A Cup of Silver Linings

A Cup of Silver LiningsA Cup of Silver Linings
by Karen Hawkins
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781982105563
Publication Date: August 1, 2021
Pages: 354
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Gallery Books

Ava Dove—the sixth of the seven famed Dove sisters and owner of Ava Dove’s Landscaping and Specialty Teas—is frantic.

Just as her new tearoom is about to open, her herbal teas have gone haywire. Suddenly, her sleep-inducing tea is startling her clients awake with vivid dreams, her romance-kindling tea is causing people to blurt out their darkest secrets, and her anti-anxiety tea is making them spend hours staring into mirrors. Ava is desperate for a remedy, but her search leads her into dangerous territory, as she is forced to face a dark secret she’s been hiding for over a decade.

Meanwhile, successful architect Ellen Foster has arrived in Dove Pond to attend the funeral of her estranged daughter, Julie. Grieving deeply, Ellen is determined to fix up her daughter’s ramshackle house, sell it, and then sweep her sixteen-year-old granddaughter, Kristen, off to a saner, calmer life. But Kristen has other plans. Desperate to stay with her friends in Dove Pond, she sets off on a quest she’s avoided her whole life—to find her absent father in the hopes of winning her freedom from the grandmother she barely knows.


The follow up to The Book Charmer, and the book that arrived yesterday.  I figured I should dive right into a book that inspired me to take my first solo walk in over 6 months.

Is there a fairy tale involving an evil grandmother?  If so, this is a take on that, sort of.  Kristen’s mom dies, she has no idea who her father is, and so her estranged grandmother comes riding in on her metaphorical bulldozer to rescue her grand-daughter, who, by-the-by, doesn’t need rescuing.  Grandma is a selfish, stubborn, wealthy cow, but Kristen is stubborn and as it turns out, rather wealthy too, so there.

In a parallel and connected story line, Ava Dove, one of the ‘gifted’ Dove sisters, is stressing about having kept a secret for a couple of decades, and the secret is fighting back.  Remember, this is magical realism, so the secret is literally fighting back, trying to escape its box and throw Ava under the bus for a stupid mistake she made when she was a kid.  Ava is also trying to get a tearoom reading for opening and the special bespoke teas she makes to help people are starting to cause some strange behaviours in those that drink them, leaving Ava scrambling to figure out why.

On the fringes of this is an unresolved plot point from the first book involving Ava’s sister, Sarah.  It all comes together into a fairly coherent story line, and if you suspend your disbelief enough to enjoy magical realism, the redemption of Grandma ice queen is believable.  Still, the secrets (Ava’s and who is Kristen’s dad) are both pretty transparent to the reader, the former especially if one remembers events from the first book.

Overall, it’s a charming read, with strong individuals and friendships that make the story work better than it might have otherwise.

The Last Curtain Call (Haunted Home Renovation Mystery, #8)

The Last Curtain CallThe Last Curtain Call
by Juliet Blackwell
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780593097939
Series: Haunted Home Renovation Mystery #8
Publication Date: June 30, 2020
Pages: 318
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Paranormal
Publisher: Berkley

Mel Turner can’t resist the chance to bring the Crockett Theatre, a decrepit San Francisco Art Deco movie palace, back to life. But there’s a catch for Turner Construction: Several artists are currently squatting in the building, and they aren’t the only ones haunting the once-grand halls of the historic theater.…

When one of the squatters is found dead, the police department has a long list of suspects to investigate. Meanwhile, Mel and her fiancé, Landon, are remodeling an old house for themselves, and Mel finds being on the other side of a home renovation project more challenging than she expected.

When Mel discovers that the former owner of the Crockett Theatre died under mysterious circumstances, and that there just might be a connection to the ghost haunting her own attic, the case takes a new turn—one that could bring down the curtain for the last time.


One of the few remaining cozy writers and series I still find dependable.  Juliet Blackwell is a good writer; I enjoy her characters, her imagination for the paranormal, and her plots … well I can’t think of any of her plots that failed to amuse, and I can’t think of one of her books where the mystery was transparent.  Her diversity of characters feels natural (the San Francisco setting probably helps) and I’ve been reading her long enough to know that they existed to greater or lesser extent long before it was ‘on trend’ to do so.

