Fugitive Telemetry (Murderbot Diaries, #6)

Fugitive TelemetryFugitive Telemetry
by Kevin R. Free (narrator), Martha Wells
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781980080633
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #6
Publication Date: April 1, 2021
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Recorded Books

No, I didn't kill the dead human. If I had, I wouldn't dump the body in the station mall.

When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people? who knew?) Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans! Again!

Oh, now this one I really, really liked!  It’s a murder mystery!  Detective Inspector Murderbot!

I had a lot of fun with this one, not only because of the murder mystery angle, which was easily 80% of my enjoyment, but also because it all took place on the station, so none of that spacey stuff, except for the scene with the bag thing, and I thought that part was amusing.  And it was short.

I really like the characters Wells has created for Preservation station, and I got a kick out of the dynamic she’s created with Murderbot and the head of station security.  I really hope Wells will create more stories involving these characters – and more mysteries!

Grave Reservations (Booking Agents, #1)

Grave ReservationsGrave Reservations
by Cherie Priest
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781982168902
Series: Booking Agents #1
Publication Date: July 19, 2022
Pages: 292
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Meet Leda Foley: devoted friend, struggling travel agent, and inconsistent psychic. Impulsively re-booking Seattle PD detective Grady Merritt’s flight, she has no idea that her life is about to change in ways she could have never foretold.

When his original plane blows up on the runway, Grady begins to suspect that Leda’s special abilities could help him with a cold case he just can’t crack. Despite her scattershot premonitions, she agrees to join the investigation for a secret reason: her fiancé’s murder remains unsolved.

Leda’s psychic abilities couldn’t help that sad case, but she’s been honing her skills and drawing a crowd at her favorite bar’s open-mic nights, where she performs her klairvoyant karaoke—singing whatever song comes to mind when she holds people’s personal effects. Now joined by a ragtag group of bar patrons and pals, Leda and Grady set out to catch a killer—and learn how the two cases that haunt them have more in common than they ever suspected.

Ever have the feeling that you’ve read something recently, forgot to write down anything about it, and can’t remember what the book was?  Me, with this book.  I only read it 10 days ago and completely forgot everything about it, including its title.

BUT, once I chased it down, it all came flooding back, so let’s place the blame on a synaptic failure, rather than the story.  Because the story is memorable, although perhaps not for the right reasons.

It’s not a bad story – it is, in fact, a really good one, with an interesting blend of amateur detective and police procedural.  I liked the psychic element too, especially since the MC is the first person to stand up and say ‘Yes! I have visions, but they’re often meaningless and almost always unreliable.’

Where it floundered for me was the characterisations.  The police detective (my inability to remember names is an across-the-board life failure), is solid, well thought out, real.  I liked him.  The rest … are a work in progress.  I hope.  Especially the MC, whose maturity level I’d put somewhere just above toddler and a bit below pre-teen.  Ok, that’s harsh.  She’s solidly in the pre-teen/adolescent range.  No sense of responsibility, no sense of self, very reactionary, and overly prone to just default to her neighborhood bar and drink to excess.  Totally floundering.  I’m not sure her BFF is any better, or maybe she just had less time on the page.

There is hope though; she takes the investigation seriously and the author effectively communicates the MC’s desire to grow up and let go of the tragedy that compelled her to agree to helping the detective in the first place.

So, while I’m making this sound terrible, it’s really not, and I definitely want to read the second book.  If the MC is still immature by the end of that one, I’ll bow out of the series, but it has a lot going for it, and I’m willing to allow for ongoing character growth.

The Restorer (The Graveyard Queen, #1)

The RestorerThe Restorer
by Amanda Stevens
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781742902289
Series: The Graveyard Queen #1
Publication Date: May 6, 2023
Pages: 374
Genre: Fiction, Paranormal
Publisher: Mills and Boone

Never acknowledge the dead
Never stray far from hallowed ground
Never associate with those who are haunted
Never, ever tempt fate.

My father’s rules. I’ve never broken them…until now.

My name is Amelia Gray. I’m a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts. In order to protect myself from the parasitic nature of the dead, I’ve always held fast to the rules passed down from my father. But now a haunted police detective has entered my world and everything is changing, including the rules that have always kept me safe.

