Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Ravenmaster is Pure Pleasure

My Life With the Ravens at the Tower of London
Christopher Skaife
Harper Collins
October 2, 2018

The first thing I have to say about The Ravenmaster is that it has been a very long time since I have enjoyed reading a book so much. Spending a few hours with The Ravenmaster, Christopher Skaife, and the ravens of the Tower; Munin, Merlina, Erin, Rocky, Jubilee II, Gripp II, and Harris, is pure pleasure. I learned so much that I never knew about ravens, their lore and behavior. Both the Ravens and the humans living their lives in the Tower are fascinating.

Christopher Skaife served his country for 24 years in the British Army all over the world before moving on to a new career as a Yeoman Warder at the Tower. He knew nothing about ravens, but the former Ravenmaster had a notion that the Ravens might just like Skaife. He began apprenticing for the job and eventually moved into it, finding not only a new career but his passion. Skaife has introduced many new innovations into the Raven's lives, including an improved night enclosure and a change in the trimming of their wings, resulting in greater freedom. This last has caused no end of trouble for him when trying to get them into the enclosure at night, but he considers it well worth it. The position of Ravenmaster is in addition to his regular duties, leading 3-4 tours a day, and his day begins at 5:30 in the morning and ends when all the Ravens are settled for the night. He has read widely and assembled an encyclopedic knowledge of ravens, the City of London, and the Tower. He clearly loves the Ravens and cares for them faithfully. As he says of himself, he is a "glass full to the brim" sort of person. He also has a gift for storytelling, a useful attribute for a Yeoman Warder and writer.

Reading The Ravenmaster brought back memories of my own visit to The Tower years ago. At the time, I was focused more on the Crown Jewels, like most tourists, I suspect. If I have an opportunity to return, I will pay more attention to the avian residents. I do recall a pleasant conversation with our guide who, like me, thinks that King Richard III got a raw deal from the historians. He very kindly pointed me toward some reading on the subject that I was unaware of.

RATING- 5 Stars

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Shakespeare and Murder in a Hampshire Garden

A Potting Shed Mystery # 7
Marty Wingate
Random House Alibi
November 6, 2018

It's MIdsummer in Hampshire, and the villagers are agog over the outdoor staging of A Midsummer Night's Dream in the garden of a local country house. The garden is never open to the public, as the owners are absentee and the resident gardener is reclusive. American transplant Pru Parke is excited by the prospect of finally seeing the garden and the villagers by the casting of a telly star of years gone by. The gardener is upset, however, by the actors trampling around his treasured garden and abruptly quits. When Pru is offered the opportunity to be the "stage designer' by advising on and providing plants for the performance she jumps at the chance. Pru is even a little stage-struck herself.

The company, Shakespeare au Natural, is led by Max Sterling, a legendary director who has been out of the business for some years due to the terminal illness of his beloved wife. He hopes the production will re-start his flagging career. Max is a person of great charm and charisma, and he is supported by a group of old friends who are also hoping Max can succeed. Most of them have worked together for years and have a tangled web of personal relationships both as friends and former lovers. There are some new additions of younger actors, but most seem to be dedicated to making a performance to remember. The one exception is the actor playing Lysander, who is both a womanizer and lacks a work ethic.  When death strikes the company, inveterate sleuth Pru, abetted by her police inspector husband, Christopher Pearse, is in a prime position to untangle the web of relationships.

It's hard to believe that this is the seventh in the Potting Shed Mysteries, a series that I have thoroughly enjoyed. Pru and Christopher are likable characters who gather friends and allies wherever they go. The mixture of gardening lore, mystery, and a little romance, this time with theatrical settings, make another great read.

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

RATING- 5 Stars

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Move Over Sherlock

A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop # 4
Vicki Delany
Crooked Lane Books
November 13, 2018 (kindle edition)

Its the height of summer in West London on Cape Cod and transplanted Englishwoman Gema Doyle is very busy with customers at her bookshop, which specializes in Sherlockiana and other mystery fiction and non-fiction. Gemma staggers home late one night, only wishing to fall in bed but her dog, Violet, needs a walk and has other ideas. While on their stroll, Gemma and Violet pass a local historical home, Scarlet House, which operates as a small museum. They smell smoke and see flames and quickly report the fire. After a brief investigation, the fire marshal determines that it was probably started by a docent who carelessly locked up and left a candle burning. There is a lot of damage to the house, but Gemma doesn't see anything suspicious about it. That changes when Gemma, and her partner, Jayne, are asked to host a tea and silent auction to benefit the museum for needed repairs and replacement of lost items.

During the organizational meeting the tensions within the museum staff and volunteers surface. There has been a recent forced change in the leadership of the Scarlet House organization, with accompanying ill-feeling. The new head, Kathy Lamb, is competent, if prickly. Gemma puts that down to a recent messy divorce that has left Kathy much reduced in her circumstances. When she is murdered at the auction, the ex-husband is the prime suspect for a while, but there are plenty of suspects to go around, including the ex's wealthy new wife. A second murder leads Gemma to do what she does best, ask questions and make deductions, causing friction with her policeman boyfriend, Ryan Ashburton. 

