Lark! The Herald Angels Sing (Meg Langslow Mystery, #24)

Lark! The Herald Angels SingLark! The Herald Angels Sing
by Donna Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250192943
Series: Meg Langslow #24
Publication Date: October 16, 2018
Pages: 288
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

What can I say – I love this series because it features a strong woman MC, with strong supporting characters, solid family relationships and tons of humor.  The Christmas ones have become an annual tradition (no pressure Ms. Andrews) I look forward to every year, and I always save them to read in the day or two before Christmas.

This year’s involved a baby in a manger, a paternity allegation, and some dark dealings in a neighbouring county that lead to some very dangerous events in the lead up to Christmas. The mystery was pretty much over by midway, and the rest of the book was more rescue mission with shades of three stooges.

The finale was … the very best kind of holiday wishful thinking.  This was definitely Andrews taking the opportunity to create the kind of reality she’d like to see and I loved it; it was outrageous and wonderful.  Not my favorite of her Christmas books, Duck the Halls still holds that place of honour, but an excellent, festive read nonetheless.

Time’s Convert (World of All Souls)

Time's ConvertTime's Convert
by Deborah Harkness
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780399564512
Series: World of All Souls #1
Publication Date: September 18, 2018
Pages: 436
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical
Publisher: Viking Books

I am an unrepentant fan of A Discovery of Witches and the rest of the All Souls Trilogy, but this one didn’t hit that same sweet spot for me, although in some ways it was better than I’d hoped for.

Set in the same world as the All Souls books, with all the same characters, this book focuses on Matthew’s vampire son, Marcus, and his soon-to-be-mate Phoebe, as she goes through the process of becoming a vampire.  This is the excuse/framework Harkness uses to delve into Marcus’ story, one rich in American Revolution history and personal tragedy.

Told in 3 alternating points of view, Phoebe’s present day (3rd person) narrative of her transformation was the part of the book I liked least.  It involved a lot of vampiric tropes that felt a bit tired, and there was a cat introduced that damn near ended the book.  The cat is not harmed, but I’m not at all satisfied with the role it plays in Phoebe’s new life; it felt like Harkness was purposefully screwing with readers and the unwritten rule of ‘don’t harm pets’.  Either way, I just wasn’t that invested in Phoebe – though I did like Freyja.

The second point of view was Marcus’ flash-backs into his life before and after becoming a vampire.  This was, if not a more enjoyable tale, one that was a hell of a lot more interesting.  Rich in historical backdrops and characters, these sections were vivid and heartbreaking.  The occasional small gaps in story flow were almost invisible, overwhelmed by the rich storytelling.  It also helped that these were the parts that involved Gallowglass, my personal favorite character in the books.

The final point of view was, for me, the best, because it was told in first person present day by Diana and involved almost all the old characters I know and love from the trilogy.  Here are Diana, Matthew, Marcus, Sarah, Ysabeau and the rest, spending the summer in the south of France, listening to Marcus tell his tale while Phoebe is in Paris learning to be a vampire and not properly appreciating her pets.  Diana and Matthew’s kids provide some scope for funny antics, and the overall relaxed plot of this book means it’s easier for Harkness to indulge in scenes involving the kind of family dynamics everyone thinks are hilarious in other people’s families.  I enjoyed the humor woven through these sections almost more than I did any other part of the book.

The story is complete, but there are subtle hints that more books about the other characters may be forthcoming.  Baldwin seems the most obvious choice, though I’m holding out for Gallowglass to get his 15 minutes.  A girl can hope, anyway.

Toucan Keep a Secret (Meg Langslow, #22)

Toucan Keep a SecretToucan Keep a Secret
by Donna Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250115478
Series: Meg Langslow #23
Publication Date: August 7, 2018
Pages: 304
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

I was going to save this book for Bingo, but I’m hoping to attend a few panels Donna Andrews is on at Bouchcon, and it seemed appropriate to be up to date on my favorite series beforehand.

The story didn’t work as well for me as others have, but it did feel edgier, which was a compelling surprise.  The criminal suspects are really criminals, and at one point someone shoots at Meg.  Not the standard fair for Meg and her eccentric and fabulous family.

Even though I say it’s not as strong as others in the series, it’s still better than most cozies out there right now.  It’s definitely the best humorous cozy series you’re going to find, and Andrews has the awards to prove it.  The plotting is still strong too, even after 22 books – I certainly never came close to guessing the ending.

Opening one of these books is like coming home to your favorite people, where everyone is kind, funny, competent and believes in something bigger than themselves, whether it’s family, community, God, or all of the above.

The Trouble with Twelfth Grave (Charlie Davidson, #12)

The Trouble with Twelfth GraveThe Trouble with Twelfth Grave
by Darynda Jones
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781250147554
Series: Charlie Davidson #12
Publication Date: October 31, 2017
Pages: 289
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Charley Davidson never signed up for all this. But since she was the one chosen for this job, Charley’s going to be the best Grim Reaper she can be—even if her life becomes a living hell. Literally. Not only is she trying to fight off an entity brimstone-bent on destroying the world, she must find a way to domesticate the feral being that used to be her husband. Would it kill him to sweep Charley off her feet every once in a while? Really? Meantime Charley is also tasked with uncovering a murder—as well as covering one up. Add to that her new occupation of keeping a startup PI venture out of trouble and dealing with the Vatican’s inquiries into her daughter and Charley is on the brink of crying uncle. But when someone starts attacking humans who are sensitive to the supernatural world, Charley knows she must step up to the soul-saving challenge. If only her number-one suspect didn’t turn out to be the dark entity she’s loved for centuries. But all’s fair in love and eternal war, right?


I love this series – especially the later ones – and even though I enjoyed this one enough to read it in one sitting today, it was not one of her best.  Mostly because the plot(s) were utterly transparent.  There was never any doubt in my mind what Reyes was looking for, or what would happen when he found it (although the third member of the showdown was a delightful surprise).  There was never any doubt in my mind who was responsible for the killings either, although the ‘other’ murder plot, while not central to much of anything, was interesting and its resolution unexpected.

There are also a few story elements that keep getting repeated in the books – honestly, it’s like hell has a revolving door – but Jones still manages to write a captivating, and hilarious, story that expands on biblical mythology while honouring its structure and its spirit.  So in spite of not being everything it could be, it was exactly what I needed today.

The Secrets of the Bastide Blanche (Verlaque and Bonnet Mystery, #7)

The Secrets of the Bastide BlancheThe Secrets of the Bastide Blanche
by M.L. Longworth
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780143131427
Series: Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery #7
Publication Date: April 3, 2018
Pages: 304
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Penguin Crime

A departure from the format of the first 6 mysteries, I had doubts at first (as always), but it’s possibly one of the best in the series.

Longworth tells this story from two angles, a few months apart.  One is set over a dinner in NYC, between an editor and a world famous, Nobel-level author, ostensibly discussing the possibility of the great man’s newest book, a memoir.  But over dinner, at the editor’s prompting, he tells the story of events that took place 3 months previously, in France.  The second angle is set 3 months back in time, focussing on Verlaque, Bonnet and Paulik as they find themselves in the middle of events as they unfolded.

The events surrounding the author’s purchase of the Bastide Blanche are the culmination of several past events and include haunting, gaslighting, kidnapping, and a missing woman.  Verlaque and Bonnet each delve into different parts of the house’s  – and the author’s – histories to try to untangle the mess of events.

Longworth created a story to get lost in; one of those where I should probably have liked some of the characters a lot less than I did.  It was well plotted, bringing an end that even though it was foreshadowed early on, was both unexpected and tragic for almost everyone.  My only complaint was a sketchy resolution concerning the house’s history; the reader gets enough to fill in the broad strokes, but I’d have liked to have known how much of the legend was real: was anyone buried in the basement?  (not a spoiler, btw)  But I did particularly like the ending, the editor’s advice to the author; yes, there was a mercenary aspect to it, but truth, redemption and justice won too.

An excellent traditional mystery series that isn’t anything like cute and fluffy, but rather intelligent and well-written, and one that seems to be getting better as it goes.

Lake Silence (The World of the Others, #1)

Lake SilenceLake Silence
by Anne Bishop
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780399587245
Series: The World of the Others #1
Publication Date: March 6, 2018
Pages: 416
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

 

I wasn’t even going to read this one.  I was sure I didn’t want to leave Lakeside and the characters in that courtyard.  But this was one of those rare times when advance press got me to reconsider. I don’t even remember what I read, but it was enough to make me think that maybe Lake Silence would be worth a read.

Squee!  It was!  Much to the detriment of my sleep.  I started it yesterday afternoon and, true to previous experience, I almost didn’t put it down again – I finally lost the battle at 1am, but was up again at 7am, book open, real-life rudely put on hold, until it was finished.

Turns out it’s not Lakeside I’m attached to; it’s the Others.  I’m enamoured with their morality, to put it bluntly.  Honesty and good faith keep you alive.  Shady dealings and selfishness get you killed.  Every. single. time.  No second chances.  In a world that’s constantly pissing me off because people do bad things and get away with it, or dodge the consequences, if not immediately, than eventually (Pete Rose trying to get his lifetime ban lifted; Australia’s cricket vice-captain caught cheating and already publicly stating he hopes to play again), I find this world of the Others refreshing.  Unfortunately, even in a work of fantasy, humans can’t stop being selfish and exploitative, in spite of clear cut rules, and consequences that are meted out consistently and immediately, and brutally.

The setting for Lake Silence is completely different, with an entirely new cast of characters, although there are a few cameos.  This is a small town that’s always been owned by the terre indigene, where the human residents fool themselves into believing the Others keep themselves to themselves.  Vicki is a new resident, trying to make a go of an old abandoned resort she got as part of her divorce settlement, not realising the true purpose of the resort and her role as caretaker.

As in previous books, I just got sucked in; the characters, the setting, all of it.  The only discordant note, and the reason it’s not the full 5 stars, were the villains; they were the most 2 dimensional characters in the story – so much so they were caricatures, and that made it hard to take them as seriously as the story deserved.   Vicki is also an emotionally broken character, and that’s starting to make Bishop’s MCs feel formulaic.  While Meg’s fragility was logical, given her background, Vicki’s felt gratuitous; I don’t think the story would have suffered at all, or worked less well, if she’s been a relatively well-adjusted, independent woman getting on with her life after a divorce.

Doesn’t matter in the end; I loved the book and lost sleep over it, and I’ll gladly snap up the next one without reservations.

 

This was my final read for Kill Your Darlings, and I used it for the card Crime Scene: Planet Camazotz, as it is a book that takes place in a different world.

Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega, #5)

Burn BrightBurn Bright
by Patricia Briggs
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 0425281310
Series: Alpha and Omega #5
Publication Date: September 27, 2020
Pages: 308
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

I love this series; I love it even more than the Mercy Thompson series.  I think it’s because I find Charles far more interesting than Adam.

Burn Bright ticked all the right boxes for me too; its entire setting was in Aspen Creek, which was a nice change from the previous books, where they were always somewhere new, with a new cast of supporting characters each time.  In Burn Bright,we get more information about the Marrok’s pack, and a smidgen more insight into Bran (some of it I’m not sure I like knowing – tiny bit of ick).  I also enjoyed the small mysteries to solve along the way that aded up to the big plot point – I felt like it kept the pace fast without feeling ridiculous.

Each of the books in this series and the Mercy Thompson series all work together, each one contributing to one of many over-arching plots she’s got developing in this universe.  It makes it impossible to be able to recommend reading this series out of order, or honestly, without reading the Mercy Thompson series as well.  The latter isn’t strictly necessary, but it’ll definitely enhance the reading experience.

A Brush with Shadows (Lady Darby, #6)

A Brush with ShadowsA Brush with Shadows
by Anna Lee Huber
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780399587221
Series: A Lady Darby Mystery #6
Publication Date: March 6, 2018
Pages: 375
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime

I’ll put it out there: the recent books don’t have the edginess that the first few books had, and this one had Gage’s tragic past laid somewhat thickly on the ground, but I still thoroughly enjoy them.  I can imagine once you marry off your protagonist it becomes difficult to defy conventions quite so easily; some tropes become unavoidable.

Still, the characters continue to please, and Huber did fitting justice to the Dartmoor moors; Gage’s tragi-angst wasn’t the only thing thick on the ground:  thick fog, heavy mist, unrelenting rain, a formidable dark, gloomy manor, and a hint of the supernatural – the moors wouldn’t be the moors without them and they were all here in spades.

The mystery was pretty darn good too.  Was a crime committed?  Is the heir playing his usual games?  Why is everybody hiding everything?  In the end, crimes were definitely committed and while the murderer came out of nowhere for me, in spite of the name occurring to me in relation to a tangential plot element, I don’t feel like it was a cheat on the part of the author.  I can’t say she necessarily played fair in the strictest sense of the word, but I don’t feel like she pulled any rabbits out her hat either.

I’m a fan, and I’ll eagerly buy her next one.

This book will work for the Kill Your Darlings cards for Victim: Easy Rawlings and Victim: Ariadne Oliver.  Not sure which I’ll use it for yet though.

A Treacherous Curse (Veronica Speedwell, #3)

A Treacherous CurseA Treacherous Curse
by Deanna Raybourn
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780451476173
Series: Veronica Speedwell Mystery #3
Publication Date: January 16, 2018
Pages: 308
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Berkley

I love Veronica Speedwell.  Her character is almost everything I admire in a person, with the exceptions of her penchants for collecting butterflies, necessitating her killing them, and her need to verbalise her sexual liberty.  This isn’t hypocrisy on my part; I think it’s distasteful when men make their sexual needs topics of casual conversation, and it’s no less so when a woman does it.  Boundaries.  Good fences make good neighbours and all that.

But these are very minor niggles.  Everything else about Veronica is excellent and Stoker doesn’t suck either.  Raybourn has found that perfect balance of rawness, gentility, intelligence, anger, and grace in her hero (although I have to say, what’s up with the eye patch? Is that really considered sexy?  I see one and have to resist the urge to pull it and watch it snap back).  The dialog between the two of them is snappy and sometimes electric.  There’s no doubt as to where these two are headed, but Raybourn is taking her time sending them there, and doing it well enough that I, for one, feel no impatience for them to get on with it already.

The mystery plot is the only thing that held this book back a bit for me.  It succeeded in terms of leaving me guessing until the very end, but honestly it was so convoluted that I stopped trying to figure it out about halfway through and just focused on the characters until the end.  That’s not necessarily a criticism; this is a strong book just on the merits of being an engrossing work of historical fiction.  But my enjoyment came from the story first, with the mystery an afterthought.

Sadly, I’m going to have to wait an entire year for the fourth book.  But I’ll be looking forward to it with anticipation.