SilverhillSilverhill
by Phyllis A. Whitney
Rating: ★★★★
Publication Date: May 1, 1969
Pages: 192
Genre: Suspense
Publisher: Fawcett Crest

From the day Malinda Rice first comes to Silverhill -- her mother's home -- her hope turns to fear. But she will not run. For the beauty of Silverhill's setting hides more than one family's secrets. And Malinda must fight for both her sanity and her life before she discovers the full, horrifying truth about the past evil and present terrors that may engulf her....


 

One of Whitney’s earlier publications, this one still has the intricate plotting and surprises that are missing in her later titles.  Conversely, it’s one of the less evocatively atmospheric of hers I’ve read so far.

The thing a reader has to accept about Whitney is that her whole raison d’être in writing was to thrust heroines into the most unwelcome home she could imagine and have her persevere in spite of all stumbling blocks.  It’s formulaic, definitely, but each of her earlier novels becomes unique in the setting, the secrets and the mystery.

Silverhill absolutely fits the Whitney formula, and it made me a bit impatient at the start as all the usual hurdles, cruelty and heartache were presented along with the future insta-love (these books were written in the 50’s and 60’s when apparently if it took you longer than 48 hours to decide you’d met your One True Love, you might as well not bother).

But one all of that was gotten through, the story was a surprise.  I thought I knew where it was going, and I was sort of right, but the salient detail of the whole thing blindsided me when it was revealed.  So much karma getting doled out to everyone.  And, of course, a happy ending for our heroine.

When a good Whitney comes along, they are a pure indulgence to a much more innocent, yet horrific, form of story telling for readers who like their suspense served in tandem with romance, and a touch of gothic for garnish.

Bewitched (Betwixt & Between, #2)

BewitchedBewitched
by Darynda Jones
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781734385229
Series: Betwixt & Between #2
Publication Date: September 15, 2020
Pages: 254
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Self-published

Forty-something Defiance Dayne only recently discovered she comes from a long line of powerful witches. Added to that was the teensy, infinitesimal fact that she is what’s called a charmling. One of three on the entire planet. And there are other witches who will stop at nothing to steal her immense power, which would basically involve her unfortunate and untimely death.

No one told her life after forty would mean having to learn new lifeskills—such as how to dodge supernatural assassins while casting from a moving vehicle—or that the sexiest man alive would be living in her basement.

Whoever said life begins at forty was clearly a master of the underappreciated and oft maligned understatement.


 

A pretty good follow up to book one after a rough start involving a heavy and silly dose of self denial on the part of the mc that fooled exactly no one.

Lots of heavy hints about upcoming darkness and drama, and a lot of unrelieved sexual tension for the mc and her romantic interest – which they deserve if they expected any privacy in the kitchen of a house with 4 other people wandering around in it.

In true Jones fashion, there’s no one story line, but rather multiple small things that happen and several resolutions brought about, some more exciting than others.  Defiances’ climbing of her personal learning curve might be a little conveniently easy, if for the author, if not herself, but given the publication time frame of these stories, it’s understandable, and the story works in spite of it as long as you aren’t looking for anything too meaty or involved.

I’m looking forward to book three and the chance to revisit the characters.

Betwixt (Betwixt & Between, #1)

BetwixtBetwixt
by Darynda Jones
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781734385243
Series: Betwixt & Between #1
Publication Date: February 15, 2020
Pages: 254
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Self-published

Forty-something Defiance Dayne only recently discovered she comes from a long line of powerful witches. Added to that was the teensy, infinitesimal fact that she is what’s called a charmling. One of three on the entire planet. And there are other witches who will stop at nothing to steal her immense power, which would basically involve her unfortunate and untimely death.

No one told her life after forty would mean having to learn new lifeskills—such as how to dodge supernatural assassins while casting from a moving vehicle—or that the sexiest man alive would be living in her basement.

Whoever said life begins at forty was clearly a master of the underappreciated and oft maligned understatement.


 

I heard about this one from a fellow reviewer, and being a big fan of Darynda Jones’ other work in paranormal stories, I bent so far as to buy the ebook, I was so eager to read it.