This one made me ache to explore an old, abandoned theatre, although I’d prefer mine to be ghost free, thanks; especially the kind of ghosts who fill the theatre seats and follow you around with their blank, unseeing stares.  The connection between the theatre Mel is renovating and the house she’s renovating for herself felt a bit too coincidental, but it bothered me so very little that it amounts to nit-picking.

A fun book, and a fun series that would be perfect for several Halloween Bingo squares.

Familiar Motives (Witch’s Cat Mystery, #3)

Familiar MotivesFamiliar Motives
by Delia James
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780451476593
Series: Witch's Cat Mystery #3
Publication Date: October 15, 2017
Pages: 321
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Berkley

After learning that she comes from a family of witches—and adopting a familiar named Alistair—artist Annabelle Britton has made beautiful Portsmouth, New Hampshire, her home. Together with her coven, this good witch is trying to put a stop to magic and murder most foul.

When Anna takes Alistair to see local veterinarian Ramona Forsythe, they meet the most famous cat in town: Ruby the Attitude Cat, spokes-feline for a pet food brand. But then Ramona turns up dead, and Ruby goes missing. It seems like the murderer used magical means, so it’s up to Anna and Alistair to catch a killer and cat-napper as only a canny cat can.


I’ve been trying to make a dent in my TBR piles recently, mostly, if I’m being honest, because I’m waiting for the new books I’ve ordered to arrive.  No matter my true motive, it’s a good feeling knowing there’s at least one or two fewer books languishing about.

This one had not only been loafing about on the hills of tbr, but it was the final book in a short-lived series, so the satisfaction of getting it read was doubled.

Unfortunately, that’s about the only real satisfaction I received from reading Familiar Motives.  The story itself was another ‘meh’ mystery – or else it was just me.  It really might have been me.  I liked the characters, I loved the cats, and the plot-line wasn’t frivolous.  But the pacing felt manic – not fast; manic – and the witty writing felt forced at times, adding to the manic feel.  I skimmed large sections of internal narrative because the pacing left me feeling manic to get to the end.

When I did get to the end, I liked it.  It was a good denouement, although the plot had too many pieces rather clumsily put together.  But to be fair, that could have been a product of the skimming I did, so I’m giving that a pass.

While it wasn’t a winner, I’m ok with that; the completist in my is happy that I haven’t left a series unfinished, and the responsible adult in me is happy to see one more book off the TBR range.  The reader thinks the book could have been better, but really, it didn’t suck either.

The Tale of Halcyon Crane

The Tale of Halcyon CraneThe Tale of Halcyon Crane
by Wendy Webb
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780805091403
Publication Date: March 30, 2010
Pages: 328
Genre: Fiction, Suspense
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks

When a mysterious letter lands in Hallie James's mailbox, her life is upended. Hallie was raised by her loving father, having been told her mother died in a fire decades earlier. But it turns out that her mother, Madlyn, was alive until very recently. Why would Hallie's father have taken her away from Madlyn? What really happened to her family thirty years ago?

In search of answers, Hallie travels to the place where her mother lived, a remote island in the middle of the Great Lakes. The stiff islanders fix her first with icy stares and then unabashed amazement as they recognize why she looks so familiar, and Hallie quickly realizes her family's dark secrets are enmeshed in the history of this strange place. But not everyone greets her with such a chilly reception—a coffee-shop owner and the family's lawyer both warm to Hallie, and the possibility of romance blooms. And then there's the grand Victorian house bequeathed to her—maybe it's the eerie atmosphere or maybe it's the prim, elderly maid who used to work for her mother, but Hallie just can't shake the feeling that strange things are starting to happen . . .


Meh.  A good story, but not a well told one.  In the author’s defence, I think it’s her first book, published about 12 years ago and the only one published by Henry Holt (I believe all the rest of her books are published by an Amazon subsidiary).

