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.

Murder on the Quai by Cara Black

Genre: mystery
Secondary genre: historical, political
Format read: hard copy
CW: violence
Rep: Little person
Series: Aimée Leduc, vol 16
Rating: planchet-4

Sometimes, there are happy accidents.

Like when you accidentally start with volume 16 in a series, thinking it’s volume 1, and it turns out to be a prequel.

I found book 9 in this series at a flea market a few months ago and earmarked the series for later. When I happened to see this book on display at my local library, I snapped it up. Somehow, I missed the bitty line at the top of the cover marking it as a prequel.

It’s the 1980s, and the Berlin wall has just come down. Amid the news, med student Aimée  Deluc is struggling with her finals, which are continually sabotaged by jealous classmates. Expecting help or at least commiseration from her father, she’s surprised to find him halfway out the door on his way to Berlin on a secret business trip he won’t tell her anything about.

At the same time, a distant cousin shows up on their doorstep, begging for Mr. Deluc’s help to solve her father’s murder. Aimée helps her PI father on his way, promising to meet up with him on a job when he returns, and volunteers to do a little digging for the mystery cousin, thinking it’s a simple matter of tracking down a woman he spoke to on the night he died.

But her simple open-and-shut research case turns up a second dead body killed the same way, and the links between the old men lead right back to a crate of Nazi gold and a series of murders in 1943. Then someone starts shooting at her and attempting to mow her down with a cab.

This book was a bit slow to start, in my opinion, but around halfway through things really pick up. I will warn you that there is a very sudden even on the last page that makes this something of a cliff-hanger ending, and I was not happy with the twist it added to the plot. I’m not sure if I want to go back and read the rest of the series now.

I do really like Aimée, however, and the little dog she and her grandfather adopt.

If you’ve read this series, what’s your opinion?

Murphy’s Law by Rhys Bowen

Genre: mystery
Secondary genre: historical
Format read: audiobook
Content warning: attempted sexual assault
Rating: planchet-4

Molly Murphy is in trouble. After accidentally killing her landlord in self defense–he was trying to rape her–she flees her rural Irish town for England, hoping to get lost in a factory town and start a new life.

But the police are already looking for her. A chance encounter with a dying woman, however, might be just the chance she needs.

Kathleen O’Connor is supposed to sail for American in two days, but her health check revealed TB. She will not be allowed to enter the country.

But she has her tickets, her husband is in New York, and her children need a better life than one ill woman can offer. The women hatch a plan: Molly will take Kathleen place, impersonating her, and deliver the children safely to their father.

But things go sideways when a man who harassed Molly and others on the crossing is found dead, and Molly and her new friend Michael become the prime suspects.

The police won’t listen, so the only way to prove their innocence is to track down the real killer.

This book was a reread for me, and an old favorite. I love the narrator of the audiobook so much that I actually refuse to eye-read it. This is actually the audiobook that got me using that format regularly.

I love Molly so much. My one complaint about this series is that every man Molly meets except two either try to rape her or imply it is an acceptable form of payment for whatever she is trying to accomplish. This makes her best friend, Michael, and her love interest the only viable options for her closest circle because they are literally the only ones who don’t do this.

This book does have a lot of questionable content, but it is still a really good series made better by an excellent narrator.


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 Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Genre: adult mystery
Secondary genre: historical
Format read: audiobook
Rep: autistic coding
Series: Flavia de Luce vol 1
Rating: planchet-4

This book is unusual in that it is written for adults, but the main character, Flavia, is only eleven.

I’m a sucker for a girl genius, especially one living in a previous era, so when I heard about this book I was eager to get my hands on it.

Set in 1950, Flavia lives with her two older sisters–who are horrid–and her distant father in a big old English manor house.

When Flavia discovers a dying man–who expires right before her eyes–in the garden, it sets the wheels turning on a mystery that dredges up her father’s past and puts out intrepid young chemist on the path to no only uncovering one murder, but two.

I gobbled up this book in two days. I loved the dynamics between the sisters, and how, in this stiff-upper-lip family, they show affection by tormenting each other. I do wish that Daphne, the middle sister, were just a little more fleshed out–I feel like if the three of them could find common ground, they’d be hell on wheels if they worked together.

I adored the complexity of the mystery, the characters, the setting–everything about this book, and I will definitely be looking for the next in the series.

A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

Genre: adult mystery
Secondary genre: historical, retelling
Format read: paperback
Rep: autistic coding, fat rep
Rating: planchet-3

Confession: I’m not a fan of Sherlock Holmes. I didn’t enjoy the source material. I don’t like the show with Benedict Cumberbatch. I have to be in the right mood to watch the Robert Downy Jr. movies, which only strikes about once a year.

BUT, I am always on the lookout for a historical mystery. I think the world needs more of them, especially stories that aren’t heavy on the romance.

I devoured Sherry Thomas’s Elemental Trilogy in about a week, so when I found out she’d also written a series of historical mysteries with a female lead who was autistic-coded, I put them on my TBR.

Which of course meant it took me two years to get to them. Anyway…

Charlotte Holmes doesn’t understand people, despite the way she’s spent her life observing them. Encouraged by her father to engage in Society before dismissing it out of hand, she casts off her favorite plain cotton dress for the frills and frippery of the drawing room, reining in her love of sweets to get her tightly-cinched waist down to acceptable proportions, and learns to make the dreaded Small Talk. While she finds she enjoys the textures and colors and shapes of fashion, she still can’t see herself as Lady this or that, but when she asks her father to uphold his promise to allow her to pursue her education instead, he declines.

Hurt by the betrayal, Charlotte hatches a plan: She arranges to have herself deflowered by a married man (so she can’t be forced to marry him) then blackmail her father into paying for her education to get her off the marriage market.

Thing’s go sideways, however, when her paramour’s mother walks in on them, publicly announcing the embarrassment to the world and ruining Charlotte’s plans. Now she has no leverage and her parents want to send her away. She does the only thing she can: she sneaks out and decides to live on her own, despite having little money and fewer prospects.

When Lady Shrewsbery, the sharp-tongued matron who ruined Charlotte’s plan, turns up dead the next morning, however, it’s Charlotte’s beloved sister Livia who is implicated, after taking Lady Shrewsbery to task for her actions in a drunken rage.

The 3rd person narrative flips back and forth between Charlotte, Livia, and Inspector Treadles, very much in the Sherlock Holmes style.

For me, this made it very hard to follow and hard to get immersed in the narrative, which is why I only rated it 3 stars (actually, it’s 3.5, but I don’t have a graphic for that and Goodreads does’t allow half stars). If you pick up this book, definitely plan to read it in one or two sittings; breaking it into 20 minute segments makes it very hard to follow the story.

I’ve read several Sherlock short stories, and this book keeps the spirit of the feel of the stories without the obnoxious characters. I really hate books where you have a semi-useless narrator describing the actual main character (think The Great Gatsby). I loved all of the characters and descriptions far more than in the original, and really want to read more about Charlotte and Livia. I also loved Mrs. Watson, a former actress who spearheads Charlotte’s impersonation of the male detective.

I have been told that the 2nd book, Conspiracy in Belgravia, is better than the 1st book, so if you have difficulty with Scarlet Women, maybe reserve judgement until you’ve read the second book.


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.