Lowcountry Boondoggle (Liz Talbot, #9)

Lowcountry BoondoggleLowcountry Boondoggle
by Susan M. Boyer
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781635116076
Series: Liz Talbot Mystery #9
Publication Date: June 30, 2020
Pages: 240
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Henery Press

Private investigators Liz Talbot and Nate Andrews thought they’d put Darius Baker’s troubles to rest—then his recently discovered son ropes him into a hemp farm investment with his college buddies. When a beloved Charleston professor—and potential investor—is murdered, Liz and Nate discover Darius keeps the PIs on speed dial.

A shocking number of people had reasons to want the genteel, bowtie wearing, tea-drinking professor dead. Was it one of his many girlfriends or a disgruntled student? Or perhaps Murray was killed because his failure to invest meant the hemp farm trio’s dreams were going up in smoke? Though Liz’s long-dead best friend, Colleen, warns her the stakes are far higher than Liz imagines, she is hellbent on finding the no-good killer among the bevy of suspects. But will the price of justice be more than Liz can bear?

Another solid entry in what’s been a very dependable, well-written series.  The mystery itself was a little predictable, but I can’t be certain the author didn’t intend that, as the clues weren’t subtle; a story about PIs wouldn’t really work with subtle and still be fair to the readers.

There’s some character development in this one, as well as references to a previous plot that make this less than ideal as a standalone, and it’s wroth the time to start at the beginning with book 1.

The Bright and Breaking Sea (Kit Brightling, #1)

The Bright And Breaking SeaThe Bright And Breaking Sea
by Chloe Neill
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781984806680
Series: Captain Kit Brightling #1
Publication Date: November 19, 2020
Pages: 369
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Berkley

Chloe Neill brings her trademark wit and wild sense of adventure to a stunning seafaring fantasy starring a dauntless heroine in a world of magic and treachery.

Kit Brightling, rescued as a foundling and raised in a home for talented girls, has worked hard to rise through the ranks of the Isles’ Crown Command and become one of the few female captains in Queen Charlotte's fleet. Her ship is small, but she's fast—in part because of Kit’s magical affinity to the sea. But the waters become perilous when the queen sends Kit on a special mission with a partner she never asked for.

Rian Grant, Viscount Queenscliffe, may be a veteran of the Continental war, but Kit doesn’t know him or his motives—and she’s dealt with one too many members of the Beau Monde. But Kit has her orders, and the queen has commanded they journey to a dangerous pirate quay and rescue a spy who's been gathering intelligence on the exiled emperor of Gallia.

Kit can lead her ship and clever crew on her own, but with the fate of queen and country at stake, Kit and Rian must learn to trust each other, or else the Isles will fall....

I’m wavering between 3.5 and 4 stars.  This first in a new series reads like it could almost be a middle grade story, except for one romantic scene which I know my niece, at least, would wrinkle her nose at.  It’s still a great story, just rather more bright and optimistic than is usually offered to us jaded adults.  It also lacks the snark Neill is generally known for, but then again, her Devil’s Isle series wasn’t snarky either.

Chloe Neill walks a fine line between imagining a world where women are common in historically male roles, and acknowledging the gender bias that exists in this one.  I’m not convinced she pulled it off; I’d have rather she stick to one truth or the other, but it wasn’t problematic and didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book.

Mostly, it’s a new concept, and a new series, so I’d imagine there some growing pains and adjustments ahead, but it was a nice escape and I’m interested in seeing where future books take me and the characters.

Pocket Apocalypse (InCryptid, #4)

Pocket ApocalypsePocket Apocalypse
by Seanan McGuire
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 0756408121
Series: InCryptid #4
Publication Date: March 15, 2015
Pages: 368
Publisher: DAW Books

Australia is a cryptozoologist’s dream, filled with unique species and unique challenges. Unfortunately, it’s also filled with Shelby’s family, who aren’t delighted by the length of her stay in America. And then there are the werewolves to consider: infected killing machines who would like nothing more than to claim the continent as their own. The continent which currently includes Alex.

Survival is hard enough when you’re on familiar ground. Alex Price is very far from home, but there’s one thing he knows for sure: he’s not going down without a fight.

The second of Alex’s books, and the best of the two by a clear margin.  This one takes place in Australia, and the author nails the setting, while taking the mickey about (northern) Australia’s natural population’s inherent desire to kill everyone.  Half-off Ragnarok struggled to get this cultural uniqueness right, in my opinion, so it was a relief to see the improvement here.  Shelby still remained elusive as an individual, but her family members more than compensated.

Shelby’s family is why I didn’t like this book even more; they’re over-the-top asses to Alex and it teetered on caricature.

The plot was good; while I wasn’t shocked by the turn of events, I didn’t see them coming, either.  I love how the author and Alex brought in the wadjets, using this angle to work in the injustice of ‘otherness’, though the Yowie’s (who I loved) circumstances turned what was a subtle but effective highlight on that injustice into something more like a sledgehammer.

The Aeslin mice are here but I did not appreciate the turn of events the author took with them.  Maybe she’d argue it was necessary to the story line, but she’d never convince me.  Luckily it was a relatively short scene.

With every book of McGuire’s I’ve read, I have both enjoyed them and found them problematic.  That I mostly keep coming back (I’ve skipped a few) for more Price family antics suggests she gets it right more often than she doesn’t.

Bewitched (Betwixt & Between, #2)

by Darynda Jones
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781734385229
Series: Betwixt & Between #2
Publication Date: September 15, 2020
Pages: 254
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Self-published

Forty-something Defiance Dayne only recently discovered she comes from a long line of powerful witches. Added to that was the teensy, infinitesimal fact that she is what’s called a charmling. One of three on the entire planet. And there are other witches who will stop at nothing to steal her immense power, which would basically involve her unfortunate and untimely death.

No one told her life after forty would mean having to learn new lifeskills—such as how to dodge supernatural assassins while casting from a moving vehicle—or that the sexiest man alive would be living in her basement.

Whoever said life begins at forty was clearly a master of the underappreciated and oft maligned understatement.


A pretty good follow up to book one after a rough start involving a heavy and silly dose of self denial on the part of the mc that fooled exactly no one.

Lots of heavy hints about upcoming darkness and drama, and a lot of unrelieved sexual tension for the mc and her romantic interest – which they deserve if they expected any privacy in the kitchen of a house with 4 other people wandering around in it.

In true Jones fashion, there’s no one story line, but rather multiple small things that happen and several resolutions brought about, some more exciting than others.  Defiances’ climbing of her personal learning curve might be a little conveniently easy, if for the author, if not herself, but given the publication time frame of these stories, it’s understandable, and the story works in spite of it as long as you aren’t looking for anything too meaty or involved.

I’m looking forward to book three and the chance to revisit the characters.

Betwixt (Betwixt & Between, #1)

by Darynda Jones
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781734385243
Series: Betwixt & Between #1
Publication Date: February 15, 2020
Pages: 254
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Self-published

Forty-something Defiance Dayne only recently discovered she comes from a long line of powerful witches. Added to that was the teensy, infinitesimal fact that she is what’s called a charmling. One of three on the entire planet. And there are other witches who will stop at nothing to steal her immense power, which would basically involve her unfortunate and untimely death.

No one told her life after forty would mean having to learn new lifeskills—such as how to dodge supernatural assassins while casting from a moving vehicle—or that the sexiest man alive would be living in her basement.

Whoever said life begins at forty was clearly a master of the underappreciated and oft maligned understatement.


I heard about this one from a fellow reviewer, and being a big fan of Darynda Jones’ other work in paranormal stories, I bent so far as to buy the ebook, I was so eager to read it.

This is an easy to read, fun, well-written story of no immense depth, full of the wonderful narrative snark that Jones is brilliant at.  If you’ve read her before and didn’t care for the snark, this one won’t endear her to you, but it’s a lot of fun to read.

At its heart is the friendship between the main character Defiance and her BFF, Annette.  And, of course, the romantic interest that is Roane.  Jones tries really hard to make Roane not be Reyes from glorious Grim Reaper series, but while she succeeds at making him look different, a rose by any other name would still be Reyes.  The author definitely has a type.  Fortunately it works.

While book one is light on plot, focusing mostly on world and character building, I didn’t feel the lack.  These are characters I genuinely enjoyed reading about and their new life was interesting in itself.  The only complaint I had was the dangling storyline of the Ex.  His brief re-appearance was unnecessary, made more so by the complete lack of follow up.  It feels like something an editor forgot to take out.

The book ends on a definitely lead in to the next book; not a cliffhanger, but definitely a dangling carrot of sorts.  If you find yourself enjoying this book, you’ll likely want to jump right into the next one.

The Library of the Unwritten

The Library of the UnwrittenThe Library of the Unwritten
by A.J. Hackwith
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781984806376
Series: Hell's Library #1
Publication Date: October 1, 2019
Pages: 374
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

A great tale for anyone who loves books, but especially for those who fancy themselves future authors, struggling authors, or really, anyone who’d embrace the title of author in any form.

Myself, I’ve never found the title of author appealing.  My love of books is strictly that of the receiver of stories, and as such, some of the rhapsodic odes to unwritten stories was lost on me, though I connected with the idea of potentiality.

Regardless, once I got into the story, which admittedly took awhile, I was invested.  I thoroughly appreciated the author’s take on Christian theology and judgement, but had a hard time buying into the creative license she took with heaven on several different levels.  There’s a serious feminist vibe running throughout the narrative, which is fine, but for the record:  God is no more a ‘she’ than God is a ‘he’; God is Omni; God is all, and while it makes no material difference which gender pronoun one uses, the overt use of “she’ has always felt  petty to me. It was a small blip, but whenever it happened it yanked me out of the story, even if just for a second.

The author’s grasp of the mythology of the underworld felt less formed, but only if you really stop to consider; the logic of the plotting cracks a bit around the edges if you stop to consider how she’s got the bureaucracy of Hell set up.  Don’t think about it too much though and it works well enough.

The characters are well written, though Leto’s story is obviously the one that is the most fully developed.  This is the character the author thought most deeply about, or had enough life experience that bled through into his creation.  Which is both unfortunate and haunting, though the result is a character the reader can care about and cheer for.  To use Hackworth’s logic, Leto is the character most likely to leave his book.

Overall, an engaging story, an adventure.  There’s a second book out next month that I’ll happily read, and I hope this time around we’ll spend more time in the library itself.

The Red Lamp

The Red LampThe Red Lamp
by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Rating: ★★★★½
Publication Date: June 18, 2019
Pages: 289
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Penzler Publishing

William Porter has just inherited Twin Hollows, an isolated lakeside estate shrouded in mystery and doom. But William and his wife aren't easily swayed by ghost stories and whispered rumors. Until a shadowy apparition beckons to them from the undying glow of a red lamp. Is a stranger with a deadly purpose trying to frighten them away? Or are they being haunted by a chilling warning from the grave?

I knew this was a ghost story, of sorts, so I started it bright and early yesterday morning, and became so engrossed in the story that I almost, almost, finished it last night. leaving nothing but 3 of the last 4 conclusion chapters for me to read today.

Mary Roberts Rinehart was an excellent writer; that her genius has been so far forgotten today is a tragedy.  The Red Lamp was originally written in 1925, and putting aside the lack of technology and the beautifully elegant writing that today might be considered a tad verbose, the story holds up perfectly; it would take very little to make this story ‘modern’.

The Red Lamp is complex to the point of labyrinthine though.  Like the main character, I stumbled through the story in ignorance.  Some of this was by design, as the mc is meant to be a spectator not an active participant in solving the crimes, but some of it was because there was just so much going on and that beautifully elegant writing of Rinehart’s made for easy camouflage of any clues.

The book is, with the exception of the introductory and final 4 chapters, purely epistemological, with no chapters, just journal entries.  This style doesn’t always lend itself to a submersive experience for the reader, but these journal entries are detailed enough that it makes almost no difference from a first person narrative.

The ghostly part of the story, in spite of the enormous potential for scarring the spit out of me, were subdued enough that they never raised so much as a hair.  This was a wee bit disappointing, I admit, but it didn’t adversely affect the story; they were never the point of the book, it was always about the mysterious killings and there was never doubt that those killings were done by a very corporeal being.

All in all, this was an excellent mystery.  I’d recommend this to anyone curious about Golden Age Mysteries who might be hesitant fearing dry or dated story-telling.  While not perfect, The Red Lamp is most assuredly neither dry nor dated.

I read this for the Gothic square on my Halloween Bingo 2020 card.

Murders and Metaphors

This is one of those series where the premise and the characters are strong, but the writing and editing could be better.  A bookshop with a magically sustained tree growing through the center that communicates through books with its owners; a raven that talks and a cat that understands more than he should; a native American sheriff that plays a strong role in the plots.

The mystery was ok; a little too frantic, but well done and I didn’t guess the murderer.  The motive was weak; plenty of other suspects had much more compelling reasons to kill the victim, which leaves the murderer’s reasons feeling way too shallow.

There’s a lot to like, and it’s not an unenjoyable read, if you’ll excuse the double negatives, it’s just not a great read.  I enjoyed the time I spent reading it enough to keep reading it, but not enough to feel anxious about reading the next one.

I read this for the Black Cat square on my Halloween Bingo 2020 card.

End of Days (Penryn and the End of Days, #3) – re-read

End of DaysEnd of Days
by Susan Ee
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 1444778552
Series: Penryn End of Days #3
Publication Date: May 26, 2015
Pages: 336
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Hodder Paperback

Ok, so book 3 re-read and I still don’t care for dystopian/post-apocolyptic settings.

My second read brings this book down to a 3.5, but I have to say, that on the second read, I was better able to appreciate the parallels to the stories of Lucifer’s original battle and descent/fall.  I was also better able to empathise with the tragedy and sacrifice of Baliel.  So, while I got more out of it the second time around, I also found the science fiction elements even more grating, and I was totally dissatisfied with the ending.  Yes, it’s an HEA, but it’s still lacking, with questions left unanswered, and that annoys me more than it did the first time, obviously.

I remain satisfied with the trilogy; it didn’t wow me, but I feel like I got what I paid for, more or less.  Perhaps someday my nieces will enjoy reading it.

World After (Penryn and the End of Days, #2) – re-read

World AfterWorld After
by Susan Ee
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 1477867287
Series: Penryn End of Days #2
Publication Date: January 1, 2013
Pages: 438
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Skyscape

I hadn’t planned on re-reading all three of the Penryn books, but I should have known better; I’ve never been able to just re-read one book in a series without wanting to re-read them all.

This one stands up exactly as well as it did the first time around.  It’s good, but not awesome, and of course, the whole science fiction angle doesn’t score points with me, as it’s just not my jam.  Still, the angel mythology remains compelling.

Why would Angels need science if they have magic?  Why would they need human doctors?  Human-derived technology?  None of this is explained in either of the two books so far.


I really liked the way the author used Raffe’s sword to share with Penryn and the reader Raffe’s POV and some of his long backstory.  Also, the sword’s way of using those memories as training exercises for Penryn – not that she ever used the lessons as far as I could tell.  Once past the halfway-ish mark, the story started pulling me in again.  It’s no coincidence that it’s also about the same time Raffe makes his re-appearance in Penryn’s life.  The two of them together are a more intriguing story to me than they are apart.

There’s a soupçon of humour in this book that was all but missing in the first one.  I’m still shaking my head over ‘Pooky Bear’ but can totally appreciate the naturalness of how the name came about.  Put me in the same scene in place of Penryn, and I’d have responded in much the same way to Dee/Dum.  Though I’d have probably said ‘Twinkle Toes’ or something equally obnoxious.

I read somewhere that 5 books are planned for this series.  If that’s the case, I predict, even though this book ends with the tides seemingly turning against the Angels, that they will rally in the third book.  It’s hard to imagine stringing this out for more than 3, 4 books at the most, but I’m sure the author has much more in store for everyone.

Just please don’t let it be more science fiction.