Sunday, August 18, 2019

Action, Romance and Magic

A Hidden Legacy Novel # 4
Ilona Andrews
Avon Books
August 27, 2019

A lot has happened since the events of Wildfire, three years before the opening of Sapphire Flames. Nevada Baylor has stepped down as head of House Baylor and is in Spain with her husband, Conor Rogan and his mother. Catalina has stepped up to lead the house, even though that was nothing she ever wanted. When Augustine Montgomery contacts her to investigate the deaths of a woman and her daughter in a housefire, Catalina at first refuses the job. It smells like House warfare, and Catalina wants no part of it. But the victim's daughter who was not at home and therefore survived was a friend. The fact that Alessandro Segredo, Catalina's teenage crush is involved makes her even more reluctant.

What follows is the Andrews' signature blend of action, humor, and romance. A lot of stuff gets blown up, the body count is high, and Catalina is targeted by a very creepy mind-mage. It's a fun read with a well-built magical world and great characters. One of the more minor characters in previous novels steps to center stage, Since I don't entirely trust him, I'm looking forward to future developments. 

Thanks to Avon and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. I highly recommend the Hidden Legacy series and all of the Andrews' books.

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, August 12, 2019

Art Theft is Just a Part of this Heart-Pounding Thriller

Jamie Mason
Simon and Schuster/ Gallery
August 13, 2019

Carly Lidell is not your average fourteen-year-old. She survived an attack at her own front door and in the foyer from a local lowlife by fighting back and knocking out he attacker. The whole "thing," as Carly calls it was captured on video by the home security cameras and quickly went viral. Only the corner of a painting hanging in the foyer is visible, but the video is of great interest to several people. The picture is one of the works stolen, a minor one, in the notorious robbery at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. It seems that the painting has surfaced once before and in the process changed the lives of all involved. What could it be doing hanging in a suburban foyer? The players in this drama are Marcelline, John /Jonathan, Carly's stepfather, Owen Haig, and Roy Dorring. Four years earlier John had led Marcelline into a plan to sell the painting to an obscenely wealthy family rather than turn it into the FBI or the Museum. She nearly paid with her life and had to disappear. Owen was the agent for the family and has been obsessed with getting the art back ever since. Roy was just the sad-sack trying to make a buck, which is the entirety of his life. The viral video sets this group on a collision course. And Carly? She wants to know why her stepfather is so changed and acting so suspiciously since the "thing."

The Hidden Things is a fast-paced thriller with characters that are so fleshed out they jump off the page. Marcelline made a bad mistake and just wants her life back. John is a sociopath; Roy, a quintessential loser, and Owen can only be described as a "black hole" whose real motives are indecipherable to me. And Carly is bright, gifted, compassionate and could someday rule the world. I would give this novel an enthusiastic 5 stars, had it not bogged down a bit in the middle. Jamie Mason is a gifted storyteller with a sharp eye for characterization and pacing. I highly recommend The Hidden Things. Thanks to NetGalley and Gallery for an advance copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Halloween Shenanigans in Maine

Maine Clambake Mystery, # 7.5
Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis, Barbara Ross
Kensington Books
August 27, 2019

Every year on our Maine vacation I put aside at least one book set in Maine. One of this year's books is Haunted House Murder, a compilation of short works from three writers who have well-established series set in small-town Maine.

Leslie Meier's Haunted House Murder features Lucy Stone, part-time reporter and mom (now grandmom) in Tinker's Cove, Maine. A long-abandoned house, reputed to be haunted, has new occupants. Ty and Heather Moon. The Moons are unfriendly and eccentric, to say the least, but Lucy is occupied with having her grandchild visit for two months. She is delighted to have him but finding childcare more of a challenge than she remembers from raising her own four children. But when a child goes missing, Lucy's sleuthing instincts kick in.

Lee Hollis' Hayley Powell of Bar Harbor in Death by Haunted House also has eccentric new neighbors: a family who strongly resembles the Addams family. Hayley is willing to let well enough alone until a local realtor goes missing after a violent confrontation with the father of the new family, Damien Salinger. Hayley, with the help of her new puppy, finds the realtor's body but lots of people in Bar Harbor didn't like the victim.

The people of Busman's Cove are always looking for ways to extend the tourist season and this year have planned a Ghost Tour in Hallowed Out. Julia Snowden throws herself into participating, but she thinks that the ghosts of the town are much more imagined than real. But when an actor from New Jersey is murdered during a reenactment of a Prohibition-era incident and innocents are suspected, Julia finds herself in the thick of things.

