The City that Barks and Roars by J.T. Bird

Animals rule the world

They hit cafes for breakfast then nine to five at the office, and fritter away evenings at jazz clubs.

But paradise is still a distant dream, for there are devils amongst the angels.

Lucas Panda is missing; clues on the riverbank suggest he was probably kidnapped. Enter Frank. Who else you gonna call? Hard-boiled penguin and the finest detective in town. And meet his new partner, Detective Chico Monkey – yeah, the wisecrackin’ kid with all the snappy suits. But the stakes have been raised; three more creatures are missing and the citizens of Noah’s Kingdom are faced with possible extinction. Can the grouchy bird and plucky young ape save the city from doom? Or, will evil prevail and escape the claws of justice? (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

Man, this place has gone to the dogs! Okay, okay, I couldn’t help myself. But in this zoo-meets-noir, the joke is mildly appropriate.

The story of The City that Barks and Roars has been told before, many times. You have a a detective that goes missing, and it’s up to his grizzled, cantankerous partner to solve the crime. In this case, the missing detective is named Lucas Panda (what with him being a panda and all). The grumpy partner? King Penguin Frank. Add his new fresh-faced partner, Charlie Monkey, and you’ve got the bare bones of many a detective tale. However, in this case, it’s a detective tail. Badum-tish! (I’ll be here all week folks.)

Now, the fact that the plot isn’t anything new and original does not detract from the story. Rather, it adds to it: we all know which beats to expect, but there’s a twist of the furry variety. It highlights the fun the author had writing The City that Barks and Roars. Think Zootopia for adults.

The mystery was clever, but the book ended up falling a bit flat for me. The characters, other than being animals, did not really have much in the way of development. However, The City that Barks and Roars is a shorter tale, so that could be the issue right there.

Where the author shone was in the descriptions, leaving me thinking that perhaps this story would be better in a different medium. As a TV show or movie, perhaps. The City that Barks and Roars was full of quippy humor, some of which landed, and some that didn’t.

At this point, I’m afraid my review seems to be entirely negative. I truly don’t mean it that way. The City that Barks and Roars was an entertaining tale. It’s wasn’t incredible, but it was fun. I think people who read the detective genre will appreciate what the author did here more than I did, simply because they’ll have more experience with the genre.

My Favorite Reads of 2020

Well, this has been an… interesting year. If you can name it, chances are it’s happened. I’ve learned a lot about the strength many of my acquaintances possess. I truly wish they hadn’t needed to use so much strength and determination to make it through the year, but if wishes were horses, we’d all be eating steak. Anyway, I digress.

While the year has been all kinds of horrible for most, the books I’ve been fortunate to read were amazing. I rounded up my favorites but there is absolutely no way I can rank them in order from one to ten. Instead, they’re here with zero rhyme or reason, just a huge amount of appreciation. Without further rambling, here are my top ten 2020 reads:

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

This book was absolutely brilliant. I went into it with ridiculously high hopes, and they were more than fulfilled. There was a tension throughout that had me riveted, and Turton’s fantastic writing style kept me hooked from start to finish. Review

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

Holy guacamole, this book is awesome! My last book of the year (I might finish the sequel in time, but that’s a big might); I totally went out with a bang. The Queen of Blood had me riveted from start to finish. I should apologize probably to the family for all the things I didn’t get done while I was ignoring the real world to read this. Review

The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart

This was a skillful and unique twist on questing fantasy. I loved all of the characters, each of which brought their own struggles and strengths to the group. This felt like a wonderful throwback to the type of book that spawned my love of the fantasy genre. The sequel was equally fantastic, and you can find my reviews for both books here: The Ventifact Colossus and The Crosser’s Maze.

Knight’s Ransom by Jeff Wheeler

I truly loved Knight’s Ransom. It had an Arthurian feel to it that I found engrossing. While larger things are going on in the world, the book followed mainly one man and focused on his character growth. There was no Big Bad poised to destroy life as everyone knows it, but the world still felt big, and the personal stakes felt just as important. Review

The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn

This book was just flat-out fun. Ardor Benn, ruse artist extraordinaire, was an entertaining character, and his partners in crime were just as great. I particularly loved the heists they planned since they never ever worked out as expected. Review

Hollow Road Dan Fitzgerald

Hollow Road was extremely good. Its sequel, The Archive, made me tear up. That doesn’t happen often at all. This is an incredible series and I am dying to continue it. My review for Hollow Road can be found here. My review for The Archive can be found here.

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

Both this book and its sequel, Dead Man in a Ditch, were phenomenal. Gritty detective novel meets fantasy in this series and works extremely well. I loved the main character, Fetch Phillips, who is drowning in both regret and alcohol. His narrative voice was wonderful and I can’t wait for the next installment in the series. Review

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

If not for The Write Read Blog Tour that I took part in, this book wouldn’t have been on my radar. That would have been a shame, because it was so enjoyable. It was a bit like the movie Knives Out sans cable knit sweaters. I really liked going along with the main character as she tried to solve the mysteries presented to her. Review

Feathertide by Beth Cartwright

Feathertide was gorgeous. I really could stop there. The prose sucked me in and wouldn’t let go. It’s a masterpiece and I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t love about it. Review

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It by K.J. Parker

This book was flat-out fantastic! It was the perfect combination of witty and thought-provoking. I highly recommend this one. I loved it so much! Review

So, there you have it. This was an extremely difficult list to narrow down. Have you read any of these books? Thoughts? Here’s to many more wonderful books in 2021!

Quotables: Words that Stuck with Me this Year

One of the (many) amazing things about books is their ability to reach us. I might read a sentence, absorb the information provided, and move on. Someone else might read that same sentence and be profoundly moved. That sentence becomes something more than just words on a page: it touches a part of that person and sticks with them. While I haven’t read as many books this year as I did last year (I blame 2020), this has been a year full of amazing writing, the sort that I treasure. Here are a few quotes that I have absolutely loved.

“Things won’t seem as bleak in the morning. Morning is wiser than evening.”– Emily Duncan, Ruthless Gods

“Some songs weren’t mere songs. They were memories curled tight and set alight. They made you heartsick.”– Stuart Turton, The Devil and the Dark Water

“Good people don’t bow their heads and bite their tongues while other good people suffer. Good people are not complicit.”-Alexis Henderson, The Year of the Witching

“‘No’, I cleared my throat. “It’s the sort of good that you get sad about because you no longer have it. A very good.”– Andrea Stewart, The Bone Shard Daughter

“Money can’t buy love, but it improves your bargaining position.”– Christopher Marlowe, Dr. Faustus

“Sometimes it feels like I’m in a staring contest with failure, and if I blink, I’ll die.”-Sarah Gailey, Magic for Liars

“Perhaps even people you like and admire immensely can make you see the World in ways you would rather not.”-Susanna Clarke, Piranesi

“Maybe trust is neither lost nor found, broken nor mended, but merely given.”-Alix E. Harrow, The Once and Future Witches

“I like books. They’re quiet, dignified, and absolute. A man might falter but his words, once written, will hold.”-Luke Arnold, The Last Smile in Sunder City

What are some quotes from the books you’ve read this year that blew you away? If you’d like to find out more about any of these books, you can find my reviews below. Happy reading!

Ruthless Gods by Emily A. Duncan

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Hendersen

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2020 Adult Fiction Edition

I have been looking forward to writing this post! This has been a particularly excellent year for adult fiction and there are so many amazing books that would make for great gifts. So, without further ado, here goes!

The Last Smile in Sunder City and Dead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold

Holy wow, these books are fantastic! Take a gritty noir and smash it up into a brilliant fantasy world and you’ll get the general feel of these books. Luke Arnold’s author voice is incredibly entertaining and these are books I know I’ll read more than once. These would be great gifts for readers who are already big fantasy fans and want a new twist on the genre. You can find my original reviews for these books here: The Last Smile in Sunder City and Dead Man in a Ditch.

The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart

I loved this book so much! This is fantasy at its finest. There’s a quest, a wonderful cast of characters, and a vast world with its own histories and secrets to be discovered. What really made this book stand out among the many great books I’ve read this year is its hopeful tone. The stakes are high, and no one is immune from loss, heartbreak, or injury, but the characters don’t give up. Add in an engrossing story, and you’ve got a fantasy that everyone will enjoy. You can find my original review here.

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

After reading and loving The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle a few years ago, I was incredibly excited to read Stuart Turton’s next book. It did not disappoint. Rather, it drew me into a astonishing mystery full of twists and more than a few surprises. After reading this book, I’m ready to pre-buy any book this author writes in the future. This would be an excellent gift for pretty much anyone. You can find my review here.

The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn by Tyler Whitesides

This book was a blast from start to finish. Ardor Benn is an irrepressible rogue, in the vein of Kvothe (from The Kingkiller Chronicles) or Kaz Brekker (of Six of Crows fame). While there is much more to it, this book is a complicated heist at heart. Plus, there are dragons! This is an excellent addition to the fantasy genre, so of course it belongs on this list. Find my original review here.

The Rome of Fall by Chad Alan Gibbs

This book had me waxing nostalgic. Anyone who grew up during the 90’s will love this funny and heartwarming book. I loved the characters (I’m pretty sure I knew one of them in high school) and the ending was fantastic. Pull out your old mix tapes, pull on your flannel shirt, and grab a copy of this book for yourself while you’re getting one for a friend. My original review can be found here.

So, there you have it. Have you read (or gifted) any of these books? What are some that are on your to-give list?  You can find these great books, and more at Bookshop.org, which supports indie bookstores instead of Amazon. That’s pretty nifty. I’ll also get a little kickback at no extra cost to you, if you use my link (above).

The Bride Wore Black by Cornell Woolrich-ARC Review

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on January 21st, 2021.

I’ve heard Cornell Woolrich being spoken of as the father of the crime novel, so I jumped at the chance to read The Bride Wore Black. The plot is fairly simple: there are several murders that seem unrelated, except for the appearance of a mysterious woman, whom no one seems to recognize. It falls on Detective Wanger to solve the series of cases and stop the body count.

Unfortunately, this book was more problematic than enjoyable for me. The issue is, things that are unacceptable now (or at least, they should be) were commonplace when this book was written. Things have changed a lot since 1940. Nowhere is that more evident than in The Bride Wore Black. Racism and sexism were both very much a part of this book, in the casual sort of way that shows just how “normal” it was. For example, several men “good-naturedly” (the author’s word) tried to break down a dressing room door while a woman was changing. It was written as a natural, totally okay occurrence, which immediately put me off the book. Now, I know what some of you might be thinking: it’s an older book, and I need to assume these things will be there and take it in stride. Fair point. If I were able to get past the content (which was pretty much impossible for me), my review would be pretty much what follows.

Woolrich made some odd choices. Throughout the book, the reader is given both the who and the how of the murders; the only unsolved part is the why. I’m used to reading books where the identity of the killer isn’t known right away, so this was new to me. I felt a little cheated with so much information being already given. I like the tricky aspect of trying to solve the whodunnit. That being said, the why ended up being a doozy, completely unexpected and rather sad.

If the excess of freely given information seemed odd, the methods of the killings were downright bizarre. The oddest one involved a killer disguised as a kindergarten teacher: the victim thinks it’s absolutely normal for his child’s kindergarten teacher to show up uninvited to cook him dinner while he puts his feet up and reads the paper (see what I mean about the book being problematic?) . I found myself wondering how someone who was so lacking in common sense managed to live so long in the first place. I couldn’t view the murderer as diabolical, smart, or even as much of a threat because the way the murders were committed were so incredibly weird.

I was bummed that we saw so little of Detective Wanger. There would be several chapters involving the killer, then a small aside featuring the detective. There is no opportunity to get to know the character, which was rather disappointing. At least he didn’t immediately discount the idea of a female killer based on gender.

As I’ve mentioned, the ending was surprising and creative. I could see a little bit of why the author is seen as one of the original driving forces in the detective novel genre. It felt like the precursor for later books in the genre. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to make this book enjoyable for me.

Needless to say, I definitely don’t recommend this book, although it could just be an issue of the reader not matching the writing. It happens.

Second Cousin Once Removed by Kenneth L. Toppell- The Write Reads Blog Tour


When Henry Attkinson, divorcee and semi-retired attorney, decided to do
a little research into his family tree, he never expected it to take him on the
adventure of a lifetime. Now, he must unravel the mystery of his strange
second cousin’s past to stay one step ahead of him – and stay alive.
As Henry digs deeper, his predictable life becomes anything but as he begins receiving ominous threats
from his second cousin Shelley and noticing the increasing number of bodies showing up in his wake.
Henry must go on the run, joined by Carolyn Trellis, a woman who stumbled into his life at just the
right – or perhaps wrong -time. Together they must disguise themselves and hop from cities to small
towns along the east coast in an attempt to evade Shelley and pursue justice. Though the chemistry
between them becomes undeniable, Shelley refuses to be forgotten. Henry and Carolyn’s minds and
hearts will be put to the test as they try to untangle Shelley’s past – little do they know they will soon be
facing an even more ruthless villain.
When asked about his writing process, Dr. Toppell stated, “I write without an outline. Therefore, if I
think the story works better in a new direction while I’m writing, I simply go there. I try it out to see
what would catch my reader unaware or surprised.”
Discover the intricate web of mystery and betrayal conjured up by Henry’s seemingly innocuous
genealogy research in Second Cousin Once Removed. With plenty of twists and turns, as well as
Toppell’s dry humor, readers will be engrossed from page one to the end as they try to catch their breath
in this fast-paced, sweaty-palm thriller.


Thank you to the Write Reads for allowing me to be part of the blog tour for this book. It is available for purchase now.

What an interesting premise! The main character in this book is Henry Atkinson, a lawyer who is sort-of retired. He’s looking into his family tree, which ends up being the catalyst for all kinds of trouble. Henry’s second cousin, Shelley, sends some threats and the next thing he knows, Henry finds himself on the run. Enter Carolyn, a woman who gets tangled up in everything at a very inopportune time. She ends up fleeing a dastardly villain along with Henry. Can they survive long enough to bring the bad guy to justice?

The story is told from multiple points of view. That makes me nervous in thrillers, but it works out well in Second Cousin Once Removed. The book moves at a fast clip, and there’s never a boring moment. In fact, it moves quickly enough that the relationship between Henry and Carolyn felt…weird. It didn’t develop so much as pop up out of nowhere. That was just a little blip in the story to me, though, and not enough to dull my enjoyment of the book.

The plot was incredibly unique and well thought out. Who would have thought that genealogy could be so rife with danger? I really liked the pacing of the story, and Henry’s character was a blast to read. If you want a quick, entertaining thriller, pick this book up.


The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

A murder on the high seas. A remarkable detective duo. A demon who may or may not exist.

It’s 1634 and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported to Amsterdam to be executed for a crime he may, or may not, have committed. Travelling with him is his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who is determined to prove his friend innocent.

But no sooner are they out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage. A twice-dead leper stalks the decks. Strange symbols appear on the sails. Livestock is slaughtered. Anyone could be to blame. Even a demon.

And then three passengers are marked for death, including Samuel.

With Pipps imprisoned, only Arent can solve a mystery that connects every passenger. A mystery that stretches back into their past and now threatens to sink the ship, killing everybody on board. (taken from Amazon)

I loved Stuart Turton’s first book so much, that I had ridiculously high expectations for The Devil and the Dark Water. This book didn’t meet my expectations. It far surpassed them. In fact, this might very well be the best mystery I’ve read since The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, which was also written by Stuart Turton (we got an extra half death in the U.S., which never ceases to amuse me). The Devil and the Dark Water has everything I want in a book and then some.

To say it is a mystery is to simplify this book almost too much. It’s a mystery. It’s a thriller. It’s a supernatural whodunnit (or is it?), and it’s a genius trip into the evil lurking in the Dark Water.

