Eleventh Grave in Moonlight (Charlie Davidson, #11)

Eleventh Grave in MoonlightEleventh Grave in Moonlight
by Darynda Jones
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250078216
Series: Charlie Davidson #11
Publication Date: January 24, 2017
Pages: 310
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

My entire life can be summed up in one sentence:
“Well, that didn’t go as planned.”
—T-Shirt

A typical day in the life of Charley Davidson involves cheating husbands, errant wives, missing people, philandering business owners, and, oh yeah...demons, hell hounds, evil gods, and dead people. Lots and lots of dead people. As a part time Private Investigator and full-time Grim Reaper, Charley has to balance the good, the bad, the undead, and those who want her dead.

Now, Charley is learning to make peace with the fact that she is a goddess with all kinds of power and that her own daughter has been born to save the world from total destruction. But the forces of hell are determined to see Charley banished forever to the darkest corners of another dimension. With the son of Satan himself as her husband, will Charley be able to defeat the ultimate evil and find a way to have her happily ever after after all?


Darynda Jones is quickly becoming the second author alive for whom I’d go out of my way to have a conversation with.  Folded into a zany, quirky, funny urban fantasy series is some deeply well thought out theology; hidden amid the rapid-fire one-liners, Jones tackles head on the issues of God, free-will, and why He “allows’ pain and suffering.  And she doesn’t take it lightly, and she doesn’t go for easy answers or glib reasoning.  She’s successfully mixed silliness and the very opposite of silliness and I’m a little bit in love with her for pulling it off.

Eleventh Grave… clears a lot of the ongoing questions up, and I’d go so far as to say it brings the major story-arc to a close.  The climatic scene was so shattering, the resolution was almost an afterthought.  This is by no means the end of the series, as far as I know – there’s still a lot of questions unanswered so it had better not be.

It was mostly excellent but my complaints are twofold:  The first – we don’t find out what happened to Strawberry Shortcake’s brother.  I hate unresolved stuff like that.  Second:  I have to preface this with the disclaimer that I’m not a prude.  Sex scenes don’t bother me in the slightest, but Jones went a little too far for my comfort in one of the scenes here.  It wasn’t that it was deviant in any way, but after 11 books I feel like I’ve come to know Charlie and Reyes; like an invisible, unacknowledged member of the gang.  And yeah, I’d rather not know as much about Charlie and Reyes as I got from that scene.  At one point it stopped being sexy and started being really awkward.   On the flip side, she wrote a hell of a homage to When Harry Met Sally in another scene.

Awkward sex aside, I’m with Jones and Charlie until the wheels fall off.  I’d say until hell froze over but apparently, that’s a thing.

 

Page count:  310
$$:  3.00

The Matchmakers of Minnow Bay

The Matchmakers of Minnow BayThe Matchmakers of Minnow Bay
by Kelly Harms
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250070616
Publication Date: August 9, 2016
Pages: 280
Genre: Romance
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Lily Stewart has reached a crossroads in her life. Her painting career hasn't taken off, her best friend has changed beyond recognition, her relationship is a constant disappointment, and now she can't keep up with the rising cost of living in the city. With no one to turn to, Lily is forced to move from her beloved apartment, but while packing she comes across a piece of mail that had slipped to the back of her junk drawer: a letter detailing further action needed to finalize the annulment of a quickie Vegas wedding. From ten years ago!

Lily decides it's time to gather up the pieces of her life, and the first item on her list of things to fix is that annulment... but you can't just send a text ten years later reading, "Hey BTW we are still married." This is something that must be addressed in person, so Lily decides to track down her husband - the charming, enigmatic man she connected with all those years ago.

Ben Hutchinson left a high-profile dot-com lifestyle behind to return home to his family and the small lake town he loves, Minnow Bay. He's been living off the grid with the express purpose of making it hard to be found—so the last thing he expects is a wife he didn't know he had making her presence known.


 

I don’t normally draw parallels, but think Mary Kay Andrews, or Jennifer Crusie minus the purposeful hilarity, and you have a good idea of what The Matchmakers of Minnow Bay is going to deliver.

Lily is one of those artists who has the potential to make it big, but she’s a doormat; a cheerful, I-just-want-everybody-to-be-happy, doormat.  Normally I’d have tossed this book aside because I don’t like reading about doormats, but Lily never wallowed, so that during the clueless stage of the story the irritating bits washed over me.