Haunted House Murder is an entertaining compilation for Halloween. I was a little disappointed in the longest of the three, Haunted House Murder, which was heavy on Lucy's childcare woes. The other two shorts introduced me to two new amateur sleuths I plan to read more about in the future. Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3.5 Rounded up to 4

Monday, July 29, 2019

Gilded Age Murder in Newport

A Gilded Age Mystery Book 7
Alyssa Maxwell
July 30, 2019

It's Fall in Newport and time for the annual Harvest Festival. Reporter Emma Cross has returned to Newport after a year living and working in New York. She had hoped that she could break out of the mold of "society" reporting but found that was an impossibility. When her love interest, Derrick Andrews, offers her a chance to be the editor-in-chief of her old newspaper, she jumps at the chance. Things are not all rosy at The Messenger, however. As usual, she faces opposition from the male staffers and what appears to be outright sabotage. And, she finds a body on the beach, one strongly resembling her half-brother, Brady's long-missing father, Stuart Gale. Emma fears that the man's reappearance will send Brady into an emotional, and probably drunken tailspin. The breakdown of The Messenger's society reporter's carriage throws Emma back into her old role. Stuyvesant and Mamie Fish are having a ball for the Harvest Festival, at which the guest of honor is to be Prince Otto of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Of course, The Messenger must be there. A murder in bizarre circumstances at the ball calls for Emma's investigation with the assistance of the flamboyant and eccentric Mamie Fish.

The Gilded Age Mysteries is an exceptionally well-researched series, aided by the author's long association with Newport. I enjoy all the descriptions of fashions and social mores, and especially the characters themselves. Mamie and Stuyvesant Fish are precisely what the historical record describes, especially Mamie's penchant for outspoken behavior! This is a historical mystery series well worth reading, and I thank Kensington Books and for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3.5 rounded up to  4 Stars

Thursday, July 25, 2019

As Warming as a Cup of Tea by the Fire

Dove Pond Book 1
Karen Hawkins
Simon and Schuster/Gallery
July 30, 2019

The Book Charmer is the first book in a series set in a sleepy small town in North Carolina. Founded by the Dove family, the sisters of the family have had individual "gifts" throughout the generations that have benefited the town. Only two of the sisters in the still live there, Sarah Dove and her sister, Ava. Sarah is the bookworm of the family, and her gift allows her to pick the perfect book for any person, one that will help that person with a challenge or need. Sarah is the librarian, so it is a handy gift, indeed. Sarah's books actually "speak" to her, insistently at times.

All is not well in Dove Pond, however. The population is declining, businesses are leaving, and the town is a fiscal disaster. Sarah always thought that she would be the one to save the town in hard times, but when a newcomer, Eve Wheeler, arrives to take the job of Town Clerk, one of Sarah's books tells her that Eve is the one who will change things. Eve is very different from most of Dove Pond. Raised in the foster system, along with her sister Hannah, Eve is a hard-charging, successful, aloof woman who doesn't plan to be in Dove Pond long. Her sister, Hannah, has recently died, leaving her daughter Daisy for Eve to raise. The woman who took in Eve and saved her from a wrong path, Mama G, has Alzheimers Disease. Mama G grew up in Dove Pond and Eve hopes she will be more comfortable there. Sarah immediately tries to befriend Eve, but she is not interested as well as overwhelmed. The journey to friendship is rocky, but Eve learns just how powerful it can be. It does take a village, including the scarred Afghanistan Vet next door to save Eve, her little family and Dove Pond.

The Book Charmer is as cozy and warm as a blanket, a fireside and a cup of tea on a cold night. I enjoyed the town and its quirky characters, especially Mama G, who even amid her terrible disease provides an anchor for Eve and Daisy. I highly recommend it and look forward to the rest of the series. Many Thanks to NetGalley and Gallery for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING-5 Stars

Monday, July 22, 2019

Too Many Suspects, Too Many Coincidences

A Merriweather and Royston Mystery Book 2
Vivian Conroy
Crooked Lane Books
August 13, 2019

After the exhausting events of The Butterfly Conspiracy, amateur zoologists Merula Merriweather and Lord Raven Royston decide to recuperate in the quiet of Dartmoor. Raven has corresponded with a Mr. Oaks, another amateur who claims to have many specimens of interest. His valet, Bowsprit accompany Merula and Raven, and her maid, Lamb, mostly to lend an air of respectability. Upon arrival in the village of Cranley, they find it in an uproar over a missing village girl. Even worse, Mr. Oaks is a suspect in her disappearance, and the man himself is behaving oddly, to the point of raving at times. When the girl is found murdered in odd circumstances, Mr. Oaks is arrested.  Merula and Raven set out to prove him innocent.

I wanted to like Death Comes to Dartmoor much more than I did. There is a surplus of suspects who might have wanted Mr. Oaks out of the way, and I found it difficult to sort them. Railway speculators, shipwreckers, jealous suitors and the superstitious villagers themselves play a part. The second mystery is that of Merula's parentage, which I did find interesting, but ultimately frustrating in its lack of progress. Also frustrating is the sheer number of coincidences involved and the mystery of the girl's murder solved by setting a trap, which put the maid in danger.

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

RATING- 2 Stars

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Best Innkeeper Yet

Innkeeper Chronicles # 4
Ilona Andrews
July 16, 2019

Sweep of the Blade is the fourth installment of the Innkeeper Chronicles published in serial form on the husband and wife authors' blog in a (more or less) weekly basis. This is the first that I have read on the blog, even though I am a fan. I found myself looking forward to every Friday and being disappointed when life got in the way for the authors. Not that I would dream of complaining about a free look at the book! The newly re-edited edition, with the plus of some terrific illustrations, does not disappoint.

