I read and thoroughly enjoyed The Stranger Times, which is the first book in the series so I immediately requested the sequel and was delighted to be approved. Would I enjoy it as much?
BLURB:Vampires do not exist. Everyone knows this. So it’s particularly annoying when they start popping up around Manchester . . . Nobody is pleased about it. Not the Founders, the secret organisation for whom vampires were invented as an allegory, nor the Folk, the magical people hidden in plain sight who only want a quiet life. And definitely not the people of Manchester, because there is nothing more irksome than being murdered by an allegory run amok. Somebody needs to sort this out fast before all Hell really breaks loose – step forward the staff of The Stranger Times.
It’s not like they don’t have enough to be dealing with. Assistant Editor Hannah has come back from getting messily divorced to discover that someone is trying to kidnap a member of their staff and while editor Vincent Banecroft would be delighted to see the back of any of his team, he doesn’t like people touching his stuff – it’s the principle of the thing. Throw in a precarious plumbing situation, gambling debts, an entirely new way of swearing, and a certain detective inspector with what could be kindly referred to as ‘a lot of baggage’ and it all adds up to another hectic week in the life of the newspaper committed to reporting the truth that nobody else will touch.
REVIEW: I’m always a bit wary about humorous fantasy. Far too often I’ve been assured that I’ll find a book absolutely hilarious when – as far as I’m concerned – it’s nothing of the sort. But on reading the first book of the series, I regularly laughed aloud as I inhaled the trials and tribulations of the staff working for a newspaper that features the weird and whacky. In amongst the adventure are also some delightful snippets featured in the paper – it’s these that mostly had me howling with laughter. The humour is very British, as this series is based in Manchester, a northern, industrial English city renowned for its soggy weather, which will give you an indication as to whether this is your type of thing.
This Charming Man is just as amusing and picks up more or less where The Stranger Times left off. That said, I don’t think you need to read the first book to fully appreciate this one, which is always an advantage with a series. I’ve seen this series compared with Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series – and for once, there is some mileage in that comparison. McDonnell also writes in third person semi-omniscient viewpoint – which means the author is actually telling the story, at least in places, rather than using the protagonists to do the task. I’m not a huge fan of this mode of narration in modern fiction, other than children’s books, as it’s easy to do badly and difficult to do well. But McDonnell is an experienced wordsmith – he also has written The Dublin Trilogy and the McGarry Stateside series under the pen-name Caimh McDonnell, which I haven’t yet read, but will be checking out very soon.
The mystery at the heart of the book has a nicely satisfying consequence of some thoroughly unpleasant behaviour. So there is a strong moral theme which comes through without being remotely finger-wagging – something else that Pratchett was adept at, particularly in the earlier books. While reading this offering, I enjoyed reacquainting myself with the characters, and was interested to discover why the ghastly Vincent Banecroft, editor of The Stranger Times, is quite so awful. As with most really funny books, there is light and shade within the story, so there are also moments of real poignancy.
All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read and I look forward to checking out more of McDonnell’s writing – while oh-so-impatiently waiting for the next adventure featuring the eccentrics working for The Stranger Times. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of This Charming Man from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
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.
This is my fortnightly update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 9 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks. My energy levels have plummeted, meaning that I am now once again spending much of the day in bed. Getting up and showering feels like a huge mountain to climb and there are days when I simply cannot do it. The night-time sweats have also returned and as my inner ear is still draining, my tinnitus is very loud – which means I’m struggling to sleep at night. Several times I haven’t managed to fall asleep until dawn. This time around, I’m not finding it as easy to remain calm and positive – particularly as Himself has also been struggling. It was recently his father’s birthday, which has been hard as he died in May and the family home is in the process of being sold, so he has also been involved in helping to clear the house. And I’m too ill to be able to help in any way.
My reflexologist thinks my downturn is still the consequence of the flu jab that I had a fortnight ago. As my system is very stressed, she thinks the vaccine has hammered my energy levels and healing and warned me that it could go on causing problems for at least another week. That said, I’d still rather deal with the fallout from the vaccine than a full-blown attack of flu. I vividly recall suffering from the illness when I was a fit young woman in my 20s – and there is no way I want to cope with that on top of dealing with Long Covid.
