Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Long Road Back From War

Verity Kent # 3
Anna Lee Huber
Kensington Books
October 29, 2019

The Great War may be over but not for everyone. For Verity Kent and husband, Sidney, it has been difficult to repair their marriage after Sidney allowed her to think that he had been killed in the war. His reason was noble, that of exposing a nest of traitors, but Verity is still struggling with the after-effects. Verity, of course, had her own secrets. She had worked with the Secret Service as an agent, sending her behind enemy lines. Verity's troubles make her sympathetic to those of a friend, Ada, who has recently married into the highest levels of society. An extremely unpleasant dinner party makes it clear that Ada's marriage is not going well. When Lord Rockham is murdered, Ada is the obvious suspect. Verity and Sidney set out to find the murderer but a colleague from Verity's past needs her help as well. The colleague's sister was murdered in what appeared to be an interrupted burglary. Verity thinks it had something to do with their shared wartime work.

Penny For Your Secrets is a complex and involving mystery that sets up events to come in the series with a new shady enemy for Verity and Sidney, one who is both powerful and highly placed. What I found most interesting is the long-lasting effects of war on those who fought it. Not only was almost an entire generation wiped out, but those who returned came home with wounds both physical and spiritual. Sidney suffers from PTSD and survivor's guilt. It will be a long road back for them. 

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

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Time Travel with a Touch of Romance

Found Things # 2
Paula Brackston
St. Martin's Press
October 22, 2019

When Xanthe Westlake moved to Marlborough in Wiltshire with her mother, Flora, to begin a new life and open an antique shop, she never expected just how drastic the change might be. Xanthe discovered as a child that particular objects "sang" to her, and she was compelled to find out their stories. A silver chatelaine from the seventeenth century sent her back in time to save a serving girl from the hangman. The vengeful ghost of the girl's mother demands it and threatens Xanthe's mother. The events of The Little Shop of Found Things shows her hurtling back and forth in time to accomplish her mission, with very little knowledge to back her up. She finds an ally in Samuel Abbleby, a closeted Catholic and socially conscious thinker. They are undeniably attracted, but Xanthe must return to her own time. Flora is struggling with crippling arthritis, and Xanthe is her only support.

 Assured of her success but dealing with heartache, she is once again thrown into the dangerous realm of time-travel by a battered copper chocolate pot. She is shown a vision of Samuel imprisoned in one of the blind houses of the era, windowless lock-ups for accused felons. Fully knowing how fraught the reign of King James I was politically, especially so for Catholics, Xanthe must try to save him. In Secrets of the Chocolate House, she learns more about what she is, a "Spinner," and what that means. She is intended to stop certain events that would disrupt the proper flow of time. However, another Spinner wants to use his abilities for his own ends and attempts to thwart her. Xanthe has to enlist the help of a friend from her own time and risk exposure. 

Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martins for an advance copy of Secrets of the Chocolate House. I read both books in quick succession since The Little Shop of Found Things had been on my to be read list for quite a while. While I don't think it's strictly necessary to read the series in order, there is progression both in Xanthe's knowledge and character development. She is building a group of supporters who are willing to help her even though only one knows what she really is. Fans of magical realism, historical fiction, and fantasy (with a bit of romance) should love this series. The cliff-hanger at the end of this second book ensures that I will be eagerly waiting for the next! The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Lady Hardcastle and Flo at the Seaside

A Lady Hardcastle Mystery #6
T.E. Kinsey
Thomas & Mercer
October 22, 2019

It's July of 1910, and Lady Hardcastle has finally given in to her "tiny servant" Flo Armstrong's request for a seaside holiday. Their destination is not far from home, the village of Weston-Super-Mare on the Bristol Channel. A last-minute recommendation from their friend, Lady Gertie, takes them to a relatively new small hotel with a reputation for being elegant and refined. Upon their arrival, they find a somewhat odd assortment of guests. Except for an American spinster and her niece, the guests are all single males; British, Austrian, French, Japanese, and Russian. The ladies befriend the British Dr. Goddard, who is vague about what he actually does, other than science. When he goes missing, with signs of a struggle, the hotel manager asks Lady Hardcastle to help. A heavy strongbox belonging to Dr. Goddard is also missing. The owners are panicked about bad publicity and aware of Lady Hardcastle's reputation for solving mysteries. Then the guests are murdered one by one. Lady Hardcastle sees national security issues in this baffling series of events and contacts her brother, Harry, a highly-placed British Government official. Harry orders her not to get involved, but there is no hope of her obeying.

The Lady Hardcastle Mysteries are a favorite, and I think Death Beside the Seaside may be the best one yet. The humorous banter between Lady Hardcastle and Flo shows that these women have an unbreakable bond and respect, forged in extreme adversity. The details of their adventures together as spies continue to be revealed in each new book. The supporting characters, a somewhat hysterical hotel manager, the waiters, and staff are all vivid and often humorous. Harry's government men are either arrogant and incompetent or stupid and incompetent. They have no idea that they are dealing with two consummate professionals with skills beyond their own. As Europe moves toward war, I wonder if these professionals will be able to stay retired.

Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley for an advance copy of Death Beside the Seaside. I highly recommend this series for its humor, complex puzzles, and historical detail.
The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

An Unethical Protocol

Adapted from the Journals of John H. Watson, M.D.
Nicholas Meyer
St. Martins Minotaur
October 15, 2019

I'm a died-in-the-wool Sherlock fan, but not a purist, so I am always on the lookout for a good Sherlock pastiche. Especially from the talented Nicholas Meyer, author of The Seven-Percent Solution. One of the many agents of Sherlock's brother Mycroft was murdered while delivering a copy of the anti-Semitic tract known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Mycroft is desperate to find the original and its author. Oddly, the murdered agent still had the document on her person, written in Russian. Mycroft fears the effects of its distribution in England. Sherlock enlists Dr. Watson's sister-in-law to translate the text. They also meet with an American couple, William English Walling, and his Russian Jewish wife, Anna Strunsky. The Wallings are on the way home from Russia. The 1905 Revolution has just been brutally suppressed, and the Wallings have a good idea where the document came from. It's a surprise that Anna Strunsky will accompany them posing as their translator, at least to Dr. Watson. They travel across Europe on The Orient Express, and into danger in the Ukraine, Budapest, and Russia, with unknown pursuers. 

The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols is a rollicking adventure based on real historical events and persons. The Wallings were co-founders of the NAACP along with W.E.B. DuBois, and I had never heard of them. I had also heard of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion but never knew its long history. Based on lies and plagiarism, it is responsible for the deaths of untold numbers of Jews. It plays on the worst human prejudices and continues to rear its ugly head. For example, Henry Ford had 500,000 copies printed and distributed through his newspaper in America. There are colorful descriptions of the great cities of Europe through which they pass, as well as the general squalor of Eastern Europe. The funicular railway in Budapest makes an appearance, which I particularly enjoyed, having ridden it several years ago.

I highly recommend The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols, both for Sherlock Holmes fans and those who enjoy historical fiction that can teach the reader a thing or two! Thanks to Minotaur and NetGalley for an advance copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

A Chilling look into the Mind of a Stalker

Teresa Driscoll
Thomas & Mercer
September 10, 2019

I read the first line of I Will Make You Pay and closed the book. Not because it's a bad opening line, because it is actually a perfect one. It pushed all my buttons at the time, and I was not sure I was able to go further. Alice Henderson is a journalist on a small Devon newspaper who received the threat that gave me such chills. When she calms down a bit, she realizes that it is not the first time she has been threatened, only not so graphically. The other calls have also come on Wednesdays. What could Alice have done to prompt someone to hate her so much? As the stalking increases in intensity on succeeding Wednesdays, and she is forced to retreat from her everyday life, we learn that Alice has many secrets. Amid this horror, Alice's much-loved mother is dying in a nursing home.

I Will Make You Pay tells the story from the point of view of Alice, a PI hired by her boyfriend, Tom, and the stalker himself. He relates the story of his childhood and what made him a monster (at least his reasons for it) and why he feels justified. We get to know the detective, Matthew, very well. The characterization of all the players is excellent. I was touched by Alice's love for and care of her dying mother. Alice herself is a little more challenging because of her bad decisions throughout. She admits to being stubborn, but that is an understatement. The revelation of the stalker's identity was very much a surprise to me, even though there were clues.

Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for an advance digital copy. I recommend I Will Make You Pay for fans of psychological suspense.

RATING- 3.5 Stars Rounded up to 4

Saturday, September 28, 2019

A Promising Series Set in Roaring 20's England

A Lady Adelaide Mystery
Maggie Robinson
Poisoned Pen Press
November 13, 2018

Lady Adelaide Compton buried her philandering cad of a husband six months earlier in the village churchyard. The husband, Rupert, crashed his car into a stone wall, losing his life and that of his French mistress as well. Luckily, the house and estate were not entailed, and Lady Adelaide inherited. It can't be said that Addie was mourning him, but she was observing the conventions. After six months in the country wearing black and making much-needed improvements to the property, she is ready to have a few friends down for the weekend. Little did she know that murder would be committed among her guests, and the ghost of Rupert would appear. It seems that Rupert can't go on to his eternal reward without some good deeds, namely protecting her. Adelaide reluctantly comes to realize that Rupert is real, and she is not losing her mind. The local constabulary makes a mess of questioning the guests leading to the arrival of Anglo-Indian Scotland Yard Inspector, Devenand Hunter. Since the year is 1924, an Anglo-Indian policeman, never mind one who has risen to the level of Inspector is highly unusual.

