Mystery · Romance

Review: The Cracked Spine

The Cracked Spine

Title: The Cracked Spine
Author: Paige Shelton
Pages: 304
Publication: 2017
Series: Scottish Bookshop Mystery #1

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Local LIbrary]

(Other reviews: Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly)

I’ve been on a cozy mystery kick as of late–who am I kidding? I’m always in a mood for cozy mysteries. Set in a foreign local, especially in Scotland, is a cat nip. I was also attracted to this book as the lead is an archivist which is one of my degrees.

There is a lot wrong with the book:

  • The lead answers an ad she finds for this used bookshop in Edinburgh and is hired on the spot. Is there qualified people in Scotland?
  • It took nearly a hundred pages before the murder occured; far too slow
  • She immediately befriends the cabbie who takes her to the bookshop on her first day and he and his wife happen to have a spare cottage for her to move into.
  • Of course she meets a hot Scot who wears a kilt unironically.
  • She’s in Scotland two days and she’s already a detective for people she doesn’t know.
  • The whole puzzle of random torn up sheets of paper scattered around the murdered person’s apartment that Delany happens to find is really implausible.

Overall, it’s just a hodge podge of elements that the author was told would make a great cozy mystery dumped into a cosmopolitan city. The strange this is this is not Shelton’s first time at the rodeo as she has other cozy mystery series under her belt.

I’m not sure what’s going on. I found myself picking up and putting down the book numerous times before settling in to finish it. It’s not that I would not recommend it–it’s got a lot of five star reviews on Goodreads–but I’m not going to continue on with the series.

 

 

 

Paranormal · Romance

Review: Soulless

Title: Soulless
Author: Gail Carriger
Pages: 416
Publication date: October 2009
Series: Parasol Protectorate Book 1

[Amazon | Indie Bound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Publisher’s Weekly (starred review), Tor)

Steph and I were talking about books the other day, as one does, and I mentioned I was looking for new genres. Knowing that I also have a taste for most things Victorian/steampunk/gaslamp, she recommended Soulless, the first book in the Parasol Protectorate series.

Now, I read a lot but I also have a habit of starting books and never finishing them. I read by what I’m interested in the moment. I may be going through a cozy mystery period but I could really go for romcom. Or I could really dig into a biography or a book from 100 years ago. My mood changes quickly so the book really has to capture me to keep me going longer than a few chapters.

With all of that being said, Steph knowing this about me, recommended Soulless to me as a fun and funny read. So I checked the ebook out and discover that I’m 31% through already.

INTERESTING!

No idea why I returned it before finishing it because it was fun, witty, a tad bit sexy, and funny. I love Alexia Tarabotti and her Pride and Prejudice barbs with with Conall, Lord Maccon. Lord Akeldama who speaks in emphasis my tulip is a joy to behold. The story of mad scientists gone awry was fun and a bit of a dazzle to follow.

And while it has preternaturals, supernaturals, and people with terrible fashion sense (Ivy!), at its heart, it’s a mystery. Who is kidnapping the werewolfs, vampires, and ghost and what exactly is happening to them and why? Does Alexia’s background have anything to do with this (she’s is not only a ghastly spinster but also an Italian to boot)? Does her dead father figure into this somehow?

Miss Gail has created a delightful world to romp and play in. The language  can get a bit strained at times but quickly recovers. The naming scheme she’s come up with (Ivy Hisselpenny (her best friend) and Loonwilts (her family)) are fabulous with a bit of a fan tip to the nose.

It’s difficult to say anything wrong with this book. I know steampunk/gaslamp books can be a bit heavy handed on the gadgets and gewgaws as well as the underlying sense of trying to be different enough but Miss Gail does it so effortlessly and easily that her writing should be a masterclass.

tl;dr: If you’re in the mood for steampunk romcom mystery with sexy banter and fun word play, Soulless is your book.

Own Voices · Romance

Review: If the Shoe Fits

Title: If the Shoe Fits
Author: Julie Murphy
Page Count: 304
Publication: August 2021
Series: Meant to Be #1

[Amazon | Indie Bound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Publishers Weekly, bookreporter, School Library Journal)

Retellings are a tricky thing. Either you can get it it on point or you can totally screw it up. Retellings are either a bountiful source of material or can be a hack job (I’m looking at you Pride and Prejudice and Zombies).

