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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Review - Cocoa Conspiracy

Thanks for all the participants in the Mid Winter's Blog Hop.  Here are the winners for the book giveaway:   Kara D, kswederski, Jenna C, SHartl, Mona, Michelle @ The True Book Addict.  You will be notified by email to supply me with your mailing address. 

Today I review one of the books in that was available in the giveaway.  I reviewed the first in the series (click here)  and I interviewed the author (click here).  This was the second book in the new series and often the second book is difficult to match or top the debut book.  Read on to find out how well this second venture in this new historical mystery series faired after my rave review of the first novel.

Author: Andrea Penrose

Copyright: December 2011 (Signet) 336 pgs

Series: 2nd Lady Arianna Regency Mysteries

Sensuality: mild period innuendo

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy Mystery

Main Character: Lady Arianna, newly married to Alessandro de Quincy, Earl Saybrook

Setting: 1814 London, English countryside and Vienna

Obtained Through: publisher for an honest review

Arianna is purchasing a special book on Chocolate for her husband Saybrook when she is accosted by a man insisting he must have the book. Arianna doesn't shrink from the man even when he pulls a knife, but manages to come away unscathed and with the book. When wrapping the present she finds papers have been secreted in the book that appear to involve treason. This discovery propels Arianna and Saybrook to the Congress of Vienna that brings together dignitaries from around the world. Their mission is to prevent an assassination attempt that could upset the power structure of Europe.

There is plenty of suspense and intrigue in this book as Arianna even goes undercover at one point. I literally could not put the book down. There is the political tension and suspense of spying added to the suspense of Saybrook and Arianna learning to really trust one another's motives which doesn't come easy to either. I love both of these characters. Saybrook is dark and dangerous, closed off and Arianna is used to living by her wits on her own.

Will they stop the assassination and learn to trust each other fully? Will the enemy they crossed paths with in the first book finally be identified and brought to justice? With their personal enemy in the government finally leave them alone? While this book stands on its own fine, there are some threads from the prior book that are woven into this one to allow a running subplot (think something along the lines of Sherlock's nemesis Moriarty.)

The final confrontation is exciting and the wrap-up sets up another adventure to tease the reader. I am already anxiously waiting for the next book in the series.

Again I say that this book is a higher caliber than is hinted at by the artwork and blurbs. The period detail is seamlessly woven to paint a vivid backdrop. The characters effortlessly draw the reader into their world and drama. The plots are nicely crafted for maximum effective.

I truly believe this series is one of those undiscovered gems that will steadily garner a large fan base with each new addition to the series.

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Review - I am Half-Sick of Shadows

There is snow here in the Rocky Mountains. Hot cocoa with a fun book is the perfect mix.  I am jumping into the Flavia de Luce momentum with the holiday offering.  Join me and a rascally eleven year old chemist for a 1950s English Estate murder mystery.  The  Mid-Winters Eve Blog Hop is below this entry, just scroll down.

Author: Alan Bradley

Copyright: November 2011 (Delacorte Press) 320 pgs

Series: 4th in Flavia de Luce Mysteries

Sensuality: N/A

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy Mystery

Main Character:  Flavia de Luce, eleven year old budding chemist

Setting: 1950s at Bishop’s Lacey at the family English Estate, Buckshaw

Obtained Through: Library

This was my first Flavia book and it stood on its own just fine with only hints at previous Flavia outings.  Eleven year old Flavia believes in Santa and her older sisters Ophelia and Daphne try to spoil that vision for her. So Flavia sets out a scientific experiment to prove he "does so" exist.  In her eleven year old clinical mind, she only needs to capture Father Christmas as he tries to slide down the chimney.  Flavia is mixing up buckets of industrial strength-bird lime based-sticky substance that she will line the chimneys with to capture St. Nick.  She is also mixing up some fireworks that she plans as a surprise for the Bishop's Lacey townspeople.

In the midst of Flavia's bird-lime-glue and fireworks preparations, her father Colonel de Luce has let Buchshaw Estate to a film company during the holiday for some much needed cash to maintain the estate.  This brings a movie company and silver screen star Phyllis Wyvern to Buchshaw over the holiday.  The town's Vicar convinces the star to do a scene from Romeo and Juliet to help raise money for the crumbling church building.  Half of Bishop's Lacey ends up in Buchshaw for this charity performance, and subsequently is snowed in overnight as well.  While the house has multitudes camped out on the floors a murder is committed, thus providing scores of suspects.  Flavia is first on the scene to discover the murder and she is determined to figure out the killer before the police who trudge in and further cloister the townspeople to Buckshaw.

Flavia's character is brilliant and laugh out loud funny.  You believe that there just might be such an intelligent child who still maintains innocence while looking at death with a clinical eye.  She is tormented by her sisters and fantasizes revenge with various poisons to make them ill.  She misses her deceased mother and nurturing but makes the most of life with a distant father.  This character is what all the fuss surrounding the books is about.  She is a mischievous gem.  A secondary character that shines is Dogger, the family's jack-of-all-trades who served with Colonel de Luce in WWII and was a prisoner of war.  There is more to this character and I want to read more in the series just to figure out the mystery of his background.  Dogger is the hidden gem in these books.

The plot takes a back seat in honesty to Flavia and her schemes.  The premise is sound since many of the family estates in England did suffer financial hardships and ended up selling off parcels of land etc to survive.  To rent out the estate to a film company is likely.  The less likely part is the charity performance which seemed slightly contrived although not a show-stopper.  The working out of the killer seems quickly done since the murder takes place so late in the book. I felt the sleuthing was a little rushed and would have liked the clues and investigation to have given the reader more. 

The confrontation with the killer is quite dramatic for an eleven year old and places Flavia in true danger.  The wrap up was satisfying and gave a heartwarming touch for the holiday.  In spite of the main character being a child, this is definitely an adult book.  The reader is looking through an eleven year old's eyes but without her innocent interpretations which builds the suspense.  I do have to say that the first half of the book seemed slow as the pieces are lined up for the murder (much like a Christie book would do.)

I enjoyed my introduction to Flavia and the Buchshaw estate and will certainly visit again, mostly for the mystery of Dogger and partially for the humor of Flavia herself.

Here is my all time favorite holiday special - Peter, Paul and Mary from 1988 and my favorite song from it - my gift to you.

This is just for the quirky fun of it :-)

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mid-Winters Eve Blog Hop

If you are looking for the Mid-Winters Eve Blog Hop, you are in the correct place and thank you for stopping by.  We celebrate everything mystery and suspense here - no doubt you can find something of interest!  

We have six individual books available to win, with four of them having a holiday theme, one harvest and one chocolate (which is an all season subject!).

Christmas Vigil by Anne Perry
This book contains two stories in the one: A Christmas Promise and A Christmas Odyssey

The latest in the series, A Christmas Homecoming by Anne Perry which I reviewed (click here.)

Herald of Death by Kate Kingsbury (A Special Pennyfoot Hotel Mystery)  I reviewed the prior book in the series (click here)

Mrs Jeffries and the Mistletoe Mix-up by Emily Brightwell, which I reviewed a prior book in the series (click here)

Bitter Harvest by Sheila Connolly

The Cocoa Conspiracy by Andrea Penrose which I reviewed the first in the series (click here)

Entry for giveaway lasts until December 27 6:00 p.m. (MST).

I will be shipping the books to the winners. U.S. and Canadian residents only please.

How to enter:

*** First, you must be a member (follower) of this blog.***

All entries are to be in the comments for this post.  Please supply your email address and consider yourself entered.  If you want to spread the word about this blog that is appreciated, but not a requirement of this giveaway.

I will accept entries for this giveaway Wednesday December 21 beginning at midnight (MST) through to 6:00 p.m (MST) on Tuesday December 27.    

I shall notify the winner via the email address you provide to get your mailing address and have the prize sent directly to you.

IF you are a member of this blog, you only need to leave a comment with your correct email.

BECOME a member of this blog if you aren't already and enjoy the celebration of all things mystery and suspense.

At the end of this post you will find the blog hop listing to go to the next blog on the list.

Here is some music for the mid-winter feel.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday Mysteries

If you like to read books that coincide with the season or holiday I wanted to help with offering up some holiday reads.  I am hoping that readers will add other holiday mysteries in the comments.

Fleece Navidad by Maggie Sefton
Holiday Grind by Cleo Coyle
The Christmas Thief by Mary Higgins Clark
Dashing Through the Snow Mary and Carol Higgins Clark
Candy Cane Murder by Joanne Fluke
Gingerbread Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke
Anne Perry Holiday mysteries
A Highland Christmas by M.C. Beaton
Murder with all the trimmings by Elaine Viets
Death, Snow, and Mistletoe by Valerie Malmont
Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie
Wreck the Halls by Sarah Graves
A Holiday Yarn by Sally Goldenbaum
Crewel Yule by Monica Ferris
Mrs. Jeffries and the Mistletoe Mixup
Herald of Death by Kate Kingbury

and the one I am reading now: I am Half-sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

Join in and add to this list...what holiday mystery books do you know of?

Now for the holiday music!

Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Wizards In Winter" music and computerized holiday lights

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Review - At The End Of The Road

My neighbor Ken is back with another book review for us.  This time we look at a psychological thriller that has been described as creepy.  Let's see what Ken thought of it.

