Friday, April 22, 2016

Murder among the Nashville Society Crowd

MUG SHOT (Java Jive # 2)
Caroline Fardig
Random House Alibi
April 19, 2016

Juliet Langley is still working  day and night managing her friend Pete Bennett's coffee shop in Nashville. The last thing she needs is involvement in another murder. Pete's snooty society girlfriend, Cecilia Hollingsworth, is organizing the annual 5K race for charity and Java Jive has a booth at the finish line. Juliet and Cecilia are not friends, to say the least, but Juliet never expected to find Cecilia's dead body in the booth on the morning of the race. Pete is immediately the prime suspect; after all, he set up the booth the previous night and his fingerprints are all over the booth and the murder weapon. When Pete is arrested Juliet goes all out to prove his innocence and uncovers secrets that the upper crust of Nashville would like to keep buried.

The determined and feisty redhead stakes her last dime, literally, on Pete's innocence. The police, including Juliet's ex-boyfriend, Ryder, think they have their man but Juliet knows better. The cast of baristas, Pete's grandmother, Gertie, and Juliet's society friend, Savannah, all play their parts in the second Java Jive mystery. The book is fast  paced and very funny and I recommend it as a complete escape read with a twist that I never saw coming.

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

RATING- 4 Stars

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Suspenseful and Spooky

Simone St. James
Penguin Group/NAL
April 6, 2016

I always have had time for a good ghostly, gothic story in my reading life and Simone St. James is one of the best contemporary practitioners of the genre. She writes stories set in the 1920's and addresses the great upheaval caused by WWI. Jo Manders's husband, Alex, went missing during the war and because he is missing, she is not formally a widow; therefore, not entitled to any benefits. Added to her grief is the fact that she has an insane mother that she must keep in a private institution, keeping her scrambling to keep her head above water. 

When Alex's aunt, Dottie Forsyth, offers a position as a companion on a European trip, Jo accepts. After all, her mother no longer recognizes her and the job will keep her from the necessity of paying rent for awhile. Dottie is no easy employer, though; grim, demanding and avaricious. Upon returning from Europe Dottie wants her to stay on and go Dottie's home, Wych Elm House. The house is full of discord from Dottie's rakish husband and rumors about the suicide of the daughter of the house three years before. Dottie's son was severely injured in the War as well and does not appear to be recovering. As soon as Jo arrives, she is aware of being watched and has frightening encounters with the daughter's ghost. Can Jo be going mad like her mother before her? And did she know Alex at all?

Lost Among the Living is a spooky read with a tender romance at the heart of it. There are two romances, in fact, both with nicely satisfying endings. Thanks to First to Read for an advance digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

RATING-4 Stars

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

So, just who is Clara Hudson?

Laurie R. King
Random House Publishing Group
April 5, 2016

The fourteenth novel in the Sherlock Holmes/ Mary Russell series opens on a quiet summer day on the Sussex Downs. Mary Russell is home alone, as Mrs. Hudson, the longtime landlady, then housekeeper, to Sherlock Holmes is doing her regular marketing. Sherlock Holmes is away doing whatever Sherlock does: probably a mission for Mycroft Holmes. At the door is a man, claiming to be Mrs. Hudson's son. All of Mary's alarm bells are ringing, as she knows nothing of a son. She,however, does know about a nephew in Australia. Samuel Hudson has an Australian accent and the oily charm of a used-car salesman. Despite her misgivings, Mary admits him because she wants to hear his story and has confidence in her own ability to handle anything that comes her way.  In this situation her confidence is misplaced: Mrs. Hudson arrives home to find an empty cottage and a very large pool of blood on the floor. More blood in fact than anyone could survive losing. 

I think anyone who is familiar with the original Sherlock Holmes stories and the Holmes/Russell novels has always suspected that there is more to Clara Hudson than meets the eye. Her story, as Clarissa Hudson, is quite different from what might be expected. Mrs, Hudson is a woman of many parts; she and Sherlock have known each other much longer than disclosed. The Murder of Mary Russell  gives us all the answers about Clara and former irregular, Billy Mudd. Sherlock is able to solve the mystery of what has happened to Mary even through his grief and worry; thanks to some overlooked clues left by Mary herself.

A new Holmes and Russell novel is always a red-letter day for me and The Murder of Mary Russell may well be a favorite. I was on tenterhooks since first seeing the title and when I got my hands on it, read it in one sitting. It is another worthy entry in this long-running series. Thanks to Random House Publishing Group and NetGalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Mystery and Romance on Victorian Railways

Karen Odden
Random House Alibi
March 29, 2016

Lady Elizabeth Fraser is homeward bound along with her mother after a disappointing fourth Season in London. Not only is her mother angry that she has not made an advantageous match, but Elizabeth was largely ignored at the final ball and rumors are circulating about the family's fortunes. The train that they are traveling on derails at high speed but Elizabeth manages to get herself and her mother off with the help of a stranger. The scene is horrendous, with many injuries and much loss of life. After a long wait, they are approached by a handsome railway surgeon who treats their injuries and transfers them to a local inn. Elizabeth's mother is unconscious but the surgeon hopes she will recover. The inn is overrun with injured passengers and the surgeon, Paul Wilcox, has no help. Elizabeth considers it her duty to help him, despite the impropriety. During the long night, the two form an undeniable attraction. Elizabeth also finds out that the accident may have been sabotage, and there might be connections to her own family's affairs. Matters escalate when Paul is charged with manslaughter after one of his patients dies. Lady Elizabeth will do anything to save him from the charge; even if it reveals some old secrets in he family.

A Lady in the Smoke has all the elements that I usually enjoy in a Victorian mystery; a feisty and determined heroine, a well-crafted setting and good characterization. However, in this case, I found myself bogged down in the details of the railroad conspiracy and it didn't hold my interest. I liked many things about the book, but in this case, I can only give it a "like", not a "love" rating. Thanks to Random House Alibi and NetGalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review. 

RATING- 3 Stars

Friday, April 1, 2016

A World on the Edge of Destruction

Helen Simonson
Random House
March 22, 2016

It is the summer of 1914 and the world is holding it's breath as Germany invades Belgium. Britain is obligated by treaty to defend Belgium and war seems all but certain. The seaside town of Rye in Suffolk is enjoying a beautiful summer, though, as Beatrice Nash arrives in Rye to take up her post as the new Latin Mistress at the village school. Beatrice is an independent and well-educated young woman who is still reeling from the death of her much-loved academic father. Beatrice had travelled with him and managed his affairs for several years, having lost her mother several years previously. Beatrice now finds herself in straightened circumstances and must earn her own living. Not everyone in Rye is pleased but Beatrice finds an ally in Agatha Kent, a power in the town. Agatha is determined to give her every chance to succeed as the first female teacher; even though Beatrice is much younger and more attractive than expected. 

Agatha's much-loved nephews are visiting for the summer; Hugh Grange, aspiring surgeon, and Daniel Bookham, aspiring poet. Both young men have always holidayed in Rye, considering it more of a home to them than they are offered at their parents' residences. Hugh is the dependable, steady one and Daniel is the one who is emotional and often in trouble of one kind or another. As Beatrice settles into Rye she contends with both the good and bad of small-town life. Pettiness, prejudice, and small-mindedness are in plentiful supply in Rye; along with true kindness. All those attributes come out into the open when an influx of Belgian refugees arrive in Rye. Some townspeople see their arrival as a means to self-aggrandizement while others truly want to help.

I liked Helen Simonson's first novel, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, very much, but I loved The Summer Before the War. The pace is leisurely, but the book is so beautifully written, with passages of breathtaking beauty. The hearts and minds of every character are revealed in a slow progression, just as it is in the real world. It has been a long time since I ran the gamut of emotions from anger to sorrow to joy so intensely in any book. The world changes completely in the course of the summer and autumn of 1914, and nothing will ever be the same. I finished it in the wee hours of the morning, tissues in hand. The Summer Before the War is a gem; one that I recommend highly. 

Many thanks to Random House and for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 5 Stars