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.

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.

Secrets in the Mist

Secrets in the MistSecrets in the Mist
by Anna Lee Huber
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780997939620
Series: Gothic Myths #1
Publication Date: October 25, 2016
Pages: 378
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Brightstone Media

2021 Update:  I actually enjoyed this more the second time around, enough to give it a 4 star rating over the original 3.

——–

Hmm… how to sum up my thoughts about this book?  Mostly, it needed a harsher editor.

I’m a huge fan of Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby series, and the writing in this is equally as good, but it’s just too long.  The story dragged for at least the first half of the book, and as Ella is a poster child for co-dependency, a situation that was played to the hilt, the reading was tedious at the start.

Once it got going though, the reading became much easier, even at times, exciting.  Huber never goes for the fantastical and cliched plotting choices, but still weaves an impressive story.  The ending felt a bit abrupt, but I can’t say that’s a fair call; I think I tried to anticipate how the end would happen, and being completely wrong is what felt abrupt.

I’m not sorry to have read it – it was a good story (and a good romance) – but it \ could have been a more amazing story with tighter editing.

This was my Free Friday Read for BLopoly and it was 378 pages.

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.