Rath and Rune: Unhallowed – Jordan L. Hawk
Monsters. Murder. Librarians.
Librarian Sebastian Rath is the only one who believes his friend Kelly O’Neil disappeared due to foul play. But without any clues or outside assistance, there’s nothing he can do to prove it.
When bookbinder Vesper Rune is hired to fill the vacancy left by O’Neil, he receives an ominous letter warning him to leave. After he saves Sebastian from a pair of threatening men, the two decide to join forces and get to the truth about what happened to O’Neil.
But Vesper is hiding secrets of his own, ones he doesn’t dare let anyone learn. Secrets that grow ever more dangerous as his desire for Sebastian deepens.
Because Kelly O’Neil was murdered. And if Sebastian and Ves don’t act quickly enough, they’ll be the next to die.
I mentioned somewhere on this blog that when I grow up, I want to be a Ladysmith Librarian, ready to defend the world against Outside forces with my trusty dictionary. I’m still waiting for my summons from Mr. Quinn, which is to me what a Hogwarts letter is to an HP fan.
Every Whyborne and Griffin fan knows what the Ladysmith Museum and its Library mean to the entire series. It was almost a character itself, holding a certain mystique that intrigued me to no end. So I was beyond overjoyed that we get an closer look at the inner workings of this fantastical library through the eyes of the very Librarians themselves!
Well, technically, its Archivist and its Book Binder.
Sebastian Rath and Vesper Rune are our heroes. Sebastian is a character I typically describe as likable. This is because I liked him, his co-workers like him but I don’t think he would really stand out as a secondary character. As the MC, he has admirable characteristics and some distinguishing quirks but I have yet to connect with him like I did with Vesper. Combining him with Ves though, they’re good together. The author did a great job making their dynamics stand out from those of the original series.
Vesper is my cinnamon roll. He’s very good at giving hugs. Raised in a cult by a fanatical mother, endured years of abuse, he and his brother, Nocturne, ran away. They lived in the ever present fear of being found out. He agreed to infiltrate the library for a sorcerer who promised to break the curse he and Noct are under.
Majority of the story was spent with him working hard to conceal his true nature. Ves’s knowledge of the real world was mostly limited to what his mother and grandfather taught him and his brother. Which is a load of occult mumbo jumbo, fearsome fighting skills and top-notched book binding techniques.
Unhallowed is set in 1910, 8 years after what should have been the end of the world, something that Ves and Noct were supposed to help bring about. Widdershins is now a different place. Still considered weird by outsiders but more accepting of the otherworldly as Ves was shocked to find out.
The world building is immersive. There is the Widdershin mythos we all know and love but seen through fresh eyes. You get a great sense of the labyrinthine library and the kind of work it takes to run the place. We also get some background on the illicit rare books trade and hear about Ves’s strong opinions on page margins.
The plot was a combination of paranormal, mystery and romance. It took place over the course of several days but it feels like the timeline is stretched because a lot of things were happening. Nonetheless, the story moved smoothly along. It tackled dark subjects, had a bit of angst but overall, the tone was light and humorous. It did a great job exploring the rich history of the original series, adding more delights to uncover. There were sinister secrets, crazy cults, dangerous books, mind-boggling designs, mad architects, evil necromancers and an unexpected love affair that answered some of my burning questions.
Rath and Rune has a great supporting cast, starting with Noct, who’s totally adorbs, the mysterious Mr. Quinn, the Head Librarian, Irene, Librarian and sorceress from the Endicott family, Bonnie, Sebastian’s sister and Mortimer, Librarian and Irene’s fiance. He was an obnoxious, annoying character who I developed an unlikely soft spot for because I’m kind of tickled with the idea of him and Irene. I hope the author gives them a nice story arc.
I love the direction this spin-off is heading! Unhallowed is a wonderful return to a beloved town with new characters to love and intriguing story arcs to keep you hooked. It’s a great start to another grand magical adventure that promises high-intensity book binding and pure-hearted weapons of mass destruction. If you love Whyborne and Griffin, curious about the Ladysmith library, and/or in the mood for some highly appealing wriggling bits, do read now!