We first met Maud in Innkeeper # 3, One Fell Sweep. The daughter of Innkeepers, and sister to Dena and Klaus DeMille, Maud fell in love with a dashing Vampire knight, married him and departed to a faraway planet. Maud transformed herself into a perfect vampire wife and produced a daughter, Helen. Maud was a good fit since she was tough and skilled at martial arts but still undervalued because of her humanity. Everything falls apart when her husband, Melizard, turned out to be a jerk and tried to kill his own brother and overthrow his family. All three, even little Helen are exiled to Karhari, a dry wasteland full of vampire outlaws, Once there they hire out as mercenaries and eke out an existence, but Melizard once again betrays his employers and pays the ultimate price, right in front of Helen's eyes. A blood debt must be paid, and Maud spends the next months making sure that all those who killed Melizard die in their turn. When she has a chance to send a message to Dena, she seizes it and hunkers down in the hope the message arrives. Dena does get it and calls in a favor from Arland Krahr, Marshal of the House of Krahr, one of the most influential and wealthy vampire Houses. Arland falls in love with Maud almost immediately as they battle their way out of a sleazy vampire roadhouse and escape Karhari. Maud, however, doesn't want to have anything to do with vampires again. She is attracted and agrees to a visit to his homeworld, but not to his marriage proposal.

Sweep of the Blade has all of the intrigue and action for which the Andrews are known. I enjoy the idea of the earth as a neutral planet with inns and powerful Innkeepers providing a way station for other galactic beings. The battle scenes, the various creatures, all are vivid and make for an exciting mix. This book can be read on its own, but why miss the fun of the previous three? 

RATING- 5 Stars

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

A New Series and Character from Annelise Ryan

A Helping Hands Mystery #1
Annelise Ryan
Kensington Books
July 30, 2019

Needled to Death is a spin-off from Annelise Ryan's Mattie Winston series, featuring diminutive Hildy Schneider. Hildy is a hospital social worker, dedicated to her clients, and as a result of her painful upbringing in the foster system, has several psychological "tics" of her own. One of them is a mild case of kleptomania that kicks in when she is under stress. Hildy runs a grief therapy group at the Sorenson WI hospital where she works. When a new member shows up, saying that her son died recently in what the police called an overdose death. The woman swears it was murder. The woman triggers Hildy's memories of her own mother's unsolved murder when Hildy was only seven years old. From time to time, Hildy will take a look at the police files of her mother's case in the hope something will pop up that might reopen the case. Not only is Hildy sympathetic, but she also hopes that Bob Richmond of the Sorenson PD might help her. Hildy and Bob, who has been a regular character in the Mattie Winston series, begin to co-operate when Hildy points out some discrepancies. Bob also has his doubts about the death of the young man and finds Hildy interesting, maybe in a romantic way. Hildy hopes so at any rate! Hildy's golden retriever is a charming addition to the story, as well as Hildy's young neighbor, PJ.

While the humor in this new series is not as broad as in the Mattie Winston series, it is present. Annelise Ryan uses her medical knowledge as a real-life ER nurse as a plus for all her books. Needled to Death is a strong opening with a complex and likable, despite a tendency to be manipulative heroine and believable supporting characters. Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4Stars

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Libraries, Cats and Murder

Cat in the Stacks Mystery #11
Miranda James
Berkley Prime Crime
July 16, 2019

Widower Charlie Harris retired from his job in the Houston TX library system upon the death of his Aunt Dottie. He now works part-time as a librarian/archivist at his alma mater, Athena College in Anthena MS. Dottie left him her home and a formidable housekeeper and cook named Azalea who looks after him and the boarders he has taken in since moving in. His grown children and new grandchildren are also in the area. Along the way, he found Diesel, a huge and intelligent Maine Coon cat and now has a new kitten, Ramses. Since coming back to Athena, he has discovered a talent for solving mysteries, much to the displeasure of Azalea's detective daughter, Kanesha, and his family.

Murder strikes the Athena campus when the charismatic and gifted medieval history professor whose course Charlie was auditing is murdered, as well as another auditing student. There are plenty of rumors swirling around the dead professor and his wife. Both might be carrying on affairs with multiple partners. Even a new boarder at Charlie's home may be involved. There are many characters, both old and new in The Pawful Truth, but James manages to make them all stand out. Diesel's calm presence is always welcome, and Ramses adds comic relief. Even though this is a long-running series, a new reader could start here with no confusion. 

Thanks to Berkley and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. This series never fails to deliver a well-plotted mystery and lots of Southern charm. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Gossip Can be Fatal

A Countess Harleigh Mystery #2
Dianne Freeman
Kensington Books
June 25, 2019

Frances, the recently widowed Countess of Harleigh, is settling into her independent life in London. Despite her American origins, Frances is well-liked and well-placed in Society, enough so to be a sort of matchmaker for young ladies making their debuts. She has introduced her young sister, Lily, to her future husband and is sponsoring a friend of Lily's, Charlotte, in Society. The grateful parents of her charges have added to Frances' limited income, but more importantly, Frances is determined that their marriages not as unhappy as her own. To that end, she has introduced her cousin Charles Evington to another widow, Mary Archer. When Mary is murdered in her own home, and Charles admits to being in the neighborhood at the time, he becomes the prime suspect. Frances, and her neighbor, the handsome and capable George Hazelton, set out to clear him. It turns out that there was much more to Mary Archer and her relations than met the eye.

A Lady's Guide to Gossip and Murder is a delightful romp through the darker places of polite society. There are several new characters that I enjoyed, especially the klutzy, but bright and capable Charlotte and Charles who has made an art of appearing but not being, dim. The progress of the romance between George and Frances is more than satisfactory, and I look for more investigations featuring this well-matched pair.

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

RATING- 4 Stars

Friday, May 24, 2019

A Hurricane Hits New England

Murder, She Reported #2
Peg Cochran
Random House Alibi
May 28, 2019

Manhattan socialite Elizabeth Adams, now reporter and photographer on The Daily Trumpet, is making her way home from work when she is caught in a blackout and tremendous rain and wind storm. Little does she know that it is the edges of the 1938 Long Island Hurricane. The storm formed on the coast of Africa as a category 5 and stuck New York and New England as a category 3, killing nearly 700 and destroying millions of dollars worth of property. The next few days are taken up with storm coverage, but when a young woman is found in the wreckage of one mansion on Long Island, it's clear that she was not killed by the storm. This young woman was murdered, and it becomes the story that everyone is chasing. Elizabeth called "Biz" by her crusty partner, Kaminsky, dive headfirst into the story of the murdered girl, who immigrated from Ireland and worked for one of the wealthy summer families. Everyone describes Roeleen, the murdered girl, as a quiet and devout girl with no boyfriends and no enemies in the beginning. But as they look beneath, a different picture emerges. Several people may have wanted her dead, 

Murder, She Uncovered is an excellent follow-up to the first in the series, Murder She Reported, and one I have been looking forward to. The historical detail is exceptional, and I enjoy Biz's struggle to navigate her wealthy and well-connected family's disapproval and her own desire to not become just another rich man's wife. The secondary characters are just as impressive, from Kaminsky to her friend, Irene, who was crippled by polio in childhood. Biz herself had a brush with the disease, leaving her with a slight limp at times. Biz won't let that stop her though. There is a very promising romance with the dishy Detective Sal Marino, one that I hope continues to blossom.

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

RATING-4 Stars

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Old Hatreds Resurface on the Outer Islands of the Hebrides

The Lewis Trilogy #1
Peter May
Quercus Books, Hachette Audio
February 1, 2011

Detective Inspector Finlay "Fin" Macleod has spent the last 18 years of his life trying to escape his traumatic childhood on the Outer Hebridean Island of Lewis. In the grip of grief over the death of his only child in a hit and run accident and the collapse of his marriage, he finds himself returning to Lewis. A grisly murder has occurred on Lewis: a crime that echoes one in Edinburgh that Fin was in charge of investigating. The victim on Lewis was a childhood enemy, Angus MacRitchie, a man who bullied both Fin and all the other boys on the island in their shared youth. Fin left behind his best friend, Artur, and the only girl he ever really loved, Marsali. The search for Angus' killer will lead to the resurfacing of old hates and crimes that Fin has never allowed himself to examine.

The Blackhouse has been on my to-be-read list for a long time. It is brilliantly characterized and utterly atmospheric. I have never been to the Hebrides, but watching Shetland on TV helped me visualize the desolate beauty of the islands. The novel won multiple international prizes when it was published and deserves every one. It is a crime novel, but so much more, exposing the darker regions of the human heart and mind. The audiobook is brilliantly narrated by Peter Forbes, who voices the accents, both Scots and Gaelic, perfectly. If I could give a book more than 5 Stars, this would be it, and definitely one of the best of my 2019 reading. Highly recommended!

RATING- 5 Enthusiastic Stars

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

"King Cholera" Strikes Victorian London

A Florence Nightingale Mystery #2
Crooked Lane Books
Christine Trent
May 7, 2019

It's a sweltering August in 1854 when "King Cholera" strikes London, not for the first time. The deadly disease is no respecter of persons, affecting rich and poor alike, strikes unannounced and can disappear as quickly as it came. This time it seems to afflict the notorious slums of SoHo. The common wisdom says that the disease is airborne, occurring in the form of "miasmas," a theory that Florence Nightingale subscribes to. Even though she is fully involved with her hospital for women, Florence would become involved in the current outbreak no matter how busy, but a call from her friends, Sidney and Elizabeth Herbert sends her to SoHo on a different mission. Elizabeth and her father, a retired General, are attacked in their carriage, resulting in the death of their coachman. When Sidney sends a second servant into SoHo, the man returns suffering from cholera and dies quickly. Based on  Florence's success with her first case, Sidney is frantic for her to investigate. The General, however, is less than forthcoming. The search for answers will bring Florence and her assistant, "Goose," into contact with many historical figures and the lowest residents of the London slums. It also shines a spotlight on British Army conduct in Afghanistan.

I admit to only the most superficial of knowledge of Florence Nightingale, other than her history as "The Lady of the Lamp" during the Crimean War. While I doubt that she ever had the time or energy for detecting, she was close to the center of current events and associated with the movers and shakers of the era. The mystery, in this case, has plots and
sub-plots that were sometimes difficult to follow and the solution eluded me. I did like Florence and her dogged persistence in leading the life she wanted for herself. A number of the characters are well documented historically, and Trent provides appendices of their lives and works. There was a fascinating short history of the last 200+ years of Afghan history; one that clearly indicates the utter futility of imperialist designs on that country. The next book will take her to her most significant triumphs in the Crimea, and I look forward to that.

Thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for an advance copy. Thee opinions are my own.

RATING-3.5 Stars

Friday, May 3, 2019

Not Everybody "liked Ike"

Mainely Needlepoint #8
Lea Wait
Kensington Books
April 28, 2019

The eighth in the Mainely Murder series opens with Haven Harbor's yearly Blessing of the Fleet, an event honoring all those who perished at sea over the centuries pursuing a livelihood at fishing in the cold waters off Maine. This is the first blessing Angie Curtis has attended after years away, but all the town is there to see the fleet go by and be blessed for the upcoming season. One of the town's more eccentric and down-at-the-heel residents, Ike Hamilton, also is there. Ike has lived all his life in Haven Harbor and supports himself by collecting bottles all over town for the return fees. After his parent's death, he lived alone in their house until it collapsed and now lives in a garage on the property with minimal heat and no conveniences. Today however he is accompanied by a skinny teenager who has been "helping" him. Ike introduces the teenager to Angie's companion, Dave, high-school teacher and one of Angie's needlepointers, as someone who could help him if he needed it. That help is needed soon when Ike is murdered. The boy, of course, is the main suspect and a sketchy background. He also has trouble telling the truth. There are others in Haven Harbor who weren't too fond of Ike, who was very observant and may have seen things he shouldn't.

I always enjoy visiting Haven Harbor through Lee Wait's books and Thread on Arrival is no exception. I did have my suspicions on who might have killed Ike very early, so the mystery was not such a puzzle this time. The pleasure is the town, the quirky characters and Angie's developing relationship with the people and of course, her boyfriend, Patrick.

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

RATING- 4 Stars

Helen Ellis
Doubleday Books
April 16, 2019

"If you don't have something nice to say, say something not-so-nice in a nice way." 

Helen Ellis' cover quote sums up what it means to be a Southern Lady in a nutshell. Or at least, how Helen Ellis and I were raised, even though I am a few years older and have been away from the South longer. My mother and especially, my grandmother, did their darndest to make one of me but somehow I was never much good at it. I binge-read this collection of essays some of which are hilarious and others amusing, but all on target. I especially enjoyed How to Stay Happily Married which ends with "As long as your wedding ring fits, you haven"t let yourself go." Some of the other essays were not as relatable. Burberry coats, for instance, are not a part of my everyday life.

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

RATING- 3 Stars

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Mummy's Curse...Not So Fast!

High Society Lady #3
Sara Rosett
April 15, 2019

The Egyptian Antiquities Murder took me once again into a period in Britain that has always fascinated me.  The period between WWI and WWII was an era of tremendous social change, not least for our High Society Lady Detective, Olive Belgrave. Olive was gently born and never expected to be left virtually penniless due to her feckless father's bad investments. Rather than retreating into the country with her father and his unwelcoming new wife, Olive is determined to make it on her own. In books 1 and 2 of the series, Olive has had some success investigating problems in "society" that could never be entrusted to the police or the lesser-born. She was delighted to receive a letter from the niece of Lord Mulvern who recently died. The police declared it a suicide, and the press speculated that it was the result of a "mummy's curse." His niece, Lady Agnes, declares that he had no reason to commit suicide and the mummy's curse merely is nonsense.

The investigation turns out to be more difficult than  Olive expected. Lady Agnes and other family members and staff prove to be less forthcoming than Olive expected, and she is deprived of her partner,  the mysterious Jasper's assistance throughout most of this book. I always enjoy Rosett's deft descriptions of the fashions and manners of the period which inform but never intrude on the story. I am looking forward to the next book in the series (with more Jasper, I hope). Thanks to the author for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Ripper's Victims Step Out of The Shadows

The Lives of Jack the Ripper's Victims
Hallie Rubenhold
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
April 9, 2019

I have read probably more books, more theories, and watched more TV programs, about Jack the Ripper's identity than anyone should. Despite having a reasonably good knowledge of the lives of women and the poor in18th and 19th century England, I never gave much thought to his victims. The Five is about 130 years overdue in bringing  Polly, Annie, Elisabeth, Kate, and Mary Jane to life. It is all too easy to gloss over them and accept the prejudices of society and the press. The first disturbing fact, at least to me, is that four out of the five women were in all probability, not prostitutes. Only Mary Jane Kelly had a provable history of prostitution. It does not matter whether they were or not. They had merely fallen on hard times, were without dependable male support and lived in a society which set up impossible expectations for women and the poor. The laws and attitudes of the time placed more obstacles in their path than help and actively conspired to make women's lives difficult, if not impossible. The fact that women were reduced to sleeping on the streets did not automatically make them prostitutes or criminals. Alcohol use was also a contributing factor to the downward trajectory of the women's circumstances. Gin was the universal escape for both the men and women of the working classes, and violence invariably followed.

The Five is an exhaustively researched narrative that kept me ricocheting between tears and rage. It is incredible that so much material is available on three of Jack's victims. The other two are less well-documented, especially Mary Jane, who never seemed to tell anyone the truth of her life. Rubenhold does make assumptions about them, but to me, the premises are well based on fact. I recommend The Five without reservation to anyone interested in crime or social/women's history. Thanks to Houghton and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Odd, But Charming

Detective Varg # 1
Alexander McCall Smith
Pantheon Books
April 16, 2019

The Department of Sensitive Crimes is the first in a new series from the internationally bestselling Alexander McCall Smith. To be honest, I thought I was one of the few readers on the planet who had not read any of his many books. I remember trying the audio of the first in his No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series, but I couldn't get into it for whatever reason. But when this book was offered by the First To Read program, I read the description and thought it might be time to try again.

The Swedish city of Malmö has a department devoted to the investigation of crimes that appear to be somewhat off-beat. Crimes that just don't fit into the usual robbery/drugs/murder mode are investigated by lead detective Ulf Varg, and his colleagues, Anna Bengsdotter, Carl Holgersson, and Erik Nykvist. His colleagues are all individuals; Anna a married woman who works closely with Ulf, Carl the workaholic, and Erik the department clerk obsessed with fishing. However, Anna and Ulf are the closest; and Ulf is in love with her. Being the kind and gentlemanly man he is, he knows that he can't act on that and break up a family. Then there is the uniformed policeman, Blomquist, whose dearest wish is to be part of the department. The three cases investigated in The Department of Sensitive Crimes are indeed off-beat; the stabbing of a merchant in the back of the knee with no witnesses, a missing imaginary boyfriend, and possible supernatural goings-on at a spa. Ulf has other problems too. His dog, Martin, is suffering from clinical depression.

The Department of Sensitive Crimes is a charming if slightly odd book. I was captivated by the characters and the gentle philosophizing of Ulf. It doesn't fall into the Scandinavian "noir" category that we are so used to. I kept turning the pages late into the night just to see what might happen next and McCall Smith has a new fan. Thanks to the First To Read program for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Power of Denial

Michael J. Malone
Orenda Books/Trafalgar Square
March 1, 2019

After He Died opens at the funeral of Paula Gadd's husband of nearly thirty years, Thomas. Paula is almost completely overcome with grief, not only for her seemingly fit husband's death by heart attack, but for the loss of her only child, Christopher, nearly seven years before by hit-and-run. Paula's life has been built entirely around both son and husband, and she has no idea what she will do. The service is packed with mourners, mostly business associates of Thomas, but few who have any real connection to Paula. Thomas' older brother, Bill, and his wife, Daphne are there, but that relationship is distant, at best. Paula's only real support is that of Thomas' other brother, a Catholic priest, Father Joe. What little composure she has is cracked when a young woman approaches and whispers in her ear, "You need to know who your husband really was.", slips a note in Paula's pocket and moves away quickly. It takes several boozy days and an odd visit from Thomas' business partner, Kevin Farrell, who is carrying a palpable air of desperation to prompt her to call the number on the young woman's note. She is Cara Connelly, who comes from the slums of Glasgow and has raised herself to the position of a social worker in those same slums. She accuses Thomas of being an organized crime lord, and of a horrific crime. Paula dismisses this out of hand, but events conspire to make her and Cara uneasy partners to find the truth. Paula begins to see that she and Thomas had drifted apart since Christopher's death, especially in the last two years. Always a hard worker and very successful, Thomas was a full-blown workaholic at the end. Could Thomas have actually hidden a secret life from her?

I admit that when I requested a galley of After He Died, I had the mistaken impression that it was from North Carolina author, Michael Malone, whose books I have also enjoyed. That was a fortunate mistake for me. After He Died is a real page-turner, with fleshed out characters to both like and hate. Paula is someone I understand and empathize with, despite a tendency to ignore coincidences that would be red flags to anyone thinking straight. Paula, however, is so sunk in grief and denial that it takes a while for her to see facts for what they are. Cara, on the other hand, is so confident of what she knows, and so resentful of the "moneyed classes" she becomes blind in her own way. Both are complicated and ultimately likable women caught up in events, not of their making. 

I highly recommend After He Died for fans of psychological suspense. Thanks to NetGalley and Trafalgar Square for a digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Veronica Speedwell # 4
Deanna Raybourn
Berkley Books/Audible
March 12, 2019

Downloading the newest book from the talented Deanna Raybourn on the publication date is a must for me, as it was for her earlier Lady Julia Grey mysteries. A Dangerous Collaboration begins with our intrepid globe-trotting lady lepidopterist packing to return from an extended "holiday" in Madeira with her patron's sister, not with her partner Revelstoke Templeton-Vane (Stoker). In fact, she has received not one letter from him, but numerous letters from his older brother, Tiberius. Stoker is distant upon her return, refusing to discuss the Madiera trip or anything else for that matter. A visit from Tiberius brings Veronica a new opportunity: an old school friend owns a secluded island off the Cornish coast with butterflies that are seen nowhere else. The friend might be willing to let Veronica establish a habitat on the mainland in the interest of averting eventual extinction. It's an opportunity not to be missed, but Stoker is not invited.

