Book Review: Dead Man’s Chest

Dead Man’s Chest, Kerry Greenwood (Poisoned Pen Press, 2017 ebook release)Roaring 20s Phryne in a purple dress, standing along a seashore

e-pages, un-numbered in ARC. At the time of this review (1/9/18), the book holds a 4.5-star review on Amazon with 433 reviews.

Historical Mystery

eBook Obtained By: ARC from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review

My Chocolate Rating on Scale of 5: 3 Reese’s Peanut-Butter Eggs, Hearts, or Trees (stick-to-your-ribs good)—see below, take with a cup of coffee for my reading bias


From the Amazon description

“Dot unfolded the note. “He says that his married couple will look after the divine Miss Fisher…I’ll leave out a bit…their name is Johnson and they seem very reliable.” Phryne got the door open at last. She stepped into the hall. “I think he was mistaken about that,” she commented.

Traveling at high speed in her beloved Hispano-Suiza accompanied by her maid and trusted companion Dot, her two adoptive daughters Jane and Ruth, and their dog Molly, The Hon. Miss Phryne Fisher is off to Queenscliff. She’d promised everyone a nice holiday by the sea with absolutely no murders, but when they arrive at their rented accommodation that doesn’t seem likely at all.

An empty house, a gang of teenage louts, a fisherboy saved, and the mystery of a missing butler and his wife seem to lead inexorably toward a hunt for buried treasure by the sea. But what information might the curious Surrealists be able to contribute? Phryne knows to what depths people will sink for greed, but with a glass of champagne in one hand and a pearl-handled Beretta in the other, no one is getting past her.”


Dead Man’s Chest, Kerry Greenwood (Poisoned Pen Press, 2017 ebook release)

With its omniscient viewpoint (even from the dog) and slow-paced opening, this book varies from what I usually read. I had jumped at the chance for the ARC (advance reader copy) because I loved the three-season series about the “lady detective” living in Australia in the 1920s but hadn’t yet read any of Greenwood’s books. This sounded like an episode I’d seen, so it would provide a chance to appreciate the author’s original works while I tried to ignore the direction the TV episode took—I looked forward to more subplots, and the book did not disappoint in that regard.

The mystery hits fast, with the holiday home Phryne and company stay at in a shambles, and the husband and wife who should be running the household are missing.  The lazy opening pace surprised me, but I suppose reflects that Phryne is on holiday. With her usual ingenuity, she gets the house humming, then balances holiday with solving the mystery.  The head-hopping took me a good three chapters to get used to. I’d have put the book down by then, but I’d made a commitment as an ARC reader, and even if I was starting it a month later than I should have, I was giving it a chance. I did enjoy the characters. If I hadn’t, I would have given it a DNF.

Somewhere about chapter five I got into the book more, appreciating it as a slice of history (an aspect I love so much about the TV series). I cringe (in a good way) as a stench emanates from a hair salon:  “‘It’s those marcel irons,’ said Phryne. ‘If you want hair like corrugated iron, you need to discipline it very severely.’”

I kept reading because of the characters.  I enjoyed watching Ruth come into her own as she worked towards a dream she had; I already knew book-loving, fast-witted Jane would give as good as she got. Who but a bookworm must admit, about their unconventional bookmark rather than dog-earing a corner, “Nothing seemed available except the lettuce.” And when it comes to Phryne standing up for herself, never needing a man to rescue her, of course Greenwood gave me ample reason to cheer. I can well believe this reaction by one of the bad guys: “She looked just like a Dutch doll, pink lips, bright eyes, white skin, black shiny hair. But she didn’t sound like any doll. Phryne Fisher gave [I’m cutting the name] the willies.”

Greenwood walks into the mystery casually, as Phryne investigates and uses her family and some of the locals a’la Holmes’ Baker Street Irregulars. The cast of characters rounded out nicely, deepening the slice of life as the mystery got going. The new characters had their own arcs, as did the existing characters, deepening the story. The inclusion of a half dozen Surrealists, provided laughable moments, even if they did slow the pace.

At the end of the novel, Greenwood tied together threads of the plot nicely, playing on characters strengths and weaknesses. It’s a book that satisfies.

Take my 3-chocolate rating with a cup of coffee, as I don’t read a lot of mysteries, and I don’t read a lot of omniscient POV.  That head-hopping and all the filtering words “Phryne heard” or “Dot saw” or “Ruth felt” pushed me out of the story regularly. Language wise, Greenwood painted great descriptions.  Phryne, never one to let a wrong go un-righted, says, “ ‘And boys, I’m going to be here for weeks, and if I see any of you so much as look sideways at an innocent man, woman, child or dog, expect retribution to set in with unusual accuracy and force. You hear me?’ ”

If you like mysteries or historicals, give Miss Fisher’s Mysteries a read.