I highly recommend this series with its Cape Cod setting, well-rounded characters, and twisty puzzles. I did not catch on to the real perpetrator until the very end of A Scandal in Scarlet. Gemma herself is a bit of an acquired taste with her confrontational style and reckless determination to get to the bottom of things. One of the things I appreciate is the reading suggestions Gemma gives her customers. Even though I am a Sherlock fan, I always discover new books to check into.

Thanks to Crooked Lane and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Murder on the Picturesque Oregon Coast

A Britton Bay Mystery # 1
Jody Holford
Lyrical Underground
October 30, 2018

When big-city newspaper editor Molly Owens walks into her apartment and finds her boyfriend in a compromising position with his ex, she decides it's time for a change. Molly is an army brat who has never put down roots anywhere. Britton Bay, a seaside town in Oregon is looking for a new editor for its local paper. Molly thinks this will be just the challenge and change she needs. The paper, though of long standing in the community, has been neglected by its owner and needs to be dragged into the 21st century. All of the small staff is welcoming, with the glaring exception of Vernon Wise, who makes it clear immediately that he is not interested in any of Molly's ideas or direction. The staff photographer, Clay, who turns out to be Vernon's son, is welcoming, but creepy. There are all sorts of undercurrents in the newsroom, especially between Alan Benedict, the owner, and his assistant, Elizabeth Grover.

Molly jumps right in with suggestions, backed fully by Alan, for a new direction for the paper. Her first order is to Vernon for an interview with the matriarch of Britton Bays' founding family, the Phillips. Vernon agrees, under protest and with ill grace. Molly thinks that Britton Bay is an excellent choice and quickly rents a charming carriage house, finds new friends, takes in an adorable stray puppy, and meets Sam Alderich, a dishy auto mechanic. The day after the interview with the Phillips matriarch, Vernon calls in sick and on the next day is a no-show. Molly finds him bludgeoned to death in his home, and in her mind, the interview and murder must be connected. She feels somewhat responsible, even as she uncovers blackmail and possible extramarital affairs in the mix at the newspaper.

I enjoyed the setting and found the mystery to be challenging. Molly herself is likable, even if overly responsible for events beyond her control and unmindful of her own safety. The instant romance with Sam was a little too easy, considering her previous experience with men. Deadly News is a fun, complete escape read and I look forward to another visit to Britton Bay.

Thanks to NetGalley and Lyrical Underground Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3 Stars

A Series that Continues to Improve

A Pancake House Mystery # 4
Sarah Fox
Lyrical Underground
October 30, 2018

A new pancake restaurant is opening in Wildwood Cove and the owner of the Flip Side, Marley McKinney, is a little uneasy about the competition. The self-proclaimed "Waffle King" is making a lot of noise and Marley wonders if there is enough business to go around. Wally Fowler, the owner of the new restaurant, grew up in Wildwood Cove and made no friends there. Marley thinks that the much-loved Flip Side will survive just fine. But when Wally is murdered inside his restaurant, suspicion quickly grows around Marley's best friend, Lisa, and her gruff chef, Ivan. A second murder makes the situation worse.

The Pancake House Mysteries have continued to improve with each book in the series. Yeast of Eden has all the ingredients for a successful series: a colorful setting, memorable, mostly likable characters, and a twisty puzzle. I particularly enjoyed the secondary story of two girls who disappeared decades before. Marley's attempts to solve both mysteries get her into real danger this time. 

Thanks to Lyrical Underground and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Antique Embroidery Leads to Murder

A Mainely Needlepoint Mystery # 7
Lea Wait
Kensington Books
October 30, 2018

It's February in Haven Harbor ME, and things are quiet in Angie Curtis' needlepoint business and in her friend Sarah's antique business. Sarah, however, uses the quiet months when there are no tourists to attend auctions and stock up for the busy months. Angie is excited to participate in her first estate auction, with an eye to possibly purchase a historical sampler or two. She quickly finds that those included are out of her price range, but what catches her eye is a poorly framed and deteriorated embroidery of a coat of arms. She is fascinated because it is unusual to see such an embroidery in America. The bidding is fierce, but no one else is interested, and Angie wins the piece. When she takes it apart, she finds an envelope with a "billet" dating back to 1757 describing the admission of an infant named Charles to a foundling hospital and an embroidered ribbon. Incurably curious, Angie sets out to find out what foundling hospital, what happened to Charles, and how the embroidery ended up in Maine. To this end, she enlists all her friends at Mainely Needlepoint, and even mentions it to her friend, Clem, at the local TV station. Clem thinks it would make an excellent short piece for her broadcast. Little do they know that the show will lead to death threats, murder, a bombing and Angie going into hiding.

Lea Wait has written another entertaining mystery in the Mainely Needlepoint series, packed with local color and quirky, interesting characters. As a long time visitor to Maine (both summer and winter) Haven Harbor is authentic to me. I always get good ideas for places to visit, this time the sampler collection at the Saco Museum. There is more than a dash of developing romance this time, both for Angie and Sarah. I highly recommend the entire series and hope for more.

Thanks to Kensington Books and for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Death By Picture Show?

Lady Hardcastle and Flo Mystery # 4
T. E. Kinsey
Thomas & Mercer
October 22,2018

The fourth in the adventures of Lady Hardcastle and Flo takes us back to the quiet village of Littleton Cotterell in 1909 Gloucestershire. I say quiet, but Littleton Cotterell has been anything but quiet since the formerly globetrotting Lady Hardcastle and her "tiny servant," Flo Armstrong, settled there. Mysteries and murders have been plentiful, all needing the skills of the ladies to solve.

It's late October and with the advent of Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night, their friend and neighbor, Lady Farley-Stroud, wants to organize something special for the village. She has invited a producer of the new moving picture shows, Nolan Cheetham, and his actors to premiere his film in the village. The film is a ten-minute masterpiece entitled The Downfall of the Witch. Lady Hardcastle and Flo get involved when a fire in Lady Farley-Stroud's kitchen makes her unable to put the troupe up as planned, and Lady Hardcastle steps in to offer them accommodation. The film's showing is a huge success, despite noisy, bible-thumping protesters who think that moving pictures are the devil's workshop. The success of the show is dampened when one of the actors is murdered shortly after its premiere, in the same manner as in the film. Other deaths follow, and it will take all the ladies' skill to solve this convoluted puzzle.

A Picture of Murder is as delightful as its predecessors with quirky characters, a charming setting and a tricky puzzle to solve. The villagers, local police and household staff we have come to know make appearances, along with a pair of jazz musicians from an earlier book. We get the whole story behind Lady Hardcastle and Flo's journey through China and India, along with a foreshadowing of events to come. Flo even gets to demonstrate the martial arts skills she learned on those journeys while taking down the culprits. I especially love the friendship forged between Lady Hardcastle and Flo. They are nominally employer and servant but are more like sisters. These novels are perfect escape reads, and I recommend reading them in order to maximize the enjoyment. 

Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Murder and Deception Among the Fashionable Set

The High Society Lady Detective, Book 1
Sara Rosett
October 15, 2018

Sara Rosett takes us back to the Roaring 20's with the first book in The High Society Lady Detective Series. Olive Belgrave is from an aristocratic background but finds herself nearly penniless and needing a job. She and her father have always been close, especially since the death of her much-loved mother. However, financial reverses and the advent of a new and managing wife have driven a wedge between them. Olive is determined to set out on her own, and not be forced into a marriage with an obnoxious curate, which the new stepmother thinks is just the thing. Olive has no marketable skills and has been pounding the pavements in London, with no luck. She is wondering how she is going to manage her room rent when she gets a call from her cousin, Gwen. Gwen's flighty younger sister, Violet, has gotten herself engaged to a young man of whom knows anything. Alfred Eaton appears to have plenty of money, but Gwen fears that he is a fortune hunter. She implores Olive to accompany her, and Violet, to a house party at the home of Sebastian Blakely who claims to be Alfred's godfather. No one can imagine Blakely as a godfather to any child, and he has never mentioned it before Alfred's sudden appearance. Gwen wants Olive to try to find out what she can about Alfred and offers to pay her for her efforts. When a murder occurs, and Violet is the main suspect, Olive discovers detection skills she never knew she had. 

Murder at Archly Manor introduces a very likable and determined heroine in the person of Olive Belgrave, along with other intriguing characters that I hope to see more of in future books. There is plenty of period atmosphere and mouth-watering descriptions of the fashions of the era. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this light-hearted, historical mystery. Thanks to the author for an advance copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Witches, Scandal, Ghosts, and Family Secrets Abound in Willow Hall

Hester Fox
Graydon House
October 2, 2018

It's 1812 in Massachusetts and the wealthy Montrose family, mother, father and daughters, Catherine, Lydia, and Emmeline have fled Boston pursued by scandal. The son of the house, Charles, has also fled to London. Catherine is the beautiful,  volatile eldest daughter, Lydia the mousey, quiet middle daughter and Emmeline the imaginative youngest. Willow Hall is newly constructed and palatial but from the beginning seems unwelcoming, and even threatening to the family. Even worse, it seems to be amplifying certain powers that Lydia has been trying to suppress all her life. When spirits start to manifest, one an ancestor who was hung as a witch during the Witch Trials of the previous century, Lydia begins to understand that she must explore her heritage to save herself and her family.

Lydia is immediately drawn to her father's upright new business partner, John Barrett, and despite his reticence, he appears interested in her as well. She has always considered herself to be much less attractive than her flamboyant sister, Catherine. The fact that her fiance broke off their engagement when the scandal broke has not helped. Catherine is the source of the embarrassment that hounds them but seems to be determined to find a husband and get away as soon as possible. To that end, she will do anything, even undermine Lydia. Their father is distant, their mother is fading away slowly, so it is up to Lydia to raise and educate Emmeline. It will take a series of tragedies to bring some peace to the Montrose family. 

The Witch of Willow Hall is a mixture of genres; gothic, ghost, paranormal, mystery, romance, and family history. It begins with an episode in Lydia's childhood that immediately engaged my interest and continues with enough twists and turns to make one's head spin. Hester Fox draws out the revelation of the scandal that caused the Montrose family to uproot themselves masterfully. When it finally is revealed, it is quite a shocker, unless one has been taking in just how destructive Catherine is. I am afraid that I found all the twists annoying after a while and just wanted to get on with it. My interest held, however.

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

RATING- 3 Stars

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Agatha Makes Some Big Mistakes

Agatha Raisin # 29
M.C. Beaton
St. Martins Minotaur
October 2, 2018

The 29th book in the Agatha Raisin series takes us to the Cotswold village of Thirk Magna, where the bell ringers of St. Ethelred are renowned and very serious about their pursuit. They are also very excited about the visit of the new bishop; especially middle-aged twin sisters, Mavis and Millicent Dupin. The new bishop is very dishy, seems to have sex appeal that he can turn off and on at a whim, and a questionable history with women. Despite his good looks and charm, Agatha dislikes him almost immediately. When one of the twins is murdered, Agatha is hired to find out who might have killed her and why. There are plenty of suspects because just about everyone in Thirk Magna is up to no good.

I had high hopes that Agatha was finally growing up in the previous book, Agatha Raisin and the Witches' Tree, but in this one, she falls back into her old insecurities. She seems even more determined to find a man to settle down with, and as a result, makes a huge mistake. And at the end of The Dead Ringer, possibly a more lasting mistake. Sir Charles is still around but as commitment phobic as ever. As ever, the Agatha Raisin series is fast and fun, but I didn't enjoy this one as much as some of the previous books.

Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martins Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 2.5 rounded up to 3

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Deft Skewering of the Post WWI Class Based Society

A Beryl and Edwina Mystery # 2
Jessica Ellicott
Kensington Books
September 25, 2018

Funds are tight again for old school friends and living companions, Edwina Davenport and Beryl Helliwell. On the surface, the two make a very odd couple: Beryl a brash, much-married and divorced American globe-trotter, and Edwina, a spinster who has lived in sleepy Walmsley Parva all her life. But the two formed a strong friendship at their shared boarding school, and they live comfortably together. Beryl, in particular, is enjoying being part of village life after never belonging anywhere. Edwina's shortness of funds is nothing new, but Beryl's ex-husbands are slow sending her alimony checks. On the strength of solving a murder in Murder In An English Village, the two decide to set up an investigation agency.

Their first client is the Vicar, who is president of the local pigeon-racing club. The club treasurer has gone missing, along with several prize pigeons and the club funds. The Vicar is hoping Beryl and Edwina can find him, discreetly, and get the funds and pigeons back. The two search for him at his workplace, boarding house and discover his body at his pigeon loft. It's clearly murder, and there is no shortage of suspects; extra-marital affairs, missing jewelry, coal miner unrest and changes in social mores all play a part in this fast-paced, clever mystery.

Jessica Ellicott has a deft hand with characters and a humorous way of skewering class distinctions. The notion that a tradesman is somehow socially superior to a coal miner may seem strange to us but not in an English village in the 1920's, despite all the changes brought by WWI. Walmsley Parva has more than the requisite number of eccentrics, all vividly portrayed.

I look forward to more adventures of these "ladies of a certain age." Thanks to Net Galley and Kensington for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Some Wars Continue to be Fought

Verity Kent # 2
Anna Lee Huber
Kensington Books
October 25, 2018

Several weeks after Verity Kent's husband, Sidney, returned from the dead, having allowed Verity to believe him dead in WWI, the relationship is tense and strained. Even though Verity sympathizes with Sidney's mission to uncover and bring to justice traitors in his regiment, the fact that he deceived her for so long rankles. Both Verity and Sidney have been irrevocably changed by the war, and neither is sure that the marriage can be salvaged.

Spiritualism is a craze in England, and while Verity understands hoping to reach lost loved ones, she is not a believer. A friend persuades her to attend a seance and to Verity's surprise, an agent she worked with during the war, Emilie, purports to contact her. Not only does Verity not believe in Spiritualism, but she is also reasonably sure that Emilie is still alive. And how does the medium know so much about Verity's work with the Secret Service? When Verity returns to the medium's house the day after, she finds the home engulfed in flames and the medium killed in the fire. Verity and Sidney set off to find Emilie in the ruins of Europe and find out the meaning of the cryptic message sent through the medium. The journey takes them through Belgium and France, and it becomes clear that they are being followed. Much more is at stake than they could ever imagine.

I liked the first in this series, This Side of Murder, but Huber has brought us a much more nuanced portrait of the dangers and horrors of WWI and its aftermath in Treacherous is the Night. Verity was much more involved in the Secret Service than we knew and was deeply embedded in espionage behind the lines, placing herself in danger with every step. Emilie was her guide and companion on many missions, and the two formed a deep bond. Sidney has his own horrific memories of trench warfare, but so does Verity. The two must navigate murky waters on this journey and learn to trust each other again.

I highly recommend Treacherous is the Night for anyone who has an interest in WWI and its aftermath. Huber has written an involving and emotionally wrenching story, and her extensive research adds to its effectiveness. Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING-4.5 Stars

Monday, September 17, 2018

Scots Whisky Can be Deadly

A Whisky Business Mystery # 3
Melinda Mullet
Random House Alibi
September 4, 2018

Abi Logan, co-owner of Abbey Glen Distillery, is still very new to the business after it was bequeathed to her by her uncle. She has not yet given up her career as a photojournalist and returns to Scotland to attend the prestigious Quaich competition. The competition is a four-day event at a 5-star hotel and promises to be more contentious than usual. Several non-Scots distilleries are competing, and one, in particular, seems very strong. Abi and her partner, Grant McEwan think that the foreign competitors will be a positive influence, but others are adamantly opposed. When two of the judges are poisoned the short-handed local police include Abi in the investigation, mostly to take pictures at the crime scenes. But her dear friend, Patrick, is a suspect and Abby jumps in with both feet. When Grant McEwan is targeted, she is even more determined to get to the bottom of the plot.

The Whisky Business mysteries are an excellent read, with vivid descriptions of the business and Scotland. The characters are well-drawn, and the mystery itself is intricately plotted. I certainly did not figure out "whodunnit" until the end, along with Abi herself. I also enjoy the developing romance between Abi and Grant. After some failed relationships Abi is skittish, but the return of Grant's former flame makes her rethink her position.

Thanks to Random House Alibi and NetGalley for a digital advance copy. The opinions are my own, and I look forward to the next in the series!

RATING- 4 Stars

Thursday, September 6, 2018

A Series that Continues to Improve

October Daye # 12
Seanan McGuire
September 4, 2018

Toby Daye's life is unsettled as usual, but more so after the events of The Brightest Fell. Toby's lover and fiance, Tybalt, King of Cats, and roommate, Jazz, were kidnapped and tortured by Toby's mother, Amandine the Liar. Jazz sleeps most of the time, and Tybalt has almost completely withdrawn from her life. Her problems explode when her mortal daughter, Gillian, is kidnapped by someone in Fairie-again. Toby must find who, and why to save Gillian, this time without the support of some of her most important allies. Along the way, there are significant surprises for Toby, old enemies,  and new beginnings.

I am continually surprised by the imagination and solid grounding in Celtic Mythology that Seanan McGuire employs in the October Daye Series, only one of the series she writes. She weaves Shakespeare references and mythology seamlessly into a fascinating whole. Toby's world is fantastic but believably built. Night and Silence is one of the better books in the series, and I am eagerly waiting for the next in the series. It is critical to begin at the beginning with October Daye and understand the changes she has gone through. 

Thanks to DAW and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING-4.5 rounded up to 5

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Not What I All

Hester Thursby # 1
Edwin Hill
Kensington Books
August 28, 2018

The first thing I want to say about the debut novel, Little Comfort, is that it was not what I expected. The description ticked specific boxes: librarian, amateur sleuth, missing person, New England setting. All those boxes indicated a straightforward, undemanding, somewhat escapist mystery, at least to me. How much trouble can a librarian get into? A tremendous amount evidently.

Hester Thursby is 36 years old, 4 foot.9 (and 3/4) inch librarian at Harvard University. She has a rather odd living arrangement in an old house with Hester's "non-husband" Morgan, her best friend from college, Daphne, and Daphne's three-year-old, Kate. Daphne disappeared months previously, leaving Kate and a note. Morgan is Daphne's brother, and the two decide to take on parenting responsibility until Daphne returns. Most of that responsibility has fallen to Hester, something about which she is very conflicted. She has even taken leave from her job to stay at home with Kate although she never felt any desire for a child. Hester has built a sideline using her research skills to help find people, mostly old schoolmates, prom dates, out of touch relatives and the like. Her interest is piqued when she is approached by Lila Blaine to find her brother, Sam, who disappeared from their lakeside home in New Hampshire. Apparently, his friend Gabe vanished with him. The two could not be more different. Sam was handsome, charismatic, and evidently willing to do whatever it would take to elevate himself into the life of the rich people who come to the lake in the summer. Gabe was "invisible", both to himself and others, and bounced from one foster home to another. Lila provides Hester with a stack of postcards sent from cities Sam has lived in over the years, complete with cryptic messages. It takes Hester precisely two days to find Sam and Gabe, right in Boston, and a trail of death and destruction in their wake.

I won't say any more about the plot, which has twists and turns that made my head spin. The characters in Little Comfort are the real stand-out, however. Sam and Gabe are chilling psychopaths, but somehow Edwin Hill makes one of them if not sympathetic, at least pitiable. Hester herself is a flawed character whose cavalier disregard for her own safety and Kate's made me want to shake her at times. Her job as an investigator is not a "take your kid to work" situation. Hester is the embodiment of "tiny but fierce." 

Many thanks to Kensington and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. Little Comfort won a coveted "Starred Review" by Publishers Weekly and deserves it. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A Visit With an Old Friend in Maine

Lucy Stone 3 & 16
Leslie Meier
Kensington Books
August 28, 2018

Halloween Murder is a reissue packaging two of the books in the long-running Lucy Stone Series. I have dipped into this series from time to time through the years for a cozy taking place in the Maine setting I enjoy so much. The first of the two books is Trick or Treat Murder, just after the birth of Lucy's fourth child, Zoe, and Lucy is still a stay-at-home mom. In Wicked Witch Murder, she is a new grandmother, and a reporter on the local paper, The Pennysaver. When I say long-running series, I'm not kidding. Over the course of the books, Lucy has never lost her insatiable curiosity, and her job has enabled that aspect of her character.

In Halloween Murder, Tinker's Cove is experiencing a spate of arson fires. Most have been minor, resulting in no injuries, until a summer resident who unexpectedly was in her showplace residence died in the fire that completely destroyed it. She was a close friend of Lucy and her husband, Bill, and the two are devastated. Lucy has her own ideas on who may be behind it, but there are plenty of suspects. Big-time development is encroaching on Tinker's Cove, and tensions are high between those pro and con.

The Wicked Witch Murder begins with a new resident in Tinker's Cove; Diana Ravenscroft, a self-proclaimed witch who has opened a Wiccan shop. Most of the townspeople laugh it off, but another new resident, Ike Stoughton, is very outspoken on the subject of witches, along the lines of "Thou shall not suffer a witch to live." Lucy is not happy that her own teenage daughter is attempting spells under Diana's influence as well. Lucy, too, is the unlucky person who discovers a burned body tied to a tree when she was out walking her dog. That body belongs to a so-called wizard who is a close associate of Diana.

Leslie Meier always provides a good puzzler, with much-loved characters to back it up. I enjoy the family dynamics of the Stone family. The Stone kids are not perfect but are turning out to be solid citizens like their parents. I think I may have read both of the books in the past, but that did not detract from my enjoyment this time around. Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are voluntary and my own.

RATING- 3.5 rounded up to 4 Stars

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

A Perfect Ending to a Favorite Series

Kate Daniels #10
Ilona Andrews
Ace Books
August 28, 2018

This 10th book in the stellar Kate Daniels urban fantasy series brings to an end the story arc of Kate Daniels and Curran, Beast Lord of post-shift Atlanta. For those who may be unfamiliar with the world of the series, post-shift refers to the return of magic to the world after an absence of millennia. For those who survived, the entire landscape changed. Monsters, gods, giants and magic users rose again from legend. People have learned to cope with periodic shifts from "magic" to "tech." When tech is in the ascendant, cars, electric lights, telephones, etc. work. When magic is up, they do not, causing some clever adaptions. Humans have learned to adapt too, as they always do.

When we first met Kate, she was a lowly mercenary, with some serious sword and fighting skills. She keeps a low profile because she is actually the daughter of Roland, the "Tower Builder," who originated in ancient Mesopotamia and woke up when the first shift occurred.
Since then he has rebuilt a power base in America, destroyed thousands, and spent his time looking for Kate, who he tried to kill in her mother's womb. Kate was raised by Voron, Roland's renegade Warlord and trained in the expectation of either killing or being killed by Roland. She came to the notice of the Beast Lord of Atlanta, Curran, head of all the shape-shifters in the Southeast. The two have formed an alliance of love and loyalty, but know that the day is coming when Roland will attack. The birth of Conlan, their son, only cements the knowledge. Roland will either kidnap the child or kill him. Conlan burns so bright with magic that it is inevitable.

Roland and Kate have had an uneasy truce, but it's clear that he is testing the boundaries. Just when we are set for a final confrontation, a new enemy from legend appears. This one is so powerful that only an alliance between Kate and her allies and Roland himself can defeat him. Can Kate and Curran trust him though?

I am sad that the Kate Daniels Series has come to an end. I came late to it, but have read and reread the previous books. The characters are vivid and multi-layered, some that I love and others that I love to hate. The fight and battle scenes are extraordinarily well-plotted and easy to follow, and there are plenty of them. This final book wraps up the story very satisfactorily, but I will miss Kate, Curran and their extended family, There are hints of more stories to come with other characters, and a recent spin-off, Iron and Magic, featuring one of the worst of bad guys.

Thanks to Ace and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own. Thanks also go to Ilona and Andrew Gordon, the writing team who have imagined and brought these characters to life.

RATING- 5 Stars.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Bellewether Brings American and Canadian History to Life

Susanna Kearsley
Sourcebooks Landmark
August 7, 2018

Bellewether is told in three voices, those of Charlotte (Charley) Van Hoek in the present day, and Lydia Wilde and Jean-Philippe De Sabran in 1759. Charley has been hired to spearhead a historical renovation of the Wilde House on Long Island, Lydia's home, with plans to open it as a museum. The Bellewether of the title is the name of the ship captained by renowned (fictional) Revolutionary War hero, Benjamin Wilde, Lydia's brother. The French and Indian War is raging when Zebulon Wilde is called upon to billet two French soldiers in his home who are waiting for a prisoner exchange. This is a problem, as Lydia's fiance was killed by the French in battle, and her brother, Joseph, returned from the war significantly changed. Legend has it that Lydia and Jean-Philippe fell in love, and Joseph murdered Jean-Philippe. Lydia then walked into the waters of Long Island Sound and drowned herself. It's said that the French soldier haunts the woods surrounding Wilde House. Charley herself has a history of sorts with the area. Her father fled to Canada to avoid the Vietnam War draft and has never reconciled with his Long Island family. The only family member still remaining is Charley's grandmother, whom she has never met.

I am a fan of Susanna Kearsley's work, which is well-researched in any period she chooses. She has a light hand with characters, both fictional and historical that brings the period to life. I began Bellewether knowing next to nothing about the French and Indian War and its causes and consequences. I now see that the seeds of the American Revolution were already planted and growing 15 years before it began. Issues such as taxation, the "pressing" of men into service in the British Navy and unfair trade practices all are chafing the colonists. Also, the issue that we in America cannot reconcile; slavery.

Kearsley mixes two quiet love stories with a touch of a ghost and history to make an absorbing read. Some might question the love story of Lydia and Jean-Philippe because they were hampered by language and did not often speak with each other. I think they did their speaking through their actions, quite often a better indicator of character than mere words. I can't say that Bellewether rises quite to the level of The Winter Sea and A Desperate Fortune, my personal favorites, but it is still an absorbing read that I am happy to recommend.

Thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.  


Saturday, August 11, 2018

Times are Changing in Gilded Age Newport

A Gilded Newport Mystery
Alyssa Maxwell
Kensington Books
July 31, 2018

When we last saw Emma Cross she was excitedly heading off to New York for a new job at The New York Herald. The owner, James Bennett, had more or less promised her more substantial reporting assignments, but instead, she has been given the same old Society News that so frustrated her in Newport. While it was pleasant living with her well-heeled Vanderbilt relations, she missed her home and family in Newport. She has a decision to make and is seriously considering returning home for good.

Emma still has her entree to the "400" events in Newport, so the Herald sends her to cover the society debut of Cleo Cooper-Smith. Mrs. Ogden Goelet, the widowed owner of Ochre Court, promised Cleo's mother, also deceased, a perfect launch into society thereby ensuring a suitable (and monied) marriage. Emma, on the other hand, is on the trail of Silas Griggson, who will be in attendance. Griggson is a wealthy real estate developer in New York whose tenement building collapsed, killing many inside. Griggson escaped taking responsibility for the collapse, but Emma thinks he is responsible by using shoddy materials and workmanship. Emma aims to prove his culpability but is sidetracked by a bizarre death at the debut ball. Could Griggson also be responsible for that death?

The Gilded Newport Mysteries are well- researched and bring to life the manners and mores of the late 1890's. Even the notorious Five Points Gang of New York plays a part in Murder at Ochre Court, and Emma has an encounter with the famous Nellie Bly, a woman who made a successful career in journalism. Emma wants to emulate Bly but is drawn to two different men with roots as deep in Newport as her own.

Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Friday, August 10, 2018

Bloody, Violent and Frequently Hilarious

Dorina Basarab # 4
Karen Chance
Berkeley Books
July 31,2018

I have a few favorite urban fantasy series (Jane Yellowrock, Mercy Thompson, Ilona Andrews' Magic series) all featuring kick-ass heroines with hearts of gold and strong moral centers. Dorina (Dory) Basarab ranks among the favorites, but there has been a six-year wait for this fourth in the series. Dory Basarab is the half-human, half-vampire daughter of Mircea Basarab, a leading figure in Chance's Cassandra Palmer series. Mircea is an influential and charming member of the Vampire Senate with often opaque motivations and limited likability. As a dhampir, Dory is hated and feared by vampires in general, since she has the strength, speed, and ability to kill them, and doesn't mind doing so if they are causing trouble with the Senate or with the non-supernatural "norms." That makes her useful to the Senate and even catapults her into a Senate seat in preparation for a looming supernatural war.  In previous books, we learned that Mircea used his mental powers to "wall off" the more violent side of Dory when she was a child. His motivations for that become more clear in the progress of Shadow's Bane. Now those walls are breaking down, and Dory is afraid that the other side, "Dorina," will take over and create a bloodbath. She has gotten out before in her roughly 500-year life, with hideous results.

One of the hallmarks of Karen Chance's two series is non-stop action and Shadow's Bane is no exception. It hits the ground running as Dory is part of a special operation on smuggling from Fairie that morphs into an anti-slavery activity. Someone is enslaving Dark Fey, forcing them into fights to the death and even worse. A relative of Dory's Troll friend, Olga, has been taken, so Dory sets out to find him...if he is even alive. High-speed car and truck chases, extremely violent, bloody, and frequently hilarious battles ensue. Complicating everything is Dory's maturing relationship with the gorgeous vampire, Louis-Cesare. Dory can't believe anything can come of it except heartbreak and further isolation, for both of them. Shadow's Bane brings to an end this part of the story arc, with more to come. Hopefully, it will not take another six years for number five! I do not recommend reading Shadow's Bane as a stand-alone.

Thanks to Berkeley Books and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

All around the Town

Peg Cochran
Random House Alibi
July 31, 2018

Elizabeth Adams is 22, a graduate of Wellesley, and made her Society Debut at the Waldorf. Her cautious father managed to keep the family money mostly intact, so they haven't suffered as others have in the Great Depression.  She also aspires to be a professional photographer and has taken a job at the NY Trumpet. So far, she has been relegated to "girl Friday" duties for the snooty Society Editor. No one at the paper knows about her background, and she hasn't told her friends. Her mother is horrified and her distant father, bemused. Things start to change when the scruffy veteran reporter, Kaminsky, asks if she knows how to use a camera. He needs a photographer to cover the coming-out ball for Gloria DeWitt, the "it-girl" debutante of 1938. When a murder takes place at the ball, Elizabeth is in the thick of things. Gloria DeWitt is a suspect, and due to an unfortunate photograph Elizabeth took, she threatens to have Elizabeth ostracized in society. Elizabeth may want a different life but is not ready to lose her friends.

Kaminsky likes Elizabeth's photos and attitude, taking her under his wing and even giving her a nickname, "Biz." Biz may have lived in Manhattan all her life, but the story takes her into places she has never seen, from Mulberry Street to the Aqueduct Racecourse, and into seamier areas of the city. She visits long-forgotten establishments like Horn and Hardart and even tastes her first Italian food, courtesy of handsome police detective, Sal Marino. Biz is naive but approaches everything with an open heart and mind. No doubt her childhood case of polio contributed to her attitude. She escaped with only a slight limp but made friends of all backgrounds during her extended hospitalization. Biz knows what is really important in life, making her a very likable heroine.

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

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, July 30, 2018

Last Call at Mac's Bar?

LAST CALL (Mac's Bar Mystery # 6)
Allyson K. Abbott
Kensington Books
July 31, 2018

Mac Dalton is using her unusual talents as a consultant to the Milwaukee Police Department. After much skepticism, the police are grudgingly convinced that she can be of help to them in their investigations. Mac has a neurological condition called synesthesia; she perceives sights, sounds, and smells differently from most people. For example, she "tastes" the sound of detective and significant other, Duncan Albright's voice as the flavor of dark chocolate. Mac has helped him with investigations, but never with department approval. Mac is still actively managing and living above the bar left to her by her father but is glad to use her condition to help others. Synesthesia has never been easy to cope with, especially as a child. Her regular bar patrons, members of the "Capone Club," a group of crime enthusiasts, have always encouraged her to use her abilities.

Her first day on the job calls Duncan and Mac to the scene of a shooting, that of a somewhat shady businessman. Mac's feels that something is going on in the house that isn't visible to the eye and her perceptions lead her to a hidden room. Inside, they find a little girl, one who appears to live there. There are no signs of abuse, but the girl is non-verbal. Mac's interactions with the girl indicate that she is autistic and might possibly be a fellow synesthete. Other signs at the scene suggest that Mal Reynolds, a friend, and an undercover cop was at the shooting, but where is he now? Mal was undercover investigating a construction company; one that the dead man was also working for.

Last Call feels like the final book in the Mac's Bar series. I have enjoyed most of the books, primarily for the portrayal of Mac's condition. It's a condition I was only vaguely aware of, and it's a fascinating one; one that I am happy to not have. Mack barely escaped being institutionalized as a child because her widower father refused to let that happen. Mac's affinity for the little girl is entirely understandable in that context. However, I have always had difficulty keeping the multiple ongoing characters distinguished and even more were introduced in this book. It is time to bring the series to an end, and Last Call wraps it up well.

Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3 Stars

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Any sort of evil can occur in an English village

A Beryl and Edwina Mystery #1
Jessica Ellicott
Kensington Books, Recorded Books
October 31st, 2017

It's 1920 in England, the Great War is over, but it's devastating effects are still widespread and deeply felt. Beryl Helliwell, much-married and divorced aviatrix and adventurer has returned from her latest headline-grabbing escapade but is feeling at loose ends. While perusing the newspaper, she discovers an advertisement for a lodger in the home of Edwina Davenport in the quiet village of Walmsley Parva. Beryl may be an American, but she went to boarding school in England, and Edwina was her dearest friend. Beryl knows that nothing other than dire financial emergency would induce the spinster Edwina to place such an advertisement. It's Beryl to the rescue in her flashy red touring car. Besides, a bucolic village might be just the place for a rest. As all devotees of Miss Marple know, just about any evil can happen in an English village.

Edwina's finances are as dire as Beryl suspected but still worse is the fact that the entire village knows it. The family home is deteriorating, she has had to let her already minimal help go except for an aging gardener, and she owes money to all the village shops. Beryl's solution is to settle Edwina's accounts and along the way spread the rumor that both she and Edwina are agents of the crown to the worst gossip in the village. This wacky tale backfires, however, when Edwina is attacked while out walking her dog. Who could have swallowed the wild tale whole and is afraid of what Edwina might know? Edwina thinks that it may be connected to the disappearance of a "Land Girl" working on a neighboring estate during the war. The local constable wrote it off as female flightiness, but Edwina pressed the issue as long as she could. The young woman in question had never shown any signs of irresponsibility. Bodies and suspects begin to pile up, with more possible motives than can be counted.

Murder in an English Village is a delightful and often humorous cozy mystery. Edwina and Beryl are opposites in so many ways but still fast friends who complement each other. Well-grounded in historical fact, the novel takes a look at the many changes in social mores occurring at the time and lingering class-based prejudices. Barbara Rosenblat narrates the story with her mostly seamless switching between Beryl's American and Edwina's British voices. I am looking forward to more of the adventures of these ladies of a "certain age." 

RATING- 4.5 Stars