Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Murder, Treachery and Treason in the Regency

A Wrexford and Sloane Mystery #1
Andrea Penrose
Kensington Books
June 27, 2017

A clandestine meeting of shadowy figures in a church culminates in a grisly murder. The victim is the Reverend Josiah Holworthy, a pompous churchman who has been carrying on a very public feud with the Earl of Wrexford. The Reverend has held up the Earl as the very personification of wickedness. Enter Charlotte Sloane, a caricature artist with a wicked pen and a large following. She works under the pen name of A.J. Quill and guards her real identity jealously. As a woman, she would never be allowed to publish. Her late husband, Anthony, had used the name and she is forced to take up his trade to stay afloat. Charlotte has developed a number of sources and is able to get into the church between the discovery of the body and the arrival of the Bow Street Runners. Not only are the Runners eager to pin the murder on Wrexford, but the drawing Charlotte publishes the next morning of the horrible scene inflames all London against him. Wrexford must investigate the murder to save his own neck and his first order of business is find out the identity of A. J. Quill. Charlotte and Wrexford form an uneasy alliance, aided by a pair of street urchins that Charlotte has befriended. The two plunge into a swirling abyss of murder, alchemy, forgery, and treason with an explosive ending.

The Regency Era is a fascinating time in which there was great interest in science and new discoveries. The scientists working in The Royal Institution, led by Humphry Davy were the celebrities of their day and their discoveries followed and heralded by both the "ton" and the general public. Science and chemistry play a large part in the the story, forming a background to what is an excellent mystery and ripping good yarn. Both Charlotte and Wrexford are well-developed characters: Wrexford, very much the aristocrat of his time, but possessing a soft center, and Charlotte, who is a woman with a steely will and secrets of her own. She was obviously gently born and extremely well-educated but has sunk out of that circle of society. I am looking forward to learning more about her story and watching what is an obvious attraction between Wrexford and herself develop. The supporting characters, particularly Raven and Hawk, Charlotte's two street urchins are also welcome additions.

I thoroughly enjoyed Murder on Blak Swan Lane. Thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions above are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Scouting for Jane Austen

Death on Location Book 1
Sara Rosett

Kate Sharp is a location scout based in LA who is also a Jane Austen aficionado. In fact, if life hadn't interfered, Kate would have worked on a Doctorate in Literature, specializing in Austen. Her boss, Kevin Dunn, is currently in England and scouting locations for a new production of Pride and Prejudice. When Kevin does not return as scheduled, Kate and her co-workers are very worried. Not only is Kevin a mentor to all of them, he has had substance abuse problems in the past. Rather than raise the alarm and possibly causing rumors in the industry, Kate sets off to the picturesque village of Nether Woodsmoor to find him. Her search takes her on pub crawls and a collaboration with a local scout, handsome if rumpled Alex Norcutt. The two make a good team, digging up information to help solve the mystery of Kevin's disappearance...even if the local constabulary is not all that happy about their efforts.

Book 2, Death in an English Cottage, finds Kate back in England. Her LA company has folded and the original P & P production is canceled. 
Alex, however, gets her a new job on a new Jane Austen documentary to be filmed in the area. Not only does she need the work, but there are definite stirrings of attraction between Kate and Alex. The residents of Nether Woodsmoor seem happy to see her back with the notable exception of her new employer. The producer, Elise, seems to have taken an unreasonable dislike for Kate from their first meeting. Kate soldiers on, dealing with Elise and a celebrity historian, vandalism in the village and a dead body in the cottage next door. Alex seems distant at times and holding secrets of his own. Kate is beginning to think she has made a very bad decision in coming back to England at all.

Death in a Stately Home, Book 3, continues as the Jane Austen documentary is revamped and Kate and Elise have made peace (of sorts). She and Alex are now a couple and preparing for the visit of his 12-year-old sister, Grace, for whom he is the guardian. Kate is a little nervous about Grace and it appears that Grace is not too thrilled about Kate as well. The local stately home, Parkview Hall, is holding a series of Regency weekends in which Regency dress and customs are observed. Elise wants her to attend one of the house parties and Lady Beatrice of Parkview wants her there too. There have been a series of negative comments on the internet, not only about the house parties, but about Sir Harold, Beatrice's husband, and the owner of the Hall. Beatrice and Kate have formed a friendship and Beatrice wants Kate to use her powers of observation on the weekend. Beatrice thinks that the internet postings originate with someone on the staff. It's a motley crew at the weekend; financiers, fashionistas, Jane Austen enthusiasts and a party planning for a wedding. The first night culminates in a murder in a classic locked-room mystery. This is murder with a difference however in that Kate is considered a suspect by some.

I am very much enjoying the Murder on Location series. There is some, but not too much detail on the ins-and-outs of being a location scout. That is a job I had never thought about at all. I did find the character development a little weak in Death in the English Countryside, but as the series progresses I am learning more about Kate and Alex and finding them more likable. The vivid descriptions of the village and its residents are an added plus. The plotting is very good with plenty of twists. I will be reading more of the series in the future. I received a copy of Death in the English from an author giveaway and purchased Books 2 and 3. The opinions above are my own.

RATING- 4 Star

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Farseer's End

ASSASSIN'S FATE (The Fitz and the Fool # 3)
Robin Hobb
Del Rey
May 9, 2017

It has been a couple of weeks since I finished Assassin's Fate and it has taken me that long to let it settle. In fantasy, several factors play into the execution; world building, coherent social/magic systems and characterization being just some of them. World building and systems are important, but above all (at least for me) are characters I can invest in. I have been fully invested in FitzChivalry Farseer through three trilogies now; The Farseer Trilogy, The Tawny Man Trilogy, and now The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy. There are many memorable characters in the Six Duchies, but Fitz is indelible in his messy, chaotic, maddening humanity. His small, mysterious daughter, Bee, is another unforgettable piece of the tapestry. Following Fitz's life from bastard child to middle-aged man has been frustrating, rewarding, horrifying and often heart-breaking. 

I'm not going to try to synopsize Assassin's Fate other than to say that after several years of relative peace living as Tom Badgerlock with his beloved Molly, Fitz's life falls apart with the seemingly impossible pregnancy of Molly. After a very long gestation, Molly brings forth Bee, a tiny girl who takes an inordinate amount of time to grow and develop. Molly dies when Bee is still a tiny child. Bee seems backward and odd in the extreme, but Molly gives her all the love and attention a child could need. When Molly dies, Fitz is overcome by grief and at a loss about how to raise Bee. The Fool's sudden reappearance complicates matters. The Fool has been horribly tortured by the sadistic White Prophets on the island of Clerres where the Fool grew up and then returned to, expecting a warm welcome. Fitz's efforts to save the Fool's life ensure that he is not at home when Bee needs him most. Bee is kidnapped by a band of the same White Prophets and Fitz's estate and people are destroyed. Fitz becomes convinced that Bee is dead and wants revenge. The Fool is not sure as he has had dreams about Bee. The two set out on the long journey to Clerres and Fitz's ultimate fate.

Robin Hobb incorporates elements and characters from the Farseer books as well as from the Liveship Traders and the Rain Wild Chronicles. I confess that I have read neither Live Ship or Rain Wild. In fact, after The Soldier Son Trilogy, I laid off Hobb's books. I found the Soldier Son books tough going. No doubt it would have made The Fitz and the Fool a richer experience had I read them but it was always Fitz's voice, and now Bee's, that intrigue me. Fitz's ultimate fate is not what I ever would have chosen or wished for him, but ultimately he is Robin Hobb's creation and her vision. I don't doubt that we will see more of the Six Duchies and the Farseer Dynasty, but Fitz will be missed. To sum up, I ran across a Facebook meme from one of the many "bookish" sites I frequent that expresses my feelings exactly:

 me: This book brutally ripped out my heart and tore it to shreds then stomped it into the
        ground as I drowned in a sea of tears and basked in eternal sorrow.

me:  Here read it.

Thanks to NetGalley and Del Rey for an advance digital copy. The opinions above are my own.

RATING-  5 Stars                 

Monday, June 5, 2017

THE TROUBLE WITH HARRIET (Ellie Haskell Mystery)
Dorothy Cannell
Random House Alibi
June 13, 2017

The kids are at the grandparent's home and Ben and Ellie are ready for a much-deserved getaway to France. Their plans are disrupted however when Ellie's long absent father, Morley, shows up bearing an extremely ugly urn containing the ashes of his lady love, Harriet. Morley is a character, to say the least; large, emotional, with a specialty in drama. Ellie is conflicted since Morley essentially abandoned her after her mother's death when Ellie was only seventeen. She wants to do the right thing but Morley's story of his meeting Harriet abroad, falling head-over-heels with her, and her subsequent death in an accident doesn't add up. Morley is in England to deliver her ashes to her relatives but doesn't want to give the urn up. The relatives are very strange and the ashes go missing, thanks to an absent-minded vicar. Ellie becomes convinced that there is more to the story, and to Harriet than meets the eye.

The Trouble With Harriet has some very funny situations and characters but is not one of my favorites in the series. My personal taste doesn't lean toward farce and The Trouble With Harriet is pure farce from beginning to end. It is, however, a fun and fast-paced read and features most of the quirky characters I have enjoyed in previous books.

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

RATING- 3 Stars