Book #58: Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wickhadden by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden (Agatha Raisin, #9)Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The ninth book in the Agatha Raisin series involves Agatha visiting a self-proclaimed "witch" selling herbal remedies and tells fortunes, while on holiday. It was easy to tell that the witch would end up being the first of the two murder victims in this story, and unfortunately this wasn't the best book in the series.

There was a lot of promise in this book, which had Agatha staying in a hotel with a quite eccentric group of people, which felt that it could be the setting for an Agatha Christie novel, but it became increasingly clear that the book was more about its main character's love life than solving the murder itself.

So, this book gave Agatha a new love interest; a Police Inspector called Jimmy. I found myself increasingly distracted by the sudden presence of Agatha's on-and-off crush, James Lacey. There's something that I find really tacky about having characters with very similar names in a book, and this book shows precisely why most authors avoid this.

The real disappointment came with the resolution of the murder, which came out of almost nowhere, and seemed very rushed, before the final chapter was entirely about Agatha's relationships. The humour that characterises the series was at least present, although it seemed excessively dark at times. Also, once again there was a character who seemed so nasty it felt unreal, and she showed up in the last chapter.

There were a few hint at the end about where the series' romantic subplots are heading, and I can only hope that the next title in the series is written better than this one.

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Book 30- Casting the Runes, by M.R. James

30. Casting the Runes, by M.R. James. Another good creepy short story. I had a lot of fun reading this one as part of my reading series. The story is more or less centered around a man who had rejected an author's paper on alchemy. Unfortunately for him, this author does not take rejection well, and the man finds out what happens to the last person who had criticized the author's work. There was a lot of comedy woven into this- indeed, if I had a nit there was one moment I thought may have been a bit too tongue in cheek, which damped the creep factor. But all in all, I enjoyed the story.

Currently reading: The Poisoner's Handbook, by Deborah Blum. Really enjoying this one so far, more than halfway through. Want to check out some of her other books now.


Book #57: Autumn Killing by Mons Kallentoft

Autumn KillingAutumn Killing by Mons Kallentoft

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third book in the Malin Fors series opens with an internet billionaire found dead at home; this one follows a similar format to previous instalments in the series, with some of the chapters narrated by the ghost of the dead victim. One difference here is that Malin now seems to be able to hear the dead man speaking to her.

What really appeals about this series is just how flawed Malin herself is. At the start of this book, she and her estranged husband are trying to start over again with their relationship, but Malin’s actions soon derail things, and they split up. She starts sleeping with her on-off lover again, and turns to alcoholism, in a way that spirals out of control and even puts her daughter Tove in jeopardy.

I enjoyed this book overall; I noticed a few recurring themes that are presumably explored in more detail in later instalments of the series, including the character Maria Murvall, first mentioned in “Midwinter Sacrifice”. This book also ended with a few loose threads involving Malin’s parents that the book series also presumably returns to.

My only gripe was the fact that two characters seemed to have very similar names (unusual in any book really), and this led me at first to conclude (wrongly) that they were both the same person.

Currently, there are four more titles in the series after this one, and most likely another one is in the process of being written; I definitely want to keep reading to see what happens next.

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Book 60-61

Pahua and the Soul StealerPahua and the Soul Stealer by Lori M. Lee

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this via Netgalley which in no way influenced my review. I am thrilled by Rick Riordan's line bringing all these diverse authors and their stories to the forefront. These are voices that need to be heard (representation matters).

Pahua is a young Hmong girl in Wisconsin (this made me wish I were still living there) She's been cut off from her Hmong community after a move when her father abandoned the family (I still think there's more to this) and she's lonely. Her mother is working far too much to keep the family afloat and unsurprisingly Pahua is bullied and ignored at school thanks to prejudice. Thinking she has made a new friend she follows the girls to the 'haunted bridge.'

Unlike other kids, Pahua can see spirits and knows the bridge spirit is real. This fateful decision ends up with her accidentally releasing the titular soul stealer who gets hold of her kid brother's soul and brings Pahua into the path of Zhong, a young shaman-warrior in training. Pahua's aunt is a shaman but her mother has no time for such talk so Pahua knows very little.

Here you have the typical MG/YA conundrum, where are the adults? Pahua's mother is in the hospital with Pahua's stricken brother, Matt and Zhong was sent by the shaman school on a quest to find out what happened at the bridge. She is desperate to impress her mentors there so she insists that they can handle this alone vs going to get her mentor. Which okay when you're 11 that probably makes sense to you.

Zhong is a bit of a rude know it all. Pahua is uncertain and feels she isn't brave but has a heck of an imagination. Together they roam Wisconsin and the spirit realms hounded by demons, dragons and all manner of spirit creatures with the only help being Zhong's imperfect knowledge, Pahua's hidden talents and Miv, the cat spirit who is Pahua's best friend.

This story is steeped in Hmong mythology and it absolutely wonderful. The action is unflagging and the girls are great. The storyline is believable and it wraps up nicely. The story is complete but definitely open for more down the road. I can't wait to see more. Pahua's world is filled with fantastical things and highly nuanced. It sucks me right in and I didn't want to put it down. One of the most fun books I've read all year.

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Certain Dark ThingsCertain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this from Netgalley which did not influence my review. This was such a fun, dark vampire story. Two things really breathed life into the vampire genre (no pun intended), Mexico City as a setting and moving beyond the European Dracula sort of vampire. I'm a huge vampire fan but even I want something a little different from time to time and we have it here.

For one, the vampires here aren't necessarily good or evil, they just are. One of them describes vampires as 'their hunger,' so that means they don't play well with their food. In this world there are many types of vampires, most of them incapable of getting along. Mexico City, like many places has banned vampires for all that's worth.

Domingo is a homeless teen, a garbage picker who crosses path with Atl whose vampiric lineage traces back to Mexico's indigenous people. Domingo is intelligent (so you do feel sympathy for his terrible circumstances) and a huge vampire fan. He is constantly comparing Atl to the vampires he knows from stories and comic books. He wants to be with her, to help her. He has a good heart.

Atl is on the run from the Necros, the youngest in the evolution of vampires (they all have different strengths and weaknesses and feeding types/appearances it's very well done) and the most vicious. Her family has run afoul of them. At best Atl is slated to be killed by them or imprisoned/raped/tortured and then killed for his amusement when Nick catches her. All she has is her enhanced Doberman Pinscher and Domingo. Her only plan is to stay alive long enough to get forged papers that will get her to South America where she can hide and thrive.

The action unfolds over a few days as Domingo tries to help Atl escape, hoping to go with her while dodging some of the young gangs he has to deal with, one of which he has ended up on the bad side of. Atl is trying not to feel drawn to Domingo, he is only human after all, not really worth her time. We have Ana, a detective who is trying to stay uncorrupted, who has vampire killing experience and is slammed by misogyny at all sides at work and we have the drug dealers who want Ana to help get rid of the vampires as they're bad for business.

There are several threads in this, many points of view and characters you really want to see have a happy ending but then you remember this is horror (the author calls it neo-noir) and that happy endings are not guaranteed. Whether or not it has one is up to you to find out. I thought this was a fun ride and it resolved in a very believable way. I enjoyed the dark world Domingo and Atl exist in and was glad of the glimpse into it.

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Book 29- The Mezzotint, by M.R. James

29. The Mezzotint, by M.R. James. Really, really loving his short stories. They are delightfully spooky without being gory or violent. Also, this one was actually pretty darn funny at times- how often do you find yourself laughing at a horror story that isn't a spoof? In this short story, the narrator tells about an acquaintance who has been sent a mezzotint for possible purchase for a museum. At first, it seems ordinary, even subpar. But as time goes on, this print shows to be more than it seems.


Book 26- Buy Jupiter and other Stories, by Isaac Asimov

26. Buy Jupiter and Other Short Stories, by Isaac Asimov. I haven't read any Asimov in a while. Reading this short story collection was like looking at a time capsule of what was believed possible then. I'm mostly familiar with his Foundation books and Robot stories, so this was different. In this collection, you see a quirkier, funnier side of Asimov. His stories have a twist, either comic or ironic, at the end, and he loves puns. Not saying which story but one tale was written around the title, which in and of itself was a pun. All of the stories were enjoyable, for different reasons. Also, all of the stories are very short, averaging 3 to 5 pages, with Asimov's personal notes included after each one. Those were as engaging to read as the stories. If you are a fan of Asimov's writing, I highly recommend this.

Currently reading: Punched, Kicked, Spat On, and Sometimes Thanked: Memoirs of a Cleveland TV News Reporter, by Paul Orlousky

EDIT: I realized after posting this I've actually read two more stories:

27. A School Story, by M.R. James. It starts out with two adults talking about students and their quaint ghost stories. But one of the adults has, possibly, a haunting tale of his own while he was at school. James is picturesque in his settings, so it's easy to capture in the mind's eye the locations, and the slow buildup of this short tale is excellent. It's creepy but not too gory. If you are looking for good spooky stories for grade school, this one would be a good tale to share- just enough shivers without too much fright.

28. Count Magnus, by M.R. James. I really liked this one. There are some undertones of Bram Stoker's Dracula, especially in the beginning, but the tale diverges enough to not be called a copy. I do wonder at the name "Count Magnus," if this tale was perhaps a bit of an inspiration for Vampire Hunter D? At any rate, the narrator of the story has come across the papers of a man who had traveled to Sweden to do a travelogue/narrative journalism piece- and got more than he had bargained for! I haven't read much by James (yet) but so far this one is far and away my favorite.


Books 51 - 60.

51. Aquilina & Flaherty - The How-To Book Of Catholic Devotions: Everything You Need To Know But No One Ever Taught You
Assumes you don't know very much. Still, even those who might know some, there will be some good stuff, and great quotes within.

52. Maxwell-Stuart - Chronicle Of The Popes: The Reign-By-Reign Record Of The Papacy From St.Peter To The Present
Popes of many variations - brief/longtime, pious/hedonistic, well-know/little-known, influential/not at all, damaging/inspiring, saints, nationalities, various ages... the Antipopes (rival popes) are also included. Ends with Benedict XVI's early years. Good pictures and interesting facts, too.

53. Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special: More Than 275 Recipes For Soup, Stews, Salad & Extras (386 pages)
No pictures, but plenty of good recipes even if you're a bit picky. Vegetarian and seafood recipes, as usual.

54. M.Brown - Assembly
Interesting views on the lives of black people in the UK, and how past prejudices and empire dreams are far from fading just yet. Much put in such a few pages, but well so.

55. Tolstoy - The Devil & Other Stories (English translation)
Several stories of various lenghts and themes, some working better than others. Nature feeling always close. These stories reveal much of the author's state of mind and his occasional messiness.

56. B.Walker - The Anatomy Of Stretching: Your Illustrated Guide To Flexibility & Injury Rehabilitation
Second edition, which adds more stuff. Straightforward, informative, good illustrations. Can be useful even if you don't do sports for living.

57. Pannapadipo - Little Angels: Life As A Novice Monk In Thailand
12 stories of different novices. On how monasteries can give further education and mental/spiritual solace for many poor boys; also tells a bit about the author's charity who helps them afterwards to get education beyond high school. Some boys will stay to become a monk, but many disrobe and go to live a layperson life.

58. Pope Francis - The Gospel Of Matthew: A Spiritual & Pastoral Reading (English translation)
Like the one of the Gospel of Mark, a compilation of his speeches and writings on this particular Gospel.

59. Nabokov - The Eye (Finnish translation)
A short novel about an exile's post-suicide attempt life, a bit detached from his self. If I liked him, I would've found this novel more enjoyable. Perhaps good to borrow this one first.

60. DeLillo - The Names
About a traveling businessman based in Athens, who gets interested in a constantly-moving cult that kills a person in every place the temporarily live, with a certain logic. This takes him in various locations and countries. Was fine until I got to a scene with a belly dancer, and the feeling of things becoming sexually of dubious consent made me give up on reading and just skim the rest. Perhaps borrowing this first would be a wise idea; his later work has a much better guarantee of being good reads, IMO.
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Book #56: A Rift in Space and Crime by R.E. McLean

A Rift in Space and Crime (Multiverse Investigations Mysteries Book 2)A Rift in Space and Crime by RE McLean

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was keen to read this book for a while, having enjoyed the first book in the series, "Murder in the Multiverse".

I didn't think this was quite as good as its predecessor, as a lot of the plot felt a bit like I'd read it all before, and some of the other random plot elements, while feeling very much influenced by Douglas Adams, felt a little too random and bizarre. For example, a scene where a character turns into a giant rabbit - something to do with reality fluctuations.

I'll briefly explain the main plot; a character called Pip thinks he's been abandoned by his family. He also has an ability to open portals between dimensions, and he uses this to kidnap a girl called Lacey. Alex and Mike end up pursuing him into a parallel universe which seems to involve a dystopic version of San Fransisco that seems to have been ravaged by an earthquake.

The book felt darker than the previous one in places, mostly because of Pip's backstory, but the humour was still there, and there were some great lines (one character is described at one point as 'looking a bit like Superman after a hard night on the whisky'). At times I wished the pace of the action would slow down a bit so I could follow everything; at times it felt like there was too much being crammed into only about 250 pages. Like the previous one, it did set up the plot for the next book in the series, which I will almost certainly read, but R.E. McLean is going to have to work hard to avoid the premise becoming stale too quickly.

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Book #55: Witness the Night by Kishwar Desai

Witness the NightWitness the Night by Kishwar Desai

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Durga, a teenage girl, is found in a house with her entire family who have been murdered. Despite evidence that she has been raped, she is arrested for the murders, but Detective Simran Singh is not so sure.

This book gripped me from the start, although it felt difficult at times. All the book's chapters followed the same format, starting with several paragraphs in italics, narrated by Durga. After this, the main body of the chapters were narrated by Simran, and these were followed by her e-mail correspondence with one of the other characters.

This book felt like a critique of Indian society and family values, with its themes of boys being valued more than girls, with references to mothers being expected to bear a male heir for their family, and women being forced into abortions if they were carrying baby girls.

The subject of mental health was also very present in this book, with the plot involving the disappearance of Durga's sister, believed to be a witch, who turned out to be in an asylum.

Overall, this book proved to be quite harrowing at times, but it was also relatively short, so I was able to read it quite fast. It is apparently the first in a series involving the character of Simran Singh, and I might consider reading further titles in the series.

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Book #54: Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith

Troubled Blood (Cormoran Strike, #5)Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Considering that J.K. Rowling got into trouble on Twitter for some of her comments about trans women (and her well-publicised argument with Stephen King), her writing a book involving a killer who wears drag was going to be controversial. This doesn't take up a big part of what seems to be the longest book in the Strike series so far.

The main plot involves a historic missing persons case, after Strike is approached by the daughter of a woman who disappeared in the 1970s, believed to have been the victim of a notorious serial killer. The detective who investigated the original case also seems to have had an unhealthy fixation with astrology. A large proportion of the book has Strike and Robin interviewing witnesses and suspects, a lot more it seemed to me than in previous titles.

I'll start with the only thing I didn't like about this book; there were so many characters, it was hard to follow at times, as I had to keep checking the notes I was making to remind myself who someone was. If J.K. writes another book of this scale, I only hope she will include a full character list to help her readers.

As for the positives, one of the book's many subplots fleshes out Strike's family background, as he travels to Cornwall to visit his sick aunt, and I enjoyed reading about his relationships with his relatives. I also got to learn some new things about Robin; a rape incident that gets mentioned in this book was not something that I remembered being mentioned before. Another subplot with Robin getting sexually harassed by an investigator felt very topical, what with the #metoo movement having been a bit thing in recent years.

Overall, I enjoyed this book; I just hope the next book in the series is a bit simpler to follow.

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