Egyptian Enigma – LJM Owen

egyptian enigma cover

“Sipping a glass of hot apple tea, Dr Elizabeth Pimms watched dawn flow over the desert, blushing shades and grey shadows shifting and merging until they coalesced into the vast Pyramids of Giza.”

Tomb robbers and over-enthusiastic early archaeologists weren’t the only dangers to Egypt’s ancient mummies. Pharaohs rewrote history to remove their predecessors, and then stories of female pharaohs were discounted when it didn’t suit the prevailing social norms. Which only makes the mysteries that much harder to decipher.

I’ve missed a couple of books introducing Dr Elizabeth Pimms, the young Australian Egyptologist. That didn’t seem to matter too much – although I could tell when references to previous events were being made, without it impacting too much on the plot here – as it was easy enough to pick up with the story. Past events have led Elizabeth to a quieter-than-planned career as a librarian and tutor, so when she spots some strange markings on a papyrus during a trip to her beloved Egypt, she jumps at the chance to begin an investigation into the ‘Golden Tomb’ and the unidentified mummies that were discovered there.

Interspersed with Elizabeth’s modern archaeology – 3D printers are fabulous! – we get chapters told from the point of view of Tausret, the last pharaoh of the 19th dynasty – and a woman!

I do have a bit of a liking for ancient cultures such as Egypt, and a growing fondness for ‘cosy mysteries’, so I thought I’d give this NetGalley opportunity a go – and ended up gulping it down! The mix of real history – Tausret is real, the Golden Tomb is fictional – and a little insight into amateur archaeology in the technology age was a great mix.

The story is rounded out by various threads about Elizabeth’s friends and family – this is probably the bit most impacted by not reading the first two books, and indeed I’ve probably spoiled the plot to one of those by starting here. Still, the multicultural grandparentage was rather interesting, and I’m also a huge foodie so the descriptions of Chinese, French, and Welsh feasts was rather mouth watering!

Despite those bits, I would offer a warning over some of the ‘cosy’ status: I really shouldn’t have looked up ‘scaphism’ aka death by milk and honey before trying to sleep o_O

Overall: a fairly light yet involving read that moved at a good pace. I am deducting a mark, however, as the biggest non-Mummy mystery is left as a huge cliff-hanger – this isn’t  a stand-alone read, alas!

NetGalley eARC: 384 pages / 20 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth book 3
Read from 9th-13th March 2018

My rating: 7/10


Places in the Darkness – Christopher Brookmyre

places in the darkness cover

“‘Consciousness Does Not Exist,’ says Mehmet.”

Ciudad de Cielo, the city in the sky, abbreviated to CdC and pronounced ‘Seedee’. And this is the story of the seedy underbelly of what is meant to be a shining beacon for humanity’s future in the stars.

We alternate chapters from the point of view of two characters: Nikki ‘Fixx’, an ex-LA cop now Seedee security and not adverse to a backhander or eight. And Alice Blake: the new head of everything, here to root out corruption, about to get her eyes opened to the true extent of the issue.

All of which would be hard enough on both women, without the skinned corpse floating in a research lab…

I have slightly mixed feelings about this book. It’s a little heavy on the exposition of the sci-fi stuff, I thought, perhaps showing the author’s relative inexperience with the genre over the mystery and crime elements of the plot. I’ve read and enjoyed some of Christopher Brookmyre’s earlier work, and sci-fi is my favourite genre, so it was a little disappointing that the two didn’t gel a little better.

That said, the world that is created here is well thought out and reasonably immersive, and the eventual plot twists weren’t what I was expecting – they were better! I did think the attempts at setting red herrings along the way were a little too obvious, but when the final reveal happened I was suitably impressed.

Hardback: 403 pages / 72 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: none
Read from 26th February – 6th March 2018

My rating: 7/10

Provenance – Ann Leckie

provenance cover

“‘There were unexpected difficulties,’ said the dark gray blur.”

Set not long after Ancillary Mercy, but following new characters, Provenance is a chance to look at a part of that universe outside Radch space. We follow Ingray, a foster-daughter of an important ‘politician’, trying to prove herself worthy of – literally – her mother’s name. Driven to extremes to beat her golden-boy brother, engineering a prison break – from an impossible-to-escape prison – is only the first step and she’s soon caught up in intrigue that affects at least three species and which may threaten her entire world’s sense of identity.

The Ancillary trilogy was on my top reads of last year, and I was hugely excited to revisit the universe. Of course, with such a background, it was always going to be tough for this to live up to – and for me, it doesn’t quite hit it. And yet, it’s still a good book – comparisons can be killer! o_O

Ingray is okay as a main character, but to be honest she’s a bit, well… teenage? Prone to tears and a bit bumbling, she’s at the same time refreshingly different from the ‘strong female lead’, and somehow displaying a quieter strength even as you think she’s a bit lost. The story is a lot about politicking and jostling for position, and the weird ways in which we ‘prove’ our worth, which is made about as interesting as it can be but still feels a little small in comparison to some of the events of the previous books – even when we start bringing in intergalactic peace treaties.

So, while very very well-written, and still pretty fascinating, this is more of a “aren’t some alien species funny?” kind of a tale, not quite played for laughs but almost, rather than anything like a typical space-opera. It doesn’t hurt Leckie’s reputation one jot, but I did find myself thinking this was more of a ‘message’ book than a riveting story that needed telling, at times.

Hardback: 438 pages / 20 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: set in Imperial Radch universe, but not part of Ancillary series
Read from 18th February 2018

My rating: 8/10

The Dresden Files: Dog Men – Jim Butcher

dresden files dog men cover

“Get up, Dresden.”

(Story by Mark Powers, Art by Diego Galindo)

The Dresden Files is one of my all-time favourite series, but it’s been a long wait since the last novel. So, despite not being a huge fan of graphic novels, I absolutely jumped at the chance to nab a copy of this. I hadn’t even known that there was a canon-approved series of graphic novels, but you don’t need to have read the rest before this – or even the main series, really, but why wouldn’t you?

“I was ready. I was confident. Usually that means I was f-‘ed.”

Harry Dresden is asked by senior Council member, Listens-to-Winds, to accompany him on a case. Of course, it’s as much a ruse to get Harry away from his self-recrimination and nightmares, although it says a lot when a grisly murder scene and some non-human monsters are less bad than his nightmares!

The artwork here is pretty good, but given my previous attempts with the format were the gorgeously illustrated Sandman set, this was unlikely to compete. In fairness, some of the bigger ‘location’ panels are great, but I wasn’t desperately impressed with the depiction of Harry himself – limitations of any pictorial adaptation of a series, your readers have their own mental images!

The character still comes across exactly as he does in the main books, though – all pop culture and offbeat humour, offsetting the rage and fearsome power. The story is fairly slight, with rather two-dimensional supporting characters, and a little heavy on the lessons for our hero. Still, while we’re waiting impatiently for the next novel in the series, it was really nice to check back in again with the best wizard called Harry 😉

NetGalley eARC: 146 pages / 6 issues
First published: 2018
Series: Dresden Files graphic novels book 7 (collection of issues 1-6)
Read from 3rd-18th February 2018

My rating: 7/10

The Cat of the Baskervilles – Vicki Delany

cat of the baskervilles cover

“The footsteps of a gigantic hound!”

I’m still enjoying my occasional dips into cosy mysteries set in bookshops or libraries, and it was nice to be able to nab a copy of the third installment of this series, from NetGalley. We first met Gemma Doyle – no relation to author Sir Arthur however much her own uncle Arthur would like to claim – in Elementary, She Read and then Body on Baker Street. Londoner Gemma has moved to the picturesque seaside town of Cape Cod, North America, following the break up of her marriage. She now runs a Sherlock Holmes-themed bookstore, with her best friend Jayne managing the coffee shop next door. She’s got a tangled past with the local police force, as her powers of deduction rival those of the great detective himself – unfortunately making it look like she might have just a little too much information about various crimes.

In this third installment, Gemma’s determined not to get involved in yet another mystery – but of course, it wouldn’t be much of a story unless she does! So when a once-famous actor arrives to play Holmes in an amateur production of Hound of the Baskervilles, the in-fighting of the theatre crowd stirs up something quite deadly…

This was a very quick and easy read, and enjoyable enough, but perhaps not quite as good as the first two in the series. I did think for a little while that the plot from the previous book was being recycled, but things are changed up ‘enough’. I wasn’t entirely sure I was okay with Gemma’s meddling being borderline criminal, right enough! There is a bit of progress on the personal lives side of the stories, but this is kept to background material rather than overwhelming the main plot and mystery.

Book four is due out in the autumn, and I think I’m glad about that – while at the same time hoping the author isn’t rushing too many of these out at the expense of quality.

NetGalley eARC: 304 pages / 16 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery book 3
Read from 11th-14th February 2018

My rating: 6/10

The Crystal Skull – Manda Scott

crystal skull cover

“Because it was her wedding gift, Stella came first out of the tunnel.”

Back when this was written, the impending doom of the end of the Mayan calendar on December 31st 2012 was still a ‘thing’. Add in myths surrounding thirteen crystal skulls possibly having the power to avert the supposed end of the world, and everything lines up for a Da Vinci Code-style thriller. As the final ingredient, though, let’s have a much better author, known for writing rather good historical fiction (e.g. Boudica: Dreaming the Eagle).

And so we swap between two timelines. The ‘present day’ (2007) when Stella and new hubby, Kit, discover the long-lost ‘heart stone’ in a cave no one else has seen in centuries. Legend has it that every holder of the skull-stone has died – so perhaps they shouldn’t be surprised that they’re soon caught up in something altogether less academic.

Jump back, then, to the time of Nostradamus and Queen Elizabeth, conquistadors ‘discovering’ the New World, and the latest in a long line of skull-keepers, Cedric Owen. Charged to fulfil his and the skull’s destiny, Owen’s chapters slowly reveal answers to some of the puzzles set in the modern section of the story, and do more than hint at some of the more fantastical aspects of the skull.

I started out fairly enjoying this book, liking the mix of thriller and history. But as the storylines progress, I lost interest. Things are all ‘because prophecy’ and mystic guidance, which is rarely fulfilling. The characters become increasingly DVC-ish-ly flat, and as the whole pitch of the ‘2012 end of the world doom’ ramps up, it feels more and more ridiculous reading it in 2018 – which shouldn’t matter. The final couple of chapters are particularly a let-down, which doesn’t help my rating at all.

It’s not the worse thing I’ve read, by a long shot, but it’s just too meh to be recommendable at all, and my copy will be in a charity shop near you me soon.

Paperback: 544 pages / 34 chapters
First published: 2008
Series: none
Read from 24th January – 13th February 2018

My rating: 4/10

Paris Adrift – EJ Swift

paris adrift cover

“The anomaly is waiting.”

Running away from her old life and old sense of self, Hallie lands in Paris and Millie’s bar. Surrounded by other travellers and misfits, it’s the closest Hallie has felt to home in a long time – until, that is, she stumbles through a time portal in the basement. At first terrified, then obsessed, can Hallie retain her sense of self as she is drawn again and again to explore the past of this city she has grown to love?

I was fantastically intrigued by the description of this book, and, for a large part, it does deliver. Despite the time travel elements, this isn’t really a science fiction kind of a novel. It’s borderline on ‘New Adult’ (YA, but a little older?) or even – eeep! – a bit of romance. And, especially by the end, it’s a lot about self-discovery, but in a very good way – in fact, the closing epilogue-y chapter gained this back a few points for me.

Because, while it’s well-written, and intriguing, and definitely has some cool ideas, there was also just something that didn’t quite click here for me. I’m not entirely sure what. Perhaps I’m just too old and un-travelled to have been quite as swept up by the whole life-in-Paris side, which I’d been hoping to find more evocative. Or perhaps I’ve just read too much time-travel to not find a few too many loose ends with the storyline. Or, there’s just not quite enough of any of these elements pushing through the mix.

Whatever didn’t quite satisfy me, I’d still cautiously recommend this book. Full marks for being something a bit different, and while not living up to The Time Traveler’s Wife (one of my favourites!), it might still appeal to fans of that.

NetGalley eARC: 320 pages / 47 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: none
Read from 2nd-11th February 2018

My rating: 7/10