Tag Archives: troubled young hero

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Alexander X – Book 1 of the Battle for Forever series by Edward Savio #BrainfluffNETGALLEYAUDIObookreview #AlexanderXbookreview

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I thought the premise of this one was intriguing – and when I noticed that Wil Wheaton was the narrator, I immediately requested it.

BLURB: Alexander Grant is about to take his 3000th history test. You know how you feel like you’ve been going to school for a thousand years? Well, he actually has. Although he looks like a normal teenager, no one knows he’s actually 1500 years old. Not the girl he likes. Not his best friend. No one. That is until someone tries to kidnap Alexander and use him as bait to catch his father, the only man capable of stopping a plan that would change humanity forever. And the start of a journey that will take him far from the sleepy town he’s been hiding out in.

REVIEW: This YA adventure thriller starts out tamely enough – our long-suffering protagonist is taking yet another History test. And given that he’s been going to school for a very, very long time, this is actually his three-thousandth test. Savio nicely captures the tone of a perpetual teen, without making him obnoxious which is quite an achievement. It doesn’t hurt that Wil Wheaton does an outstanding job as narrator, so that I even enjoyed the regular rants on how History is wrong. The only time I felt this monologue verged on being a bit self-indulgent and significantly interfered with the ongoing action was the piece about Paul Revere. I also appreciated the explanations on why and how Alexander is ageing so slowly, which made sense and gave a solid reason for the near-immortality of a very small sample of the population.

The story takes a bit of time to get going, which gave me a chance to fully bond with the main character. That’s important, because if I hadn’t cared about Alexander then most of the book wouldn’t have mattered. And once the action kicks off, it’s foot to the floor all the way. Alexander and his hapless companions find themselves facing a number of powerful and determined antagonists who apparently want to capture him to use against his father. Though they don’t seem to worry too much if he’s seriously hurt in the process. It certainly makes for a series of desperate chases in a variety of vividly described settings. Savio writes action well. There is plenty of tension, along with strong pacing so that he continues to up the stakes, other than the occasional monologue about the past – which I would expect from a near-immortal teenager.

The romantic thread is well handled, showing a more vulnerable side to Alexander without derailing the pace or taking over from the overall narrative. All in all, I enjoyed this YA science fantasy thriller and recommend it for fans of the genre, particularly this audiobook version. While I obtained an arc of Alexander X from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #3

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This is my fortnightly (hopefully) Sunday Post update – hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer – on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 8 months since I first got ill . And as usual, it’s been a bit up and down. My wonderful sister suggested that I see a reflexologist as I felt I’d got a bit stuck. So I went ahead and found Laura – a lovely lady, who lives only a fifteen-minute drive from where I live, which is really important. Right now, I don’t have the energy for a long journey. We discovered that we both taught at the same Junior school back in the 1990s and I immediately liked and trusted her. I’ve had a couple of sessions so far and it’s going well.

During our first consultation, Laura suggested that I get my thyroid checked out, as she is concerned at the pressure I feel at the base of my throat, particularly when I’m tired. So I phoned up the Dr last week – and was given an immediate face-to-face appointment that morning. I saw a very sympathetic Dr, who suggested that I have a scan to check out my thyroid and arranged a blood test. Though she did warn me that in all likelihood, it will come back entirely normal, as Long Covid generally doesn’t present many symptoms during such investigations.

Having the reflexology appointment on the Friday, the Dr’s appointment on the following Monday and a blood test on Wednesday pretty much wiped me out for the rest of the week. Though I didn’t end up bedridden again, and all but one of the days, I was still well enough to shower – so I take that as a win. Himself had some annual leave this week and I really appreciated it. As I’m feeling more alert, I miss him when he’s working. Normally, I’m busy writing or blogging, or out and about so I am too occupied to sit around, wondering what he’s doing. Not so these days.

One of my lovely Creative Writing students suggested that I start writing haikus, as she was very concerned to learn that I have currently lost the ability to write my novels. I thought it an excellent idea – the Japanese three-line, seventeen-syllable poetry form seemed something that I should be able to manage. However, while the first one was reasonably positive – the next five I spent the early hours of the morning writing were so filled with rage and pain that I realised I couldn’t do this anymore. To be honest – it was a shock. I hadn’t appreciated all those feelings were lurking under the surface and while I need to sort them out at some stage, this isn’t the time. Not while I’m battling so hard to get better.

Thank goodness for fabulous books and gripping TV series! They’re a life-saver as they allow me to simply escape from the whole situation when I need to. Yay for The Gilmore Girls, which I loved – and I’m now up to date with Chesapeke Shores. I’ve also found meditation a huge help throughout the day to rest and relax both my body and mind. It also helps me keep a positive mindset.

Thank you so much. I really appreciate the stream of good wishes for my recovery that I have received since I started posting about Long Covid. I can’t have many visitors as I don’t have the energy to sustain much of a conversation. Though it was wonderful when Frank, our eldest grandson, popped in yesterday afternoon to catch up. It was such a relief to find that he’s settling in really well on his animation course at college and thoroughly enjoying it.

This week I’ve read:-

HMS Nightingale – Book 4 of the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland
For Lieutenant Alexis Carew, it should be the perfect assignment — a command of her own and a chance to return to her home star system.

What she finds is a surly crew, the dregs of every frigate and ship of the line to pass through on the way to the war’s front, a first officer who thinks the command should have been his, and colonial worlds where they believe a girl’s place is somewhere very different than command of a Queen’s starship. Add to that the mysterious disappearances of ships vital to the war effort and an old enemy who seems intent on convincing her he’s changed. Then there’s the mongoose with an unnatural affinity for her boots.
I’ve really enjoyed this series so far – the ‘Hornblower in space’ scenario works well, which is largely down to the feisty character of Alexis Carew. She is a pleasing mix of aggression and vulnerability, without too much angst. That said, I’m also pleased to see symptoms of PTSD in this instalment as she’s been through some heavy-duty action. Good to see a strong protagonist who isn’t Teflon-coated with invincibility.
9/10

Buried Memories – Book 10 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green
As long-buried memories from his hidden past begin to resurface, Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny feel compelled to return to the small country town where Ishmael crash-landed in 1963; the place where his memories began. Norton Hedley is no ordinary town. Apparitions, sudden disappearances, sightings of unusual beasts: for centuries, the place has been plagued by a series of inexplicable events. Ishmael’s first task is to track down local author Vincent Smith, the one man he believes may have some answers.

Ishmael and Penny aren’t the only ones seeking the mysterious Mr Smith. When their search unearths a newly-dead body in the local mortuary – a body that’s definitely not supposed to be there – Ishmael becomes the prime suspect in the ensuing murder investigation. His only hope of discovering the truth about his origins lies in exposing a ruthless killer.
Another enjoyable offering in this intriguing and quirky series, where a disguised alien ends up trouble-shooting for a shadowy, undercover organisation tasked with keeping creepy things under control. These stories so easily could be a violent, dark, action-fuelled gore-fest – but while it is often dark, action-fuelled and more than a tad gory, it’s often also funny. I loved learning more about Ishmael’s origin story in this latest episode.
8/10

Inborn Magic – Book 1 of the Hidden Coven series by Kim McDougall
It should have been a simple spell…
Light into heat, heat into flame.
How did it all go so wrong?
Paralyzed … magic drained … Bobbi lies wondering …
Only the Mistress of the Hidden Coven can save her, but Quinn doesn’t want to let a stranger past the coven wards. It’s his job to keep strangers out. Especially when a demon is hell-bent on stealing their most precious resource—magic.


Can Quinn lower his shields enough to let Bobbi in?
Can Bobbi trust these witches to help her tame the wild magic inside her?
No one can stand alone against the coming darkness.
No witch can hide any longer.
This novella packs a punch with a gripping opening sequence that really showcases the author’s writing chops. I enjoyed where the story is going and despite being shorter than I usually like, I definitely will be reading the next book in the series.
8/10

Madrenga by Alan Dean Foster
A vital message. A desperate queen. A hero in the making.

He is plainly too young and too inexperienced for the mission, but on the advice of her aged adviser Natoum, and with her husband off at war, the Queen reluctantly assigns the task of delivery to…

Madrenga.

Accompanied only by a runt of a pony and a scrap of a pup, he sets off to transport the royal message to its destination. No matter what it might take. But things are not always what they seem. Heroes are sometimes made of the strangest stuff, and love is to be found in the most unexpected places. If one doesn’t die while treading the lethal path…
Himself bought this standalone fantasy quest adventure last year, so I tucked into it. And thoroughly enjoyed the twists and turns – as well as discovering exactly what or who Madrenga really is. It takes a writer with skill and experience to pull off an ongoing mystery that hooks readers throughout the book with such panache. But then, that’s who Alan Dean Foster is…
8/10

Magic’s a Hoot – Book 3 of the Owl Star Witch series by Leanne Leeds
Astra assumed every person the Star Card told her to save would be…well, worth saving. But when sister Ami turns over the glowing goddess card during Gloria Fisher’s reading on her perpetually drunk—and targeted for death—husband, William? The witch realizes the gods move in mysterious ways.
As she delves deep into the man’s complicated life, Astra’s investigation devolves into chaos when a painting William Fisher insured goes missing. What’s even worse? The police think he was in on the scheme.


Can Astra find the painting, clear the man, and keep his whole life policy in force? Or will William’s accidental death insurance have to pay out?
I’ve enjoyed the first two books in this well-written series, where the plotting is twisty and there is plenty of humour – but this is the one that really ramps up the stakes. Friendship and family feature heavily in this series, and while I enjoyed the mystery, it’s the interaction between siblings and friends that had me continuing to turn the pages. And a very grumpy owl, who is rapidly becoming my favourite sentient creature…
9/10

The Noose of a New Moon – Book 1 of the Wolfbrand series by Helen Harper

Devereau Webb is in uncharted territory. He thought he knew what he was doing when he chose to enter London’s supernatural society but he’s quickly discovering that his new status isn’t welcome to everyone. He’s lived through hard times before and he’s no stranger to the murky underworld of city life. But when he comes across a young werewolf girl who’s not only been illegally turned but who has also committed two brutal murders, he will discover just how difficult life can be for supernaturals – and also how far his own predatory powers extend.
This spinoff series fills in the gaps for those of us also following Harper’s very successful and enjoyable Firebrand series, set in London. I’m a real fan of this author, and this latest book didn’t disappoint. Devereau is an awesome protagonist, whose undeniable power doesn’t mean he’s invincible.
9/10

The Quicksilver Court – Book 2 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso
Ryxander, Warden of Gloamingard, has failed. Unsealed by her blood, the Door hidden within the black tower has opened. Now, for the first time since the age of the Graces, demons walk the world.

As tensions grow between nations, all eyes-and daggers are set on Morgrain, fallen under the Demon of Discord’s control. In an attempt to save her home from destruction, Ryx and the Rookery set out to find a powerful artifact. But powerful enemies are on the hunt and they’re closing in fast.
This is a fabulous read – but whatever you do – read The Obsidian Tower first if you haven’t already had the pleasure. This one follows straight on from the events that take place – and Caruso doesn’t hang around to catch you up. The book creaks with tension as the stakes are high – and then go on ramping up. A twisty plot, captivating characters and brilliantly evocative writing – this is one of my outstanding reads of the year so far. Review to follow.
10/10

Reviews published since my last Sunday Post:-

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of The Green Man’s Challenge – Book 4 of The Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of Buried Memories – Book 10 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Battle Ground – Book 17 of the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Last Graduate – Book 2 of the Scholomance series by Naomi Novik

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

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #2

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In my previous article, I wrote about the run-up to the crisis that had me in despair, which happened just after my last major relapse in the third week of August. In this Sunday Post, hosted by Kimberly, the Caffeinated Reviewer, I’ll talk about what I discovered when I was well enough to be able to go online and search for more information.

The first couple of times I’d searched, I’d found some rather generic advice and a couple of accounts by other sufferers. But there was nothing specific that I could actually use to help me form any kind of coherent recovery plan. The doctor had organised a blood test, which discovered that I was slightly deficient in vitamin D, which I promptly fixed by ordering the recommended dose of tablets. However, that didn’t appear to make any difference. This time around, my online searching hit the jackpot.

Almost immediately, I came across an article recommending that Long Covid sufferers struggling with chronic fatigue get hold of a book – Classic Pacing: For a Better Life with ME by Ingebjørg Midsem Dahl, which I immediately ordered. I went for the print version, which is a bit of a beast, but I use a bookstand so I’m not holding it and I think it’s by far the better option. There are tables and lists, which are much easier to read on a real page, rather than on an ebook. At long last, I had a measure of the extent of my condition and – even more importantly – a strategy to try and stabilise my symptoms, so that I wasn’t trapped in this miserable pattern of recovery and relapse. The book recommends that I gauge my energy levels, then attempt to operate below my limit to ideally avoid becoming bedridden again.

That said, I was a bit chastened when I realised just how limited my life would be – no more quick trips to the beach for the foreseeable future. But we reckoned it was worth it if it helps my ultimate recovery from Long Covid. It also recommends that I take advantage of any equipment to enable me to rest – like using a bath stool to sit while showering, for example. This has meant I’m able to shower more frequently, which helps my mental health. When I am too weak to shower, most days I can still manage a quick wash while sitting at the sink. I went to the physio to get a set of very gentle exercises I can do lying down, on my good days, to try and stop my body becoming a flabby blob. Though fortunately, so far I haven’t put on any weight. On really good days, I take a walk around the block with Himself, using my walking staff as support to help with my balance issues. I think I’m getting a bit quicker, but a dozing snail could still overtake me with ease.

The other major recommendation was to rest frequently during the day, after each task. This prospect would have left me dismayed – but for the fact that someone online had recommended using meditation. Not only does it assist in resting the mind and body, it also teaches calmness and focus. When I mentioned this to my son, he immediately pointed me towards Headspace, an app I could upload onto my phone. This has been a huge help in helping me rest mindfully, but also to meditate on getting better, keeping positive and being kinder to myself. There are also sleepcasts and meditations to help relax before bedtime, which is important as I have a dysfunctional relationship with sleep that goes back years.

I now keep an activity journal, where I write down what I do every day and give each day a mark out of 10 for my mental and physical state. Himself has been putting these in a graph – I’ve now two months of data, as I’d started keeping the score before my relapse. This is important as Time now feels very odd. Each day runs quite slowly, but when I look back, days and weeks seem to bleed into one another so my perception of what has gone before is completely impaired. And obviously, to aid my recovery I need to understand whether I’m getting better or not, so I need a clear record of what happens on a daily basis.

I no longer make any plans – and this was initially something of a struggle as I’m an inveterate list-maker and each night, I’d work out what the coming day’s tasks would be. But I simply can’t, as I never know how I’ll be feeling. I can have three good days in a row – and the next morning wake up feeling fragile and slightly sick when I move. So it’s best not to add an extra twist of disappointment by then having to put a line through any activities I was looking forward to doing.

I pay close attention to what I eat and drink. Fortunately, I don’t have much of an appetite so I’m not tempted to snack or comfort-eat – but I learnt early on that sugar is not my friend in any form. It makes me tired, depressed and causes joint pain, particularly in my back where I have a dodgy disc, anyway. So no sweets, biscuits, or cakes – I’ve even discovered they put sugar in lots of bread. So it’s sourdough slices for my morning toast and in the evening, there’s plenty of fresh vegetables, often with a side salad, all prepared by Himself. I love my lapsang souchong, but limit myself to two cups a day – and then it’s onto a variety of herbal teas, including peppermint and liquorice; lavender and oat; redbush and turmeric. While I’m aware that caffeine can be inflammatory and it would be ideal to cut it out – there’s a balance. And right now, I reckon I need those two cups of tea in my life.

I need to stay upbeat and positive to get through this – and not just for my sake. Himself has been an absolute trooper throughout – unfailingly kind and nurturing. But I’m very aware that he is under enormous strain, not only holding down an important, safety-critical job, but then coming home and looking after me, while doing all the housework, shopping and cooking. Whenever I’m tempted to feel sorry for myself, I remember that in many ways he has it worse than I do. And whatever the future holds – there isn’t a quick fix ahead of us. I’m banking on being part of the statistical cohort that eventually recovers – I have to believe that. I had a wonderful life before this happened and I want it back. But realistically, I still have months ahead of me – maybe years – whereby I have to focus on pacing myself below what I can do in the hope that gives my body sufficient surplus energy to devote to healing itself. Wish me luck! In the meantime, I’ll try to post updates on my progress and anything I’ve encountered or experienced that might help others in my situation. Thank you so very much for your comments and good wishes – it’s been lovely to reconnect with so many of you. Though please understand that I’m likely to disappear again, as being able to spend any time in front of the computer only happens when I’m feeling at my very best.

I’ve been reading like a fiend during my illness – thank goodness for books, both audio and digital! Without them I’d be gibbering at the moon by now. I lead a very limited life and being able to escape into all sorts of intriguing worlds and adventures has helped to pass the time and keep me entertained. This week I’ve read:-

Assassin’s Bond – Book 3 of the Chains of Honor series by Lindsay Buroker
Yanko and his friends must escape a Turgonian prison and find passage back home before their enemies claim an advantage that could change the world. And not for the good of the Nurian people.

But even more trouble awaits at home. Civil war has broken out, Yanko’s family is in danger, and the man who sent him on his mission has disappeared. If Yanko can’t find Prince Zirabo, he’ll forever remain a criminal and be hunted down by his own people. Worse, his only chance to survive and redeem his honor may be to rely on the one person who’s been trying to kill him since his adventure began.
This next instalment in this entertaining adventure is full of action, incident, quirky amusing characters and laugh-aloud moments. Buroker has become a favourite author of mine over the last few months. I’m so impressed at her ability to tell a cracking story full of tension and emotion and yet still manage to inject real humour throughout.
9/10

The Necropolis Empire: A Twilight Imperium novel by Tim Pratt
Bianca Xing has spent a lifetime on a provincial planet, dreaming of travelling the stars. When her planet is annexed by the Barony of Letnev, Bianca finds herself being taken into custody, told that she’s special – the secret daughter of a brilliant scientist, hidden away on a remote planet for her own safety.

But the truth about Bianca is stranger. There are secrets hidden in her genetic code that could have galaxy altering consequences. Driven by an incredible yearning and assisted by the fearsome Letnev Captain, Dampierre, Bianca must follow her destiny to the end, even if it leads to places that are best left forgotten.
This is a real treat. Pratt’s breezy tone drives this adventure forward with verve and pace which had me really caring for the protagonists. He writes truly nice characters very well, which is harder than he makes it look. Review to follow.
9/10

The Broken Throne – Book 16 of the Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
The Kingdom of Zangaria has fallen into civil war. On one side, King Randor and his forces, determined to impose his rule over the entire kingdom; on another, the noblemen who want to crush the king; on a third, Princess Alassa and the Levellers.

Caught in the middle, Emily must steer a course between her loyalty to her friend, her duty to people who put their faith in her and her fears for the future. But King Randor has unleashed forces even he may be unable to control…
This is another cracking series that has continued to deliver all sorts of unexpected twists and turns that has me enthralled. This particular episode charts some of the fallout caused by Emily bringing inventions from contemporary Earth to a feudal system driven by magic.
9/10

Battle Ground – Book 17 of the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher
Harry has faced terrible odds before. He has a long history of fighting enemies above his weight class. The Red Court of vampires. The fallen angels of the Order of the Blackened Denarius. The Outsiders.

But this time it’s different. A being more powerful and dangerous on an order of magnitude beyond what the world has seen in a millennium is coming. And she’s bringing an army. The Last Titan has declared war on the city of Chicago, and has come to subjugate humanity, obliterating any who stand in her way. Harry’s mission is simple but impossible: Save the city by killing a Titan. And the attempt will change Harry’s life, Chicago, and the mortal world forever.
Don’t pick this one up unless you have read Peace Talks and clearly recall the story or you’ll flounder. The action moves forward from the previous book and Butcher doesn’t hang around. And the title is spot on – the whole book essentially describes an epic battle, from the build-up to the immediate fallout. Review to follow.
8/10

Scorched Heart – Book 4 of the Firebrand series by Helen Harper
My parents were brutally murdered when I was five years old. Their killer has spent the last twenty-five years in prison for his terrible crimes – but I still have unanswered questions. After all, I am the phoenix. When I die, I am reborn in fire and brimstone. It happens again and again and again. I have no idea where my strange ability came from and nobody to ask.

Now another shocking murder has been committed in the small village where my parents died and there is evidence which suggests the killer is supernatural. The crime gives me the perfect reason to return to my childhood home. I can offer my expertise as a Supe Squad detective – and seek the truth behind what I really am. The trouble is that I might not like what I find.
In this, the fourth instalment of this exciting Brit-based urban fantasy featuring Emma, we finally discover the mystery behind the tragedy that has overshadowed her life since she was five. Harper’s pacy plotting and engaging characters have drawn me into this world and I really enjoyed the twisty climax to this tense murder mystery.
9/10

Owl’s Fair – Book 2 The Owl Star Witch series by Leanne Leeds
Once Astra Arden realized her life’s direction had been chosen for her by the goddess Athena, the former witch tracker did her best to adjust. After all, there were destinies you could fight to change, and there were destinies that, when refused, might get you turned into a stone statue for eternity.

When the altruistic Alice Windrow comes to Athena’s Garden for a tarot card reading, the cheerful young woman seems to not have a care in the world. Known throughout the town for her philanthropy funded by a distant relative’s substantial inheritance, she only wishes assurance that the marathon she sponsored will come off without a hitch. The reading takes a turn when Athena’s glowing Star Card flips—showing someone has it in for the innocent Alice. Can Astra and her sisters unravel the plot in time to stop Alice’s murder? Or will the generous girl find that her marathon is officially over—for good?
I’d found some of the reads this week a tad intense – so I went looking for something a bit more lighthearted. And recalled that I’d recently read the first book in this enjoyable urban fantasy series about poor old Astra having to move back home and being tasked to prevent murders before they happen on behalf of the goddess Athene. She even has a talking owl for help – though Archie provides all sorts of problems along the way, too. This enjoyable offering is skilfully plotted, with plenty of twists and tension along with the laughs. Just what I needed!
9/10

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m very aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be in a position to start to reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and have a lovely week:).

Two Audiobook FANTASY CHILDREN’S/YA mini-reviews: The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett & Magnus Chase and The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan #BrainfluffFANTASYCHILDRENS/YAmini-reviews #TheWeeFreeMenmini-review #MagnusChaseandtheSwordofSummermini-review

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AUDIOBOOK The Wee Free Men – Book 1 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett

BLURB: Armed only with a frying pan and her common sense, Tiffany Aching, a young witch-to-be, is all that stands between the monsters of Fairyland and the warm, green Chalk country that is her home. Forced into Fairyland to seek her kidnapped brother, Tiffany allies herself with the Chalk’s local Nac Mac Feegle – aka the Wee Free Men – a clan of sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men who are as fierce as they are funny. Together they battle through an eerie and ever-shifting landscape, fighting brutal flying fairies, dream-spinning dromes, and grimhounds – black dogs with eyes of fire and teeth of razors – before ultimately confronting the Queen of the Elves, absolute ruler of a world in which reality intertwines with nightmare. And in the final showdown, Tiffany must face her cruel power alone…

MINI-REVIEW: Listening to this was a complete joy, particularly with Tony Robinson’s storming performance as narrator. I loved reading this one way back when it first came out, then sharing it with my grandchildren – but hearing this version was every bit as much fun. And I’d thought nothing could beat sitting side by side with the children, laughing together at Pratchett’s humour… Very highly recommended for children of all ages.
10/10

AUDIOBOOK Magnus Chase and The Sword of Summer – Book 1 of the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series by Rick Riordan

BLURB: Magnus Chase has seen his share of trouble. Ever since that terrible night two years ago when his mother told him to run, he has lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, staying one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.

One day, Magnus learns that someone else is trying to track him down—his uncle Randolph, a man his mother had always warned him about. When Magnus tries to outmaneuver his uncle, he falls right into his clutches. Randolph starts rambling about Norse history and Magnus’s birthright: a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.

The more Randolph talks, the more puzzle pieces fall into place. Stories about the gods of Asgard, wolves, and Doomsday bubble up from Magnus’s memory. But he doesn’t have time to consider it all before a fire giant attacks the city, forcing him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents. . .

Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die.