Needless to say, my editing and the work I was doing on my manuscripts has come to a screeching halt. And as you’ll already realise, I haven’t had the energy to post anything on my blog, either. Hopefully if I continue to rest as much as possible and go on taking the supplements, eating sensibly and meditating, things will start to swing back round again. At least I’m still able to walk without a stick. I’ve also been reading and listening to audiobooks. It’s been a lifesaver, particularly on nights when I’m bathed in perspiration and the continual high-pitched whine in my ears won’t let me sleep.
This week I’ve read:- World’s Edge – Book 2 of The Tethered Citadel series by David Hair Chasing a dream of wealth and freedom, Raythe Vyre’s ragtag caravan of refugees from imperial oppression went off the map, into the frozen wastes of the north. What they found there was beyond all their expectations: Rath Argentium, the legendary city of the long-vanished Aldar, complete with its fabled floating citadel.
Even more unexpectedly, they encountered the Tangato, the remnants of the people who served the Aldar, who are shocked to learn that they’re not alone in the world – and hostile to Raythe’s interlopers. What awaits Raythe’s people in the haunted castle that floats above them, the lair of the last Aldar king? Everlasting wealth – or eternal damnation? This epic fantasy series continues to deliver wonderful action scenes and fascinating plot twists as two cultures crash together in very difficult circumstances. I’ve been thinking about this one a lot and it’s definitely making my Outstanding Reads list this year. Review to follow 10/10
Double, Double, Tart and Trouble – Book 2 of the Spellford Cove Mystery series by Samantha Silver
Just when Robin thought things were settling down a bit in Spellford Cove, she finds herself mired in a murder investigation once more when a customer of hers is poisoned. Then just to make matters worse, a photo of Queen of Tarts cheesecake in front of the body is printed on the front page of the local paper.
Robin soon realizes that once again she has no choice but to try and find the killer, this time to save her business. But with the main reporter in town deciding to tank Robin’s bakery, and that strange woman making another reappearance, Robin feels like a woman juggling too many muffins. Can she find the killer and save her business? Or has Robin baked her last batch of brownies? I wasn’t quite as invested in this murder mystery as I was in the first book. Partly because I found the victim rather unconvincing. That didn’t prevent it from helping me to pass a long, difficult night when the shafts of snarky humour were very welcome. 7/10
AUDIOBOOK Asylum – Book 9 of the Star Kingdom series by Lindsay Buroker
A young woman with cybernetic upgrades, Mari Moonrazor has decided to flee the restrictive machine-worshipping cult she was raised in. She longs to know what it’s like to live among normal humans and experience simple biological pleasures like consuming alcohol, kissing a boy, and—most importantly—eating chocolate.
But her mother, the infamous astroshaman leader Kyla Moonrazor, is determined to get her back, even if it means sending a bounty hunter after her. Mari’s only hope for freedom is to be granted asylum from the leaders of the powerful Star Kingdom. First, she must prove that she has knowledge and resources she can offer them. Second, she has to earn their trust. This all would have been easier if her people hadn’t bombed their planet… This book is a standalone, as it occurs after all Casmir’s adventures are over and features one of the intriguing astroshamans. I did miss dear Casmir’s viewpoint – but it was fun seeing how other characters regarded him. And as I now feel like all the regular Star Kingdom characters are old friends, revisiting this world was huge fun. Buroker is now one of my favourite authors. 9/10
Death’s Rival – Book 5 of the Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter For a vampire killer like Jane, having Leo Pellisier as a boss took some getting used to. But now, someone is out to take his place as Master Vampire of the city of New Orleans, and is not afraid to go through Jane to do it. After an attack that’s tantamount to a war declaration, Leo knows his rival is both powerful and vicious, but Leo’s not about to run scared. After all, he has Jane. But then, a plague strikes, one that takes down vampires and makes their masters easy prey.
