A Darkness Strange and Lovely by Susan Denard

Genre: Fantasy
Secondary genre: historical mystery
Format read: hard copy
Series: Something Strange and Deadly vol 2
Positive rep: biracial, epilepsy
Rating: planchet-4

I loved the first book in this series, and immediately ordered the second when I finished it.

It then sat on my shelf for a year, but who’s counting?

I don’t want to give away too much plot since this is the second book in a series, but the story starts out with our heroine, Eleanor, at her lowest point. A new amputee, she’s still struggling to adjust. In addition, her mother has been committed to an insane asylum, and she’s had to sell just about everything left in the family home to pay the bills. Even worse, she’s been shunned by society and her best friend.

And that’s before a homicidal maniac and a pack of hell hounds come after her. With her friends, the Spirit Hunters, across the pond in Paris, her only hope might be a mysterious young man named Oliver–who also makes no bones about the fact that he’s a demon. If she wants to survive long enough to get help, Eleanor will literally have to choose the lesser of several evils.

It was so great to be back in this world, but there were a few things that kept me from giving it five stars. For starters, based on the first few chapters, it looks like we’re going to get some great disability rep and fat rep. But then Eleanor uses magic to get her amputated hand back, and we find out the only reason she’s considered fat is because she’s stopped wearing a corset.

I love the characters and the way the plot kept me guessing. It was also so hard to tell who was right and who was wrong as the characters question the nature of what, exactly, makes someone evil.

While it wasn’t quite as good as I’d hoped, I will certainly be looking up the third and final book sometime soon.

The Spark by Leanna Renee Hieber

Genre: Fantasy
Secondary genre: historical mystery
Format read: hard copy
Series: The Eterna Files vol .5
Positive rep: biracial, epilepsy
Rating: planchet-3

I’m sorry to say that this prequel novella did not live up to my expectations.

While I love The Eterna Files, after reading many of Hieber’s work (all of it, pretty much) I can safely say that her style is definitely suited more to longer works, as for me anything shorter than 300 pages has come out rather flat.

This short little book tells the story of one of the main characters in Eterna, Clarameeting her love interest, Louis–and then losing him, an even that–ahem–sparks the beginning of the series.

It’s a fluffy little meet-cute, but I just feel like it needed more. More of the falling in love, more of them together.

I wanted to see more of how Louis handles Clara’s seizures and her ability to see ghosts, more of their developing romance. I wanted more insight into their thoughts and more plot. I wanted to see more of Louis’s work at combining science with voodoo mysteries. While it still would have been a rather short book, I feel like this needed expanded to double or even triple the length.

It’s a fun read, but not really necessary for the rest of the series.

The Spectral City by Leanna Renee Hieber

Genre: Fantasy
Secondary genre: historical mystery
Format read: hard copy
Series: The Spectral City vol 1
Positive rep: LGBTQIA, addiction recovery
Rating: planchet-3

New York City is changing. As the dawn of the 20th century draws nearer, government and police are being forced to change the way they work, utilizing new technology and old spirits.

Eve Denbury, daughter of Lord and Lady Denbury and a life-long New Yorker, has been blessed–or cursed–with her mother’s ability to see spirits. Except for Eve, it’s not just a feeling–the ghosts are all around her, drawn to her energy. It is through what they over hear and communicate to her that she becomes an integral part of the city’s police force, under the direction of governor Theodore Roosevelt himself.

Eve and her carefully selected team of female psychics are dedicated to giving a voice to the voiceless, be they the minorities, disenfranchised women and children, or the deceased of the city.

But almost immediately things start to go wrong for the “Ghost Precinct.” One of their ghosts mysteriously goes missing. Then threats from a powerful family bring Roosevelt to their offices for damage control. Their primary liaison to the regular police gets replaced without warning, and then a series of mysterious thefts spring up around the city, all tied to a missing little girl.

Young Eve will have to not just keep herself together, but her team, too, if she wants to solve the mysteries and save the life of New York’s most recent missing person.

I wanted to love this book so much. I’ve been looking forward to it for ages, since Leanna is a dear friend of mine. Unfortunately, it just didn’t hit the mark.

The story was good, but my main complaints lay with the pacing, which could be choppy at times. This could have been vastly improved if not for Eve’s inner monologues.

Leanna is dedicated to writing inclusive gaslamp fantasy, and I love the way she brings in other cultures and identities, making them feel natural in most of her work (as they should be). But Eve spent more time thinking about how she wanted to make her time inclusive, and why does racism exist, and why does sexism exist, all without really forming any solid answers. I just wanted a little less thought and a lot more action from her.

I also wanted more from her team members, who felt somewhat two dimensional. It was very hard to keep the broad cast of characters straight, even just remembering who was alive and who was a ghost.

I will continue reading the series, so hopefully these issues will be corrected in later volumes.