Tag Archives: urban fantasy

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #13

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This is my update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been over a year since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

I’m aware that I sound like a cracked record when I say that once again, it’s been a fortnight of ups and downs. For much of this week, once again I ended up feeling very tired and shaky. Though this time around, I didn’t ease off as much as I previously would have. I’ve recently finished reading The Long Covid Self-Help Guide written by the specialists at the Post-Covid Clinic, Oxford, which was the first one of its kind in the country. I will be reviewing it in due course, though right now I’m sorting through the tangle of feelings it caused.

As a consequence of some of the advice I read, I’ve started up-pacing – the process where I’m now trying to increase my level of physical activity without triggering another major relapse. It’s a tricky business. I’m aware that my Long Covid symptoms might well evolve into ME/CFS if I get this wrong. I’m in my mid-sixties and was formerly very active and healthy – far too young to continue living like a frail ninety-something for the rest of my life. Equally, I’ve also become aware that I could be compromising my recovery by being too inactive. And at present, I’m doing this more or less on my own, so finding the right balance is a huge challenge. Especially as if I do trigger a relapse like the one I had last August, I’ll probably lose all the progress I’ve made to date, as I’m still not back to the level of activity I had last July and the first half of August, before I became completely bedridden for a fortnight.

This week, I did have a scan at the local hospital to monitor my swollen thyroid and the painful glands in my neck. The radiologist reported there is no change, which I suppose is good news. Though to be honest – I would have preferred it if she had told me that my thyroid was returning to its normal size. I also had an eye test, which I had to attend on my own, due to Covid precautions. I was really pleased that during the whole rather intense two-hour session, I didn’t feel too exhausted. However, it was something of a challenge to try and choose glasses frames without being able to properly see what they looked like on my face. Fingers crossed I shan’t be too disappointed at my appearance when I pick them up!

We’ve had some amazingly mild weather for the time of year, with lots of sunshine. However, it couldn’t last and now the temperatures are in the 40s, with a bitter wind and the occasional flurry of sleety rain. Our grandson came to stay this week, and is always a ray of sunshine, no matter what the weather and my daughter finally moved into a lovely house that is just a short drive away. So no matter what else is happening – having family closer is a massive silver lining to any clouds I’m still battling.

This week I’ve read:-

AUDIOBOOK Cyteen – Books 1-3 by C.J. Cherryh
The saga of two young friends trapped in an endless nightmare of suspicion and surveillance, of cyber-programmed servants and a ruling class with century-long lives – and the enigmatic woman who dominates them all. Narrators Jonathan Davis and Gabra Zackman skillfully split up this sweeping sci-fi epic that is “at once a psychological novel, a murder mystery, and an examination of power on a grand scale.”

I listened to this one and was completely enthralled. And yes… I get that some folks found it slow and overwritten. But as the story unfolded in over 36 hours of listening, I became increasingly awed at the sheer level of detail Cherryh offers in this layered, dangerous world of post-humans who have been genetically engineered. I’m also full of admiration at how she portrays both the best of the worst of them, so that by the end – I had a strong sense of their whole personalities. I’ve been thinking about this book ever since I listened to it. Indeed, it was a struggle to be really fair to the next offering I heard, as part of me was in mourning that it wasn’t Cyteen. Very highly recommended. 11/10

Scars of Stone – Book 2 of the Pacts Arcane and Otherwise series by Joanna Maciejewska
The battle with a demonic foe had opened Kamira’s and Veelk’s eyes: they were unprepared for their task. If they want a chance of freeing Veranesh from his crystal prison, they need the help of a brilliant inventor imprisoned by Gildya, a man also desired by the refugee queen, Cahala, who will stop at nothing to slake her thirst for magic.

Time is also of the essence as Archmage Yoreus maneuvers for power. Once he claims the title of the first archmage for himself, he will tie up all loose ends, and that entails burying Kamira, Veelk, and a long line of secrets he’d prefer to be forgotten. Kamira and Veelk have a rule, “no heroics, survival first.”
When dealing with demons, avoiding heroics is easy. But survival? Not so much.
This is a reread. I suddenly realised that I’ve the next book on my Kindle, Shadows Over Kaighal which I pre-ordered and to get the best out of this Sand and Sorcery tale, I needed to remind myself of who is doing what to whom. This story is too good for me to compromise my reading experience otherwise. I love Kamira and the fact that Joanna’s characters are nuanced and layered. This classy and engrossing series deserves to be far better known. 9/10

Murder Most Vile – Book 9 of the Langham & Dupré series by Eric Brown
London. April, 1957. Private investigator Donald Langham is approached by retired businessman Vernon Lombard to find his missing son, Christopher. But what appears to be a simple case of a missing artist becomes far more alarming when Langham realizes there’s more to Christopher’s disappearance than meets the eye, and then makes a terrible discovery.

Meanwhile, Langham’s business partner Ralph Ryland’s search for a missing greyhound forces him to confront a shameful secret from his own past, with terrifying consequences. Can Langham navigate London’s criminal underworld, fascism and deception to track down a killer and save Ralph’s life?
This one is slightly darker than the previous books in this series, but that doesn’t prevent it from being a thoroughly engrossing read. Indeed, once I got past a certain point I couldn’t put it down. I loved the evocation of 1950s London and the bonus is that you don’t have to read any of the other books in the series to thoroughly enjoy it. Review to follow. 8/10

A Catastrophic Theft – Book 3 of the Reg Rawlins, Psychic Investigator series by P.D. Workman

Reg’s relationship with Sarah, who has been her loyal friend and protector since she arrived becomes strained when Sarah’s precious emerald necklace disappears. There is no shortage of suspects, with Reg herself at the front of the line.

This is the last book in the three-book box set I bought for a very reasonable price when I was looking for something a bit lighter. I’ve been impressed at the depth of Reg’s character and the ongoing development throughout the three books – to the extent that I have now bought the next box set of books 4-6 for much more money… Recommended for fans who enjoy a three-dimensional protagonist with darker aspects in their character. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK Battlestar Suburbia – Book 1 of the Battlestar Suburbia series by Chris McCrudden
In space, no one can hear you clean…

When Darren’s charge-cart gets knocked off the Earth-to-Mars highway and lost in space forever, he thinks his day can’t get any worse. When Kelly sees Darren accidentally short-circuit a talking lamppost, and its camera captures her face as it expires, she thinks her day can’t get any worse.

