Shetland Island Mysteries – Books 1-4 // by Ann Cleeves

  • Raven Black
  • White Nights
  • Red Bones
  • Blue Lightning 

This series has been on my radar for a while (haven’t they all??) and I finally read the first half of them in October.  Litsy has a month-long readathon focusing on mysteries/thriller/horror/etc. and while I don’t enjoy anything in the horror/graphic violence area, I decided it would be a great opportunity to make some forward progress on several mystery series I’ve been working through, including finishing the 87th Precinct, the first half of this series, the next five books in the Leaphorn & Chee series, plus knocking out a few standalone thrillers that have been on my shelf for way too long.

Set in the Shetland Islands, the main character/detective of this series is Jimmy Perez, a detective on the police force.  However, Cleeves takes her time with these stories, giving back stories and insight into multiple people involved in each murder.  Even though these are a little longer than the average thriller (350-400 pgs), they felt a LOT longer as the pace is rarely urgent.  Instead, there is plenty of time to examine and contemplate the interactions of the main players.  Somehow, instead of being boring, Cleeves makes this work.  It fit the setting of an isolated and insulated community, where the seasons take their time, and the methodical rhythm of the natural world is reflected in the human residents.

I have mixed feelings about these books.  I enjoyed them while I was reading them, but never felt an urgency about picking up the next book.  Cleeves made a decision to kill off a character at the end of Blue Lightning that I didn’t really like as well, and I’m not completely sure that I’ll get around to finishing this series (there are four more books).  Yet on the whole, I think I do recommend them if you enjoy your mysteries thoughtful instead of frantic.  They could definitely do with a bit of editing, yet at some level I rather enjoyed the contemplative pacing, feeling that I was really getting to know the motives and relationships of the characters involved.

These weren’t my new favorites, and they didn’t make me want to rush out and read everything Cleeves has written, but I probably will read those last four books one of these days, just to see how everyone adjusts to the sudden death at the end of Blue Lightning.  

Leaphorn & Chee – Books 2-4 // by Tony Hillerman

  • Dance Hall of the Dead (1973)
  • Listening Woman (1978)
  • People of Darkness (1980)
  • The Dark Wind (1982)

I read the first book in this series, The Blessing Wayin June, but for various reasons wasn’t able to get to the next few books until the end of July/early August.  When I read the first book, I really enjoyed the setting and thought the concept was interesting, but the mystery itself was a little weak, and I also struggled with the fact that we aren’t really given any personal information about the protagonist, Joe Leaphorn.  However, I decided to give the next books a chance, and I’m glad I did, as they have steadily improved.  Hillerman does a great job giving us plenty of context and background information to create a unique and engaging setting.  In Listening Woman, there is a whole subplot involving the AIM (American Indian Movement), which was very current for the time the book was published.  I was a little concerned as the books pushed into the 80s because so many crime writers seemed to think during that decade that you couldn’t be a real crime writer without lots of weird sex (I’m looking at you, Ed McBain), but these books have actually stayed pretty clean, greatly adding to my enjoyment of them.

I got a little confused because in People of Darkness, the protagonist abruptly changed from Joe Leaphorn to Jim Chee.  We’re given a little paragraph of reference to Leaphorn now being Lt. Leaphorn and working in an office in the norther part of the reservation, but both People of Darkness and The Dark Wind completely focus on Chee.  I really like Chee a lot, so it wasn’t like this was a bad thing, but it felt really weird and abrupt to suddenly have the stories focus on a completely different guy with a very different method of solving mysteries.

About halfway through Dance Hall of the Dead I finally found a map of the Navajo reservation and printed it off.  Reading these books without a map was just incredibly frustrating because the characters are constantly driving around to different places – everything is very spread apart out west – and Hillerman uses names without a lot of explanation (for instance, getting the map made me realize that Mexican Water is actually a town, not a lake or river, and Window Rock is both a town AND a mountain).  Finding the map increased my enjoyment of these books a LOT.  I’m just a super visual person, and being told things like “they drove from Albuquerque to Shiprock that evening” without any concept of how far apart those two places are was driving me batty.

Hillerman does a great job introducing aspects of the Navajo culture with respect.  I love how Chee really embraces his family’s traditions and is interested in becoming a Singer, learning many of the healing ways.  I’ve just finished the next five books in the series, and both Chee and Leaphorn (who returns as a protagonist later haha) have become a lot more personable, so that’s been lovely.

All in all, this has been a really worthwhile series that is getting steadily better as it goes.  These were all 3.5* & 4* reads for me, and the second batch were all 4*, so I’m quite excited to continue on!

July Minireviews – Part 2

Over halfway through October already!!! Time is running away so fast!!  I’m still living in July!! :-D

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

And All Through the House by Ed McBain – 2.5* 

As I continue my journey through the 87th Precinct, this short story (with pictures…) was next on the list, although it appears that it was actually published in 1984 rather than the mid-90s, so I’m not exactly sure why it’s listed as book #46.  This was a bit of an odd one, just a short (less than 50 pages) story of a “typical” Christmas Eve at the precinct.  There wasn’t really any kind of plot or story, so it felt a little weird.

Romance by Ed McBain – 3.5* – published 1995

This one is about an actress who gets stabbed… twice!  And since the actress is the main character in a play that is about an actress who gets stabbed, there are a lot of rather ridiculous scenes that read a bit like an Abbott & Castello sketch, which is great fun.  McBain is always mildly preachy in his books and it came through a little heavy-handed in this particular one, which brought down my overall rating of the book, but still a solid installment to the series.

Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling – 4* – published 2003

Definitely my least favorite of the series, I’m just not sure why we have to listen to Harry be a jerk for so long.  Rowling makes a few plot decisions in this book that I also don’t like.  However, overall still an enjoyable read.

Nocturne by Ed McBain – 4* – published 1997

This was another one where the main mystery, about an elderly, once-famous concert pianist being murdered, was really good, but the secondary plot, about a prostitute being slaughtered, was a bit much.  For the most part these books aren’t that gruesome, but the murder of that poor girl will stay with me for a long time, and not in a good way.  It just didn’t feel like we needed that much detail for that part of the story.  Still, the rest of the book was a solid read.

The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis – 5* – published 1956

This is always a really hard book for me to read, and I’ve actually read it the fewest times out of the whole series.  I can understand why Lewis decided to end the series the way he did, but it’s still tough.  Although I will say that, reading this as a child, this was the first time I ever understood wanting to go to Heaven because of it being a beautiful and perfect place rather than just as a better option than hell!

The whole deal with Susan, which I believe has been completely misrepresented and poorly interpreted, always makes me somewhat hesitant to review this one, because how much do I really want to get into this controversy?  Suffice to say that I think it’s clear that Lewis wasn’t trying to say that Susan no longer believed in Narnia because she decided to embrace “womanly” things like makeup and dating, but because she had embraced worldly things to the detriment of her priorities.  Makeup and dating aren’t bad things objectively, but it’s clear from the context that those types of things have become Susan’s driving force.  Susan wasn’t on the train with everyone else, so I personally believe that the deaths of her loved ones helped her to readjust her life.

I actually wrote a little piece on this on tumblr wayyy back in the day – https://manycurrentssmallpuddle.tumblr.com/post/105298215925/can-you-explain-the-susan-pevensie-post-the and when I was looking that one up, I found another post that I really liked – https://manycurrentssmallpuddle.tumblr.com/post/129939476895/just-to-clarify – that summarizes why Gaiman’s “The Problem With Susan” just absolutely misses the ENTIRE point.

Sons of Pemberley by Elizabeth Adams – 3.5* – published 2020

Basically, this AU of P&P explores what would have happened if Darcy’s mother hadn’t died when Georgianna was born.  Adams gives us just bucketloads of extra characters, which while fun, also made this story extremely bulky and somewhat confusing, especially when she works both backward and forward in time AND decides multiple characters should have the same name from different generations – there are at LEAST two characters for almost every name, which really doubled-down on the confusion aspect.  Adams also takes pretty much every unlikable “villain” character from the original and gives them a backstory that makes them understandable and a forward-story that makes them redeemable, which is nice but… also means the entire story is somewhat boring.  I did enjoy this one, and recommend it to people who enjoy a good P&P variation, but it’s not one I see myself revisiting.

The Big Bad City by Ed McBain – 4* – published 1999

Overall, once McBain got through the rather dreadful 80s entries, the series really improved.  Most of the 90s books were done really well without nearly as much gratuitous (and bizarre) sex.  I also really appreciate when he would have a plot line for one of the detectives and then follow it through in the background of multiple books – here, we finally see the main conclusion of what happened when Carella’s dad was murdered a few books ago, although McBain makes sure to still show us how Carella continues to work through his grieving process over the next several books after this one as well.

March Minireviews – Part 4

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Heartstone by Phillip Margolin – 4*

//published 1978//

I’m still working my way through Margolin’s back catalogue after the Amanda Jaffe series got me hooked on his writing.  This one was a little darker than I like, but was still just thoroughly engaging writing.  As always, my biggest complain with Margolin’s writing in general is his habit of dumping about 50 names on you in the first 50 pages without really indicating which of those names are going to be important later on.  My bookmark for a Margolin book is always an index card with names/notes on it, which is just a little ridiculous.  It  evens out as I get into the story and the main players emerge, but still.  While this isn’t one I would read again, it was definitely worth the one-time read.

On Equal Ground by Elizabeth Adams – 4*

//published 2017//

We all know that I go through kicks where all I want to read is P&P variations, and I hit a mini-kick at the end of March.  I’ve really enjoyed a couple of Adams’s other variations so I read two more lol  This was one of those ones that’s actually just a different story with the same characters.  While staying with her aunt and uncle, Elizabeth catches the eye of a wealthy widower some 20 years her senior.  Adams has them marry and love each other without it feeling creepy or weird.  Of course, the reader knows that the poor man is just a plot device, and probably the biggest drawback of this book was that I actually really liked earl and thought he and Elizabeth were a great match, and I spent the entire first half of the book dreading his untimely death.  Still, it was handled really well, and Elizabeth falling in love with Darcy felt natural and was done well.  Because Elizabeth has married an earl, she actually outranks Darcy in both class and wealth, so the big twist here is a difference in their prejudices from the original.  This wasn’t my new favorite, and it’s definitely a little more thoughtful than a lot of P&P variations tend to be, but I overall really enjoyed this one.  NB, this one didn’t have any explicit sex scenes, either, which was super nice.

The 26th of November by Elizabeth Adams – 4.5*

//published 2018//

A mashup of P&P and Groundhog Day??  Sign me up!  The best part of the Netherfield Ball from Elizabeth’s perspective – when it’s OVER!  So it’s rather unfortunately that, for some reason, she has to keep living that same day, including the dreadful ball, over and over again.  This is a very lighthearted variation, so don’t expect a lot of life philosophy, but I really enjoyed watching Elizabeth try to figure out why she is having this experience, and wondering if she’s supposed to “fix” something so that she can move on.  This was an entertaining way for her to come to grips with some her prejudices and blind spots.  Darcy isn’t living the same day over and over, but because his interaction with Elizabeth is different each time, he also has some changes of character as well.  The ending is the whole final rendition of November 26 from Darcy’s perspective, so it was a little repetitive, but still interesting to see what, from his view, was just one day.  If you’re looking for a low-angst P&P variation with some definite funny moments, this one is totally worth a read.

Pemberley: Mr. Darcy’s Dragon by Maria Grace – DNF

//published 2016//

Usually I review DNFs at the end of the month, but I feel like I’m on a P&P roll here.  I gave this one up about halfway through the story, despite loving the concept of an England full of dragons, with each estate having a dragon guardian.  However, the story itself was sooooo slow.  Everyone was spending all their time bickering and arguing (including the dragons) and Mr. Bennet was an absolutely GRUMP.  There were random chunks of the original P&P just plunked in here and there, which really disrupted the flow of the story.  I was already getting over the way no one in this version was likable, and threw in the towel when Mr. Bennet very condescendingly told Elizabeth that a man would be able to do her job better.  It was just so completely out of character for Mr. Bennet to say something so derogatory to Elizabeth, and the way he said it was just beyond insulting and rude.  Even my high tolerance for bad P&P variations was over this one.

Darcy Comes to Rosings by Andrea David – 3*

//published 2018//

Technically, this was the first book I finished in April, but like I said, I feel like I’m on a P&P roll haha  This one was a classic tale of two halves.  The first half of the story takes place at Rosings during Elizabeth’s visit to Charlotte.  However, Darcy and Elizabeth end up with a few more opportunities to converse, and Charlotte takes a much more proactive role in encouraging romance between the two.  This part of the story was really engaging and I felt like it actually totally fit Charlotte’s character as well.  But then I hit the second half, after Darcy and Elizabeth get engaged.  All of a sudden, it was page after page of Elizabeth panicking and stressing out that she’s not good/rich enough for Darcy, going on and on and on and on and on despite reassurances from everyone.  It was sooo repetitive and boring and I honestly didn’t feel like it was resolved all that well.  I just found it hard to believe that saucy, self-confident Elizabeth, who was willing to write off Darcy for being a jerk in the original, would spend so much time agonizing about her self-worth.  Lame.

March Minireviews – Part 1

Greetings, friends! Here I am with more reviews from the way-back. Let’s see how good my memory/notes happen to be!!

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Books 41-45 of the 87th Precinct Series by Ed McBain

Yes, I’m still working my way through this series. There are only (!) 55 books so I have two batches left!! This group, comprised of five one-word-title stories (Lullaby, Vespers, Widows, Kiss, and Mischief) were a 3.5* average group without anything especially outstanding.  My favorite was Kiss, and my least favorite was Lullaby.  In a weird way, Mischief was the most disappointing, though, because the Deaf Man was the returning villain and it was definitely the worst Deaf Man story yet – jumbled and overly complicated.  This batch (published 1989-1993) continued the trend of weird sex situations, which I find rather bothersome.  Hopefully, as the books move into the 90s, we’ll get over the 80s everything-is-sex motif.  Still, I’ve developed a huge soft spot for the detectives of the 87th and will be a little sad to bid them farewell when I get to book #55.

Meet Me in London by Georgia Toffolo – 3.5*

//published 2020//

I’m always a sucker for a fake relationship trope, and while this one wasn’t anything groundbreaking, it was a nice palette-cleanser in the midst of the gritty 87th Precinct books.  I really appreciate modern romances without explicit sex scenes, so that bumped this one up a little in my ratings even if it was a little slow in spots.

Tonight & Always by Nora Roberts – 2.5*

//published 1983//

It’s rare that I’m disappointed by Nora Roberts, but this was one of those times.  This book was just SO 80s.  The drama was over-the-top, the hero was ridiculously brooding and macho, the heroine was ridiculously independent, several borderline-rapey scenes where the hero grabs the heroine and kisses her into submission, and I spent most of this book just rolling my eyes.  The concluding drama genuinely infuriated me (hint: nothing makes me more angry then women who get pregnant and decide it’s “for the best” to not tell the father), and this is one Roberts book I don’t ever see myself revisiting.

If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane – 4*

//published 2020//

McFarlane is one of those authors I keep meaning to read since I’m always on the lookout for good romcoms.  I decided to choose this one for my contribution to the next round of the traveling book club.  In the end, I did enjoy this one a lot, but it definitely was more of a novel than a romcom.  It’s one of those books that while I did like it a lot, I’m going to end up talking about the negatives more than the positives, but you’ll have that haha

So basically the main character, Laurie, is devastated when her live-in boyfriend not only breaks up with her – but announces that his new girlfriend is already pregnant.  Because they also work together, Laurie has to see Dan/hear about his new family on the regular.  Through a series of events, she agrees to a fake relationship with another coworker, Jamie, with a convoluted plan of staged pictures and social media posts.  Of course, this is romance, so eventually the fake romance turns into a real one, and everyone lives happily ever after.

The problem with this book is that Laurie and Dan had been together WAY too long to make this a fun and fluffy romance – almost 20 years!  So the majority of the book ended up being about Laurie working through the grief of having such a long-term relationship fall apart, which meant loads of flashbacks to their relationship throughout the years.  I felt like this book was a lot more about Laurie and Dan than it was about Laurie and Jamie.  It gave the whole story a really down tone and also meant it felt incredibly unrealistic for Laurie to be into Jamie so quickly.  McFarlane would spend pages telling us about special moments between Laurie and Dan, about the many times Laurie knew that Dan was “the one,” etc. – but then we’re supposed to turn around and believe that Laurie and Jamie are the ones with something special between them.  The whole book would have been so much more believable (and enjoyable) if Laurie hadn’t been with Dan for so long.  As it was, I was almost uncomfortable with her getting with Jamie so quickly, despite the fact that I shipped the two of them and thought they were a great match.

The overall tone of the book also tends to be really sexist against men.  There were a lot of one-off sentences basically dismissing men as sex-hungry neanderthals, and Jamie and his dad are the only two decent guys to make an appearance.  Literally every other male in the story is a total dick.  Laurie also spends loads of time whining about sexism at work and how the men have it easy and the women have it hard yadda yadda yadda despite the fact that her (male) boss is constantly telling her what an awesome employee she is, frequently stands up for her against anyone who says anything remotely negative about her or her work, brags about her to everyone, and recommends her for promotions.  I just couldn’t really buy the “oppressed woman at work” story when Laurie wasn’t remotely oppressed!  A lot of Laurie’s “problems” came across that way – I realize she’s at a low point in her life, but she’s also just so whiny about everything.  It’s hard to empathize with a character who is successful, makes good money, has a boss who respects her and treats her well, has good and supportive friends, and spends all her time whining about how hard her life is.

BUT despite all that I actually did enjoy this book haha  The parts with Laurie and Jamie were SO fun, their banter was fantastic, and they had great chemistry.  I loved the random set-ups they created, and loved watching them both get over their initial prejudices against each other and come to appreciate the other.  I really wish this book had focused more on the two of them and LOT less on Laurie and Dan and the way their relationship failed.

I’ll definitely be checking out more of McFarlane’s books, and if you don’t mind your romances a little angsty, there’s a lot to enjoy with this one.

December Minireviews – Part 2

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Onward with more December fluff reads!!

The Christmas Sisters by Sarah Morgan – 4*

//published 2018//

While this one was a little more “novel-y” that I usually like, it ended up being one of my favorite reads of the month. At first, I was afraid that it was just going to be super angsty with a bunch of discontented, whiny women who have perfectly nice lives except they spend all of their time complaining about them. But I was pleasantly surprised by this story about three sisters who love one another but have grown apart. As we come to learn more about their childhood and the circumstances that have shaped them, I was completely drawn to the entire family. While yes, this is a feel-good Christmas story, it’s also a really lovely story about forgiveness, family, and realizing that even the people that we love the most have parts of themselves that we don’t know – everyone has something in their life that’s hard, no matter how perfect that life may look from the outside. I really enjoyed this one and will definitely be on the lookout for more books by this author.

Silent Night by Mary Higgins Clark – 3.5*

//published 1995//

Just to keep things lively, I picked up this short thriller. Clark does a great job giving motivation to multiple characters, which is what keeps this story from feeling completely ridiculous. It’s a fast read – nothing incredibly ground-breaking, but intense and hard to put down.

Christmas Gifts Collection by Elena Aitken – 3.5*

//published 2018//

In my mind, a “stand-alone” book is one that is not part of a series. However, some people use that term to label a book that theoretically can be read independently of the series of which it is a part. So while this collection was billed as a group of stand-alone stories, they were actually all part of a series that centers around a hotel called Castle Lodge. I hate reading books out of order but didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late, so for once I just went along with it. These were perfectly enjoyable stories, although I will say that the last story in the trio was the weakest – supposedly she, as the maid of honor, is helping her best friend plan her best friend’s wedding, but then in end – surprise! It’s her wedding! Except… literally the original bride was the one who was going to get married?? I just ended up feeling annoyed that the original bridesmaid was stealing the beautiful day away from the woman who was supposed to be the bride.

But anyway, they were fine stories, but didn’t make me feel like I wanted to jump in and read the whole series.

Husband Under Construction by Karen Templeton – 2.5*

//published 2011//I didn’t even read the other book in this anthology… I don’t do the ‘surprise baby’ trope lol//

I should have been warned from the title that this wasn’t going to be my kind of book. The problem was that Templeton creates two perfectly likable characters that I totally shipped, and puts them in a no-win situation. Either the female MC is going to have sacrifice her dream job, or the male MC is going to have to leave behind his wonderful, warm-hearted family AND family business to move hours away. I’m sorry, but that just isn’t my idea of a happy ending. Yeah, they end up together, but they do the one where the leave behind Noah’s entire family so they can live where the woman’s new job is – which okay, except literally the female MC goes on and on and on and on about how what she wants to do is have a huge family with lots of kids and spend her time hanging out with them etc etc so – in the epilogue now they have several kids and she’s only working part time here and there. So Noah sacrificed his spot in his family business AND left behind his completely awesome family (and the female MC – sorry, can’t remember her name haha – only has one living relative who also lives in the same town as Noah’s family) so that they could be close to the job that she isn’t even really doing?!?! It felt like a completely stupid way to end the book.

How the Dukes Stole Christmas 3*

//published 2018//

This one had four stories written by different authors – Meet Me in Mayfair by Tessa Dare, The Duke of Christmas Present by Sarah MacLean, Heiress Alone by Sophie Jordan, and Christmas in Central Park by Joanna Shupe. All of them were pretty lame, although Dare’s was probably the best of the bunch. They weren’t horrible as one-off reads, but I already passed this book on because it’s not one I see myself rereading for next year’s Christmas binge.

The Christmas Wish by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

//published 1994, 1984//

Two stories here – All I Want for Christmas and First Impressions – both of which were pretty standard Roberts fare. I had read the first story before, about twin brothers writing a letter to Santa for a new mother since theirs died several years earlier. It’s pretty adorable and I really liked the two main characters. First Impressions was published in 1984 so it has that 80s edge to it, but was still fun and frolicky even if the male MC is a little over-the-top grumpy.

87th Precinct Mysteries // Books 36-40 // by Ed McBain

  • Ice (1983)
  • Lightning (1984)
  • Eight Black Horses (1985)
  • Poison (1987)
  • Tricks (1987)

I’m still slowly working my way through this series of 55 books in batches of five, which feels about right as they can get a little samey if you read too many at once. The first book in this series was published in 1956, and I’m not in the midst of the 1980s part of the series. While McBain’s characters have aged and changed throughout, they definitely haven’t aged in real time – but the background/technology/procedures have. Somehow McBain makes that all work.

This set of five was quite the rollercoaster, as it included one of my favorites I’ve read yet (Eight Black Horses) and also one of my least-favorites (Lightning). It’s been over a month since I actually read these, so I’m sure you’ll be willing to excuse me if I’m a bit hazy on the details…

Ice was a pretty typical entry with a solid and engaging story and plenty of McBain’s trademark snark. At this point in the series, one of the detectives (Bert Kling) has been in multiple romantic entanglements, all of which have ended in disaster, so when he started dating one of the women from a neighboring precinct, a character who floats in and out and that I actually like, I got a little concerned. Their relationship has gotten a little rocky but at least she’s still alive as of the end of Tricks!

A lot of these books can be rather dark, but Lightning was definitely a contender for the weirdest/creepiest premise so far. Several women have been raped, and each one has been raped more than once – all by the same man. I’m going to completely spoil the reason for this happening, so if you don’t want to know, skip to the next paragraph – but basically it turns out that the perpetrator is strongly prochoice, so he started targeting women who were Catholic and had also donated money to a prolife organization. He raped them more than once because he wanted them to get pregnant so they would have to get an abortion, and thus would realize that their prolife stance was wrong. I just… I don’t even know where to start with the problems in this plotline. Part of it is, of course, that I’m very strongly prolife myself, and despite the fact that the prochoice guy is the villain, it’s obvious that McBain is prochoice as well. So he’s in this weird corner where he has to condemn this guy’s actions, but still defend the guy’s actual beliefs. Of course, the women who do end up getting pregnant by this guy (two, I think) do get abortions because obviously no one who is prolife would actually stick to their prolife beliefs if they were in a situation like carrying a rapist’s baby! The whole story just was completely gross and creepy, and honestly any book that’s entire purpose is to convince people that they should be able to murder their babies isn’t really going to fly with me anyway. So this one was definitely a miss.

However, Eight Black Horses was a total win, and reminded me why I’ve been continuing to read this series. The precinct’s ultimate nemesis, the Deaf Man, is back again, and the whole story is just fantastic.

Once thing that’s definitely changed in these books as we’ve moved into the 80s is that these books are significantly sexier. They’ve always been somewhat that way, but more in a “we can’t really avoid this because this is what life on the streets looks like” kind of way. But this batch of books was definitely more, “oh books should just have random sex scenes and a lot of smutty conversations in them” and I wasn’t a fan. Poison was definitely that way, plus it had this kind of weird ending that left me feeling a little confused about the whole story.

Finally, Tricks brought this set of five full-circle – another solid, engaging entry to the series. I really enjoy the stories where McBain just chooses one night and follows along with all the various detectives as they each track their own case. This one was set on Halloween so it felt very seasonal when I was reading it in late October. While a couple of the story lines were honestly ridiculous, they still felt at least somewhat plausible, which kept everything moving.

All in all, I’m this far now so I think I will finish the series out, but I definitely won’t be reading all of them again. At some point, I’ll probably go back and read all the books with the Deaf Man in them as those have definitely been the best. For December, I’m planning to just 100% indulge in fluffy Christmas romcoms, so I probably won’t be reading any more of McBain until 2021. Since I started reading them in April 2019, this definitely isn’t a fast-moving series read!!

September Minireviews – Part 1

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Chasing the Dead by Tim Weaver  – 3.5*

//published 2010//

I’m not sure how this mystery series first appeared on my radar.  The main character, David Raker, used to be an investigative reporter, but now works finding missing persons.  In this first installment, he’s hired by a mother whose adult son disappeared.  His body was found months later.  But now, a year after that, she’s convinced that she saw him walking down the street and that he’s alive.  David isn’t convinced, but agrees to at least try to find out where the son was between the time of his disappearance and the time that his body was found in a fiery car wreck.

There were a lot of things about this book that I like, especially David himself.  I also love the concept of him using his old reporter contacts to work these types of cases.  However, this one just went a little too over-the-top for me, especially the weird quasi-religious cult that just never actually seemed to be adequately explained in a way that genuinely justified everything that had happened.  While I liked this one fine, I didn’t love it, and there were a couple of torture scenes that I skimmed because that kind of thing makes me really queasy.  Still, I enjoyed it enough to pick up the second installment.

The Dead Tracks by Tim Weaver – 3.5*

//published 2011//

Oh look, here’s the second installment!!  A 17-year-old girl disappears into thin air.  With a genuinely happy home life, excellent grades, no boyfriend, and a solid future ahead of her, she seems like an unlikely candidate for a runaway.  Convinced the police aren’t giving it all, her parents hire David to find out what really happened, and soon he’s sucked into a complicated plot involving a serial killer and the Russian mafia.

Once again, I really liked David himself, and the story wasn’t bad, it was just… over-the-top.  Again.  Not every missing person disappears into the clutches of insane psychopaths, but here’s the second book in a row where that’s exactly what happened.  There were once again some a-little-too-gruesome-for-me scenes, and the killer/kidnapper was just… a little too bizarre.  All in all, while these weren’t bad books, they just aren’t for me.  They didn’t exactly feel like they could really happen, if that makes sense, and the fact that David keeps getting into these basically-should-be-dead situations and then getting out of them had me rolling my eyes a little.  It’s also possible that I just wasn’t in the mood for these.  Either way, I’ve checked the series off the TBR as I just don’t think it’s a great fit for me, despite not actually being bad reads.

Fangs by Sarah Anderson – 4*

//published 2020//

This is an absolutely adorable collection of comics about a vampire and a werewolf who are dating.  While not groundbreaking, I enjoyed every page.  The concept is done so well, and both characters come through as thoroughly likable.  I also appreciate the effort that went in to making the physical book a joy to handle – clothbound, black page edges, wonderful paper quality, and the perfect size.  Well worth a read if you enjoy the concept, and the book itself is fantastic.

Second Chance Summer by Jill Shalvis – 4*

//published 2015//

Sometimes I pick up a book and then realize it’s part of a series.  Luckily, this was book one, so I went ahead and rolled with it.  Lily has to return to her hometown in Colorado when her career in California goes bust.  Of course, in typical chick lit style this means running into her old crush, Aidan.  While this book wasn’t anything stunning, it was a really enjoyable romance, with a fairly balanced angst level.  Lily is working through some other family history that made a lot of what was happening feel reasonable.  Aidan wasn’t perfect, either, which I always like.  There were were a few too many sexy times for this to get my wholehearted approval (just not my thing) but overall total brain candy, which was exactly what I wanted.  There are two more books in the series, focused on two of Aidan’s siblings (who own a ski resort!!  I love hospitality romance haha) so I have those on reserve at the library.

Anne’s House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery – 5*

//published 1917//

My reread of the Anne series continues.  In this book, Anne and Gilbert start their new life together on a different part of Prince Edward Island.  They meet their new neighbors and settle into life.  There are some wonderful side stories here, and one in particular really explores the importance of doing what is right even if it looks as though the results may not be what you want.  This book is always a little bittersweet to me, as we leave behind so many friends from Avonlea, but I still love it so much.  Also, I Gilbert and Anne were my first ship growing up, and I’m still here for it!

August Minireviews – Part 3

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Uhoh, we’re into September now!!  Still trying to knock out August reviews.

A Dance Through Time by Lynn Kurland – 3*

//published 1996//

While I do enjoy romance, time travel romance is a subgenre that I’m not usually into.  This read was for the traveling book club, though, so I waded through it.  While it wasn’t a bad story, and I did overall like the characters, it just went on FOREVER.  Some of the jumping-through-time bits got a little muddled as well (they brought their horses with them from the past??).  While I didn’t mind this as a one-time read, it definitely didn’t inspire me to check out the rest of the series, and solidified the idea that time-travel romance just isn’t my thing.

Sweet Revenge by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 1988//

I rarely worry about issuing trigger warnings for books (mainly because I don’t really read books that need them), but this book was hard to read at times as it dealt with a situation where a woman was repeatedly raped and abused.  The whole point of the story is that the main character is getting revenge on her father for the way he treated her mother, but I felt like Roberts felt way too long with the bits explaining why the daughter would want revenge.  There’s a lot here about the mother’s suffering and horrible life. Even after she escaped from her horrific husband, she struggled with depression and drug/alcohol abuse and eventually commits suicide, and it’s all quite depressing, to the point that I almost DNF’d this book more than once.  (Just to clarify, none of this was super explicit, but it’s all THERE.)  But when we FINALLY got through that section, the story really picked up.  Basically, the daughter becomes a jewel thief to pay all of her mother’s medical bills (she’s technically royalty, as her father is a ruler of a middle eastern country, so she runs in rich circles) and her ultimate goal is to steal an incredibly valuable necklace from her father – one that technically belonged to her mother, as it was his bridal gift to her.  Along the way, she runs into another jewel thief/romantic interest (my favorite character) and that whole bit of the story is really quite delightful.  I could have used a LOT more heist shenanigans and way less spousal abuse chapters.

In the end, while I actually really enjoyed the way this whole story played out, and quite liked the main characters, the first part of the story was just SO depressing and dragged on for so long that I don’t ever see myself reading this one again.

Summer at Lake Haven by RaeAnne Thayne – 4*

//published 2020//

Last December I read the entire Lake Haven series and thoroughly enjoyed them.  They weren’t groundbreaking, but they were relaxing and happy romances with likable characters and a small-town setting.  Summer at Lake Haven is the latest installment and was just as enjoyable as the rest.  My favorite part about this book was the way that the main characters actually had conversations with each other like adults instead of making assumptions and then staying mad for no reason, as so often happens in this type of book. So refreshing!  I also loved how Ian’s parents were actually super nice.  Lots of times the parents are these evil background characters, but here they were kind, welcoming, and supportive, and I thought it was fantastic.

Like the rest of the books, this wasn’t anything that will blow your mind, but if you’re just looking for a way to veg out, I definitely recommend this series.  While this one can be read as a stand alone (as they all can), all the background characters will make way more sense if you read the series in order.

Outsider by Linda Castillo – 4*

//published 2020//

Another series that I read last year, with another latest installment.  This mystery series is set in Ohio’s Amish country and focuses on the sheriff of a small town.  Kate was raised Amish but left the faith, eventually becoming a police officer and then moving back to her own hometown.  This series overall is really just excellently written.  Kate is likable, and the Amish community background is handled so well.  This particular book took a slightly different direction, as it was much more “thriller” rather than a murder mystery like the rest.  In this book, the Amish were also more background than foreground.  Still, I really enjoyed this read a lot, and hope there are many more books about Kate Burkholder to come.

While this one can be read as a standalone, it will also make a lot more sense in the context of the series, which is so enjoyable that I recommend reading them all anyway.

Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie – 4*

//published 1929//

I really love Tommy and Tuppence so much.  Tommy now works for “the government” in a sort of vague way/implied that he works in intelligence.  He and Tuppence go somewhat undercover by taking over a private detective agency that is suspected of being used to move “information” by a mysterious foreigner known as 16.  However, the majority of the book is actually connected short stories as Tommy and Tuppence solve legitimate mysteries to keep up their detective cover.  For each one, they take on the persona of a famous detective, which is both the fun part and the weakness of this story, as many of the detectives that were well-known in 1929 have fallen out of favor 90 years later.  Still, if you enjoy Christie’s writing, you’ll find a lot to like here as the mysteries themselves are clever.  Not my favorite Christie, but still an enjoyable read.

August Minireviews – Part 2

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Still reviewing August books in August… making progress!!  :-D

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd – 4*

//published 2016//

Quite a long while ago Maggie Stiefvater – pretty much the only “famous” person I follow on social media – mentioned that she was reading this book.  It looked magical, and I’ve always thought winged horses would be the most amazing magical creatures, so I added it to the TBR.  And now, years later, I actually got around to reading it!  While somewhat bittersweet, this was a lovely read about a young girl who can see winged horses in the “mirror world” – i.e. she can only see them in mirrors.  She’s the only one who sees them (or is she??) and has learned to not talk about it much.  She’s staying in an old manor house in the English countryside.  The house has been turned into a tuberculosis hospital for children during World War II, so there is definitely a dark tone to the story, especially since it is set in winter – somehow, the entire book feels grey, which is actually a big part of the story.

There were a lot of things I liked about this story.  It was so imaginative and imagery was beautiful.  I really wish that it had been paired with better illustrations – there is so much in this story just begging for gorgeous pictures.  This is technically a middle grade book, but I wouldn’t just hand it over to a youngster without making sure that they’re ready for some of the serious themes presented here, like terminal illness, war, death, etc.  These things are handled sensitively and well, but to me this is more a book you would read with your child rather than one they would read on their own.

One small niggle for me was that the main character does steal several items throughout the story for a “good cause” – and this is never really addressed.  It’s just sort of implied that she was justified in her actions because she “needed” the items, which I’m not sure is actually that great of a life-lesson.  Still, on the whole I really enjoyed this atmospheric tale that gave me a lot of feelings.

Side note – once again, several of these pictures include my BookSpin Bingo board for my challenge on Litsy, because that’s where I originally posted the pictures!!

Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull – 3.5*

//published 1938//

I see a lot of these mysteries that are being reprinted by the British Library Crime Classics, but this is the first one I’ve gotten around to picking up.  The main thing about this story that has kept it in the “classics” category is the way the mystery is presented.  The reader is placed in the middle of a murder trial from the get-go – except we don’t know who is on trial until much later in the book.  Hull weaves the murder, the courtroom scenes, and the background for the murder throughout the story in a way that seems like it should be muddled but which, for the most part, works.

While I did enjoy this one overall, it was definitely slow in spots, with a great deal of time being spent making sure that the reader doesn’t like the victim at all.  This is all part of the point (is one justified murdering someone who deserves to be murdered?  Murder, as it were, with “excellent intentions” in mind?) but did get old sometimes.  The story also runs out of steam at the end, with a long chapter devoted to the jury’s arguing back and forth about whether or not they should convict the accused.  But overall it was an enjoyable one-time read with a crafty mystery wherein the reader can slowly decide who is on trial as the story progresses.

Ukridge by P.G. Wodehouse – 4.5*

//published 1924//

As I continue to work my way through Wodehouse’s books in published order, Ukridge was next on the list.  Featuring a character who appeared in Love Among the Chickens, Ukridge is one of those people who is constantly broke, constantly coming up with a ridiculous scheme for making money (that doesn’t really involve work), and generally coming out alright (although usually still broke).  I think we’ve all met someone like this – I know I’ve definitely found myself in situations, wondering how I got there, pushed in by my family’s Ukridge.  (My second anniversary, spent huddled with my husband in a sopping wet one-man tent on the top of a 40* mountain in the rain, comes to mind.)  At any rate, this isn’t Wodehouse’s strongest work, but it was still enjoyable.  While Ukridge may be ridiculous, he’s never mean-spirited, and he genuinely believes that each of his schemes is going to pay off.  This probably isn’t where I would start if I were going to introduce someone to Wodehouse, but if you already love his writing, there’s a lot to enjoy here as well.

Blackbird by Sam Humphries and Jen Bartel – 3.5*

//published 2019//

Lately I’ve been reading more graphic novels, and while I think this one is technically a comic (I’m still a little hazy on the differences), when I saw this gorgeous cover on a Litsy review, I knew I wanted to at least give it a try.  Overall, I really liked it, and the artwork is great fun.  The main character’s life changed when she was a child and an earthquake hit her city.  During that catastrophe, she was rescued by a huge magical creature that everyone else saw but no one else remembers.  Since then, she’s been the “weird kid,” obsessed with trying to find real magic that she’s convinced is out there.

While I really liked the concept and the magic in this story, it was told in a very choppy manner, making it a little difficult to put together the linear storyline.  There’s also this crazy twist that I did like but also didn’t really seem to fit with the other character’s character.  All in all, this volume felt more like a big set-up than it did its own story.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure if there is going to be a sequel, and I haven’t been able to find much information.  (This volume included the first six issues as one.)  I would definitely read a sequel, but I’m not sure I would especially recommend this one just because the ending is so open-ended.

Rogue Princess by B.R. Myers – 4*

//published 2020//

If you’ve ever wished you had a scifi, gender-swapped Cinderella retelling centered around a royal matriarchy set on a distant planet, then this is the book for you.  It’s rare that I buy a book just for the cover, but that’s totally what happened here.  I just love it, and can’t even explain why!  I got this one for only $2 on BookOutlet, and ended up enjoying it way more than I was anticipating.

Princess Delia, heir to the throne, knows that she needs to marry a prince from a neighboring planet that will help save her own, and while she isn’t excited about it, she’s at least resigned to it… mostly.  But when a series of events leads to her meeting Aidan, a kitchen worker with his own reasons for needing to escape the planet (and who isn’t afraid to steal from those who can afford it to help him towards his goal), she’s introduced to parts of her kingdom she didn’t realize existed.  While this is someone Cinderella-y, it also has an Aladdin vibe as well, and I was totally here for it.  I really liked the characters, and while there were some jolts in the plot that felt chunky (and I had to make a cheat-sheet to keep all the prospective-groom princes straight), overall I quite enjoyed this one.  The setting was completely unique and the world-building was intriguing.  Overall recommended, especially if you’re looking for a unique fairy tale variation.

PS I will say that there are a lot of negative/meh reviews for this one, so there’s a strong possibility that I was just in the right mood for it??  I love the way different books are for different people, and sometimes for different versions of myself at different moments in time!