The premise of the story is a gripping one: when Hallie was 5, her father faked her and his deaths, spiriting her away to the other side of the country, convincing her that her mother died in a house fire where everything was lost.  He gets away with it for over 30 years, until early-onset Alzheimer’s sets in and a picture of him and Hallie end up in the newspaper honouring him for his dedicated teaching career.  Her mother, thinking her dead all these years, finds out, only to write her a letter, conveniently change her will, and die of a heart attack, leaving Hallie the sole heir of a mother she thought long dead and never got to meet.  A day later, her father passes too.

This is where the book begins, with Hallie heading to the island in Lake Superior, devastated and in shock and wondering why her perfect and adored father would have committed such a crime.

This is definitely a ghost story, unlike my first Wendy Webb (also the most recent, I believe).  It’s just not a very spooky one, although it definitely should be; the crap that went down in that house should have made me hair stand on end.  But it didn’t.

This also tries to be a romance.  I like both the characters and I don’t doubt they fell in loved and lived happily ever after, but I wasn’t moved by it.

I’m pretty sure there’s supposed to be an element of suspense, but I never felt suspended.  I was pretty certain I knew who Iris was, and although I was correct, there is a twist at the end I didn’t anticipate at all.  It should have been more shocking than it was, and instead it just left me surprised; a ‘huh’ instead of a ‘holy crap!’.

Like I said, a lot of good elements, but executed clumsily.  I feel like, had this story been written by someone like Simone St. James, I’d have had to sleep with the lights on for a week.  Instead, I’m not sure I’ll remember much of it by the time I go to sleep tonight.

Molly Harper Audio-fest

With the end of the school year approaching, I needed to listen to something light and fun while battling traffic and disinfecting iPads – Molly Harper is sure bet in this department, no matter whether it’s one of her series, or a standalone.

Since all three of the reads, which would fall under the novella category, were solid 3.5 stars, I’m just going to put them all in one post.

Shifters in the NightShifters in the Night
by Molly Harper
Rating: ★★★½
Series: Mystic Bayou #5
Publication Date: January 1, 2021
Pages: 403
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Audible Originals

Lia Doe came to Mystic Bayou for one simple reason: to get her job done. Namely, to build a housing complex for all the new residents flocking to town since word of its supernatural population got out. But from the moment Lia arrives, it’s clear that nothing about the job is going to be simple.

First, there’s the mysterious guy she meets in the middle of the night while they’re both cavorting in their alternate forms. Spending time with shape-shifters is nothing new to Lia, but there’s something special about Jon Carmody…and the magical pull she feels whenever he’s near. There’s also a sense of homecoming and belonging in Mystic Bayou that makes her want to stick around - despite the dangers brewing from mysterious forces.

Will Lia complete her project with her heart unscathed, or will her life shift forever?


Probably the one I enjoyed least out of all three, though it still held my attention.  I really like Amanda Ronconi’s narration, but Jonathon Davies is not a favourite.  I have to say, in fairness, this was one of his better performances.  Mostly, I just enjoyed visiting Mystic Bayou again.

Peace, Blood, and UnderstandingPeace, Blood, and Understanding
by Molly Harper
Rating: ★★★½
Series: Half-Moon Hollow #15
Publication Date: January 1, 2019
Pages: 410
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Audible Originals

Ever since Jane Jameson took over running the Vampire Council for Half-Moon Hollow, things have been a little unorthodox, and that doesn’t sit well with the head office. Who would have thought vampires were so into bureaucracy and tradition?

Enter a vamp from corporate who’s determined to unseat Jane and get the council back on track - which means no more of this Kentucky neighborliness and mixing with humans, werewolves, witches, or anything else.

But Jane’s not interested in going back to the bad old days when the council was mired in corruption and tended to "accidentally" eat people now and again, but she might be in over her head this time. Good thing there’s a pretty new face in town who just might be the perfect distraction and help save Jane’s career.


This is the one I enjoyed the most out of the three, because I’m a long time fan of not only Half-Moon Hollow, but the general format of the books.  Each chapter starts with an excerpt from the book that shares its title with the current story.  So Peace, Blood, and Understanding is the name of the book within the book, and its excerpts are relevant to the theme of the story.  I’m not sure that was coherent, but suffice it to say I enjoy the extra boost of wry wit these bring with them.