When Pamasonic Teffal, a sentient breadmaker, is sent on a top-secret mission into the depths of the internet and betrayed by her boss, a power-crazed smartphone, she knows this is only the beginning of a day that isn’t going to get any better. Join Darren, Kelly and Pam in an anarchic comic adventure that takes them from the shining skyscrapers of Singulopolis to the sewers of the Dolestar Discovery, and find out what happens when a person puts down their mop and bucket and says No.
The author narrates this one himself and just about gets away with it, despite the rather flat delivery and occasional stumble. I loved the genuinely witty and clever references that keep coming throughout which often made me laugh out loud. Yet I am also impressed at how much emotional heft there is within this adventure. Unlike some sci fi comedies, McCrudden never forgets that the characters caught in the middle of this are having a horrible time – at once point, I wept. And I don’t do that very often. Highly recommended for fans of quirky and cleverly written adventures. 9/10

Parallel Lies – Book 1 of the Ross duology by Georgia Rose
Madeleine Ross has life exactly as she planned it. Cosy cottage, friendly village, satisfying job. Company… when she wants it. It’s an enviable existence for an independent young woman, and one she’s keen to protect.

Enter Daniel – strong, dependable and a danger to everything she’s built. He’s not something she was looking for, but hearts can’t be controlled and maybe, just maybe he might be worth letting into hers. But, all is not what it seems. Because Madeleine is hiding a lifetime of secrets. Deep secrets. And they never stay buried for ever. Her darkest secret returns, like the proverbial bad penny. He is her first love, shadowy, dangerous, the baddest of bad boys. No matter how far she runs, or how well she hides, she can never escape him. Or her past…
Yep. A contemporary story of someone trying to outrun a very dark past and grappling with a new love in her life. Not my usual fare – and the reason why I kept turning the pages was the tension that Rose managed to engender in her writing. I rapidly really cared for Madeline and wanted her to prevail – it didn’t hurt that once upon another lifetime ago, I used to live in a village not unlike the one she finds herself in, either. If you enjoy a sympathetic protagonist in a contemporary setting, then you might well find this one difficult to put down. Though it ends on a cliff-hanger… Be warned – there is a rape scene and a severely abused child. 8/10

The Cunning Man – A Schooled in Magic spinoff by Christopher G. Nuttall
Adam of Beneficence wanted to be a magician, and even undertook a magical apprenticeship, but there isn’t a single spark of magic in his entire body. In desperation, his master arranged for him to study at Heart’s Eye University, a former school of magic that has become a university, a place where magicians and mundanes can work to combine their talents and forge the future together.

But all is not well at Heart’s Eye. The magical and mundane apprentices resent and fear each other, the teaching staff is unsure how to shape the university and, outside, powerful forces are gathering to snuff out the future before it can take shape. As Adam starts his new apprenticeship, and stumbles across a secret that could reshape the world, he finds himself drawn into a deadly plot that could destroy the university …

… And leave Lady Emily’s legacy in flaming ruins.
Himself is definitely a keeper – I’d mentioned that I was suffering from withdrawal symptoms from the Schooled in Magic series, and he went and bought this offering for me. It charts events at the new university that Emily has set up, in the hope that mundanes and magicians can learn to work together. However, events take a dark turn. I loved this one. Adam is an engaging protagonist and it was enjoyable to see the world through the eyes of someone born into it. It would make a good introduction for someone who hasn’t read any of the other books – or who, like me, wants more Schooled in Magic goodness… 9/10

Witness for the Persecution – Book 3 of the Jersey Girl Legal Mystery series by E.J. Copperman

Former New Jersey prosecutor Sandy Moss moved to a prestigious Los Angeles law firm to make a new start as a family lawyer. So it seems a little unfair that they have created a criminal law division specifically for her. Just because she’s successfully defended two murder trials, it doesn’t mean she likes them!

But when abrasive Hollywood movie director Robert Reeves is accused of murdering a stuntman on set, Sandy finds she can’t say no when he demands her help. Robert might be an unpleasant, egotistical liar, but something tells Sandy that he’s innocent – even if no one else can see it. At least this time, she reassures herself, her charismatic, adorable, and oh so annoying TV star boyfriend Patrick McNabb isn’t involved in the case. He isn’t . . . right?
I love Sandy’s first-person narrative – it’s pacy, smart and very funny. So – what happens when an attorney finds herself representing a complete jerk that she quickly comes to loathe? This book explores the issues surrounding that dilemma. Complete review to follow. 9/10

The Broken Cage – Book 7 of the Crow Investigations series by Sarah Painter
Get the Crow

A man dies in a locked room, leaving a message written in blood and a lot of unanswered questions.

Lydia is still recovering from the fallout with her psychopathic cousin, but there are new threats to the Crows, and she must fight to maintain her position as leader of the Family.
Meanwhile, an actor has gone missing and Fleet is under pressure to find him fast. But there seems to be more to his tension than he is letting on… Can Lydia solve the mysterious murder before she gets arrested for it?
This urban fantasy series, set in London and featuring crow shapeshifter, Lydia, is now a firm favourite. Painter’s atmospheric and strong writing powerfully evoke the sheer otherness of Lydia’s world in a way that I don’t often encounter within the genre. And as Lydia really begins to explore her scary new powers – a whole host of problems once more beset her. Very highly recommended – but whatever you do, start with the first book and work through the series. It’s far too good to miss any aspect of the world or Lydia’s ongoing development. 9/10

This week I have posted:
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of AUDIOBOOK The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

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

SUNDAY POST – CHRISTMAS WITH LONG COVID

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This is an update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 10 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Review.

Like everyone else, my runup to Christmas was full of chores that don’t normally occur, despite my best intentions to dial it right back and make it a much quieter affair. In the event, Christmas Day was lovely, as my sister came over to spend it with us, while Himself cooked a wonderful meal. I’d been able to help by gathering sage from the garden for the stuffing and roll vegan bacon slices around prunes, replacing the stones with almonds. My sister brought along a chicken breast and Himself cooked a nut roast for us. While it wasn’t as nice as the one I usually prepare using fresh chestnuts, the meal was still delicious. And we then collapsed in front of the TV, too full to move. But I woke up the following morning exhausted once more and it took several days to recover – by which time we’d both gone down with a cold. Or maybe it was Omicron. Despite the fact that the lateral flow tests all were negative, given that my daughter and young granddaughter got sick with covid over the Christmas holidays, it had to be a possibility even though they’d stood at the door and not come into the house when we saw them the one time during the Christmas period. Fortunately they recovered without any ill effects, which was a huge relief.

To be safe, I cancelled my reflexology appointment and we stayed in. Until the glorious morning two days into the New Year when I woke up feeling much, much better – and no longer smelling horrible. Since I got sick in March, I’ve been aware that I smell bad – a musty sick smell that I hate. And for two whole days it disappeared. In addition I had much more energy – that wasn’t new, but the absence of that horrible smell was. So… perhaps I’d had Omicron after all, I thought – and like a number of other people, maybe contracting another version of covid actually cured my Long Covid! I felt fantastic – but decided to take it easy… not push myself too much. So I did a couple of two-minute exercise sessions, spent some time working on the timeline for my Castellan stories and actually cleaned the bathroom for the first time in ages. Hm. Turns out I wasn’t cured and had only succeeded in flattening myself allll over again.