Now, to uncover the identity of the vamp who wants Leo’s territory, and to find the cause of the vamp-plague, Jane will have to go to extremes…and maybe even to war. This series just goes from strength to strength. I’m loving the quality of the writing and the ongoing development of Jane as she emerges from yet another devastating adventure. 9/10
The Queen’s Pardon – Book 6 of the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland Trapped on a hostile world, hunted by pirate bands and abandoned by her fellow captains, Alexis Carew must lead her small band to safety, even though it seems every hand is set against her.
Stalked by pirates in the skies above and shadowy, alien figures on the planet below, Alexis must convince former enemies to trust her even as she discovers where the tendrils of her true enemies lead. This is the final book in this entertaining Hornblower-in-space adventure series. I thought Sutherland handled this twisting action-packed plot particularly well and while I’m sad to get to the end of Alexis’s story, I was very happy with how the whole thing ended. 10/10
Licence to Howl – Book 2 of the Wolfbrand series by Helen Harper Devereau Webb is riding high. He’s a powerful werewolf with a killer combination of intelligence, wits and strength and he’s learning more and more about his abilities every day. He isn’t usually the type to take orders, however, and that has to change with his new role as a supernatural spy within the British security services.
Tasked with heading to Rome to infiltrate a mysterious gang with terrorist links, Devereau has to call on all his newfound skills to prevent disaster from happening. That might be prove to be the easy part. He’s also determined to convince a certain sexy vampire that he’s the man for her. What could possibly go wrong? Helen Harper is another favourite author – and this spinoff series featuring Devereau is a bundle of fun. While there is plenty of action and danger – there is also a lot of humour. I particularly enjoyed the dynamic between the adrenaline-junkie, alpha male and his former Vampire girlfriend. After their fling, it’s Devereau who has been left heartsick and pining – and determined to woo her back, which is a nice change. 9/10
Risen – Book 12 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka Alex’s girlfriend, the life mage Anne, has fallen fully under the control of the deadly djinn she made a bargain with, and it is preparing to create an army of mages subject to its every whim. Alex, the Council, and the Dark mage Richard Drakh agree to call a truce in their war, and plans are made for a joint attack.
Alex knows that it’s only a matter of time before Drakh and the Council turn on each other . . . and neither cares about keeping Anne alive. Can Alex figure out a way to stop Anne and to free her from possession before time runs out for the people he loves? This is the final book in this classy, well-written series. I haven’t read another author who so effectively portrays the issues facing a divination mage – and Alex’s character development, particularly in this book, is outstanding. Jacka also manages to bring this popular, long-running series safely home. Review to follow. 10/10
I haven’t published any blog posts since 7th November. 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.
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 been another very quiet week, as I continue to work towards recovering from Long Covid. There have been some developments, but I will talk about those in more detail next week. A major breakthrough is that I am now able to consistently edit my work, which is a huge deal as it gets me back in touch with my writing again. It’s been a joy to be able to spend time with Castellan, my dragon protagonist, as I’ve been going through Flame and Blame and tightening up my writing. I’ve also been reading a lot, as I’m spending a great deal of time in bed…
Last week I read:
Raven Cursed – Book 4 of the Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter The vampires of Asheville, North Carolina, want to establish their own clan, but since they owe loyalty to the Master Vampire of New Orleans they must work out the terms with him. To come up with an equitable solution, he sends an envoy with the best bodyguard blood money can buy: Jane Yellowrock.
But when a group of local campers are attacked by something fanged, Jane goes from escort to investigator. Unless she wants to face a very angry master vampire, she will have to work overtime to find the killer. It’s a good thing she’s worth every penny. This urban fantasy series, featuring shapeshifter Jane Yellowrock, stands out for the sheer quality of the writing. I’ve enjoyed every twisting adventure and Jane’s chippy attitude so far. And once again, this adventure doesn’t disappoint. 9/10
Dark Knight Station: Origins by Nathan Lowell Three Men Two Brothers One Failing Station
When Edgar Vagrant down checks Verkol Kondur’s mining barge, Kondur gets swept up in station politics in spite of his best efforts to avoid them. When Edgar pushes his elder son, Malachai, into working on the station’s freighter, Malachai decides to take matters into his own hands. With Malachai gone, his brother Zachary gets to pick up the pieces of a management structure that he had no hand in making, no authority to control, and no wish to continue. When mysterious dark sun graffiti appears all over the station, it seems clear that the situation has attracted someone’s attention. The question is whose? When I was in still suffering with Covid-19, back in March, Himself picked up this author. I started reading his linked series following a merchant apprentice in space and absolutely loved it. Lowell’s ability to keep me riveted while describing everyday details is unusual. I was yearning for more Lowell goodness, when I discovered this offering. And once again, I inhaled this one until I came to the end… 9/10
Knot of Shadows – Book 11 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold When a corpse is found floating face-down in Vilnoc harbor that is not quite as dead as it seems, Temple sorcerer Penric and his chaos demon Desdemona are drawn into the uncanny investigation.
Pen’s keen questions will take him across the city of Vilnoc, and into far more profound mysteries, as his search for truths interlaces with tragedy. This author is one of a handful that we tend to automatically buy as they come available. So it wasn’t a surprise to find that I quickly became immersed in this unusual murder mystery, featuring Penric and his unusual gifts – thanks to his demon, Desdemona. Though this one has a rather heartbreaking ending… 9/10
Poison in Paddington – Book 1 of the Cassie Coburn mysteries by Samantha Silver After a car accident ended her medical career before it even started, Cassie moved to London on a whim, expecting to see the sights and live the typical tourist backpacker lifestyle. Instead she finds herself accompanying a French private detective, Violet Despuis, as they attempt to find out who poisoned four people in the middle of London.
Cassie’s life soon includes this crazy detective, an ancient landlady with a curious past, a mischeivous orange cat who likes going for walks on a leash, and a super hot pathologist that Cassie is sure is out of her league. And they haven’t even found the murderer yet… This Sherlock Holmes-style murder mystery was just the ticket. Pacy and well written, with an appealing Watsonesque protagonist in the form of Cassie, I was charmed by this London-based cosy crime adventure. 8/10
The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling Nine years ago, Vivienne Jones nursed her broken heart like any young witch would: vodka, weepy music, bubble baths…and a curse on the horrible boyfriend. Sure, Vivi knows she shouldn’t use her magic this way, but with only an “orchard hayride” scented candle on hand, she isn’t worried it will cause him anything more than a bad hair day or two.
That is until Rhys Penhallow, descendent of the town’s ancestors, breaker of hearts, and annoyingly just as gorgeous as he always was, returns to Graves Glen, Georgia. What should be a quick trip to recharge the town’s ley lines and make an appearance at the annual fall festival turns disastrously wrong. With one calamity after another striking Rhys, Vivi realizes her silly little Ex Hex may not have been so harmless after all.
Suddenly, Graves Glen is under attack from murderous wind-up toys, a pissed off ghost, and a talking cat with some interesting things to say. Vivi and Rhys have to ignore their off the charts chemistry to work together to save the town and find a way to break the break-up curse before it’s too late. I was a bit surprised at the steamy romance – but couldn’t resist the seasonal charms of this witchy mystery set around Halloween.
Brother’s Ruin – Book 1 of the Industrial Magic series by Emma Newman The year is 1850 and Great Britain is flourishing, thanks to the Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts. When a new mage is discovered, Royal Society elites descend like buzzards to snatch up a new apprentice. Talented mages are bought from their families at a tremendous price, while weak mages are snapped up for a pittance. For a lower middle class family like the Gunns, the loss of a son can be disastrous, so when seemingly magical incidents begin cropping up at home, they fear for their Ben’s life and their own livelihoods.
But Benjamin Gunn isn’t a talented mage. His sister Charlotte is, and to prevent her brother from being imprisoned for false reporting she combines her powers with his to make him seem a better prospect. When she discovers a nefarious plot by the sinister Doctor Ledbetter, Charlotte must use all her cunning and guile to protect her family, her secret and her city. Newman is a wonderful writing talent and the pages turned themselves in this tense, atmospheric read. There is another book in this series – and I’ll definitely be reading that one, too. Charlotte is a wonderful protagonist and I love the world and the dynamic around magic that has been set up here… 9/10
A Ghost to Haunt Her: A Romance – Book 2 of The Ghosts of Riverside County by Alessa Winters When a tremor rattles the spirit world, ghosts experience changes. Some are stuck in an endless loop. Others receive strange new powers. A few find themselves in forbidden places. Heather, a ghost sensitive psychic, helps the dead achieve peace. She thought she had seen it all until she investigates a spector who believes he’s still alive.
Ian’s reality is shattered. Only one person, a strange girl, can hear and interact with him. Somehow he must rely on her to learn about this bizarre new land that he can barely understand. But he wants her to stop calling him a ghost. He’s not dead…right? This author is another fabulous find. I was riveted by awkward, socially inept Heather, whose affinity with ghosts means she struggles with the everyday world. So when she discovers Ian, whose sudden appearance has caused havoc – she has to convince him that he is really a ghost. This story has stayed with me – and I’m delighted to find that this is Book 2, because that means there is also a Book 1 – yay! 9/10
Every Sky A Grave – Book 1 of The Ascendance series by Jay Posey Mankind has spread out and conquered the galaxy by mastering the fundamental language of the universe. With the right training, the right application of words, truth itself can be rearranged. Language is literally power. Peace reigns now. Order reigns.
For if a planet deviates too far from what the authorities plan, an agent is sent out to correct that. To quietly and with great skill, end that world. One such agent is Elyth – a true believer. But on a clandestine mission to stop an uprising before it can truly begin, Elyth comes to realise she hasn’t been told the whole truth herself. There’s so much she doesn’t know. How can there be people whose truth is different to that of the authorities? Elyth’s faith in the powers that be is shaken just when she needs it most. While on her mission, a dark and unknown presence makes itself known at the edges of the galaxy – and it cannot be controlled, for nobody knows its name… I reread this classy, action-fuelled science fiction thriller that I first encountered last year, as I’ve had the great good fortune to have been approved for the second book. Here is my review…9/10
Shifting Dreams – Book 1 of the Cambio Dreams series by Elizabeth Hunter Somedays, Jena Crowe just can’t get a break. Work at her diner never ends, her two boys are bundles of energy, and she’s pretty sure her oldest is about to shift into something furry or feathery. Added to that, changes seem to be coming to the tiny town of Cambio Springs—big changes that not everyone in the isolated town of shapeshifters is thrilled about.
Caleb Gilbert was looking for change, and the quiet desert town seemed just the ticket for a more peaceful life. He never counted on violence finding him, nor could he have predicted just how crazy his new life would become.
When murder rocks their small community, Caleb and Jena will have to work together. And when the new Chief of Police isn’t put off by any of her usual defenses, Jena may be faced with the most frightening change of all: lowering the defenses around her carefully guarded heart. While I loved the world, and the writing is strong and atmospheric – I wasn’t a huge fan of Caleb, who is waaay too forceful and pushy for my taste. I’m aware that this is a very personal take and if you like strong-willed passionate male protagonists, then this is probably right up your street. 7/10
Given To Darkness – Book 2 of the Ikiri duology by Phil Williams Ikiri demands blood. Whose will it be?
A malevolent force stirs from the heart of the Congo. One child can stop it – but everyone wants her dead. Reece Coburn’s gang have travelled half the world to protect Zipporah, only to find her in more danger than ever. Her violent father is missing, his murderous enemies are coming for them, and her brother’s power is growing stronger. Entire communities are being slaughtered, and it’s only getting worse.
They have to reach Ikiri before its corruption spreads. But there’s a long journey ahead, past ferocious killers and unnatural creatures – and very few people can be trusted along the way. Can two criminal musicians, an unstable assassin and a compromised spy reach Ikiri alive? What will it cost them along the way? I began this rollicking fantasy adventure last year with Kept in Cages – see my review. Phil kindly offered me a review copy of this second half of the series, which I happily accepted. Review to follow. 9/10
Bombing in Belgravia – Book 2 of the Cassie Coburn series by Samantha Silver When an ambassador’s children are killed in a deliberate gas explosion in the middle of the night, Violet Despuis is on the case.