This is an easy to read, fun, well-written story of no immense depth, full of the wonderful narrative snark that Jones is brilliant at.  If you’ve read her before and didn’t care for the snark, this one won’t endear her to you, but it’s a lot of fun to read.

At its heart is the friendship between the main character Defiance and her BFF, Annette.  And, of course, the romantic interest that is Roane.  Jones tries really hard to make Roane not be Reyes from glorious Grim Reaper series, but while she succeeds at making him look different, a rose by any other name would still be Reyes.  The author definitely has a type.  Fortunately it works.

While book one is light on plot, focusing mostly on world and character building, I didn’t feel the lack.  These are characters I genuinely enjoyed reading about and their new life was interesting in itself.  The only complaint I had was the dangling storyline of the Ex.  His brief re-appearance was unnecessary, made more so by the complete lack of follow up.  It feels like something an editor forgot to take out.

The book ends on a definitely lead in to the next book; not a cliffhanger, but definitely a dangling carrot of sorts.  If you find yourself enjoying this book, you’ll likely want to jump right into the next one.

The Library of the Unwritten

The Library of the UnwrittenThe Library of the Unwritten
by A.J. Hackworth
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781984806376
Series: Hell's Library #1
Publication Date: October 1, 2019
Pages: 374
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

A great tale for anyone who loves books, but especially for those who fancy themselves future authors, struggling authors, or really, anyone who’d embrace the title of author in any form.

Myself, I’ve never found the title of author appealing.  My love of books is strictly that of the receiver of stories, and as such, some of the rhapsodic odes to unwritten stories was lost on me, though I connected with the idea of potentiality.

Regardless, once I got into the story, which admittedly took awhile, I was invested.  I thoroughly appreciated the author’s take on Christian theology and judgement, but had a hard time buying into the creative license she took with heaven on several different levels.  There’s a serious feminist vibe running throughout the narrative, which is fine, but for the record:  God is no more a ‘she’ than God is a ‘he’; God is Omni; God is all, and while it makes no material difference which gender pronoun one uses, the overt use of “she’ has always felt  petty to me. It was a small blip, but whenever it happened it yanked me out of the story, even if just for a second.

The author’s grasp of the mythology of the underworld felt less formed, but only if you really stop to consider; the logic of the plotting cracks a bit around the edges if you stop to consider how she’s got the bureaucracy of Hell set up.  Don’t think about it too much though and it works well enough.

The characters are well written, though Leto’s story is obviously the one that is the most fully developed.  This is the character the author thought most deeply about, or had enough life experience that bled through into his creation.  Which is both unfortunate and haunting, though the result is a character the reader can care about and cheer for.  To use Hackworth’s logic, Leto is the character most likely to leave his book.

Overall, an engaging story, an adventure.  There’s a second book out next month that I’ll happily read, and I hope this time around we’ll spend more time in the library itself.

Halloween Bingo 2020: October 24th update

I’ve sort of fallen off the Bingo bandwagon the last couple of weeks; pushed off the back, really, as life has gotten exciting in that dryly ironic kind of way.  Drastic improvements in Covid infection rates has meant a lifting of restrictions (Yay!) and a return to working on-site for me (Boo!) and it’s been exhaustingly busy.  Then earlier this week, MT got stung by a bee and it was The Bee; the one that pushed his immune system too far and he went into anaphylactic shock, requiring an ambulance, a hospital stay, and a new constant companion in his life, the epipen.  After all that, we woke up to find our beloved Eggy – the last of our first chickens – had died overnight.  At that point I opted out of coping for a day or two.

Luckily none of this has put me in a reading slump; I’ve been churning through both new books and re-reads.  Unfortunately, none of them are useful to my remaining Bingo squares.  I have one more Wild Card I can use (Patricia Briggs) so I’ll likely use that on one of the remaining squares I’m struggling to find a read for.

I’ve also, in my own absence, managed a few bingos (6, I think?), as previously read squares got called.  So here’s how things stand right now:

Calls made so far that are on my card:

*Note: I’ve removed Psych in favour of Romantic Suspense, as it’s the square I flipped, and American Horror Story has been transfigured into Spellbound

How it works:

If I read a square that hasn’t been called yet, a ghost of stickers-yet-to-come will appear; once the square has been called, the sticker will become fully corporeal.  (Alas, this only works in regular browsers, but I’m in too deep to try to do something different now.)  As the squares get ticked off, a fully formed image will appear.  Previously, I posted the finished image, but this year I’m going to leave it a mystery.

Below is the table that will summarise the books I’ve read for each square, and note if I took advantage of one of the Spell Pack cards, and which one.  Book Titles link to my review of the book here.

Bingo Square Date Called Book Title Date Read
Row #1
X Gothic Sept. 23 The Red Lamp Oct. 12
Genre: Suspense
X Ghost Stories Oct. 17 The Sun Down Motel Sept. 13
X Dark Academia Sept. 24 Murder 101 Sept. 2
Southern Gothic Sept. 15
Row #2
X Darkest London Oct. 11 Capital Crimes: London Mysteries Oct. 6
X Black Cat Oct. 20 Murders and Metaphors Oct. 8
X Cozy Mystery Oct. 9 The Falcon Always Wings Twice Oct. 3
X Genre: Mystery Sept. 3 Quick Study Sept. 5
X International Women of Mystery Sept. 7 The Betel Nut Tree Mystery Sept. 10
Row #3
X Grave or Graveyard Sept. 14 Grave Witch Oct. 16
X Deadlands Sept. 29 Staked Sept. 29
X FREE SPACE n/a The Leper of St. Giles Oct. 9
X In the Dark, Dark Woods Sept. 13 Imaginary Numbers Sept. 12
X Psych / Romantic Suspense Sept. 6 Turquoise Mask Oct. 2
Row #4
X American Horror Story/Spellbound Oct. 13 Ink & Sigil Sept. 17
X A Grimm Tale Oct. 7 Burn Bright Sept. 27
It was a Dark and Stormy Night Murder by Death Oct. 6
X Monsters Sept. 18 Half-off Ragnorok Sept. 25
Trick or Treat Sept. 16
Row #5
X Country House Mystery Oct. 5 Murder at the Manor Oct. 8
X 13 Sept. 1 The Thirteen Problems Sept. 6
X Locked Room Mystery Oct. 6 Big Book of Locked Room Mysteries Oct. 4
X Halloween Oct. 15 Sympathy for the Devil Oct. 4
X Murder Most Foul Sept. 5 Extracurricular Activities Sept. 3

The Spell Pack cards are below – I’ve used a border in the same color as the card to mark the squares where I’ve used one.

Cards used:
Bingo Flip:  Lillelara has agreed to trade my Psych square for her Romantic Suspense square.

Transfiguration Spell: Used to transform American Horror Story into Spellbound

Grave Witch

Grave WitchGrave Witch
by Kalayna Price
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780451463807
Series: Alex Craft #1
Publication Date: October 5, 2010
Pages: 325
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: ROC Fantasy

As a private investigator and consultant for the police, Alex Craft has seen a lot of dark magic. But even though she's on good terms with Death himself, nothing has prepared her for her latest case. When she's raising a "shade" involved in a high profile murder, it attacks her, and then someone makes an attempt on her life.

Someone really doesn't want her to know what the dead have to say, and she'll have to work with mysterious homicide detective Falin Andrews to figure out why....


A re-read for me, as I needed a Grave/Graveyard book for Halloween bingo and I just wasn’t in the mood for the Ray Bradbury I had lined up.

Overall, the book holds up well, though the love triangle is a definite drag on what would have otherwise been a fantastic series.  Price writes great characters and does an excellent job with world building and plotting; truly it’s the two men – both excellent specimens in their own right – vying for Alex that’s the only drawback.  Not that I’m letting that stop me from re-reading the rest of the series in anticipation of the latest book coming out next month.

Emerald Blaze

Emerald BlazeEmerald Blaze
by Illona Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780062878366
Series: Hidden Legacy #5
Publication Date: September 17, 2020
Pages: 389
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Avon Books

When House Baylor is under attack and monsters haunt her every step, Catalina is forced to rely on handsome, dangerous Alessandro Sagredo, the Prime who crushed her heart.

The nightmare that Alessandro has fought since childhood has come roaring back to life, but now Catalina is under threat. Not even his lifelong quest for revenge will stop him from keeping her safe, even if every battle could be his last. Because Catalina won't rest until she stops the use of the illicit, power-granting serum that's tearing their world apart.


