Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Susan Elizabeth Phillips
William Morrow
August 2014

I had never read anything by Susan Elizabeth Phillips so I can't really compare this to any of her other books. However, when I read the blurb I knew I had  to give it a try. I also have a love for all those 1960's gothic romances that I read in my teens, the ones with the cheesy covers! The setting on an isolated island off the coast of Maine made it a must read for me. Having spent many summer vacation weeks on just such an island, I wanted to see how she would present that little microcosm of the world.

When we first meet Annie she is a total wreck. Recovering from pneumonia, broke, and reeling from the death of her mother Annie has no place to go other than her mother's cottage on the island. Her mother had possession of the cottage in her divorce settlement from the owner of Harp House, the "big house" on the island. She has nothing but bad memories of the island, especially of the son of the house, Theo, who seemingly tried to kill her when they were both teenagers. It is the dead of winter and she fully expects to find Harp House unoccupied. Annie has to remain in the cottage for 60 days each year, never leaving the island in order to retain ownership. She has been eking out an existence as a failed actress, waitress and middling successful puppeteer. The cottage seems an ideal place to fulfill her commitment, lick her wounds and look for a legacy hidden in the cottage alluded to by her dying mother. Annie and her puppets head off to Maine. Imagine her horror to find Theo occupying Harp House. In the tradition of gothic romances, there are spooky doings at Harp House, someone is determined to run Annie off, Theo is surly but undeniably attractive despite their history. The legacy proves elusive as well. Also in the tradition of gothic romances everything comes full circle in the end.

Since I find puppets very creepy and off-putting I was taken aback by their prominence in Annie's life. They prove to be an important part of the story and I was able to put that aside pretty quickly. I also thought the book dragged in the middle somewhat. Annie and Theo are both remarkably stubborn people who seem determined to sabotage their own happiness. The most important attraction to me was the island setting. Susan Phillips has that spot-on, at least to my mind. The issues facing Maine islands are well told; the declining populations, the people who hang on there and the general difficulties of life. I just wonder which Maine island the novel is based upon.

Heroes are my Weakness is an enjoyable read, one that kept me guessing and turned my assumptions of the evildoer upside down on multiple fronts.

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Delightful Lady Julia Grey eNovella

BONFIRE NIGHT ( Lady Julia Grey e Novella)
Deanna Raybourn
November 3, 2014

Bonfire Night was a mixture of joy and sadness for me, as it is the end of a much-loved series (at least for now). I have greatly enjoyed all of the Lady Julia and Brisbane stories from Silent in the Grave onward.

Lady Julia and Brisbane are enjoying an evening with Julia's sister, Portia, and brother, Plum. It is late when a visitor arrives, claiming to be a solicitor with an unusual bequest. Brisbane is to inherit a country house from someone who is unknown to him. The catch is that they must take possession by All Hallows Eve (only two days away) and remain in residence until Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Day. Of course all the children, pets, relatives and nannies are packed up for a quick trip to the country. Curiosity alone makes the trip necessary.

What follows is a complete farce with a village complicit in demonstrating the haunted nature of the house. Everything from ghostly sobs, moans, rattling chains, and phantom carriages to a plague village makes an appearance. Behind all the clichés is a real mystery though; who made the bequest and more importantly, why?

Bonfire Night is a short but very enjoyable read. I highly recommend the entire Lady Julia Grey series.

RATING-3.5 Stars

Monday, October 20, 2014

Deadly Shenanigans at a Seaside Resort

Ashley Weaver
Minotaur Books
October 14, 2014

Amory Ames is young, beautiful and rich- and desperately unhappy. After jilting her former fiancé for marriage to the notoriously charming playboy Milo Ames, the two are miles apart both physically and emotionally most of the time. When that same fiancé, Gil Tennant, asks Amory to accompany him and his sister to the Brightwell Hotel on the seaside she accepts with alacrity. Gil hopes that she can help him in dissuading his sister from a similarly disastrous marriage to Rupert Howe, a well-known and impoverished man about town. When Rupert is murdered at the resort, Gil becomes the most likely suspect. Amory knows that this can't be true and sets out to prove it. When Milo shows up unexpectedly the two form an alliance, one fraught with distrust and emotional land mines.

Murder at The Brightwell is a very assured and evocative first novel. Set in the early 1930's among the wealthy and idle, it reminds me of some of Agatha Christie's Golden Age whodunits. The period detail is very rich and the other guests (suspects) are well drawn, as well as extremely unlikable in some cases. Milo himself is a mystery to me; hopefully in future books there will be some explanation for his bad behavior. He reminds me of a child who only remembers a toy when he fears to lose it. When the murder is solved (with a nice twist) Amory and Milo seem to be headed toward at least an attempted reconciliation. 

I don't usually have much to say about covers but kudos to Minotaur and the cover artist! The design is so eye-catching and gloriously Art Deco I don't see how anyone could pass it up on the bookstore shelf. I recommend Murder at the Brightwell for all traditional mystery fans. Thanks to Minotaur and netgalley for an advance digital copy.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Monday, October 6, 2014

Another Delight from the Potting Shed Mysteries by Marty Wingate

Marty Wingate
Random House Alibi
November 4, 2014

Following on the heels of The Garden Plot, Marty Wingate's second mystery starring Pru Parke, Texas transplant and gardener extraordinaire, is another delight. Pru has found her dream job restoring the landscape of Primrose House. The grounds were originally planned by the legendary Humphry Repton in 1806. While Pru is lucky enough to have Repton's illustrated "red book" of his original plans she is hampered by a strict schedule, limited staff and owners who are entirely too full of great ideas. Thus, she and the charming London Met Inspector, Christopher Pearse, are limited to long phone calls and flying weekend visits.

Someone seems to be trying to sabotage her work. After several incidences of vandalism one of Pru's workers is found murdered- with an ax from the equipment shed. Things are not as they seem at Primrose House and Pru needs to find out who is responsible before another death occurs and the project ruined. Along the way, Pru meets a number of eccentric and/or shady characters and discovers truths about her own family that she never suspected. With Christopher's support she manages to solve the mystery and survive the plots of a very disturbed perpetrator.

The Red Book of Primrose House is chock full of mystery, atmosphere and garden lore with a very satisfying romance. I highly recommend The Potting Shed mysteries for readers of cozy mysteries. Thanks to Alibi and netgalley.com for an advance digital copy.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Jo Baker, Narr. Emma Fielding
Random House Audio
October, 2013

Longbourn had been on my radar for quite awhile but I was hesitant, having been disappointed in some Austen "tributes" I read in the past. When it was given a high recommendation from a friend I decided to give it a try on audio. It started a little slowly for me as I was not all that interested in the drudgery required to maintain a household with five daughters, a limited budget and not nearly enough staff. I was soon captivated by the voice of the principal
narrative voice; Sarah, an orphaned housemaid who was brought into the Longbourn household  at the age of seven. Brought up by Mrs. Hill, the cook and housekeeper, Sarah has tremendous curiosity about the world outside Longbourn, a desire to see it and an equal desire to not be discounted.

Longbourn begins to change when James Smith is hired on as a stableboy/footman/general man of work. James is only a little older than Sarah but is obviously well traveled and somewhat mysterious. Sarah is initially distrustful of James but drawn to him. Another new element enters when the Bingleys arrive in the neighborhood, bringing with them Ptolemy Bingley, former West Indian slave and now footman. Someone so exotic could only be attractive to Sarah as well. How Sarah's conflicting hopes are resolved form the heart of the story, against the backdrop of the familiar Pride and Prejudice story, and I have to admit that I was more than a little teary at the most satisfying conclusion of Longbourn. I also had more sympathy for Mrs. Bennett and less for Mr. Bennett!

Longbourn is beautifully written, bringing to vivid life an era that has been romanticized but had all the conflicts of a class-bound society. One also forgets that this was the era of the brutal Napoleonic Wars, but Jo Baker reminds us of it in a particularly stark fashion when she reveals the mystery of James Smith. I highly recommend Longbourn to readers of historical fiction and lovers of Jane Austen. 

RATING- 4.5 Stars