So, what made this so incredibly engrossing? Well, first I need to start with the setting. Both the time and place were fascinating. It takes place in the early 1600’s aboard the Saardam, a ship bound for Amsterdam. Normally, the expectation would be of a voyage filled with boredom, possible plague, and bad weather. Instead, the Saardam gets violence, mysterious symbols pointing to a possible possession, and danger from someone or something on board the ship. It became a locked-room mystery, with the entire ship being the locked room. It was fascinating, to say the least.

Now for the characters. There is a small cast of characters, and every single one of them is hiding something. First and foremost, I have to mention Sammy Pip. He has the mind of Sherlock Holmes and is quite possibly the only one on the ship who could easily decipher what is going on. Unfortunately, he is a prisoner, locked in a cell. Instead, it falls to Arent, Sammy’s bodyguard and friend, to try to either exorcise a demon, or catch a villain. Arent is a fantastic character. He’s smart, but doubts himself. He’s also gigantic and is used to his brawn being what others need him for. As with everyone on the ship, the reader gets to decide: is he what he seems?

There are several other amazing characters on board, including a cutthroat captain, a Governor General who also happens to be a jerk of epic proportions, his wife Sara, and his mistress. There are other noteworthy characters, but I’ll leave it to the book to introduce them all. Suffice it to say, every single one of them has the potential to be a devil-or maybe summon one.

The story itself was superb! The mysteries had mysteries and every time I thought I had figured something out, the plot would twist again, leaving me delightfully confounded. I spent the entire book attempting to sleuth along with Arent, and had a blast doing so. The book had a kick of an ending, although I would have happily continued reading for another several hundred pages. Stuart Turton’s writing is just that good.

If you only read one book this year, make it The Devil and the Dark Water. It is utterly brilliant.

The Last to Die by Kelly Garrett

See the source image

Sixteen-year-old Harper Jacobs and her bored friends make a pact to engage in a series of not-quite illegal break-ins. They steal from each other’s homes, sharing their keys and alarm codes. But they don’t take anything that can’t be replaced by some retail therapy, so it’s okay. It’s thrilling. It’s bad. And for Harper, it’s payback for something she can’t put into words―something to help her deal with her alcoholic mother, her delusional father, and to forget the lies she told that got her druggie brother arrested. It’s not like Daniel wasn’t rehab bound anyway.

So everything is okay―until the bold but aggravating Alex, looking to up the ante, suggests they break into the home of a classmate. It’s crossing a line, but Harper no longer cares. She’s proud of it. Until one of the group turns up dead, and Harper comes face-to-face with the moral dilemma that will make or break her―and, if she makes the wrong choice, will get her killed. (taken from Amazon)

This was an oh dear book for me. The premise – a small group of friends, and the murderer is one of them – seemed interesting, but it lacked something in the execution. I’ll try to put my issues with this book into words, but please bear with me. My train of thought often jumps its track.

I will say that the author made a gutsy choice: not a single character is remotely likeable. I’m pretty sure that was deliberate. It was tough to read a book filled with horrible people, though. The closest thing to a decent character is the main character’s sister, Maggie. Unfortunately, she was side character who wasn’t in the book nearly enough to balance the feeling of ick the other characters ooze.

As horrible as the characters all are, the main character is the absolute worst. Her internal dialogue is filled with scathing insults of her “friends,” she starts fights, frequently thinks about ways she can make people mad, and is flat-out horrible. One line in the book reads, “Nah, she wouldn’t kill herself. No way. She’d find some other way to get revenge.” How flipping awful is that? I think that line was the breaking point for me. I can’t stand when books imply suicide-as-revenge. That trope needs to go. I kept reading in the hope that one of the characters would grow a moral compass, but it never fully happened.

In this book, a group of privileged, bored teens take turns breaking into each other’s houses on a dare. They steal from their rich parents and get a rush out of it. Eventually, that starts to bore them too, so they decide to steal from someone outside their clique. That leads to murder, and suddenly anyone in the group could be next. The final motive felt a little forced to me. I couldn’t figure out what the impetus was, everything switched up so quickly.

I will say that the author’s idea was an interesting one. It just really didn’t work for me. As much as I can understand why this book might be enjoyable for many people, there were too many things that rankled at me. I won’t go out of my way to read anything else by this author, although I wish her the best of luck with this book and her writing career.