Right from the start, not everything is as it seems, as Cassie confirms at the crime scene that one of the victims had been poisoned beforehand. What Cassie expects to be an open-and-shut case ends up becoming a case of international intrigue and suspicion, with MI5 doing their best to stop Violet and Cassie from pursuing the case. This is another cosy murder mystery adventure in the Sherlock Holmes-type series, where Cassie is a lovely version of dear oldJohn Watson – and Violet is every bit as patronisingly brilliant as Sherlock… The murder mystery was enjoyable, too. 8/10
Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now that 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.
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
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:).
I liked the sound of this one and was in the mood for a strong urban fantasy set in London, so requested this arc.
BLURB: Do you know what happens to ghosts in London?
A girl with a monster in her shadow. A warlock believed dead four years ago. A werewolf outcast from the London packs.
Rob wants a good job, friends to head to the pub with and a solid cage to lock himself in three nights a month. Julian dropped off the face of the Earth four years ago. He’s back and trying to figure out what living looks like. Together they will face the deadliest of threats hidden in one of the oldest cities in the world.
Fiona has a monster in her shadow but she doesn’t know how it got there. A creature in the shape of a man is on her trail and he knows things about Fiona she doesn’t know herself. Her ten year old sister Jessica can build machines that defy the known laws of physics. Accompanied by a brass tortoise and a glass-feathered raven, Jessica will help Fiona unravel the web of lies that surrounds them both.
And beneath their feet the plague dead of centuries stir in their graves, waiting for the spell that holds them to break…
REVIEW: The thing about urban fantasy that sets it apart, is that it is generally set in a contemporary landscape – usually a city – and then peopled with otherworldly creatures. So a lot of the pleasure is derived from seeing our everyday settings collide with something other. I was immediately held by Cunningham’s opening sequence with Julian in the London Underground, which was very well done. Anyone who has ever stood on a crowded platform waiting for the train to come could visualise only too well how events unspooled. And that repeated question of Julian’s – Do you know what happens to ghosts in London? – was also nicely handled. Too much and that shiver of horror would have disappeared…
Initially, I was a bit fed up when I realised we wouldn’t be in Julian’s head throughout. But I soon found that I had no trouble bonding with the other protagonists, even when I wasn’t fully aware of what was going on. There’s plenty of tension in this urban fantasy adventure, which makes the sudden outbreaks of rather gory violence seem even more shocking. Underneath the bustling normality of London is a brutal world where mages, vampyres and shapeshifters jostle for power and far too often treat the rest of us as recreation and/or fodder. And in a stunning coincidence, Hawthorn House is where a number of these remarkable people pitch up. I liked all the protagonists, but I particularly bonded with poor old Rob, who just wants a nice normal life, where he rubs along with his work mates and can enjoy a night out down at the pub. Somehow, this never quite happens as all sorts of other distractions get in the way.
The rising tension was well paced and I loved a particular vampyre attack – and what happens to the van, afterwards. As with many urban fantasy tales, there are enjoyable shafts of humour that prevent it becoming too grim, which didn’t prevent the stakes rising such that I found this one difficult to put down as it reached its climax. Overall, this was a thoroughly entertaining read – and the good news is that there are two other books and a number of shorter stories already published in the Hawthorn House series. And I’ll certainly be tucking into them in the near future. While I obtained an arc of Ghost Electricity from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
It was the premise of this one that caught my eye. Having been a huge fan of the TV series MASH back in the 1970s, seeing references to Hawkeye and Hot Lips stopped me in my tracks. And then it was a no-brainer to pick this one up.
BLURB:Ancient gods. Modern war. And a star-crossed couple who could use some divine intervention.
The day I was drafted into the army of the gods, all I knew about being a MASH surgeon was what I’d learned from Hawkeye Pierce and Hot Lips Houlihan. Now here I am, Dr. Petra Robichaud, in the middle of an immortal war, assigned to a MASH camp with a nosy sphinx, a vegetarian werewolf, and an uptight vampire who really needs to get a life. At least they’re all too busy with their own dramas to discover my secret: I can see the dead. It’s a forbidden gift, one that can get me killed, so I haven’t told a soul.
