Lost and Found – Orson Scott Card

lost and found cover

“Ezekiel Blast liked to walk to school alone.”

Ezekiel Bliss has an unusual ‘gift’: he is aware of lost objects around him, and has an urge to return them to their owners. Sounds useful, right? But who wants a stranger approaching them with a muddy scrunchie? And if someone approaches you with a valuable, lost item, how else could they have known it was yours unless they’d been the one to take it, right?

Shunned and mistrustful, Ezekiel plods through life as best he can, until the day a girl decides she’s going to walk to school with him. Soon they pair are caught up in a kidnapping case, and part of a research group looking into ‘micropowers’ – things like Ezekiel’s finding ability.

I’ll start by saying this: Lost and Found has nothing in common with OSC’s most famous work, Ender’s Game. The sci-fi element is as low-key as the micropowers being used and investigated, with the plot being centred more around the group – Ezekiel, Beth, FBI Agent Shank, and Mr Bliss – being pulled into the search for a missing child. However, the story is probably more about relationships and loss, and navigating life when you’re a bit too different.

I didn’t really know what to expect, and overall I wasn’t entirely blown away by the mystery or world-building – micropowers are interesting, but they aren’t really explained or deeply explored beyond being the central plot device. But I was sucked into the story almost from the get-go, mainly by the dialogue-driven character interactions. I liked that the grown ups are pulled into the quest, it’s not just the kids. And those kids are smart and self-deprecating, very not-annoying!

Overall, a decent read – nothing earth-shattering, but held my interest despite feeling vaguely familiar, either plot-wise or maybe just in tone – I couldn’t put my finger on it. But while I’m not branding it a ‘must-read’, it won’t disappoint if you do find yourself picking it up.

NetGalley eARC: 288 pages / 21 chapters
First published: 10th September 2019
Series: none
Read from 27th-31st August 2019

My rating: 7/10

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Buried in the Stacks – Allison Brook

buried in the stacks cover

“‘The blue-cheese burger and fries are calling to me, but I’m going with a small salad, no bread,’ Angela said, looking up from the lunch menu with a sigh.”

Librarian Carrie Singleton is once more caught up in a murder mystery, following the events in Death Overdue and Read and Gone. This time, though, she might also get to the bottom of what happened to Evelyn, the library’s ghost.

The homeless of the town have started to use the library as a warm shelter during the cold days. When this causes troubles with other patrons, Carrie finds herself helping out with an ambitious project to refurbish an old house as a refuge. But is the project as above-board as it seems? Could the death of a local resident be connected? And can Carrie curb her sleuthing ways long enough to stay out of danger?

The answer to that last question is a resounding no, and that’s maybe the big irritation here. If someone had broken into my house and left threatening messages, I might be looking to take a holiday – not still poking my nose into shady situations!

Still, plot needs must, I suppose, and Carrie continues to investigate while otherwise leading her normal life: planning library events, eating a lot of avocado, getting her boyfriend to move back to town, and helping her best friend plan her wedding. And looking after a cat, of course! The charming normality is layered on quite thick, but that’s what makes a cosy mystery.

Points off, however, that the mystery is wrapped up rather abruptly and in a very trope-y confession scene. So, enjoy the pleasant meander through Carrie’s life again, but don’t expect too much of a thriller.

NetGalley eARC: 316 pages / 38 chapters
First published: 10th September 2019
Series: Haunted Library Mystery book 3
Read from 3rd-10th September 2019

My rating: 6.5/10

Mythologica – Stephen P Kershaw

An Encyclopedia of Gods, Monsters and Mortals from Ancient Greece.

“Myths are important. Greek myths are much more than children’s stories… They might, or might not, be true, but this doesn’t take away their power. They are traditional tales that are incredibly important to the people who tell them. But they are also free-flowing, adaptable, and very good for us to think about. They help us to understand the world.”

I absolutely adore Greek mythology, so even though this is marketed as a kids’ book, it still caught my eye. And how would it not – have you seen the artwork!?

mythologica_argosThe modern, abstract style is beyond eye-catching. It’s not something I’d associate with a book for children, but hey – what do I know? I loved it myself, although I did wonder if some – like the picture of Argos covered in eyes would perhaps be a little scary for younger kids.

I don’t think this is for too young an audience, to be honest, although that’s more to do with the myths than the language. The latter is fairly dumbed-down – I was particularly unimpressed with Athena being “totally awesome in battle” *eye roll* – but you might struggle to explain why Zeus married his sister, for instance.

The text was a bit of a let down after the art, with the briefest of bios on fifty various characters from the Greek pantheon and myths. Each gets just one page, meaning they are often quite ‘busy’. There’s perhaps an overdose of different fonts used trying to separate out various snippets of text, but again, perhaps this would be ‘exciting’ to a childish eye?

But, back to that artwork. It’s so refreshing, so challenging from any other Greek myth artwork I’ve seen. I’m feeling very inspired – and I’d grab a ‘coffee table book’ version of this for that alone!

NetGalley eARC: 112 pages
First published: 3rd September 2019
Series: none
Finished reading: 1st September 2019

My rating: 7/10

The Muse in You – Lynn Newman

The Muse in You cover

“Over a period of only a few years, my parents both died of cancer, I had four miscarriages, my husband and I divorced after seven years of marriage, and my dog, Lita, of sixteen years, died too.”

It took me quite a while to get into this book, and while I grew to rather like it almost despite itself, overall that shaky start and general tone still left me just a little ‘hmm’.

What I liked: the holistic, all-life-is-creative approach; the lists of ‘what if’ questions to shake you out of your mindset (e.g. “What if you delighted in the uncertainty?”, “Could you still better yourself without any pressure?”); the honesty and friendliness of the author; the gentle, musing tone (as a memoir).

Not quite so keen on the personal therapy session that a lot of the narrative felt like, especially to begin with, as the author detailed deaths and marriage break ups and failure to have children. Now, this is entirely personal: for some, this raw honesty is going to be a huge selling point. But I felt that it crossed the line just a little – it was a fascinating read as a memoir, but didn’t add to my experience with the book as a self-help, rediscovering my creativity aid, which is more what I was looking for. In fact, picking out the advice from the life stories isn’t always easy, and I was a good chunk of the way through the book before I hit a bit and thought “Finally! A chapter actually on creativity!”

Part-way through I finally realised that this reads a great deal like a Julia Cameron book, e.g. The Artists Way. It’s very readable, flowing very well. I did enjoy it, but almost despite itself as it wasn’t what I was expecting, really. There is a message: creativity is life, and hard times don’t have to stop you, or perhaps even that life is short and full of difficult things so take joy in creating.

NetGalley eARC: 176 pages
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 9th July – 27th August 2019

My rating: 7/10

The Trials of Morrigan Crow – Jessica Townsend

Trials of Morrigan Crow cover

“The journalists arrived before the coffin did.”

Morrigan Crow has a miserable childhood. She’s a ‘cursed child’, doomed to die on her eleventh birthday and bringing dreadful luck to those around her until that day. Her family keep their distance, leaving her feeling more than a little unloved.

Events transpire, however, to save her – hardly a spoiler, that the main character doesn’t die at the start, even if we do begin with a funeral! – and she finds herself in the strange land of Nevermoor. She’s entered into the annual competition to join the Wundrous Society – except, the lucky few must pass four trials, the last of which is to display a ‘knack’, a gift better than anyone else’s. And Morrigan does not have a knack…

I know I’m older than the target audience for this book, and yet it perfectly hits the sweet spot of whimsical but not talking down to the audience, making it perfect for grown ups, too. In fact, I loved it. There are nods to all sorts of possible inspirations – from Narnia to Doctor Who – but it’s brought together very nicely. Nevermoor is somewhere I’d like to visit, and sign me up for a room that alters itself to match moods.

The story of Morrigan’s trials (not quite Hunger Games level, don’t worry!) is perhaps less original than it could be, but again it’s told well. The mystery of her missing ‘knack’ is maintained throughout, keeping you guessing. The rivalry with the nasty girl is a bit of a cliche, but y’know what? It’s overall sweet and uplifting and entertaining, and well worth the read by kids of any age!

NetGalley eARC: 513 pages / 26 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: Nevermoor book 1
Read from 17th-26th August 2019

My rating: 9/10

The Scarlet Pimpernel – Emmuska Orczy

scarlet pimpernel cover

“A surging, seething, murmuring crowd, of beings that are human only in name, for to the eye and ear they seem naught but savage creatures, animated by vile passions and by the lust of vengeance and of hate.”

During the French revolution, c1792, a band of English noblemen make daring raids across the channel to save French aristocrats from Madame la Guillotine. This group is led by the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel, so known from the picture of the small, wayside flower symbol his communications are signed with.

When Marguerite Blakeney, a French actress recently married to Sir Percy Blakeney, is approached by the Revolutionist, Chauvelin, her quiet life of parties and spending money is thrown upside down. For, Chauvelin has proof that her beloved brother, Armand, is in league with the Pimpernel. And so Marguerite is tasked with aiding in the unmasking of France’s great enemy, or her brother will meet Mme la Guillotine instead!

The author’s title, Baroness Orczy, is a good clue that her sympathies lie with the aristocrats and not (see the opening line) the plebian pursuit of ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’.

My own interest comes from the 1982 movie, staring Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour, which I absolutely loved as a kid. It’s hard not to make comparisons: indeed, from what I can remember the stories are very similar. However, while the movie focuses on the action and daring of the Pimpernel more, the book is told largely from the point of view of Marguerite. Although dragged into the plots, she’s still more of a bystander, and the action levels suffer for that.

Instead, this book is a romance with a bit of adventure thrown in. That’s not awful, but I think I mostly enjoyed picturing the actors and remembering scenes from the movie, more than the actual read. And, I’m very glad that the absolutely awful anti-semitism towards the end was left out of the movie!

As a story, there’s a lot here to like – as well as a lot that requires eye-rolling suspension of disbelief – but I have to suggest that the original text maybe didn’t tell it quite at its best. SerialReader was an excellent way to make it more palatable, though, and I rather enjoyed my daily chapters. I could quite fancy digging out a copy of the film version now… !

SerialReader: 321 pages / 31 chapters
First published: 1905
Series: Scarlet Pimpernel book 1
Read from 10th July – 10th August 2019

My rating: 6/10

The Sword Saint – CF Iggulden

sword saint cover

“The boy crouched on a ledge, resting his chin on his knees, eyes bright as he watched the old priest pass below.”

I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in this series, Darien and Shiang, although felt that there was so much more to be explained about all the wondrous things: the powerful stones held by the ruling families of Darien, the few individuals with special abilities, and how the geography might or might not fit with our world as their history. Alas, the series closes out with few answers – and yet it’s still one hell of a ride!

The second book threw me a little, switching cities and focus (at least to begin with), so one of the things I loved here was seeing all those threads from the first and second books pulled together. Truly, this trilogy is meant to be read as a whole, not individual chapters.

We’re back in Darien for the finale, and a new neighbouring king looking to make a trade deal – or, is that really what’s going on? As names start to feel familiar from the prologue, we’re left to wonder just what was being guarded by a priest.

There are a few victories and a few heartbreaking defeats as we follow our band of misfits one last time. It might have been nice to learn more about all the ideas, but perhaps it’s all best shrouded in mystery as we enjoy the series’ final battles.

Start with Darien – but do start!

NetGalley eARC: 384 pages / 26 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: Empire of Salt book 3 (of 3)
Read from 31st July – 8th August 2019

My rating: 9/10