On the journey to the island, Tiberius explains that Veronica will be posing as his fiance to avoid offending his host, Lord Malcolm Romilly's, Catholic sensibilities. Lord Malcolm's fiance, Rosamund, disappeared from the island three years earlier on their wedding day and the resulting scandal drove the family into exile from society. It is clear that this island visit is about more than butterflies, and Tiberius' motives are murkier than we thought. Not unexpectedly , Stoker shows up on the train at the journey's end and continues to the island. Superstitious villagers, devoted housekeepers, a bride who was not so innocent, an unconventional sister, and a castle riddled with priest's holes all play a part in the story, along with escapes from sure death; all leading to an unexpected solution. At least to me.

As always, I found A Dangerous Collaboration most entertaining. The prickly, stubborn Veronica and Stoker are two of my favorite characters. However, I thought the ongoing "will they, won't they" bogged down the story somewhat. Especially since it's clear that they will when they get over themselves! Narrated by the excellent Angele Masters, I recommend the audiobook, but at some point, I will read the book as well.

RATING 4.5 rounded up to 5 Stars


Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Winter hits Wisconsin with a Vengeance

Mattie Winston Mystery #10
Annelise Ryan
Kensington Books
March 2, 2019

An early morning call brings Death Investigator Mattie Winston her most challenging case yet in this ten book series. A battered, nameless teenage girl has been left at the local hospital and has succumbed to her injuries. The man who left her disappeared, giving no information other than she supposedly was involved in a traffic accident. Upon examining the body, Mattie discovers many old injuries and evidence of IV drug use. The possibility of human trafficking is definite, not the norm in small Sorenson, WI. Even more troubling, the teenager indicated in her last words that her younger sister was being held. This event leads Mattie, her new husband Detective Hurley, and the Coroner's Department on a race to find the younger sister before it's too late.

I have always enjoyed the Mattie Winston series for its well-constructed mysteries, often lightened with zany humor. I am somewhat disappointed by Dead of Winter, however, as the joke was of the "bathroom" variety and occupied too much of the storyline. A secondary case of domestic abuse against an acquaintance of Mattie's plays well into the main story. There is another murder at the local theater which had no relevance and felt like padding. The Mattie Winston series is taking on a darker tone, which I don't object to. Mattie is a likable character and doesn't have to suffer all the silly mishaps, especially those that are avoidable. While this book was a disappointment, I am not ready to give up on the series.

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

RATING-3 Stars

Monday, February 25, 2019

Something Extra Buried in the Garden

An English Cottage Garden Mystery #1
H.Y. Hanna
Wisheart Press
February 16, 2019

There are times when one needs to leave all the strife and noise of daily life in the 21st century behind and dive into a novel without any of that sort of discord.Thankfully, H.Y. Hanna is prolific and always provides an escape, The first in her new series, Deadhead and Buried. Poppy Lancaster is a London city girl, who is all alone in the world after the death of her free-spirited but irresponsible mother. Her job is a dead-end, her boss is a harridan, and her only caring friend is her kindly landlady. Imagine her surprise when she receives a solicitor's letter with the news that she has inherited a property in the countryside from a grandmother she never knew.

At last, it seems that Poppy will be able to sell the property, have some money to spare, travel a bit and perhaps find her father, who she also never knew. Upon her arrival though, she finds a run-down cottage, a defunct garden business and a body buried in a shallow grave. And perhaps a whole new life, far from what she has ever envisioned for herself.
Deadhead and Buried is a charming and well-written cozy mystery with a likeable heroine in Poppy, and plenty of quirky characters. Poppy has an elderly "mad scientist" and a handsome but curmudgeonly crime writer for close neighbors, and a previously unknown cousin who thinks that he should have inherited. The bossy, talkative ginger cat, Oren, who adopts Poppy as his own adds to the plentiful humor. I am looking forward to the next book in the series, Silent Bud Deadly.