Initially, I felt stupid for thinking it would be that easy. Why would I magically get a free pass and be able to skip the tricky slow recovery bit, when I hadn’t been cured by having the booster jab? But looking back, I’ve decided that it wasn’t stupidity – it was hope. And if I lose that, then I really am sunk. So no more beating myself up for wishing I was better, and accept that it isn’t going to work that way. Now I’m back to working on improving my sleep patterns, filling in my activity journal, enforcing my pacing routine, including regular meditations. And trying to hang onto my patience, as I now inconveniently have enough emotional energy to get very frustrated and fed up with the situation – unlike earlier on when I was too tired to care. And also celebrate the bright lights that shine in the gloom, like Himself’s constant caring presence. While he had to work right up to Christmas Eve, he’s been off work now since New Year’s Eve on annual leave, which I’m very grateful for. And our eldest grandson came to stay from Wednesday to Friday this week – which was a huge treat. He’s loving college and it’s a joy to see him blossom in an environment where he’s surrounded by other creative people who understand his enthusiasms. I’d like to send a huge shoutout to the lecturers and teachers out there doing a stellar job in increasingly difficult circumstances – thank you!

A very Happy 2022 to you all. Let’s hope that it is a MUCH better year than the previous two have been.

Since the start of the year I’ve read:-
The Stranger Times – Book 1 of The Stranger Times series by C.K. McDonnell
There are Dark Forces at work in our world (and in Manchester in particular) and so thank God The Stranger Times is on hand to report them. A weekly newspaper dedicated to the weird and the wonderful (but more often the weird) of modern life, it is the go-to publication for the unexplained and inexplicable . . . At least that’s their pitch. The reality is rather less auspicious. Their editor is a drunken, foul-tempered and -mouthed husk of a man who thinks little (and believes less) of the publication he edits, while his staff are a ragtag group of wastrels and misfits, each with their own secrets to hide and axes to grind. And as for the assistant editor . . . well, that job is a revolving door – and it has just revolved to reveal Hannah Willis, who’s got her own set of problems.

It’s when tragedy strikes in Hannah’s first week on the job that The Stranger Times is forced to do some serious, proper, actual investigative journalism. What they discover leads them to a shocking realisation: that some of the stories they’d previously dismissed as nonsense are in fact terrifyingly, gruesomely real. Soon they come face-to-face with darker foes than they could ever have imagined. It’s one thing reporting on the unexplained and paranormal but it’s quite another being dragged into the battle between the forces of Good and Evil .
Thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. I laughed aloud throughout this one. McDonnell manages to make his highly eccentric bunch of characters both sympathetic and engaging, while keeping their oddness – which isn’t all that easy to do. The pages turned themselves and it was a wonderful New Year’s treat to start 2022 by reading this offering – I look forward to reading more books from this series in due course. 10/10

A Familiar Sight – Book 1 of the Dr Gretchen White series by Brianna Labuskes

When a high-profile new case lands on Shaughnessy’s desk, it seems open and shut. Remorseless teenager Viola Kent is accused of killing her mother. Amid stories of childhood horrors and Viola’s cruel manipulations, the bad seed has already been found guilty by a rapt public. But Gretchen might be seeing something in Viola no one else does: herself. If Viola is a scapegoat, then who really did it? And what are they hiding? To find the truth, Gretchen must enter a void that is not only dark and cold-blooded, but also frighteningly familiar.
This contemporary murder mystery is a compelling read, made more so by the clever use of a fractured timeline which jumps between the lives of the victims and the investigation. It could have quickly turned into a hot mess, but the deftness of the writing and the strong characterisation instead made this one hard to put down. Highly recommended. 9/10

Spirits and Smoke – Book 2 of the Maddie Pastore series by Mary Miley
December, 1924. Young widow Maddie Pastore feels fortunate to be employed by the well-meaning but fraudulent medium Carlotta Romany. Investigating Carlotta’s clients isn’t work she’s proud of, but she’s proud of how well she does it. Maddie’s talents, however, draw them unwelcome attention: sharp-eyed Officer O’Rourke from the Chicago Police. He doesn’t believe in spiritualism – but in a city packed with mobsters, con artists and criminals, he’ll take any help he can get.

It’s not long before Maddie has a case to bring him. Why did teetotal banker Herman Quillen die of alcohol poisoning? And who is the gold-toothed man claiming to be his brother, and demanding the spirits reveal where Herman hid his money? All Maddie wants is to uncover the truth – but to her horror, she’s soon mixed up in a tangled web of secrets and deception that leads to the heart of Chicago’s violent gangs . . . and she’ll need all her wits about her if she, and her loved ones, are going to make it out again alive.
This historical murder mystery, set in 1920s Chicago, leaps off the page with a strong, sympathetic protagonist and the vivid depiction of the Prohibition era. I enjoyed the first book, The Mystic’s Apprentice, and loved this one. Review to follow.

Blood Trade – Book 6 of the Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter
The Master of Natchez, Mississippi has a nasty problem on his hands. Rogue vampires—those who follow the Naturaleza and believe that humans should be nothing more than prey to be hunted—are terrorizing his city. Luckily, he knows the perfect skinwalker to call in to take back the streets.

But what he doesn’t tell Jane is that there’s something different about these vamps. Something that makes them harder to kill—even for a pro like Jane. Now, her simple job has turned into a fight to stay alive…and to protect the desperately ill child left in her care.
Once again, the sheer quality of the writing shines through as Jane continues her dark journey in the employ of Leo, the Master of the City of New Orleans. While it’s violent and often blood-soaked, I never find the details gratuitious – and there are often amusing interludes as Jane also has a snarky mouth and isn’t afraid to use it. This is a classy series that stand above the rest, and highly recommended. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – Cytonic – Book 3 of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson
Spensa’s life as a Defiant Defense Force pilot has been far from ordinary. She proved herself one of the best starfighters in the human enclave of Detritus and she saved her people from extermination at the hands of the Krell—the enigmatic alien species that has been holding them captive for decades. What’s more, she traveled light-years from home as an undercover spy to infiltrate the Superiority, where she learned of the galaxy beyond her small, desolate planet home. Now, the Superiority—the governing galactic alliance bent on dominating all human life—has started a galaxy-wide war. And Spensa’s seen the weapons they plan to use to end it: the Delvers. Ancient, mysterious alien forces that can wipe out entire planetary systems in an instant. Spensa knows that no matter how many pilots the DDF has, there is no defeating this predator.

