Odd & True – Cat Winters

Odd and True cover

“‘Tell me the story again,’ I urged my sister in the nighttime blackness of our attic bedroom.”

Raised on stories about their mother and uncle’s monster hunting past, Trudchen Grey is still not inclined to believe her sister’s letters, telling of Odette’s adventures in the circus or even wilder escapades. But when Odette returns to their aunt’s house to whisk her little sister into an even bigger adventure, Tru has to make a choice to believe – or not. Either will have repercussions.

In alternating chapters, the narrator switches from Tru to Odette, who fills in some of the mysteries of the family’s past. Soon, the reader is left trying to figure out which half of the story – either side of the fin de siecle – is the bigger mystery.

You might be able to tell from my rating: I loved this book! I went in not knowing too much about it, but I suppose with expectations of a ‘Hansel and Gretel Witchhunters’ ya adventure – which would have been fine. But this is absolutely not that book. It is so much more!

I’m left not really wanting to spoil it all too much for any would-be readers, rather allowing you to make those discoveries for yourself. Suffice to say, this is a heart-pulling drama, a lovely historical slice, and sure – a l’il bit about monster hunting. It’s also a perfect book about the power of stories, and the bonds of family.

Huge thanks to NetGalley for the review copy of the book, and the chance to discover Cat Winters.

NetGalley eARC: 368 pages / 22 chapters plus epilogue
First published: September 2017
Series: none
Read from 6th-12th September 2017

My rating: 9/10

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Body on Baker Street – Vicki Delany

Body on Baker Street cover

“‘Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium, Gemma speaking.'”

Elementary, She Read introduced us to Gemma Doyle, Sherlock Holmes-themed bookshop owner, possibly related to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and very definitely living up to the famous character in her deductive skills.

Following on from the mysterious death and subsequent investigations in the first novel, Gemma and best friend, Jayne Wilson, are back to happily running their Baker Street, Cape Cod, shop and tea room. To her surprise, Gemma is asked to host a book signing for popular if controversial writer, Renalta Van Markoff, as she publishes the new book in her ‘Hudson and Holmes’ mystery series.

Renalta has already been accosted in a local restaurant by a woman accusing her of stealing her work; Gemma knows that several of her regular patrons hate the way the books ‘taint’ the purity of the original Sherlock stories. Trouble is half expected at the book signing – trouble, but not murder!

I really enjoyed this ‘cosy mystery’, finding it fun and untaxing, with enough to keep me guessing. The characterisation builds well on the first installment, and I warmed a bit more to Gemma, after finding her a bit too unaware of her own annoyance factor in book one. There are still some of the ongoing personal side-plot elements, but largely these are on the backburner with the juicier mystery definitely at the fore.

My enjoyment of this series is growing, so I’m rather looking forward to book 3 – The Cat of the Baskervilles – due in February 2018 🙂

NetGalley eARC: 320 pages / 17 chapters
First published: 12th September 2017
Series: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery book 2
Read from 2nd-3rd August 2017 (yup, it’s that kind of book 🙂 )

My rating: 8/10 – it’s not high literature, but it’s a very fun example of what it is 🙂

Bryony and Roses – T Kingfisher

“She was going to die because of the rutabagas.”

Bryony may just have found herself trapped in a magical manor house with a surprisingly eloquent Beast, but if there’s one thing she’s not it’s a ‘beauty’. She is, however, a gardener, and as things in the House take ever darker turns it might just turn out to be far more useful to have skills over looks. Can she figure out what’s going on in an abode that creates dresses and gardening tools out of thin air, and which throws a strop if the other resident – the mysterious Beast – tries to answer any of her questions?

I’ve loved Ursula Vernon for years, following her from her time on the art site, Elfwood, to her own blog (recommended – it’s a lot of fun) and from artist to writer. One of her skills is telling gentle, fairy-tale-like stories that are somehow so much more. And, along the way, she’s done a few ‘retellings’ of classic fairy tales, like Bluebeard, The Snow Queen, and this version of Beauty and the Beast.

One of the strengths of all of these books is the sensible, no-nonsense heroine. Bryony reacts to the magical house and resident Beast in ways that seem much more likely than most fairy tales. And while the dangers faced are fantastical, the solidity of the garden (which the author knows more than enough about to have read very authentically) is a great counterpart.

Of the three retellings mentioned, this is my absolutely favourite – I absolutely loved it! Okay, there’s no talking hedgehog (always a great feature in a book!), but Bryony is so pragmatic and real and just had me rooting for her from the get-go – not to mention getting twitchy green fingers! The Beast, too, is rather more relatable than some other versions, particularly as his story very slowly reveals itself

The plot has a few subtle twists on the classic version, more than enough to keep interest, even had it been a much longer book. At around 200 pages, this is a perfectly sweet, lovely little volume which I recommend wholeheartedly.

Kindle: 216 pages / 33 chapters
First published: 2015
Series:  none (although could be loosely linked to The Raven and the Reindeer and The Seventh Bride fairytale retellings)
Read from 29th August – 1st September 2017

My rating: 10/10

MAD Librarian – Michael Guillebeau

MAD Librarian cover

“Serenity tried.”

Just because the budget for her public library is being slashed again and again, doesn’t mean head librarian Serenity Sweetwater Hammer doesn’t have big dreams about what they could do for the local community if only they did have the money. When the all-important internet bill needs paid, her desperate search for cash uncovers something… strange. Fortuitous. Dangerous?

When money becomes no object, what does a librarian do?

I really wanted to like this book. I love books about books and libraries, and handing power to a librarian sounds like a good idea 😉 And of course, it’s a lovely idea that half of the book’s profits go to a library charity. But, alas, concept and reality just didn’t gel for me.

To begin with, the opening chapters – the setting up of the ‘norm’ – are actually quite depressing. Yup, librarians are underfunded. Yup, politicians are vile. But oy, the sexism, the over-the-top aggressive dismissals Serenity faces as she’s expected to produce miracles, just made me grind my teeth. Probably the point, but to be honest I didn’t need to read it again and again.

Nor, actually, did I need the rather out of place sex scene near the end. It’s not too graphic, but it felt very voyeuristic and out of place. Serenity’s marriage subplot really didn’t work all that well for me at all, there was just something clunky about the relationship as written, with overly-perfect cop hubby, Joe Hammer (I mean, really!).

Anyway, the early depressive tone changes to more of a mystery, which does help, but things escalate rather to the point of ridiculousness. The supporting characters don’t help: you’d think distinguishing between the one very young and one very old under-librarians would be easy enough, but to be honest… urm? One had tattoos, one insisted on being called ‘Doom’ – both were very OTT in the ‘anything for the library!’ message.

Overall, I think it was a nice idea, and it was a very quick and easy read. Chapters were very short, a few pages at most, so I suspect a fair amount of those 400 pages were whitespace. However, while I don’t begrudge the reading time, I felt very disappointed that things were only 90%-ish wrapped up, with the first chapter of the sequel included at the end – which I really don’t see me picking up.

NetGalley eARC: 404 pages / 70 chapters
First published: December 2017
Series: first of something, given the sequel’s opening chapter was included at the end
Read from 1st-4th September 2017

My rating: 5/10 – nice idea, but didn’t hit the mark for me

The Year of Saying Yes – Hannah Doyle

“If I cock up the next few hours of my life then I’m going to have to admit defeat.”

I’ve definitely been in the mood for some light’n’fluffy reading (and viewing) of late, and the optimistic title of this caught my eye on NetGalley. I was expecting something of a cross between Yes Man and a self-help book – and after a bit of a shaky start, plus a giant dollop of Bridget Jones, I’d say that’s almost exactly what I got!

The opening wasn’t great – in fact, my heart sank as I thought I’d picked up ‘Bridget Jones’ Little Cousin’ or something. We find our main character, Izzy, prepping for her family’s New Year’s Eve party, bemoaning the amount of food and drink she’s consumed, and trying far too hard to attract the eye of her brother-in-law’s brother – pretty much the same thing she does every New Year *eye rolling*

Thankfully, it all get a little bit more interesting, although remains pretty predictable. The strength is in the likeable main character, Izzy, as she sets about undertaking 12 dares over the course of the year, designed to improve her life and make her more confident.

Biggest complaint would have to be how easy it all is. Izzy works for a magazine, so of course she’s got a team of makeup artists and free reign over the ‘fashion closet’ – oh yeah, and of course she’s a size 10, but manages to slim-without-trying into an eight, etc etc. There’s a transformation, but no effort. It’s more than a little grating at times. Likewise, when set some seemingly impossible challenge, events simply line up in a way that no mere mortal could ever have arranged *more eye rolling*

Still, it’s Izzy’s relationships – with men, with her friends and colleagues – that form the backbone of the piece, and that doesn’t always run quite so smoothly. And most of the transformations in her life are about attitude – and while this is fiction all the way, that was actually quite inspirational to read.

NetGalley eARC: 363 pages / 12 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: none
Read from 20th-28th August 2017

My rating: 7/10 – I’m probably going to have to stop saying ‘not my usual cuppa’, but a pretty good example of the fluffiest of genres

The Witch at Wayside Cross – Lisa Tuttle

Witch at Wayside Cross cover

“The man was dead, and although he had not cut a particularly large or imposing figure when he was alive, his lifeless body seemed to take up more space in our entranceway than a whole crowd of living, breathing visitors.”

The first book in the Casebooks of Jesperson and Lane, The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist and the Psychic Thieffinishes one mystery only to tease us with the start of the next: a frantic late night visitor who drops dead in the investigative duo’s front hall. So of course this follow-up installment picks right up where we left off.

Billed as a paranormal-ish take on a Sherlock Holmes-style mystery, this time we follow our detectives out of Victorian London and into the Norfolk countryside. It seems the dead man was a devotee of a pagan-like cult, keen to bring back ‘natural’ British magics to rival the mysticism coming from the East. However, it’s one thing saying that ‘witch’ simply means practitioner of herbalism and the like, and another to avoid the age-old fears, especially when a baby goes missing.

I still love the ideas of this series, from the Victorian setting to the smart female detective. However, while I do think this improves on a few of my irks from the first volume, it’s not quite perfect. Ms Lane narrates a little less of her feelings, which is great, but if anything Jasper Jesperson is becoming more annoying: certainly, to drag his supposed partner across country but refuse for the whole trip to reveal a single thing about his suspicions, would have earned him a swift kick in the shins from me!

Perhaps that is the problem: it’s nice getting a female co-lead, but she has then either to act very out-of-time, or feel very old-fashioned. This is only highlighted in these pages, when Ms Lane has to defend her choice of being a woman and employed, and more scandalously, to traipse about the country with an equally unmarried man. Heavens!! *fans self* I do applaud the author for trying to walk that thin path, and mostly successfully, at that.

Another path to be carefully trodden is the balance between the detective mystery and the supernatural. You do have to go into these books knowing that it has that supernatural twist, otherwise it might feel a bit strange when not all of the mysteries – which develop nicely in layers here – are solved by logic! This mix is fairly well handled, putting me in mind of something of a cross between The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (the real life case behind which is actually referenced here) and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, with folklore being very real.

Minor grumbles aside, this was an enjoyable, fairly easy read, with a great period setting plus a darkly gothic atmosphere. I’ll be looking out for the next ‘Curious Affair’ 🙂

NetGalley eARC: 368 pages / 25 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: The Curious Affair of / Casebooks of Jesperson and Lane book 2
Read from 13th-16th August 2017

My rating: 6.5/10

Foxglove Summer – Ben Aaronovitch

Foxglove Summer cover

“I was just passing the Hoover Centre when I heard Mr Punch scream his rage behind me.”

Following on from a bit of a shock at the end of the previous book, Broken HomesFoxglove Summer feels like a bit of a deep breath and attempt at a fresh start for Peter – or at the very least, a bit of a holiday as he’s sent to investigate a case outside of his comfort zone, London, and out in the actual countryside. Can a city boy survive in the sticks?!

The case du jour revolves around two missing girls. The Folly – home to the London police force’s ‘supernatural branch’ – has a long-standing onus to make sure such cases don’t involve practitioners, and so Peter is ostensibly sent out to check up on just such a person. Which is a great opportunity to get a little backstory on the Folly and Nightingale, from a former colleague. One of the strengths of the series, for me, has to be that air of mystery around magic falling out of practice in protecting the UK.

Of course, deciding to hang around to lend a hand in the case more or less ‘just because’, it’s not long before Peter discovers that his expertise may well be needed, after all. I mean, just because one of the missing girls has an invisible friend that happens to be a unicorn doesn’t mean that there aren’t really invisible unicorns hanging about…!

I said ‘fresh start’ in my opening paragraph based, I think, on several previously ongoing plot threads being allowed to lie fallow here. Nothing major, but having read the last few books in relatively short order it is noticeable that characters who have been in the last couple of books are suddenly absent – left back in London, no doubt. On the other hand, Beverley Brook has been largely absent for a while, and makes a reappearance here.

There’s still a sense of the by-now familiarity with the characters giving the writing quite a laid-back feel, even more so with so many ongoing plot threads both coming in and at the end of the book. Shifting the location out of London adds a little breath of fresh air to the surroundings (okay, and I was glossing over a tiny bit on all the descriptions of London’s streets, etc!), too.

Overall, I really enjoyed this – might be my favourite in the series to date, and I’m devastated that reading the next one will mean I have to wait for more to be written!

Kindle: 385 pages / 16 chapters
First published: 2014
Series: Peter Grant / Rivers of London book 5 (of 6, so far)
Read from 16th-19th August 2017

My rating: 8.5/10