Lowcountry Boondoggle (Liz Talbot, #9)

Lowcountry BoondoggleLowcountry Boondoggle
by Susan M. Boyer
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781635116076
Series: Liz Talbot Mystery #9
Publication Date: June 30, 2020
Pages: 240
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Henery Press

Private investigators Liz Talbot and Nate Andrews thought they’d put Darius Baker’s troubles to rest—then his recently discovered son ropes him into a hemp farm investment with his college buddies. When a beloved Charleston professor—and potential investor—is murdered, Liz and Nate discover Darius keeps the PIs on speed dial.

A shocking number of people had reasons to want the genteel, bowtie wearing, tea-drinking professor dead. Was it one of his many girlfriends or a disgruntled student? Or perhaps Murray was killed because his failure to invest meant the hemp farm trio’s dreams were going up in smoke? Though Liz’s long-dead best friend, Colleen, warns her the stakes are far higher than Liz imagines, she is hellbent on finding the no-good killer among the bevy of suspects. But will the price of justice be more than Liz can bear?


Another solid entry in what’s been a very dependable, well-written series.  The mystery itself was a little predictable, but I can’t be certain the author didn’t intend that, as the clues weren’t subtle; a story about PIs wouldn’t really work with subtle and still be fair to the readers.

There’s some character development in this one, as well as references to a previous plot that make this less than ideal as a standalone, and it’s wroth the time to start at the beginning with book 1.

Devil’s Bones (Sarah Booth Delaney, #21)

The Devil's BonesThe Devil's Bones
by Carolyn Haines
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781250257864
Series: Sarah Booth Delaney #21
Publication Date: September 14, 2020
Pages: 355
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Not one of the best ones by a long shot.  The story meandered, felt disjointed – something that was not helped by the secondary plot introduction – and the killer was telegraphed from the first scene they were in.

Normally, I love this series and I love these characters, but between the meandering and the lack of mystery behind a string of murders, there wasn’t much to keep me engaged.  The author also seemed more melancholy and wistful than usual, with less of the humour I enjoy so much.

All together, it resulted in a poor showing for book #21.  Hopefully #22 regains the series stride.

Pocket Apocalypse (InCryptid, #4)

Pocket ApocalypsePocket Apocalypse
by Seanan McGuire
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 0756408121
Series: InCryptid #4
Publication Date: March 15, 2015
Pages: 368
Publisher: DAW Books

Australia is a cryptozoologist’s dream, filled with unique species and unique challenges. Unfortunately, it’s also filled with Shelby’s family, who aren’t delighted by the length of her stay in America. And then there are the werewolves to consider: infected killing machines who would like nothing more than to claim the continent as their own. The continent which currently includes Alex.

Survival is hard enough when you’re on familiar ground. Alex Price is very far from home, but there’s one thing he knows for sure: he’s not going down without a fight.


The second of Alex’s books, and the best of the two by a clear margin.  This one takes place in Australia, and the author nails the setting, while taking the mickey about (northern) Australia’s natural population’s inherent desire to kill everyone.  Half-off Ragnarok struggled to get this cultural uniqueness right, in my opinion, so it was a relief to see the improvement here.  Shelby still remained elusive as an individual, but her family members more than compensated.

Shelby’s family is why I didn’t like this book even more; they’re over-the-top asses to Alex and it teetered on caricature.

The plot was good; while I wasn’t shocked by the turn of events, I didn’t see them coming, either.  I love how the author and Alex brought in the wadjets, using this angle to work in the injustice of ‘otherness’, though the Yowie’s (who I loved) circumstances turned what was a subtle but effective highlight on that injustice into something more like a sledgehammer.

The Aeslin mice are here but I did not appreciate the turn of events the author took with them.  Maybe she’d argue it was necessary to the story line, but she’d never convince me.  Luckily it was a relatively short scene.

With every book of McGuire’s I’ve read, I have both enjoyed them and found them problematic.  That I mostly keep coming back (I’ve skipped a few) for more Price family antics suggests she gets it right more often than she doesn’t.

