A Hodge-Podge of a Month

I have been reading a lot lately. Perhaps it’s a bit of escapism, perhaps it’s because I went on holiday, or perhaps it because I have a pile of unread books screaming at me.

I would love to review all of them, but I’m going to focus on the four that really caught my imagination. That makes it hard to theme this review because they really are a hodgepodge of tales.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

Libba Bray’s The Diviners was one of those serendipitous purchases. You know the ones—you’re stuck somewhere and have to kill some time you you quickly pick a book from the nearest bookshop, and then—bam, you’re lost forever.

I have to admit the cover caught my eye, then the fact that it was set in 1920’s New York, and the lead character was a bad-girl flapper. Add in a dash of supernatural mystery, and I was sold.

But this book was so much more than that. Although Evie O’Neill, a young girl banished from her Ohio home to live with her bachelor uncle in New York, is a great main character, she is almost over-shadowed by the other cast members.

There’s Will, her uncle, who runs the the Museum of American Folklore , Superstition, and the Occult along with his assistant Jericho; Sam the pickpocket; Henry the pianist; Theta the Ziefield girl, Mary the unionist; and Memphis the poet. They all have their own backstories and reasons for being in New York. Together this strange group of people are drawn together aster adopted home faces a serial killer who appears to have supernatural powers.

Sometimes the plot seems convoluted, and it is difficult to keep up with all the players, but the mystery is engrossing and just when it starts getting a little slow, Evie jumps is with her sassy attitude and moves the story along.

The Diviners is a great read for people love who their supernatural mystery tied up with a little colourful history. I loved it so much I had to pull myself out of book two to write this review.

The Harp of Kings: A Warrior Bards Novel 1 By Juliet Marillier

I adore Juliet Marillier’s writing (big fan-girl here). Her Blackthorn and Grim Series was one of my favourites and so I was a bit nervous starting her new series. I was worried I would be disappointed because surely it could not be as great as Blackthorn and Grim, but I have to say The Warrior Bard Series might actually be better.

The story is told through the eyes of three trainee warriors: Loibhan the fiery redhead who also plays the flute and sings, her brother the harpist Brun and the surly son of nobility, Dau.

The three are sent on an undercover, secret mission to find the lost Harp of Kings which must be played at a coronation before a new King is accepted—and his coronation date is already set. As they search for the harp the three find themselves facing a cruel prince regent, horrific attacks from birdlike creatures known as the Crow Folk, druids who are hiding something, and otherworld influences that are clouding everything.

With its Celtic touches, strong characters, magic and intrigue, this book is difficult to put down for anyone who loves a great fantasy read. I finished book two in the series, Dance With Fate yesterday and cannot wait for book three to come out.

What Abigail Did That Summer By Ben Aronovich

I make no secret about the fact I love the Rivers of London Series. London is one of my favourite cites, and I enjoy the thought that there are magical powers simmering beneath the surface of the historic city.

I have listened to all the main books in the series on audible, and often embarrass myself by chuckling in public. The stories are essentially mysteries that have to be solved, usually by the lead character, PC Grant, who is a member of The Folly—the police division that deals with all things supernatural. Peter Grant is a likeable bloke, but has to deal with an array of human and magical characters that are so quirky and funny, yet so well imagined, they never cease to make me smile (or laugh out loud).

My husband also loves these books, and so I bought him the recently released novella to take away on holiday, and I’m so pleased I did. Having put up with Jim’s chuckles and comments of “this book is so great”, I was so grateful when he finished reading it and I could finally pick it up.

Abigail, Peter Grant’s sort of niece, is a character I am really down to, and I’m so happy she has been she had been given her own story. This intrepid, funny, bright, smart, sassy girl managed to stumble on her own mystery—one of disappearing and reappearing teenagers in her local area and she sets out to solve it, but not on her own. She is joined by a friend and a group of talking foxes.

This fast paced, fun tale is a great read for all fantasy lovers, and is definitely PG rated so can be shared by the whole family. And I dare you to read it without having at least one laugh out loud moment.

The History Keepers: The Storm Begins By Damian Dibbens

I picked up this book in an Audible 2 for 1 deal, and really only chose it as a best of the rest, and I had to make the most of that deal. This book actually turned out to be better than the book I originally wanted to buy.

Jake Djones finds himself kidnapped on the way home form school by people who tell him they will help him find his parents, who he hadn’t even realised were missing.

When he wakes up, Jake finds himself with people who call themselves The History Keepers. They are a special group who can travel through time and work to keep the world in balance. Jake is surprised to find his parents hadn’t gone to a sales conference as they told him, but had gone on a mission for the History Keepers to save the world and had disappeared.

What follows is a real adventure story in a modern day Famous Five / Hardy Boys & Nancy Drew style as Jake stows away and goes back in time to help find his parents, along with the beautiful of fearless and beautiful Topaz, Charlie the science nerd and Nathan the pompous and vain hero. While they are looking for his parents they stumble on a plot to derail history by the fearsome Prince Zeldt (who I could not help but picture as a Ming the Merciless character oops is that showing my age?) and put in place a plan to stop him.

I would be lying if I said this was one of the best books that I had listened to, but it really was a lot of fun. It is obviously aimed at younger-to-mid-teen readers, so the story was fast paced and there is a little bit of explaining some of the historical facts many adults might already know, but the characters were great and the story engaging.

If you or your children enjoy a goo mystery, then I say why not put this on in the car when you have a long journey and keep everyone entertained!

And that’s me for this month.


Sleuthing and Mystery Month

I have spent a lot of my reading time this month improving my mystery writing skills. How do you do that? Well, you spend a lot of time reading mystery books. I started with going back to my earlier mystery experience and re-read a Nancy Drew mystery, then binge read a lot of Janet Ivanovich, and finished it off with a middle-grade mystery series. So I’ve lots to share with you in this month’s blog.

The Secret of The Old Clock (Nancy Drew Mystery 1) by Caoline Keene

I can’t remember how old I was when I first read a Nancy Drew book. I know I hadn’t started High School yet, and I thought Nancy Drew was the coolest because she was allowed to drive all over the countryside by herself, and she always wore such smart clothes. Now I realise that the book was set in the 1040’s when the world was slower paced and she dressed appropriately for a teenager in time.

I read the 80th anniversary addition of the first Nancy Drew book, and it’s still compelling reading. Is it dated? Yes and no. I mean there are things that now as an adult I can see date the book, but there are also many things that are timeless.

Nancy is a main character who always wants to do the right thing, and she has a nose for mystery. A smart, intelligent girl, she always uses her brain to get to the bottom of things. There is a little bit of drama along the way, and she does flirt with danger; but it’s not danger as we know today because the everything was just a little gentler back then.

The mysteries to be solved are things people would come across every day, in The Secret of the Old Clock it’s a missing will, which makes it easier to identify with Nancy as a sleuth. The story moves along quickly, and I actually found it hard to put down even though I remembered what happened part way through the book. If you or your children like a good old mystery, then you can’t go past a Nancy Drew book.

Buy The Secret of the Old Clock from Amazon

The Big Kahuna by Janet Ivanovich and Peter Ivanovich

Janet Ivanovich is the master of the comedic/mystery/romance genre. Her books are fast paced, laugh out loud hilarious and contain a number of outrageous caricatures and always a frisson of attraction between the main characters. Under all of that though, they are in essence great mystery stories. I read a number of her books this month, but have chosen The Big Kahuna because it ends up in Queenstown, New Zealand, a place where I spent many a summer holiday.

FBI Agent Kate O’Hare, and her partner con man Nicholas Fox, are tasked with finding a missing Tech Guru, which uncovers a much larger international plot that will risk world peace. Using a mixture of gold old leg work, undercover activities, and charm, Fox and O’Hare follow the mystery from the USA to Hawaii to New Zealand to Prague.

Along with an internet influencer, a surfing drop out, an ex-marine, and an FBI desk jockey, the couple risk their lives, blow things up, and basically cause mayhem round the globe while they try to prevent an international disaster. The characters in this book are big, the mystery many layered, and the laughs come from the belly.

I thoroughly enjoyed my Ivanovich binge session and no doubt will delve into another one soon, there are still some Stephanie Plumb novels I haven’t read yet.

Buy The Big Kahuna from Amazon

The Magic Sapphire (A Decoders Mystery) by Alba Arango

I wanted to read a modern middle grade mystery, and the cover of this book caught my eye. Not always the best way to chose a book, but in this instance it turned out to be a positive experience.

Steve, Matt and Jenny find a map to pirate treasure, but they have to solve some riddles to reach find the legendary sapphire. Set against them and aiming to beat them to the sapphire is an international jewel thief. 

The children are helped along the way by a friendly cafe owner, and a friend who acts as backup and is intent on writing up their escapades for the public. There is a good mix of danger, problem solving, and adversaries making this a promising first book in a mystery series.

In my mind as I read I was unintentionally comparing this to Nancy Drew, and I have to say it stacked up quite well. The characters were more diverse and modern, and I liked that the three children all had something to contribute to the solving of the case. It did lack some of the real characters we expect from the cosy mystery genre, but the story was fast paced and and kept me hooked all the way through, and had a little twist at the end I didn’t expect. This would be great reading for any middle-grade child.

Buy The Magic Sapphire from Amazon

Apart from having a month reading some really good books, I also learnt that a good mystery is solved by a mixture of brain power, luck and putting yourself on the line. It takes compelling, relatable main characters, a bad guy that is not too sinister and some side characters who are almost caricatures; leaving me to believe that while these books seem simple to the reader, they’re like a Beatles song—more than they seem on the surface.