Lady Adelaide is a charming character if a little naive about the people she considers as friends. She also seems to be devoid of the built-in prejudices of her era and class and unfailingly kind.  The banter between Rupert and Addie is highly entertaining, especially before she accepts that his ghost is a reality. Before the murderer is cornered, an attraction develops between the handsome Inspector and Addie that I hope to see more of in the next book in the series. However, the murderer was more revealed than solved and found that a bit disappointing. 

I was looking for something purely entertaining; something to transport me to another era not so fraught with division and discord, and lacking civility. Nobody's Sweetheart Now fills the bill admirably, and I am looking forward to the next in the series.

3.5  Stars rounded up to 4

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Murder and Madness in the Name of Science

A Wrexford and Sloane Mystery #3
Andrea Penrose
Kensington Books
September 24, 2019

The third book in this mystery series set in the Regency Period finds widow Charlotte Sloane settled into better surroundings with her two wards, Raven and Hawk. Charlotte's secret career as the political cartoonist A.J. Quill is still a closely held secret, as is her status as Lady Charlotte. Only a few people know that she is an Earl's daughter who was disowned by her family when she eloped with her drawing master. Her investigative partner in the two previous books, Lord Wrexford, knows her real identity, but Charlotte is leery of letting anyone else know. That may have to change; however, when her childhood playmate and cousin is murdered in a grisly way, and it appears that his twin brother may be the murderer. The investigation leads them into the highest circles of the "men of science" of the day. Wrexford, of course, has complete access to those groups. It appears that the two brothers had gotten involved with another scientific group, the Eos Society. The Eos Society is secretive and up to no good. Could they hold the answer to saving her cousin from the gallows?

Once again, Penrose presents a well-researched look at the Regency Period. As the author points out, the era was the beginning of the modern world in its enthusiasm for science and exploration. Women also were just beginning to chafe at the restrictions placed on them by a patriarchal society. We meet several new characters that I hope to see more of in future books. Raven and Hawk are developing from the street urchins they were into distinct personalities. I am also enjoying the relationship between Wrexford and Sloane who are extremely well-matched. The growing romance is a nice addition but the intricately plotted mystery takes precedence. I highly recommend this series to fans of historical mysteries.

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

RATING-4.5 Stars

Monday, September 23, 2019

A Complete Turn in this Long-running Urban Fantasy Series

Alex Verus # 10
Benedict Jacka
Ace Books
September 24, 2019

Fallen starts out with Diviner Mage Alex Verus in a pretty good place. He is working for the Light Council, and his friends appear to be safe. His determined neutral stance in the conflict between the Light and Dark Mages seems to be working at last. The lull will not last, of course, because of his association with Richard Drakh as a young man. The Light Council will never trust him. Drakh continues to try to bring his girlfriend, Anne, and Alex back under his control and overthrow the Council with their talents. A raid on Alex's home by the Council sets up a series of event that force Alex to take steps to add to his power, measures that he has tried to avoid.

Fallen marks the beginning of an entirely new trajectory in the series. Lots of loose ends are tied up, and Alex will never be the same. I am not sure that I am comfortable with the alterations in him but see that it for Alex, it is change or die. I am also mourning the loss of a significant influence on Alex, perhaps forever. As always, despite a somewhat slow start, the action is nonstop. Fallen is definitely not a stand-alone as the novel builds on the preceding ones. I recommend the series for fans of urban fantasy with lots of action, excellent world-building, and characterization.

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

RATING- 4.5 Stars rounded up to 5

Sunday, September 1, 2019

A Brand-New Series From a Gold Dagger Winner

Two Rivers #1
Ann Cleeves
St. Martin's Minotaur
September 3, 2019

The Long Call begins the first new series by the author of Vera and Shetland in twenty years. Set in North Devon, it introduces us to DI Matthew Venn, a very different sort of detective to the usual run. Matthew grew up in a strict evangelical cult and was expelled as a young man when he lost his faith. He is also gay, something frowned upon by the Barum Brethren. When we first meet, he is standing outside the funeral of his father. The funeral was by invitation and Matthew was not invited. Upon leaving, he received a call to a nearby beach and a body with a large albatross tattooed on his neck stabbed to death. His search for the killer will lead him into a web of secrets and lies involving the very people he grew up with. The community center run by Matthew's husband, Jonathan, appears to be closely linked.

Ann Cleeves writes intensely atmospheric, character-driven mysteries and The Long Call does not disappoint. This murder investigation is Matthew's first as lead, and he has many doubts, mostly driven by his past. Added to his worries is the apparent involvement of his husband's center. He worries that it's a conflict of interest. The supporting characters are well-drawn and memorable, especially his female investigating partner, Jen Rafferty. She is Matthew's opposite but serves as a perfect foil for his introspection. The supportive and loving relationship between Matthew and Jonathan helps him keep his balance in a case that destroys his previous beliefs about the Brethren.