 

I’m a fan of this series, but admittedly I prefer Nevada and Connor over Catalina and Alessandro.  Even so, this was a lot of fun to read and I was fascinated by the Abyss.   What I appreciated most though, was that Andrews didn’t drag out the romantic interest story line; I expected another ‘Oh no! Will the couple ever find true happiness?’ cliffhangers, but instead it was all wrapped up rather neatly a little past midway.  Nice.  This allowed me to more fully enjoy the actual plot of the story, which involved a lot of fighting and magic using, which I prefer to the romance.

As a bonus, Nevada and Connor played a part in this story, although it was much too small, and a lot of backstory was filled in about Nevada’s split from the family.

All up it was a fun story I was disappointed to see come to an end.  I hope there will be more with Catalina as the central character if only because I’m hugely intrigued by the Warden role and Linus.

The Red Lamp

The Red LampThe Red Lamp
by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Rating: ★★★★½
Publication Date: June 18, 2019
Pages: 289
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Penzler Publishing

William Porter has just inherited Twin Hollows, an isolated lakeside estate shrouded in mystery and doom. But William and his wife aren't easily swayed by ghost stories and whispered rumors. Until a shadowy apparition beckons to them from the undying glow of a red lamp. Is a stranger with a deadly purpose trying to frighten them away? Or are they being haunted by a chilling warning from the grave?


I knew this was a ghost story, of sorts, so I started it bright and early yesterday morning, and became so engrossed in the story that I almost, almost, finished it last night. leaving nothing but 3 of the last 4 conclusion chapters for me to read today.

Mary Roberts Rinehart was an excellent writer; that her genius has been so far forgotten today is a tragedy.  The Red Lamp was originally written in 1925, and putting aside the lack of technology and the beautifully elegant writing that today might be considered a tad verbose, the story holds up perfectly; it would take very little to make this story ‘modern’.

The Red Lamp is complex to the point of labyrinthine though.  Like the main character, I stumbled through the story in ignorance.  Some of this was by design, as the mc is meant to be a spectator not an active participant in solving the crimes, but some of it was because there was just so much going on and that beautifully elegant writing of Rinehart’s made for easy camouflage of any clues.

The book is, with the exception of the introductory and final 4 chapters, purely epistemological, with no chapters, just journal entries.  This style doesn’t always lend itself to a submersive experience for the reader, but these journal entries are detailed enough that it makes almost no difference from a first person narrative.

The ghostly part of the story, in spite of the enormous potential for scarring the spit out of me, were subdued enough that they never raised so much as a hair.  This was a wee bit disappointing, I admit, but it didn’t adversely affect the story; they were never the point of the book, it was always about the mysterious killings and there was never doubt that those killings were done by a very corporeal being.

All in all, this was an excellent mystery.  I’d recommend this to anyone curious about Golden Age Mysteries who might be hesitant fearing dry or dated story-telling.  While not perfect, The Red Lamp is most assuredly neither dry nor dated.

I read this for the Gothic square on my Halloween Bingo 2020 card.

Halloween Bingo 2020: October 10th update

I have bingos threatening to break out all over the place, but so far I remain in suspense.  I’ve finished books for Black Cat, Cozy Mystery, Free Square, Country House, and Darkest London this week and today I’m going to start on my Gothic square with Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Red Lamp.  

Calls made so far that are on my card:

*Note: I’ve removed Psych in favour of Romantic Suspense, as it’s the square I flipped, and American Horror Story has been transfigured into Spellbound

How it works:

If I read a square that hasn’t been called yet, a ghost of stickers-yet-to-come will appear; once the square has been called, the sticker will become fully corporeal.  (Alas, this only works in regular browsers, but I’m in too deep to try to do something different now.)  As the squares get ticked off, a fully formed image will appear.  Previously, I posted the finished image, but this year I’m going to leave it a mystery.

Below is the table that will summarise the books I’ve read for each square, and note if I took advantage of one of the Spell Pack cards, and which one.  Book Titles link to my review of the book here.