It started with the discovery of a young woman’s brutalized body in an old Charleston graveyard I’ve been hired to restore. The clues to the killer—and to his other victims—lie in the headstone symbolism that only I can interpret. Devlin needs my help, but his ghosts shadow his every move, feeding off his warmth, sustaining their presence with his energy. To warn him would be to invite them into my life. I’ve vowed to keep my distance, but the pull of his magnetism grows ever stronger even as the symbols lead me closer to the killer and to the gossamer veil that separates this world from the next.

Another LT rec, and a winner.  This was some grade-A-ghost-story stuff, and in a passage or two, it toed the boundary with Horror (my definition of horror anyway).  I really enjoyed the graveyard background information, and the facts involving the symbolism used on gravestones.

The plot of the mystery is a tad gruesome for my taste, although it’s not graphic at all until the end, as they get closer to identifying the murderer, and details start to emerge that I could have done without.

I thought the characters were well written and well developed and I really got engrossed in the story, and was sorry to see it end.  Saying that, however, I’m not feeling confident about continuing with the series.  Reading the synopsis’ and a handful of reviews for subsequent books makes me think that author is more interested in yanking her characters around emotionally than writing good, spooky mysteries.  I’ll have to see how I feel as time goes on – will memories of this story draw me back in, or will they fade altogether.

NB:  I rated this 4.5 stars just after I finished it; with a few days distance, I really want to nudge it back down to 4 stars and will probably do so, as I can no longer remember why I thought it was worth that extra .5 star.

India Black (Madam of Espionage Mystery, #1)

India BlackIndia Black
by Carol K. Carr
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780425238660
Series: A Madam of Espionage Mystery #1
Publication Date: January 4, 2011
Pages: 296
Genre: Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime

I needed a break from all the new, experimental reads and grabbed this off my shelf to re-read.  My original thoughts were succinct:

Excellent first novel. I was amused and enthused from the first chapter. The book is categorised as an “historical mystery” but there really isn’t much mystery involved. A lot of the story reads a bit like keystone cops play spy, but truly, I found the book entertaining and the characters interesting enough for me to care what happened to them. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

Mostly, that hasn’t changed; I originally gave it 4 stars, but on re-reading I nudged it down to 3.5 stars.  There were a few verbose expository passages I found myself skimming; I found them mostly irrelevant to the plot and they felt like padding.  But otherwise, it’s a highly irreverent spy adventure and entertaining in a way that only a sassy madam of a brothel MC can make it.  High on humor, but historically accurate in its broad strokes.  Where the fine details are (ie anachronisms), I couldn’t say; I’m pretty terrible at spotting any but the most egregious examples.

A bit of familiar fun that served as a quick palate cleanser before moving back into uncharted territory.

In the Company of Witches (Evenfall Witches B&B Mystery, #1)

In the Company of WitchesIn the Company of Witches
by Auralee Wallace
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780593335840
Series: Evenfall Witches B&B #1
Publication Date: October 19, 2021
Pages: 336
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Paranormal
Publisher: Berkley

When a guest dies in the B&B she helps her aunts run, a young witch must rely on some good old-fashioned investigating to clear her aunt’s name in this magical and charming new cozy mystery.

For four hundred years, the Warren witches have used their magic to quietly help the citizens of the sleepy New England town of Evenfall thrive. There’s never been a problem they couldn’t handle. But then Constance Graves–a local known for being argumentative and demanding–dies while staying at the bed and breakfast Brynn Warren maintains with her aunts. At first, it seems like an accident…but it soon becomes clear that there’s something more sinister at work, and Aunt Nora is shaping up to be the prime suspect.

There’s nothing Brynn wants more than to prove Nora’s innocence, and it hurts her to know that even two years ago that might have been easier. Brynn, after all, is a witch of the dead–a witch who can commune with ghosts. Ghosts never remember much about their deaths, but Constance might remember something about her life that would help crack the case. But Brynn hasn’t used her powers since her husband died, and isn’t even sure she still can. Brynn will just have to hope that her aunts’ magic and her own investigative skills will lead her to answers–and maybe back to the gift she once thought herself ready to give up forever.

Pure paranormal cozy, but better than the average cozy output of the last decade.  Zero romance, at least in this first book, without even so much as a prospect on the horizon.  There’s a bit of heaviness here, as the MC is struggling to accept the death of her husband, and the author writes her grief in an almost palpable way at times.