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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The Paul Monroe Mystery: Death Comes To Main Street – Felice Stevens writing as A.P. Eisen
In the sleepy town of Thornwood Park, something dark and ugly is brewing….
Detective Paul Monroe is investigating a routine string of break-ins when the case takes an unexpected turn. Merchants are receiving threats, and things might be more sinister than he originally suspected. Paul’s been on the receiving end of those warnings as well, but he brushes them off, not bothering to mention them to his partner, Cliff until Cliff himself is threatened.
In fact, Cliff discovers he’s been shut out of quite a few things and confronts Paul, who doesn’t understand the problem. The situation escalates quickly, leaving them at a crossroads, with Cliff conflicted and wondering if he’s an equal partner. Now Paul finds himself not only fighting for the people he’s sworn to protect, but for his relationship and the man who means everything to him.
When an unthinkable tragedy occurs, it’s a race against time to catch a killer who thinks he’s untouchable and has committed the perfect crime.
I’ve always described The Paul Monroe Mysteries as understated. I’m not sure if it’s the right term but I liked how fuss free the stories are. They avoided grand heroics or any over the top action yet delivered engaging, suspenseful police procedurals and heartfelt romance.
Death Comes To Main Street is the third installment. I found this darker and gritter than its predecessors. Paul and his work partner, Rob, were investigating a series of robberies, threatening notes and suspected arson that resulted in the tragic death of a close friend. These appeared to be hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community. Paul and Cliff also had to deal with homophobic neighbors who were also the main suspects.
While there are these unpleasantness, this was also, in a way, a happy book. Paul and Cliff’s relationship were as strong as ever. They both had busy, high-stressed jobs but they made it work. They remained solid and in sync even with Cliff’s issues with Paul’s over-protectiveness. They’re comfortable and happy. That really shone through all the negativity.
Paul took major leaps forward by coming out to his boss and co-workers. I liked that this wasn’t the focus of the story but came about as part of Paul being ready to fully embrace who he is. And I’ve always appreciated how patient and supportive Cliff was about this and everything.
Being a detective’s boyfriend and having been involved in the last two cases, Cliff could have easily poked his nose in Paul’s new investigations. I’m so glad he did not turn into some kind of amateur sleuth. The story also repeatedly emphasized that Paul does not discuss his cases with Cliff. This is another thing I liked because it showed Paul’s professionalism. Even when his boyfriend was harassed, Paul admirably kept his cool and handled it like the pro he is.
Cliff’s involvement in the case, albeit through some unfortunate circumstances, happened naturally. The author did a great job letting his character shine even with Paul working closely with another character.
This series has a good supporting cast. Rob stood out the most because he’s Paul’s partner and best friend. He’s always the first to defend Paul against the stupid and the bigoted. Also, there’s Annabelle who’s not even on page 99% of the time but is strongly felt because Rob always mentions his adored wife. There was the introduction of a new character, Joshua. His appearance added an interesting minor thread to follow.
This time around, the series amped up it’s procedural by showing us the nitty gritty of the investigation. While realistic and detailed, it moved things at a brisk pace and happily, did not bore us with minutiae.
The villains were all given so it was a matter of Paul and Rob finding enough evidence to arrest them. I like this approach to mystery because it’s not so common. Usually, we are left to guess the identity of the bad guy. Proving the guilt of the obviously guilty but slippery is interesting as well as satisfying. For me, it reflects real life crime. Wherever we are, there’s always some notorious lowlife who manages to evade arrest despite repeat offenses.
Death Comes To Main Street gives us the things we love about the series while spicing it up with a tiff and a little more grit. There’s some low-key flash and bang but still a roller coaster of emotions, going from love and passion to grief, fear and anger, to acceptance and relief. Ultimately, it leads us to a happy end but leaves us hanging at the very last second. So not my favorite way to close a story but it does set the next one up nicely.
