The Grandest Bookshop in the World

The Grandest Bookshop in the WorldThe Grandest Bookshop in the World
by Amelia Mellor
Rating: ★★★★★
isbn: 9781925972955
Publication Date: September 29, 2020
Pages: 302
Genre: Young Adult
Publisher: Affirm Press

Pearl and Vally Cole live in a bookshop. And not just any bookshop. In 1893, Cole’s Book Arcade in Melbourne is the grandest bookshop in the world, brimming with every curiosity imaginable. Each day brings fresh delights for the siblings: voice-changing sweets, talking parrots, a new story written just for them by their eccentric father.

When Pearl and Vally learn that Pa has risked the Arcade – and himself – in a shocking deal with the mysterious Obscurosmith, the siblings hatch a plan. Soon they are swept into a dangerous game with impossibly high stakes: defeat seven challenges by the stroke of midnight and both the Arcade and their father will be restored. But if they fail Pearl and Vally won’t just lose Pa – they’ll forget that he and the Arcade ever existed.


A friend told me about this book 6+ months ago, as a gift idea for my 10 year old niece, mentioning it was a story I’d enjoy too.  I forgot about it until she reminded me back in October, so when, just a few weeks later, I saw it at one of my schools’ book fairs, I bought it for a Christmas present, thinking niece and I could read it together, since I’d be spending Christmas with her and her family.

Then, Christmas got cancelled and the book was packed up to ship up to her along with the rest of the presents.  I figured I’d get to it one of these days.

Turns out I would; a package arrived at our house 5 days after Christmas, from an online bookseller, containing this book – I never ordered it and there’s NO information in the package about who sent it.  Mysteries.  The Good Kind.

Anyway, I got to read the book and oh, what an enchanting story it is.  Firmly written for middle grade kids, but magical enough to capture this adult’s imagination.  Two children, who live above the Grandest Bookstore in the World** have 28 hours to solve 7 challenges or else their beloved dad and their bookstore will cease to exist.

There are shades of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Jumanji, and on a deeper level Faust, but nothing ever too heavy for a 10 year old to handle.  Everything is couched in adventure and the heavier theme behind the Faustian roots of the story are confronted honestly without dwelling on them.  It really is a most wonderfully done story.

** Coles Book Arcade was a real place in Melbourne in the late 1800’s and it really was the Grandest Bookshop in the World.  While all the parts the author uses in the book (the tea room, the lolly shop, the fernery, etc.) didn’t all exist at the same time, they did all exist.  For those interested, I highly recommend this article from The Guardian, written by the author of this book, which you can find here.

Smoke Bitten (Mercy Thompson, #12)

Smoke BittenSmoke Bitten
by Patricia Briggs
Rating: ★★★★
Series: Mercy Thompson #12
Publication Date: March 19, 2020
Pages: 344
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit Books

Mercy Thompson returns in another thrilling instalment from No. 1 New York Times bestselling author Patricia Briggs

I am Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman. My only 'superpowers' are that I turn into a thirty-five-pound coyote and fix Volkswagens. But I have friends in odd places and a pack of werewolves at my back. It looks like I'm going to need them.
Centuries ago, the fae dwelt in Underhill. When they were cast out, they left behind their great castles, troves of magical artefacts . . . and their prisoners. Without the fae to mind them, those creatures roamed freely through Underhill wreaking havoc. Only the deadliest survived.
Now one of those prisoners has escaped. It can look like any creature it chooses and if it bites you, it controls you. It lives for chaos and destruction and can make you do anything - even kill the person you love the most. Now it is here, in the Tri-Cities. In my territory.
It won't, can't, remain. Not if I have anything to say about it.


Finally!  A Mercy Thompson book that didn’t include storylines with animal sacrifice.  The last few books before this had me seriously hesitant to continue with the series, and even after buying this, it stared at me for about a week before I picked it up with the intention of putting it right back down again if it even looked at an animal the wrong way.

Fortunately – and unfortunately – I never had to put the book down.  At least, not until 2.30am when I finally gave into sleep, only to pick it up again the next morning and finish it off.

That’s not to say the story was perfect; it was good, but the sub-plot between Mercy and Adam was meh, and got terribly schmaltzy towards the end (keeping in mind I have a low tolerance for “the power of love”).

The main plot concerned something that got out of Underhill and started possessing people, making them kill others, before it killed them and moved on.  This was more interesting to me, although it never really achieved ‘gripping’.  And towards the end, but long before the climax, I guessed who the smoke demon was, which was both a tiny bit disappointing, and also – YAY!  I was right! – making it a wash overall.

Generally, I enjoyed the story and it restored my faith in the series.  I hope book 13 stays away from the witches, although with that number, I don’t like my chances.

Summoned to Thirteenth Grave (Charley Davidson, #13)

Summoned to Thirteenth GraveSummoned to Thirteenth Grave
by Darynda Jones
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250149411
Series: Charlie Davidson #13
Publication Date: January 15, 2019
Pages: 292
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Charley is dead angry. She’s been kicked off the earthly plane for eternity—which is exactly the amount of time it takes to make a person stark, raving mad. But someone’s looking out for her, and Charley’s allowed to return after a mere hundred years in exile. Surely not that much has changed since then…right?

She’s missed her daughter. Reyes. Cookie and Garrett and Uncle Bob. Now that Charley’s finally back on earth, it’s time to solve the burning questions that still need answering. What happened to her mother? How did she really die? Who killed her? Is a batch of cupcakes the best medicine to mend a broken heart? The epic showdown between good and evil is about to begin. . .


The last book in the series; the one meant to wrap up all the loose ends, and it does so admirably.

When I read the first book, I liked it for the mysteries and the humor, though the humor was a little over-played (her penchant for naming everything grated on my nerves, and though she never stops doing it, it plays a much smaller part in the narratives of future books).  As the series progressed, I still read them for the mysteries and I enjoyed the humor more because it became more balanced, but I also got stuck into the mythology Jones was using for the overall series arc.  And I genuinely became attached to the wacky cast of characters that surrounded Charley.

This final book winds up the arc concerning the prophecies involving Charley and Reyes – and keeps the possibilities open for a future series featuring their daughter and her prophesied battle against Lucifer.  Since the 13th book was meant to be the finale, there are no loose ends or questions – though there were a couple of didn’t-see-that-coming twists, one full-blown M. Night Shyamalan shocker, and a single misty-eyed moment I’m wiling to admit to.

The only bit that left me disappointed was the end-end; the part where we find out what Charley and Reyes do.  It’s not anything short of a happy ending, but I didn’t like it.  I get it, and I get why it was the perfect ending, but I still didn’t like it, and mostly for juvenile reasons.

View Spoiler »

While I’m sad to see the story end, and sad I won’t see the gang anymore, I’m happy with the series ending now rather than past its prime, and Darynda Jones has a new series coming out next year that sounds like it might be fun, so perhaps I’ll have a new series to love and look forward to.

 

I read this book for Halloween Bingo’s 13 square.  13 in the title, and 13th in the series.

An Artless Demise (Lady Darby, #7)

An Artless DemiseAn Artless Demise
by Anna Lee Huber
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780451491367
Series: A Lady Darby Mystery #7
Publication Date: April 2, 2019
Pages: 372
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery

I thoroughly enjoy this series, and I enjoyed this one too, but I think it might be the one I liked least.

Anyone who has read the earlier books in the series will readily agree that Lady Darby has had an unarguably difficult and painful past.  Her first husband, a famous anatomist, forced her to attend his human dissections to draw the illustrations required for his planned masterwork on the human anatomy.  When her part was revealed upon his death, she was vilified and run out of London. Now she’s back, in love, married, and pregnant, and her timing is awful; burkers have been caught attempting to sell the body of a dead boy to anatomists, and it’s obvious he did not meet his end naturally.  Then the nobs start getting killed in the streets of Mayfair and everyone is looking at Lady Darby again.

