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