Wednesday, November 1, 2023

October Reads


I didn't actually intend to read anything this month, but three books I've been waiting for became available to borrow mid-month, so I jumped on them all before my holds lapsed. One was a hyped-up fantasy I'd been waiting months for, and the other two were the next in the Gaslight Mystery series. Spoiler alert: I enjoyed them all.

Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree

I've heard so much praise for this book, I really went into it with high hopes. It's described as a "cozy fantasy", which felt exactly like what I needed during a rough October. Maybe because of this genre, it was slow to get into, but I'm glad I stuck it out. By the time I was a third of the way in, I was enjoying myself, although I wouldn't say this book lived up to the hype. I liked it, but it's not going onto my "must reread annually" list or anything.

The novel follows retired mercenary orc Viv as she opens a coffee shop in a town where no one has heard of coffee. As Viv meets people who will help her succeed, we sink into a comfortable story about self-discovery, found family, and not letting who you've been define who you can be. 

I appreciated that the early conflicts in the story were fairly quickly resolved, because I wasn't in the mood for angst. At the same time, it wasn't until the main conflict was finally introduced that I found myself enjoying the book. I guess that just goes to show that even when I'm craving something light, conflict makes a story interesting.

I would agree with reviewers who say the conflict seems low-stakes because there's never a doubt Viv and her friends will succeed, but I kind of enjoyed knowing there was a happy ending waiting for me. That said, I'm not sure I'll pick up the sequel.

Something to note is that this novel was originally self-published as a NaNoWriMo project. It's pretty cool to see how it gained popularity and a following since then, and is now traditionally published.

Murder on Washington Square by Victoria Thompson

In the fourth novel in this series, Sarah Brandt and Frank Malloy work together to solve the murder of a young woman...and clear the name of an obviously innocent man.

 This book was something new for the series because an arrest is made right away, but we have reason to believe the suspect is innocent. There are no outrageously obvious red herrings, and although we know the suspect is innocent, there's no clear secondary suspect until well into the book. 

Thompson also includes mention of a real case that made headlines around the turn of the century, and something about that made this novel feel a little less pulpy and a little more "historical fiction."

In this book, the pacing and tone felt more well-crafted; the author is clearly improving her style as she goes on. I keep being surprised at how Sarah is pulled into these murders in plausible ways. Although I picked up on the breadcrumbs and foreshadowing left along the way, I didn't see the outcome coming at all. 

I really like that in this series, I may have an inkling about the guilty party, but the actuality of whodunit is always a little more complex than I imagined.

Also, we finally get Frank and Sarah's first kiss, but the relationship clearly has some way to go before it amounts to anything. It really isn't going as I suspected it would, and the slow burn continues. I am still fully enjoying this series.

Murder on Mulberry Bend by Victoria Thompson

I usually wait a few weeks and read something else in between books in this series, so picking up the fifth installment right after the fourth gave me some interesting insight. The writing style in book four struck me as more engaging and interesting than the usual simplistic, straight-forward style of the first three books, but it seemed to regress again in book five. Is Victoria Thompson a pen name for multiple people, a la Ann M. Martin? I'm not sure, but I was disappointed in the caliber of writing in this book after seeing such improvement in the last one.

I will say, the writing style is my least favorite thing about this series. It's so direct and frills-free, it almost feels like reading an essay at times, and this is especially annoying during high-stakes action scenes. I even found myself rewriting certain sentences in my head during the climax.

All that said, book five presented another engaging mystery, a new and interesting way to pull Sarah into it, and further examination of Frank and Sarah's feelings for each other. I do wish Sarah would stop running off to interrogate possible murderers by herself, though.

This series continues to provide quick reads (I finished Mulberry Bend and Washington Square in a day each) that are entertaining and provide a break from doom-scrolling Instagram. I really love the historical aspect and feel I'm learning some interesting things about 1890s New York...And of course, I'm still invested in Frank and Sarah, so I'm here for the long-haul.


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