Learn more about Kerry Greenwood

Posted in Book Reviews, Reading, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Magic on the Hunt

Magic on the Hunt, Devon Monk (Roc, 2011)

Cover for Book 6 of the Allie Beckstrom Series346 pp. At the time of this review (12/24/17), it holds a 4.3-star review on Amazon with 34 reviews.

Cover Design, no attribution given

Urban Fantasy

Book Obtained By: Christmas gift because I loved her first books in the series and asked for the rest.

My Chocolate Rating on Scale of 5: 4.5 Ghirardelli Salty Caramels (just shy of perfection)


From the jacket

“In theory, I could call on enough magic to burn this place to the ground. But the price I’d have to pay would be as big as the spell I cast, and then I’d be nothing but ashes and burnt bones.”

There aren’t many girls who can say they’ve gone into the realm of death and lived to tell the tale. But to restore her lover Zayvion’s soul, Allison Beckstrom had to pay a bitter price—and things are about to get worse….

It turns out the leader of the Authority, the council that decides what can—and can’t—be done with magic, is being held hostage. But when the trail leads Allie and Zayvion to the secret prison where the Authority locks away magical criminals who are too dangerous to be held anywhere else, they find more than they bargained for. An undead magic user has possessed one of the prisoners, and he wants his freedom—and then some. Now Allie and Zayvion are the first line of defense against the chaos he’s about to unleash on the city of Portland….


Magic on the Hunt, Devon Monk (Roc, 2011)

***Contains spoilers from previous books in the series, but none from this book***

If you want a female character with her share of guts, concern for others above herself, and a fierce need to keep her dead dad from taking over her mind, look no farther than Devon Monk’s Allie Beckstrom. If she’s standing alongside the magic users she trusts, or her beloved “hounds” are in danger, she’s not backing down for any reason. As a hound, Allie chases cast spells back to magic users who have “offloaded” the price of the spell casting onto someone else—because casting magic always comes with a cost.

This book doesn’t see her hound a lot, but when she does, stakes make it important for her to find her targets. Monk guides me in the casting, making me feel like I’m next to Allie, seeing the intricate lines of a spell when she casts Sight; tasting the mark of the spell-caster as only a hound with a sensitive nose can.

If you like snarky comebacks, Allie deals them in spades, especially when one of her friends tries to keep her out of a fight: “Stand back, let you get the bruises, then ride to the rescue. Check.” She’ll have a sharp reply even when she’s up against a villain slinging Death magic. Her days of deferring to her father, Daniel, ended a long time ago, so a little thing like him hitching a ride in her brain isn’t going to stop her from giving him plenty of sass. With Daniel, I still never know when he’s doing something for his own ends, or to protect Allie for any reason other than he’s cheating death by the piece of his soul hitching a ride in her brain.

Stakes rise in this book from the last one, with Monk revealing the powers set to battle over Portland, over the magic that the Authority has long controlled. Prepare to have fun with Monk’s description of the magic surrounding the prison—she had me picturing an Escher drawing, laced with magic. And the folks locked up there? She’s got novel potential on his own when she gets to the villain.

You’ll worry for Allie’s friends on a whole new level, as Monk weaves in the characters we’ve grown to love in earlier books—her best friend Nola and adopted son Cody; Hound Davey Stivers; the pregnant Violet (her dad’s wife, and a woman about Allie’s own age).

The book may start with romance, but that aspect takes a back seat with all the action crammed in here. I don’t miss the romance, because I’m reading for Allie’s story, and I have no doubt of the depth of love Allie and Zayvion share. Monk is holding her characters to an incredibly tight time-line across the series. Tons happened in the previous book (5), and only a few days have elapsed. With all my favorite magic users running on empty, what will go right in their spell-casting, and what will go wrong? That sense of exhaustion comes through, and I worry at the cost of this battle for magic’s control. As Daniel Beckstrom says, “What matters is deciding what our enemy really wants, what his end goal is, and stopping that before it is too late.” Will they figure it out before it’s too late? And even if they do, are they strong enough to stop their enemy?

It may have taken me a month to read the book, but that comes from the chaos of the Christmas season. This is a solidly written book, lots of conflict, rising tension, dialogue that fits the characters, and characters who I love and hate, trust and mis-trust—the same as Allie.  If you enjoy urban fantasy and haven’t read Monk yet, grab that first book in the series and see if it hooks you the way it hooked me.


Learn more about Devon Monk:


Posted in Book Reviews, Reading, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Magic at the Gate

Woman with tattoed arms holds sword, ready to fight, with mystical symbols in the background

Book Cover

Magic at the  Gate, Devon Monk (Roc, 2010)

346 pp. At the time of this review (10/5/17), it holds a 4.4-star review on Amazon with 34 reviews.

Cover Design, no attribution given

Urban Fantasy

Book Obtained By: Christmas gift because I loved her first books in the series and asked for the rest.

My Chocolate Rating on Scale of 5: 5 Godiva Chocolates (sinfully good)


From the jacket

Allison Beckstrom is a Hound: She uses her magic to find unscrupulous magicians and stop them from harming innocents with their power. But every time she casts a spell, she places her mind, body, and soul at the mercy of magic, which uses her as much as she uses it….

Allie’s lover, Zayvion Jones, is a guardian of the gates, imbued with both light and dark magic, and responsible for ensuring those energies don’t mix. But Zayvion lies in a coma, his soul trapped in death’s realm.

To rescue him, Allie must follow the specter of her deceitful late sorcerer father, Daniel Beckstrom, who is more than familiar with death’s domain. And when Allie discovers that the only way to save Zayvion is to sacrifice her very own magical essence, she makes a decision that may have grave consequences for the entire world….


Magic at the Gate, Devon Monk (Roc, 2010)

Devon Monk hooked me with book one of the Allie Beckstrom series. I don’t give out a lot of “5s” in my reviews, but book five earned it. Allie, as a first-person character, has a delightfully snarky inner monologue. When handed an impossible choice, she thinks through her options; if she’s going the magical route, I hope she’ll remember to set her disbursement so that she controls the consequences of the magic—headache, worse headache, migraine, head cold, you name it. She’ll tough through it, saying things like “I stood. Me and anger went way back. It kept me steady and strong even though the room swayed a little to the left” (p. 102).

She’s a kick-butt character with the attitude to match, but the frequent uncertainty we women often face in second-guessing our decisions when other voices dominate the conversation. When she makes her decision, watch out. “Reason. Like that would stop me” (p. 106).

SPOILER from earlier books: If you haven’t read the other Allie Beckstrom books, move along to the next paragraph. Now, imagine that your dead father, Daniel, has taken up residence in your head and refuses to move along to the afterlife. He loves to second-guess Allie, and she can’t trust him. Her father has seemingly one interest in mind: his own. Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I scream in frustration at what her father’s putting her through. Monk has me hooked, all right. Oh, yes, and imagine that your boyfriend’s body is still alive, but his soul has been pulled through the gates of Death. And your dead father convinces you he’s the only hope you have of bringing that soul back to reunite it with the body. Can you say unscrupulous hidden agenda on his part?

Pacing flew in this book. It gets my highest rating because:

  • It had ebbs and flows, with each “oh, no” incident being more dangerous than the last. It started in the realms of death, with Allie’s impossible decision to give up a piece of her magic. With the battle well underway for who (or what) will control magic, Monk had tons of fodder for making it worse for the characters. And worse. And, oh, (expletive), worse!
  • As the various characters use magic, they draw me into that world with Monk’s precision of details—sight, smell, pull of magic, conversion of spells, understanding of deeper depths to magic.
  • World-building—Monk added touches of it to deepen the world I knew, pulling in more history of magic. She blended that into the plot. I never felt like she dumped information on me.

No doubt about it, this book pulled me in more deeply than any of the others.

Throughout the book, even when the pace slowed, I did not want to skip paragraphs to move ahead. That’s big for me, because I’m a slow reader. There are times I skim paragraphs, but I didn’t in this book. Prose seemed tighter than the previous book, with fewer instance of the words that push me out, like “I smelled” or “I tasted.” But when they were used, like, “tasted,” I accepted as in-character of a Hound. Allie’s job, as a Hound, is to sniff out the source of magic when the caster “offloaded” the pain price to someone else. She smells and tastes a lot.

The cast of characters comes together well.  A hound may be a loner by trade, but mix in the Authority that has controlled magic up to now, and there are other heavy hitters in the mix. In a world of chaos, and the betrayals of book four, Allie’s instincts are in overdrive trying to decide who to trust, who to fear. She’s never trusted her father, often feared him, but in this book, she sees a different dimension of him that makes me question if he’s got her interests in mind, too; or is he the same old (bad word) who cannot redeem himself?

Oh, and her memories—with her swiss-cheese holes from previous magical costs, when she recovers a memory, I can’t wait to see where it leads her in this book or another. Monk unveiled two gems in this book.

I’m along for the ride, hoping that characters I love, like inn owner Maeve and her son, Shame, will continue to hold true to magic’s best interests. And until the end, I’m squirming, waiting to see if she has saved Zayvion (Zay) from the horrors of death. And wondering, too, where the next books will lead. Characters don’t always survive battles, and Monk’s made me care about Maeve, Shame; her dad’s pregnant wife Violet; Zay; the hounds, like Davey; detective Stotts . . . see, I’m invested in these characters.

If you enjoy urban fantasy, a touch of romance, and a female character who fights tooth and nail for what she believes in, who’s ready to shoulder the price of magic, then make time for Magic at the Gate.

Learn more about Devon Monk:


Posted in Book Reviews, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment