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.

Like a Charm

Like a CharmLike a Charm
by Candace Havens
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780425219263
Publication Date: February 5, 2008
Pages: 289
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Berkley

 

I’ve had a few books by Candace Havens on the shelves for over a decade, and the other night I decided I had to re-read them; I remembered the broad strokes, but not much else.  I started with this one, Like a Charm and it held up surprisingly well, for the kind of story it is.

Like a Charm is a paranormal romance, but really the romance is only about half the story, the rest is about the MC, Kira, picking herself up and putting herself back together after a horrific work related experience that left her traumatised and seriously ill.  She goes back to her hometown and reconnects with the residents and her family, and while she’s there, the town librarian dies, a woman who was like a second mom to her.  Kira is bequeathed an extraordinary inheritance, and must weight accepting it against going back to her highly successful law career.

Of course that other half of the story is Caleb.  Caleb has all the requirements of a romantic hero: of course he’s hot, and he’s a carpenter, BUT only on the side, when he’s not running around the world being a highly successful investigative reporter, and of course he’s rich, although you’d never know it unless he’s in a suit.  And of course he’s a gentleman of the southern variety, holding doors, paying for everything – but only in the most enlightened and charming fashion.  I’m used to this sort of stuff in what few romances I read, and I accept that it’s a winning formula for a reason.  But where things got really out-of-date, was the whole first time in bed scene.  It was just soooo cheesy.

As is obvious, I enjoyed the non-romantic half more.  It was largely an ode to books and libraries and the book-title-author name dropping was fun.  It was a light, fun read that went fast.

 

I’ve decided to use this for the Raven/Free Square on my Halloween Bingo 2021 card.  It’s full of magic and I-see-dead-people and is set in a small town run and protected by a coven of witches.

The Alchemist’s Illusion

The Alchemist's IllusionThe Alchemist's Illusion
by Gigi Pandian
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780738753010
Series: Accidental Alchemist #4
Publication Date: February 1, 2019
Pages: 329
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Midnight Ink

 

I read this book while I read two other supernatural books at the same time, and now my thoughts are all muddled.  But for the most part it’s a slightly better than average cozy paranormal mystery.

Zoe’s an alchemist that accidentally stumbled on the philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life centuries ago and has been hiding her true nature ever since. Her best friend is a gargoyle that received the elixir of life from someone practicing backward alchemy a hundred years ago who got by before meeting Zoe by being a French chef to the blind.  There’s a lot to like in the premise of this book and series, if you like that sort of thing (and I do).

Zoe apprenticed under Nicholas Flamel and his wife, both of whom disappeared centuries ago and were presumed dead, but Zoe had begun having suspicions when she stumbled across a painting of the two of them – something she knew they never allowed.

What follows would be a great story if not for Zoe’s over-riding angst colouring the whole story.  Constant worrying about being found out; her other best friend being railroaded for a crime he didn’t commit because of his race; her gargoyle being discovered; her boyfriend not believing her.  The list is sort of exhaustive, and reading about it is exhaustive.  Beyond that is a really interesting story about hiding in plain sight, and the corruption of desire in a life lived too long.

This book culminates in a few secrets being revealed, so I can only hope the next book will be a lot less angsty and a lot more pure fun.

 

I read this book for 2021 Halloween Bingo’s Genre: Mystery square.  Underneath all the gargoyles and alchemists, there’s a murder mystery to be solved.

Wild Ride

Wild RideWild Ride
by Bob Mayer, Jennifer Crusie
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780312533779
Publication Date: March 15, 2010
Pages: 351
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

 

This was the last book Jennifer Crusie wrote that I hadn’t yet read (except for the Temptation books; I started Welcome to Temptation  and something turned me off and I never finished it).  It’s a co-wriiten book with Bob Meyer, and their previous effort Agnes and the Hitman is one of my all time favourite good-time reads.

But I avoided this one for years because I’m not a fan of carnivals and amusement parks as story settings.  Stephen King might have ruined this for me, but there’s just something WAY too creepy and seedy about them in books.  Nevertheless, I had bought this and after years of languishing in a forgotten corner of the TBR, I found it just in time for Halloween Bingo, and the setting was perfect.

Mary Alice (Mab) is just finishing up a massive restoration of an early 1920’s amusement park, putting on one of the last touches, when she’s attacked by a giant iron clown that calls her by name.  The owners of the park seen unsurprised, though they pass it off as a hallucination.  Soon, however, there’s no escaping the truth:  the park is the prison for 5 untouchable demons (all from the Etruscan mythology, it seems) and two have escaped.  It’s up to Mab and her fellow Guardia to re-capture them and keep the other three from escaping.

Believe me when I say there is nothing deep or philosophical about this book.  It’s pure silliness and funnel cake fun.  It’s not nearly as well plotted or written as Agnes and the Hitman, but it’s well written enough that it kept me reading and the eye rolling only happened a few times.

I doubt I’ll ever re-read this again, though it did make me want to climb that ladder to grab Agnes for a re-read.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021.  It’s a perfect fit for the Creepy Carnivals square, which is really my Stone Cold Horror square – I used my Transfiguration Spell card,  as it’s chock full of demons (including minions that possess teddy bears and characters ripped completely from Small World) and it takes place entirely within the grounds of the Fun Fun Amusement Park.

The Once and Future Witches

The Once and Future WitchesThe Once and Future Witches
by Alix E. Harrow
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780356512471
Publication Date: October 15, 2001
Pages: 517
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Orbit

In 1893, there's no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the three Eastwood sisters join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten ways that might turn the women's movement into the witch's movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote - and perhaps not even to live - the sisters must delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There's no such thing as witches. But there will be.


 

I loved The Ten Thousand Doors of January and bought this off the back of that love, looking to re-capture the magical writing and story telling.

It both did and it didn’t.  The writing is just as magical, and I have not a doubt that many others will find the story just as captivating, but unfortunately I didn’t.  Not because it wasn’t good – it was.  It’s theme just didn’t ring my bell.  I had decided to DNF it after 200 pages or so, but instead I decided to skim-read the rest, knowing I’d be disappointed and always wondering if I didn’t.

I dislike stories that pit women against men, that reduce history down to all women are down-trodden and abused and all men are evil, and this story does almost exactly that.  One woman in this book was against suffrage, except she wasn’t, and exactly two male characters were anything more than drunken, abusive and evil.

If I could subtract that dynamic from the story, while keeping the story itself, somehow (impossible, really), I’d have found the story magical.  I couldn’t help but like Bella, Agnes and James Juniper, and the sense of place was astonishingly vivid.  The magical workings and the ties to fairy tales and nursery rhymes works beautifully.  Ultimately, there are not a lot of fellow readers I’d not recommend this book to.  Except me.  And that’s ok; while I’m certain it won’t be a book I’ll ever pick up again, I’m not sorry that I persevered rather than DNF’ing it.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021’s Spellbound square.  It’s a perfect fit for the square: books containing witches, warlocks, sorcerers and witchcraft.

Naked Brunch

Naked BrunchNaked Brunch
by Sparkle Hayter
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781842430422
Publication Date: May 1, 2002
Pages: 288
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: No Exit Press

Annie Engel hasn’t been feeling herself lately. With good reason. A mousy secretary by day, she’s been morphing into a werewolf at night. In the morning, she’s not quite sure what she’s been up to, but she knows she’d like to do it again. She soon discovers that her odd dreams and strange hangovers are actually the remnants of a night out on the prowl.

But Annie’s predatory activities have not gone unnoticed, and soon she is being pursued by one hapless reporter, a psychiatrist who wants to save her from her beastly impulses, and another (guy) werewolf who captures her heart. Who is a nice werewolf to trust? Get ready for a manic, madcap chase through the dank underbelly of the big city, a place where no one seems to sleep and the scents of fear and desire are always in the air.


 

Years ago, I read Sparkle Hayter’s mystery series featuring Robin Hudson, and enjoyed it tremendously.  Years pass and I’m digging through a local used bookstore and stumbled across this completely different style of book, but the author’s name is not one that’s easily forgotten, so I grabbed it.  It sounded funny.

I finally got around to reading it this year and it was every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be, and in fact, better, since I was wary over the different narrative style and genre.  It’s also told in the third person, which can be tricky for me.

The story revolves primarily around Annie, the last nice girl in the big city (which, while never named explicitly, is NYC).  She’s a secretary during the day and normally a door-mat for her two ‘best friends’ at night, being dragged from vapid party to vapid party while her two friends kill themselves to become famous.  But lately, she’s been having weird dreams, and waking up in the morning covered in blood, to find broken bedroom windows, and the need to vomit up whatever she ate the night before, which seems to be meat, which is odd, as she’s a vegetarian.

Then there’s Jim – he’s a werewolf and he’s come back to the city after a self-imposed exile, the kind of exile where everybody thinks you’re dead.  He runs into Annie one night when she’s not herself and they hit if off in a love-at-first-sight kind of way – if only he knew who she was or what she looked like in her less hirsute form…

Dr. Marco knows there’s a werewolf running around uncontrolled in the city and is frantic to find it, bring it into the center, and reform it using a tried and true method of drugs, restraints, and group therapy.  If he can’t find it, his family will and they’ll put it down rather than risk exposure.

And then there’s Sam, the hapless, truly kind, incredibly lucky, has-been reporter, desperate to hold on to his wife and his career.  He hears about the ‘vicious dog attacks’ that are leaving dead bodies all over the city and turns it into the career comeback he’d been hoping for, while the rest of the station’s crew, against their better judgement, turn themselves inside out to help him.  Because he’s just no nice.

