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