After Dark

After Dark (Harmony #1)After Dark by Jayne Castle
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I was intrigued by the idea of a whole series of interconnected stories – past, present, and future – by this author (under various pseudonyms). There are so many different series, with some books numbered in more than one series, so it was a little arbitrary where to actually start, but I really was intrigued by the idea of pet “dust bunnies”, so this was it. Set in the future, about 200 years after humanity had crossed through some kind of planetary curtain and then were unable to return, cut off from Earth. The planet is called Harmony. The human colonists have apparently been developing the ability to resonate with amber and use it to focus psychic energy. The planet was once inhabited by a race of aliens who left behind the ruins of their culture protected by illusion traps and eerie energy manifestations (ghosts.) I enjoyed the world building, although some of the terminology was confusing at first. Lydia is a tangler – someone who can psychically untangle and defuse the illusion traps. Emmett is a ghost hunter – someone who can either summon or dissipate ghosts. And dust bunnies! sort of a cross between a predatory rabbit and a spider (not literally, but they do have six legs and 4 eyes…) All of that was interesting. A solid 4 stars for the sci fi/paranormal aspect. The relationship between Lydia and Emmett, as they learn to trust each other while solving a mystery, was okay plot-wise. It kept me guessing “who done it.” So something between 3 and 4 stars for plot. And if you like romance, there is that, too, but I have to say the two explicit sex scenes really didn’t add to the plot for me and could just as well have been left out. I’d call this more of a mystery than a suspense/thriller. And there was sexual tension, but nothing I would call a romance, so 2 stars for the romance aspect. I may read more in the series, but it isn’t compelling. Hopefully the sequel will develop the romance and back story a bit more. I will be reading the prequel short story “Bridal Jitters” since it is included in this edition of After Dark (titled Harmony.)

Book Description: Life is tough these days for Lydia Smith, licensed para-archaeologist. Seriously stressed-out from a nasty incident in an alien tomb, she is obliged to work part-time in Shrimpton’s House of Ancient Horrors, a very low-budget museum. She has a plan to get her career back on track, but it isn’t going well. Stuff keeps happening. Take the dead body that she discovered in one of the sarcophagus exhibits. Who needed that? Finding out that her new client, Emmett London, is one of the most dangerous men in the city isn’t helping matters either. And that’s just today’s list of setbacks. Here in the shadows of the Dead City of Old Cadence, things don’t really heat up until After Dark.

Series info (Harmony: Ghost Hunters):
.5 Bridal Jitters
01 After Dark
02 After Glow
03 Ghost Hunter
04 Silver Master
05 Dark Light
06 Obsidian Prey

The Winter Witch

The Winter WitchThe Winter Witch by Paula Brackston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m a sucker for pretty much anything set in Wales, good or bad, but this book turned out to be a loving tribute to the landscape. The author has a lyrical way with words, and was able to create a strong sense of time and place, helped by the use of Welsh language words throughout. Morgana was an interesting character, and without the imposition of magic and witchcraft this could have been a 5-star historical romance. While I enjoy a good paranormal or fantasy story, I struggled a bit with it here. I wanted to be immersed in historical Wales, so every time magic was introduced it just didn’t seem quite right to me. I had a few historical quibbles – the use of the famous song Calon Lan, for example, which wasn’t written until 1890 probably at the earliest. It was interesting to learn something about Welsh cattle droving which died out in Wales after the introduction of railroads in the 1840s and 50s. Aside from the language (no glossary provided, which wasn’t an issue for me, but those who don’t know some basic Welsh might wish it had one), other elements of “Welshness” seemed contrived – let’s throw in some references to Welsh cakes and bara brith and carving love spoons. And corgis, of course. The author does live in Wales, and obviously loves her country. Despite my nit-picking here, I enjoyed the book enough to give it four stars. It’s a sweet love story, a tribute to Wales (especially the language and the landscape), and the triumph of good over evil.

Book Description: In her small early-nineteenth-century Welsh town, there is no one quite like Morgana, who has not spoken since she was a young girl. Her silence is a mystery, as well as her magic. Concerned for her safety, her mother is anxious to see her married, and Cai Jenkins, a widower from the far hills, seems the best choice. After her wedding, Morgana is heartbroken at leaving her mother, and wary of this man, whom she does not know, and who will take her away to begin a new life. But she soon falls in love with Cai’s farm and the wild mountains that surround it. Cai works to understand the beautiful half-tamed creature he has chosen for a bride, and slowly, he begins to win Morgana’s affections. It’s not long, however, before her strangeness begins to be remarked upon in her new village. A dark force is at work there — a person who will stop at nothing to turn the townspeople against Morgana. Forced to defend her home, her man, and herself, Morgana must learn to harness her power, or she will lose everything. (from book jacket)

About the author: Paula Brackston lives in a wild, mountainous part of Wales. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University, and is a Visiting Lecturer for the University of Wales, Newport. Before becoming a writer, Paula tried her hand at various career paths, with mixed success. These included working as a groom on a racing yard, as a travel agent, a secretary, an English teacher, and a goat herd. Everyone involved (particularly the goats) is very relieved that she has now found a job she is actually able to do properly. (from author’s website)

Wild Ride

Wild RideWild Ride by Jennifer Crusie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought this was a hoot! Wonderfully silly and the narrator did a terrific job with the voices. It’s a great send up of the whole paranormal romance genre, with plenty of action: Think Luke and Leia fighting demon-possessed teddy bears, a character described as Army Barbie, and a government homeland security agent that reminds me of Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter stories. Oh yes, and the Devil himself who lives locked up in a statue. There’s also a Hellmouth ala Buffyland….

Book Description:
Mary Alice Brannigan doesn’t believe in the supernatural. Nor does she expect to find that Dreamland, the decaying amusement park she’s been hired to restore, is a prison for the five Untouchables, the most powerful demons in the history of the world. Plus, there’s a guy she’s falling hard for—and there’s something about him that’s not quite right.

But rocky romances and demented demons aren’t the only problems in Dreamland: Mab’s also coping with a crooked politician, a supernatural raven, a secret government agency, an inexperienced sorceress, an unsettling inheritance, and some mind-boggling revelations from her past. As her personal demons wreck her newfound relationship and real demons wreck the park, Mab faces down immortal evil and discovers what everybody who’s ever been to an amusement park knows: The end of the ride is always the wildest.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

The Physick Book of Deliverance DaneThe Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love the premise of this book, being a researcher and historian myself. I also like investigations into the paranormal. However – this ends up bordering on magic and fantasy. The historical side of the story was very well done. I would like to have learned more about these women and their relationships with their daughters. It’s interesting to see Connie’s mother covering up her magical abilities in New Age mysticism, and to show the relationship develop between Connie and her mother. I did find it a little hard to swallow the idea that Connie is only learning of her own paranormal abilities in her twenties. I also wish that the psychic and paranormal elements had been more “ordinary” and less fantastical. The love story between Connie and Sam the steeplejack was sweet. I wouldn’t call this a mystery exactly, since the clues were obvious to the reader, nor is it a thriller. You’ll know who the bad guy is long before Connie does. I listened to the audiobook, so the phonetic dialect spellings didn’t bother me. On the other hand, I wasn’t at all convinced by the narrator’s (Katherine Kellgren) Boston accent.

Description: Harvard graduate student Connie Goodwin plans on dedicating her summer to research. Her plans begin to fall into place when she is tasked with selling her grandmother’s reclusive Salem home. However, upon discovering a seventeenth-century Bible, Connie unwittingly walks into an ancient mystery and embarks on a quest to discover a book that contains ultimate knowledge.

What’s a Ghoul to Do?

What's a Ghoul to Do? (Ghost Hunter Mystery, #1)What’s a Ghoul to Do? by Victoria Laurie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I almost gave this 4 stars, but I think it has room to grow as a series. I liked the ghost hunting aspect. Some of the spectral activity seemed a bit over the top, but the author is a clairvoyant and a police psychic, so I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. I loved the gay sidekick, Gilley, and the African parrot, Doc. M.J. I’m not too sure about yet – perhaps her personality will develop more in time. Steven Sable – nice romantic interest, but the running joke with his English started wearing thin about halfway through the book. The plot was interesting, but had some holes. On the whole, I enjoyed it and want to see where the series goes.

Description (from book jacket): M.J. Holliday has two rules. One, she and her partner, Gilley Gillespie, work alone; and two, she doesn’t date clients. But when handsome Dr. Steven Sable needs her help, the specter-spotting sleuth is ready to break both of her rules. It seems the doc’s grandfather jumped from the roof of the family lodge in an apparent suicide. But Dr. Sable knows in his bones it was foul play, and strange things keep happening at the lodge. He’ll hire M.J. and Gilley – but only if he can come along. Hey, the duo needs the money – and looking at eye candy all weekend doesn’t sound too bad either… But once they reach the lodge, the three realize they’re dealing with more ghosts than just Grandpa Sable’s. And the spooks keep playing nasty tricks on their human visitors. To the untrained eye, it would appear that ghouls just want to have fun. But M.J. knows they’re communicating their distress – and it’s up to her to figure out why…

Maybe This Time

Maybe This TimeMaybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a delightful book. The characters are funny and engaging. 7-year-old Alice will steal your heart. The ghosts are believable, and the author builds in a nice tension between Dennis the doubting parapsychologist, and Isolde, the no-nonsense down-to-earth medium. Andie is a terrific, strong heroine. The romance, though, was definitely a side-story, and North was never really developed very well as the romantic hero, so that was the least compelling part of the book. Not a lot of substance here, which is why I didn’t give it 5 stars. But if you’re looking for a light, funny read with some very original characters, give this a try. Supposedly, it is a retelling of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. I might just have to read it and see.

Description:
Andie Miller is ready to move on with her life. She wants to marry her fiancé and leave behind everything in her past, especially her ex-husband, North Archer. But when Andie tries to gain closure with him, he asks one final favor of her. A distant cousin has died and left North the guardian of two orphans who have driven away three nannies already—and things are getting worse. He needs someone to take care of the situation, and he knows Andie can handle anything.

When Andie meets the two children, she soon realizes it’s much worse than she feared. Carter and Alice aren’t your average delinquents, and the creepy old house where they live is being run by the worst housekeeper since Mrs. Danvers. Complicating matters is Andie’s fiancé’s suspicion that this is all a plan by North to get Andie back. He may be right because Andie’s dreams have been haunted by North since she arrived at the old house. And that’s not the only haunting.

Then her ex-brother-in-law arrives with a duplicitous journalist and a self-doubting parapsychologist, closely followed by an annoyed medium, Andie’s tarot card–reading mother, her avenging ex-mother-in-law, and her jealous fiancé. Just when Andie’s sure things couldn’t get more complicated, North arrives to make her wonder if maybe this time things could just turn out differently.

Filled with her trademark wit, unforgettable characters, and laugh-out-loud scenarios, Maybe This Time shows why Jennifer Crusie is one of the most beloved storytellers of our time.

Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful SymmetryHer Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There’s a lot to like in this book: interesting ideas, quirky characters, atmospheric setting, lovely descriptions. I particularly loved Martin and his wife, and cheering on his efforts to overcome his OCD. But I had to work too hard at suspending my disbelief in the mechanics of the plot, and the motivations/choices of some of the characters. Still, there was a certain fascination with the creepiness of some of the relationships.

Description:
Julia and Valentina Poole are twenty-year-old sisters with an intense attachment to each other. One morning the mailman delivers a thick envelope to their house in the suburbs of Chicago. Their English aunt Elspeth Noblin has died of cancer and left them her London apartment. There are two conditions for this inheritance: that they live in the flat for a year before they sell it and that their parents not enter it. Julia and Valentina are twins. So were the girls’ aunt Elspeth and their mother, Edie.

The girls move to Elspeth’s flat, which borders the vast Highgate Cemetery, where Christina Rossetti, George Eliot, Stella Gibbons, and other luminaries are buried. Julia and Valentina become involved with their living neighbors: Martin, a composer of crossword puzzles who suffers from crippling OCD, and Robert, Elspeth’s elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. They also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including—perhaps—their aunt.