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review 2018-10-07 09:10
The Dancing Floor
The Dancing Floor - Barbara Michaels

I'm beginning to realise how far Barbara Michaels' later work departs from her earlier, more simplistic, romantic suspense novels.  Once again, The Dancing Floor is not at all what I expected it to be given my earlier experiences with Ammie, Come Home and Sons of the Wolf.  Though having said that, this isn't much different in some ways, just a more sophisticated version.

 

The MC, Heather, is following the English garden tour itinerary her late father had meticulously planned with her before his untimely death.  The trip culminates in a visit to a private estate with one of the few original, unaltered gardens in existence.  When she's rebuffed at the gate, she sneaks in the back, scaring herself stupid and getting caught in the process.  The owner is an eccentric old man who decides fate has brought her there and convinces her to stay on to help him restore the gardens.   This is all set in an English village related to the Pendle Witch trials, so there's a lot of superstitions and possible paranormal activity going on, and then a boy goes missing.

 

It's a good story, and I always enjoy the banter between Michaels' characters, but there are a lot of unanswered questions too.  Heather's obviously got a lot of mother issues, but they're never explained.  Neither are her nightmares.  And the title of the book does not play into the plot at all.  The Dancing Floor is mentioned 3 or 4 times in the book as another mystical location, but that's it.

 

Michaels decides to put the suspense in the romance in this book; she's got so many men making passes at Heather (a 'husky' MC whose love of eating is a constant source of one-liners - in a good natured way - throughout the story) and it's not until the very end that anyone is declared the love interest.  And I do mean the end, as in the last 3 pages.

 

Not one of her greatest, but a fun book nonetheless.

 

I read this as my final wild card selection in Halloween Bingo.  I'm using it for the Fear the Drowning Deep square.

 

   

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review 2018-07-19 10:16
Strange Fascination (Essex Witch Museum Mystery, #3)
Strange Fascination - Syd Moore

Consider my enthusiasm for this series dampened.  This was a very average effort, with a number of problems I couldn't overlook.

 

The biggest is the MC, Rosie.  I'll give the author the benefit of the doubt and say she probably has a long-range plan for Rosie's personal growth, but if so, she's not executing it well.  The MC has a chip on her shoulder about being from Essex and the stereotypes involved in being an "Essex Girl"; the chip is big enough to sit firmly in soapbox/crusader territory, as she frequently fights the good fight against the idea that an "Essex Girl" is cheap, trashy, and dumb.  And then proceeds to refer to vegetarians as "nut-nuts".  And utterly dismiss someone's conversation about ecology, because ... who cares?  And when people fail to fawn over her best friend for being the "black urban goddess" she is, her knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss them as backward conservatives. (They were polite, mind you, they just didn't fall to their knees in awe.)  Not sure how she can find the time to fight the Essex Girl stereotype when she spends so much time stereotyping everyone else.

 

The author also seems intent on making Rosie a bit of a dim bulb through the use of scenes and dialog that are obvious choices to highlight her ignorance without showing any desire to correct it.  Again, it's hard to square this with Rosie's righteous mandate to stamp out the cliches.

 

She also spends a lot of time drunk.  Absolutely pissed.  Bottles of Prosecco at a time pissed.  Now, I don't care what socio-economic class you are in or are perceived to be in by others - being a drunk is not classy.  I understand some cultures enjoy the plonk more than others, but sorry, drunk is tawdry in any culture and economic class.

 

So.  MC with contradictions.  It happens, and as I say, the author might have a master plan I'm just not seeing.

 

Unfortunately there were some egregious editing issues too.  Poor and odd word choices (she kept referring to the ground as the floor - is this a common interchange in UK English?), and poorly copyedited, this 3rd instalment felt rushed to press.  The pace dragged too, and the plot was all loosey-goosey.  A more severe editor would have done this book more justice.

 

I liked the story though, once I was able to dig through all the extraneous dead-ends.  I enjoy the factual elements of historical record the author uses, tying them and local legends into her modern day murder plots.  If the author dropped the hypocritical chip on the MCs shoulder, matured her up, dried her out, and tightened up her plotting, she'd have a hit series on her hands.  She might yet, but this book won't be a contributing factor.  I'll be taking a close look at the fourth one (if/when it comes out) before I commit to reading further in this series.

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review 2018-07-14 23:49
It Takes a Coven (Witch City Mystery, #6)
It Takes a Coven - Carol J. Perry

I generally enjoy the books in this series, and I should have enjoyed this one more; it had elements designed to appeal to me, like a murder of crows (collective noun not crime), an old spell book that won't burn, whose 17th century owner's ghost wants back, a current string of crimes that may or may not be connected to modern day Wiccans.  Stolen art.  

 

For the most part, I did enjoy it, but there was just a little something missing.  It could very well be my mood; I'm still displaying shades of slump now and again.  This may have affected my engagement with the book.  It could also be the wedding planning bit that's tangentially a part of the plot.  Or the egregious number of continuity errors the editor didn't catch; something I don't remember this series suffering from before.  

 

Mostly, I think, that MC just wasn't quite focused enough to really involve the reader in the story.  She had all of these intriguing things happening to/around her but for the most part, never involved her.  The exception are the visions she had throughout the story, usually whenever she looked at a reflective surface.  Her acceptance of them in this book was a relief, and I enjoyed these scenes a lot, as they imparted information about the mysteries.

 

It was a good story though, even though I keep rambling on about the nit-picky stuff.  It held my attention while I was reading it and I was interested in seeing the mystery solved. 

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review 2018-07-10 11:51
Strange Sight (Essex Witch Museum Mystery #2)
Strange Sight - Syd Moore

Even better story than the first one, though epically bad copyediting.  Rosie is still an odd character for me to sort out, but coincidentally, I was at the hair salon today and was able to ask my stylist, a UK native, about the whole Essex thing, which he tried to explain while desperately trying to be PC about the whole thing.  I got the gist though, and it helped.  It also helped that Rosie seemed more focused in the second half of this one.

 

This story revolves around a good old fashioned murder mystery albeit with ghosts and a haunted restaurant.  Nothing to scare the reader too badly, but the historical context of the plot, (which is based on historical events, sadly) is wickedly dark and honestly, even if this wan't a cozy(ish), would be hard reading in a few places.  While this book is excellent on almost all fronts, it is also full of trigger warnings for epic violence against women.

 

I liked the ending - I liked that it didn't involve the MC doing something stupid or ending up in a woman-in-peril situation.  The very last page was also creepy as hell.

 

Can't wait for book 3!

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review 2018-07-09 09:30
Strange Magic (Essex Witch Museum Mystery, #1)
Strange Magic - Syd Moore

Both the titles and the covers of these books grabbed me, and as they were part of a 40% off sale, and I've been looking for new mystery series, I couldn't resist grabbing #'s 1 and 2.

 

I'm glad I did, although book 1 and I got off to a rocky start, when cracking it open the other night in bed, I read the prologue, featuring a comatose little boy suddenly 'waking up' speaking in Early English and rising up out of bed, floating in the crucifix position.  NOT what I want to read about right before turning out the lights and going to bed, thanks.

 

Fortunately, none of the rest of the book is nearly as scary as the prologue.  Spooky fun, yes, a tad creepy at times, but mostly fun.  Rosie has inherited her estranged grandfather's Essex Witch Museum, which she plans on selling as soon as possible.  Except while she's there a plea for help comes along that she can't refuse, and she and the curator, Sam (cue romantic tension) find themselves on a race to locate the remains of the original Essex Witch.

 

It's a good story - an excellent story.  My only beefs with it were the slightly forced tone of the will-they-won't-they romantic tension, and Rosie's character, to a certain degree.  The former is just personal taste, but the latter is, I think, a lack of micro-cultural understanding. Rosie is a strong, very intelligent and independent woman, but has a chip on her shoulder about being an Essex girl - and I don't know what that means.  As the book progressed I got the feeling it's sort of like an American redneck, but my lack of confidence meant Rosie came across paranoid, or at least carrying an aggressive inferiority complex.  

 

Possibly related, her internal dialogue's habit of noting every time a man looked at her breasts/body got super tedious, super fast.  Yes, men look at women's bits; sometimes they are so distracted by them they lose sight of the fact women have faces.  Yes, it's tiresome, Yes, it's deplorable. Don't care. Don't want to hear about it in my murder mystery, it's beyond irrelevant and lent a rather shallow tone to an MC that wasn't.

 

Note though that these were minor annoyances; if I understood the Essex thing better, I'm guessing they would have lent authenticity to her character, and her accounting of leers received didn't happen more than 2 or 3 times, and it's a personal tic.  The majority of the story was, as I said, excellent: fast-paced, well plotted, and my favorite literary device: based on the history of a real woman tried and hung for witchcraft, Ursula Kemp.  In the acknowledgements, the author outlines at what point the fiction diverges from the reality, and both make for compelling storytelling. Also, people throughout history have been appalling.  Truly appalling. 

 

I'm so glad I already have book 2 in hand, and I believe book 3 is scheduled for publication any day now, which means if I like Strange Sight as much as I enjoyed Strange Magic, I'll only have to wait as long as the postal service to find out what happens next.

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