Author:  Grant Jenkins

Copyright:  Nov 2011; Berkley; 300 pages

Sensuality:  Violence, Language, May be disturbing to some readers
Mystery sub-genre:  Psychological Thriller

Main Character:  Kyle Edwards, a 10-year-old boy 

Setting:  Summer of 1976, rural North Georgia

Obtained book through:  Publisher for an honest review

Kyle Edwards is joyously riding his bicycle on a dusty, red dirt road named Eden Road.  Daddy and Mama had intended for the family to live a good life here, just like the Garden of Eden.  Only a few things scared Kyle, like the neighboring bullies, and Buddy the bull that lived in the pasture by the cornfield.  His two older brothers were caught up in their own world as teenagers do, and Kyle was more and less saddled with his younger sister, Grace.

Then the 1972 powder blue Chevy Chevelle SS comes speeding around the curve.  Kyle knows he is about to die.  The car, driven by Melodie Godwin, swerves, barely missing him, and rolls.  She emerges bloodied, gruesomely injured, yet mobile.  Melodie, a stranger to Kyle, pleads for his help.  Totally scared out of his wits, Kyle high-tails it for home instead.  He just knows she’s following him.  Hours later, he returns to the crash scene and discovers both the driver and car have disappeared.

Kyle tries to resume his normal life.  Playing treasure hunt and hide-and-go-seek in the cornfield with Grace, or following and spying on his brothers.  But deep within he senses that his and his family’s life is changing, and it’s creeping in like a cold, stark reality.  The normal childhood pranks and antics soon spiral out of control.  Among these nightmarish adventures, there is the bad encounter with the local bullies, the “play with fire” incident with Grace that gets out of hand and becomes a 100 foot wall of fire that burns 75 acres of trees, and his brothers dare him into an encounter with Buddy the bull that almost gets him nailed into the hereafter.  Mama and Daddy also have their problems.

Lurking throughout this summer is the presence of Sheriff’s Deputy Officer Dana Turpin who is investigating the disappearance of Melodie Godwin.  She’s a lady cop whose “black skin was so dark as to appear almost purple.”  She’s also tenacious and dedicated.  Then there’s the creepy, sinister man, “that man who lives across the road,” Kenny Ahearn.  He knows what Kyle and Grace have been up to.  Darkness and evil seem to surround him.  He uses threats, blackmail, and seeming entrancement to ensnare Kyle to do his cruel bidding.

Kyle has done his best to hide many of these dark events from his family and protect himself and Grace in the process.  He feels the underlying burdens of fear, guilt, and shame.  Their lives seem to be on the skids and sliding straight into Hell.

Will there ever be an end to the turmoil and mental traumas they suffer?  Will Officer Turpin find Melodie or recover her remains?  Can Ahearn’s evil be stopped?  Will the Edwards be able to escape the dark pall encompassing them?  Can they hold onto the Garden of Eden or will it be lost to them, too?  Regardless, that loss-of-innocence summer will definitely have a solid and far-reaching impact on many lives.  Perhaps they have reached or will reach the end of the road.

Readers who like horror, drama, and dark mysteries will enjoy this book.  Grant Jenkins has written a cunning, scary thriller.  It is chilling, somber, brooding, haunting, and disturbing.  He has a very colorful and vividly descriptive way of writing.  The characters, events, and action are well developed and cleverly portrayed.

The one challenge I encountered involved what I would describe as the flow and rhythm of the story.  Mr. Jenkins jumped us from present, past, and future time frames in ways that seemed, to me, to be choppy, disjointed, and sometimes confusing.

 At The End Of The Road definitely leaves a psychological impact that remains long after the book has ended. I am willing to bet that is what the author intended….and he has accomplished it well!

Here is the book trailer for the book.


Here is a little something to lighten the mood and get into the holiday mood.  This can be a fun thing to do with kids as well and a nice present to give.  

Scented Applesauce-Cinnamon Ornaments
3 cups applesauce
3 cups ground cinnamon


    Mix applesauce and cinnamon together until it is thick enough to hold a form when cut into cookie cutter shapes. Flatten the mixture on a flat surface and cut into cookie cutter shapes. 
1 1/2 cups applesauce to 2 cups cinnamon works for me to get a clay-like consistency. 
Dust hands with cinnamon for handling. You can add a teaspoon of cloves, ginger and allspice to round out the fragrance.

    Place cookie shapes on a cookie sheet to dry for 3 to 4 days depending on the size and thickness of the cookies. If using as a hanging ornament, make hole with toothpick or a straw before drying.

Use as ornaments, placeholders for a party, or as gifts.
I understand you can bake in a slow oven (350) for 2 to 3 hours, and it definitely makes your home smell delicious!
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Monday, December 12, 2011

Holiday Cookies for Charity

The holidays mean different things to different people and there are scores of holiday traditions.  For many, baking is a cherished memory associated with this time of year.  Cookies seem to be high on the list for a baking tradition.  Also part of this time of year is to remember those less fortunate than ourselves.  How about combining baking cookies tradition and helping others!

I found this great idea called "Drop In And Decorate" (click here for website).  You pick a charity that is "serving basic human needs (food or shelter) in your community, without discrimination," enlist cookie bakers, invite friends over to decorate the cookies and then donate them to the charity.  If the shelter or food pantry can't take home made food, then sell those decorated cookies and give the proceeds. I thought this was a fantastic idea that even children can join in on the fun and it spreads the holiday giving theme and encourages a holiday tradition that brings people together. 

The website has free offers to aid you and provides a "How to Host," food safety, and even decorating guidelines.  Here is a short video about the Drop In & Decorate idea featuring three different events across America.

If you want to send the something to service members actively serving then check out this informative site to find out how, but they specify letters or postcards now rather than care packages.  (click here for website.)  Or consider the Fisher House Project which provides housing for families of wounded service-members at VA facilities (click here for website.)   You could pick a Fisher House and send a care package to a family with a wounded soldier receiving treatment.

Here is a great video about the first cookie cutters I came across and wanted to share.  Whatever your holiday traditions, enjoy.

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Review - A Christmas Homecoming

The holiday season is upon us and I wanted to review a few seasonal mysteries to help get us in the singing and decorating mood.  I took this opportunity to read my first Anne Perry holiday novel.  Let's go to Whitby England and an isolated mansion.

Author:  Anne Perry

Copyright:  October 2011 (Ballantine Books) 224 pgs

Series:  9th in Victorian Holiday Mysteries

Sensuality:  n/a

Mystery Sub-genre:  Historical Sleuth

Main Character:  From the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novels:  Charlotte’s mother, and her young actor husband, Joshua Fielding

Setting:  1897 Whitby England, isolated mansion

Obtained Through:  Library
I suspect that writing a holiday murder mystery is a delicate balancing act.  A murder doesn't bring visions of sugarplums dancing and nutcracker ballet dancers.  But to write a murder mystery where a troupe of snow bound actors are rehearsing to perform a play of Dracula is a tremendous challenge.  You must not bring too much of the horror out, emphasis the human touch and magic of relationships, and still have an interesting murder to solve.  This is the challenge in Anne Perry's newest holiday release, A Christmas Homecoming.

Anne Perry's popular characters of Charlotte and Thomas Pitt lend us Charlotte's mother Caroline and her younger actor husband Joshua for this story.  The acting troupe agrees to spend the holiday with a wealthy philanthropist helping his daughter polish her play adaptation of the wildly popular novel Dracula.  The troupe is sacrificing their holiday to work on the play and present to the local folks to ensure financial support from the family in the new year.  The snow starts piling up.  And a mysterious man, Anton Ballin, claims his carriage has broken down and seeks shelter with them.  The snow gets worse and roads are blocked by downed trees and deep snow drifts. 

They continue to refine the script and rehearse it.  During this process the new guest, Anton Ballin, seems to know a lot about the the themes of Stoker's book and has an amazing ability to suggest changes that bring the script and acting alive.  Yet nobody knows who this man is.  Caroline stumbles over Ballin's body late one night, with a wooden stake through his heart.  Then the body disappears over night.  But where could it have gone?

This book is an interesting story but other than knowing one of the people in the mansion is the killer, the reader does not have the final piece to the puzzle until the very end when Caroline figures it out as well.  Why was Anton killed?  It has to do with who he really was - and that is not obvious. 

This book is stronger on the character interplay than a taught mystery which keeps it a holiday story.  I like the characters of Caroline and Joshua and would love to know them even better.  This was my first Anne Perry mystery and I am interested in reading the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mysteries after reading this.

The one wish I have is that working out the mystery and the killer confrontation with the killer would have had more time dedicated to them.  It feelt like a rushed wrap up to the mystery.  Otherwise I did enjoy the writing and the story.  The insights provided by Anton Ballin about the themes of Stoker's Dracula has brought the classic to life once again for me.

If you are looking for a light mystery that won't be too heavy for the season, this might be the ticket.

For your holiday baking here is a Cherry Chocolate Cobbler
    1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 cup white sugar
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 cup butter
    1 cup chocolate chips
    1 egg
    1/4 cup milk
    1 (21 ounce) can cherry pie filling add a little almond extract flavoring

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Coat a 2 quart casserole dish with vegetable cooking spray. Melt chocolate chips in a measuring cup in the microwave, stirring every 20 seconds until smooth. Let stand for 5 minutes to cool slightly.
    In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in butter until the dough is a uniform crumbly texture. Beat the egg into the melted chocolate chips, then stir the milk in. Pour the chocolate mixture into the dry ingredients, and stir until well blended.
    Pour the cherry pie filling in an even layer in the bottom of the greased casserole dish. Drop spoonfuls of the chocolate batter over the cherries in a random pattern.  Optional: Sprinkle the topping on now.
    Bake for 40 to 45 minutes in the preheated oven, until top crust is not doughy when lifted. Serve warm.

a little flour,
some brown sugar,
sliced almonds,
butter and
a little almond and vanilla extract.
Mix together and sprinkled over the cherry filling then bake it.