Some might find that The Long Call moves a bit slowly, and I would agree. However, I like character-driven mysteries, rather than a fast-moving plot. There is plenty of action in the last third of the novel! Thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

A Most Welcome Return

Corinna Chapman # 7
Kerry Greenwood
Poisoned Pen Press
September 10, 2019

It seems that I have been waiting forever for The Spotted Dog rather than "only" seven years.  I have read, re-read and listened to the adventures of Corinna Chapman, plus-size baker extraordinaire, and her gorgeous Israeli detective lover, Daniel. So I was delighted to receive an advance copy. Set in a highly fictionalized Melbourne, Corinna owns and runs Earthly Delights, a bakery on the ground floor of the Insula, an apartment building inhabited by a weird and wonderful cast of occupants who have a supportive and loving community of their own.

The Spotted Dog opens as all the books do, at the 4 AM rising of Corinna to do the baking. Baking is her calling, but even after years, Corinna is not at her best. Thankfully she has an assistant, ex-addict Jason, who comes in even earlier. Corinna opens the door to release Heckle and Jekyll, the "mouse police" from their nightly duties. Down the alley, she sees a tall man shambling towards her and mumbling that Sister Mary sent him to see Daniel. Sister Mary is the local stalwart advocate for the homeless, addicted, and mentally challenged outcasts of Melbourne. Of course, Corinna brings him in, where he collapses. Someone has mugged him and stolen his beloved service dog, Geordie. Alasdair Sinclair and Geordie were invalided out of the Army after horrible experiences in Afghanistan. A companion mystery is that of a visitor to Insula, Philomela, left both in a wheelchair and mute after an accident. Then there are a series of break-ins occurring at Insula. Can all these happenings be connected?

Corinna, with her absolute comfort with her body and huge heart, is one of my favorite fictional characters. All the supporting characters from previous books at least make an appearance. The interlocking storylines are a bit convoluted in this one, however. The "Autlralianisms" are plentiful, so Google is definitely a friend! As usual, the food descriptions are mouth-watering and recipes are included. The Spotted Dog is another satisfying read, though perhaps not one of my personal favorites. It could be read as a stand-alone but I would recommend reading the entire series. Thanks to NetGalley and Poisoned Pen.

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, August 26, 2019

Turmoil Beneath the Placid Surface

Hester Thursby Mystery # 2
Edwin Hill
August 27, 2019

The first novel in this series, Little Comfort, introduced us to Hester Thursby, a librarian with a profitable sideline in searching for missing persons. At the time she was on leave from her library position, having been left to care for 4-year-old Kate, daughter of her best college friend, Daphne. Daphne took off and left the child with her and her "not-husband," Morgan, who also happens to be Daphne's twin brother. The events of Little Comfort left her nearly dead and overly protective of Kate. Hester can't let out of her sight long enough to return to the library job, or even let Kate go to pre-school. Worse, she has been lying to Morgan about it. Upon receiving a cryptic text from Finisterre Island, off the coast of Maine, Hester is off once again, Kate in tow. Upon arrival, she finds not the idyllic place that most tourists see, but the real island with missing children, suspicion, rivalries, drug problems, and extra-marital entanglements. 

The Missing Ones has more twists and turns than even Little Comfort provided. Finisterre is based on Monhegan Island, but highly fictionalized. As someone who vacationed on a Maine Island for many years, I can attest to Hill's accuracy. My island is much smaller, with even fewer amenities, but over the years, I came to understand just un-idyllic and challenging life is for the year-round residents. A tremendous amount is going on beneath the placid surface, if not to the dangerous level of Finisterre. The Missing Ones foreshadows events to come, and I am eager to find out what happens next. Hopefully, Hester, Morgan, and especially Kate can find a bit more normality.

Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington for an advance digital copy. I highly recommend the series for readers of mystery and suspense.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Action, Romance and Magic

A Hidden Legacy Novel # 4
Ilona Andrews
Avon Books
August 27, 2019

A lot has happened since the events of Wildfire, three years before the opening of Sapphire Flames. Nevada Baylor has stepped down as head of House Baylor and is in Spain with her husband, Conor Rogan and his mother. Catalina has stepped up to lead the house, even though that was nothing she ever wanted. When Augustine Montgomery contacts her to investigate the deaths of a woman and her daughter in a housefire, Catalina at first refuses the job. It smells like House warfare, and Catalina wants no part of it. But the victim's daughter who was not at home and therefore survived was a friend. The fact that Alessandro Segredo, Catalina's teenage crush is involved makes her even more reluctant.

What follows is the Andrews' signature blend of action, humor, and romance. A lot of stuff gets blown up, the body count is high, and Catalina is targeted by a very creepy mind-mage. It's a fun read with a well-built magical world and great characters. One of the more minor characters in previous novels steps to center stage, Since I don't entirely trust him, I'm looking forward to future developments. 

Thanks to Avon and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. I highly recommend the Hidden Legacy series and all of the Andrews' books.

