Monday, August 13, 2018

Bellewether Brings American and Canadian History to Life

Susanna Kearsley
Sourcebooks Landmark
August 7, 2018

Bellewether is told in three voices, those of Charlotte (Charley) Van Hoek in the present day, and Lydia Wilde and Jean-Philippe De Sabran in 1759. Charley has been hired to spearhead a historical renovation of the Wilde House on Long Island, Lydia's home, with plans to open it as a museum. The Bellewether of the title is the name of the ship captained by renowned (fictional) Revolutionary War hero, Benjamin Wilde, Lydia's brother. The French and Indian War is raging when Zebulon Wilde is called upon to billet two French soldiers in his home who are waiting for a prisoner exchange. This is a problem, as Lydia's fiance was killed by the French in battle, and her brother, Joseph, returned from the war significantly changed. Legend has it that Lydia and Jean-Philippe fell in love, and Joseph murdered Jean-Philippe. Lydia then walked into the waters of Long Island Sound and drowned herself. It's said that the French soldier haunts the woods surrounding Wilde House. Charley herself has a history of sorts with the area. Her father fled to Canada to avoid the Vietnam War draft and has never reconciled with his Long Island family. The only family member still remaining is Charley's grandmother, whom she has never met.

I am a fan of Susanna Kearsley's work, which is well-researched in any period she chooses. She has a light hand with characters, both fictional and historical that brings the period to life. I began Bellewether knowing next to nothing about the French and Indian War and its causes and consequences. I now see that the seeds of the American Revolution were already planted and growing 15 years before it began. Issues such as taxation, the "pressing" of men into service in the British Navy and unfair trade practices all are chafing the colonists. Also, the issue that we in America cannot reconcile; slavery.

Kearsley mixes two quiet love stories with a touch of a ghost and history to make an absorbing read. Some might question the love story of Lydia and Jean-Philippe because they were hampered by language and did not often speak with each other. I think they did their speaking through their actions, quite often a better indicator of character than mere words. I can't say that Bellewether rises quite to the level of The Winter Sea and A Desperate Fortune, my personal favorites, but it is still an absorbing read that I am happy to recommend.

Thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.  


Saturday, August 11, 2018

Times are Changing in Gilded Age Newport

A Gilded Newport Mystery
Alyssa Maxwell
Kensington Books
July 31, 2018

When we last saw Emma Cross she was excitedly heading off to New York for a new job at The New York Herald. The owner, James Bennett, had more or less promised her more substantial reporting assignments, but instead, she has been given the same old Society News that so frustrated her in Newport. While it was pleasant living with her well-heeled Vanderbilt relations, she missed her home and family in Newport. She has a decision to make and is seriously considering returning home for good.

Emma still has her entree to the "400" events in Newport, so the Herald sends her to cover the society debut of Cleo Cooper-Smith. Mrs. Ogden Goelet, the widowed owner of Ochre Court, promised Cleo's mother, also deceased, a perfect launch into society thereby ensuring a suitable (and monied) marriage. Emma, on the other hand, is on the trail of Silas Griggson, who will be in attendance. Griggson is a wealthy real estate developer in New York whose tenement building collapsed, killing many inside. Griggson escaped taking responsibility for the collapse, but Emma thinks he is responsible by using shoddy materials and workmanship. Emma aims to prove his culpability but is sidetracked by a bizarre death at the debut ball. Could Griggson also be responsible for that death?

The Gilded Newport Mysteries are well- researched and bring to life the manners and mores of the late 1890's. Even the notorious Five Points Gang of New York plays a part in Murder at Ochre Court, and Emma has an encounter with the famous Nellie Bly, a woman who made a successful career in journalism. Emma wants to emulate Bly but is drawn to two different men with roots as deep in Newport as her own.

Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Friday, August 10, 2018

Bloody, Violent and Frequently Hilarious

Dorina Basarab # 4
Karen Chance
Berkeley Books
July 31,2018

I have a few favorite urban fantasy series (Jane Yellowrock, Mercy Thompson, Ilona Andrews' Magic series) all featuring kick-ass heroines with hearts of gold and strong moral centers. Dorina (Dory) Basarab ranks among the favorites, but there has been a six-year wait for this fourth in the series. Dory Basarab is the half-human, half-vampire daughter of Mircea Basarab, a leading figure in Chance's Cassandra Palmer series. Mircea is an influential and charming member of the Vampire Senate with often opaque motivations and limited likability. As a dhampir, Dory is hated and feared by vampires in general, since she has the strength, speed, and ability to kill them, and doesn't mind doing so if they are causing trouble with the Senate or with the non-supernatural "norms." That makes her useful to the Senate and even catapults her into a Senate seat in preparation for a looming supernatural war.  In previous books, we learned that Mircea used his mental powers to "wall off" the more violent side of Dory when she was a child. His motivations for that become more clear in the progress of Shadow's Bane. Now those walls are breaking down, and Dory is afraid that the other side, "Dorina," will take over and create a bloodbath. She has gotten out before in her roughly 500-year life, with hideous results.

One of the hallmarks of Karen Chance's two series is non-stop action and Shadow's Bane is no exception. It hits the ground running as Dory is part of a special operation on smuggling from Fairie that morphs into an anti-slavery activity. Someone is enslaving Dark Fey, forcing them into fights to the death and even worse. A relative of Dory's Troll friend, Olga, has been taken, so Dory sets out to find him...if he is even alive. High-speed car and truck chases, extremely violent, bloody, and frequently hilarious battles ensue. Complicating everything is Dory's maturing relationship with the gorgeous vampire, Louis-Cesare. Dory can't believe anything can come of it except heartbreak and further isolation, for both of them. Shadow's Bane brings to an end this part of the story arc, with more to come. Hopefully, it will not take another six years for number five! I do not recommend reading Shadow's Bane as a stand-alone.

Thanks to Berkeley Books and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

All around the Town

Peg Cochran
Random House Alibi
July 31, 2018

Elizabeth Adams is 22, a graduate of Wellesley, and made her Society Debut at the Waldorf. Her cautious father managed to keep the family money mostly intact, so they haven't suffered as others have in the Great Depression.  She also aspires to be a professional photographer and has taken a job at the NY Trumpet. So far, she has been relegated to "girl Friday" duties for the snooty Society Editor. No one at the paper knows about her background, and she hasn't told her friends. Her mother is horrified and her distant father, bemused. Things start to change when the scruffy veteran reporter, Kaminsky, asks if she knows how to use a camera. He needs a photographer to cover the coming-out ball for Gloria DeWitt, the "it-girl" debutante of 1938. When a murder takes place at the ball, Elizabeth is in the thick of things. Gloria DeWitt is a suspect, and due to an unfortunate photograph Elizabeth took, she threatens to have Elizabeth ostracized in society. Elizabeth may want a different life but is not ready to lose her friends.

Kaminsky likes Elizabeth's photos and attitude, taking her under his wing and even giving her a nickname, "Biz." Biz may have lived in Manhattan all her life, but the story takes her into places she has never seen, from Mulberry Street to the Aqueduct Racecourse, and into seamier areas of the city. She visits long-forgotten establishments like Horn and Hardart and even tastes her first Italian food, courtesy of handsome police detective, Sal Marino. Biz is naive but approaches everything with an open heart and mind. No doubt her childhood case of polio contributed to her attitude. She escaped with only a slight limp but made friends of all backgrounds during her extended hospitalization. Biz knows what is really important in life, making her a very likable heroine.

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Alibi for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, July 30, 2018

Last Call at Mac's Bar?

LAST CALL (Mac's Bar Mystery # 6)
Allyson K. Abbott
Kensington Books
July 31, 2018

Mac Dalton is using her unusual talents as a consultant to the Milwaukee Police Department. After much skepticism, the police are grudgingly convinced that she can be of help to them in their investigations. Mac has a neurological condition called synesthesia; she perceives sights, sounds, and smells differently from most people. For example, she "tastes" the sound of detective and significant other, Duncan Albright's voice as the flavor of dark chocolate. Mac has helped him with investigations, but never with department approval. Mac is still actively managing and living above the bar left to her by her father but is glad to use her condition to help others. Synesthesia has never been easy to cope with, especially as a child. Her regular bar patrons, members of the "Capone Club," a group of crime enthusiasts, have always encouraged her to use her abilities.

Her first day on the job calls Duncan and Mac to the scene of a shooting, that of a somewhat shady businessman. Mac's feels that something is going on in the house that isn't visible to the eye and her perceptions lead her to a hidden room. Inside, they find a little girl, one who appears to live there. There are no signs of abuse, but the girl is non-verbal. Mac's interactions with the girl indicate that she is autistic and might possibly be a fellow synesthete. Other signs at the scene suggest that Mal Reynolds, a friend, and an undercover cop was at the shooting, but where is he now? Mal was undercover investigating a construction company; one that the dead man was also working for.