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Review - Uneasy Spirits

Today we go to San Francisco to delve into the thriving Spiritualism community which often contained con artists and rigged shows.  I reviewed the first in this series Maids of Misfortune  (click here) and interviewed the author (click here).  Take a break from the shopping madness and travel to Victorian San Francisco with me.

Author: M. Louisa Locke

Copyright: Oct 2011 (CreateSpace) 388 pgs

Series: 2nd in Victorian San Francisco Mysteries

Sensuality: Victorian mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy

Main Character:  Annie Fuller, runs a boarding house and moonlights as Madam Sibyl

Setting: 1879 San Francisco

Obtained Through: author for an honest review

Annie Fuller's father taught her everything he knew about finance and investing, now that Annie is on her own nobody  wants financial advice from a woman, so she pretends to be Madam Sibyl and has a thriving side business.  This is why one of her boarders comes to her for help to prove a seance group that has gotten control of her sister is fraudulent.  Annie begins to attend the seances and clearly sees many tricks but when a young girl is used on some clients, Annie is stumped as to how this girl does what she does. 

The more Annie attends, the more she suspects something truly sinister is going on.  Annie must be onto something because she starts receiving threats. 
The more Annie figures out the more she is in danger and the tension mounts. The young lawyer Nate Dawson who Annie met in the previous book is back and their relationship is going through some rocky spots.

Annie continues to delight as a character.  In this novel Annie faces some of her personal past ghosts and shows her inner strength.  Nate is struggling to find his place so he can make enough money to start a family.  There are missteps in the relationship and we see him grow in how he comes to understand such a liberated woman.

Victorian San Francisco is effortlessly portrayed transporting the reader.  Each chapter begins with an advertisement from the papers for seances and psychics adding to the period feel.  The politics surrounding the city is woven in as well.  This series has brought out the character of the city in this era and it is infectious.

The plot seemed to be going in one direction yet takes off in another for a twist. 
I had not anticipated the direction the plot took and was pleasantly surprised.  The young girl used by the con artists is quite a mystery in herself and I wanted to find out what her story was.  The resolution was suspenseful and harrowing.  This cozy has great characters, interesting plot, period detail, and suspense sprinkled with romance for a great mystery.  If  you like the Gaslight Mysteries by Victoria Thompson, you will most likely enjoy this series.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Do you give books for gifts?

For cyber-Monday I was looking for the "I'm Buying Books for the Holidays" blog that ran in 2008 and 2009, but alas, it is no more.  I really liked the idea of promoting book buying which helped the publishing industry, authors, and artists while giving a great gift of reading.   I love giving books for gifts, maybe as part of a gift basket with teas or along with another present.  The gift of reading is something that keeps giving lifelong.
What I did find was this fantastic idea from LibraryThing called SantaThing (click here).  If you aren't familiar with LibraryThing, a reader's social networking site, it is free to sign up and fill your library with what you have read, join groups, write book reviews, and join this book swap.  The folks at LibraryThing have made it very easy.

You pay into the SantaThing system—this year $10, $15, $20, $25 or $30. You play Santa to a LibraryThing member they pick for you, and choose books for who you get, based on their LibraryThing library and a short description. Someone else (secret!) does the same for you.  If you pay $20 you will get the same amount in return so the processes is equitable.

LibraryThing does the ordering, and you get the joy of giving AND receiving books! LibraryThing makes no money from this even though they are facilitating the administering of the program.
You can sign up as many times as you like. You can sign up for yourself or for someone else, like a child. If you sign up for someone without a LibraryThing account, make sure to mention what kinds of books they’d like, so their Secret Santa can choose wisely.

Deadline to sign up:  December 1
Ordering books: December 4 - 9

I jumped on board, signed up, paid what fit my budget, and filled out my interests in reading for whoever will be my Secret Santa.  I am actually excited to pick books for whoever I get.  

In all the holiday sales and rushing, this is simple and easy with that touch of mystery since you don't know who is buying for you.  I guess little things tickle me. 

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Review - Wicked Autumn

It is time to give thanks and among many of the blessings in my life, I am thankful for all the readers who find this blog of service. 

My wonderful neighbor Ken is reviewing another book for us.  As soon as I read "former MI5 agent turned Anglican priest" for the sleuth by G. M. Malliet I suspected this would be a great mystery, so I asked Ken to read and review it.  A nice tie in to this novel is the review I did of the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. (click here.) Let's see if debut book in a new series meets the promise suggested by the description of the sleuth.

Author:  G. M. Malliet  

Copyright:  2011; Minotaur Books; 297 pages

Series:  #1 in the Max Tudor mysteries 

Sensuality:  Mild Violence  

Mystery sub-genre:  English cozy mystery, Amateur Sleuth  

Main Character:  Max Tudor, Anglican priest and former MI5 agent  

Setting:  Modern Day, Nether Monkslip, a Southern English village

Obtained book through:  Publisher for an honest review

Nether Monkslip is described as the traditional, quaint, and idyllic English village.  Yet now it is inhabited by modernistic owners of cottage industries who practice yoga, raise sheep for knitting wool, are chefs, artists, and New Agers.  They even utilize the internet for marketing. 

A moving and organizing force in this contemporary community is the Women’s Institute headed by the formidable, controlling, and unpopular Wanda Batton-Smythe.  With her patrician attitude, this curmudgeon upset, intimidated, or irritated most of the citizenry.  The preparations for the upcoming annual and very important celebration, the Harvest Fayre, only served to magnify these traits.  Then Wanda’s sudden death throws a monkey wrench into the shindig.  It seems she died from a severe allergic reaction by eating a cookie containing peanuts; something everybody knew she was fatally allergic to.

Max Tudor is unmarried and a former “Spook” for MI5 now turned Anglican priest.  In Nether Monkslip he’s found a new home, a new vocation, new friends, and some peace for his mind, body, and soul.  The village is a welcome respite from his dangerous and discordant past.  Based upon his previous knowledge and skills, Max begins to question the supposed accidental death of Wanda.  Apparently the high-handed Wanda was just asking for it-and she got it!  So who spiked the cookie?  Practically every villager is suspect, and they definitely had motive and opportunity.  He enters into the investigation by assisting the experienced and competent Detective Chief Inspector Cotton.  It will take their combined abilities to expose the killer or killers.

The investigation brings twists and turns and a few curve balls.  Max faces the difficulty of providing spiritual succor to his flock while suspecting them of murder.  Is there a single perpetrator or a conspiracy?  Will there be a surprise resolution to this investigation?

I must, once again, thank Ariel for providing me the opportunity of expanding my exposure to cozy mysteries, in this case an English cozy.  G.M. Malliet is well known in the world of mystery writers. She is a winner of the Agatha Award for her Death of a Cozy Writer.  She has a graduate degree from the University of Cambridge which was the setting for her other series, the St. Just mysteries.

In this story, she has provided us with a most enjoyable read.  I will go so far as to use a descriptive term atypical of me- delightful.  It was delightful to read this book.  Ms. Malliet’s words painted a colorful tapestry of characterizations of the people and the village.  All of the players were well developed in their personalities and mannerisms.  The book is laced with humor through satire, wit, and tongue-in-cheek descriptions and vocabulary.  The reader’s interest is maintained throughout the entire book.  I am looking forward to the next book in the Max Tudor series.

Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes - 
Mascarpone Mashed Potatoes Recipe
For your holiday meal


4 1/4 pounds russet potatoes
salt and pepper to taste
cayenne to taste
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
3/4 cup milk
1 egg yolk

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Fill in the Blank - Mystery Game

This is a busy week for many readers with the Thanksgiving holiday.  So I thought a game would be good about now.  Have a great holiday and make it as simple as possible.


The idea is to try and fill in the blank of each of these mystery book titles.  Some are classics and some are more current.  I have to admit - I think these are challenging!!

In a few days I will provide the answers and you can share how well you did.

Let's give this a try.

1)  Bury Your  Dead 

2)  A Beautiful Blue Death

3)  Dark Road to Darjeeling

4)  Sentenced to Death

5)  Finger Lickin' Dead

6)  A Trick of the Light
7)  A Dead Red Cadillac

8)   Death and the Lit  Chick

9)   The House of Silk

10)  A Crimson Death

I hope you enjoyed this mystery game.  Please leave a comment and let me know how well you did.  Are they too easy?

If you are looking for something a little different or special this year, try a homemade cranberry sauce.

Tangerine Cherry Cranberry Sauce


1 (12-oz) bag fresh cranberries
1 cup small dried cherries (larger ones can be chopped a bit)
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated tangerine or orange zest
1 cup tangerine or orange, plus water as needed
1 whole star anise
3 cloves
1 cinnamon stick

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Review - India Black and the Widow of Windsor

Today we review the second in a new historical mystery series.  I wanted to read this as soon as I saw it, for it has a uniques premise for a heroine.  We will be in 1870s Scotland with Queen Victoria for the holidays, pack for cold weather and treason.