Except that Spensa is Cytonic. She faced down a Delver and saw something eerily familiar about it. And maybe, if she’s able to figure out what she is, she could be more than just another pilot in this unfolding war. She could save the galaxy. The only way she can discover what she really is, though, is to leave behind all she knows and enter the Nowhere. A place from which few ever return. To have courage means facing fear. And this mission is terrifying.
I’m not quite sure why this one didn’t hold me as much as Skyward or Starsight, but there were times when I felt the narrative pace slightly dragged. It was never sufficient for me to decide not to listen to the audiobook any more – but I did feel there was a bit too much repetition regarding Spensa’s feelings and her feisty A.I.’s exploration of its new emotions. That said – I was still fascinated to see where Sanderson was taking this story, as the plot delivered plenty of surprises along the way. 7/10

Bloodfire – Book 1 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
Mackenzie Smith has always known that she was different. Growing up as the only human in a pack of rural shapeshifters will do that to you, but then couple it with some mean fighting skills and a fiery temper and you end up with a woman that few will dare to cross. However, when the only father figure in her life is brutally murdered, and the dangerous Brethren with their predatory Lord Alpha come to investigate, Mack has to not only ensure the physical safety of her adopted family by hiding her apparent humanity, she also has to seek the blood-soaked vengeance that she craves.

Mack is certainly short-fused. All sorts of things make her angry, some justifiably and some not so much. Do be warned, though, part of her annoyance is expressed in her colourful swearing. I also liked her glorious disregard for rules, which makes entire sense once we realise exactly what is going on. Cornwall is one of my favourite places in the world and while we weren’t overwhelmed with details of the countryside, there was sufficient for me to be able to clearly visualise what is going on. REREAD 8/10

Bloodmagic – Book 2 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
After escaping the claws of Corrigan, the Lord Alpha of the Brethren, Mack is trying to lead a quiet lonely life in Inverness in rural Scotland, away from anyone who might happen to be a shapeshifter. However, when she lands a job at an old bookstore owned by a mysterious elderly woman who not only has a familiar passion for herbal lore but also seems to know more than she should, Mack ends up caught in a maelstrom between the Ministry of Mages, the Fae and the Brethren.

Now she has to decide between staying hidden and facing the music, as well as confronting her real feelings for the green eyed power of Corrigan himself.
Enjoyable sequel to Bloodfire, taking Mack into more scrapes and adventures while giving us more information about her mysterious origins. A nicely snarky protagonist. Recommended for fans of shape-shifting, paranormal adventures. REREAD 8/10

Bloodrage – Book 3 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
Mack begins her training at the mages’ academy in the hope that, by complying, the stasis spell will be lifted from her old friend, Mrs. Alcoon. However, once there, she finds herself surrounded by unfriendly adults and petulant teenagers, the majority of whom seem determined to see her fail.

Feeling attacked on all fronts, Mack finds it harder and harder to keep a rein on her temper. Forced to attend anger management classes and deal with the predatory attentions of Corrigan, the Lord Alpha of the shapeshifter world, her emotions start to unravel. But when she comes across a familiar text within the walls of the mages’ library, which might just provide the clues she needs to unlock the secrets of her background and her dragon blood, she realises that her problems are only just beginning…
It’s a while since I read the first two books – so I reread them both, thoroughly enjoying once more immersing myself in the problems stacking up for poor old Mack as she struggles to discover exactly who she is and what she does. I do enjoy how characters from previous books keep popping up, allowing us to get to know them better and the oh-so-slow burn romance that is gradually unfurling throughout the series is being very well handled. Given just how short-fused and grumpy Mack is, I liked how her loyalty and bone-headed refusal to compromise her principles regarding those she takes responsibility for balances up against her less likeable attributes – it works well. My main niggle is that I personally would prefer less swearing – it’s a book I’d like to recommend to younger members of the family, but can’t. 9/10

Sigma Protocol: Jane Poole Genesis – Part 1 by Michael Penmore
Disoriented and alone, Sigma wakes from enforced sleep with questions that need to be answered. Who is she? Where is she? How did she end up in this place? With only a cryptic message from the ship’s AI to guide her, the determined survivor sets out on a race against time to uncover the desperate story of Starship Copernicus and its crew. Sigma Protocol is the fast-paced first episode in the Jane Poole Genesis describing the beginnings of Jane Poole, aka Sigma.

What I hadn’t appreciated was that this is a short story with only 76 pages. So just as I was starting to relax into the narrative – it came to a sudden, abrupt stop. Which was a shame as I was just beginning to bond with poor old Jane and her problems. 7/10

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Battle Ground – Book 17 of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #BattleGroundbookreview

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I’ve read and enjoyed all the books in this series so far – see my reviews of Peace Talks, Skin Game, Ghost Story and Turn Coat – and was delighted when I saw Battle Ground pop up on Netgalley.

BLURB: 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.

REVIEW: First things first – whatever you do, don’t pick this one up if you haven’t already at least read Peace Talks and preferably Skin Game before that. All three books run straight on from one another, with no recap or handy reminders about what happened before. So if you just happen to pick up this one on the grounds that you recall Harry with fondness from some of the earlier books, put it back on the shelf until you’ve read the other two.

Book titles generally relate to the contents in some way, although that can often be metaphorical, or slightly oblique. But in this case, Butcher has been literal as the whole book revolves around a single major battle in the middle of Harry’s home turf, Chicago. The earlier chapters cover the battle preparations, with Harry desperately trying to prepare for the worst – and the second half of the book, which isn’t short, covering that battle. I’ve read one other book that covered a single battle in a similar fashion – Last Dragon Standing by Rachel Aaron and overall, I think that one is more successful than Battle Ground.

Butcher is hampered by Battle Ground being narrated in limited first-person viewpoint, which means that Harry has to be in the middle of whatever action is going down. While we have the advantage of seeing everything through the filter of his laconic, dryly amusing characterisation, it also means that every encounter has his trademark fighting style, along with whoever is accompanying him. And although he has a number of different companions battling beside him throughout the night, inevitably a pattern develops. That said, almost anyone who has featured throughout the series puts in an appearance during this vital encounter. I was particularly delighted to see dear old Butters acquitting himself with such distinction as he’s a huge favourite of mine. There are major losses, too. A key character dies during one of the opening skirmishes – and I was more than a bit rocked to see them go. It rocked poor old Harry, too.

Having a full-on battle throughout the book also means there isn’t an opportunity for the reader to get a breather. I frequently put the book down simply because I needed a break from the bloody action and emotional intensity that came with it. And during the latter stages, I became a bit numbed by it all, so that I ended up rereading the ending just to get a more accurate sense of the emotional tenor around the ending.

That said, I don’t want you to go away with the impression that this is a poor book. The action scenes are gripping and immersive. Butcher portrays Harry’s experiences during the battle with vividness and emotion that packs a punch. And I’m fascinated to discover exactly how he’ll take the series forward from here. It was a calculated risk to split the original book in two, which I think Butcher has mostly pulled off. Recommended for fans of the Harry Dresden series who have at least read the previous two books. The ebook arc copy of Battle Ground was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

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:).

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Paper & Blood – Book 2 of The Ink & Sigil series by Kevin Hearne #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Paper&Bloodbookreview

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I love The Iron Druid series – see my reviews of Hounded, Hammered, Shattered, Staked and Scourged. Atticus is a fabulous hero with his adorable dogs and the steady humour they provide prevent the series from getting too dark as his enemies get angrier and more powerful. So I was delighted when Ink & Sigil, the first book in a spin-off series, appeared. Would I enjoy Paper & Blood as much?