This is all to say I went in to If the Shoe Fits with zero expectations.

And I’m glad I did or else I wouldn’t have probably found the book so delightful!

I’m not sure how I heard about this book (probably social media somehow) and Julie Murphy was not a name known to me (she’s also the author of the young adult book Dumplin’ which was turned into a Netflix movie). But here we are!

There are several things that appealed to me about If the Shoe Fits:

  • The heroine is plus sized
  • The heroine is confident in herself
  • The ending was delightful with a HEA
  • It tapped into my love for trashy reality TV

The book was also well plotted and the interactions between the heroine and hero felt natural and very, very sexy. There was no fetishization of Cindy just because she was fat which is always a relief. I think that because Murphy herself is zaftig and writes with such authenticity about the dating world. This is not my first book with a fat heroine who is on point and I’m thrilled by this. There needs to be more like this.

This is the first book in the Meant to Be series, which I’m assuming will be written by Murphy. I cannot wait to see what else she writes.

tl;dr A delightful retelling of Cinderella with a plus size heroine set in the trashy reality TV world. Cindy follows her dream AND gets the man. Five stars.

(P.S. Dumplin’ is available free to read via Amazon Prime.)

Mystery

Review: Pride, Prejudice, and Peril

Title: Pride, Prejudice, and Peril
Author: Katie Oliver
Page Count: 320
Publication: December 2021
Series: Jane Austen Tea Shop Mystery #1

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: )

tl;dr Overall the book was a fast read and was sturdy in its compensation. Nothing too obvious seemed to be off and the ends of mystery tied up a bit nicely. The writing was competent. Austen fans who happen to be cozy mystery fans will love this and the series is worth exploring.

Read the complete review over at Excessively Diverting.

Mystery

Review: The Mystery of the Sorrowful Maiden

The Mystery of the Sorrowful Maiden Title: The Mystery of the Sorrowful Maiden
Author: Kate Saunders
Page Count: 324
Publication: December 2021
Series: Laetitia Rood Mystery #3

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Kirkus, The Times, Publisher’s Weekly)

One of the reasons I started this blog was because most review sites, nay 95% of them, tend to give you a re-written summary of the book and maybe a personal thought or two. Rarely happens and I’m surprised when it does. (Also, places that offer “reviews” such as Kirkus, Pub Weekly, and so forth do the same damn thing.)

And it’s disheartening reading those online reviews because surely I must have missed something if I don’t have the same reaction, or even close to the reaction, as other reviewers. (People on Goodreads tend to be more open and forthwith with their thoughts on such things.)

Maybe my taste is that much different? Sometimes it feels like I’m being purposely contrarian to those around me but truly, if I don’t dig into a book, then why bother writing frothy reviews of it, let alone finish it?

Now that that preamble is out of the way, I’ve been in a cozy mystery mood for some time now and this showed up in Netgalley as right up my alley and I took the chance.

Kirkus says,

The fastidious manners, which fit the 19th-century setting, are leavened with enough humor to suit modern tastes.

Are we even reading the same book?

Eh.

I found the plot and pace slow. I read Victorian lit in college and I do not recall works dragging their feet. The mood of The Mystery of the Sorrowful Maiden seems to be on Victorian brand, though a little heavy handed, and the character development was mostly well thought out but I kept waiting for the pace to pick and carry on with the story. It just wasn’t happening. I found myself flipping through my Kindle pages with dry expectations. I felt like I was reading in Jello and there were no marshmallows or canned fruit in it to liven it up.

Goodreads’ reviews indicate that many who are fans of the series who find it charming and droll, which I don’t see but whatever, but they do note that this book isn’t as charming as the first two so it very well could be I picked a wrong place to start. But what I read was enough to note that I probably won’t pick up the first two. Saunders is also known for her historical biographies so that may be on the pile first.

tl;dr Slow paced and not quite as funny as proclaimed, only worthy if you’re a fan of the series and want a bit more.

 

Romance

Review: The Countess Conspiracy

The Countess ConspiracyTitle: The Countess Conspiracy
Author: Courtney Milan
Page Count: 309
Publication: December 2013
Series: The Brothers Sinister #3

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other Reviews: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books)

Reviewed by Natalie

Though this is the third book in the Brothers Sinister series, you don’t need to read the other two to enjoy it. I did not, though I do want to after reading this.
Sebastian and Violet have a wonderful romance. Violet is a scientific genius, but because she’s a woman, she cannot present her ideas. Over the last few years, Sebastian has been doing it for her until he gets tired of lying. To say Violet doesn’t like this turn of events is putting it mildly. Science is the only thing she’s truly passionate about; with good reason. Her backstory unfurls slowly throughout the book.
It was agony getting the bits and pieces of why Violet is the way she is, but when you find out, it’s a doozy. She’s utterly oblivious as to how Sebastian truly feels about her. He has to tell her to her face. Winning her over is by no means an easy task, but Sebastian is the perfect hero for the job.
I love romances; I mean who doesn’t love a happily ever after? Sebastian and Violet’s is a different level of romance for me. It was a beautiful and at times heartbreaking story. I loved every page of it.
Mystery

Review: The Midnight Hour

Title: The Midnight Hour
Author: Elly Griffiths
Page Count: 352
Publication: December 2021
Series: Brighton Mysteries #6

 

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Publisher’s Weekly)

It’s simply OK.

When you review a digital ARC, it is hoped that the formatting of the file doesn’t take away from the story and that the reviewer is conscious of this and doesn’t use it against the book content.

That’s the idea anyway.

But I cannot help but mentioned the formatting for this book was not that great. Paragraphs were broken up, words were overlapped, book info was sometimes deposited in between the sentences. I’ve published a book on Amazon before and it’s not really that hard to get the formatting set up if you’re willing to put in the time and energy to do it. That a professional publishing house didn’t see fit to do that, yes yes, it’s an ARC, is a bit lazy.

Back to the story.

The Midnight Hour is the sixth installment in the Brighton Mysteries. At this point, the characters are well established and a history has been formed. I give Griffiths points that she was able to fill in the missing pieces and the book can be read as a standalone. That’s often a difficult job to do, why do authors go on forever?, and Griffiths pulls it out quite nicely.

I also felt the twists and turns of the story were strong, but it was the damned formatting that got me flustered and frustrated. I’m trying to enjoy a novel only to be besieged by a mess.

I didn’t see the murderer coming and it wasn’t obvious whodunnit which is also refreshing. The writing was okay, some places Griffiths was strong and other places a bit lackluster. Griffiths mentions in the afterword that she wrote the book during lock down and we all know that we’re not in the best shape of mind so some parts felt a bit desperate. I did enjoy the characters did travel around England which I bet Griffiths was longing to do herself and let her fictional characters do it for her.

I like historical mysteries (especially cozies but this one is close to but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is) and I this this series has a lot of promise. The timing of the publication and writing period may have not been that great. Like I said, the book is OK. Serviceable and gets the job done. Griffiths won an Edgar for previous work so maybe this is a one off?

Griffiths is prolific. One of my libraries has 20 of her books alone so I’m totally up for reading her other work to see if she is all that and a bag of chips.

tl;dr: Serviceable. Worth if if you’re a fan of the series or of Griffiths herself. Printed and formalized Kindle editions won’t have the formatting issues so take that into consideration and my review affected by this as a grain of salt.

Mystery

Review: Murder at Mallowan Hall

Title: Murder at Mallowan Hall
Author: Colleen Cambridge
Page Count: 272
Publication: October 2021
Series: Phyllida Bright Mystery #1

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

I knew it!

When I reviewed Tomes Scones and Crones, I knew Colleen Cambridge (Colleen Gleason), based on her The Clockwork Scarab, was a good and decent writer. I enjoyed The Clockwork Scarab muchly and was slightly disappointed by Tomes Scones and Crones. It felt half-assed and rushed. Plus the goddamned librarian stereotype even down to the cardigan.

So we’re 1-1 and while I knew I would pick up Stoker & Holmes series again, I wasn’t quite sure with Tomes Scones and Crones. Nevertheless, based upon description alone, I knew I was going to read Murder at Mallowan Hall.

Enjoyed it muchly, I did!

But to be honest, I’m a sucker for pastiches and anything that happens in English country homes. A vague closed room mystery, I had no idea who the killer was until the very end when Phyllida breaks it on down in the vein of Poirot (someone much admired by our detective heroine). A non-traditional cozy mystery, Cambridge (Gleason) lays down a breadcrumb of a story that at times twists unnaturally but not unnecessarily. This book forces you to pay attention to follow along. But at the same time, it’s a very quick engrossing read. While I don’t think you’ll come back to this book, you will be eager to read the follow-ups.

 

LGTBQI+ · Romance

Review: Boyfriend Material

Title: Boyfriend Material
Author: Alexis Hall
Page Count: 432
Publication: July 2020
Series: Boyfriend Material #1

[Amazon | Indie Bound | BN | Find at your local library]

(Other reviews: Publisher’s Weekly, EW)

Reviewed by Natalie

The premise is a little thin: Luc “needs” a boyfriend to get back donations for his company’s big annual event. It’s a bit silly, BUT the rest of the story?

GLORIOUS!

Luc is a mess; he’s beyond a mess. His only stability are his friends (who he neglects very badly) and his mom. He has no belief in himself at all and trusts no one. Then there’s Oliver. Oliver is a straight-laced barrister. Luc’s complete opposite. They agree to fake date for Luc’s event and for Oliver’s parent’s upcoming anniversary party. We all know how fake dating works in this type of book: real feelings start to grow. There is so much about this book to like: Oliver’s amazing friends, the witty banter between Luc and Oliver, and of course, the romance. You root for these two through the entire book. They are perfect for each other; they just don’t know it! I found myself laughing out loud at some of the banter between the two heroes.

This is one of those books that fills you with happiness for days after reading it. I highly recommend it!

 

LGTBQI+ · Paranormal · Romance

Review: Payback’s a Witch

Title: Payback’s a Witch
Author: Lana Harper
Page Count: 352
Publication: October 2021
Series: Thistle Grover Witches #1

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Library Journal, BookPage, and Kirkus)

I continue on with my witchy books! It’s the spoopy season so shoot me.

Full of sass, sexy, and humour, Payback’s a Witch tickled me from both ends and I mean that in a very good way. The writing was slow at first and after the rush of The Ex Hex, that could be understandable. The Ex Hex throws you headlong into the story and there are no actions spared

Not so much with Payback’s a Witch and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We meet Emmy Harlow as she comes back to town for once in a generation tournament between the four witch families in Thistle Grove after a self-imposed exile in Chicago. In Chicago, she has not only become what she believes is herself but also her magic has waned and doesn’t fuck with her life like it does in Thistle Grove. But once she finds out that the man-boy who broke her heart has also broken the heart of two other witchy friends, hell is about to get loose.

But I must discuss what most reviews seem to want to not discuss: the hot sex, slow, and steamy build of a sexy relationship between Emmy and Talia. Harper builds this delicious slow and sexy world between Emmy and Talia that you can feel the spark from the page. You want to be either Emmy or Talia (it doesn’t matter much who) and be a part of that coupling. You do, you really do.

I’m not sure why the queer romance between Emmy and Talia is rarely mentioned in reviews as the book has gotten starred reviews around the publishing world. It’s not gratuitous. Emmy doesn’t come back to Thistle Grove “OH HOO I IZ A LESBIAN” and Talia isn’t stereotyped either. They are just hot (and fall in love) with each other and that’s what most important. I’m so, so thrilled that while we’re not given much of Emmy’s past relationships and that falling for a girl was just as natural as drinking coffee. Representation is important.

I also really liked how the world felt real. The witchy behaviour and the paranormal lives didn’t feel artificial or over the top. That’s always a concern for me when I read paranormal books that the world isn’t believable. Does magic exist? Sure, why not. There is no real reason why it can’t exist. There is so much about our world we have yet to understand or seems magical so that if people can cast spells and make inanimate things talk, why not?

From Bad to Cursed, book #2 in the Thistle Grove Witches series, comes out in May 2022 and I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty impatient. I read the first chapter and I was like, “Goddammit!” when the sample ended. I hope to god the ARC shows up on Netgalley or there will be hell to pay.

The tl;dr: Read it. Read it for the fun. Read it for the HEA (which Harper dangles at first in front of us). Read it for the romance. Just read it.