Pasties and Poor DecisionsPasties and Poor Decisions
by Molly Harper
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: January 1, 2020
Genre: Fiction, Romance
Publisher: Audible Originals

Anastasia Villiers has hit rock bottom. And that rock is named Espoir Island.

Abandoned by her disgraced investment banker husband who liquidated all of their assets and fled the country, Anastasia is left with nothing - except for Fishscale House, a broken-down Queen Anne in the Michigan hometown she swore she’d left for good.

If Ana quickly renovates and flips the dilapidated building, she can get back to Manhattan and salvage her life. The problem? The only person on the island with historical renovation cred is Ned Fitzroy - Ana’s first love - who insists she help him with the labor herself. As Ana gets reacquainted with Ned, and her hometown, she realizes home may be just what she’s always wanted.

Previously published in the I Loved You First anthology.


This is a stand alone novella, apparently original to a multi-author anthology.  It’s also a little bit of a diversion for Harper.  The character is older, with grown kids, and living the B-list reality star life in New York City when her husband is indicted by the Federal Government and takes off with her Pilates instructor to an island lacking a US extradition treaty.    There’s no Southern anything here; it’s a solidly mid-western character, and Ronconi did a great job with it.  The story goes exactly the way you’d predict it would – absolutely no surprises – but it was a pleasant diversion.

The Folio Book of Christmas Ghost Stories

The Folio Book of Christmas Ghost StoriesThe Folio Book of Christmas Ghost Stories
by Various Authors
Rating: ★★★★★
Publication Date: January 1, 2005
Pages: 288
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Folio Society

The 20 tales gathered together here range from the familiar - Charles Dickens, Walter de la Mare and MR James - to stories even the most ardent fan probably won't have come across before.

Howling winds and winter snows, rambling old houses and isolated inns, characters whose apparently ordinary lives hide guilty secrets and murky pasts, even a sinister Punch and Judy show - all the classic ingredients are here. Wonderful, spooky, full-colour illustrations by Peter Stuart add the finishing touch.


 

I started reading a few stories from a new (to me) anthology, Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories, and became frustrated by the lack of ghosts in the stories I chose, which prompted me to pull this down off my shelves, to re-read a few stories.  All I can say is that should you ever run across this in a used bookstore – and you enjoy a good ghost story – you cannot go wrong splashing out on it.  The ghost stories are good and the book is just gorgeous, with full color illustrations throughout.

I re-read three stories for this Christmas season:

Afterward by Edith Wharton:  I’m not actually sure why this story is included; it must take place during Christmas, but the holiday is not even a bit player in drama.  But it is a great ghost story; the subtle kind that creeps up on both the characters and the reader, so that it isn’t until Afterward that you know you’ve been haunted at all.

When Satan Goes Home for Christmas by Robertson Davies:  Not quite a ghost story but come on, it’s Satan.  And it’s a funny and oddly touching story in the most unexpected ways.

The Shop of Ghosts by G.K. Chesterton: This is a short one that starts off rather heartbreakingly, but ends not only with hope, but left me chuckling as well.  A masterful reminder that there truly is nothing new under the sun.

There are so many others I’d like to re-read this season, and I might, but with my to-do list being as long as anyone else’s this time of year, I’m calling it read and again recommend this for anyone who would enjoy an excellent collection of ghostly holiday cheer.

Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories: How Peter Parley Laid a Ghost

The Valancourt Book of ​Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories: Volume OneThe Valancourt Book of ​Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories: Volume One
by Tara Moore (Editor)
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781943910564
Publication Date: January 1, 2016
Pages: 291
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical
Publisher: Valancourt Books

The first-ever collection of Victorian Christmas ghost stories, culled from rare 19th-century periodicals

During the Victorian era, it became traditional for publishers of newspapers and magazines to print ghost stories during the Christmas season for chilling winter reading by the fireside or candlelight. Now for the first time thirteen of these tales are collected here, including a wide range of stories from a diverse group of authors, some well-known, others anonymous or forgotten. Readers whose only previous experience with Victorian Christmas ghost stories has been Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” will be surprised and delighted at the astonishing variety of ghostly tales in this volume.