Author:  Carol K. Carr

Copyright:  October 2011 (Berkley Trade) 320 pgs

Series:  2nd in  Madam of Espionage Mystery

Sensuality:  Some adult conversation and innuendo (period euphemisms)

Mystery Sub-genre:  Historical Amateur Sleuth

Main Character:  India Black, madam of the London brothel, Lotus House, catering to gentlemen

Setting:  1876, London and Scottland

Obtained Through:  from publisher for an honest review

The story opens with a rigged seance for Queen Victoria in which the spirit of her departed husband, Prince Albert, literally insists that she spend christmas in their Scottish castle Balmoral. Balmoral was purchased for Queen Victoria by Prince Albert in 1852 (twenty four years before this story) and they would regularly spend the holidays there.  But there is growing discontent among Scottish loyalists who resent the British rule.  Prime Minister Disraeli is suspicious that Scottish nationalists are planning to assassinate the Queen while she is at the castle.  Disraeli decides to enlist the British spy named French (yeah, that gets a little confusing) and his protegee India Black who was utulized as a spy in the previous book.  India is a spy in training but normally is an owner and director of a whore house.

French is looking for the Scottish nationalist agent among the guests passing himself off as a womanizer while India is disguised as a servant to investigate the castle staff. India ends up being a lady's maid to the cantankerous Marchioness of Tullibardine with cateracts who mistakes most anything (pepper, salt, sugar etc) for her snuff and sprays everyone in the vicinity with her explosive sneezes.  India must dodge the Prince of Wales who will drag any maid into a closet to have his way, while she divides her time attending the Marchioness (including reading to her at all hours of the night) and her investigating.  Ultimately India and French are to prevent any assasination attempt and discover who the leader of the Scottish nationalists is. Two accidents appear to French and India as failed attempts and they must work faster before it is too late for the Queen.

The story is told from India's viewpoint and she has snarky humor and is a touch self absorbed.  She is unashamed of her business as a madam which she often references - nothing explicit but be forewarned. She finds the spy business exhilarating. She feels that her profession has allowed her to be more liberated and have more freedom and control over her life.  Although French acts as though her place is his to command, such as who will join them for a meal.  In that situation I really expected India to throw him out, but she lets him get away with such high-handed behavior. 

French, is supposed to be a romantic swashbuckling type, but doesn't really come across that way until later in the book.  He doesn't recognize that India is working herself to the bone with hardly a few hours sleep while he plays pool and drinks scotch with the guests.  That did rather irk me.  India shows loyalty to the Marchioness even though it is just a temporary role and shows how she has a heart even though she works hard to keep it hidden.  I liked India but French needs an attitude adjustment in my mind.

It is hard to portray historical figures since history can be unkind. Queen Victoria (current Queen Elizabeth's great grandmother I think) was the longest reigning British monarch up to that time and she had nine children with Prince Albert.  It is true that when Albert died she was reported as plunging into deep mourning (she wore black for the rest of her life) and avoided public appearances which earned her the nickname "The Widow of Windsor" which accounts for the book's title.  The book emphasizes her ongoing mourning for Albert.  This book also highlights the reported close relationship Queen Victoria developed with a Scottish manservant named John Brown and the real controversy that surrounded them as to the manner of their relationship. As the Empress of India, she had several Indian servants who are present but only in the background. Also, there is no getting around it, Queen Victoria was a big woman and the book makes reference to it in the rather blunt somewhat unflattering manner of the day. It was an interesting peek at Queen Victoria to be sure. 

The Marchioness of Tullibardine is more than she appears and is an interesting character that I enjoyed in-spite her snuff-and-violent-sneeze habit and blunt manners.  The plot is not so much a mystery to discover who had done something, but who is involved with the Scottish nationalists and may try to assassinate the Queen.  The tartan drenched castle Balmoral is a great location for an espionage novel since it is remote, the castle cold and foreboding, and the land is harsh.  The suspects that line up as the book progresses are interesting even though I suspected the main Scottish nationalist agent by thinking "wouldn't it be interesting if it were ____" but did not guess the leader of the group at all.  That was a nice twist.  I found the wrap up well done and left me with a mystery regarding The Marchioness.

Overall it is a good historical amateur sleuth with a truly unique heroine thrown into political intrigue that brings history alive and holds a promise of romantic tension to come.  It may not be for everyone, but is mild compared to many contemporary novels.

Here is a video featuring the castle Balmoral and Victoria.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Author Interview: Andrea Penrose

Andrea started writing westerns at the astonishing age of five, complete with crayon drawings to illustrate them.  So it is no surprise that she got a Masters in Graphic Design at the Yale School of Art and worked in publication design plus she is an established author of romance novels under the name Cara Elliott.  

I reviewed her fist book in A Lady Arianna Regency Mystery series here (click here.)  I love this new series and a copy of her debut and her second book will be part of the Mid Winters Eve Giveaway.  Please give a big welcome to Andrea Penrose.

Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?
The plot (however vague) is always the key starting point with me. Everything else grows out from that seed . . . rather organically, I must admit.

Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail, a strict 3 act structure etc) before sitting down and writing?
Alas, I have to confess that I am a total “pantser. I would love to be totally organized and have the book plotted out chapter by chapter, but my brain simply doesn’t work that way. Things are going best when at the end of the day I push back from the computer and say, “Hmmm. I didn’t know they were going to do that.”