Last Call feels like the final book in the Mac's Bar series. I have enjoyed most of the books, primarily for the portrayal of Mac's condition. It's a condition I was only vaguely aware of, and it's a fascinating one; one that I am happy to not have. Mack barely escaped being institutionalized as a child because her widower father refused to let that happen. Mac's affinity for the little girl is entirely understandable in that context. However, I have always had difficulty keeping the multiple ongoing characters distinguished and even more were introduced in this book. It is time to bring the series to an end, and Last Call wraps it up well.

Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3 Stars

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Any sort of evil can occur in an English village

A Beryl and Edwina Mystery #1
Jessica Ellicott
Kensington Books, Recorded Books
October 31st, 2017

It's 1920 in England, the Great War is over, but it's devastating effects are still widespread and deeply felt. Beryl Helliwell, much-married and divorced aviatrix and adventurer has returned from her latest headline-grabbing escapade but is feeling at loose ends. While perusing the newspaper, she discovers an advertisement for a lodger in the home of Edwina Davenport in the quiet village of Walmsley Parva. Beryl may be an American, but she went to boarding school in England, and Edwina was her dearest friend. Beryl knows that nothing other than dire financial emergency would induce the spinster Edwina to place such an advertisement. It's Beryl to the rescue in her flashy red touring car. Besides, a bucolic village might be just the place for a rest. As all devotees of Miss Marple know, just about any evil can happen in an English village.

Edwina's finances are as dire as Beryl suspected but still worse is the fact that the entire village knows it. The family home is deteriorating, she has had to let her already minimal help go except for an aging gardener, and she owes money to all the village shops. Beryl's solution is to settle Edwina's accounts and along the way spread the rumor that both she and Edwina are agents of the crown to the worst gossip in the village. This wacky tale backfires, however, when Edwina is attacked while out walking her dog. Who could have swallowed the wild tale whole and is afraid of what Edwina might know? Edwina thinks that it may be connected to the disappearance of a "Land Girl" working on a neighboring estate during the war. The local constable wrote it off as female flightiness, but Edwina pressed the issue as long as she could. The young woman in question had never shown any signs of irresponsibility. Bodies and suspects begin to pile up, with more possible motives than can be counted.

Murder in an English Village is a delightful and often humorous cozy mystery. Edwina and Beryl are opposites in so many ways but still fast friends who complement each other. Well-grounded in historical fact, the novel takes a look at the many changes in social mores occurring at the time and lingering class-based prejudices. Barbara Rosenblat narrates the story with her mostly seamless switching between Beryl's American and Edwina's British voices. I am looking forward to more of the adventures of these ladies of a "certain age." 

RATING- 4.5 Stars

The Course of True Love....

The Holley Sisters of Thornthwaite # 3
Kate Hewitt
Tule Publishing
July 16, 2018

Rachel Holley, one of four vicar's daughters in the village of Thornthwaite has always dreamed of the perfect wedding followed by the perfect life with lots of kids, a big home, and a dog. All that seems to be coming true until the night before the wedding, when her fiance, Dan, calls it off. Dan doesn't think that she really loves him. Rachel finds herself almost penniless after the wedding expenses, heartbroken, and soon to be homeless because her parents are moving to China to do mission work. Rachel is blindsided by it all, but somehow, her sisters and parents are not all that surprised. Rachel and her youngest sister, the footloose Miriam need to find a flat right away. Rachel finds one above the village's "rougher" pub, The Bell. The landlord, Sam West, is undeniably attractive, but more than a little taciturn and forbidding. As Rachel gets to know him better and sees him working hard at the pub and trying to raise his challenging nephew, Nathan, she sees him in a very different light. Rachel is Nathan's primary school teacher and becomes involved in his home care. Nathan has problems that need to be addressed clinically, but Sam is resistant for some reason.

I was not aware that A Vicarage Wedding is third in a projected four-book series but Kate Hewitt manages to paint a picture of the whole Holley family in a few words. I got to know them all without having to read the previous two books. I will be reading them, however, very soon. Rachel's journey to a better understanding of herself and what true love looks and feels like made for a most enjoyable afternoon and evening's read. Thanks to NetGalley and Tule Publishing for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars