books

Dahlia Donovan

Books

Grasmere Cottage Mystery: Dead in the Garden (2018), Dead in the Pond (2018), Dead in the Shop (2018)

London Podcast Mystery: Cosplay Killer (2020)

Romance

Sin Bin: After the Scrum (2014), Sin Bin Series: Box Set (2020)


Grasmere Cottage Mystery


Dead in the Garden (2018)

Dead in the GardenThis is a cozy mystery, set in England, and is both adorable and has an amazingly diverse cast of characters.

Valor and Bishan are shocked and distressed to discover a dead body in their yard.

But it becomes even more distressing when Bishan is arrested for the murder.

Bishan is autistic, and that is a major issue in the story, because jail is even harder for Bish to handle than for someone who isn’t neruodiverse. But to be clear, Bishan’s autism is why Valor is willing to take matters into his own hands to get him out of jail, but it is not how Bishan is defined in the story. It’s a trait, not a personality.

Valor, is estranged from his family, and has made his way on his own since he was disinherited.

It seemed being gay and dating an Anglo-Indian had been one step too far for the son of an earl. Valor Tarquin Scott had been struck from the family; his father, mother, and elder brother hadn’t spoken to him in over a decade, not since a year after his graduation from Harrow.

By contrast, the Tambolis had embraced both their son and his boyfriend. Valor had been relieved. He didn’t honestly know how they would’ve gotten through without their support.

It’s a very sweet story (despite the murder) and although it was short and not particularly deep, it was a cute escape from the real world.

Publisher: Hot Tree Publishing
Rating: 7/10

Re-Read: March 2021
Rating: 8.5 10

Dead in the Pond (2018)

Dead in the PondThe first book ended with Valor and Bishan learning their beloved housemaster from Harrow–and a note that book two was going to end on a cliffhanger.

So I bought book two AND book three, because I wasn’t going to be messing around when cliff hangers are involved.

At one point towards the end of this book, my husband walked over to me and I just put my hand up, palm out, and ignored whatever it was he wanted, because HOLY CATS. CLIFFHANGER.

This book is told mostly from Bishan’s point of view, which is really very interesting, since Bishan doesn’t see things the way most of us do.

Spurling held the bag up for the second time. “Do you know what my nan will do to me if I don’t deliver this to you?”

“No. What?” Bishan asked seriously.

Spurling stared at him.

“Oh, a joke.” Bishan kicked himself mentally for not catching it.

and

The trouble with the subtle approach was Bishan didn’t read tone or body language at all. He couldn’t. Sunesh had dedicated almost an entire year to try to teach him— and it ended with him finally dumping a tub of yoghurt over his brother’s head in frustration.

Although this is a cozy, there is a good deal of murder in this series, and what Valor has to deal with from his family is pretty rough, although much of it is him telling us how unpleasant his discussions are, rather than having to read racist, homophobic rants.

There’s an interesting bit that goes through all three books, about how Val and Bish feel about marriage.

“You hate marriage.”

“I dislike my parents’ idea of it.” Valor lifted one of the rings between two of his fingers. “Hate is such a strong word.”

“You said you did.” Bishan remembered the conversation perfectly. “Why’ve you changed your mind?”

“I love you.”

“Did you not love me before?” Bishan frowned at their clasped fingers.

It’s odd to me, how different people view marriage.

I am offended by people who get married and divorced and married and divorced rather than by people who prefer a committed relationship without marriage. But the story also clearly makes the point of the problems that can arise when partners don’t have some kind of legal documents.

One of the scenes I really loved was when Bish and Val argued.

That is a genius method of argument.

And as supposed, I finished the second book and IMMEDIATELY started the third. And then stayed up entirely too late just to make sure that things were going to at least be mostly alright. But I really do hate cliffhanger endings.

Publisher: Hot Tree Publishing
Rating: 7/10

Re-Read: March 2021
Rating: 8.5 10

Dead in the Shop (2018)

Dead in the ShopValor and Bishan are struggling after the events of the last book. Someone is trying to kill them–has killed people around them–and they don’t understand why.

And that’s one of the interesting things about this story–that there isn’t really a good why. Don’t get me wrong, the killer is caught and explains why things happened, but inveterate mystery readers are used to complicated reasons as to why the killer acts as they do (with lots of monologing) but here we know the reason, but it’s … unsatisfactory. NOT in a bad story kind of way, but in a real life kind of way, which meant that was unsatisfactory as it was, it was also very good. (In the same way that some of the good police procedurals I read end with the bad guy getting off on a technicality, or because of who they know. That’s the way life works sometimes, and as hard of an ending that is, it’s also quite often how life goes.

Anyway.

More terrible things happen, but the killer is finally discovered and caught, and our two heroes finally get to live happy ever after, even if it takes them awahile and a lot of work and therapy.

And Valor also works on his relationship with his sister.

“I am sorry I insulted your cottage.”

Valor hopped off the counter and turned slightly to face her. “You didn’t. The cottage doesn’t have feelings. You insulted my choices. I know you’re trying, Penny, but luxury has gifted you a twisted view of the rest of the world.”

Also, I want friends with whom I can go on a pudding crawl with.

Pudding crawls had become one of their traditions after one of their many Olivers had given up drinking. They’d supported him through Alcoholics Anonymous, and decided to create a way to celebrate without alcohol. Instead of reunions spent in one pub after the other, they gorged on sweets instead.

So the story ends well, but not without work on the part of the characters. And each book was better than the previous, although really this could / should have been a single book of novel length rather than three novellas. But I get why they were published and marketed that way. So I’m not too angry.

Publisher: Hot Tree Publishing
Rating: 8/10

Re-Read: March 2021
Rating: 8.5 10

 

London Podcast Mystery
 

Cosplay Killer (2020)

Cosplay KillerOsian Garey used to be a paramedic but now has a podcast. His partner and best friend from childhood, Dannel Ortea, is a fireman. Unfortunately, Dannel is being forced to accept that he probably cannot go on being a firefighter.

It wasn’t the work itself. Or not only the daily grind of potentially life-threatening situations. The constant racket at the station between sirens, co-workers, and engine noises combined with dealing with people non-stop made life hell. He wondered how many years had been knocked off his life from the damage of the high-stress environment.

And Osian is still struggling with an accident a worked the year before, where a young woman they tried to save ended up dying.

No matter how many times his counsellor told him that he’d done his best and circumstances had been out of his control, Osian knew it hadn’t been enough. A young woman had died in his care.

This is similar in some ways to the Grasmere Cottage Mystery, in that one of the leads is autistic, although one better able to function in “normal” society, even if trying to do so is slowly destroying him.

Both characters are unabashed geeks, and love cosplay, even if it’s hard for Danny, it’s not quite as difficult as it could be.

The best thing about a convention was being able to put a helmet on— and have people ignore him. He got fist bumps and high fives.

The characters were really lovely, and I do love all the rep in this story–especially how neither sexuality or skin color is one of the “issues” that has to be overcome. It’s just who they are, and the mystery is the focus of the story. (Let me be completely clear–I love that this world is accepting of them as they are, and they don’t have to battle society while trying to solve a murder. If only real society were like this.)

There is another book coming in this series, and I think I’d like to read it.

Publisher : Hot Tree Publishing
Rating: 8/10


Sin Bin

After the Scrum (2014)

Caddock Stanford lost his brother, lost his place on the national rugby team, and became the parent to his young nephew. So he wants a place to start over, to make a new life for himself and Devlin.

“Looe’s a brilliant place for starting fresh. Oh, and Ruth makes the best custard tarts. Don’t eat them on Fridays.”

“Why?”

“Her husband, Stevie, makes them and he’s rubbish at it.”

Francis Keen came back to Looe.

A few drunks outside of a gay club in Vauxhall had taught him a rather bitter lesson about the dangers of alcohol and being out of the closet. They’d cornered him in an alley and beaten him rather badly.

He’s actually quite happy being back in Looe, where he has an interior design business, friends, and grandmother who loved and needs him (even if she can be a bit overbearing).

This story set set before the Sin Bin series, and we get to meet several of the characters from that series.

It’s sweet and enjoyable and Devlin is adorable–as well as the perfect reason for Caddock to move to a now town to rebuild himself and be in a good place for his nephew.

Publisher : Hot Tree Publishing
Rating: 8/10

Sin Bin Series: Box Set (2020)

Sin Bin SeriesThis is seven stories (and three short stories) around a group of former rugby players and friends and the men they fall in love with.

The Wanderer (2017)
The Caretaker (2017)
The Botanist (2017)
The Royal Marine (2017)
The Unexpected Santa (2017)
The Lion Tamer (2018)
Haka Ever After (2018)

Let me be clear that these are not seven short stories, but five books and two novellas, so the whole thing comes in at 974 pages.

The book opens with The Wanderer (2017), which is the story of BC–the retired rugby player–and Graham, a travel photographer. Graham has spent his entire adult life avoiding serious relationships, wanting only to be free to travel and go where he pleases. He enjoys his time with BC, but doesn’t expect anything more–until life unexpectedly changes everything.

Non est ad astra mollis e terris via.
There is no easy way from earth to the stars.

The Caretaker (2017) features Taine, the Samoan-Scottish rugby player, and Freddy, the oncology Nurse Practitioner with an almost disturbing fondness for cheese.

After tooling around the various stalls, Freddie dragged him to the Cheese Museum. Who has a museum dedicated to cheese? And who visits it? Apparently me.

This was one of my favorite stories, because I adored both Freddy and Taine, and I also liked that the story never went where I was expecting it too. And that Taine was able to figure out what Freddy needed to help him cope with the stress and strain of his job.

Also, I adored Taine’s adopted father.

“Are you travelling somewhere? Off to Scotland to see your priest?”

“Amsterdam, actually. Though I’m not sure how to feel about Father Wilson sounding like a tawdry port of call.”

Freddy and Taine are just lovely together.

The Botanist (2017) is a shorter novella, about Wyatt, an American SEAL, and the botanist his helps to rescue.

This story takes place over (I think) seven years, starting with the rescue of Aled, through Hamish and Wyatt trying to draw the young man out after he closes himself off from the world in fear, to the long very slow courtship between Wyatt and Aled and Wyatt’s retirement from the Navy and starting his security business with Hamish.

I was also amused the number of Britishisms the American used. It’s fascinating the terms that we think of as being just English but that are in fact distinctly British or American.

The Royal Marine (2017) is the story of Hamish and Akash. Hamish is Wyatt’s partner in the security business, and Akash is a baker in Cardiff who is friends with Francis and Freddy and Graham. We’re also introduced to the twins, who work in Akash’s bakery and become a part of the extended family. (They appear prominently in the next two stories as well.)

Hamish tried to assure them if their stepdad had been responsible, then he would be punished for it. The look they sent him spoke of a lengthy history of similar assurances eventually coming to nothing.

Like the previous two stories, I enjoyed that the story took unexpected turns.

We also see Scottie, BC and Taine’s teammate starting to really go off the rails.

The Unexpected Santa (2017) is a short story that features Gray, a retired drill sergeant, Scottie (who is well off the rails now), and the twins.

For all that he is intimidating and brusque, it’s clear Gray is actually a good human, even if he refuses to take shit from anyone.

“You two doing all right?” Gray crouched down by their table to avoid towering over them. He saved intimidation by looming for those who deserved it.

The Lion Tamer (2018) is finally Scottie’s story, and you come into it wondering precisely how Scottie is going to be redeemed–and if you even care if he is.

Gray’s involvement with the Sin Bin’s new restaurant had been kept a secret to ensure maximum amusement for all of them when Scottie found out.

Let me be clear: This is a BDSM story. But it’s not BDSM that “fixes” Scottie. It is, however, a way he learns to deal with some of his anger and his rage.

In some ways, it feels like this story is what the previous stories were building towards–slowly watching Scottie come apart, and then now watching him rebuild himself.

And it’s not easy. There is back-sliding and continued problems, but you eventually see why his friends put up with him for so long.

Haka Ever After (2018) is the final story, and it’s Taine and Freddy’s wedding. It’s quite sweet (all things considered) and a satisfying conclusion to the series (although there are some additional outtakes in this collection).

Publisher: Hot Tree Publishing
Rating: 8.5/10