BLURB: There’s only one Al MacBharrais: Though other Scotsmen may have dramatic mustaches and a taste for fancy cocktails, Al also has a unique talent. He’s a master of ink and sigil magic. In his gifted hands, paper and pen can work wondrous spells.

But Al isn’t quite alone: He is part of a global network of sigil agents who use their powers to protect the world from mischievous gods and strange monsters. So when a fellow agent disappears under sinister circumstances in Australia, Al leaves behind the cozy pubs and cafes of Glasgow and travels to the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria to solve the mystery.

The trail to his colleague begins to pile up with bodies at alarming speed, so Al is grateful his friends have come to help—especially Nadia, his accountant who moonlights as a pit fighter. Together with a whisky-loving hobgoblin known as Buck Foi and the ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, along with his dogs, Oberon and Starbuck, Al and Nadia will face down the wildest wonders Australia—and the supernatural world—can throw at them, and confront a legendary monster not seen in centuries.
REVIEW: I really have rather fallen in love with Al. It’s such a refreshing change to find a sympathetic, enjoyable protagonist who also happens not to be in the full flush of youth – and yes… I’m aware that Atticus is two thousand years old. But he looks like a twenty-something, whereas Al doesn’t. The extra weight of years and wry wisdom has completely won me over. It doesn’t hurt that I also enjoy the company he keeps, especially his foul-mouthed hobgoblin companion, Buck Foi and Nadia. And yes… there is a lot of swearing in this book, so if you find that offensive, then this won’t be for you. It was the one thing that, at times, slightly niggled as I wished that Al had reported that Buck Foi cursed, rather than giving me the benefit of all the sweariness. But it wasn’t a dealbreaker, because I enjoyed the characters and the action.

And the great big bonus for me is that Atticus and his dogs also heavily feature in this adventure. I’ve really missed tucking into yet another amusing story featuring Atticus since the Iron Druid series finished, so I was delighted that he has such a big role in this book. And it is also fascinating to see him filtered through Al’s viewpoint. As ever, Hearne tells a cracking tale, full of action and suspense. As the mystery of the missing sigil agents deepens, Hearne’s warm-hearted, larger-than-life characters are genuinely concerned. When we meet the horrible monsters intent to tearing apart everyone they meet, I did wonder if we’d ever see them again. Because for all his folksy fun, Hearne isn’t afraid to kill off a likeable, affectionate character if it fits the plot.

A large part of the story is set in the Australian outback, which is effectively evoked and certainly adds to the vividness and tension, while Al and his gang attempt their desperate rescue. As ever with Hearne, I didn’t see the denouement coming – but that didn’t stop it being entirely satisfying. While there is lots of action and humour, I also appreciated the discussions and stories between the characters and the philosophical deliberations. All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read, and is highly recommended for urban fantasy fans with a liking for their fantasy with a strong Celtic twist and lots of quirky humour. While I obtained an arc of Paper & Blood from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Sunday Post – 25th July, 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.
At present, it seems to be working out that I’m able to post my weekly roundup more or less every other week. Funnily enough, after my decision to get out more, we ended up having my younger grandson staying over, which meant I have been unable to go anywhere. A classmate of his had tested positive for Covid, so he had to isolate for ten days, although as long as Oscar didn’t go down with the illness, Himself was still able to go to work. And the reason I suggested that Oscar should isolate at our house, is that his three-year-old sister was still recovering from a nasty case of bronchitis and suffers with severe asthma. We really don’t want her going down with Covid if we can possibly avoid it! I felt so sorry for Oscar – as he is in Year 6, he suddenly found himself at home and missing the last week of term. And in September, he’s moving up to a new school, so he and his classmates missed out on being able to say goodbye to the staff and friends he’s made over the last six years. This wretched illness has so many repercussions.

He brought along his computer, and we got him a Kindle as an early birthday present to allow him to listen to audiobooks, so he could keep himself amused. And regularly throughout the day, he and I would play a series of games to give him a break from screen time – and help me with my brain fog. The weather was sunny and warm, which meant we could also sit in the garden for breakfast. He was unfailingly good tempered and upbeat throughout the whole ten-day period, despite not being allowed past the front gates. I’m so proud of his mature attitude and have missed him enormously since he went home on Friday morning. He was excellent company – as well as a fabulous kitchen assistant, helping me get meals prepared and a couple of times taking over when I ran out of energy and had to sit down.

It was a good reading week, although with Oscar here, I didn’t read quite as much as I have been doing. However I had a DNF that rather broke my heart – I simply couldn’t get on with N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became, although I tried so very hard. But at just over 80% I finally had to abandon it. I’m aware that it’s probably more to do with me – and I freely concede the writing is punchy and passionate. But it simply wasn’t for me *sigh*.

Last week I read:

Vanity and Vampyres – Book 4 of the Monster and Manners series by Tilly Wallace
Someone is supping upon young noblemen and it’s up to Hannah and Wycliff to investigate. If only they could agree on how the men are being drained of their life’s blood. Is it a vampyre, known for their impeccable fashion sense, nocturnal roaming, and dislike of rain, who lurks in the shadows of London? Or is some more earthly method at play, like an attack of leeches?

With her best friend’s wedding imminent, Hannah is determined that the event be untouched by murder or mayhem. To ensure a magical fairytale event they must catch the murderer before the big day. Wycliff must seek the assistance of a man who raises his hackles and Hannah struggles with her growing feelings toward her guarded husband. This pursuit will unearth long buried secrets that could have fatal consequences for those dearest to Hannah.
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying this alternate historical fantasy series with a nicely original take on zombies. Once more this quirky murder mystery provides plenty of possible suspects and an interesting denouement, while watching the slow burn romance continuing to blossom provides an extra bonus.

The Daydreamer Detective Braves the Winter – Book 2 of the Miso cosy mystery series
by Steph Gennera, aka P.J. Pajonas

December has set in and just when the rural town of Chikata is recovering from one murder, Mei and her new boyfriend, Yasahiro, find their friend, Etsuko, dead in her apartment. Etsuko was sweet and talented, and now everyone suspects her longtime boyfriend killed her. Mei doesn’t believe it, though, and she vows to help solve the crime.

But Mei has more to think about than murder. With the barn gone and their vegetable stores destroyed, she and her mother are down to their last canned goods and no money for heat. Mei’s mom is fortunate to find work, but Mei must fend for herself, get a job, and keep their financial situation a secret from Yasahiro. In pursuit of paying work, she stumbles onto a new witness to the crime, and before long, the dead woman’s secret life unravels before everyone’s eyes. Half-starving and out of her element, Mei is on thin ice, and it’s going to take a whole lot of ingenuity and quick thinking to solve the crime before the killer gets to her as well…
I managed to read this one and Book 3 out of sequence, but I’m really glad I stopped and went back. Pajonas writes with a pleasing upbeat energy and constant shafts of gentle humour – but I was struck at how rarely real poverty is portrayed in cosies. Pajonas manages to show just how devastating it is, without pulling the mood down too much. Which is a very neat trick to pull off. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK – First Strike by Christopher G. Nuttall
Starting a war with an enemy a hundred times stronger is insane. It’s desperate. And it’s Earth’s only hope.

A massive alien power looms over humanity, claiming Earth as its territory and humanity as its slaves. The Hegemony has already taken over one colony, yoking hundreds of thousands under their brutal rule. Every tactical exercise, every wargame and every simulation gives humanity zero chance in a defensive campaign. Earth’s only chance to win the coming war – is by striking first.
This epic military space opera adventure was an entertaining listen with all sorts of twists and turns and very ably narrated by Jeffrey Kafer, although his Brit accent is a tad peculiar. And I enjoyed listening to a cracking space opera read that is a standalone, for a change.

AUDIOBOOK – The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
1883. Thaniel Steepleton returns home to his tiny London apartment to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the mysterious timepiece saves his life, drawing him away from a blast that destroys Scotland Yard.

At last, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, a kind, lonely immigrant from Japan. Although Mori seems harmless, a chain of unexplainable events soon suggests he must be hiding something. When Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist, unwittingly interferes, Thaniel is torn between opposing loyalties.
And the reason why these two audiobooks are back to back, is that I’ve been dipping in and out of this one. I LOVED The Kingdoms, which is why I picked up this one. But I have to say that I was a bit disappointed. While the strangeness of Mori and the relationship between him and Thaniel is beautifully written, the plot became increasingly odd and unbelievable as the book wore on. And I wasn’t remotely convinced by Grace on any level. However, I’m aware that my opinion is in the minority regarding this one, as I know it’s a real favourite with many readers.

Ghost Electricity – Book 1 of the Hawthorn House series by Sean Cunningham
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…
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 really enjoyed how Cunningham weaves his story – despite there being quite a bit of violence in this full-on action adventure. Review to follow.

The King of Faerie – Book 4 of the Stariel series by A.J. Lancaster
The fae are real, and Hetta Valstar is trying her best to marry one. If Hetta and Wyn ever manage to marry, it will be the first union between Faerie and Mortal since the Iron Law was revoked. The mortal Queen has given them her blessing—sort of. Now, Wyn needs permission from the fae High King. There’s an intensely personal reason why they need to tie the knot as soon as possible, and time is not on their side.

The clock is ticking. Except in Wyn’s home court, which is trapped under magical stasis. To break the spell will mean venturing into the deepest realms of Faerie, where even fae princes—and definitely human lords—fear to tread. Unfortunately, the fae problems aren’t limited to Faerie.

Public tension is rising, and the reveal of Wyn’s true identity makes him and Hetta the centre of the storm. On top of this, Stariel’s magic is going haywire, and Hetta is struggling with her intensifying powers—and she might not be the only one affected.The High King might be the only one who can help, since he’s responsible for the fae returning to the Mortal Realm in the first place.

If only they knew where he was.
I’ve absolutely LOVED this series – and this latest instalment in this delightful alternative 1920s fantasy adventure was my favourite read of the week. It was one of those books that I was burning through far too fast – while at the same time, I never wanted it to end, as every time I put down a Stariel book, I yearn for another one. I also loved where this one ended. The good news is that Lancaster is going to be writing a spinoff adventure featuring Marius – yay😊! Review to follow.

My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Witness for the Dead – Book 2 of The Goblin Emperor series by Katherine Addison

Tuesday Treasures – 35

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Assassin’s Orbit by John Appel

Unfortunately, I haven’t been online enough to recommend any blogs or articles. And neither have I been visiting my fellow bloggers all that much, either… I’m very sorry. Thank you for those of you who continue to visit and comment – I really do appreciate you taking the time and effort to do so😊. I hope you all have a happy, healthy week.

Sunday Post – 7th March, 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.

It’s not been a good week. From Tuesday through to Thursday, I went down with a bug, plagued by a miserable cough – and couldn’t sleep. I had only four hours sleep in 24 by Thursday. Though I established that it definitely wasn’t COVID. And then yesterday, Himself went down with exactly the same symptoms. When I spoke to my sister, she also was ill with the same thing… Not only is it a miserable illness – the inability to sleep is horrible – but it meant I had to cancel having the grandchildren coming to stay this weekend, which is a real blow as I haven’t seen them for a while. I’m better, but still a bit washed out. So that’s why I wasn’t around in the middle of the week. Apologies for not having visited blogs, etc…

The only bright spot in the middle of all this was that I curled up with my trusty Kindles and either read or listened to books throughout. So I’ve read a few more than usual.

The photos this week are from the walk last Sunday, when it was sunny with a brisk wind. As you can see, they’re doing some dredging work on the mouth of the river to ensure the large gravel boats can still enter Littlehampton harbour.

Last week I read:
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry
For his entire life, Charley Sutherland has concealed a magical ability he can’t quite control: he can bring characters from books into the real world. His older brother, Rob — a young lawyer with a normal house, a normal fiancee, and an utterly normal life — hopes that this strange family secret will disappear with disuse, and he will be discharged from his life’s duty of protecting Charley and the real world from each other. But then, literary characters start causing trouble in their city, making threats about destroying the world…

I’m a sucker for fantasy books featuring libraries and other book characters – but this one really exceeded by expectations. A delightful, clever read that took the story and used it to highlight sibling relationships in a nuanced, three-dimensional way. Review to follow.

The Transylvania Twist – Book 2 of the Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox
Even during a truce, I have my hands full as a MASH surgeon to an army of warring gods—especially when Medusa herself turns up pregnant. I frankly have no idea what to expect when a Gorgon’s expecting, but I have an even bigger problem when my presumed-dead former-fiancé sneaks into my tent with enough emotional baggage to fill a tank…

Yes… I know I’ve read this series out of order – but it was so much fun, I really wanted to go back and get another fix of Petra Robichaud and this madcap world. Review to follow.

The Conductors – Book 1 of the Murder and Magic series by Nicole Glover
As an escaped slave, Hetty Rhodes helped dozens of people find their own freedom north using her wits and her magic. Now that the Civil War is over, Hetty and her husband, Benjy, still fight for their people by solving the murders and mysteries that the white authorities won’t touch.

When they discover one of their friends brutally murdered in an alley, Hetty and Benjy mourn his loss by setting off to find answers. But the mystery of his death soon brings up more questions, more secrets, more hurt. To solve his death, they will have to not only face the ugly truths about the world but the ones about each other.
While this isn’t a flawless book, nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the world and the main protagonist. Review to follow.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
1940. As England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. Vivacious debutante Osla is the girl who has everything—beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses—but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets. Imperious self-made Mab, product of east-end London poverty, works the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Both Osla and Mab are quick to see the potential in local village spinster Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles, and soon Beth spreads her wings as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts. But war, loss, and the impossible pressure of secrecy will tear the three apart.