It’s a great story, but unfortunately, Kiera’s wallowing just a bit.  Not as much as your average historical heroine cliche, but more than what I’d expect from this strong and talented character.  Call it a justifiable response to the equivalent of PTSD, but she became a victim, and it was a bit disappointing, given all the adventures she’s had.  Usually, this wouldn’t be as big of a stand out as it is this time, but the murderer was obvious to me from the start, so I had nothing to distract me from Kiera’s sudden-onset mousiness.  She gets her mojo back in the end, so that’s something.

In spite of my nit-picking, it was still an enjoyable read overall, and I look forward to the next one.

Storm Cursed (Mercy Thompson, #11)

Storm CursedStorm Cursed
by Patricia Briggs
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780425281291
Series: Mercy Thompson #11
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Pages: 358
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

My name is Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman, and I am a car mechanic.
And a coyote shapeshifter.
And the mate of the Alpha of the Columbia Basin werewolf pack.

Even so, none of that would have gotten me into trouble if, a few months ago, I hadn’t stood upon a bridge and taken responsibility for the safety of the citizens who lived in our territory. It seemed like the thing to do at the time. It should have only involved hunting down killer goblins, zombie goats, and an occasional troll. Instead, our home was viewed as neutral ground, a place where humans would feel safe to come and treat with the fae.

The reality is that nothing and no one is safe. As generals and politicians face off with the Gray Lords of the fae, a storm is coming and her name is Death.


My rating would indicate I wasn’t all that thrilled with this book, but I was.  I thought it was a very solid entry in the series – it holds its own – though it isn’t the best.

I had, overall, three disconnects with the book that stick in my mind after 24 hours.  From least important to most they are:

1.  The blurb set up an unreasonable expectation for me.  The blurb, coupled with the cover, made me think of the scene in X-Men 3, where Jane Grey unleashes the mother of all temper tantrums.  The reality in this book, while horrifying in itself, is rather underwhelming in comparison; it’s not really a storm so much as it’s a killing spree.

2.  I get it: Mercy really doesn’t like being bound to Stefan, even though she freely admits she consented and that he’s never, ever done anything to abuse her trust or exploit said bond.  To Mercy I say: get over it already.

3.  And this is really the stickler, the reason I rated a story I mostly enjoyed so low:  animal cruelty and death.  I get it – the story is about black magic that feeds on suffering – and I don’t care.  I did not like the long swaths of descriptions; the story didn’t need it either – it was horrifying enough without Briggs putting images in my head I’m really not happy about.  I frankly skipped large sections of the book when I discovered she was running with this “theme”.   I can’t believe I didn’t DNF the damn thing, though the rest of the story was good enough that I’m glad I didn’t.  But I’ll vet her next books far more closely in future and I’m skipping any that appear to revisit this crap.

Beyond those things, the story really was good. I loved Sherwood’s part in the story even though it was shades of Bran; Briggs still made it work well.  I found Larry the Goblin King sort of funny, and definitely intriguing – I enjoy stories about, if not underdogs, people who are underestimated.  It sounds like the goblins are woefully underestimated.  I have mixed feelings about Elizaveta, though I’ll probably not miss her, and I enjoyed Mercy finally figuring out that her own strengths were unexplored.  It took her long enough, but at least she got there in the end.

Overall a strong story if you can overlook the animal cruelty, which I can’t.  My enthusiasm for this series has suffered a significant hit; I won’t go so far as to say I’m done, but I’m certainly looking at the next release with a lot more circumspection.

Wild Country (The World of the Others #2)

Wild CountryWild Country
by Anne Bishop
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780399587276
Series: The World of the Others #2
Publication Date: March 5, 2019
Pages: 384
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

 

Relative to the rest of the books in The Others universe, this one was ‘meh’.  But ONLY relative to the rest of the books.  In general it’s a great story and Bishop continues to create incredibly readable stories centered in a world where humans are resoundingly not an apex predator.  Or, at least, not the apex predator.

This is the second book in the off-shoot series called “The World of The Others”, but its placement on The Others Universe timeline puts it chronologically in front of the 1st book, Lake Silence; thankfully the author’s note at the start explains this and that the events in this book take place simultaneously to events in the last book of the original series, book 5, Etched in Bone.  Given that it’s been a few years since I read Etched in Bone, I needed to re-read it first to reacquaint myself with the characters and events.  Which then prompted a re-read of the entire series.

Wild Country is the story of the aftermath following the complete eradication of all the humans of Bennett, a small town in the western part of the continent (alternate universe, alternate names, but it’s generally based on North America).  The residents were members of the Humans First and Last League, and responsible for the wholesale slaughter of an entire Wolf pack.  After the Others retaliated, they took back the land Bennett sits on, and went about re-creating the town, bringing in a mix of Others, Intuits (humans, but humans persecuted for their uncanny intuitiveness) and select humans, experimenting to see if they could create a more cooperative community.

I was engrossed in this storyline – some of my favorite non-lethal bits of these books is how Bishop shows these wildly differing life forms working together cooperatively, finding ways to respect the differences and keep the similarities working harmoniously.  But then she went all Wild West on me and I’ve never been enamoured of the whole Wild West genre.  The showdowns, the gunfights, the cattle rustlers… meh.  I’m not saying that she didn’t do a good job with it, only that it wasn’t my jam, and towards the end it just lost me a little bit.  It also felt a tiny bit like satire; like an homage that put a toe over the line and got a little silly.

Still, my bias is just that; a bias.  Overall the story was great and kept me up, along with a taco dinner I made way too spicy, until 2.30am.  I hope Anne Bishop’s imagination is chock full of stories of The Others and their battles with the selfish gits that make up entirely too large a proportion of humanity, because I’m nowhere near tired of reading about them.

Death Comes to Bath (Kurland St. Mary Mystery, #6)

Death Comes to BathDeath Comes to Bath
by Catherine Lloyd
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781496702128
Series: Kurland St. Mary Mystery #6
Publication Date: December 18, 2018
Pages: 266
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Kensington

This has been a reliable series from the start.  Death Comes to Bath is not the strongest in the series in terms of mystery plotting or main character development, but the atmosphere, setting and secondary character development balance the scales.

After a serious setback in Sir Robert Kurland’s post-war recovery, Lady (Lucy) Kurland packs up and drags him to Bath for 3 months for the restorative water cure, dragging her sister along in the hopes that she will find a suitable man to marry.  Sir Robert makes fast friends with their cantankerous neighbour and when he ends up dead, Robert and Lucy take it upon themselves to discover who, in one of the most disastrous families that ever was, might have committed the crime.

The outrageous dysfunction of the murdered man’s family almost lends an air of frivolity to the story, but not really.  The plotting of the murder itself was semi-predictable; the murderer wasn’t a shocking revelation, though it wasn’t at all telegraphed. A few extra points go to the author for the plot twist that I only cottoned on to a few pages before it was revealed to the characters.

The character development between Lucy and Robert was sadly predictable, although also historically accurate, so no fault goes to the author.  What was far more interesting to me is the continued exploration of Lucy’s sister Anna’s reluctance to marry because she doesn’t want kids.  Historically accurate or not, I find her small story line compelling and it filled the gaps nicely for me when the story threatened to become stale.  (It’s possible I mixed metaphors there?)

MT and I spent an all-too-short overnighter in Bath a few years ago, and all it’s done is whet my appetite for the city.  The area of Bath this story covers is small, and almost cliched with its mentions of the Pump Room, but I still ate it up with a spoon.

Death Comes to Bath is a light and charming way to spend a few hours, and I will happily anticipate a 7th adventure.

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.

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.

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.