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