1947. As the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip whips post-war Britain into a fever, three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter–the key to which lies buried in the long-ago betrayal that destroyed their friendship and left one of them confined to an asylum…
I loved this historical thriller set in Bletchley Park during WWII. Quinn clearly knows what she is doing, as weaving the stories of three women across two narrative timelines could have so easily descended into a hot mess – and it doesn’t. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK Death Around the Bend – Book 3 of the Lady Hardcastle series by T.E. Kinsey
September 1909, and Lady Hardcastle and her maid, Florence, have been invited to Lord Riddlethorpe’s country estate for a week of motor racing and parties. They both agree that it sounds like a perfectly charming holiday. But when one of the drivers dies in a crash during the very first race, they discover that what seemed like an uncharacteristic error in judgement may have a more sinister explanation…
Closer investigation reveals that the driver’s car was sabotaged—and the driver murdered.

The local constabulary are quick to dismiss the case, but Flo and Lady Hardcastle are determined to find out just who has committed this dastardly act, and why. As the pair begin to make enquiries of Lord Riddlethorpe’s servants and guests, it seems that, below stairs and above, there is more to this case than meets the eye. And, even in the quiet of the countryside, death is always just around the bend.
This entertaining series is becoming a solid favourite of mine. Elizabeth Knowelden’s excellent narration and the thread of humour running through the story makes this a really enjoyable listen. Mini-review to follow.

The Wizard’s Butler by Nathan Lowell
For five grand a month and a million dollar chaser, Roger Mulligan didn’t care how crazy the old geezer is. All he had to do was keep Joseph Perry Shackleford alive and keep him from squandering the estate for a year.

They didn’t tell him about the pixies.
This quirky and unusual urban fantasy tale is unexpectedly gentle and was just what I needed. And the bonus is – this author also writes space opera adventures, too. Given how much I love his writing style, I am delighted to have discovered his work. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of A Desolation Called Peace – Book 2 of the Teixcalaan series by Akady Martine

Cover Share: An Orshaw Facelift by Indie author Phil Williams

Friday Face-off featuring The Eagle of the Ninth – Book 1 in the Dolphin Ring Cycle by Rosemary Sutcliffe

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NOVELLA One Day All This Will Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Tuesday Treasures – 29

Two Sci Fi mini-reviews: The Last Astronaut by David Wellington & Scardown by Elizabeth Bear

Sunday Post – 28th January 2021

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Library of the Dead – Book 1 of the Edinburgh Nights by T.L. Huchu #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheLibraryoftheDeadbookreview

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I found the premise of this one fascinating – a post-apocalyptic Scotland and a young, gutsy protagonist straddling two cultures. And I can’t deny that the cover also blew me away.

BLURB: When a child goes missing in Edinburgh’s darkest streets, young Ropa investigates. She’ll need to call on Zimbabwean magic as well as her Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. But as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?

When ghosts talk, she will listen…

Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker. Now she speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to the living. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children–leaving them husks, empty of joy and life. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honor-bound to investigate. But what she learns will change her world. She’ll dice with death (not part of her life plan…), discovering an occult library and a taste for hidden magic. She’ll also experience dark times. For Edinburgh hides a wealth of secrets, and Ropa’s gonna hunt them all down.

REVIEW: Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Ropa is an engaging protagonist and given the awful circumstances she finds herself battling with, the fact that she is only fourteen worked for me, although I am aware some reviewers had a bit of a problem with her youth. But children in difficult times grow up fast and she still demonstrated that odd mix of maturity and flashes of someone much younger that makes up a teen personality. I thought the characterisation of the protagonist was the main strength of the book, though I also liked the depiction of a civilisation steadily falling apart. It didn’t bother me that I wasn’t aware of exactly why everything was quite so dire – given we are in Ropa’s viewpoint, pages of explanation about the political situation would have been out of character.

I also liked the members of Ropa’s family – her relationship with her younger sister could have so easily become a bit treacly, and I was pleased that it didn’t. The constant friction between the girls over the use of her phone was nicely realistic, having had to step into the middle of similar fights between my grandchildren. Her granny is also an intriguing personality, who taught Ropa the magic she uses, drawing on her Zimbabwean culture to be able to speak to the departed and help them. All this worked really well for me.

However, I wasn’t quite so impressed with the plotting. The story was completely predictable and I guessed (successfully) what was going to happen from about halfway through the book. As you can see from the score, that wasn’t a huge dealbreaker for me as Ropa’s personality made this an entertaining read anyway. I’m not wholly convinced about the library angle of the story, either. To be honest, it felt a tad tacked on, and wasn’t in the same league as Ropa’s characterisation, and the interesting world she is forced to operate in. There are some fabulous magical libraries out there already – ranging from the hilariously dangerous version at the Unseen University in Pratchett’s Discworld with an orangutang for a librarian, through to Genevieve Cogman’s highly successful Invisible Library series. Huchu is going to have to work at making this version really stand out.

That said, I would happily read the second book in this series just to spend a bit more time with Ropa. Recommended for fans who particularly enjoy strong young protagonists operating in difficult circumstances. While I obtained an arc of The Library of the Dead from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

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

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

Most of the first half of the week was dominated by the launch of Mantivore Warrior on Monday, which went really well. Thank you to everyone who retweeted and mentioned that Warrior is now live and let loose on the world.

The weather was a lot better – though not good enough for our Writing Group to get together on Wednesday evening, which was a real shame. It had been bright and warm all day, until the evening when it started raining, so we were Zooming once more. Though it was a really productive meeting, where several of us shared our work and I got some valuable feedback on the beginning of Picky Eaters 2.

Unfortunately, I am now struggling with a very sore back and my usual strategies for dealing with it aren’t working, so I’ve a physio appointment on Tuesday. I was supposed to travel down to Ringwood yesterday to see my in-laws with my husband – but I woke up feeling too sore and car journeys are never my friend, anyway. I’d travelled to Brighton on Thursday to see my daughter and the children and brought back the boys to stay overnight – a last sleepover before they go back to school. It was lovely to see them and their stay was rounded off by going out for a meal together at a local pub restaurant with a vegan menu, where my daughter and little Eliza joined us on Friday afternoon. Today is my husband’s birthday, and today’s photos are from the big wheel which was recently installed on Littlehampton foreshore. We are planning to have a lazy day together and go out for a meal with my sister tonight.


Last week I read an astonishingly strong selection of books:

Ink & Sigil – Book 1 of the Ink & Sigil series by Kevin Hearne
Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails – and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae. But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his personal life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse.