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, August 12, 2019

Art Theft is Just a Part of this Heart-Pounding Thriller

Jamie Mason
Simon and Schuster/ Gallery
August 13, 2019

Carly Lidell is not your average fourteen-year-old. She survived an attack at her own front door and in the foyer from a local lowlife by fighting back and knocking out he attacker. The whole "thing," as Carly calls it was captured on video by the home security cameras and quickly went viral. Only the corner of a painting hanging in the foyer is visible, but the video is of great interest to several people. The picture is one of the works stolen, a minor one, in the notorious robbery at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. It seems that the painting has surfaced once before and in the process changed the lives of all involved. What could it be doing hanging in a suburban foyer? The players in this drama are Marcelline, John /Jonathan, Carly's stepfather, Owen Haig, and Roy Dorring. Four years earlier John had led Marcelline into a plan to sell the painting to an obscenely wealthy family rather than turn it into the FBI or the Museum. She nearly paid with her life and had to disappear. Owen was the agent for the family and has been obsessed with getting the art back ever since. Roy was just the sad-sack trying to make a buck, which is the entirety of his life. The viral video sets this group on a collision course. And Carly? She wants to know why her stepfather is so changed and acting so suspiciously since the "thing."

The Hidden Things is a fast-paced thriller with characters that are so fleshed out they jump off the page. Marcelline made a bad mistake and just wants her life back. John is a sociopath; Roy, a quintessential loser, and Owen can only be described as a "black hole" whose real motives are indecipherable to me. And Carly is bright, gifted, compassionate and could someday rule the world. I would give this novel an enthusiastic 5 stars, had it not bogged down a bit in the middle. Jamie Mason is a gifted storyteller with a sharp eye for characterization and pacing. I highly recommend The Hidden Things. Thanks to NetGalley and Gallery for an advance copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Halloween Shenanigans in Maine

Maine Clambake Mystery, # 7.5
Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis, Barbara Ross
Kensington Books
August 27, 2019

Every year on our Maine vacation I put aside at least one book set in Maine. One of this year's books is Haunted House Murder, a compilation of short works from three writers who have well-established series set in small-town Maine.

Leslie Meier's Haunted House Murder features Lucy Stone, part-time reporter and mom (now grandmom) in Tinker's Cove, Maine. A long-abandoned house, reputed to be haunted, has new occupants. Ty and Heather Moon. The Moons are unfriendly and eccentric, to say the least, but Lucy is occupied with having her grandchild visit for two months. She is delighted to have him but finding childcare more of a challenge than she remembers from raising her own four children. But when a child goes missing, Lucy's sleuthing instincts kick in.

Lee Hollis' Hayley Powell of Bar Harbor in Death by Haunted House also has eccentric new neighbors: a family who strongly resembles the Addams family. Hayley is willing to let well enough alone until a local realtor goes missing after a violent confrontation with the father of the new family, Damien Salinger. Hayley, with the help of her new puppy, finds the realtor's body but lots of people in Bar Harbor didn't like the victim.

The people of Busman's Cove are always looking for ways to extend the tourist season and this year have planned a Ghost Tour in Hallowed Out. Julia Snowden throws herself into participating, but she thinks that the ghosts of the town are much more imagined than real. But when an actor from New Jersey is murdered during a reenactment of a Prohibition-era incident and innocents are suspected, Julia finds herself in the thick of things.

Haunted House Murder is an entertaining compilation for Halloween. I was a little disappointed in the longest of the three, Haunted House Murder, which was heavy on Lucy's childcare woes. The other two shorts introduced me to two new amateur sleuths I plan to read more about in the future. Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3.5 Rounded up to 4

Monday, July 29, 2019

Gilded Age Murder in Newport

A Gilded Age Mystery Book 7
Alyssa Maxwell
July 30, 2019

It's Fall in Newport and time for the annual Harvest Festival. Reporter Emma Cross has returned to Newport after a year living and working in New York. She had hoped that she could break out of the mold of "society" reporting but found that was an impossibility. When her love interest, Derrick Andrews, offers her a chance to be the editor-in-chief of her old newspaper, she jumps at the chance. Things are not all rosy at The Messenger, however. As usual, she faces opposition from the male staffers and what appears to be outright sabotage. And, she finds a body on the beach, one strongly resembling her half-brother, Brady's long-missing father, Stuart Gale. Emma fears that the man's reappearance will send Brady into an emotional, and probably drunken tailspin. The breakdown of The Messenger's society reporter's carriage throws Emma back into her old role. Stuyvesant and Mamie Fish are having a ball for the Harvest Festival, at which the guest of honor is to be Prince Otto of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Of course, The Messenger must be there. A murder in bizarre circumstances at the ball calls for Emma's investigation with the assistance of the flamboyant and eccentric Mamie Fish.

The Gilded Age Mysteries is an exceptionally well-researched series, aided by the author's long association with Newport. I enjoy all the descriptions of fashions and social mores, and especially the characters themselves. Mamie and Stuyvesant Fish are precisely what the historical record describes, especially Mamie's penchant for outspoken behavior! This is a historical mystery series well worth reading, and I thank Kensington Books and for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3.5 rounded up to  4 Stars

Thursday, July 25, 2019

As Warming as a Cup of Tea by the Fire

Dove Pond Book 1
Karen Hawkins
Simon and Schuster/Gallery
July 30, 2019

The Book Charmer is the first book in a series set in a sleepy small town in North Carolina. Founded by the Dove family, the sisters of the family have had individual "gifts" throughout the generations that have benefited the town. Only two of the sisters in the still live there, Sarah Dove and her sister, Ava. Sarah is the bookworm of the family, and her gift allows her to pick the perfect book for any person, one that will help that person with a challenge or need. Sarah is the librarian, so it is a handy gift, indeed. Sarah's books actually "speak" to her, insistently at times.

All is not well in Dove Pond, however. The population is declining, businesses are leaving, and the town is a fiscal disaster. Sarah always thought that she would be the one to save the town in hard times, but when a newcomer, Eve Wheeler, arrives to take the job of Town Clerk, one of Sarah's books tells her that Eve is the one who will change things. Eve is very different from most of Dove Pond. Raised in the foster system, along with her sister Hannah, Eve is a hard-charging, successful, aloof woman who doesn't plan to be in Dove Pond long. Her sister, Hannah, has recently died, leaving her daughter Daisy for Eve to raise. The woman who took in Eve and saved her from a wrong path, Mama G, has Alzheimers Disease. Mama G grew up in Dove Pond and Eve hopes she will be more comfortable there. Sarah immediately tries to befriend Eve, but she is not interested as well as overwhelmed. The journey to friendship is rocky, but Eve learns just how powerful it can be. It does take a village, including the scarred Afghanistan Vet next door to save Eve, her little family and Dove Pond.

The Book Charmer is as cozy and warm as a blanket, a fireside and a cup of tea on a cold night. I enjoyed the town and its quirky characters, especially Mama G, who even amid her terrible disease provides an anchor for Eve and Daisy. I highly recommend it and look forward to the rest of the series. Many Thanks to NetGalley and Gallery for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING-5 Stars

Monday, July 22, 2019

Too Many Suspects, Too Many Coincidences

A Merriweather and Royston Mystery Book 2
Vivian Conroy
Crooked Lane Books
August 13, 2019

After the exhausting events of The Butterfly Conspiracy, amateur zoologists Merula Merriweather and Lord Raven Royston decide to recuperate in the quiet of Dartmoor. Raven has corresponded with a Mr. Oaks, another amateur who claims to have many specimens of interest. His valet, Bowsprit accompany Merula and Raven, and her maid, Lamb, mostly to lend an air of respectability. Upon arrival in the village of Cranley, they find it in an uproar over a missing village girl. Even worse, Mr. Oaks is a suspect in her disappearance, and the man himself is behaving oddly, to the point of raving at times. When the girl is found murdered in odd circumstances, Mr. Oaks is arrested.  Merula and Raven set out to prove him innocent.

I wanted to like Death Comes to Dartmoor much more than I did. There is a surplus of suspects who might have wanted Mr. Oaks out of the way, and I found it difficult to sort them. Railway speculators, shipwreckers, jealous suitors and the superstitious villagers themselves play a part. The second mystery is that of Merula's parentage, which I did find interesting, but ultimately frustrating in its lack of progress. Also frustrating is the sheer number of coincidences involved and the mystery of the girl's murder solved by setting a trap, which put the maid in danger.

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

RATING- 2 Stars

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Best Innkeeper Yet

Innkeeper Chronicles # 4
Ilona Andrews
July 16, 2019

Sweep of the Blade is the fourth installment of the Innkeeper Chronicles published in serial form on the husband and wife authors' blog in a (more or less) weekly basis. This is the first that I have read on the blog, even though I am a fan. I found myself looking forward to every Friday and being disappointed when life got in the way for the authors. Not that I would dream of complaining about a free look at the book! The newly re-edited edition, with the plus of some terrific illustrations, does not disappoint.

We first met Maud in Innkeeper # 3, One Fell Sweep. The daughter of Innkeepers, and sister to Dena and Klaus DeMille, Maud fell in love with a dashing Vampire knight, married him and departed to a faraway planet. Maud transformed herself into a perfect vampire wife and produced a daughter, Helen. Maud was a good fit since she was tough and skilled at martial arts but still undervalued because of her humanity. Everything falls apart when her husband, Melizard, turned out to be a jerk and tried to kill his own brother and overthrow his family. All three, even little Helen are exiled to Karhari, a dry wasteland full of vampire outlaws, Once there they hire out as mercenaries and eke out an existence, but Melizard once again betrays his employers and pays the ultimate price, right in front of Helen's eyes. A blood debt must be paid, and Maud spends the next months making sure that all those who killed Melizard die in their turn. When she has a chance to send a message to Dena, she seizes it and hunkers down in the hope the message arrives. Dena does get it and calls in a favor from Arland Krahr, Marshal of the House of Krahr, one of the most influential and wealthy vampire Houses. Arland falls in love with Maud almost immediately as they battle their way out of a sleazy vampire roadhouse and escape Karhari. Maud, however, doesn't want to have anything to do with vampires again. She is attracted and agrees to a visit to his homeworld, but not to his marriage proposal.