Annie has to choose between the chance at a normal life by submitting to Dr. Marco’s rehabilitation center, or being on the run, in love, and having hot animal (literally) sex.  It’s a hard choice – especially amidst a city wide armed hunt for the mad-dog killers leaving dead bodies all over the place.

There’s a lot going on here, and I’m not even going to touch on all the ‘secondary’ characters from whom the reader occasionally hears from.  The narrative starts off a little slowly, as it takes awhile to figure out who all the players are and what’s going on.  But once everybody’s found their place, the story is fun, and a very different kind of morality tale.  I love that the good guys get good stuff and the bad guys get … eaten.  Or at least, what they deserve.

I thoroughly enjoyed this and I’ll likely read it again.  I won’t call it speculative fiction, but it’s very different from the garden variety werewolf stories I’ve read before, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a different take on a common theme, done with a cynical sort of humor.

I read this for Halloween Bingo, and it easily qualifies for at least three squares: Shifters, Mad Scientists and Evil Geniuses, and Gallows Humor, which allows me to invoke my first Spell Pack card: the all-new Double Trouble.  I’m choosing to use it for the first two squares: Shifters and Mad Scientists and Evil Geniuses.

   

Lowcountry Boughs of Holly (Liz Talbot Mystery, #10)

Lowcountry Boughs of HollyLowcountry Boughs of Holly
by Susan M. Boyer
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781635116311
Series: Liz Talbot Mystery #10
Publication Date: November 17, 2020
Pages: 242
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Henery Press

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but PI Liz Talbot is struggling to feel festive. She hasn’t seen her best friend in weeks and fears she may never see her again in this life. Meanwhile Nate, Liz’s husband and partner, is spending money like he prints it in the attic on a mysterious family Christmas celebration.

Liz’s nerves are shot, and she hasn’t even decked a single hall. But there’s no time to fret. On a beach run, Liz spots a rowboat run aground with Santa inside. Did Old Saint Nick have too much eggnog at the boat parade? No indeedy—Santa’s been shot. And he’s none other than C.C. Bounetheau, patriarch of one of Charleston’s wealthiest families.

Liz and Nate already unwrapped quite a few family secrets while searching for the Bounetheau’s missing granddaughter last year—enough to make them swear to steer forever clear of the entire clan. But as Liz and Nate are the police chief’s on-call detectives, they’re on the case. With no shortage of suspects, they dash to find a killer who may be working his or her way down a naughty list.


Calling this series ‘dependable’ sounds like I’m talking about old shoes, but dependable really is the best word; each of the 10 entries so far have offered up solid writing, great characters (with eccentric family members) and creative and sometimes heartbreaking plots, with just a dash of the supernatural in the form of a ghost to keep things interesting.

Lowcountry Boughs of Holly was no different, though I have to say the storyline was too convenient in a forced kind of way.  The entire murder plot, while good, was all too relevant to the solution of a multi-book mini mystery that’s been brewing.  Liz has been worried for the past several books about where her husband Nate has been finding the money he’s been spending.  It’s been nothing more than a passing curiosity but this is the book where it all comes out.  And the coincidental parallels between the two plots beggars belief.

Putting that aside though, I thoroughly enjoyed the story, and as it is yet another Christmas themed mystery, the ending is a charming and happy one all the way around.

Garland of Bones (Sarah Booth Delaney, #22)

Garland of BonesGarland of Bones
by Carolyn Haines
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781250257925
Series: Sarah Booth Delaney #22
Publication Date: October 13, 2020
Pages: 336
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

I have always loved this series for many reasons: the mysteries are always pretty good, the characters are wonderful, and the writing always felt naturally lyrical, with wit that just seemed to flow off Haines’ pen.

Not so much in this one.  The wit and sparkle felt forced, the sentiment feigned and even the characters were reluctant to involve themselves in the mystery, which felt lacklustre in spite of it being well plotted.

As I write this I find myself wondering if this book isn’t a reflection of the author’s state of mind when she wrote it.

View Spoiler »

This book definitely feels like a jaded mind at work.  Hopefully not a sign of books to come.

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse, #1)

Dead Until DarkDead Until Dark
by Charlaine Harris
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 2008-01-02
Series: Sookie Stackhouse #1
Publication Date: January 2, 2008
Pages: 312
Genre: Urban Fantasy

I read this for the first time in 2008, when it came out, but find I don’t have any notes or reviews of it; obviously I was only lurking and shelving on GR back in 2008.  I remember really liking it back then, and I’ve read all but the 13th and final novel since.

However, upon a second read many years later, I find the writing doesn’t hold up.  Sookie is naive and a bit simple (not simple-minded), as she is supposed to be, but the writing too feels naive and simple, which left me impatient.

It’s possible later books are better written, but so far I have not the urge to find out.