But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective – while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice’s death will take him through Scotland’s magical underworld, and he’ll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he’s to survive.
I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It was so refreshing to read of a sixty-something protagonist, who isn’t magically enhanced or rejuvenated and Hearne’s trademark humour is evident in this series, too. Recommended, particularly for fans of the Iron Druid series.


AUDIOBOOK – The Delirium Brief – Book 8 of The Laundry Files by Charles Stross
Bob Howard’s career in the Laundry, the secret British government agency dedicated to protecting the world from unspeakable horrors from beyond spacetime, has entailed high combat, brilliant hacking, ancient magic, and combat with indescribably repellent creatures of pure evil. It has also involved a wearying amount of paperwork and office politics, and his expense reports are still a mess.
Now, following the invasion of Yorkshire by the Host of Air and Darkness, the Laundry’s existence has become public, and Bob is being trotted out on TV to answer pointed questions about elven asylum seekers. What neither Bob nor his managers have foreseen is that their organization has earned the attention of a horror far more terrifying than any demon: a British government looking for public services to privatize.
This was huge fun to listen to – and has made me determined to get hold of the next one in the series sooner, rather than later as this one ended on something of a cliffhanger. I’d forgotten just how smart and darkly funny Charles Stross’s writing can be. Review to follow.


The Trials of Koli – Book 2 of the Rampart Trilogy by M.R. Carey
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.
Carey keeps the tension up and expands the story by giving us an insight into what is going on in the village that exiled Koli in the first place, as well as taking Koli’s adventures further. The world is brilliantly depicted and I enjoyed the characters.

The Green Man’s Silence – Book 3 of the Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna
Daniel Mackmain has always been a loner. As a dryad’s son, he can see the supernatural alongside everyday reality, and that’s not something he can easily share. Perhaps visiting East Anglia to stay with Finele Wicken and her family will be different. They have their own ties to the uncanny.

But something is amiss in the depths of the Fens. Creatures Dan has never encountered outside folk tales are growing uneasy, even hostile. He soon learns they have good reason. Can he help them before they retaliate and disaster strikes the unsuspecting locals? Can the Green Man help Dan in a landscape dominated by water for centuries, where the oaks were cut down aeons ago? A modern fantasy rooted in the ancient myths and folklore of the British Isles.
I thoroughly enjoyed Dan’s latest adventure, which takes place in a corner of England that is rich with history and folklore. I loved that Finele was once again part of the story and found this one impossible to put down. Review to follow.



My posts last week:

A Déjà vu Review of Dangerous Waters – Book 1 of the Hadrumal Crisis series by Juliet E. McKenna

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Tips on Food and Drink

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Deadly Waters by Dot Hutchison

Friday Face-off featuring Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Ink & Sigil – Book 1 of the Ink & Sigil series by Kevin Hearne

Cover Love #3 featuring the covers of Juliet E. McKenna

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Grave Secrets – Book 1 of the Lavington Windsor mysteries by Alice James

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Kept from Cages – Book 1 of The Ikiri duology by Phil Williams

Two Sci Fi Mini-Reviews: To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers and Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

Tuesday Treasures – 11

MANTIVORE WARRIOR is published today!

Sunday Post – 30th August 2020


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

Everyday Items We’ve Been Using Wrong the Whole Time https://brain-sharper.com/social/everyday-items-using-wrong-tw/?utm_campaign=Everyday%20Items%20Elena%20V1%20VV%3E1%20En%20-%20Desktop%20WW%20TW&utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=WC&psl=i_5486fa There are all sorts of tips and tricks here that I will be using in future! The pasta spoon tip is a revelation – and how to open a keyring without breaking nails…

What Counts as Speculative? https://specpo.wordpress.com/2020/09/03/what-counts-as-speculative/ This infographic is going to divide many SFF readers, I think…

Fantasy and Sci Fi to review for free 1-30 September https://storyoriginapp.com/bundles/09afb25c-d13e-11ea-bc51-0f1a41c9edf0?bundleLinkId=G1i79S8 If you’re looking for more SFF reads and enjoy helping authors out by leaving a review – then this might be just what you’re looking for…

Sci Fi Month 2020: the future is calling https://onemore.org/2020/09/01/announcing-scifimonth-2020/ I LOVE Sci Fi Month! If you also enjoy it and want to get in on the ground floor – here’s how to do it…

On Boundaries and Doors to Magical Realms https://jeanleesworld.com/2020/09/01/a-writers-thoughts-on-boundaries-in-magic-plus-a-coverreveal-and-arc-access-to-my-new-ya-fantasy-novel/ Jean Lee’s articles are always worth reading – and as she is shortly to release a new book – yippee! – she is considering this intriguing aspect of many fantasy tropes…

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Ink & Sigil – Book 1 of the Ink & Sigil series by Kevin Hearne #Brainfluffbookreview #Ink&Sigilbookreview

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We don’t do it all that often – we can’t afford it – but we pre-ordered this one as soon as we heard it was coming out. We are both solid fans of Kevin Hearne’s writing – see my review of Hounded – Book 1 of the Iron Druid series, which I read all the way through and have been quietly mourning its loss since it ended. Life has just been a tad emptier since Atticus and his hound Oberon stopped their adventures. Though I also thoroughly enjoyed the clever and ambitious Seven Kennings series – see my review of A Plague of Giants. So would I also enjoy this spinoff from the Iron Druid series?

BLURB: Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails – and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae.

But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his personal life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse.

But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective – while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice’s death will take him through Scotland’s magical underworld, and he’ll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he’s to survive.

REVIEW: Let’s get one issue out the way – you don’t have to know anything at all about the Iron Druid series, or have first read the books to enjoy this one. It’s an essentially a standalone, with a specific scene added for those of us pining for Atticus and Oberon. So don’t let that consideration get in the way of you acquiring this one.

It’s a packet of fun. I loved the fact that Al is in his mid-sixties and a widower. I am aware that the average hero and heroine are fit young things, full of vim and vigour – but I hadn’t realised just how much that affected their worldview, until I plunged into this adventure alongside dear old Al. He is thoroughly likeable protagonist with plenty of quirks and eccentricities, but the amount of fun between him and a certain naughty hobgoblin is great and helps to leaven the rather sombre subject of kidnapping and trafficking. Humour is always a hit and miss affair, and mostly I chuckled my way through this book – though for some reason, I got a bit fed up with Al’s hacker friend insisting on being called Saxon Codpiece…

Overall, I really enjoyed the story which was well paced, full of action and yet not too full-on to skimp on effectively establishing the main characters – a balance that is harder to achieve than Hearne makes it look. I also loved the magic system, where human Al is given leave to help the Fae by use of magical sigils that are achieved by the spells being sealed through specific inks. It worked well – and this being Hearne, there was also some humour to be had with some of those inks, too. Overall, this was a solid delight and I’m very much looking forward to reading more about Al and his adventures – particularly that curse he’s afflicted with… Highly recommended for fans of quirky urban fantasy adventures featuring eccentric characters.
8/10