While packing to move out of her apartment, Lily stumbles across a 10 year old notice from Nevada telling her the annulment she applied for is incomplete.  She’s been married to a guy she can’t even remember for a decade, and of course she’s feeling all her shortcomings, so determines to go to Minnow Bay to apologise in person and fix things.  This is when she has her “I’m a doormat” epiphany, and while her turnaround is a work in progress, her wry humor about herself and the way she owns up to her shortcomings made it easy for me to relate to her and like her more than I normally would.

Added to her likeable qualities are the characters of Minnow Bay, all of whom are poster-small-town-perfect and quite a lot of them the kind I wish I had for neighbours.  Colleen and Jenny’s antics trying to keep Lily in Minnow Bay are funny and Simone is acerbic but hilarious.

I thought the writing really readable and I easily finished it yesterday afternoon and evening; it’s not a long book and the engaging narrative sucked me in.  I’m not sure I’d say it’s worth the sticker price, but it’s definitely worth the used bookshop price (in hardcover) and I thought it was a fun read, perfect for the mood I was in.

 

Total pages: 280
$$: $3.00

Etched in Bone (The Others, #5)

Etched in BoneEtched in Bone
by Anne Bishop
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780451474490
Series: The Others #5
Publication Date: March 7, 2017
Pages: 397
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: ROC Hardcover

 

Every book in this series have been marathon reads for me, and Etched in Bone was no exception.  I picked it up yesterday morning and pretty much did absolutely nothing else until I read the last page about midnight last night (although I did stop, in the name of marital harmony, to shovel some dinner down; luckily, there was a footy game on last night, so the shovelling went largely unnoticed).

I have loved every moment of this series; been sucked into this world so thoroughly that interruptions leave me hazy about reality and I have been as attached to these characters as much as, or more, than any others.  Possibly more than real people I know.

But… this one; this final book concerning Meg and Simon, was not as great as the first 4.  Because this book deviated from the rules the author created for The Others.  In any of the other books, Jimmy would have been a stain on the sidewalk before chapter 3.  I get what she was trying to do here, I get what she wanted to explore, but it was not done as gracefully, and the effect felt forced; its execution more heavy handed.  In short, Jimmy got on my nerves; I stopped being horrified and started getting irritated and mumbling ‘why isn’t this man dead yet???’.

Still, I’d recommend this to anyone who likes urban fantasy and/or parables.  Because this whole series is one giant parable about the human race: our capacity for grace, our capacity for vice, and our wholesale destruction of everything in our path as long as we remain unchecked.  As horrifying as The Others are, I can’t look around at what’s going on today and not sort of wish our Earth had Naimid’s teeth and claws to protect her.

I’m attached so thoroughly to these characters in the Courtyard, I’m not sure I’ll read the next book; which is apparently in the same universe but with a different setting and characters.  I want more Tess!  But I’ll definitely be re-reading these.

Silence Fallen (Mercy Thompson, #10)

Silence FallenSilence Fallen
by Patricia Briggs
Rating: ★★★★★
isbn: 9780425281277
Series: Mercy Thompson #10
Publication Date: March 4, 2017
Pages: 371
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

Attacked and abducted in her home territory, Mercy finds herself in the clutches of the most powerful vampire in the world, taken as a weapon to use against Alpha werewolf Adam and the ruler of the Tri-Cities vampires. In coyote form, Mercy escapes–only to find herself without money, without clothing, and alone in a foreign country.

Unable to contact Adam through their mate bond, Mercy has allies to find and enemies to fight, and she needs to figure out which is which. Ancient powers stir, and Mercy must be her agile best to avoid causing a supernatural war.


2021 Update: Still my favorite book, with very few flaws.  I’ll add that I loved the inclusion of Kabbalistic myth, although her twist on it was … twisty.  But what I appreciated most was that this was a book about a woman who saves herself.  She still needs Adam to come to her aid, but the aid she needs from him is more administrative (passport, money, etc) than damsel needing rescue.  Thoroughly satisfying no matter how many times I’ve read it.

Original review: Mercy is kidnapped by vampires and is taken to Europe, where she escapes, but has no clothes, no money and no passport and must stay on the run until Adam can find her and neutralise the threat to herself and her pack.

I’ll admit I was less enthusiastic about this one than I normally am about the books in this series, because my first thoughts ran along the lines of ‘oh, yay.  Woman in peril who must fight to survive and over come obstacles over and over again.’

I could not have been more wrong.  Yes, there are perils and obstacles, but they are more than balanced out by moments of control and action and intelligence.  This book was also far more about political negotiations and intelligence analysis, if you’ll excuse the out-of-place term here, and I loved that.  This felt like a far more intelligent novel that the previous books.

And for the first time in I can’t even remember how long, I was totally blown away by the twist.  Never. saw. that. coming.  I actually exclaimed ‘holy sh*t!’ out loud.  Well played, Briggs.  Absolutely brilliant.

There wasn’t anything I didn’t thoroughly enjoy in this book; I had no complaints at all.

The Big Over Easy (Nursery Crimes, #1)

The Big Over EasyThe Big Over Easy
by Jasper Fforde
Rating: ★★★★½
Series: Nursery Crimes #1
Publication Date: January 1, 2005
Pages: 398
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

 

This book…  I have so many random thoughts about this book.  In no particular order:

1.  Easily the most highly quotable book I’ve ever read.  Including books of quotes.
One of my favourites:
Mr. Pewter led them through to a library filled with thousands of antiquarian books.

‘Impressive, eh?’

‘Very,’ said Jack.  ‘How did you amass all these?’

‘Well,’ said Pewter, ‘you know the person who always borrows books and never gives them back?’

‘Yes–?’

‘I’m that person.’

Don’t know why, but that cracked me up.

2.  I’m pretty sure Fforde had no intention of writing a satire (based on what I’ve found on the interwebs) about the sensationalism of the free press, but this is definitely a case of current events shaping a reader’s interpretation of the text.  I had a really hard time reading this and not drawing parallels.

3.  I’m equally sure he definitely meant to write a satirised murder mystery and this was easily the closest I’ve ever read to my blog’s namesake movie, Murder By Death, which in my totally biased opinion is the acme of mystery satire.  Which brings me to another quote:

Dog Walker’s Face Body-Finding Ban
Anyone who finds a corpse while walking their dog may be fined if proposed legislation is made law, it was disclosed yesterday.  The new measures, part of the Criminal Narrative Improvement Bill, have been drafted to avoid investigations looking clichéd…

Now this is legislation I can get behind.

4.  I wish I’d picked this book up directly after reading The Well of Lost Plots.  It makes no difference to someone new to Fforde’s books, but I think those that have read TN would feel a stronger connection to the characters here when The Well… was still fresh in the memory.

5.  Prometheus has an incredible monologue on pages 271-273.  A popular fiction novel that can weave serious philosophy into its narrative always earns huge bonus points with me.

6.  Oh, yeah – good mystery plot too!

Off to order the second one…

A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell, #2)

A Perilous UndertakingA Perilous Undertaking
by Deanna Raybourn
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780451476159
Series: Veronica Speedwell Mystery #2
Publication Date: October 1, 2017
Pages: 338
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Berkley

I’ve been looking forward to this second book for months and while it wasn’t quite as good as the first book, it definitely wasn’t disappointing.

In the first book, startling revelations about Veronica were a big part of the plot, and Stoker’s past was shared in teasing bits here and there.  I suppose, given those revelations, the author couldn’t resist using them to prop up the plot in this book, but I’ll admit I found the device (especially the you must investigate this!) trite.  At a guess, the family angst bit was perhaps meant to show Veronica’s vulnerability and humanity – we all just want to be accepted and loved, dammit!  But it just didn’t work for me.  I found the scene with the butterfly in the garden to be far more effective and moving, without being a cliché.  I did enjoy learning more about Stoker’s family though.

A BookLikes friend of mine wrote, in her review, that the themes throughout this book seemed chosen as much for their shock value as for their ability to showcase Veronica’s conscious independence.  She’s not wrong.  I’m not sure if the author wanted to shock, or just combat the general assumption that Victorian England was the apex of prudishness, purity and virginal thinking, but either way, this book is not for anyone who prefers a chaste story.  There’s no overt sex, but boy howdy, is it talked about.  A lot.

The murder reveal didn’t surprise me; the more the author asserts a character’s innocence, the more I suspect them, but I hardly cared.  The banter between Stoker and Veronica–actually the banter between anyone and Veronica–were what I enjoyed the most about this book.  If you want a strong, intelligent, pragmatic, rational female heroine you cannot do much better than Miss Speedwell.  Raybourn knows how to write.

My favourite highlights: Patricia the Galapagos tortoise, and that final scene between Stoker and Veronica.  That final scene might, in fact, make my top 5 favourites of all time.

An Inquiry Into Love and Death

An Inquiry into Love and DeathAn Inquiry into Love and Death
by Simone St. James
Rating: ★★★★★
isbn: 9780451239259
Publication Date: March 5, 2013
Pages: 355
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical
Publisher: NAL / New American Library

Boy howdy can St. James write a ghost story!  I love this book; I woke up at 6.30 this morning and did nothing until I finished it and then I re-read a few passages just to make it last longer.

In 1920’s England, Oxford student Jillian Leigh’s uncle Toby, a renowned ghost hunter, is killed in a fall off a cliff, and she must drive to the seaside village of Rothewell to pack up his belongings.

Almost immediately, unsettling incidents—a book left in a cold stove, a gate swinging open on its own—escalate into terrifying events that convince Jillian an angry spirit is trying to enter the house. Is it Walking John, the two-hundred-year-old ghost who haunts Blood Moon Bay? Was Toby’s death an accident?

The arrival of handsome Scotland Yard inspector Drew Merriken leaves Jillian with more questions than answers. Even as she suspects someone will do anything to hide the truth, she begins to discover spine-chilling secrets that lie deep within Rothewell… 

If you’re a horror or psychological horror lover, pass this review right on by; this book is a cream puff in comparison to your regular fare, but for the rest of us, this is truly an old-school, spooky ghost story with a mystery and a romance (oh the romance…).  There’s nothing gothic about the story, but I keep thinking of the old gothics anyway, for lack of any better comparison.

I probably should have gone 4.5 stars because Jillian goes through an improbable – neigh, impossible – number of physical calamities to still be standing upright.  Or breathing, really.  But the story was just so good; I was sucked in so thoroughly that I was willing to overlook her superhuman regenerative powers.  Inspector Merriken was incentive enough to spur on a rapid recovery.

Ok, anything else I say beyond this point would just be repetitive gushing.  I loved this book; it gave me exactly the experience I hope for every time I start a new story and I’ll be looking for more of this author’s work.

The Girl Who Chased the Moon

The Girl Who Chased the MoonThe Girl Who Chased the Moon
by Sarah Addison Allen
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781444706628
Publication Date: January 1, 2010
Pages: 273
Genre: Magical Realism
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Emily Benedict came to Mullaby, North Carolina, hoping to solve at least some of the riddles surrounding her mother's life. But the moment Emily enters the house where her mother grew up and meets the grandfather she never knew, she realises that mysteries aren't solved in Mullaby, they're a way of life. Here are rooms where the wallpaper changes to suit your mood. Unexplained lights skip across the yard at midnight. And a neighbour, Julia Winterson, bakes hope in the form of cakes, offering them to satisfy the town's sweet tooth - but also in the hope of rekindling a love she fears might be lost forever. Can a hummingbird cake really bring back a lost love? Is there really a ghost dancing in Emily's backyard? The answers are never what you expect. But in this town of lovable misfits, the unexpected fits right in.


I bought this one on the strength of how much I enjoyed Garden Spells and I think I ended up liking this one even more.

The story centers primarily on two women:  Emily, a teen-ager (who doesn’t act like one) who moves to Mullaby North Carolina to live with her grandfather after the death of her mother.  She’s determined to learn about her mother’s history and finds a lot more than she bargained for.  Julia Winterson has a plan; one that involves not being in Mullaby, but she has 6 more months of saving, scrimping, and avoiding Sawyer and her teen-age past before she can enact her plan.

I love the towns Sarah Addison Allen creates in her books; they’re small, magical, quirky and nobody thinks they’re odd.  Living in Mullaby sounds like fun.  In Garden Spells, I had a hard time liking or sympathising with the characters, but there wasn’t a character in this book I didn’t immediately like (at least none of the living ones).

The plot might not have been the most climatic one I’ve read, but I just lost myself in it and stayed up last night long after the point of reading comprehension because I just didn’t want it to end.  It was a magical surprise.