Friday 23 July 2021

#CBR13 Books 16-21: "Mystic Bayou series" by Molly Harper

CBR13 Bingo: Home (so many of the various characters come from very unstable family backgrounds and are only too happy to settle in Mystic Bayou, having finally find somewhere they can properly call home)

This is going to be a bulk review for the first six stories (four novels, two novellas) in the Mystic Bayou paranormal romance series by Molly Harper. I listened to all the books in audio, as they are available as part of the Audible Plus catalogue. Considering that I already pay quite a lot for that one credit a month, you'd best believe I jumped at the chance of getting all these extra audiobooks as a bonus. I also just discovered that there is a new book in the series, that was released earlier this week, so I know what one of my next listens is going to be.

I'll write a short plot summary of each of the stories, then do a sort of joint review of the series as a whole. 

Every story in the series is narrated by the same people, Jonathan Davis and Amanda Ronconi. This is a series of interconnected stories, all set in the same town, but starring different couples in each new installment. While at first, I thought it might be strange, the narrators mostly manage the various roles really well, different accents and personalities of the various characters included. It also means that the continuity throughout the series, where the protagonists from earlier books pretty much make up the core supporting cast. I was especially fond of the portrayal of the town's large and burly bear shifter mayor, and glad his accent and voice remained consistent throughout.

How to Date Your Dragon
Page count: 248 pages
Audio book length: 6 hrs 24 mins
Rating: 4 stars

Doctor Jillian Ramsey is preparing for her first field assignment in South America for the League of Interspecies Cooperation (a secret government body making sure that the existence of any and all supernatural creatures stays hidden from humanity in general) when she is suddenly told she's being sent to a small town in Louisiana instead. Mystic Bayou is a small town where the residents mostly keep to themselves, but it's very unusual in that supernatural creatures and humans live openly side by side without any major conflicts and even frequently inter-marry. The League knows full well that the truth about the supernatural will come out eventually, and want Jillian to write a research report on what exactly works and how the locals interact with one another, to use as a guide when some supernatural finally get themselves caught on camera in such a way that the wider world figures out that all the things that go bump in the night also live among them. 

Having prepared to only study one tribe of South American supernaturals, Jillian feels a bit unprepared to meet a small town full of all kinds of beings, but since she thrives on research and loves observing new places and meeting new people. She's rather overwhelmed by the hearty welcome she gets from the outgoing and very loud mayor, Zed Barron, a bear shifter, but rather more intrigued by his best friend, the more guarded and almost hostile sheriff, Bael Boone. She also can't figure out what kind of supernatural being Bael is (it's terribly rude to ask a supernatural about this), to the amusement of Zed and many other of the townsfolk (no points for guessing what he actually is, considering the title of the book).

Part of the reason there are so many supernaturals in Mystic Bayou and the surrounding area is a mysterious rift in the swamp, which seems to call to them and draw them towards the area. Recently, however, the rift seems to be changing, growing bigger and more overpowering. It also seems to not only cause supernatural babies to be born in fully human families, but also change the DNA of humans in the area, so they suddenly become supernatural creatures. As well as writing her report, Jillian tries to figure out what in the world could be causing this, by interviewing as many of the affected individuals as possible. 

While Jillian is pretty much adopted by Zed and his formidable Mama, it's Bael she keeps feeling drawn towards. While he keeps her at a distance initially, it's clear that the attraction is mutual, and once dead bodies start appearing among several of the people Jillian has been interviewing, Bael gets mighty protective, while also trying to figure out what links the serial killings to the anthropologist. 

Love and Other Wild Things 
Page count: 300 pages
Audio book length: 6 hrs 41 mins
Rating: 4 stars

Energy witch Danica "Dani" Teal is sent by the League to investigate the strange energy rift in Mystic Bayou that seems to keep expanding and is causing more supernatural babies to be born to regular humans, not to mention humans transforming into various shifters unexpectedly. She can see and manipulate energy and needs the commission she'll earn on the job to help pay off the debts on her grandparents' farm. Dani's irresponsible and shiftless father tricked her vulnerable grandmother into taking up loans at multiple banks, before running off somewhere, possibly India. Dani's grandfather, cousin, and herself didn't discover the truth until after her grandmother's death.

Dani easily strikes up a friendship with Jillian and has instant chemistry with the Mystic Bayou mayor, the large and enthusiastic bear-shifter Zed. Because of Dani's complicated past and family history, she really isn't looking for anything permanent, she just wants to do her job for the League and move on. Yet when she starts properly examining the energy flowing from the rift, she discovers that someone or something seems to be manipulating the strange portal, trying to open it wider and undoing all the work Dani puts in. This individual seems to also want to get Dani out of the way. Luckily, Zed isn't about to let anything harm the woman he's fallen for.  

Even Tree Nymphs Get the Blues
Page count: 106 pages
Audio book length: 3 hrs 3 mins
Rating: 3 stars

Ingrid Asher is a solitary Norwegian tree nymph intent on setting up her own dairy and ice cream production in the little town of Mystic Bayou. Having a very negative romantic encounter in her past, which she and her tree barely survived, she certainly isn't looking for romance. 

Rob Aspern, head of the League of Interspecies Cooperation's data science department is pretty literally stunned when he first encounters the beautiful Ingrid (she can control the trees in her vicinity and uses them well when it comes to defending her territory). He absolutely respects her need for privacy and independence, but they keep running into one another and their chemistry is undeniable. Encouraged by the enthusiastic female members of the League who have decided to take Ingrid under their wing, he tries to figure out why she's quite so reserved and uses his considerable intelligence to lay a plan to woo her.

Selkies are a Girl's Best Friend
Page count: 218 pages
Audio book length: 6 hrs 33 mins
Rating: 4 stars

Sonja Fong is human, but there are many in the League of Interspecies Cooperation who nevertheless feel that her abilities to plan, organise and procure unusual items is nothing less than uncanny, possibly supernatural. As the League's operations in Mystic Bayou are expanding, Sonja accepts a job as director of the League's research center, in part so she can be closer to her BFF, Dr. Jillian Ramsay. 

Sonja's love interest is the long-sought-after town doctor, who while new in the job, is actually a previous resident of Mystic Bayou. Will Carmody, a selkie or seal shifter, grew up in town and was very close with both Mayor Zed and Sheriff Bael, but left town several decades ago (shifters live a loong time and don't noticeably age much once they reach adulthood) and has worked in big cities like Seattle. He's sick of hiding his supernatural side and is happy to accept the job as the much-needed town doctor. 

While Sonja and Will flirt and their romance develops, the big energy rift that has been causing trouble in the Bayou is also becoming more dangerous. The rift appears to be unraveling, and Sonja, Will, and their friends and family have to work to try to save the town.

Always Be My Banshee
Page count: 226 pages
Audio book length: 7 hrs 11 mins
Rating: 3.5 stars

Cordelia Canton doesn't really do field assignments for the League of Interspecies Cooperation, she's much more used to working in the archives and keeping out of sight. She's a touch-know psychic and her abilities are sorely needed in Mystic Bayou to figure out the origins of and use for a mysterious artifact that has been pulled out of the strange and chaotic energy rift there. As merely being in the presence of the artifact has led other supernatural beings to end up in the hospital, Cordelia needs to be careful as she examines and tries to solve the mystery of the artifact.

Working with her is Brendan O'Connor, a male banshee, who is there to make sure the artifact doesn't harm Cordelia or anyone else. They discover that the artifact is, in fact, sentient and has an agenda of its own, but trying to communicate with it is difficult, and it soon becomes clear that someone is intent on stealing the box and won't let a psychic or a banshee stand in the way of their success. 

One Fine Fae
Audio book length: 3 hrs 10 mins
Rating: 3 stars

Another novella-length story, this book is as of yet only available in audio format, but like the rest of the series can be accessed for free if you have an Audible Plus subscription (which I do). 

Charlotte McBee is a fairy and a supernatural midwife and has come to Mystic Bayou because it is nearly time for Dr Jillian Ramsay, wife of sheriff Bael Boone to give birth, and as far as records show, there has never been a phoenix/dragon baby before now. Hence the pregnancy and impending birth can definitely be classified as unusual and challenging, but Charlotte isn't particularly worried. She's sure she can get the mother through the ordeal, she just has to hope the dragon shifter father doesn't get so stressed he eats her before the baby is safely delivered.

Charlotte is quickly smitten by Leonard, Sonja Fong's incredibly clumsy executive assistant. Charlotte, being used to bestowing benevolent fairy gifts on the babies she delivers, can recognise the victim of a fairy curse when she sees one, and becomes determined to help Leonard break his, even if he chooses that he doesn't want to be in a relationship with her (due to his family being cursed for generations, he's naturally rather wary of fairies).

What I thought of the series:
Considering the difficulties I've had finding time and motivation to read this past year, finding a fun and light-hearted audiobook series I could pretty much glom was a true blessing. These books are pretty much pure fluff and the relatively short length of each book (even shorter for the novellas) didn't make any of the listens a major commitment. The fact that I always listen at x1.5 speed helps with that. 

I think the early books in the series were stronger and more enjoyable than the later ones, possibly because there was more establishing world-building. By Always Be My Banshee, some of the obligatory peril that the characters had to experience as part of finding their HEA seemed a little bit forced. 

As I mentioned in my introduction, the series has the same narrators for each book, but they do an excellent job at embodying the various characters and ensure that previously established characters in the series also feel and sound the same. With each new story, the cast of returning supporting characters gets bigger, with the heroines from the first books, Jillian and Dani, making a concerted effort to adopt each new lonely soul in the Bayou into their circle of friends. The focus on friendship and found family is absolutely one of the things that won me over with this series. 

I get the impression that the fictional version of the Southern states of the USA is about as accurate as that portrayed in the Sookie Stackhouse books (i.e. a lot of liberties taken). With the exception of the occasional thrown-in Scandinavian word (all of them pronounced atrociously), I can't really speak much for the various accents or dialects used. Zed felt like he was possibly a little bit too much of a parody Cajun, but he's also one of my favourite supporting characters and a real darling, so I'm not going to complain too much. 

As we know, just as any body can be a beach body as long as it appears on a beach, any book you choose to read on a beach can be a beach read. Likewise, if you choose to read a book in the summer, it becomes a summer read, no matter what marketing tells you. However, these books really are excellent brain breaks and very frothy, entertaining, and none too serious reads, excellent for any time you need some lighter fare to get you through life. If you're looking for some fun paranormals and have access to Audible Plus, you could do a lot worse. 

Judging the books by their covers: Considering the first book was published in 2018 and the last novella I've reviewed here came out in late 2020, there's been quite a change in cover design over the course of the series. My least favourite of the lot is probably Love and Other Wild Things, where the male model looks like he's trying to attack someone, and the female model (neither of which look anything like how the characters in the book are described) looks constipated or gassy. Always Be My Banshee is also pretty bad, with a dude badly photo-shopped in front of some trees. If I have to choose a favourite (not wild on any of them, to be honest), it would be Selkies are a Girl's Best Friend, where the cover model at least looks to be of Asian descent and there isn't an awkward clinch or bad photo-shopping involved. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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