The Restorer (The Graveyard Queen, #1)

The RestorerThe Restorer
by Amanda Stevens
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781742902289
Series: The Graveyard Queen #1
Publication Date: May 6, 2023
Pages: 374
Genre: Fiction, Paranormal
Publisher: Mills and Boone

Never acknowledge the dead
Never stray far from hallowed ground
Never associate with those who are haunted
Never, ever tempt fate.

My father’s rules. I’ve never broken them…until now.

My name is Amelia Gray. I’m a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts. In order to protect myself from the parasitic nature of the dead, I’ve always held fast to the rules passed down from my father. But now a haunted police detective has entered my world and everything is changing, including the rules that have always kept me safe.

It started with the discovery of a young woman’s brutalized body in an old Charleston graveyard I’ve been hired to restore. The clues to the killer—and to his other victims—lie in the headstone symbolism that only I can interpret. Devlin needs my help, but his ghosts shadow his every move, feeding off his warmth, sustaining their presence with his energy. To warn him would be to invite them into my life. I’ve vowed to keep my distance, but the pull of his magnetism grows ever stronger even as the symbols lead me closer to the killer and to the gossamer veil that separates this world from the next.

Another LT rec, and a winner.  This was some grade-A-ghost-story stuff, and in a passage or two, it toed the boundary with Horror (my definition of horror anyway).  I really enjoyed the graveyard background information, and the facts involving the symbolism used on gravestones.

The plot of the mystery is a tad gruesome for my taste, although it’s not graphic at all until the end, as they get closer to identifying the murderer, and details start to emerge that I could have done without.

I thought the characters were well written and well developed and I really got engrossed in the story, and was sorry to see it end.  Saying that, however, I’m not feeling confident about continuing with the series.  Reading the synopsis’ and a handful of reviews for subsequent books makes me think that author is more interested in yanking her characters around emotionally than writing good, spooky mysteries.  I’ll have to see how I feel as time goes on – will memories of this story draw me back in, or will they fade altogether.

NB:  I rated this 4.5 stars just after I finished it; with a few days distance, I really want to nudge it back down to 4 stars and will probably do so, as I can no longer remember why I thought it was worth that extra .5 star.

The Librarian of Crooked Lane

The Librarian of Crooked LaneThe Librarian of Crooked Lane
by C.J. Archer
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781922554208
Series: The Glass Library #1
Publication Date: January 1, 2022
Pages: 275
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Paranormal
Publisher: Self-published

Librarian Sylvia Ashe knows nothing about her past, having grown up without a father and a mother who refused to discuss him. When she stumbles upon a diary that suggests she's descended from magicians, she's skeptical. After all, magicians are special, and she's just an ordinary girl who loves books. She seeks the truth from a member of the most prominent family of magicians, but she quickly learns that finding the truth won't be easy, especially when he turns out to be as artless as her, and more compelling and dangerous than books.

War hero Gabe is gifted with wealth, a loving family, and an incredible amount of luck that saw him survive four harrowing years of a brutal war without injury. But not all injuries are visible. Burying himself in his work as a consultant for Scotland Yard, Gabe is going through the motions as he investigates the theft of a magician-made painting. But his life changes when he unwittingly gets Sylvia dismissed from her job and places her in danger.

After securing her new employment in a library housing the world's greatest collection of books about magic, Gabe and Sylvia's lives become intwined as they work together to find both the painting and the truth about Sylvia's past before powerful people can stop them.

A thoroughly average read that wasn’t a waste of time, but definitely was the perfect library loan.  I would have been displeased had I bought this, but as a library loan I can forgive a lot.  And there are quite a few things requiring forgiveness.

First off, the synopsis implies this book is a lot more involved than it actually is.   After securing her new employment in a library housing the world’s greatest collection of books about magic, Gabe and Sylvia’s lives become intwined as they work together to find both the painting and the truth about Sylvia’s past before powerful people can stop them.
But sometimes the past is better left buried…  Um… no.  I mean, yes, they’re searching for the painting, but there is no search for Sylvia’s past beyond occasional speculation, and there are no powerful people trying to stop them.  There’s an attempted kidnapping at the beginning that’s never explained, but perhaps that’s part of a series arc?  And the ‘magic’ isn’t really anything of the sort.  It’s described as magic and apparently spells are used, but as near as this book comes to explaining it, ‘magicians’ are merely people who are extraordinarily gifted at their chosen craft and are obsessed with it.  Which doesn’t strike me as all that magical.

