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

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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

Foul Play on Words – Becky Clark

foul play on words cover

“Waiting for someone to pick you up at the airport is like being forced to be eight years old again.”

Fiction Can Be Murderthe first book in the Mystery Writer’s Mystery series, introduced us to Charlemagne (Charlee) Russo, the mystery writer in question, after her unpleasant agent is found murdered.

Book two picks up a few months later, with Charlee due to speak at a writer’s conference organised by her friend, Viv. However, she instead finds herself in charge of organising the whole about-to-be fiasco, as Viv is a little more concerned with the kidnapping of her daughter! Can Charlee juggle hotel cock-ups, double booked doggies, and dark suspicions?

I hadn’t been completely enthralled with the first book, but this one feels like an improvement. Certainly, I was kept guessing as to which way the plot was going to turn. Charlee is reasonably relatable here, trying to help in awful circumstances, and behaving in a pretty plausible way – not often the case in such books!

I enjoyed the easy, mostly fun read and the not entirely obvious twists and turns. The ending is perhaps a little weak, but more in terms of how we get to the big reveal rather than the solution itself.

I was unsure about continuing with this series after book one, but after this instalment I’d be happy enough to continue.

NetGalley eARC: 257 pages / 19 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: A Mystery Writer’s Mystery book 2
Read from ?-24th July 2019

My rating: 6.5/10

In the Hand of the Goddess – Tamora Pierce

in the hand of the goddess cover

“The copper-haired rider looked at the black sky and swore.”

If you read my review of Alanna, the first book in this series, you’ll know that I’ve waited several decades (!) to find out what happened to Alanna after those first adventures. So, was it worth the wait?

Usual warning: just mentioning a character in book 2 might be classed as a spoiler as to who survives book 1. Continue at your own peril 😉

Following on from the first book, Alanna’s secret is now known by a few, but all are sworn to keep quiet while she continues in her quest to become a knight. The final test – the Ordeal – is weighing heavy on her mind. Then there’s their new magic tutor – Jon’s cousin, Roger. He’s handsome and charming – and for some reason Alanna cannot stand him. Even if her suspicions are correct, what if anything can she do about them?

I’m kind of glad I didn’t read this back in the day, at the same time as Alanna. It continues the story, but at the same year-skipping pace, so we find our heroine going from child to pretty much an adult. With that creeps in romance – and although she swears she’s against it, there’s a fair amount of slightly creepy behavior from not one but two potential suitors.

So, not quite so much the kid’s book as the previous instalment, but then the writing style hasn’t updated. Big events are covered with a line or two, the plot drives forward in large chunks of time, and Alanna is still gifted and semi-revered, despite being a child amongst adults. Everything seems to be very easy for her.

I still enjoyed the light, easy read to a certain extent, and yes am glad to have finally moved on in the story. But, ho-hum, it’s not aged all that well and the problematic stuff just seems… off-putting. Still, book 3 purchased and I’ll go on.

Kindle: 233 pages / 10 chapters
First published: 1984
Series: The Song of the Lioness book 2 (of 4)
Read from 3rd-6th July 2019

My rating: 6/10

The Binding – Bridget Collins

binding cover

“When the letter came I was out in the fields, binding up my last sheaf of wheat with hands that were shaking so much I could hardly tie the knot.”

Imagine a world where you can have memories taken out of your head, bound into a book and no longer troubling you. Novels are merely cheap fakes, the real stories are people’s lives and will catch you up in their once-reality.

Emmett Farmer is recovering from a long, mysterious illness when he approached to be an apprentice to the local Binder. She teaches him how to make and cover books, each a work of art, but he still doesn’t understand what she does with the visitors who come asking for her help.

I really loved the idea of this world, the books that are so beautiful often housing very dark secrets. The sense of mystery in the opening chapters is just enough to hook you in, waiting to find out what’s going on.

Alas, once we’ve got the world building out of the way, the story takes a turn and I really wasn’t impressed. You have Binding and memory removal – and you turn it into a love story? Urgh. I am not a fan of romances, to be honest. And I’m increasingly not a fan of fantasy that picks up real-world prejudices. I’d rather read about worlds where it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, gay or straight, black or white. To have the whole story hinge on at least one of those being a Huge Bad Thing just soured it all for me.

That said, the writing is good, and the story is very well presented – although I did get confused, repeatedly, by the switch of first person point of view for the third part. Somehow that never quite clicked in my brain. Still, that it wasn’t the fantasy wonder I was hoping for didn’t stop me reading and enjoying what was there.

NetGalley eARC: 448 pages / 28 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 12th-30th June 2019

My rating: 6/10 – well enough written, but not my cuppa

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

dark phoenix poster

It’s been almost a decade (movie time) since the events of X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), and the mutants appear to be in a new phase of peace and understanding. Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has set up a sort of hippy commune for those who, like him, want to get away from the world, while Charles Xavier’s (James McAvoy) X-Men have new matching uniforms, a hotline to/from the President, and are ‘winning hearts and minds’ with risky rescue missions.

It’s interesting to see the trend of every other X-Men movie bucked, with the human world seemingly accepting of the super-powered. But to juxtapose that, we see increasing tensions within the group. Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) in particular is questioning Xavier’s MO, turning into quite the mother hen for the gang while he seems more obsessed with opinions.

When Charles pushes the group to risk themselves to save an astronaut, the ‘solar flare’ that obviously isn’t ends up being absorbed by Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). The already powerful psychic and telekinetic power she possesses is turned up way past 11, and the results are devastating.

So… the last outing for the newest group to play the X-Men, and we’re back with the story that got butchered at the end of the last lot’s run. Surely to goodness the filmmakers have lots of lessons learned?!

Ah… not so much. The ‘Dark Phoenix’ storyline is handled a bit better, yes, but overall the movie is just a bit too meh. The rift between Xavier and the others, the need to prove themselves again and again versus a wish to just live – all is touched on, but not really brought to much. Peace turns to rage in a heartbeat, not without reason, but just without the backdrop to wholly care.

Worst element is probably the new alien threat, led by Jessica Chastain, egging Jean Grey to embrace her worst side. I feel like we’ve missed a movie, or at least a huge chuck of backstory, as they just appear and do stuff to further the plot. And worse is the whole “They aren’t mutants” – urm, pretty sure they’d be lumped in with the rest, rather than humankind instantly recognising alien v mutant. Hmm.

Everything (except Mystique’s makeup, for some reason?) looks pretty cool, it’s not a bad movie, but to be honest it was just a bit disappointingly meh, story-wise. Not the triumphant bow-out that anyone would have wished for, by any means.

Released: 5th June 2019
Viewed: 15th June 2019
Running time: 113 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10

Urban Enemies- various

urban enemies cover

“Villains have all the fun – everyone knows that – and this anthology takes you on a wild ride through the dark side!”

The idea of this collection really appealed to me: a series of short stories set in ‘famous’ worlds, but giving the author a chance to explore the baddie’s point of view. I thought it’d be a good chance to explore some series that I haven’t yet tried, as well as a few that were familiar but from a very different angle.

Alas, it didn’t quite work out for me – as the very long gap in my reading probably shows! There’s nothing at all wrong with these stories, the writing is all very well done. However, not being familiar with most of the worlds being (re)visited here, I struggled to get in to many of the stories. They probably work very well if you’ve a familiarity with the series already, but the new-to-me and unusual viewpoints weren’t a great place to start.

The one series I am very au fait with would be the Dresden Files, but alas (again) this story didn’t do much for me. I know the characters, but the tale just didn’t grab me. I’d expected more, I think, as quite often the villains are if not the most then certainly often highly intriguing characters, but I just didn’t find myself hooked.

On the other hand, there were a few that worked despite my lack of prior knowledge. Seanan McGuire is an author I’ve been hearing great things about for a while, and her contribution here – paranormal creatures that look human but can make people do anything they want – did exactly what I expected this collection to do: made me want to reach for the main series.

Overall, there’s nothing bad about this anthology, and I’m a bit disappointed it didn’t click more with me. On the other hand, there are definitely some intriguing ideas here, including a pocket dimension that looks like a film back-lot, and a (I assume) fallen angel turned monster with a pretty good explanation even in such a short tale. If you’re familiar with any of the ‘worlds’ already then the alternate viewpoint could well be even more interesting.

The authors/series here are: Jim Butcher/Dresden Files, Kelley Armstrong/Cainsville, Seanan McGuire/October Daye, Kevin Hearn/The Iron Druid Chronicles, Jonathan Maberry/Joe Ledger, Lilith Saintcrow/Jill Kismet, Carrie Vaughn/Kitty Norville, Joseph Nassise/Templar Chronicles, Domino Finn/Black Magic Outlaw, Steven Savile/Glasstown, Caitlin Kittredge/Hellhound Chronicles, Jeffrey Somers/Ustari Cycle, Sam Witt/Pitchfork County, Craig Schaefer/Daniel Faust, Jon F Merz/Lawson Vampire, Faith Hunter/Jane Yellowrock, Diana Pharoah Francis/Horngate Witches.

NetGalley eARC: 448 pages / 17 stories
First published: 2017
Series: short stories from various SFF series
Read from 5th July 2017 – 12th June 2019 (put it down in the middle, for a loooong stretch!)

My rating: 6/10