Bingo Square Date Called Book Title Date Read
Row #1
Gothic Sept. 23
Genre: Suspense
Ghost Stories The Sun Down Motel Sept. 13
X Dark Academia Sept. 24 Murder 101 Sept. 2
Southern Gothic Sept. 15
Row #2
Darkest London Capital Crimes: London Mysteries Oct. 6
Black Cat Murders and Metaphors Oct. 8
X Cozy Mystery Oct. 9 The Falcon Always Wings Twice Oct. 3
X Genre: Mystery Sept. 3 Quick Study Sept. 5
X International Women of Mystery Sept. 7 The Betel Nut Tree Mystery Sept. 10
Row #3
Grave or Graveyard Sept. 14
X Deadlands Sept. 29 Staked Sept. 29
X FREE SPACE n/a The Leper of St. Giles Oct. 9
X In the Dark, Dark Woods Sept. 13 Imaginary Numbers Sept. 12
X Psych / Romantic Suspense Sept. 6 Turquoise Mask Oct. 2
Row #4
American Horror Story/Spellbound Ink & Sigil Sept. 17
X A Grimm Tale Oct. 7 Burn Bright Sept. 27
It was a Dark and Stormy Night Murder by Death Oct. 6
X Monsters Sept. 18 Half-off Ragnorok Sept. 25
Trick or Treat Sept. 16
Row #5
X Country House Mystery Oct. 5 Murder at the Manor Oct. 8
X 13 Sept. 1 The Thirteen Problems Sept. 6
X Locked Room Mystery Oct. 6 Big Book of Locked Room Mysteries Oct. 4
Halloween Sympathy for the Devil Oct. 4
X Murder Most Foul Sept. 5 Extracurricular Activities Sept. 3

The Spell Pack cards are below – I’ve used a border in the same color as the card to mark the squares where I’ve used one.

Cards used:
Bingo Flip:  Lillelara has agreed to trade my Psych square for her Romantic Suspense square.

Transfiguration Spell: Used to transform American Horror Story into Spellbound

The Leper of St. Giles (Brother Cadfael Mystery, #5)

The Leper of St. GilesThe Leper of St. Giles
by Ellis Peters
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780333319857
Series: Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #5
Publication Date: August 27, 1981
Pages: 224
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Macmillan

Brother Cadfael has had no time to think about the grand wedding which is to take place in the church at Shrewsbury Abbey and is causing such excitement in the city. The groom is an aging nobleman; the bride a very young woman coerced into the marriage by her greedy guardians. But it soon becomes apparent that the groom, Huon de Domville, is a cold, harsh man -- in stark contrast to his beautiful bride-to-be. Before the wedding can take place, a savage killing occurs, setting Brother Cadfael the task of determining the truth, which turns out to be strange indeed.


For slower paced, traditional mysteries that are very skilfully written, you can’t go wrong with Brother Cadfael.  When Peters created a crusader turned monk, she gave herself a large canvas on which to paint a variety of clever, interesting crimes.

The Leper of St. Giles takes place largely in and around St. Giles, the hospice for lepers that lies just outside Shrewsbury, but it’s largely about the wedding of an 18 year old girl, sold off by her guardians for a large portion of her own inheritance, to a cold, unfeeling 60-something land baron who only bought her lands and is taking her on sufferance.  Of course she’s fragile and innocent and lovely and of course his squire is around the bend in love with her and incandescent over the injustice of her treatment.  And of course the baron ends up murdered.

There’s a plot twist in this book; a rather major one, but it’s telegraphed early on, so that I knew long before it was revealed.  It’s a good one, but if Peters hadn’t split the difference, the early guess would have ruined the story.  As it is, Peters seems to have covered her bets and kept that reveal from being absolutely pivotal to the plot, making the ultimate solution a surprise, and a tragic one at that.

A few of the series characters readers enjoy aren’t here in this book, but there are other characters that endear themselves to the reader.  There’s a bit of humor here and there too, making this a much more enjoyable read than the last, St. Peters’ Fair, which was a good story but dragged.  I’d be best pleased if we saw Bran and Joscelin again, though I’m not counting on it.

This is one of the better of the 5 I’ve read so far, and I read it for the center square – Poe’s Raven – on my Halloween Bingo Card for 2020