The characters are written well, although the cat and the crow (whose name is Dog) steal the show whenever they’re on the page.  At the point where any one character seems too 2 dimensional, the author offers up a peek into another layer that balances them out realistically, so that no one is too nice, or too evil.

The mystery plotting was skilfully done and the murderer was unexpected.

I’m definitely requesting the second book from my library, and if it continues in this vein, I’ll have a new cozy mystery to enjoy for the first time in years.

The Librarian of Crooked Lane

The Librarian of Crooked LaneThe Librarian of Crooked Lane
by C.J. Archer
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781922554208
Series: The Glass Library #1
Publication Date: January 1, 2022
Pages: 275
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Paranormal
Publisher: Self-published

Librarian Sylvia Ashe knows nothing about her past, having grown up without a father and a mother who refused to discuss him. When she stumbles upon a diary that suggests she's descended from magicians, she's skeptical. After all, magicians are special, and she's just an ordinary girl who loves books. She seeks the truth from a member of the most prominent family of magicians, but she quickly learns that finding the truth won't be easy, especially when he turns out to be as artless as her, and more compelling and dangerous than books.

War hero Gabe is gifted with wealth, a loving family, and an incredible amount of luck that saw him survive four harrowing years of a brutal war without injury. But not all injuries are visible. Burying himself in his work as a consultant for Scotland Yard, Gabe is going through the motions as he investigates the theft of a magician-made painting. But his life changes when he unwittingly gets Sylvia dismissed from her job and places her in danger.

After securing her new employment in a library housing the world's greatest collection of books about magic, Gabe and Sylvia's lives become intwined as they work together to find both the painting and the truth about Sylvia's past before powerful people can stop them.

A thoroughly average read that wasn’t a waste of time, but definitely was the perfect library loan.  I would have been displeased had I bought this, but as a library loan I can forgive a lot.  And there are quite a few things requiring forgiveness.

First off, the synopsis implies this book is a lot more involved than it actually is.   After securing her new employment in a library housing the world’s greatest collection of books about magic, Gabe and Sylvia’s lives become intwined as they work together to find both the painting and the truth about Sylvia’s past before powerful people can stop them.
But sometimes the past is better left buried…  Um… no.  I mean, yes, they’re searching for the painting, but there is no search for Sylvia’s past beyond occasional speculation, and there are no powerful people trying to stop them.  There’s an attempted kidnapping at the beginning that’s never explained, but perhaps that’s part of a series arc?  And the ‘magic’ isn’t really anything of the sort.  It’s described as magic and apparently spells are used, but as near as this book comes to explaining it, ‘magicians’ are merely people who are extraordinarily gifted at their chosen craft and are obsessed with it.  Which doesn’t strike me as all that magical.

For all of that though, the writing was good, and way better than average for a book that was apparently self-published.  While the writing lacked sophistication and polish, it was far better edited and copyedited than your average big publishing house efforts.  The plotting of the mystery was very well done too.  I feel like, had the author had a big publishing team pushing her, this could have easily been a 4 star read.

This was a fast read that Libby informs me took just a few minutes over 4 hours to finish.  If my libraries have the second book, I’d be happy to read it, and might enjoy it more now that my expectations have been adjusted by book 1.

The House on Tradd Street (Tradd Street, #1)

The House on Tradd StreetThe House on Tradd Street
by Karen White
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781984802163
Series: Tradd Street #1
Publication Date: January 15, 2018
Pages: 374
Genre: Fiction, Paranormal
Publisher: Penguin Random House

The brilliant, chilling debut of Karen White's Tradd Street series, featuring a Charleston real estate agent who loves old houses—and the secret histories inside them.

Practical Melanie Middleton hates to admit she can see ghosts. But she's going to have to accept it. An old man she recently met has died, leaving her his historic Tradd Street home, complete with housekeeper, dog—and a family of ghosts anxious to tell her their secrets.

Enter Jack Trenholm, a gorgeous writer obsessed with unsolved mysteries. He has reason to believe that diamonds from the Confederate Treasury are hidden in the house. So he turns the charm on with Melanie, only to discover he's the smitten one...

It turns out Jack's search has caught the attention of a malevolent ghost. Now, Jack and Melanie must unravel a mystery of passion, heartbreak—and even murder.

My first Project LibraryThing Recommendations read and from the rating it would seem it’s not off to a great start, but that would be unfair.  While I definitely had problems with the book, I enjoyed it enough to continue on with the series.

A couple of inaccuracies in the book description:  chilling … not so much, and Melanie most certainly does not love historical homes.  The book starts off with her having a passionate hatred for them that is simply childish, and while there are a lot of ghosts and haunted house action, I read this book at night, with the lights off, while alone in my temporary bed and not once did I feel chilled from anything other than the ridiculous weather we’ve been having.  As an example of another ghost story author, Simone St. James’ books manage to put me at the edge of my seat at least once, whereas even the malevolent ghosts in Tradd Street failed to raise even a single goosebump.

I don’t really hold that against the book though.  What I did have a problem with was Melanie’s emotional immaturity and stubborn refusal to grow up.  I’m trying not to judge the book too harshly for this however, because she’s supposed to be emotionally stunted.  Her mother abandoned her at the age of 8 and her father is a raging alcoholic, so she’s text book accurate.  As someone blessed with a happy upbringing, I just found her text book behaviour tedious.  I’d like to think I’d be more patient in RL with Real People.

Now, as to the story itself – it was pretty good!  I enjoyed the plot involving Melanie inheriting an historic mansion and the funds to renovate it – I loved the mystery she was left with, determining what happened to the former mistress of the house, reputed to have run away with another man, and I loved, loved, loved the added search for historic treasure. The ghosts were fun, even if they failed to raise hair, and the story would have been a lot less interesting without them.

So, in spite of the problems – and anecdotal evidence from others’ reviews indicates that Melanie doesn’t grow up in a hurry – I’m looking forward to continuing with this 5 book series, and I’ve already added the first book in the spin off series to the future TBR list.

Under Lock and Skeleton Key (Secret Staircase Mystery, #1)

Under Lock and Skeleton KeyUnder Lock and Skeleton Key
by Gigi Pandian
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781250804983
Series: Secret Staircase Mystery #1
Publication Date: March 15, 2022
Pages: 343
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books

An impossible crime. A family legacy. The intrigue of hidden rooms and secret staircases.

After a disastrous accident derails Tempest Raj’s career, and life, she heads back to her childhood home in California to comfort herself with her grandfather’s Indian home-cooked meals. Though she resists, every day brings her closer to the inevitable: working for her father’s company. Secret Staircase Construction specializes in bringing the magic of childhood to all by transforming clients’ homes with sliding bookcases, intricate locks, backyard treehouses, and hidden reading nooks.

When Tempest visits her dad’s latest renovation project, her former stage double is discovered dead inside a wall that’s supposedly been sealed for more than a century. Fearing she was the intended victim, it’s up to Tempest to solve this seemingly impossible crime. But as she delves further into the mystery, Tempest can’t help but wonder if the Raj family curse that’s plagued her family for generations—something she used to swear didn’t exist—has finally come for her.

I have enjoyed Gigi Pandian’s work ever since I first picked up a Jaya Jones mystery, but it’s always been a hard-won enjoyment.  There’s just something about her writing that I can’t quite put my finger on, whether it’s characterisations, or tone, I don’t know.  Usually, by the mid-way point I’m over it and enjoying the story.   This one was more of a struggle from beginning to end.

Some stream of consciousness thoughts:  I love the premise of secret passageways, hidden rooms … who doesn’t?  I’m not so much a fan of the stage magician stuff.  I love magic and illusions, just not the usually seedy backstage stuff.  I found the ‘curse’ in the Raj family a non-starter; I just didn’t buy into it from the start and the drama Pandian tried to build out of it just continued to fall flat.  I like the cross-over of characters that takes place between this series and Jaya Jones and I liked most of the new characters too.  The ‘tension’ between the two BFF’s also felt manufactured.  Basically, whenever Pandian tried to drum up drama in the story, it backfired (for me).  I thoroughly enjoyed the veiled references to gargoyle’s (Adrian!), and the introduction of an escape-artist bunny called Abra was a nice change of pace as a series mascot.

The plot was very well done, if maybe a tad … I don’t know; I just know when the denouement came I felt nothing.  Not surprise, not annoyance, not disbelief.  Just … nothing.  But it was well crafted, and I had no hint of where things were going.  Her use of a magician’s misdirection in the plot was a tad heavy handed, but really only in retrospect.

Overall, it’s not a bad mystery, even though I’m making it sound like it might be.  This is, I think, Pandian’s first mainstream, big-publisher book, and perhaps I feel like she tried a tad too hard, but in spite of that, I will gladly read the second book in the series.

