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