For all of that though, the writing was good, and way better than average for a book that was apparently self-published.  While the writing lacked sophistication and polish, it was far better edited and copyedited than your average big publishing house efforts.  The plotting of the mystery was very well done too.  I feel like, had the author had a big publishing team pushing her, this could have easily been a 4 star read.

This was a fast read that Libby informs me took just a few minutes over 4 hours to finish.  If my libraries have the second book, I’d be happy to read it, and might enjoy it more now that my expectations have been adjusted by book 1.

Finlay Donovan is Killing It

Finlay Donovan is Killing ItFinlay Donovan is Killing It
by Elle Cosimano
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781472282248
Series: Finlay Donovan Mystery #1
Publication Date: February 9, 2021
Pages: 359
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Headline Review

When struggling crime writer and single mum Finlay Donovan accidentally finds herself employed as a local hit-woman, she suddenly finds herself living the life of crime previously reserved for her characters.

'It is a widely known fact that most mums are ready to kill someone by eight-thirty AM on any given Monday. . . ' Finlay Donovan, single mum and floundering crime writer, is having a hard time. Her ex-husband went behind her back to fire the nanny, and this morning she sent her four-year-old to school with hair duct-taped to her head after an unfortunate incident with scissors.

Making it to lunch with her literary agent is a minor victory but, as she's discussing the plot of her latest crime novel, the conversation is misinterpreted by a woman sitting nearby as that of a hit-woman offering her services to dispose of a 'problem' husband.
And when the woman slips Finlay a name and a promise of a large sum of cash, Finlay finds herself plotting something much bigger than her novel.
And, after all, they do always say: write what you know. . .

Finlay Donovan really is killing it . . .

I’ve seen this title thrown around a few sites, but honestly, the cover turned me off because it was such an obvious knock off of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? that it felt like the publisher was trying to ride some coat-tails.  But Irresponsible Reader sang its praises in one of his posts, and I decided to give it a try.

At first, I thought maybe I’d run up against my first IR recommendation dud, because I don’t enjoy reading about people who are hanging onto life by a thread, and Finlay is definitely a big, hot mess at the beginning of this book.  But I kept reading, because I couldn’t figure out how the author was going to pull off a protagonist mother-of-two who kills for money and still call the book a comedy.

When the answer to that started becoming clearer, the book started to click for me, because the deeper Finlay found herself in it, the more interested and invested I became.  Coincidentally, the less of a hot mess she became.  The introduction of the nanny-partner also helped, because her pragmatic personality was one I could identify with (although she takes her pragmatism further than I ever could).

What I was left with was a very well written, well plotted mystery that entertained me.  Cosimano gets the bonus points for pulling off a very-plausible-for-fiction explanation for all the events that take place, and for dovetailing it all nicely together at the end.

This is the first of at least 3 books (so far) and I’m definitely interested in reading the next one.  Thanks again to Irresponsible Reader!

Bodies from the Library 1 (MbD’s Deal-me-in Challenge)

Rather than create a separate post for each short story, I’m appending them under the anthology title as I read them.  Older short stores will be behind the ‘read more’.

Bodies from the Library 1Bodies from the Library 1
by Tony Medawar (editor)
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780008289225
Publication Date: January 1, 2018
Pages: 324
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Collins Crime Club

This anthology of rare stories of crime and suspense brings together 16 tales by masters of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction for the first time in book form, including a newly discovered Agatha Christie crime story that has not been seen since 1922.
At a time when crime and thriller writing has once again overtaken the sales of general and literary fiction, Bodies from the Library unearths lost stories from the Golden Age, that period between the World Wars when detective fiction captured the public’s imagination and saw the emergence of some of the world’s cleverest and most popular storytellers.

Each of these 16 forgotten tales have either been published only once before – perhaps in a newspaper or rare magazine – or have never before appeared in print. From a previously unpublished 1917 script featuring Ernest Bramah’s blind detective Max Carrados, to early 1950s crime stories written for London’s Evening Standard by Cyril Hare, Freeman Wills Crofts and A.A. Milne, it spans five decades of writing by masters of the Golden Age.

Most anticipated of all are the contributions by women writers: the first detective story by Georgette Heyer, unseen since 1923; an unpublished story by Christianna Brand, creator of Nanny McPhee; and a dark tale by Agatha Christie published only in an Australian journal in 1922 during her ‘Grand Tour’ of the British Empire.

With other stories by Detection Club stalwarts Anthony Berkeley, H.C. Bailey, J.J. Connington, John Rhode and Nicholas Blake, plus Vincent Cornier, Leo Bruce, Roy Vickers and Arthur Upfield, this essential collection harks back to a time before forensic science – when murder was a complex business.

The Inverness Cape by  Leo Bruce: ✭✭✭½  (12 March, 2023)

I’ve read at least one other full-length Leo Bruce novel (Death on Allhallowe’en) and liked it quite a bit.  This short story was clever, although not complex.  Told as a memory of a past case, but still structured as a mystery (the guilty party isn’t named until the end).  I liked the subtle tip-o-the-hat to Doyle and Holmes.  Well, maybe it’s not subtle, but it’s a tip-o-the-hat to his existence and eminence, and perhaps it’s done in a sly sort of way.  As I said, it’s not a complicated mystery, but it’s a short-short story and it’s done well for the few pages it occupies.



Continue reading Bodies from the Library 1 (MbD’s Deal-me-in Challenge)

The Case of the Gilded Fly (Gervase Fen, #1)

The Case of the Gilded FlyThe Case of the Gilded Fly
by Edmund Crispin
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 0140117717
Series: Gervase Fen #1
Publication Date: January 1, 1971
Pages: 208
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Penguin Books

Yseut Haskell, a pretty but spiteful young actress with a talent for destroying men's lives, is found dead in a college room just metres from the office of unconventional Oxford don and amateur detective, Gervase Fen. The victim is found wearing an unusual ring, a reproduction of a piece in the British Museum featuring a gold gilded fly but does this shed any light on her murder? As they delve deeper into Yseut's unhappy life the police soon realise that anyone who knew her would have shot her, but can Fen discover who could have shot her? Erudite, eccentric and entirely delightful - Before Morse, Oxford's murders were solved by Gervase Fen, the most unpredictable detective in classic crime fiction.

It took me 128 days to read this book.  I can’t say exactly why, as I enjoy Crispin’s work – what I’ve read of it so far – but I started this on October 6th, put it down after about 5 chapters, and didn’t pick it up again until earlier this week.  Perhaps because it centres around the theater – a setting that doesn’t do much for me at all – or maybe I just wasn’t in the mood.

This is the first Fen mystery, and I suspect that’s part of what I found tedious, along with the setting.  I was also annoyed with Fen saying, at the half way mark, that he knew who the murderer was; as soon as he said that, all I could think was ‘why do I have to read as many pages again before I find out?’

But I loved the way Crispin sort of did a Jasper Fforde with this book (and yes, I realise it’s properly Jasper Fforde doing a Crispin with his Tuesday Next books, but go with it, please).  The characters all have an awareness that they are, in fact, fictional characters living within the confines of the story, and the small asides that let the reader in on this knowledge are often subtle, but they always made me smile when I came across them.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Crispin’s sly humor in his other books and this one was no different, but I do think this might have made a better short story than a full-length novel.


by Holly Throsby
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781760878740
Publication Date: November 1, 2022
Pages: 406
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Allen & Unwin

On a hot morning in 1991 in the regional town of Clarke, Barney Clarke (no relation) is woken by the unexpected arrival of many policemen: they are going to search his backyard for the body of a missing woman.

Next door, Leonie Wallace and little Joe watch the police cars through their kitchen window. Leonie has been waiting six years for this day. She is certain that her friend Ginny Lawson is buried in that backyard.

But the fate of Ginny Lawson is not the only mystery in Clarke. Barney lives alone in a rented house with a ring on his finger, but where is Barney's wife? Leonie lives with four-year-old Joe, but where is Joe's mother?

Clarke is a story of family and violence, of identity and longing, of unlikely connections and the comedy of everyday life. At its centre stands Leonie Wallace, a travel agent who has never travelled, a warm woman full of love and hope and grief, who would do anything in the world for Joe.

This is Throsby’s third book, and, I think, the … not weakest, but least complicated, in terms of story.  It’s also probably the most accessible in terms of vernacular; a few things were purely Aussie, but understandable in context.  I didn’t need my handy-dandy MT-dictionary to decipher cultural references or some of the more obscure slang.

Unlike in the previous books, that where the stories were more centred on the community, Clarke focuses on two people, neighbours but strangers, both of whom are deeply damaged people after suffering significant tragedies.  When the police show up to Barney’s newly rented home with a warrant to search for the body of a missing woman who lived there 6 years previous, Barney is forced out of his shell, and he begins to interact with his neighbours Leonie.

Throsby weaves the memories of each of their tragedies throughout the narrative, so that the real stories behind each unfurl every so slowly, as the search for Ginny Lawson’s body continues on.  It’s a bit maddening, but worthwhile at the end as she brings everything together.  It’s not a story with a happy ending, but it at least ends on a hopeful note.  Throsby does something a little different, too, as she leaves the reader with more information than the characters have, and I think it works.

The tag line on the cover isn’t really good marketing; this really isn’t a mystery.  But it is a very good story, that just happens to center on the search for a body.

A Hard Day for a Hangover

A Hard Day for a HangoverA Hard Day for a Hangover
by Darynda Jones
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781250233141
Series: Sunshine Vicram #3
Publication Date: December 6, 2022
Pages: 343
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Some people greet the day with open arms. Sheriff Sunshine Vicram would rather give it a hearty shove and get back into bed, because there’s just too much going on right now. There’s a series of women going missing, and Sunny feels powerless to stop it. There’s her persistent and awesomely-rebellious daughter Auri, who’s out to singlehandedly become Del Sol’s youngest and fiercest investigator. And then there’s drama with Levi Ravinder—the guy she’s loved and lusted after for years. The guy who might just be her one and only. The guy who comes from a family of disingenuous vipers looking to oust him—and Sunshine—for good.

Like we said, the new day can take a hike.

This third and last instalment wraps up every last little story arc and has a few stand alone mini plots as well.  Everyone is back – even the racoon – and the pace is as fast as the first two books.  Jones can be frank and pragmatic with her characters, but she can also be sentimental as all get-out and sometimes she walks that fine line between sentimental and saccharine, although rarely crosses it.  Auri remains just that little bit too good to be true, as do most of the children in Jones’ books but she’s not unbearable at all.

I like what Jones did with the main stand-alone story arc, involving a series of missing women.  It went in a slightly unorthodox direction, and I liked it, if ‘like’ is the right word to use.  About mid-way through it becomes a bit transparent, but waiting to find out how it would unfold and how she’d handle it, made up for that.

I am so sorry to see this series end.  I love these characters and the town of Del Sol, and I’m going to miss them.


For Pete’s Sake

For Pete's SakeFor Pete's Sake
by Geri Buckley
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780425201534
Publication Date: January 1, 2005
Pages: 304
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Berkley

Pietra Pete Lang is a modern-day Southern belle who's busy trying to keep her eccentric family from falling into dysfunction. But her mettle is about to be tested--along with her heart--when fireworks ignite between Pete and her brother's divorce attorney.

This is a re-read I’ve had for so long that I have no notes from the original read, I only remember that I really enjoyed it as a rom-com sort of book.

