Pawmistry is a tongue-in-cheek guide to the feline oracle and the supernatural signs your cat may leave behind. Written and illustrated by the beloved creator of Cat Tarot Megan Lynn Kott, this playful and informative book offers instruction in a number of types of divination to practice with your cat, where messages and portents may be delivered by scattered cat toys, particular tail positions, and sleeping on your face. What does that barf in your shoe really mean? You may even consider learning the dark magic of their litterbox leavings (if you dare). Each section includes write-in pages to record your own cat’s messages from the universe, and a removable, fold-out Feline Divination Board included with the book will allow you to take your arcane partnership to the next level.
Cats are mysterious, and in Megan Lynn Knott’s book, Pawmistry, they are mystical and magical, too. By using the methods in this book, you and your cat may be able to unlock the secrets of the universe…if your cat so chooses.
There are sections for divining and scrying via toys, toe beans/paws, leftover food, and, ew, scat. I personally think that section should come with a toxoplasmosis warning, and I don’t know that there’s a secret, short of unified field theory, that I want to know that badly.
The watercolor illustrations are beautiful, and add to the whimsy of the subject matter. I especially liked the flowchart that will help you find a mystical cat. Again, no promises that the cat will be cooperative.
I felt some of the methods were a little silly, and, in the case of the litter box scrying, possibly unhealthy. Much of the content was material found in many other places that have general information about cats, but it’s nice to have it organized in one place, and again, the illustrations make this book worth a look.
Genre: Cozy Mystery Publisher: St. Martin’s Press Publication Date: October 26th, 2021 Pages: 304, mass market paperback Source: NetGalley
As if hitting the half-century mark wasn’t enough, Misty Murphy celebrated her landmark birthday by amicably ending her marriage and investing her settlement in a dilapidated mountain lodge at the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains. With the old inn teetering on both a bluff and bankruptcy, she must have lost her ever-loving mind.
Luckily, handyman Rocky Crowder has a knack for rehabbing virtual ruins and for doing it on a dime, and to Misty’s delight, the lodge is fully booked on opening night, every room filled with flexible folks who’d slipped into spandex and ascended the peak for a yoga retreat with plans to namastay for a full week. Misty and her guests are feeling zen—at least until the yoga instructor is found dead.
With a killer on the loose and the lodge’s reputation hanging in the balance, Misty must put her detective-skills to the test. Only one thing is as clear as a sunny mountain morning—she must solve the crime before the lodge ends up, once again, on the brink.
Misty has, at 50, decided to divest herself of her husband and acquire a lodge in the Blue Ridge Mountains. This, despite her lack of experience or education in the hospitality industry, seems to be trending toward success until the leader of a yoga group is found dead on the property. Along with the predictable hunky handyman named Rocky, Misty investigates to clear the lodge and keep anyone else from ending up in corpse pose.
It was okay. Misty is likeable enough, but a lot of the story seemed improbable and just added either because it was expected or because it was necessary to force the plot. Misty gets divorced at midlife, check. She buys a lodge to reinvent her life, check. The lodge is by a diner that, despite being miles from other businesses, enjoys a good amount of business. That’s pretty convenient. The hunky handyman ends up moving into one of the spare rooms because his house is overcrowded. This gives them opportunities to flirt. Check.
The murderer is someone you won’t expect, and much like Misty’s reasons for ditching her husband, the murderer’s reasons don’t really make sense or seem strong enough to warrant their actions.
But I think the most unlikely thing for me was that, despite the fact that Misty had decades of memories of having visited the lodge with her family, she only was reminded of her husband once. Also, she seems to have divorced her kids, too. There’s no mention of her contacting either her ex or her two sons until the murder occurs, and then she just texts them. Maybe it’s just me, but that really didn’t seem realistic to me.
It’s not a bad book, it’s just not my cup of tea, and I don’t think I’ll be visiting the lodge again.
When violinist Anna Sun accidentally achieves career success with a viral YouTube video, she finds herself incapacitated and burned out from her attempts to replicate that moment. And when her longtime boyfriend announces he wants an open relationship before making a final commitment, a hurt and angry Anna decides that if he wants an open relationship, then she does, too. Translation: She’s going to embark on a string of one-night stands. The more unacceptable the men, the better.
That’s where tattooed, motorcycle-riding Quan Diep comes in. Their first attempt at a one-night stand fails, as does their second, and their third, because being with Quan is more than sex—he accepts Anna on an unconditional level that she herself has just started to understand. However, when tragedy strikes Anna’s family she takes on a role that she is ill-suited for, until the burden of expectations threatens to destroy her. Anna and Quan have to fight for their chance at love, but to do that, they also have to fight for themselves.
