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.

Charleston Green (Tipsy Collins, #1)

Charleston GreenCharleston Green
by Stephanie Alexander
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781647040505
Series: Tipy Collins #1
Publication Date: April 14, 2020
Pages: 352
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Bublish

 

I BookLikes friend read and rated this highly recently, and I’m always onboard for a ghost story-mystery set in Charleston.  Her standards are far more exacting than mine, so I felt confident buying it and its sequel the other day

Unfortunately, I can’t say I loved it.  I’m conflicted about even saying I liked it, although it was a good, well-written story, with the exception of a few formatting errors and at least a couple of grammatical ones, though still fewer of both than I normally find in most traditionally published books.

At first I thought the problem for me was the third person present POV.  In my opinion it’s the least forgiving POV available to authors and as such very hard to get right.  Done wrong, characters are flat and lifeless.

But the characters weren’t flat and lifeless.  Except for the main one, Tipsy herself, and ultimately this was what held me back from completely enjoying this book.  She was a dishrag, and not just because she’d just gone through a difficult divorce, but because she’d been something of a dishrag her whole life.  Not a victim, not even a doormat, but just a non-entity.  A time or two she caught fire and those moments were ones I enjoyed thoroughly, but they happened way too rarely to make up for all the rest of the book, where she just drifted through.

On the plus side, the ghosts were great, and I enjoyed the parts where Tipsy painted, likely because they were the only times she wasn’t passive.  But I truly enjoyed the story behind the ghosts and the mystery of how they died.

I was prepared to jump directly into the second book, Haint Blue, but I flipped through it this morning, and caught a passage that’s completely turned me off.  It’s obvious that the author’s need to write as true to life as possible means taking the reader on the same emotional roller coaster of relationships that most people would give a kidney to avoid experiencing in real life, but are bound to go through anyway.  Bound to or not in real life, I’m not obligated to experience it again in my books, and the passage that caught my eye has Tipsy acting like a melodramatic teen.  No, thank you.  Maybe someday, but for now I’m stopping with Charleston Green and calling it good.

 

I read this because it looked good, but I’m also using it for Halloween Bingo 2021 on my Murder Most Foul square.

Independent Bones (Sarah Booth Delaney, #23)

Independent BonesIndependent Bones
by Carolyn Haines
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250257871
Series: Sarah Booth Delaney #23
Publication Date: May 18, 2021
Pages: 357
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

 

Whew – I had concerns after the last book, Garland of Bones, was such a poor entry to what is normally a reliable series.

This one starts right off with a bang – a rather graphic display of domestic violence at the grand opening of Zinnia’s new public park, during a speech by a professor passionate about women’s rights.  The next day, the abuser is found dead, and the police find two other murders with the exact same MO in two other cities, and the professor is a suspect in all of them.

The fight-the-patriarchy rhetoric was strong, and at times, way too thickly laid on.  Given Sarah Booth and Tinkie’s apathy for their client, the professor, I think it was done on purpose with the idea of illustrating that too much of anything – good or bad – can have disastrous consequences.  This made the rhetoric, which was mostly in the first half of the book, at least useful to the plot.  It still detracted from my enjoyment overall though.

What I did appreciate an awful lot, along with the faster pace and the lighter tone, was that the author also took the time to point out that the characters series readers know and love already have quietly, and in their own unique way, ‘fought the patriarchy’ and carved out their own independence and power.  Balance.

Sarah’s resident haint, Jitty, also played a far less annoying part that usual; Sarah Booth has finally, after 22 books, stopped being taken in like an idiot, by her frequent appearances as historical figures.  This time around, the figures she appears as are all powerful women throughout American history, who fought the constraints of their times to achieve agency over their own lives.  And all of them outlaws.  One of the messages being, that before our current generations, the only way women had their own agency was to be outlaws, in one way or another.  These interludes were interesting and I found myself far less impatient with them than I’ve been in the past.  They felt less silly and more relevant.

It doesn’t take a genius to know that for the last few years the writing has been on the wall for American women, as the feeble, power-hungry men we helped elect have been systematically making noise about taking away a woman’s agency, but the timing of this plot feels especially prescient, as the publication of this book came almost at the exact same time as events in Texas unfolded.  Because behind the scenes of this story is a new, secret, well-funded, political movement unfolding across the US, with the goal of unwinding the rights of women back to pre 1900’s, where women couldn’t work any meaningful jobs, or have control of their finances, never mind their bodies, and their husbands were legally free to ‘correct’ their behaviour as they saw fit.  That bit of the story doesn’t end with a tied-up bow and a justice-wins-the-day at the end, which is fitting.  The pendulum of humanity swings wide, but slow.

 

I read this book for Halloween Bingo 2021’s Dem Bones square.  Every book in the series has “Bones” in the title, and a skeleton, or part of one, on the cover.