 

My first thought as I started reading this – a story aimed at Victorian children – was that the writing shines a sorry light on the state of today’s education.  I doubt many children today would be able to pass a reading comprehension quiz based on this story, purely based on the vocabulary.  I could be wrong, but the writing here is certainly more sophisticated than that of most of today’s books aimed at adults.

How Peter Parley Laid a Ghost by Anonymous was better than Conan Doyle’s Captain of the Pole-Star; more interesting, amusing, and frankly, better written.  But it’s still not a true ghost story; it’s a morality tale aimed at the folly of superstition.  In this context, it’s a brilliant story; in the context of a spooky ghost story … not so much.

Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories, Vol 1: The Captain of the “Pole-star”

The Valancourt Book of ​Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories: Volume OneThe Valancourt Book of ​Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories: Volume One
by Tara Moore (Editor)
Rating: ★★½
isbn: 9781943910564
Publication Date: January 1, 2016
Pages: 291
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical
Publisher: Valancourt Books

The first-ever collection of Victorian Christmas ghost stories, culled from rare 19th-century periodicals

During the Victorian era, it became traditional for publishers of newspapers and magazines to print ghost stories during the Christmas season for chilling winter reading by the fireside or candlelight. Now for the first time thirteen of these tales are collected here, including a wide range of stories from a diverse group of authors, some well-known, others anonymous or forgotten. Readers whose only previous experience with Victorian Christmas ghost stories has been Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” will be surprised and delighted at the astonishing variety of ghostly tales in this volume.


 

I love me some Conan Doyle, but not this one.  I’m not a fan of Arctic settings, nor of stories that take place at sea, so this was a double whammy against me liking it.  Add to that, it isn’t really a spooky ghost story, so much as a second hand account of ghost sightings and their results.

In my opinion, Conan Doyle’s The Haunted Grange of Grosthorpe is a far superior ghost story.

Synchronized Sorcery (Witchcraft Mystery, #11)

Synchronized SorcerySynchronized Sorcery
by Juliet Blackwell
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780593097953
Series: Witchcraft Mystery #11
Publication Date: July 6, 2021
Pages: 335
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Berkley

Strange things are happening in Lily Ivory’s San Francisco. First, she finds a vintage mermaid costume which dates from the 1939 San Francisco’s Treasure Island World’s Fair – and which gives off distinctly peculiar vibrations. Next, she stumbles upon a dead man in the office of her predecessor, and as the community’s new leader, she feels compelled to track down the culprit. Just when Lily thinks things can’t get any stranger, a man appears claiming to be her half-brother, spouting ideas about the mystical prophecy involving San Francisco and their family…

When the dead man is linked to the mysterious mermaid costume, and then yet another victim is found on Treasure Island, Lily uncovers ties between the long-ago World’s fair and the current murders, and begins to wonder whether the killer might be hiding in plain sight. But unless Lily can figure everything out in time, there may be yet another body floating in San Francisco Bay.


 

I don’t know if this just wasn’t one of her best ones, or I just wasn’t feeling it.  Things at work have been pretty damn dismal the last couple of weeks, so it’s entirely possible it was just my sour mood colouring my enjoyment of a normally favorite series.  But there was a little something; some slowness, or lack of focus, to the plot, that kept me from really losing myself in it.  And her familiar was acting like a spoiled brat throughout the book, something that at the best of times I have no patience with.

But still, probably more me than the book.

The Cats Came Back (Magical Cats Mystery, #10)

The Cats Came BackThe Cats Came Back
by Sofie Kelly
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780399584596
Series: Magical Cats Mystery #10
Publication Date: January 1, 2018
Pages: 294
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Berkley

 

This is an adorably fun series about two magical cats and a likeable group of humans, but this entry was very average for me, mainly because I anticipated every plot development and who the murderer was well before it’s reasonable to have guessed.

That’s pretty much all I’ve got to say – it’s not a bad read, it just wasn’t as cleverly plotted as others in the series.