Great Stories of Crime and Detection (MbD’s Deal Me In challenge)

Great Stories of Crime and DetectionGreat Stories of Crime and Detection
by H.R.F. Keating, Various Authors
Rating: ★★★★
Publication Date: January 1, 2002
Pages: 1784
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Folio Society

I’m a week behind – not in reading for the challenge, but for posting my thoughts, so today it’ll be two entries; one for this week and one for last.

As I’ve done for the other anthologies I’m using in this challenge, I’m creating one post per anthology – or in this case the boxed set of 4 volumes.  I’ll share some quick(ish) thoughts about each story as I read them and append them to the top of post.  Previous thoughts will be under the ‘read more’.  Since this is a multi-volume collection, it will cause a bit of a mess, but I’ll try to keep it neat.

Volume III:  The Forties and Fifties

No Motive by Daphne du Maurier:  ✭✭✭✭

Wow.  Who knew du Maurier write a story with zero melodrama?  This is a straight up mystery and we follow the private detective as he digs into the past of the victim in an effort to determine whether or not she committed suicide, and if so, why, or she was murdered.

du Maurier’s taste for tragedy is satisfied in the details and the suspense comes from how the private detective is going to report his findings.   A really solid short story from the maven of gothic fiction.

Volume IV: The Sixties to the Present (2000)

The Wink by Ruth Rendell: ✭✭✭

This volume and I are just not destined to be BFFs.  While Rendell’s writing in this story is excellent and she does a fantastic job in just a few pages of making these characters come to life, this is not a mystery at all.  This is a snippet from one woman’s life; a woman who lived through a horrible moment in her life alone, and had to face her attacker again and again throughout her life and how she finally levelled the playing field.  Well written but ultimately anti-climatic, and definitely no mystery about it.


Continue reading Great Stories of Crime and Detection (MbD’s Deal Me In challenge)

Finlay Donovan is Killing It

Finlay Donovan is Killing ItFinlay Donovan is Killing It
by Elle Cosimano
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781472282248
Series: Finlay Donovan Mystery #1
Publication Date: February 9, 2021
Pages: 359
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Headline Review

When struggling crime writer and single mum Finlay Donovan accidentally finds herself employed as a local hit-woman, she suddenly finds herself living the life of crime previously reserved for her characters.

'It is a widely known fact that most mums are ready to kill someone by eight-thirty AM on any given Monday. . . ' Finlay Donovan, single mum and floundering crime writer, is having a hard time. Her ex-husband went behind her back to fire the nanny, and this morning she sent her four-year-old to school with hair duct-taped to her head after an unfortunate incident with scissors.

Making it to lunch with her literary agent is a minor victory but, as she's discussing the plot of her latest crime novel, the conversation is misinterpreted by a woman sitting nearby as that of a hit-woman offering her services to dispose of a 'problem' husband.
And when the woman slips Finlay a name and a promise of a large sum of cash, Finlay finds herself plotting something much bigger than her novel.
And, after all, they do always say: write what you know. . .

Finlay Donovan really is killing it . . .

I’ve seen this title thrown around a few sites, but honestly, the cover turned me off because it was such an obvious knock off of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? that it felt like the publisher was trying to ride some coat-tails.  But Irresponsible Reader sang its praises in one of his posts, and I decided to give it a try.

At first, I thought maybe I’d run up against my first IR recommendation dud, because I don’t enjoy reading about people who are hanging onto life by a thread, and Finlay is definitely a big, hot mess at the beginning of this book.  But I kept reading, because I couldn’t figure out how the author was going to pull off a protagonist mother-of-two who kills for money and still call the book a comedy.

When the answer to that started becoming clearer, the book started to click for me, because the deeper Finlay found herself in it, the more interested and invested I became.  Coincidentally, the less of a hot mess she became.  The introduction of the nanny-partner also helped, because her pragmatic personality was one I could identify with (although she takes her pragmatism further than I ever could).

What I was left with was a very well written, well plotted mystery that entertained me.  Cosimano gets the bonus points for pulling off a very-plausible-for-fiction explanation for all the events that take place, and for dovetailing it all nicely together at the end.

This is the first of at least 3 books (so far) and I’m definitely interested in reading the next one.  Thanks again to Irresponsible Reader!