While it’s definitely a rom-com, it’s also definitely dated.  The difference just under two decades can make is startling.  I spent a lot of time thinking ‘you could not get away with saying that now’, and the total lack of subtlety often made this a trying re-read.  But the Florida setting was still enjoyable, as were the eccentric characters in Pete’s family, even if the plot was thin.


by Adalyn Grace
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781529367225
Publication Date: August 30, 2022
Pages: 408
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Orphaned as a baby, nineteen-year-old Signa has been raised by a string of guardians, each more interested in her wealth than her wellbeing – and each has met an untimely end. Her remaining relatives are the elusive Hawthornes, an eccentric family living at Thorn Grove, an estate both glittering and gloomy.

Its patriarch mourns his late wife through wild parties, while his son grapples for control of the family’s waning reputation and his daughter suffers from a mysterious illness. But when their mother’s restless spirit appears claiming she was poisoned, Signa realizes that the family she depends on could be in grave danger, and enlists the help of a surly stable boy to hunt down the killer.

Signa’s best chance of uncovering the murderer, though, is an alliance with Death himself, a fascinating, dangerous shadow who has never been far from her side. Though he’s made her life a living hell, Death shows Signa that their growing connection may be more powerful – and more irresistible – than she ever dared imagine.

A reluctant 3 stars.  I bought this because I got sucked in by a pretty cover, and all the elements were there to make an interesting story: murders, poison, Death as a character, ghosts, and while it was technically written well enough to merit three stars, I didn’t find much to like about it.  Some YA is written so well that it’s ageless, but this isn’t one of those YA’s.  There’s a complete lack of sophistication to the writing, and the story should have been edited into a much tighter structure.  The mystery was good though – the author totally plotted murder and attempted murder without me having a clue.

The reason I wouldn’t recommend this book though, is I personally found the MC ridiculous.  Yes, she had a very difficult life, being shuffled from one guardian to another, all of whom were only interested in her money and treated her terribly.  Yes, she’s lonely.  Neither is an excuse for her childish behaviour or her lack of self.  75% of the book is all about her wanting to look pretty and act pretty and attract a husband so that she can join society – because then they’ll have to like her.  She’s 19, she has the powers of Death himself, and she’s an idiot.  She has her great awakening in the last 25% of the book, where she suddenly decides to hell with conventions and to just be herself, which was both entirely too late coming, and entirely too unbelievable.

A very average book with a weak MC.  All in all, a waste of a gorgeous cover.

The Bat

The BatThe Bat
by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Rating: ★★★
isbn: Dell #0465
Publication Date: August 23, 1969
Pages: 224
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Dell

For months, the city has lived in fear of the Bat. A master criminal hindered by neither scruple nor fear, he has stolen over one million dollars and left at least six men dead. The police are helpless, the newspapers know nothing—even the key figures of the city's underworld have no clue as to the identity of the Bat. He is a living embodiment of death itself, and he is coming to the countryside. There, he will encounter the only person who can stop him: adventurous sixty-five-year-old spinster Cornelia Van Gorder. Last in a long line of New York society royalty, Cornelia has found old age to be a bore, and is hungry for a bit of adventure. She's going to find it—in a lonely old country house where every shadow could be the Bat.

Way back when I read The Circular Staircase, people told me about The Bat; that it was a re-novelisation of a play based on The Circular Staircase and widely considered to be an improvement on the original.  So, I bought a copy of The Bat when I found one.

Alas, this was not, in my opinion, an improvement on the original.  It was definitely funny – it seemed to go for the outright humor, playing to the audience for laughs.  The blatant switch of targets for the racism was incredibly disappointing, although the dichotomy of respect and thoughtless remarks remains the same as the original.  There was an added bonus of outright misogyny here too that irritated me to no end; and I really wanted to drown Dale for being so weak and vapid.

I don’t know if it’s because I read TCS, or because The Bat was simplified for stage production, but the plot failed to please me as much as the original – it’s a bare bones version of the one that gave me such welcome surprises in TCS.

All in all in was a fun read but not at all as good as the original in my opinion.

I read this for the Gothic square on my Halloween Bingo 2022 card and as a buddy read with Moonlight Reader, Peregrinations, and BrokenTune.