Sweep of the Blade has all of the intrigue and action for which the Andrews are known. I enjoy the idea of the earth as a neutral planet with inns and powerful Innkeepers providing a way station for other galactic beings. The battle scenes, the various creatures, all are vivid and make for an exciting mix. This book can be read on its own, but why miss the fun of the previous three? 

RATING- 5 Stars

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

A New Series and Character from Annelise Ryan

A Helping Hands Mystery #1
Annelise Ryan
Kensington Books
July 30, 2019

Needled to Death is a spin-off from Annelise Ryan's Mattie Winston series, featuring diminutive Hildy Schneider. Hildy is a hospital social worker, dedicated to her clients, and as a result of her painful upbringing in the foster system, has several psychological "tics" of her own. One of them is a mild case of kleptomania that kicks in when she is under stress. Hildy runs a grief therapy group at the Sorenson WI hospital where she works. When a new member shows up, saying that her son died recently in what the police called an overdose death. The woman swears it was murder. The woman triggers Hildy's memories of her own mother's unsolved murder when Hildy was only seven years old. From time to time, Hildy will take a look at the police files of her mother's case in the hope something will pop up that might reopen the case. Not only is Hildy sympathetic, but she also hopes that Bob Richmond of the Sorenson PD might help her. Hildy and Bob, who has been a regular character in the Mattie Winston series, begin to co-operate when Hildy points out some discrepancies. Bob also has his doubts about the death of the young man and finds Hildy interesting, maybe in a romantic way. Hildy hopes so at any rate! Hildy's golden retriever is a charming addition to the story, as well as Hildy's young neighbor, PJ.

While the humor in this new series is not as broad as in the Mattie Winston series, it is present. Annelise Ryan uses her medical knowledge as a real-life ER nurse as a plus for all her books. Needled to Death is a strong opening with a complex and likable, despite a tendency to be manipulative heroine and believable supporting characters. Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4Stars

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Libraries, Cats and Murder

Cat in the Stacks Mystery #11
Miranda James
Berkley Prime Crime
July 16, 2019

Widower Charlie Harris retired from his job in the Houston TX library system upon the death of his Aunt Dottie. He now works part-time as a librarian/archivist at his alma mater, Athena College in Anthena MS. Dottie left him her home and a formidable housekeeper and cook named Azalea who looks after him and the boarders he has taken in since moving in. His grown children and new grandchildren are also in the area. Along the way, he found Diesel, a huge and intelligent Maine Coon cat and now has a new kitten, Ramses. Since coming back to Athena, he has discovered a talent for solving mysteries, much to the displeasure of Azalea's detective daughter, Kanesha, and his family.

Murder strikes the Athena campus when the charismatic and gifted medieval history professor whose course Charlie was auditing is murdered, as well as another auditing student. There are plenty of rumors swirling around the dead professor and his wife. Both might be carrying on affairs with multiple partners. Even a new boarder at Charlie's home may be involved. There are many characters, both old and new in The Pawful Truth, but James manages to make them all stand out. Diesel's calm presence is always welcome, and Ramses adds comic relief. Even though this is a long-running series, a new reader could start here with no confusion. 

Thanks to Berkley and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. This series never fails to deliver a well-plotted mystery and lots of Southern charm. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Gossip Can be Fatal

A Countess Harleigh Mystery #2
Dianne Freeman
Kensington Books
June 25, 2019

Frances, the recently widowed Countess of Harleigh, is settling into her independent life in London. Despite her American origins, Frances is well-liked and well-placed in Society, enough so to be a sort of matchmaker for young ladies making their debuts. She has introduced her young sister, Lily, to her future husband and is sponsoring a friend of Lily's, Charlotte, in Society. The grateful parents of her charges have added to Frances' limited income, but more importantly, Frances is determined that their marriages not as unhappy as her own. To that end, she has introduced her cousin Charles Evington to another widow, Mary Archer. When Mary is murdered in her own home, and Charles admits to being in the neighborhood at the time, he becomes the prime suspect. Frances, and her neighbor, the handsome and capable George Hazelton, set out to clear him. It turns out that there was much more to Mary Archer and her relations than met the eye.

A Lady's Guide to Gossip and Murder is a delightful romp through the darker places of polite society. There are several new characters that I enjoyed, especially the klutzy, but bright and capable Charlotte and Charles who has made an art of appearing but not being, dim. The progress of the romance between George and Frances is more than satisfactory, and I look for more investigations featuring this well-matched pair.