MINI-REVIEW: I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Christopher Guetig’s excellent narration very ably depicted the cast of colourful characters who Magnus encounters on his adventures with the pantheon of Norse gods and minor deities. This had all the ingredients I enjoy in a fantasy adventure – plenty of testing encounters with all sorts of intriguing characters, high-stakes action, along with regular splashes of humour that didn’t become too heavy-handed. Riordan manages to make this look far easier than it is. I am delighted that I’ve more audiobooks in this series, waiting to sweep me up and into another world…
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne – Book 1 of The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne series by Jonathan Stroud #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheOutlawsScarlett&Brownebookreview

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Anyone who is a regular visitor knows I’m a huge fan of Stroud’s writing – see my review of The Amulet of Samarkand, the first book in the fabulous Bartimaeus trilogy, and my reviews of The Screaming Staircase, The Whispering Skull, and The Empty Grave. And yes… I know that Stroud’s writing is aimed at children and the YA market – but he’s one of those wonderfully talented writers who is simply too good to leave just to the youngsters. And I, for one, have never found that his writing ever to be anything other than clever, nuanced and demanding.

BLURB: Set in a fragmented future England, The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne introduces us to a world where gunfights and monsters collide, and where the formidable outlaw Scarlett McCain fights daily against the odds. When she discovers a wrecked coach on a lonely road, there is only one survivor – the seemingly hapless youth, Albert Browne. Against her instincts, Scarlett agrees to escort him to safety. This is a mistake. Soon, new and implacable enemies are on her heels. As a relentless pursuit continues across the broken landscape of England, Scarlett must fight to uncover the secrets of Albert’s past – and come to terms with the implications of her own.

REVIEW: It was interesting to read this one so soon after I’ve completed The Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey, because the setting is very similar. A hostile post-apocalyptic England, where there are all sorts of wild beasts and cannibalistic tribes roaming around looking for an easy snack. Civilised settlements are small oases where food, clothing and supplies can be found, along with law and order and safety. But Scarlett doesn’t make a habit of spending much time in one of the settled towns – other than to rob the bank. She doesn’t like the Faith House network, which is constantly looking for people who have deviated from the physical and mental norms (think of John Wynham’s The Chrysalids). She is not afraid of a fight, being an excellent shot and very good in a scrap – she wouldn’t have survived in the wilds, otherwise.

By contrast, Arthur Brown is a walking disaster. He has no instinct whatsoever for keeping himself safe and is liable to fall over his own feet, or get distracted by some pretty-looking seed pods or butterflies, rather than pay attention to the business of keeping himself alive. When chance brings these two together, Scarlett’s one instinct is to offload such a liability as fast as she possibly can – and the growing relationship between them was beautifully handled. It could have so easily puddled into sentimentality or lurve – and it does neither of those things.

Along the way, all sorts of adventures happen to this unlikely duo which steadily reveals more and more of this fascinating, blighted world. I highly recommend this one to anyone who enjoyed Carey’s Rampart trilogy. It’s sufficiently different to be enjoyable in its own right – and certainly provides an interesting backdrop to two fascinating, complicated characters and I can’t wait to see where Stroud will next take this adventure. While I obtained an arc of The Outlaws Scarlett & Brown from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Fall of Koli – Book 3 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheFallofKolibookreview

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This is the third book in this wonderful post-apocalyptic series, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed to date – read my reviews of The Book of Koli and The Trials of Koli. Would I enjoy it as much as the other two?

BLURB: Koli has come a long way since being exiled from his small village of Mythen Rood. In his search for the fabled tech of the old times, he knew he’d be battling strange, terrible beasts and trees that move as fast as whips. But he has already encountered so much more than he bargained for.

Now that Koli and his companions have found the source of the signal they’ve been following – the mysterious “Sword of Albion” – there is hope that their perilous journey will finally be worth something. Until they unearth terrifying truths about an ancient war . . . and realise that it may have never ended.

REVIEW: Essentially this is a single story with an overarching narrative that stretches across the three books, so if you’ve picked this one up without reading the first two – then whatever you do go back to The Book of Koli and start there. Even if you manage to figure out what is going on, you will have missed far too much of the backstory to fully appreciate the overall narrative.

It was lovely touching base with Koli again – and in particular his special companion, Monono, who I’ve taken a real shine to. Yes… I know – a metal gismo that lives in Koli’s pocket, but she is one of my favourite characters. As for the other two companions who accompany Koli on his travels, this time around, we get to see very little of Ursula, the healer. I was a bit sorry about that – but I appreciate there was only so much space for the story. On the plus side, I thoroughly enjoyed watching events move on in Mythen Rood, the village where Koli grew up, which is the other narrative timeline featuring young Spinner that progresses alongside Koli’s adventures as he, Cup and Ursula finally encounter the Sword of Albion.

I loved the tension that Carey manages to engender as their initial rescue gradually turns into something else. And I’ve always been a sucker for plotlines where first we think one thing is happening – only to discover further along that it’s something else quite different. Carey sustains the intensity, while delivering several surprises along the way. I very much appreciated a greater insight into the capabilities of the tech that the fallen civilisation had possessed. As well as learning exactly how it toppled and why. Overall, this is extremely well handled. The antagonists were satisfyingly unpleasant and I also enjoyed the tormented, morally ambivalent character who’d been so badly twisted by his treatment – his was a heartbreaking tale, for he never stood a chance.

As for the final climactic denouement, it was so packed full of action and danger, I couldn’t put the book down until I found out what happened. And as for that ending… oh my word. Yes, it works really well with everyone’s plotline satisfactorily wrapped up. I came to the end of this one with a real sense of regret – the Rampart trilogy is now my favourite post-apocalyptic series. It would make a cracking TV series… Highly recommended for fans who enjoy engrossing post-apocalyptic adventures. While I obtained an arc of The Fall of Koli from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK Finding the Fox – Book 1 of The Shapeshifter series by Ali Sparkes #Brainfluffaudiobookreview #FindingtheFoxbookreview

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I’m a real fan of Ali Sparkes’ writing – see my reviews for Frozen in Time and Dark Summer – so I was delighted to see this offering was in Frank’s audiobook list.

BLURB: Dax Jones is an ordinary schoolboy – until something extraordinary happens one day. Whilst frightened for his life, he inexplicably changes into a fox. Before long, both a government agent and an ambitious young journalist are on his tail.

REVIEW: And that’s how you do a blurb, people! A brief overview of what the stakes are and the genre to give readers an idea if they’ll like the book – NOT spoiling the first major plotpoints in the book. Right – rant over.

I love Dax, who has certainly drawn the short straw when a happy family life was handed out. His mother died when he was four years old and his stepmother dislikes him and makes no secret of the fact. As for his father – he’s away working most of the time and doesn’t make much of an effort to bond with his son, anyway. Is he angry about it? Oh for sure – but Dax has learnt not to show it, so he buries his anger. Until it manifests… differently.

Sparkes is really clever at depicting realistic, rounded characters which is why she is such a firm favourite with me. I was right alongside Dax, rooting for the quiet, wary boy who learnt far too young that the world is often a cruel, uncaring place. But that also gives him an advantage – he isn’t easily taken in. And that distrust gives him a vital edge when someone means him harm. I also liked the supporting cast – this is the start of a six-book series, so part of the task is to establish some of the main characters, such as Gideon, Dax’s new friend and some of the teachers who will clearly be featuring in coming adventures. The denouement of this adventure is genuinely gripping, and instead of carrying on with my chores, I sat down to listen, not willing to miss any of the action. This gripping read is recommended for children, particularly boys, aged 9-11who enjoy fast-paced fiction with a fantasy twist.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Nophek Gloss – Book 1 of The Graven series by Essa Hansen #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #NophekGlossbookreview #SciFiMonth2020

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It was the cover of this one that caught my eye – it looked intriguing and the premise was great. So I was delighted to be approved for it. Would I enjoy it – I’ve been a bit disappointed with some of the space opera I’ve been reading, recently. And I’m linking this post to #Sci Fi Month 2020.

BLURB: Caiden’s planet is destroyed. His family gone. And, his only hope for survival is a crew of misfit aliens and a mysterious ship that seems to have a soul and a universe of its own. Together they will show him that the universe is much bigger, much more advanced, and much more mysterious than Caiden had ever imagined. But the universe hides dangers as well, and soon Caiden has his own plans. He vows to do anything it takes to get revenge on the slavers who murdered his people and took away his home. To destroy their regime, he must infiltrate and dismantle them from the inside, or die trying.

REVIEW: Well this one started with a bang! The book starts with the terrifying experience in young Caiden’s life that defines most of the resultant action within the story – I liked that. It meant that I knew exactly what had driven him.

While there are the usual tropes that occur within the genre, Hansen takes them and gives them an interesting spin. I liked the idea of the various universes – and an alien race whose relationship with them is quite different. I also liked the fact that rampant capitalism, which is a staple of this genre, is more nuanced and complicated within this world. In fact the worldbuilding works really well, which isn’t always the case in a book where the character development is so well done. I loved the crew of the ship that rescues Caiden. Each one of them has dark backstories of their own and were either able to use their own experiences to help the boy – or found interacting with him simply too painful.
Hansen’s layered characterisation, so that none of the protagonists are completely good or bad, shone through. As for Threi – Caiden’s initial antagonist – he has to be one of the standout villains of the year, for me.

One of the major themes in this book is how to cope with a terrible trauma. How do you avoid being twisted into a ball of vengeful fury? How do you overcome the pain and anger of injustice so you don’t go on reproducing that on others you interact with? And no… Hansen doesn’t fall back on Pollyanna-ish truisms to help Caiden fight his inner demons.

The plotting in this one is also spot on. I always love it when you are introduced to a person or creature at the beginning of the book as one thing, to find that actually, it is something quite different. Hansen uses this throughout the story to continue producing fresh plot twists throughout. In short, this is one of my favourite space opera adventures of the year – accomplished, well-crafted and packed full of action. It held me throughout and I’m very much looking forward to reading the next in the series. Highly recommended for fans of well written, character-led space opera set in a strong world.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – Let’s take our hearts for a walk in the woods… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffforestcovers

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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 covers with FORESTS OR JUNGLES. I’ve selected Hatchet – Book 1 in the Brian’s Saga series by Gary Paulsen.

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, April 2000

This offering was produced by Atheneum Books for Young Readers in April 2000, but as it is one of the default covers for this successful book, over the years a number of publishers have used this design. I can see why – the young protagonist is featured on the cover with the thick Canadian wilderness in the background and the hatchet featured as an overlay. The blocky treatment of the artwork ensures that it stays eye-catching even when in thumbnail and the blue title font is still readable. That said, I don’t particularly love it – and it isn’t the cover that induced me to buy the book for my son, when he was a struggling reader and I was trying to encourage him to persevere.

Simon Schuster Books, December 2006

Published in December 2006 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, this is the cover that came to mind when I saw this week’s FF theme. And the one on the cover of the book I bought my son all those years ago, as this is the other default cover. I love the forested landscape with the hatchet superimposed across it. It gives a sense of the scale of poor Brian’s plight in a way I don’t think the other one does. I also prefer the punchy title and author font. What I don’t like is that nasty silver blob that detracts from the overall design. Just look at the two covers without the blob and you can see the entirety of the designs and much better they look. This one is so nearly my favourite.

Simon Pulse, December 2006

This edition, published in December 2006 by Simon Pulse books, has flipped the previous design into night-time mode – and what a difference it makes to the tone and mood of the book. I love it and think it is beautiful – but that’s why this one isn’t getting my vote. This cover sings out paranormal shapeshifter to me – which is completely the wrong genre.

Macmillan Children’s Books, 1996

This edition, published in 1996 by Macmillan Children’s Books, is a stunning cover. The hatchet isn’t being used to chop wood, or build shelters – a desperate Brian is using the hatchet to make fire… I love this one. It’s eye-catching, beautiful and absolutely sums up the struggle for survival. The notch in this blade is apparently designed for a ‘hardcore survivalist hatchet, underlining that this is probably the different between life and death for Brian. This one is my favourite.

Pan Macmillan UK, March 2017

This 30th Anniversary edition, published by Pan Macmillan UK in March 2017, is another fabulous cover. The huge grizzly, with the isolated landscape and the small plane flying against a setting sun is stunningly beautiful. I don’t like to nitpick – though I’m going to anyway – but I don’t recall this book being allll about a grizzly bear called Hatchet. And I think that’s the impression you might come away with, when you see this cover. Or perhaps, because it’s the anniversary edition of a much-loved book, the publishers figured most people buying it would know the basic story. But I don’t think that’s an assumption publishers can afford to make. What do you think?


*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Trials of Koli – Book 2 of The Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this post-apocalyptic adventure set in England in a ruined landscape where scattered remnants of humanity try to eke out a precarious existence – see my review of The Book of Koli. Though the overall tone of this one isn’t as bleak as that scenario might suggest – and if you’ve read his best-seller The Girl with all the Gifts or The Boy on the Bridge, then be aware that this series isn’t as doom-laden as those stories. For me, that’s a plus.

BLURB: Beyond the walls of Koli’s small village lies a fearsome landscape filled with choker trees, vicious beasts and shunned men. As an exile, Koli’s been forced to journey out into this mysterious, hostile world. But he heard a story, once. A story about lost London, and the mysterious tech of the Old Times that may still be there. If Koli can find it, there may still be a way for him to redeem himself – by saving what’s left of humankind.

REVIEW: The previous book, The Book of Koli, was solely in our young protagonist’s head, and the major difference here is that we also learn of what befalls the small community that exiled Koli, as we are also in the first-person viewpoint of Spinner. She featured largely in Koli’s life before he went on the run, so it was interesting to see her take on what happened. I would just mention that there are series where you can crash midway into them without too much trouble – this isn’t one of them. Essentially this is an overarching narrative that has been chopped into book-sized segments and if you try picking up what is going on, while you’ll probably get the gist, there is far too much of importance that you’ll have missed.

Once again, we have the broken, ungrammatical language that helps define the worldbuilding, partly to give an indication of the length of time that has elapsed and partly to show rather than tell of the lack of education and erosion of knowledge. It’s an issue that is bound to divide readers – some tolerate, some loathe, and others absolutely love it. I’m in the latter category and find it really helps me get immersed in the world. Koli isn’t travelling alone. He’s accompanied by a grumpy older woman who is a travelling healer and has come to a grim conclusion about the viability of humankind – hence the journey to try and locate a more organised settlement with a large population.

I really enjoyed this second slice of the adventure. We see and learn more about Koli’s companions, as well as also discovering more about the capabilities of the technology they are using. I particularly enjoyed seeing how another community, living near the sea, manages to exist. And it was refreshing to also realise that not every settlement in this dystopian view of the future is innately hostile or aggressive.

This second book is well paced, with plenty going on, as well as increasing what is at stake and how important it is that Koli and his companions succeed. If I have a concern, it’s how Carey is going to combine the two strands of his story – that of Mythen Rood and Koli’s fortunes – in the final book, The Fall of Koli, which is due to come out in March next year. While I obtained an arc of The Trials of Koli from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10