Arianna and Saybrook are great characters. What is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character(s) tell you about him/herself as you write?
I do have an image of a character in my head from the very beginning. I come from an art background, so I am a very visual person and like to picture both the people and surroundings of my books. From there, they “flesh” themselves out as the story progresses. Subtle nuances of character come from the interaction of all the people involved in the story. And sometimes, one of them may come to have a personality I never expected when I started. For me, that’s part of the magic of the creative process.

Why Regency England? What drew you to that time and place? How much research do you have to do?
I love the Regency because it was a fabulously interesting time and place—a world a swirl in silks, seduction and the intrigue of the Napoleonic Wars. Radical new ideas were clashing with the conventional thinking of the past, and as a result, people were challenging and changing the fundamentals of their society.  For example, you had Beethoven composing emotional symphonies, Byron composing wildly romantic poetry about individual angst, J.M.W. Turner dabbling in impressionistic watercolors and Mary Wollstonecraft writing the first feminist manifestos. It’s considered the birth of the Modern Era, and there are so many intriguing parallels with the issue we face today. So I find it a perfect setting for mystery and intrigue!

I’ve done extensive reading on the era, so feel very comfortable in its world. Then, for each book, I delve deeper in specific topics of research to craft the plot, which I love doing. It’s great fun learning all the little esoteric details about a subject.

I loved the chocolate history and unusual recipes. Was it the plan to have a chocolate theme or did that just happen?

I had done the chocolate research intending to use it for something different. But as I began to think about Arianna and Saybrook, it suddenly seemed a “sweet” combination. I wanted them both to be unconventional, and intrigued by  usual ideas. They are creative and imaginative—and cooking is all about having a willingness to try offbeat combinations. 

In a sense, I see chocolate as the perfect metaphor for Arianna and Saybrook—I wanted them to be dark and a little mysterious, with a complex mix of flavors and textures.

Do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?
I’m not one of those lucky souls who can dash off a chapter while waiting in line at a grocery store. I need peace and quiet to write, so I do have a room with all my favorite books, and reference material, along with a great old pine desk and various funky collectibles that I’ve picked up during my travels. Among those familiar things I can buckle down to work.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?
I consider myself a slow writer, so I need to work long stretches at a time to get things moving. Days when I can work pretty much uninterrupted are great—but of course that doesn’t happen all that often! As for how long it takes, that’s hard to answer. Every book is different.

What in your background prepared you to write not just mystery novels but historical mystery?
I’ve always been fascinated by history. As a child I was always reading about the past—knights in armor, swashbuckling cavaliers, natty Victorian adventurers . . .and still am! My career path took a twist into art (I have a Master’s degree in Graphic Design) , but as an undergrad at Yale, I took enough history courses to have majored in the subject. So I feel I bring a quirky left brain-right brain mix to writing historical mystery.

Who is your favorite Mystery character?
I adore Peter Wimsey (Who doesn’t!)

Which author has influenced or inspired you the most?
Oh, that’s such a hard question! I’m a voracious reader and have so many favorites. That said, I love Jane Austen’s sharp insight into human nature and her sly wit as she observes the strengths and weaknesses of her characters.

How did you get your first break to getting published? Was it at a writer's conference or mailing a query letter?
It was one of those lucky little moments that happen in life. I mentioned to a friend that I had written a book (it was a modern thriller, which is still buried in a desk drawer) and he set up a meeting with an agent he knew. The fellow listened to my pitch, made polite noises about be willing to take a look. Then, as we got up, I happened to mention that I had also written a Regency romance. At that he perked up and said that he knew an editor who might be interested . . . three days later he called and said he had sold it!

What are you currently reading?
I always have a couple of books going . . . right now I’m reading A Burial at Sea by Charles Finch,  The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides and The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell.

If your Lady Arianna Hadley mysteries were to be made into a movie, who would you cast in your character's roles?
I think Johnny Depp in his darker persona would make a great Saybrook. And Keira Knightley in her “Pirates of the Caribbean” role would make an interesting Arianna.

Do you have anything you would like to share about your next book in the series?
In the next book, Arianna and Saybrook will be journeying to St. Andrews, Scotland, and then back to London, where the prestigious scientific societies of the day draw them into a world of scholarly intrigue . . . and the daredevil exploits of the early aeronauts who experimented with manned balloon flights. So hold on to your hats—it’s going to be a wild ride!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

THANK You Andrea for that wonderful interview.  It is great to meet another who was enthralled with history as a child.  I played Cleopatra with my Barbies and made up grand adventures on the Nile.  I already loved your book, but imagining Johnny Depp as Alessandro De Quincy, the Earl of Saybrook really adds some punch to that visual.  I look forward to reviewing your newest book.  Readers, please leave your comments or questions for Ms. Penrose.

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