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

RATING- 4 Stars

Friday, May 24, 2019

A Hurricane Hits New England

Murder, She Reported #2
Peg Cochran
Random House Alibi
May 28, 2019

Manhattan socialite Elizabeth Adams, now reporter and photographer on The Daily Trumpet, is making her way home from work when she is caught in a blackout and tremendous rain and wind storm. Little does she know that it is the edges of the 1938 Long Island Hurricane. The storm formed on the coast of Africa as a category 5 and stuck New York and New England as a category 3, killing nearly 700 and destroying millions of dollars worth of property. The next few days are taken up with storm coverage, but when a young woman is found in the wreckage of one mansion on Long Island, it's clear that she was not killed by the storm. This young woman was murdered, and it becomes the story that everyone is chasing. Elizabeth called "Biz" by her crusty partner, Kaminsky, dive headfirst into the story of the murdered girl, who immigrated from Ireland and worked for one of the wealthy summer families. Everyone describes Roeleen, the murdered girl, as a quiet and devout girl with no boyfriends and no enemies in the beginning. But as they look beneath, a different picture emerges. Several people may have wanted her dead, 

Murder, She Uncovered is an excellent follow-up to the first in the series, Murder She Reported, and one I have been looking forward to. The historical detail is exceptional, and I enjoy Biz's struggle to navigate her wealthy and well-connected family's disapproval and her own desire to not become just another rich man's wife. The secondary characters are just as impressive, from Kaminsky to her friend, Irene, who was crippled by polio in childhood. Biz herself had a brush with the disease, leaving her with a slight limp at times. Biz won't let that stop her though. There is a very promising romance with the dishy Detective Sal Marino, one that I hope continues to blossom.

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

RATING-4 Stars

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Old Hatreds Resurface on the Outer Islands of the Hebrides

The Lewis Trilogy #1
Peter May
Quercus Books, Hachette Audio
February 1, 2011

Detective Inspector Finlay "Fin" Macleod has spent the last 18 years of his life trying to escape his traumatic childhood on the Outer Hebridean Island of Lewis. In the grip of grief over the death of his only child in a hit and run accident and the collapse of his marriage, he finds himself returning to Lewis. A grisly murder has occurred on Lewis: a crime that echoes one in Edinburgh that Fin was in charge of investigating. The victim on Lewis was a childhood enemy, Angus MacRitchie, a man who bullied both Fin and all the other boys on the island in their shared youth. Fin left behind his best friend, Artur, and the only girl he ever really loved, Marsali. The search for Angus' killer will lead to the resurfacing of old hates and crimes that Fin has never allowed himself to examine.

The Blackhouse has been on my to-be-read list for a long time. It is brilliantly characterized and utterly atmospheric. I have never been to the Hebrides, but watching Shetland on TV helped me visualize the desolate beauty of the islands. The novel won multiple international prizes when it was published and deserves every one. It is a crime novel, but so much more, exposing the darker regions of the human heart and mind. The audiobook is brilliantly narrated by Peter Forbes, who voices the accents, both Scots and Gaelic, perfectly. If I could give a book more than 5 Stars, this would be it, and definitely one of the best of my 2019 reading. Highly recommended!

RATING- 5 Enthusiastic Stars

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

"King Cholera" Strikes Victorian London

A Florence Nightingale Mystery #2
Crooked Lane Books
Christine Trent
May 7, 2019

It's a sweltering August in 1854 when "King Cholera" strikes London, not for the first time. The deadly disease is no respecter of persons, affecting rich and poor alike, strikes unannounced and can disappear as quickly as it came. This time it seems to afflict the notorious slums of SoHo. The common wisdom says that the disease is airborne, occurring in the form of "miasmas," a theory that Florence Nightingale subscribes to. Even though she is fully involved with her hospital for women, Florence would become involved in the current outbreak no matter how busy, but a call from her friends, Sidney and Elizabeth Herbert sends her to SoHo on a different mission. Elizabeth and her father, a retired General, are attacked in their carriage, resulting in the death of their coachman. When Sidney sends a second servant into SoHo, the man returns suffering from cholera and dies quickly. Based on  Florence's success with her first case, Sidney is frantic for her to investigate. The General, however, is less than forthcoming. The search for answers will bring Florence and her assistant, "Goose," into contact with many historical figures and the lowest residents of the London slums. It also shines a spotlight on British Army conduct in Afghanistan.

I admit to only the most superficial of knowledge of Florence Nightingale, other than her history as "The Lady of the Lamp" during the Crimean War. While I doubt that she ever had the time or energy for detecting, she was close to the center of current events and associated with the movers and shakers of the era. The mystery, in this case, has plots and
sub-plots that were sometimes difficult to follow and the solution eluded me. I did like Florence and her dogged persistence in leading the life she wanted for herself. A number of the characters are well documented historically, and Trent provides appendices of their lives and works. There was a fascinating short history of the last 200+ years of Afghan history; one that clearly indicates the utter futility of imperialist designs on that country. The next book will take her to her most significant triumphs in the Crimea, and I look forward to that.

Thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for an advance copy. Thee opinions are my own.

RATING-3.5 Stars