Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Veronica Speedwell #2
Deanna Raybourn
Berkley Books
January 10, 2017

Veronica Speedwell and Stoker are cooling their heels at the Marylebone estate of their patron, Lord Rosemorran. They have had to delay their plans for an expedition to Fiji where Veronica was to collect butterflies,and Stoker, mammal specimens for taxidermy. The delay came when Rosemorran, an inveterate collector of everything fell over his giant tortoise, Patricia, and broke his leg. Sadly, they will have to do what they were originally hired for, catalog the vast Rosemorran collection rather than set off on adventures. The arrival of an elderly aunt, ostensibly to look after the estate during Rosemorran's recuperation, sets the two on a new set of perilous adventures. Lady "Wellie", though, is not all that she seems to be and not entirely to be trusted. A very highly placed Royal Family member, Princess Louise, in fact, wants them to investigate a recent scandalous murder. The man convicted and scheduled to hang is a dear friend of Princess Louise and she is certain that he is not guilty, even though he has refused to present an alibi. The investigation takes them into the art world, opium dens and wannabe "hellfire clubs". It is scandalous stuff, indeed, and very dangerous for Veronica and Stoker. It also draws them even closer into the lives of the Royal Family, something that Veronica, in particular, wants to avoid.

I am a huge fan of Deanna Raybourn's Lady Jane series, and now, of the Veronica Speedwell series. They are witty and charming, with just enough slowly simmering romance. I am convinced that Stoker and Veronica are made for each other, if only because no one else could put up with them. Both are stubborn, arrogant and intelligent, and sure of how they plan to live their lives. It's extremely entertaining to see all their plans being upended. Highly recommended!

I received A Perilous Undertaking courtesy of Goodreads.

RATING-4.5 Stars

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Lady Hardcastle and Flo Are Deep in Mysteries, Again.

IN THE MARKET FOR MURDER (Lady Hardcastle # 2)
T. E. Kinsey
Thomas & Mercer
December 20, 2016

Just in time for the holidays, Lady Hardcastle and her "tiny servant", Florence Armstrong, are back with new adventures. Lady Hardcastle's injuries sustained in the first book, A Quiet Life in the Country, have been slow to heal but both ladies are ready to get back to normal life in the village of Littleton Cotterell in Gloucestershire. No longer considered "incomers" they both have the acceptance and liking of the village and a respectful relationship with Inspector Sunderland of the Bristol CID.

Their friend, Lady Farley-Stroud, persuades them both to attend Market Day in the nearby town of Chipping Bevington. Neither Lady Hardcastle nor Florence is very interested in the outing, especially in a torrential downpour. Florence, in particular, has an aversion to cows. While the three ladies are having lunch in the crowded pub, a farmer named Spencer Caradine falls over dead in his beef pie. No one is at all upset, though, as Caradine was universally disliked. Inspector Sunderland asks them to look into the matter as they have a knack for solving mysteries and can get villagers to talk who might be reticent with him. While they investigate, other mysteries pop up; a break-in at the local cricket club and a seance with an aggressive ghost. It also seems that there is a very wide field of suspects in the death of Caradine.

The Lady Hardcastle Mysteries are a delightful way to spend an afternoon or evening in a place and time that probably never really existed. The whole village of Littleton Cotterell seems bathed in a golden glow, even with the amount of mayhem going on. Lady Hardcastle is wonderfully eccentric and there is much more to Florence than meets the eye. For instance, her knowledge and practice of martial arts learned in her travels with Lady Hardcastle in India and China make her unique in 1909. Their close relationship and banter make the women more like sisters than mistress and servant. I highly recommend this series for pure enjoyment.

Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and Netgalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4 Stars

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

THE INHERITANCE (Charles Lenox # 10)
Charles Finch
St. Martins Minotaur
November 1, 2016

It's a snowy, cold day in London and Charles Lenox is awaiting a visit from an old school friend, Gerald Leigh. Both men were at Harrow 30 years earlier and Lenox has seen him only a few times since. Leigh was a complete misfit at Harrow, eventually expelled, and Lenox was his only friend. So when Lenox receives a letter from Leigh, asking for his help, Charles is eager to see him. Gerald Leigh, however, never arrives and upon visiting his hotel the next day, Lenox finds that he was absent all night. As a detective and friend, Lenox sets out to find him. When he does, Leigh has a strange story to tell. He was living in France and received a letter informing him of an anonymous bequest of twenty-five thousand pounds sterling; a huge fortune in those days. Far from being a failure as Harrow predicted, Leigh is an internationally known scientist, much in demand among scientific circles. He is required to claim the bequest in person and also has a speaking engagement at the Royal Society. The inheritance echoes an earlier bequest in Leigh's life; an anonymous benefactor paid his school fees. Charles and Gerald tried to solve that mystery as boys but failed. Since arriving in England, Leigh has had two failed attempts on his life. As is ofter the case in the Charles Lenox novels there is a secondary mystery. The Lenox Agency is on retainer with Parliament. When there is a break-in at Parliament, Lenox's associates, Sir John Dallington and Polly Buchanan take the lead, sending Sir John in particular into great danger.

The Charles Lenox Mysteries are perennial favorites and I think that The Inheritance is one of the best. Charles Finch achieves a splendid balance between plot, characterization, and historical detail. As a history geek, I love the small details that make the era come alive; such as the origin of the phrase, "by hook or by crook", and how fish and chips became so popular in England. As always, I highly recommend the series in general and The Inheritance in particular. 

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Becoming the Queen

Daisy Goodwin
St. Martin's Press
November 22, 2016

Victoria is a fictionalized account of the brief period of the future Queen's life just before her eighteenth birthday, the subsequent death of her uncle, the King, and her ascension to the throne. It ends with her proposal to Prince Albert and his acceptance. Having been raised in almost total seclusion at Kensington Palace by her over-protective mother and her mother's smarmy, power-mad equerry, Victoria is ill-equipped for her role. She is naive, innocent, and very badly educated. She does, however, take steps to free herself from her mother's control. With the help of her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, she begins to grow into a Queen who will have an entire age named after her. There are some serious missteps in the first year of her reign, but Victoria learns from them. In Victoria, the relationship between Lord Melbourne grows from respect, trust, and a shared sense of humor, to something much more. Victoria thinks that she is in love with him, and Lord Melbourne has a great affection for her. Thankfully, he understands that a match between a man some forty years her senior, plagued by scandals of his own, would be an impossibility. He steps aside when the time comes with considerable grace.

I love coming-of-age stories and historical fiction with some romance. Victoria has all of those elements backed up with known facts. Victoria and Lord Melbourne had a long-lasting and close relationship. Whether it was romantic, or simply mentoring can only be guessed at. There is no doubt that he did a splendid job of mentoring her through the rough first days. I can see why she might have fallen for the Prime Minister if he was anything like the version presented here, especially as her own father had died early. Prince Albert, however, is almost an afterthought in the story, and one that I did not find all that appealing. I enjoyed Victoria and am looking forward to seeing the mini-series based upon it when it comes to PBS in 2017.

Thanks to St. Martins and NetGalley for a digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4 Stars

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Superstition, Feuds and Murder in Hertfordshire

A Kurland St. Mary Mystery
Catherine Lloyd
Kensington Books
November 29, 2016

It is autumn in Kurland St. Mary and the plans for the nuptials of Miss Lucy Harrington, the vicar's daughter, and Major Robert Kurland are proceeding, but not nearly quickly enough for the Major. As Lucy is the niece of an Earl, her highly born London family wants everything to be just so. Both Robert and Lucy want a quiet village wedding but Lucy doesn't want to offend the family. The trouble in the village starts when Robert is called upon to judge the vegetable competition. Lucy warns him that it is a highly political competition, one in which each contestant should be rewarded in some way or peace in the village will be destroyed. Stubbornly, Robert insists on judging solely on merit. The result is that the church verger, Ezekial Thurrock, wins the bulk of the prizes. Sentiment turns ugly quickly but no one knows how ugly until Lucy finds Thurrock dead in the church, his head crushed by a stone gargoyle. His death is ruled an accident, but Lucy is not so sure. As she and Robert investigate, they turn up dark secrets that Lucy is unaware of even though she has lived in Kurland St. Mary all her life. More murder and suggestions of witchcraft place Lucy and Robert in real danger.

Death Comes to the Fair is the fourth book in this highly enjoyable cozy mystery series. I recommend it for its excellent plotting and period setting. The characters have been well developed throughout. I particularly enjoy the fact that Robert is finally learning to listen to Lucy and granting her freedom that the average man of the period would not. Thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Sara Driscoll
Kensington Books
November 29, 2016

Lone Wolf opens with Meg Jennings, FBI K-9 agent and her Labrador, Hawk, in hot pursuit of a child murderer. The two track him down to his home and bring in waiting units to capture him. It has been a grueling chase and Meg is expecting some down time. That expectation quickly disappears when she and Hawk are summoned to the scene of a bombing at the US Department of Agriculture in DC. Not only are the Secretary of Agriculture and his employees at risk, but a classroom of children is also in the building. Ten grueling hours later, Meg and Hawk are pulled out of the scene of carnage, totally exhausted and heartsick. The bomb was delivered by drone and the FBI's first assumption is foreign terrorism. However, when an anonymous letter is emailed to Clay MCord, an investigative reporter at the Washington Post, it becomes clear that the bomber is home grown and isn't finished, not  by a long shot. The bombings escalate and Meg, the FBI, and Clay McCord scramble to find out who he is and stop him.

I  enjoyed Lone Wolf tremendously, so much in fact that I was up way past my bedtime reading. There are all sorts of K-9 and FBI terms that I had never heard before and the look into the mind of the bomber was chilling. This is the kind of person who has failed at everything in life, from personal relationships to business ventures. The government has become a convenient scapegoat for all his troubles and he doesn't care who he hurts or kills in order to make his point. The heart of the book, however, is the relationship between Meg and Hawk. Since I am the sort of person who has been trained by rather than trained the dogs in my life, I am awed by their closeness and trust. The secondary characters, however, are not as well developed as Meg and Hawk. Hopefully, this will change in future books, which I will certainly  read. Thanks to Kensington and NetGalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4 Stars

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A WHOLE LATTE MURDER (A Java Jive Mystery # 3)
Carline Fardig
Random House Alibi
November 8, 2016

Life seems to be setting down for Juliet Langley. Business is good at Java Jive, the Nashville coffee house that Juliet manages for her best friend, Pete Bennett. She finally has a staff that works well together, and her romance with police detective, Ryder Hamilton, is simmering nicely. Things begin to go awry when Ryder is promoted to Homicide. Juliet is dismayed that Ryder will be dealing with more dangerous criminals, knowing how obsessed he can get with cases. Things get even worse when a girl in Juliet's apartment building, the roommate of one of her employees is murdered. Her employee, Kira, then goes missing. It's Ryder's case and it seems to tie back to the murder of his wife several years previously. Juliet and Ryder are immediately at loggerheads; he wants her to stay out of the investigation, and she can't, even though she tries.

Sometimes, pure escape reading is just what the doctor ordered. A Whole Latte Murder fits the bill nicely. I enjoyed the previous two books in the series but this seemed a bit too convoluted and it bogged down somewhat in the description of the search for Kira. I enjoy the characters and Juliet's feisty attitude and loyalty.  A Whole Latte Murder has the humorous touches that I look for in a cozy/chick-lit type mystery. Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Alibi for an advance copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 3 Stars

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Split-Second Decision With Tragic Consequences

Suzanne Chazin
Kensington Books
October 25, 2016

It's a cold night in December when Detective Jimmy Vega responds to a radio call of a home invasion in progress. Upon his arrival, he sets off in pursuit of a man fleeing the scene and heading into the woods. The Hispanic man refuses to surrender, reaches into his pocket and Jimmy has to make the split-second decision that every cop dreads. He kills the man and the consequences are tragic, not only for Jimmy but for those he loves. The man was unarmed and clutching only a well-worn photograph. Jimmy is placed on administrative leave, the press gets wind of the incident and immediately convicts him. Even worse, his lawyer tells him not to talk to anyone, even his girlfriend, Adele Figueroa, or his daughter, Joy. His enforced silence sows doubts in Adele's and Joy's minds. Adele's position as head of an immigrant outreach agency comes under threat when she is pressured to join in the general mob mentality surrounding the incident. When Jimmy finds out that the man he killed has a connection to his mother's unsolved murder in the Bronx, it becomes even more personal and dangerous.

I am one of those who thinks that some cops are too quick to use lethal force. However, Jimmy Vega is not one of them. Chazin's vivid description of the thought processes that Jimmy goes through during the incident and afterward are gut-wrenching. I am a big fan of Suzanne Chazin's previous books in the series, Land of Careful Shadows and A Blossom of Bright Light. No Witness but the Moon continues the series with a very emotional but measured look at two hot-button issues: police violence and illegal immigration. She reminds us that killing someone, no matter whether it is considered justified or not, changes a person forever. Jimmy is changed, but for the better, as he copes with PTSD and his unavoidable guilt.

I highly recommend the Jimmy Vega series to anyone looking for an intense and very topical crime fiction read. Thanks to Kensington Books and Netgalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 5 Stars

Monday, November 7, 2016

Good and Evil in a Sleepy Hudson Valley Village

Susan Breen
Random House Alibi
November 8, 2016

Sixty-two-year-old widow and Sunday School teacher Maggie Dove has opened a detective agency along with her two friends, Agnes and Helen. Sleepy Darby-on-Hudson does not seem to be particularly fertile ground for a detective agency and the ladies have had no clients. But when Racine Stern comes to the office with a problem, Maggie is ready to spring into action. The Stern family is the wealthiest in the village and the most reclusive. Racine has given the last 40 years of her life over to caring for her ailing mother. She is distraught that her younger sister, Domino, is returning for a visit. Domino, who married a rock star has been tabloid fodder for years. Racine says that Domino is evil, a witch, and she wants Maggie to keep her from coming. It's too late though and Domino returns with the rock star, her son, and an entourage. When Domino plummets from a balcony at the "welcome home" Halloween party she throws for herself, is it suicide, an accident or murder? There is a lot more going on in the village than Maggie ever knew, including a coven of witches.

I received an advance digital copy of Maggie Dove's Detective Agency  in return for an honest review. I was not aware that it was the second in the series and feel that I might have had a more positive reaction had I read the first. While I like Maggie as a character, the book was much more Sunday School than sleuth. That being said, I was completely surprised by the solution and found the book interesting overall. I am intrigued enough to read the first in the series, Maggie Dove, if only to discover how these three very different women came to open a detective agency. Thanks to NetGalley and Alibi.

RATING- 2.5 rounded up to 3

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Back On London's Mean Streets

WORTH KILLING FOR (D.I. Fenchurch #2)
Ed James
Thomas & Mercer
October 11, 2016

D.I. Simon Fenchurch and his wife, Abigail, are out for dinner when Simon notices a young woman approaching, clutching her cell phone. His policeman's instincts tell him, from her body language, that she is being followed. She begins to run toward him when a figure on a bicycle appears, snatches her purse and cell and plunges a knife into her neck. The young woman is left, dying in a pool of blood . Her last word is the name, Kamal. Simon sets off in pursuit of the bicyclist. He apprehends him but is unable to put together the evidence to hold him. His investigation leads him into the world of gangs, a group of cell phone thieves led by a vicious killer and the financial double-dealings of the 1%. The death of this young woman is only the beginning.

The second book in the D.I. Fenchurch series, after The Hope That Kills, does not disappoint. It is fast moving, action packed and features some epic chases on the streets of East London and the tunnels of the Underground. The characters are well-rounded with all the flaws of real people. The loss of their daughter, Chloe, eight years earlier to an unknown fate colors everything that Simon and Abigail do, but this case is not really about Chloe. Snappy dialogue and characterization lift this series above the usual run of crime stories. I highly recommend the D.I. Fenchurch series to fans of British crime fiction.

Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and Netgalley for a digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 5 Stars

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Oxford Tea Room Mysteries #5
H. Y Hanna
Wisheart Press
September 30, 2016

It's May Day in Oxford and Gemma Rose crawls out of her warm bed to meet her best friend at dawn . A 500-year-old ritual of life in Oxford, May Day starts with the ringing of bells and song but it has been eleven years since Gemma last participated. She is feeling every day of those eleven years since she works every day at her new tearoom, The Little Stables. The celebration is disrupted, however, when a young man plunges from the bridge near Gemma. It becomes clear when the body surfaces that it was murder, not an accident. With the help of the "old biddies", four pensioners who help out at the tearoom and consider themselves sleuths, Gemma (under protest) sets out to solve the murder. Could it be his on and off girlfriend, a Russian "princess" from a powerful oligarch family, or someone else? As usual, Gemma has lots going on in her life. Her overbearing mother is bringing her strange plants, her cat Muesli is spreading mischief at an old-age home, and her boyfriend, Devlin O'Connor, is behaving oddly. She is making little progress in settling into her new cottage and really doesn't have time for investigations.  

The Oxford Tearoom Mysteries are delightful reads, packed with atmosphere and quirky characters.  I really appreciate the inclusion of recipes for tearoom goodies--someday I will actually make some of them! I recommend this series for anglophiles and cozy readers alike. Thanks to the author for an advance copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4 Stars

Friday, October 28, 2016

Environment and Economic Concerns Collide in Downeast Maine

DANGLING BY A THREAD (Mainely Needlepoint # 4)
Lea Wait
Kensington Books
October 25, 2016

It has been three months since Angie Curtis moved back to her hometown of Haven Harbor, ME. Her much-loved Gram has married the pastor and moved out of the family home and left Angie rattling around in the big house. The needlepoint business is going well and Angie is reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. However, as her self-imposed six months for a decision about staying in Haven Harbor approaches, she finds herself restless. On one restless early morning she walks down to the harbor and watches a man row in from a small island offshore. She has never seen him before and is intrigued. It turns out that he is a hermit named Jesse Lockhart who has lived on the protected island with a population of Great Cormorants for three years and is called "The Solitary" by the people of Haven Harbor. Only Dave Percy, a needlepointer and high-school teacher seems to know much about Jesse. Multimillionaire Gerry Bently is visiting in Haven Harbor and is determined to buy the island and build a huge home there. Jesse, as part-owner, has no interest in selling. He just wants to be left alone to protect the Great Cormorants. Someone is willing to kill Jesse to make sure that the sale goes through.

I always enjoy the Mainely Needlepoint series and Dangling by a Thread is no exception. As a long-time summer visitor in Maine, I am well aware of the tension that between those who want development and those who are concerned for the environment. Maine has always had a hard-scrabble economy and people struggle to get by. In today's world, it's good to see people work together to solve a problem, and that is the way it's done in Haven Harbor. Angie and her group of needlepointers are an interesting and likable group in a setting I love.The antique sampler sayings and descriptions that precede every chapter are often hilariously dour and revealing of the life of early New Englanders. I highly recommend the Mainely Needlepoint series for cozy mystery readers and those who have an interest in Maine life.

Lea Wait is a regular contributor to the Maine Crime Writers blog and recently posted a piece on real-life Maine hermits. Anyone who loves Maine and crime writing should take a look at this highly entertaining blog. Thanks to Kensington Books for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4 Stars

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Mad for Orchids

Annis Bell
Amazon Crossing
October 25, 2016

It is 1860 London and the newly married Lady Jane has just received a letter from her best friend, Alison. Alison is visiting her cousin Charlotte at her home in northern England. Alison is stranded because of her own advancing pregnancy, but she is very worried about her cousin. Charlotte seems to be suffering from some sort of wasting illness and her husband, Lord Frederick, is not only unconcerned but unsympathetic. Lord Frederick seems to be caught in his own obsession, the growing and importing of rare orchids. Alison wants Lady Jane to come and investigate. Lady Jane's new husband, Captain David Westcott, is against the journey, fearing the winter weather in the north. Having been in Northumberland in the winter, I can certainly understand his concerns. Lady Jane, however, has other ideas and goes anyway. Upon her arrival, she discovers a missing servant, a housekeeper who is still loyal to her former mistress, a seemingly mentally disturbed young son, a secretive governess  and a husband who is verbally abusive. The mystery only deepens as Charlotte sinks into hysteria and manic behavior.

The Black Orchid is an entertaining historical mystery that blends social commentary and a look at the beginnings of the orchid obsession in England and Europe. I particularly enjoyed the letters from South America written by his orchid hunter. Orchid obsession is nothing new and continues with some gardeners even today, I was somewhat troubled by anachronisms in the novel but it was meant more as entertainment rather than education. Her descriptions of Captain Westcott's investigations in the infamous slums of London are vivid and true to the history of the city and the poverty of the people in them. Lady Jane, David, and the supporting characters are appealing. I wish that I had read the first book in the series, The Girl at Rosewood Hall, before The Black Orchid as there are spoilers. I intend to remedy that as soon as possible. Thanks to NetGalley and Amazon Crossing for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 3.5 rounded up to 4 Stars

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Charming Cozy in the Tradition of Agatha Christie

Lady Hardcastle # 1
T. E. Kinsey
Thomas & Mercer
October 4, 2016

It is 1908 and the widowed Lady Hardcastle and her maid, Florence Armstrong, have left a more active,eventful life behind. On the surface, Lady Hardcastle and Flo are just what they seem, typical Edwardian stock characters. Beneath that surface, though, are two women who have lived a life of adventure and danger and have formed a unique bond. Instead of a contented retirement, they first encounter a dead body in the woods, then a murder at a country house party and a jewel theft. So much for the quiet life.

A Quiet Life in the Country takes the conventions of the traditional British Cozy and turns them upside down. The characters are quirky, refreshing and more than a little off-center. Lady Emily's and Flo's repartee is witty, bringing more than one laugh out loud moment. By the time I finished the book I was hungry for more of the adventures of Lady Emily and Florence and more about their lives in India and China. Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for a free copy in return for an honest review. I am looking forward to the next in the series, The Spirit is Willing, coming in December 2016.

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Beautiful Puzzle

A TERRIBLE BEAUTY (Lady Emily # 11)
Tasha Alexander
MacMillan Audio
October 11, 2016

I have been bogged down with work and family issues this month so have fallen behind with posting reviews. Luckily, I can listen to audiobooks while I work and there have been some great ones this month. Number 11 of the Lady Emily mysteries is the first on my list. Lady Emily and her husband, Colin, are planning a stay on the Greek island of Santorini. Emily inherited a villa on the island from her first husband, Philip Ashton, who died while on safari in Africa. After nearly a decade, Emily and Colin have put their guilt behind them; Emily for never having really loved Philip, and Colin for having fallen in love with his best friend's wife. The two along with Emily's childhood friend, Jeremy, Duke of Bainbridge, hope for rest and relaxation on the island they all love. But in the weeks leading up to the trip, Emily has continual reminders of Philip, and what she thinks are sightings of him in the distance, even on shipboard. So she is not really surprised that upon arrival at the villa she finds a man who says he is the long-lost Philip. He certainly looks like Philip, has Philip's memories and tells an almost unbelievable story about his absence. But can he really be Philip Ashton?

The story is partially told through journal entries by both Emily and Philip, ranging over years. Tasha Alexander kept me guessing throughout. Just when I thought the man could be Philip she throws a curve ball that made me say, "wait....what"? A Terrible Beauty is an excellent entry in this long-running but sometimes uneven series. The setting in 1899 Greece and Africa adds color and life to the story. It can be read easily as a stand-alone but I would recommend reading the first book in the series, And Only to Deceive, for a full understanding of the people and events.

RATING- 4 Stars

Friday, September 30, 2016

Murder Among the "Elite"

Leslie Nagel
Random House Alibi September 27, 2016

The upscale small town of Oakwood,Ohio has a very low crime rate but more than its share of gossip and infighting. Charley Carpenter's boutique, Old Hat Vintage Fashions, is her baby and she will do whatever is necessary to succeed. Charley is not one of the "elite" but when her friend, Frankie, suggests that she join the Agathas, a mystery book club run by the richest and most prominent women in town, she jumps at the chance. Charley finds more than a few of the women insufferable but with a local charitable costume event coming up she is looking for a bonanza of orders. Then Oakwood is shocked by two murders of women associated with the Agathas. When an Agathas member is also murdered, Charley recognizes that the methods of the killings correspond with those on the book club's reading list. She is able to persuade Detective Marcus Trenault to use her as an inside informant; much to his chagrin and discomfort.

Charley is a fiercely independent and stubborn young woman with a circle of supportive friends and family. She dropped out of college to look after her father after his series of debilitating strokes and has made a success of her business against steep odds. Detective Trenault and she have had a long and largely antagonistic relationship, despite a mutual attraction. It will be interesting to see the relationship develop in future books. I didn't figure out the perpetrator of the murders, much less the motive until the end. There were so many good suspects and that, I think, was a weakness. The Agathas were not as well defined as Charley's support group and I had difficulty keeping them sorted. Otherwise, The Book Club Murders is a very promising debut.

Thanks to Random House Alibi and NetGalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review. 

RATING-3.5 Stars

Monday, September 26, 2016

THE SINNER (Graveyard Queen # 5)
Amanda Stevens
September 27, 2016

It has been a year since the events of The Visitor, when cemetery restorer Amelia Grey's lover, John Devlin, told her he was taking a leave from his police job and moving out. Amelia is still nursing her hurt but takes on the job of restoring Seven Gates Cemetery. In the course of the restoration, she is drawn by what seems to be chanting voices to a circle of twelve graves in a secluded clearing, all guarded by mortsafes. Mortsafes are graves covered by a framework of iron and seldom seen out of early 19th century Scotland. They were used to defend against grave robbing to unearth corpses for dissection in the medical schools of the day. There is a pair of hands extending from one of the graves, centered in the circle; fresh hands.

The arrival of the police brings a new and enigmatic character in the Graveyard Queen's life.
The detective in charge of the investigation is Lucius Kendrick, handsome, charismatic, and apparently able to see ghosts, just as Amelia does. But is he trustworthy? The investigation takes them into a shadowy world of a cult of immortality questers, led by an apparently immortal figure, and a group of local citizens determined to stamp out anyone with paranormal abilities. To all appearances, John Devlin is now a member of the latter group. 

I am not a devotee of the horror genre, neither movies or books. I was hooked by the first three books in the Graveyard Queen series because of the original premise and the mystery of Amelia herself. My problem with both The Visitor and The Sinner is that there is frustratingly little overall story progression in either. I hope that the upcoming and final book in the series, The Awakening, will pull together all the disparate elements and provide closure. I got a little annoyed by the continuing angst in Amelia's relationship with Devlin. As far as I am concerned, John Devlin has a whole lot of explaining to do. I agonized somewhat over the rating for this book and finally settled on 3 stars. It was more than just "ok" and there were elements that I liked well enough to up the rating. Amanda Stevens has a masterly touch with suspense and an original take on some familiar genre conventions. I wish I was able to give The Sinner a higher rating.

Thanks to Mira and NetGalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 3 Stars

Friday, September 23, 2016

Double, Double, Toil and Trouble

Flavia de Luce # 8
Alan Bradley
Random House, Ballantine, Delacorte Press
September 20, 2016

"Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd. Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined. Harpier cries "Tis time, 'tis time"....MacBeth

After only a few months in Canada at a girl's boarding school, Flavia de Luce is on a ship bound to England, her home, Buckshaw, and the village of Bishop's Lacey. Accompanying her is Mrs. Bannerman, an acquitted murderess, who was also Flavia's Chemistry Mistress. The two have formed a firm friendship. Flavia will need that friendship before the end of the novel. Upon her arrival at Buckshaw Flavia learns that her father is in the hospital, gravely ill with pneumonia. Indeed, he is so ill that neither she nor any of her family is allowed to visit. Therefore Flavia is more than happy to visit an elderly woodcarver, on the request of the Vicar's wife. It being Flavia, however, when she arrives she finds the body of the woodcarver, murdered in a particularly gruesome manner. After forming her own conclusions, Flavia determined to unmask the guilty party.

All of the people we have grown to love (or at least tolerate) are present in the novel, the loyal Dogger, Mrs. Mullet, and Flavia's obnoxious sisters, Daffy and Feely. Added to the mix is her cousin, an exceedingly odd little girl. The household is so distraught by her father's illness that Flavia is able to fly around the countryside on her beloved bike, "Gladys", with no one paying any attention. Flavia has always been somewhat neglected by the family, but not even Dogger is paying her much mind this time. She can at least call on Mrs. Bannerman's help in her investigation and it is gladly given. 

I only discovered the Flavia De Luce novels this year and read them in rapid succession. Flavia is a unique voice in fiction, truly one of a kind. She is intelligent, enterprising, strong-minded and, now that she is growing up, developing an adult empathy that makes her even more attractive. However, I was shocked somewhat and saddened by the book's ending. After reading the seven previous books the wait for the next seems very long. Thanks to Delacorte Press and NetGalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review. I highly recommend Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd, with a further recommendation to start the series at the beginning with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sisterhood Forged by Shared Secrets

Lindsay Jayne Ashford
Lake Union Publishing
September 20, 2016

Three women come into close association onboard The Orient Express bound for Baghdad in 1928. One woman is the legendary writer of crime fiction, Agatha Christie. Still reeling from her husband's infidelity and their subsequent divorce, as well as her much heralded 10-day disappearance, Agatha doesn't feel she can be in England when her ex-husband marries his mistress. The divorce process in England was torturous at the time and Agatha is exhausted. The press has not been kind to her and she is travelling under her maiden name, Miller. Her cabin mate is Katherine Keeley, travelling to Baghdad to marry Leonard Wooley, the renowned archaeologist. Her secret concerns the tragic death by suicide of her first husband just six months into their marriage. The third woman is Nancy Nelson, on the run from her abusive, titled husband. Nancy is carrying another man's child and is terrified. In the course of the journey the women grow close, but it is in Bagdad that all secrets are revealed. The descriptions of the journey and Middle Eastern locales are breathtaking. One can almost smell the air and hear the sounds of Istanbul, Damascus and Baghdad in the late 1920's.

The three women band together to protect each other, especially the vulnerable Nancy. In the beginning, Katherine appears to be an unsympathetic character, both controlling and manipulative of everyone around, especially the men. Those men include Agatha's future husband, Max Mallowan. Much has been written about Agatha Christie and her disappearance. There is nothing new here on the disappearance but as Christie never addressed it in later life, not even in her autobiography, I don't think we will ever know the why or how. Katherine Keeley Woolley, who became an experienced excavator in her own right, has been overshadowed by her famous husband and persistent rumours about her sexuality. Those rumours and the possible truth behind them are very sensitively handled in The Woman on the Orient Express. 

It seems to me that the historical fiction can be measured by the interest it sparks in real historical events and people. I have read everything I can find on Katharine Keeley Woolley (admittedly not much) and am fascinated by her. She deserves a book all her own. Of course, Agatha Christie's books are a large part of my life-long love of reading. I thoroughly enjoyed The Woman on the Orient Express. Thanks to Lake Union and NetGalley.com for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING-4 Stars

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Food, Love and Murder on The South African Veld

Sally Andrew
Canongate Books (Kindle Edition)
July 7, 2016

Last year's Recipes for Love and Murder from South African author Sally Andrew set a very high standard, introducing a culture that was entirely foreign to me. South Africa mixes so many cultures, Dutch, German, British, Greek and of course the myriad of native African languages and cultures. Tannie Maria is an Afrikaner woman of a "certain age", widowed, who writes a combination advice and recipe column for her local newspaper. It was disclosed in the first book that Tannie Maria suffered years of violent abuse at the hands of her late husband, Fanie. 

The Satanic Mechanic begins with the court victory of the area Bushmen tribe over two large corporations, one agribusiness, and one diamond mining. The Bushmen have regained control over their ancestral lands which the corporations have controlled and exploited for decades. The leader of the Bushmen, Slimkat Kabbo, had received death threats prior to the case but everyone hopes that they were just that, threats that will disappear with the end of the case. Slimkat is not afraid and attends a food festival where he is poisoned and dies, despite police protection. Tannie Maria is on the spot, along with her new boyfriend, Detective Lieutenant Henk Kannemeyer. Henk is involved as he is one of the policemen detailed to protect Slimkat.

A secondary plot concerns Tannie Maria's grappling with her inability to take her relationship with Henk to a more physical level. It's clear that her years with Fanie have left her with PTSD and there may be more to his death than meets the eye. After consultations with two "experts", one who prescribes diet pills and the other, anti-depressants, Tannie Maria also hears about an informal therapy group dealing with PTSD, led by the "Satanic Mechanic". He was a Satanist at one point in his life but has renounced those beliefs and is trying to do good instead. He is also an excellent mechanic. The group is a diverse one with a mixture of people and economic statuses. The Satanic Mechanic is helping Tannie but she is still having flashbacks and hallucinations.She also has a very big secret. When another murder occurs, the murder of one of the group members, it is clear that one member has a secret worth killing for.

On its face, The Satanic Mechanic might be a very dark and depressing story. Instead, Sally Andrew has filled it with good humor, quirky characters and above all, mouth-watering descriptions of the food that Tannie Maria makes. Food is something that Tannie Maria loves and excels at. Thankfully, Andrew provides recipes at the end of the book. Under the category of quirky, I have to mention that a Police Detective with a pet lamb is OK with me! I could wish that she had included a glossary as she did at the end of Recipes for Love and Murder. Perhaps there will be a glossary included with the print version, available in the US early in 2017. The book itself is very topical, looking at the dark history of racial tensions in South Africa and the reverberations of violence even years after the events. It ends, however, on a very hopeful note.

I highly recommend The Satanic Mechanic and its predecessor, Recipes for Love and Murder. 

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Monday, September 12, 2016

Under the Glittering Towers

Ed James
Thomas & Mercer
September 1, 2016

A young woman not more than eighteen is found brutally murdered in a derelict building in East London. It appears that she may have been a prostitute but that doesn't matter to DI Simon Fenchurch. She appears to be about the age that his daughter Chloe would be. Chloe disappeared 10 years earlier without a trace and Fenchurch is understandably obsessed. He checks the cold case file every day and his obsession destroyed his marriage. The squad is on the hunt for the man they think murdered the girl when another young, dead female body is found. The case becomes even murkier when they can't identify either girl and their suspect is also murdered.

Fenchurch knows that something bigger is going on. What follows is a high octane thriller involving sex trafficking, police corruption and the worst kind of human depravity imaginable. The Hope That Kills is intricately plotted with well-defined characters, snappy dialogue and a breakneck pace. DI Fenchurch is a complex protagonist, one about two steps away from complete implosion. His obsession with Chloe's disappearance has nearly destroyed him but he is unable to let it go and move on. To lose a child in such a way is almost unimaginable, but to be a policeman in that situation adds another layer to the suffering.

I highly recommend The Hope That Kills and will be on the lookout for the next DI Fenchurch thriller. Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Velvet Hours

Alyson Richman
Berkley Books
September 6, 2016

In 2010 an apartment in Paris was opened, untouched, after 70 years. Inside was a treasure trove of furnishings and art ranging from the 1880's to pre-World War II. The apartment was owned by Marthe de Florian, a little-known courtesan, and inherited by her granddaughter, Solange Beaugiron. Among the treasures inside was a portrait of Marthe by Giovanni Boldini, a famous portrait painter of the era. In The Velvet Hours, Alyson Richman has fashioned an extraordinarily beautiful and moving imagining of the story behind the apartment. 

The facts known about Marthe de Florian and her granddaughter, Solange, are sparse and sometimes contradictory. Born Mathilde Beaugiron, in Richman's telling she came from an impoverished background and worked as a seamstress until she gave birth out of wedlock to a son, Henri. She knew that she was not able to support the child and gave him to a co-worker who was married and was unable to conceive. She moved on to become a chorus dancer and attracted the interest of a nobleman, Charles. Their arrangement was more than financial but was a true love affair lasting ten years. During this period she developed her natural taste and love for beauty. Charles not only encouraged her but in the end provided her with the means to survive and sustain herself. There were men after Charles, but none who truly captured her heart. Even the painter, Boldini was more of a friend and mentor than a lover. She reconnected with Henri when he was eighteen but the two remained estranged. She did not even meet her granddaughter until Solange was nineteen. It is the telling of her life story to Solange that forms the bulk of The Velvet Hours.

I read a lot of books but it is rare that I find one as memorable as The Velvet Hours. The language is sensual and the descriptions of the glittering life of the Belle Ã‰poque are captivating. Marthe is a wonderful character, resilient, pragmatic and never less than graceful. Solange herself grows to love her grandmother and as the Nazis move into France, Marthe is able to give her a gift that changes Solange's life forever. The book ends in a mixture of joy and sorrow that I am not ashamed to say brought me to tears. I won't forget The Velvet Hours and will be recommending it to everyone I know.

Thanks to Berkley and NetGalley.com for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 5 Stars

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Kathi Daley
Henery Press
September 6, 2016

It's autumn in the small resort community of Serenity, NV and high school teacher TJ Jenson is fully involved in the seasonal festivities. TJ has lived in Serenity all her life and knows everyone. One person that she has befriended, Zachary Collins, is a scarred recluse who has had little to do with the community for years. But he and TJ have a shared passion for puzzles and Zachary delights in concocting puzzles and treasure hunts for TJ to solve. Even though TJ is very busy with the beginning of school and her recent guardianship of her very young half sisters she always makes time to visit Zachary. But when she arrives at Zachary's house she finds his dead body sitting in a chair. Even though Zachary is in his eighties and could be dead of natural causes, TJ thinks that something is wrong. For one thing, there is an open bottle od scotch next to his body and Zachary never drank. Zachary has left a box with a clue for her to solve and TJ begins to work on it, in hopes of finding out who might have wanted to kill him.

Pumpkins in Paradise is an intricately plotted cozy mystery, filled with quirky characters and small town atmosphere. Kathi Daley is obviously a seasoned author who is able to juggle multiple characters and plotlines with ease. The clues that TJ turns up all come together to make a satisfactory, and heart-warming conclusion. I am looking forward to visiting Serenity and Paradise Lake again.

Thanks to Henery Press and NetGalley.com for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Good but Poisonous Fun!

Chelsea Field
JFP Press
July 6, 2016

Despite its' somewhat fantastic premise, the existence of a shadowy multi-national organization of poison tasters for the rich and famous, I found Eat, Pray, Die a thoroughly entertaining humorous mystery. Our heroine, Australian Isobel Avery, is on the run from some very threatening bill collectors and has ended up in LA. Isobel's no good ex-husband has landed her in this mess, but she hopes that her new job with the Taste Society will pay her enough to get out from under the burden. That is, if she can stay hidden long enough to scrape together a large payment. Luckily, Isobel has a genetic mutation that protects her from most poisons and she has undergone months of training to distinguish poisons by taste.

Her first assignment is to work with Connor Stiles, a private security agent who is protecting a celebrity chef. Her cover is that of Connor's girlfriend: shame that, because the two are entirely different. Isobel is a free spirit, while Connor could not possibly be more buttoned up. There is plenty of comedy to be mined in the situation and Chelsea Field does not miss an opportunity. Fast paced, funny with strong supporting characters, Eat, Pray, Die is a great summer read and I am looking forward to the next in the series, The Hunger Pains.

Thanks to the author for a digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING-4 Stars

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Red-Letter Day

AN OBVIOUS FACT (Longmire # 12)
Craig Johnson
September 13, 2016

It is always a red-letter day when the newest Longmire novel lands at my house. I have said it before but I never thought that a series featuring a Wyoming sheriff might become a must-read. An Obvious Fact does not disappoint. Walt and Henry Standing Bear are supposedly on vacation in the small town of Hulett, Wyoming, just across the state line from Sturgis,South Dakota, home of the famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Henry is going to participate in the hill climb, but Walt is looking into an accident in which a young cyclist was severely injured. Walt never really takes a vacation after all. Both Walt and Henry are unaware that the injured young man is the son of the legendary Lola, after whom Henry's classic Thunderbird, and Walt's granddaughter, is named.Henry, however, seems strangely reluctant to get involved with Lola in any way.

An Obvious Fact turns into a wild ride involving undercover ATF agents, biker gangs, neo-Nazi wannabes, gunrunners and a megalomaniacal millionaire.  I am always happy when Henry Standing Bear is present for most of the action.The byplay between the two old friends adds to the humor that is always present to a greater or lesser degree. Walt's undersheriff and love interest, Vic Moretti, also adds to the fun when she competes in a skeet shooting match, something she has never done before. I have no idea where the relationship between Vic and Walt is going but it is fun to watch.

Thanks to First to Read for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.  I highly recommend An Obvious Fact.

RATING- 4.5 Stars