The Heart Principle highlighted an issue I hadn’t realized I had with Hoang’s novels until now: I honestly cannot remember the male leads from either of her books. I can remember the women just fine, but the men? Blank spaces.
This problem is sort of brought to a head in this book, because honestly, Quan was not as fleshed out as Anna was. He started out strong but got lost in the middle and was almost completely absent from the ending. It’s a shame, because what we get from their relationship is sweet. But it’s very apparent that Hoang was a little more interested in Anna’s story than she was Quan’s. This wouldn’t be an issue if The Heart Principle didn’t follow modern romance novel standards and have chapters from both Quan and Anna’s POVs. In comparison to Anna’s fully fleshed out story, Quan’s felt more like a first draft that still needed filling out.
The reason I’m giving this three stars despite the big issue of the hero’s story is because Anna’s storyline and character arc are so good. I cried quite a few times, I cheered, and when I closed the book, I was thrilled for her. I just wish Quan’s story had as much impact.
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy Fairytale Retelling Publisher: Henry Holt & Company Publication Date: October 19th, 2021 Pages: 512, hardcover Source: NetGalley
Once upon a time, there was a horrible girl…
Vanja Schmidt knows that no gift is freely given, not even a mother’s love–and she’s on the hook for one hell of a debt. Vanja, the adopted goddaughter of Death and Fortune, was Princess Gisele’s dutiful servant up until a year ago. That was when Vanja’s otherworldly mothers demanded a terrible price for their care, and Vanja decided to steal her future back… by stealing Gisele’s life for herself.
The real Gisele is left a penniless nobody while Vanja uses an enchanted string of pearls to take her place. Now, Vanja leads a lonely but lucrative double life as princess and jewel thief, charming nobility while emptying their coffers to fund her great escape. Then, one heist away from freedom, Vanja crosses the wrong god and is cursed to an untimely end: turning into jewels, stone by stone, for her greed.
Vanja has just two weeks to figure out how to break her curse and make her getaway. And with a feral guardian half-god, Gisele’s sinister fiancé, and an overeager junior detective on Vanja’s tail, she’ll have to pull the biggest grift yet to save her own life.
Once, many moons ago when I was just a baby Miranda, my friend and I were obsessed with a comic on deviantART. It was part of a challenge where several different artists created characters and storylines set in a world that the person in charge of the challenge had created. Week by week, the artists would post their own comics, and people would vote on which story and characters could go through to the next round.
My friend and I loved the storyline following two outlaws, Annie and the Professor (or as Annie called him, Ginger.) It was hilarious, the characters were well crafted, and the storyline was moving. I loved it so much, in fact, that I followed the artist for the next fifteen years, because I wanted to see what else she would eventually put out.
The artist was Margaret Owen, and I am so excited to be able to read her books.
Little Thieves is a loose retelling of The Goose Girl but focused on the villain of the story, the maid who steals the princess’ life. When Vanja steals something she shouldn’t and is then cursed by a Low God to repay her debt, she has only two weeks to break the curse before she turns to jewels.
To say this book is a triumph is an understatement. Owen takes the fairytale of The Goose Girl and upends it while still keeping the recognizable bits of the tale. It’s creative and the way she uses the bits from the fairytale make sense, in a way that leaves you thinking, “How did she come up with that?” I read the book almost entirely in one sitting. That’s how much I enjoyed it.
Perhaps what I enjoyed most was how clearly Owen has taken her ability to create comics and translated it into prose. Little Thieves is bursting with detail that I could visualize very easily simply because Owen knew how to describe what she was seeing artistically in her head into words. I sometimes have trouble picturing what an author is trying to describe; I didn’t have an issue here.
All of the things I loved about Margaret Owen’s comic on deviantART years ago are present in Little Thieves as well: Wonderfully layered characters, hilarious banter, an interesting world, and a romantic arc that made me squee. Yes, squee. Vanja herself is one of the best YA characters I’ve read in a long while. She does horrible things, yes, but given the world she grew up in, it makes sense. Owen treats her both with sympathy but also making certain she does, indeed, pay her debts. If the book had simply been entirely of banter between her and Emeric, I would have been over the moon. Owen simply has a way with words that can make you laugh like a donkey — then pages later, she’ll have you tearing up.
Some readers may find the villain to be lacking in nuance, but frankly, the world is full of men like the villain, and I find him all too believably real. The ending may also lack a bit of a punch to some readers; again, I didn’t mind it.
I honestly have very little else to say except that I adored Little Thieves, and I’m so looking forward to everything else Owen releases in the future.
A Postman murdered while delivering cards on Christmas morning. A Christmas pine growing over a forgotten homicide. A Yuletide heist gone horribly wrong. When there’s as much murder as magic in the air and the facts seem to point to the impossible, it’s up to the detective’s trained eye to unwrap the clues and neatly tie together an explanation (preferably with a bow on top).
Martin Edwards has once again gathered the best of these seasonal stories into a stellar anthology brimming with rare tales, fresh as fallen snow, and classics from the likes of Julian Symons, Margery Allingham, Anthony Gilbert and Cyril Hare. A most welcome surprise indeed, and perfect to be shared between super-sleuths by the fire on a cold winter’s night.
Anytime a new British Library Crime Classics comes out is like Christmas. A Surprise for Christmas and Other Seasonal Mysteries (bit of a mouthful, that), edited by Martin Edwards, is like a box of Christmas crackers. There’s something for everyone, and twelve stories in total, one for each day of Christmas.
There are the usual authors – Gilbert (as Malleson), Allingham, and Chesterton, but also a Loveday Brooke by Pirkis that I hadn’t seen before, and a Cyril Hare that I had, but still enjoyed. Like most anthologies, some of the stories are stronger than the others, and this isn’t one of the better Christmas collections by BLCC, but it’s well-worth a read, especially on a snowy Winter’s night.
Emmy Harlow is a witch but not a very powerful one—in part because she hasn’t been home to the magical town of Thistle Grove in years. Her self-imposed exile has a lot to do with a complicated family history and a desire to forge her own way in the world, and only the very tiniest bit to do with Gareth Blackmoore, heir to the most powerful magical family in town and casual breaker of hearts and destroyer of dreams.
But when a spellcasting tournament that her family serves as arbiters for approaches, it turns out the pull of tradition (or the truly impressive parental guilt trip that comes with it) is strong enough to bring Emmy back. She’s determined to do her familial duty; spend some quality time with her best friend, Linden Thorn; and get back to her real life in Chicago.
On her first night home, Emmy runs into Talia Avramov—an all-around badass adept in the darker magical arts—who is fresh off a bad breakup . . . with Gareth Blackmoore. Talia had let herself be charmed, only to discover that Gareth was also seeing Linden—unbeknownst to either of them. And now she and Linden want revenge. Only one question stands: Is Emmy in?
But most concerning of all: Why can’t she stop thinking about the terrifyingly competent, devastatingly gorgeous, wickedly charming Talia Avramov?
Considering that I got to 48% of Payback’s a Witch, I probably should have finished it, but… honestly, I was bored. The technical aspect of the writing was fine, and the characters had pretty strong, distinct voices, but the pacing was all over place. Harper seemed to have trouble juggling all the different parts of the plot and figuring out how to have things move in a way that made sense. The character’s plot to get back at the man who hurt them made very little sense, and would have been easy to foil in real life.
I wasn’t overly into the relationship between Talia and Emmy, either, as I didn’t see much to support their relationship other than mutual lust-at-first-sight. That may be some reader’s cup of tea, but it isn’t mine, unfortunately.
Also, this is maybe a stupid quibble when Payback’s a Witch is meant to be a fun rom-com that you don’t think about too much, but I was a bit bothered by the history of Thistle Grove. The novel states that the four founders of the town gravitated to the area because the land “had an abundance of magic”.
The land that, by the by, is in America. So… what about the Native Americans who were there first? Were they using that land for anything? Or was it just happily empty of people and waiting for a bunch of colonizers to come take it?
Looking at the reviews, it seems I’m in the minority as far as Payback’s a Witch goes, so YMMV. It just wasn’t for me.
American adventuress Beryl Helliwell and reserved Brit Edwina Davenport may seem an unlikely pair, but they have reinvented themselves in the lean years following World War I as private enquiry agents. Now they’ve been engaged to stage a faux investigation–until murder makes it all too real…
When a member of the Walmsley Parva upper crust, Constance Maitland, seeks to hire Beryl and Edwina for a sham investigation into an alleged dalliance by her sister-in-law Ursula to quell potentially scandalous accusations by an unstable cousin, it is with mixed feelings that they agree to pose as guests at her home, Maitland Park. Edwina is uncomfortable with the ruse, but Beryl is eager to escape tension with their feisty housekeeper and hobnob with bohemians as the Maitland family hosts an artists colony.
But when the painter suspected of having an affair with Ursula is found strangled beside his easel in a glade, the pretense turns into a genuine murder enquiry. With Maitland Park overrun by artists, every guest–not to mention family member–is now a suspect.
Beryl and Edwina must determine if they are dealing with a crime of passion or if there are more complex motives in play, which may include the family cigarette business, cutthroat artistic competition, or secrets from the war years. In any case, the intrepid sleuths will not leave until they have smoked out the real killer…
Beryl and Edwina are ostensibly investigating a case of adultery at an artist’s colony when one of the accused is found dead in Murder in an English Glade.
Beryl and Edwina are an odd couple that complement each other well. Beryl is (slowly) learning to temper her brashness and conviction that she knows the best way to manage things, and Edwina is opening up to even more change, both personally and professionally. Edwina even agrees to pose as an artist’s model in this book, so she’s come a long way in this fifth book in the series.
This one was more reminiscent of Christie, with the artist’s colony, the possible adulterers, an eccentric poor relation, and a group of girl guides, one of whose precociousness may well get her killed. Even though many of the elements are familiar, Ellicott makes them seem fresh. I didn’t start suspecting who the killer was until fairly late in the novel.
We learn a bit more of Beryl’s backstory and what she did during WWI. She and Edwina suffer a small misunderstanding that ends up strengthening their friendship and business partnership. Simpkins isn’t as present as much as he is in some of the other books, but he gives Beryl some food for thought, and helps her in her character growth.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable read and I highly recommended it.
Genre: Young Adult Sci-Fi Publisher: Penguin Teen Publication Date: September 21st, 2021 Pages: 400, hardcover Source: NetGalley
The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.
When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.
To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.
Iron Widow has a solid premise and, unfortunately, not much else.
I wanted very badly to love this novel, as I enjoyed all of its comp titles and I like what I’ve seen of Xiran on twitter. But Iron Widow feels a bit like a first rough draft where the writer was just getting the general beats down and not overly paying attention to anything else such as the world building, characterization, or pacing, or even making certain the characters’ dialogue doesn’t sound exactly the same.
Even accounting for the fact that English isn’t Xiran’s first language and the differences in storytelling norms between English and Chinese, the writing simply isn’t good. It’s very blunt, and while maybe that was the point as the novel is entirely in Zetian’s POV and she’s not a subtle person, I can’t be sure about that. We’re given no time to really pause and reflect on certain scenes or emotions, which leaves it all feeling shallow. Even Zetian’s relationship with her Big Sister, who’s the entire driving force behind the events of the novel, barely gets any mention. We’re told everything and shown nothing.
It really seems as if the author only had a few scenes crystal clear in their head but had no interest in building the rest of the novel around those scenes in a way that made sense. There are a few bits of the novel that really shine, while the rest are hastily put together and shoved to the side so the author could get to the stuff they actually cared about. I couldn’t really tell you a thing about the worldbuilding except that it’s a Chinese sci-fi world where boys and girls have to fight aliens called Hunduns, and the girls are basically batteries for the boys and die in the process of the fighting.
Which brings me to Zetian’s story: I could not, in any way, believe her arc because it made no sense. Where she ends up at the end of the novel is unbelievable; at several points in the story, she should have been stopped simply because she’s about as subtle as a trainwreck on a boat and, frankly, not entirely smart about her plots. Readers looking for a character who manages to play the game intelligently and with subtlety should look elsewhere, because that’s very much not Zetian’s style, and while I understand that’s what Jay Zhao was going for, it doesn’t work. At all.
In a way, I think Iron Widow would have benefited incredibly from not being a YA novel–being an adult novel focused on teenage characters instead–and having multiple POVs. Zetian is limited in a lot of ways (including physically–she has bound feet, though at times it seems like Jay Zhao forgot about that, given that it doesn’t overly impact Zetian’s ability to do things that much) and the middle drags because we can’t see how other pieces are being moved, if they’re being moved at all. Given how the novel was written, I sort of doubt it; the characters come in when they’re needed, do what the plot/Zetian’s characterization and arc require them to do, and then leave, as if they don’t exist outside of their on-page appearances or have an impact on the world outside of them.
And now my final, biggest issue with the novel: For all that it touts itself as a feminist novel, and for all that Zetian claims she wants to save girls, neither Zetian nor the novel seem to actually like other girls that much. Zetian is a prickly person, so I get that she wouldn’t get along with everyone, but the novel itself doesn’t treat girls other than Zetian that well. There’s a difference between your character having some internalized misogyny issues and the writing backing her up on it by having every female character she encounters either be an enemy or get killed by the end of the novel. I don’t require Zetian to never have a bad word to say about other girls or for the novel not to have antagonistic relationships between them, but her scenes with other girls are so scant and overwhelmingly negative. If feminism means only One True Awesome Girl, it’s not one I’m interested in.
I did like the way the mecha functions, and I like that the love triangle resolves itself into an actual poly relationship. I wish the rest of the novel had been as good as some of the scenes inside, but unfortunately, it wasn’t.