Mythosbookreview

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When I saw this book featured by Audible, it was a no-brainer. I’m still spinning out the major work (76 listening hours) of Stephen Fry’s narration of the Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes – the man could make the telephone directory compulsive listening. As an early fan of Greek mythology, I was sure this would make marvellous listening – and I wasn’t wrong…

The Greek myths are the greatest stories ever told, passed down through millennia and inspiring writers and artists as varied as Shakespeare, Michelangelo, James Joyce and Walt Disney. They are embedded deeply in the traditions, tales and cultural DNA of the West. In Stephen Fry’s hands the stories of the titans and gods become a brilliantly entertaining account of ribaldry and revelry, warfare and worship, debauchery, love affairs and life lessons, slayings and suicides, triumphs and tragedies.

Yep. All of the above. In a chatty, unthreatening manner, Fry charts the doings of those Greek gods, from the violent beginnings in the creation stories, to the establishment of the pantheon and on into the creation of mortals. Throughout, in addition to telling the stories, Fry ensures we also understand how the names of various gods, goddesses, demi-gods, muses and nymphs has impacted upon our language, by pointing out the words that have sprung up around the various names, as well as giving the Roman versions. I also liked how he not only mentions classical power couples – but also cites Kim and Kanye West…

Just a warning for those of you with small people in your household – these stories contain a lot of violence and death. So I’d advise you to listen through this alone to decide whether it would make suitable family listening on a long car journey, for instance. I certainly wouldn’t be happy for my nine-year-old grandson to hear many of the stories as they would raise far too many awkward questions around sexual violence that I wouldn’t want to answer at this stage in his development. Those conversations and decisions need to be directed by his parents, not me.

I was also struck at how few of the stories ended happily. Most seem to be warning mortals not to be too boastful – or too good at anything. And whatever you do, receive wandering, scruffy strangers into your home and treat them well – oh, and ideally, don’t be too beautiful – that rarely ended well if you happened to take the fancy of a god, or goddess, especially Zeus. What I especially enjoyed was how Fry is at pains to depict the ongoing consequences of a particular event – even if you, the listener, may have lost track of exactly who this new character is, if he or she is related to a former protagonist, he points it out, joining up the dots.

All in all, this is an outstanding book – and I am warmly convinced that actually hearing it is by far the best way to experience all those complicated Greek names and torrid stories. This is probably one that I shall want to hear again – something I very rarely ever do – because there is just so much richness and depth of perspective that I am sure that while decorating the bathroom, I lost track of some of those nuances. Highly recommended for anyone with any kind of curiosity about some of the linguistic, moral and cultural beginnings of Western civilisation.
10/10