Disclosure: A review copy of this book was sent to me by the author. All of the above opinions are my own         

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, February 18, 2019

For fans of Louise Penny, a new series set in Quebec

A Russell and Leduc Mystery #1
Ann Lambert
Second Story Books
February 19, 2019

This excellent debut novel takes place in the Laurentian Mountains, north of Montreal. Marie Russell is a divorced nature writer and mother of two grown children. She lives quietly in a cottage with no close neighbors. One of her neighbors, however, is Madame Newman, a woman in her eighties living a spartan and reclusive life. The semi-retired handyman, Louis Lachance, is perhaps the closest person to being a friend, but even he knows nothing about her past. When he finds her outside her cottage, strangled and frozen, he is the only one to mourn her. Chief homicide investigator, Roméo Leduc is just days away from his first vacation in two years, but this investigation will put an end to that. Leduc at first thinks that it might be a botched break-in by a local biker gang but quickly realizes there is more to this crime than meets the eye. Finding out just who Madame Newman was is the key. Marie and Leduc cross paths when Marie's mother, who suffers from dementia, identifies the dead woman from a photo in the paper as a Mrs. Kovak, who lived in the same suburban neighborhood that Marie grew up with. Marie is not at all sure that her mother is correct, but does remember the Kovak family, They were refugees from the Hungarian uprising in the 1950s. Her remembrances are spurred in part by the sale and closing of her childhood home and moving her mother into a care facility make her do a little detective work of her own.

The Birds That Stay takes us from post-WWII Hungary to Canada in the 70s and 80s, not all that different to the US of the same era. Many women of the time lived stifled by the mores of the day. Marie's mother and Mrs. Kovak were no different. Mr. and Mrs. Kovak had secrets of a more severe kind and those secrets led to not only her death but others. There are multiple overlapping stories told but all the characters are beautifully realized and memorable. Along the way, Roméo and Marie form the tentative beginnings of a relationship, one that I am looking forward to watching in the future.

I highly recommend The Birds That Stay for its characterization, sense of place and well-plotted mystery. I am already looking forward to the next in the series. Thanks to NetGalley and Second Story Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

It's never a good idea to get on a Duke's wrong side

A Charles Lenox Prequel #2
Charles Finch
Minotaur Books
February 19, 2019

The second prequel of the long-running Charles Lenox series after last year's The Woman in the Water shows the 26-year-old Lenox at somewhat of a career ebb. This ebb occurs after Lenox has solved a case that Scotland Yard could not. A summons comes from the immensely rich and powerful Duke of Dorset, "the third man in England". A painting has been stolen from the Duke's private study but not the painting the Duke might have expected; a small and unassuming portrait purported to be of William Shakespeare. The Duke wants Lenox to not only find the stolen portrait but to find out why it was stolen rather than the Shakespeare. Lenox is aware that there are facts hidden by the Duke, but one does not say no to the Duke of Dorset. HIs quest takes him into the highest and lowest parts of society in 1853 England and the dangers inherent in getting on the "wrong side" of a Duke. There is also the search for a missing Shakespeare play, family drama, the mystery of a man in Bedlam who claims to be not mad, but there because he ran afoul of the Royal Family, and a meeting with "The Vanishing Man" of the title. "The Vanishing Man" may just help Lenox hone his detecting skills in the future. I certainly hope so.

I have been a fan of the Charles Lenox series since the first novel, "A Beautiful Blue Death". However, the most recent prequel novels have increased my appreciation exponentially. Seeing the difficulties he encountered, the mistakes he made, and his determination to pursue his career make him even more attractive than the 40-something gentleman we first met. I can see the support and love of his family that made his career possible, and that of his now-wife, Lady Jane. One of the greatest pleasures of the Charles Lenox Mysteries are the little facts inserted into the text so effortlessly. For example, the origin of the word "tips", the "cock and bull story" and a description of Italian pudding. It turns out that it is an Italian variation of the English "trifle". Italian pudding, "Zuppa Inglese", is made with a liqueur not available in North America, but I plan to work on that!

I highly recommend the Charles Lenox mysteries and the prequel novels in particular. Thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Secrets Must Be Kept

A Rockton Novel #4
Kelley Armstrong
Minotaur Books
February 5, 2019

Watcher in the Woods begins almost immediately after the events of This Fallen Prey. A resident of this strange little town in the Canadian Yukon, a refuge for both the innocent and the guilty, Kenny, was paralyzed by a gunshot wound. The Sheriff, Eric Dalton, and his deputy and partner, Casey Duncan are well aware that the basic medical services in the town aren't sufficient to help him. Luckily, Casey knows that her physician sister, April, is just the person to help him recover. Unluckily, the two sisters are opposites and have been estranged for years. Eric and Casey also know that the "council" who control the Rockton finances and who comes and goes will never agree to bring her in. It will be up to the pair to persuade April to consent and to smuggle her in and out. Surprisingly April agrees but having her in Rockton for even a short time will be a challenge. On the heels of April's arrival, Eric and Casey discover a man watching the town from the surrounding woods. As they pursue him, it becomes clear that he has not just happened to find Rockton. He is there for a purpose and must be found and questioned. The watcher will throw Rockton into chaos once again. The closely held secrets of the town cannot be exposed, for everyone's safety. 

Watcher in the Woods is another high energy thriller from Kelley Armstrong. This series has quickly become a favorite. The premise of the books is fascinating, and I never see who to trust. Everybody has a story and most of them aren't the real truth. No matter what happens Eric and Casey know that they can trust each other, however. I did find the numerous characters a little difficult to keep sorted this time. Some were not as well characterized as I would like and I had to keep thinking back to previous books to remember their places in the town. Watcher in the Woods could be read as a standalone, but I don't recommend it.

I am looking forward to the next one though. Thanks to Netgalley and Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars