Heliotrope and a Haunting(The Witches of Wormwood Mysteries Book 7) – 23.08.21 and Sage and Secrets(The Witches of Wormwood Mysteries Book 8) – Silver Nord, Ruby Loren – 27.08.21

The next two installments in the Witches of Wormwood Mysteries series are both fun. The First is a ‘locked room’ murder mystery, except the locked room is a locked mansion constructed with many deadly traps by its paranoid owner. There is genuine intrigue and character development and the usual cat related humour.

Sage and Secrets is set around the campaign for a new town mayor where the candidates keep being murdered. Again, lots of fun and I will continue to read the series.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories – Susanna Clarke – 18.08.21

I have mixed feelings about this book because I love Susanna Clarke’s books, especially Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell, but I hate short stories… This is a book of short stories set in the universe of Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell!

The style of writing and the dark fey/faerie fables are great – everything I love in a novel, if only they were part of a novel! If you like short stories and grown up fairy tales, then this is definitely a book for you.

Bacchanal – Veronica G. Henry (Audiobook) – 14.08.21

Bacchanal is set in the Southern States of America in the 1930s. It follows Eliza Meeks, a young Black girl who has been abandoned by her family and is feared/shunned by the people of the town where she lives because she has the gift of being able to communicate with animals. She is spotted by the talent scout of a travelling carnival and she accepts his offer to join them.

The Bacchanal carnival is unusual in that most of it’s acts are African American, and also because it harbours a dark and magical secret. The book features a lot of African Mythology like animal spirit guides, communicating with ancestors and shape shifting characters as well as demons.

I found it well written with lots of character development as well as growing intrigue as the plot unravels at a fairly unhurried pace. Eliza is a likable character, and her love interests and family relationships are sweet and engaging. I liked the narrator and looked forward to the next installment of this audiobook, sometimes prolonging my runs/walks to be able to listen to more of it!

Miss Benson’s Beetle – Rachel Joyce – 11.08.21

I have enjoyed all the books I’ve read by Rachel Joyce, and this is no exception.

For some reason I assumed Miss Benson’s Beetle would be of the Volkswagen persuasion, but no, it’s an actual insect type beetle.

Set in England (to begin with) in the 1950s Miss Benson is a middle aged unhappy teacher with a lifelong passion for beetles, and an obsession for finding an elusive golden fruit beetle that had been mentioned in the writings of several explorers, but never caught and verified. She has a bit of a meltdown at work which ends in her stealing her colleagues boots (!) and being sacked. She decides to up sticks and travel halfway around the world and have an adventure finding the beetle for herself.

The heart of the story really comes from the relationship she forms with the woman she end up hiring as an assistant for the trip, a totally unsuitable character (or is she…?) with secrets of her own.

I found the book very readable – funny, exciting and genuinely moving – I read it quickly and then was sad when it was over.

Long Shadows: Elizabeth Cage, Book 3 – Jodi Taylor – 09.08.21

I’m a big fan of Jodi Taylor, and I’ve read everything she has published so far, but I think (actually I’m sure) that this Elizabeth Cage series (and also the Frogmorton Farm series) are my absolute favourites.

Elizabeth Cage, the series hero is an introvert and a loner (yes, one of the reasons I love her is because I relate so much to that!) but with unusual powers. She can see people’s ‘colours’ kind of like an aura around people which gives clues to their personality and also show if the person is happy or stressed or lying etc. She has some nice relationships (friendships and love interests) and scary nemesis’s and she also sometimes unleashes scary powers of her own.

This installment in the series explained a lot of what is going on with her which was interesting as well as being exciting and moving and a lot of fun to read. Bring on the next book!!

Dreadful Company: A Dr Greta Helsing Novel – 01.08.21 Grave Importance: A Dr Greta Helsing Novel – Vivian Shaw – 04.08.21

I love the character of Dr Greta Helsing – physician to the magical/supernatural beings that live among us.

Dreadful company is mostly about vampires. Some of Greta’s best friends are vampires, and she knows well their struggles and battles to live as (literally) bloodthirsty immortals but still retain their honour and dignity and do as little harm as possible. In Paris a different type of vampire is building a ‘dreadful company’ of subservient sanguivores in the catacombs under the city. They are running amok in the city and causing all kinds of trouble, not to mention unsettling the balance of reality that could result in world changing cataclysm. Greta is kidnapped by the gang and while her friends try to rescue her, she sets about to rescue herself and there is excitement and fighting (and some very cute little furry magical creatures).

Grave Importance mostly concerns Mummies (ancient Egyptian) as well as angels and demons (and vampires). Greta is asked to step in as interim medical director at a high end clinic and spa for Mummies in the French Alps. She is looking forward to the use of great facilities in a beautiful setting as well as putting into practice some of her ground breaking theories in mummy care. Bad things start happening, and once again the future of the whole world is hanging in the balance. This book reminded me a bit of my all time favourite book Good Omens, in that it’s really good, and that angels and demons feature quite a lot and they are not demons = bad and angels = good, but rather more nuanced and complicated. There are also some very lovely and sweet romances and interesting use of language – all in all a very good series of books which I highly recommend.

Snowblind (Dark Iceland Book 1) – Ragnar Jónasson and Quentin Bates (AUDIOBOOK) – 29.07.21

So, this is a murder mystery type book set in Iceland (and written by an Icelandic person) and I listened to it as an audiobook. When I first heard the Icelandic narrator’s voice I thought it was a lovely sounding voice, and good for this book as he would be able to properly pronounce the Icelandic character and place names. This was true, however, I found the cadence of his speech to be slightly odd for English expressions and he often seemed to put the emphasis in the ‘wrong’ place. This is one thing that made the story slightly hard to follow for me. Also, the beginnings of the chapters gave dates and since I never really pay that much attention to numbers (that side of my brain is overshadowed by my creative side!) I was vaguely worried that the plot was jumping about in time but I wasn’t keeping up properly with when things were happening. I’m also not good at remembering whose names refer to whom, even when they are names that I’m familiar with, so I was constantly lost about who was being talked about now (the book went off on lots of tangents with different people’s back stories). I think maybe if I’d read it rather than listened I might have followed the plot better – then I could go back and check dates and names when I got confused which is too hard to do when listening to an audiobook, especially as I usually listen when out running.

I did kind of get the ending, and things did start to make more sense as they went along. I quite liked the main character of Ari, a young recently qualified police officer newly arrived at the remote Northern Icelandic town where the story is set as he battles with feelings of isolation and claustrophobia in the small town cut off from the rest of the country during the winter by the impassible mountain roads which surround it. I’ll probably not bother reading any more books by this author though.

The Shadow Wing (Crow Investigations Book 6) – Sarah Painter – 25.07.21

I’ve really enjoyed all the books in Sarah Painter’s series about a private detective, Lydia Crow, with magical abilities. It has been interesting seeing Lydia’s journey through the series, from originally wanting little or nothing to do with her magical family inheritance, so coming to terms with her abilities and taking on more responsibility as heir to running the family business. The urban fantasy genre is one I really like (if done well), this series has a good mix of lightness (Lydia’s relationship with her live in 80s nerdy ghost has a lot of humour) as well as deep moral and philosophical questions. The role that has been thrust upon Lydia is almost like a mobster boss, and she finds herself at times having to throw her metaphorical/magical weight around to stop situations escalating which goes against her more gentle peace loving nature. Thrown into the mix is her growing romantic relationship with a police officer who is learning about her magical side and coming to terms with it, while seeming to have mystical secrets of his own (even secret to himself…?). I look forward to the next installment!

Grandmothers – Salley Vickers – 20.07.21

Years ago I read everything I could find by Salley Vickers, but it’s been a while and at the moment I’m mostly reading more magical realism/urban fantasy type books, so this was a nostalgic return for me.

From the very start I loved this book. There is just something about the style of writing that felt like coming home. Centered around three older women, who come together by chance, and their relationships with themselves, each other and their grandchildren the book is beautiful, insightful and life affirming without ever being saccharine or patronising.

As a woman in my fifties, not quite a grandmother yet but thinking about entering this later stage in my life, I found I identified with the women in lots of ways and I enjoyed this vicarious invitation into their circle of friendship.

I was sorry when the book ended, and moved by the women’s stories.

Rooftoppers – Katherine Rundell (AUDIOBOOK) – 16.07.21

I listened to this as an audiobook, and I’m sorry to say that it was hard for me to give the story a fair reaction as my feelings toward it were coloured by my reaction to the narrator. The narrator was a very posh, older English gentleman, and (as I’ve said before) there is something about the very posh English voice that just sets me on edge. I know that it’s a prejudice, and therefore wrong of me, but I just think of colonialism and aristocracy and exploitation and arrogance when I hear a voice like that and it’s hard for me to see past it. Also I thought his tone was a times a little patronising, the way some people are when talking to children. Again, I acknowledge that this could be just me projecting my prejudice.

That aside, I did like the story. Sophie was found as a baby floating in a Cello case after a shipwreck and is taken in by a bumbling but lovely English man. It is Victorian England, but he refuses to enforce female decorum on her which horrifies the establishment. When Sophie is convinced her mother is still alive and she is desperate to find her, and the authorities want to take her away from her kindly guardian they run away together to Paris, following clues about Sophie’s mother. Sophie meets a boy who lives on the rooftops of Paris, and his friends among the other ‘rooftoppers’ and they help her follow the clues to finding her mother.