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.

Purrfectly Dead (Whiskey, Tango & Foxtrot Mystery, #5)

Purrfectly DeadPurrfectly Dead
by Dixie Lyle
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250078445
Series: Whiskey, Tango & Foxtrot Mystery #5
Publication Date: January 1, 1970
Pages: 325
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks

I’d given up on this series.  Purrfectly Dead was one of those books whose publication has been slated for years, but whose release date was always being pushed back.  I’d accepted it was something of a zombie.  And then a few months ago, there it was, released and waiting for me.

The series itself always leaves me baffled – not least because I thoroughly enjoy it in spite of myself.  I must not be alone in this feeling, as the author recognises this in the first chapter, in a clever breaking of the fourth wall combined with a series world-building summary: the MC can communication with animals telepathically, and part of her job is overseeing the pet cemetery, which serves as a crossroads for animal spirts travelling to visit their former owners (also dead).

I’ve never been a fan of talking animals so I shouldn’t enjoy this series as much as I do (and the cat calling the MC ‘toots’ grates on my nerves), but I love the idea of the crossroads, and the mysteries are usually pretty good, so it works.

I enjoyed the book, including the incredibly fast, witty dialogue, and not only laughed out loud, but had to read MT passages about the rock star with writer’s block and his efforts to overcome it (all of which involve copious amounts of recreational drugs).  But there’s a theme to the plot that’s based on Native American mythology – Thunderbirds – that I’d have liked to have enjoyed more, but didn’t.  There was no reference to Native Americans or their myths beyond using Thunderbirds, and the themes behind averting a supernatural war were heavy-handed.  A tad preachy.  However, the murder mystery was excellent with very clever plotting and possibly the best method of hiding by a villain I’ve ever read.  Admittedly impossible, but so much fun anyway.

I hope the reasons for the series hiatus are behind it and there’s a 6th book in the works; the premise is a bit silly, as the author acknowledges, but it’s also so heart-warmingly wonderful and fun at the same time.  So fingers crossed I can look forward to another one.

Beguiled (Betwixt and Between, #3)

BeguiledBeguiled
by Darynda Jones
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781734385267
Series: Betwixt & Between #3
Publication Date: February 15, 2021
Pages: 254
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Feather & Leaf

Newly indoctrinated witch, and a charmling to boot, Defiance Dayne discovers there’s more to life after forty than she’d ever imagined possible. Especially since one neighbor is trying to seduce her, another neighbor is trying to steal her house out from under her, and a third neighbor is trying to get her kicked off the planet. Oh for three, but things start to look up when a new witch moves to town, one who says she’s been sent to thwart an attempt on the charmling’s life.

Dephne decides she has three things to do before she can die. Find out who killed her beloved grandmother, teach her BFF, Annette, the finer points of spellcasting before she blows up the world, and figure out how serious her relationship with the Adonis living in her basement really is. If it’s heading in the direction she’s hoping for, she can die happy. Though, admittedly, she’d rather not.

None of that will matter, however, if she can’t figure out how to foil the supernatural assassin who’s been sent to kill her. Until then, it’s business—and hopefully romance—as usual. Now if she can only figure out how to tame a lacuna wolf.


(Sort of a) Paradox: I dislike, in general, self-published books, but there are a few authors I love enough to find myself unable to stay away from them.  Ilona Andrews is one example, and Darynda Jones another.

From what I gather, this self published series is part of a larger effort by several authors to publish books whose main characters are over 40 and still living la vida loca.  Or something like that.  Regardless, I picked up the series because, like Chloe Neil, Jones can write the snark and the humor and sometimes, with a very few authors, that’s enough.

So, in spite of the self-published-ness of the series, I look forward to each one.  They’re unfettered by anything resembling an editor’s reins, which, in a paranormal story is pretty damn unfettered, but the grammar is polished and copy-edited, which goes a long way.  Given the general joie de vivre Jones’ characters usually display, the MC could as easily be 30, 40 or 50, so while the story might be meant for ‘mature’ (I hate that word when applied to my gender) women, the story would resonate with anyone.

It was a fun, flirty, fast read, easily enjoyed on a cold winter’s holiday before the slog back to working on-site begins again tomorrow.

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.