Bewitched (Betwixt & Between, #2)

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

Betwixt (Betwixt & Between, #1)

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

The Library of the Unwritten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Red Lamp

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murders and Metaphors

This is one of those series where the premise and the characters are strong, but the writing and editing could be better.  A bookshop with a magically sustained tree growing through the center that communicates through books with its owners; a raven that talks and a cat that understands more than he should; a native American sheriff that plays a strong role in the plots.

The mystery was ok; a little too frantic, but well done and I didn’t guess the murderer.  The motive was weak; plenty of other suspects had much more compelling reasons to kill the victim, which leaves the murderer’s reasons feeling way too shallow.

There’s a lot to like, and it’s not an unenjoyable read, if you’ll excuse the double negatives, it’s just not a great read.  I enjoyed the time I spent reading it enough to keep reading it, but not enough to feel anxious about reading the next one.

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

The Sun Down Motel

The Sun Down MotelThe Sun Down Motel
by Simone St. James
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780440000174
Publication Date: February 18, 2020
Pages: 327
Genre: Mystery, Suspense
Publisher: Berkley

Something hasn’t been right at the roadside Sun Down Motel for a very long time, and Carly Kirk is about to find out why in this chilling new novel from the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.

Upstate New York, 1982. Viv Delaney wants to move to New York City, and to help pay for it she takes a job as the night clerk at the Sun Down Motel in Fell, New York. But something isnʼt right at the motel, something haunting and scary.

Upstate New York, 2017. Carly Kirk has never been able to let go of the story of her aunt Viv, who mysteriously disappeared from the Sun Down before she was born. She decides to move to Fell and visit the motel, where she quickly learns that nothing has changed since 1982. And she soon finds herself ensnared in the same mysteries that claimed her aunt.


I am not a fan of horror, but I’m a big fan of old-fashioned ghost stories, when read in broad daylight.  I’ve been a big fan of Simone St. James’ ghost stories since I first found The Haunting of Maddy Claire, the first of … five?… historical ghost stories.  She branched off in a new direction with The Broken Girls, going with a dual time-line plot, which I read hesitantly, but enjoyed thoroughly.  The Sun Down Motel is another such book: a dual time-line mystery firmly rooted around a haunted place, this time a hotel that was pretty much doomed before it ever opened its doors.

I’m still a fan of St. James – I think this was a riveting read, and I devoured it in 2 sittings (daylight hours, all of them), but it wasn’t as good as some of her others for two reasons, both purely subjective.  The first was the heavy handedness of the message: that women have always been, and sadly will always be, to some extent, vulnerable and expendable.  This is as unavoidable a fact as it is an inexcusable one, but more subtle writing would have had more powerful an impact.  Instead, there were times – just a few – that I felt like I was the choir and I was being preached at.  This wasn’t a massive issue; it was just enough to pull me out of my head and the story a time or two.

The second reason is almost silly:  the ghosts.  They were almost exactly my right level of scary, but, and it took me some time to figure this out, they didn’t have quite the effect on me as the ghosts in her previous books, because they never really focused on the main characters.  These hauntings were almost the remnant-kind: they were there acting in an endless loop, whether anyone witnessed or not, although there was a trigger.  The main ghost communicated with the historical time-line mc, but only once without being pushed into it by Viv.  The other ghosts communicated with the present day mc, Carly, but benignly.  They were spooky, absolutely, but at a remove, so that they fell just short of spine-tingling.

And I guess, as I write this I was left unsatisfied by Nick’s story; it felt like it should be going somewhere and it didn’t.  I’m also disappointed that there was never an explanation for the present-day entry in the guest book of one James March who registered the day Carly and Nick had their first real experience with the Sun Down Motel.  That was a BIG little thing to leave hanging with no follow up.

But overall, it was a good story; I liked that both Viv and Carly had solid friendships in their timelines; I liked that Nick was her support from pretty much page 1, and I liked the investigatory process of the mystery plot, even if I thought Viv was a reckless idiot.  The story sucked me in, and I remain a solid fan of St. James’ books.

Left to my own devices, I’d have read this book as soon as I got it back in August, but I held off because it was a perfect fit for Halloween Bingo’s Ghost Stories square.