Until the arrestingly intense Galen arrives on my operating table, half-dead and totally to-die-for. When his spirit tries to slip out of his fatally wounded body, I impulsively slip it back in. Call it a rash resurrection. One I’ll live to regret…
REVIEW: This is definitely a quirky, unusual fantasy book, set within a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital where Petra Robichaud works as a surgeon. The catch is that the MASH unit is located near a tarpit in Limbo and the war is a never-ending one. A fair number of the patients they are treating are immortal, which poses its own problems, apparently. If you don’t get to them quickly, bones set at wrong angles and massive injuries can have organs healing into peculiar shapes, or unable to function exactly as they were intended. Such is the life of a surgeon dealing with immortals, among other types of soldiers…
She shares her tent with a depressed werewolf, who is missing his family horribly and a perpetually annoyed vampire, who gets very fed up when he emerges from his coffin to discover his cuff links have been used to fix a tear in the canvas. As in the old TV show, while the overall setting has the capacity to be utterly grim, the madcap humour the medics use to keep themselves sane is used within this book. Fox has re-issued this one to feature more on the humour – and I think her instincts were spot on. I couldn’t have got to the end if it had been a miserable ansty read, all about Petra’s personal tragedy.
As it is, we learn what makes her quite so grouchy about two-thirds through what is essentially a romance. Though the ongoing story of the war and the big game-changer that suddenly makes it far more critical to be on the winning side does play a major part in the ongoing narrative. Overall, I enjoyed the originality of the story and I thought that most of the time, the developing love story was handled well, though towards the end it did get just a tad mushy for my taste. But bear in mind, I generally enjoy my romances as a side dish, rather than the main course. Recommended for fantasy fans looking for something a bit different. While I obtained an arc of The Monster MASH from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
I love the cover on this book and, craving something with plenty of humour, I requested it, hoping for mayhem and nonsense in amongst the whodunit…
BLURB: Toni Windsor is trying to live a quiet life in the green and pleasant county of Staffordshire. She’d love to finally master the rules of croquet, acquire a decent boyfriend and make some commission as an estate agent. All that might have to wait, though, because there are zombies rising from their graves, vampires sneaking out of their coffins and a murder to solve. And it’s all made rather more complicated by the fact that she’s the one raising all the zombies. Oh, and she’s dating one of the vampires too. Really, what’s a girl meant to do?
REVIEW: The strapline for this one is: Agatha Raisin meets Sookie Stackhouse, with croquet and zombies. And it’s spot on. Toni is a quirkier, younger version of Agatha, while the paranormal backdrop, though firmly set in rural England, is peopled with characters that wouldn’t look out of place in the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries. There is also a similar amount of heat in Grave Secrets as in Charlaine Harris’s books, which means that while it is considerably less explicit than the HBO True Blood series – it still contains several raunchy scenes. This isn’t usually an ingredient I look for in my reads, but it’s done well. Toni’s strong attraction to Oscar is convincingly portrayed – along with her ongoing concerns about his suitability, until she sees him again when once again, she’s swept off her feet.
But what really beguiled me is the strong first-person voice. A breezy, generally can-do attitude, combined with a sharp-edged Brit humour that had me sniggering throughout and a couple of times made me laugh aloud. The vampires are suitably arrogant and entitled, so no surprises there – though I also like the fact that they come in shades of nastiness and some make a real effort to be more caring of the humans in their coterie. I also really like Toni’s relationship with Peter, the other human who is in Oscar’s coterie. James has the ability to write her characters with warmth along with the snarky humour, so it didn’t descend into an adventure where poor put-upon Toni is ranged against all the powerful nasties without any help. To counter-balance the vile behaviour of the antagonists, there are also a number of people happy to assist Toni.
Another plus point – the fact that Toni is a necromancer, who has been raising the dead since a small child. They are normally portrayed as chilling creatures, whose repellent habits make them as unwholesome as the zombies they create – so Toni’s portrayal as a bubbly, impetuous young woman full of strong views on what is Right and Wrong comes as an enjoyable change. As you may have gathered – I was charmed by this one, so I’m very much looking forward to reading the next book in the series. While I obtained an arc of Grave Secrets from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10 10.8.20
is is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
This last week has been intense – up until Thursday, we had temperatures into the 90s. And while I’m aware many of you reading this are regularly used to such weather, this is the first time EVER in the UK that we have had such a run of days when the weather was so blisteringly hot. We simply aren’t equipped to deal with these conditions. I didn’t particularly suffer, but then I’m living in the wrong part of the world, anyway. However, on Tuesday evening my daughter phoned, sounding dreadful. She was suffering with a severe stomach upset and asked if I could do a spot of shopping and then come up on Wednesday to help her look after the children. The drive was a shocker as there were roadworks and it took me over two hours to get to her house, which was unbearably hot, as their conservatory acted as a heat sink. The children were so very good, given they’d been confined to the house for the past several days and were far too hot. It was lovely to see them and I was able to give my daughter a bit of a break.
Finally, on Thursday we had some rain, thankfully avoiding the violent thunderstorms that have hit other parts of the country, causing power cuts and flash flooding and the temperature dropped to the 70s – far more tolerable, even though it was a tad sticky. And there it has stayed, until today where it is now in the high 60s. I’m glad to see the rain, as the countryside was starting to look desiccated and part of our ivy hedge at the front is now dying☹. Rebecca also reported that she was feeling a lot better, so we came to the conclusion that it was heat exhaustion causing her illness. My photos today feature the late summer flowers now blooming in the garden.
am now smitten with a summer cold – it definitely isn’t COVID-19 as I just have a streaming nose and slight sore throat. But I feel wiped out and a bit fed up. Thank goodness I have a pile of wonderful books to get through and Upload to binge-watch.
Last week I read: Chasing the Shadows – Book 2 of the Sentinels of the Galaxy by Maria V. Snyder Okay, so I only died for sixty-six seconds. But when I came back to life, I got a brand new name and a snazzy new uniform. Go me! Seriously, though, it’s very important that Lyra Daniels stays dead, at least as far as my ex-friend Jarren, the murdering looter, knows. While dying is the scariest thing that’s happened to me, it morphed my worming skills. I can manipulate the Q-net like never before. But Jarren has blocked us from communicating with the rest of the galaxy and now they believe we’ve gone silent, like Planet Xinji (where silent really means dead).
A Protector Class spaceship is coming to our rescue, but we still have to survive almost two years before they arrive – if they arrive at all. Until then, we have to figure out how to stop an unstoppable alien threat. And it’s only a matter of time before Jarren learns I’m not dead and returns to finish what he started. There’s no way I’m going to let Jarren win. Instead I’ll do whatever it takes to save the people I love. But even I’m running out of ideas… A thoroughly enjoyable continuation of this YA sci fi adventure, I really like Lyra’s chirpy can-do attitude. Review to follow.
Grave Secrets – Book 1 of the Lavington Windsor Mysteries by Alice James Agatha Raisin meets Sookie Stackhouse, with croquet and zombies. Toni Windsor is trying to live a quiet life in the green and pleasant county of Staffordshire. She’d love to finally master the rules of croquet, acquire a decent boyfriend and make some commission as an estate agent.
All that might have to wait, though, because there are zombies rising from their graves, vampires sneaking out of their coffins and a murder to solve. And it’s all made rather more complicated by the fact that she’s the one raising all the zombies. Oh, and she’s dating one of the vampires too. Really, what’s a girl meant to do? This funny and rather gory urban fantasy romp does exactly what it says on the strapline – Toni is a younger version of Agatha, facing vampires that wouldn’t look out of place in a Sookie Stackhouse novel. Review to follow.
NOVELLA Silver in the Wood – Book 1 of The Greenhollow Duology by Emily Tesh There is a Wild Man who lives in the deep quiet of Greenhollow, and he listens to the wood. Tobias, tethered to the forest, does not dwell on his past life, but he lives a perfectly unremarkable existence with his cottage, his cat, and his dryads.
When Greenhollow Hall acquires a handsome, intensely curious new owner in Henry Silver, everything changes. Old secrets better left buried are dug up, and Tobias is forced to reckon with his troubled past—both the green magic of the woods, and the dark things that rest in its heart. This is a poetic and enchanting tale with some interesting twists I didn’t see coming. Mini-review to follow.