Follow Paul as he finds himself with Cliff, stumbles upon dead bodies and catch bad guys in The Paul Monroe Mysteries. The books should be read in order. Check out my review of the first two books below:
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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VRC: Vampire Related Crimes: How To Vex A Vampire – Alice Winters
Getting into the vampire-only detective unit was the easy part; what’s going to be more difficult is dealing with my new partner, an ancient vampire who keeps threatening to eat me. The unit has never had a human in it, and Marcus—or as I like to call him, Fangy McFangface—would really prefer to keep it that way. He’s grumpy, short-tempered, and broody, but I have a way with words and I know he’s starting to like me, even if he swears he’s not. But what he doesn’t know is that I didn’t join the unit because I was tired of being a homicide detective, I joined because there is someone after me. They’ve already taken enough from me and I’m afraid they’re going to take all of me if I don’t find someone to help. That’s all Marcus was supposed to be, but now, he’s so much more and I can’t imagine my life without him.
The moment the pesky human walked through that door, I knew I had to get rid of him. He’s charming and almost everyone else instantly loves him, but he doesn’t understand how risky it is being part of this unit as a human. But as I get to know the stubborn man, I learn that perhaps he’s not as naive as I once thought. And maybe he’s what I needed to realize there is more to life than just work and my dog. A group arises who is threatening to disrupt the alliance between the humans and the vampires, but Finn is the one who shows me how strong that alliance can be and reminds me why it’s worth protecting. When threats hit closer to home, I realize I would do anything for Finn because he’s brought so much joy to my life—and because he’s mine.
This 105k word book contains: A creative use for undergarments, unintentional splits, a wolfhound who just wants to be a part of things, a vertically challenged human who still manages to wrap every vampire he meets around his little finger, the best date ever, possessiveness, really awkward dancing, some workplace revenge, and just a bite or two. Or three.
I have read about three Alice Winters books so far, the first Hitman’s Guide story and the two In The Mind installments. I noticed that her pairings usually come in the form of a persistent, outgoing, flirty lead pestering a stoic, reserved, grumpy love interest who secretly enjoys the pestering but doing his manly best to resist. I’m enjoying the heck out of these chases especially when the other shoe drops.
How To Vex A Vampire is another paranormal offering set in a world where vampires are free to mingle among humans after a bloody history of persecution and deaths. The VRC is a police department who handles any case related to vampires.
Finn finally managed to get himself into the department, something he worked hard and schemed hard to achieve for entirely very personal reasons. He was partnered with the notorious Marcus Church, a vampire detective known for his gruff manners.
The book presents several mysteries. First is the case of a murdered female vampire and a drug that drives vampires into a feeding frenzy. There’s also a hooded ancient vampire stalking Finn for more than a decade. They know next to nothing about this entity but this is the only thing that puts real fear into the heart of the spunky Finnegan Hayes.
The two MCs hinted at some secrets of their own. Marcus’s true status as a vampire is not known to most. Finn had to make a few educated guesses. The biggest mystery of all might be Finn himself. What makes this little human so special that high-level vampires rally to protect him?
I love Finn! Finn is, in Marcus’s words, a tiny, fragile human. He lost an arm and a leg from a car accident. He now wears high-tech prosthesis, something Finn goes out of his way not to advertise. Our boy is out to prove that he can stand toe to toe with big bad vampires. He has proven again and again that he can. He’s a man on a mission to kill a very specific vampire. Meanwhile, he’s also hellbent on pursuing one other bloodsucker…
Poor Marcus tried to put up immovable walls but alas. As the two detectives go about finding the bad guys and before he even realized it, Marcus was swept away by the unstoppable force that is Finn. It was a lot of fun to watch! Check out The Date.
The book stands out for its humor. It does not have the exhausting hyperactive wackadoodle antics of The Hitman’s Guide. It has a more toned down but still OTT snark for snark exchange that is as funny but not as overwhelming.
There’s suspense and a lot of action but the focus here is on the character interactions and romantic development. The police procedural aspect might not be the most realistic or even accurate but still procedural enough for us to feel these guys are doing their jobs.
The VRC series has a great cast to work with, many of them memorable. So it’s no surprise that a couple of supporting characters have books of their own, like my grumpy Russian, Karsyn, and nice guy, DeGray. I’m excited to get to their stories.
This series opener ends with a cliffhanger so we will be continuing the hunt on the second book. Finn has now charmed enough vampires to form an army. One very vexed vampire is right in front, ready to tear the world apart for him.
Time to end this elusive ancient threat!
And so because I got too excited for book 2, I read some reviews and learned the name of this mysterious stalker vampire is Doll Maker. This is giving me ideas! Could it be him?!
Posts on Alice Winters works here.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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Bureau: Conned – Kim Fielding
World War I veteran Thomas Donne is new to San Francisco. Always a stoic man, shell shock and a lost love have nearly turned his heart to stone. No matter–a private eye has no room for softness. Almost broke, he takes on what appears to be a simple case: finding a missing young man.
As a magician and medium, Abraham Ferencz cons his audiences into believing he can cheat death and commune with their dearly departed. Although his séances are staged, the spirits are very real, and they’ve brought him almost more pain than he can bear.
When Donne’s case becomes complicated and the bodies start to pile up, he and Ferencz must fight their way through a web of trickery and lies. The truth is obscured by the San Francisco fog, and in their uncanny world, anyone can catch a bullet.
Bureau is a series I’ve been diligently following since the beginning. Six books in and it’s still giving us lovable characters and enjoyable stories with magic and heart.
Conned is the latest installment. Private detective and former Londoner, Thomas Donne was hired by a rich and dubious wannabe politician named Herbert Townsend to find a young man. Townsend was decidedly non-specific about the details but was willing to pay good money.
Thomas’s investigations led him to magician and conman, Abe Ferencz. Abe has been employing the young man as his assistant. A series of deaths led the PI and conman to work together to uncover the killer’s identity. All the victims were known to Abe. He could be next.
Ghosts and spirits aside, this is the most spiritual of all the books. Religion played an important role with Abe’s Jewish background being a crucial part of his character. The story put emphasize on how it anchored him to his true self.
All the books in the series has always been, for a lack of better word, vague about the definitive presence of a god. I liked how the world-building didn’t limit itself to the usual religious concepts. Instead, it had a more general and inclusive ethos which makes a lot more sense in a world where literally anything can exist
Townsend explained the Bureau‘s mission something to the effect of the lines of good and evil, friends or enemy are porous and it’s their job is to nudge those lines gently until they are in the right place. It’s about protecting “everything that’s valuable in people and not just human people“.
Our heroes, Thomas and Abe, were men who had seen enough deaths to know not to waste life in regrets. So I could understand how they want to grab life by the balls and jump head first into a relationship in just a matter of days. I liked how the author executed the romantic development. She did it in such a way that you feel the strength of their connection and not how short the timeline actually is.
While I liked the pacing of the romance, I did feel the drag in the first half of story. This was the part where they found the dead bodies one by one. There was the going-around-in-circles feel to it. Thankfully, the story picked up upon the appearance of Agent Crespo.
Also, while I liked the general world-building, in this story, the paranormal elements were kind of confusing and a bit scattered in its presentation. Maybe it helps if the reader is more familiar with Judaism than I am.
The book is set in the late 1920s. There’s a great sense of time and place with a noir vibe. It was an era of cloches and speakeasies, a time I’m fascinated with but don’t want to time travel to because, wow, people smoke and drink like there’s no tomorrow.
This is a prequel of sorts to the entire Bureau world. The agency was only less than a decade old. We also meet Townsend before he was the West Coast Chief.
I’m happy we finally get a backgrounder on the Chief. He is always present but mostly in the shadows, wielding his considerable influence and power, nudging various characters towards the best outcome. There were hints of his paranormal nature throughout the series. Here, we get his origin story. It’s definitely worth the wait especially with how it was related to a key secondary character in the story.
Conned might not be my favorite book in the series (that honor goes to Creature) but it was a great addition, nonetheless. It certainly answered some burning questions I had and getting a look at the early days of the agency is a treat. You will meet men brave enough to catch bullets. You will see what a true mensch is capable of. And learn what it is about all along.
A very long game.
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
The books can be read as standalones but I recommend starting at the beginning where a half angel and a captive demon discovered their cosmic connection. There will be a holiday-themed book about them soon.
Posts on Kim Fieldings works here.
If you like my content, please consider using my Amazon affiliate links below to get your copy of Bureau. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying Amazon purchases at no additional cost to you.