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Monday, July 22, 2019

Review - Death in Kew Gardens

I haven't read the two prior novels in this series, but that didn't hinder my enjoyment of this book at all.  But, now that I have read this one, I want to read the prior books to see how Kat and Daniel meet.  I was enticed to read this because of the below-stairs aspect  where a servant is the amateur sleuth.  Find out more below.

Author: Jennifer Ashley

Copyright: June 2019 (Berkley) 304 pgs

Series: 3rd in Below Stairs Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy

Main Characters: Kat Holloway, a Cook for Lord Rankin (a Barron) in his London home he rarely visits.

Setting: 1881, Victorian London

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

From the book cover:  "In return for a random act of kindness, scholar Li Bai Chang presents young cook Kat Holloway with a rare and precious gift—a box of tea. Kat thinks no more of her unusual visitor until two days later when the kitchen erupts with the news that Lady Cynthia's next-door neighbor has been murdered.

Known about London as an "Old China Hand," the victim claimed to be an expert in the language and customs of China, acting as intermediary for merchants and government officials. But Sir Jacob's dealings were not what they seemed, and when the authorities accuse Mr. Li of the crime, Kat and Daniel find themselves embroiled in a world of deadly secrets that reach from the gilded homes of Mayfair to the beautiful wonder of Kew Gardens."

Kat Holloway is a cook in a wealthy home, so she is unique in investigating without soirees and elaborate dances with expensive gowns. She relies on her fellow working class associates to gather information.  she also has a child that she supports who lives with a couple caring for her.  She is mature and cautious with romance.  Daniel McAdam, who has a sixteen year old son, is a mystery who seems to be able to influence the police and acquire jobs in the investigation center to be on the inside.  He has made it clear he likes Kat and in this story he pushes to see if she might regard him affectionately too. I am waiting for Kat to figure out his secrets!

Lady Cynthia, sister-in-law to the Barron, is the lady of the house whose taste for dressing in men's trousers and such is tolerated because of her wealth.  She loves getting into the investigation herself.  Mr. Thanos is a brilliant mathematician who has feelings for Lady Cynthia and perhaps she for him, but he is socially awkward and theirs is a slow moving romance too. Tess, Kat's assistant and protegee, is a great character and I will enjoy watching her grow with the series.  Mr. Davis the butler reminds me so much of Downton Abbey.  He is another I will enjoy watching grow with the series.

Victorian England with its fascination with botany and China are highlighted in this book, which hasn't been covered much in other books so that was a pleasant set up for the mystery.  The Kew Gardens are a delightful setting for murder and greed among such natural beauty.  

The basic plot is that Kat won't let Li Bai Chang be the easy scapegoat for murder because of prejudice and grows from there with a tale of greed.  There are a few subplots including a new housekeeper who is a tyrant...and maybe even a drunk.  Kat and Daniel's growing relationship and the interaction between Cynthia and Mr. Thanos all keep the story interesting when not focused on the investigation. 

The killer confrontation has some exciting moments in the Kew Gardens which were well done.  The wrap up was a satisfying end and leaves you missing the characters and wanting the next book.

It is a slow burn of a tale, with quite a lot of character building and English setting plus the below stairs issues.  With this book the journey is as enjoyable as the mystery.  I appreciated the character of Li Bai Chang and the depiction of how Chinese were treated, it was handled very well indeed.  The subtle romances between the two couples taking time feels natural for the time period.

Rating: Excellent - Loved it, it had a good grip on me! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list 


Here is a short video about the modern Kew Gardens in London that will give you a taste of the setting for some of the action and climax in the book:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioG_Vfh0Kxw


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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Review - The Right Sort of Man

When I read Anna Lee Huber, one of my favorite historical mystery authors gave high praise to this book ("Utterly fabulous! Vivid historical detail, gorgeous prose, and witty, unforgettable characters all combine to make The Right Sort of Man one of the best books I've read this year"), I had to read it.  This is the first in a new series in London right after World War II.  Here is an interview with the author (click here).  See what you think.

Author: Allison Montclair

Copyright: June 2019 (Minotaur) 325 pgs

Series: 1st in Marriage Bureau Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Miss Iris Sparks and Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge owners of The Right Sort Marriage Bureau

Setting: Post World War II London England

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

From book cover: "In a London slowly recovering from World War II, two very different women join forces to launch a business venture in the heart of Mayfair—The Right Sort Marriage Bureau. Miss Iris Sparks, quick-witted and impulsive, and Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge, practical and widowed with a young son, are determined to achieve some independence and do some good in a rapidly changing world.

But the promising start to their marriage bureau is threatened when their newest client, Tillie La Salle, is found murdered and the man arrested for the crime is the prospective husband they matched her with. While the police are convinced they have their man, Miss Sparks and Mrs. Bainbridge are not. To clear his name—and to rescue their fledging operation’s reputation—Sparks and Bainbridge decide to investigate on their own, using the skills and contacts they’ve each acquired through life and their individual adventures during the recent war.

Little do they know that this will put their very lives at risk."

Miss Iris Sparks is single with a highly classified background in the war, perhaps even spying. She seemingly has no fear and rushes in where angels fear to tread, relying upon her "unique skill set".  Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge is still grieving her husband's death, but doing better than she had when she was institutionalized by her inlaws for a breakdown during her grief, when they also took custody of her son.  

These two need each other and their fledgling business venture to give them hope, direction, and emotional as well as financial support.  Through this adventure they really come to rely upon each other and bond.  Gwen's mother-in-law is one of those self-righteous women you love to hate, so you cheer for Gwen as she struggles to show she is emotionally strong and she will have her son back.  Iris's romantic interest is less-than-perfect.  

The post World War II London England setting is great, since so much attention has been given London during the war and air raids.  But the harsh struggle for London and its inhabitants to rebuild with rationing of most everything and the realities of life this creates is seamlessly integrated into the story.

The plot starts out simple, Iris and Gwen seek to prove that the man they matched Tillie with isn't the killer and thereby save their fledgling business.  But they are soon in the middle of much bigger schemes and crimes that Tilly was trying to escape.  The writing style created a fast paced and consuming story that kept me riveted to the story.

The killer reveal was a surprise and exiting, so kudos there!  The wrapup even had a surprise besides providing some hope for Iris and Gwen personally.

I absolutely love the witty banter between Iris and Gwen that runs throughtout the story.  It provided humor and a light-hearted touch countering the depth plumbed with the characters.  

Rating: Near Perfect - Couldn't Put it down. Buy two copies, one for you and one for a friend. 



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Monday, July 15, 2019

Guest Post - Jon Land and Jessica Fletcheer

Murder She Wrote dominated television ratings from 1984 to 1996 and continues in reruns around the world.  But when the show ended, the books continued Jessica Fletcher's legacy in print.  Donald Bain began (as the co-author with Jessica Fletcher *wink-wink*) writing the series in 1989 until he passed away in 2017. 

After Donald Bain's passing, author Jon Land was approached to take over the series as he was working on completing Bain's A Date with Murder (47th book in the series) anyway. Land agreed to continue the series.  Please welcome Jon Land as the secret guest author today.

THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT JESSICA

FLETCHER

The publication of MURDER IN RED marks the 35th anniversary of the eternal Murder, She Wrote series which debuted on CBS in 1984. But did you know that Angela Lansbury wasn’t the first choice to play Jessica Fletcher? It was actually Jean Stapleton, who’d fabulously played Edith Bunker on All in the Family. With that in mind, and to celebrate MURDER IN RED, let’s take a look at some other things you might not know about Jessica Fletcher.

§ Speaking of Angela Lansbury, the fact that Jessica never got her driver’s license mirrors the fact that Angela who never got hers either.

§ Jessica was president of her Delta Alpha Chi sorority at Harrison College in Green Falls, New Hampshire where she majored in journalism.

§ Jessica first met her future husband when they were both volunteering for a production at the esteemed Appleton Theater. But Jessica was so bad at set building, she never volunteered again.

§ When her husband Frank was still alive, and they were raising their nephew Grady, Jessica was a substitute English teacher at Appleton High School.

§ The death of the Appleton High principal became the first murder Jessica ever solved.

§ On that investigation, she worked with Amos Tupper, then Appleton’s only detective who’d go on to become sheriff at Cabot Cove.

§ Jessica and Frank purchased their beloved home in Cabot Cove from real estate agent Eve Simpson who would go on to become a close friend of Jessica’s. The night Eve showed them the house at 698 Candlewood Lane also marked the first time Jessica ever met Dr. Seth Hazlitt.

§ Upon moving to Cabot Cove, Jessica got a job teaching English full time and went on to mentor any number of writers who came back for visits during the television show’s twelve-year run.

§ Writing as J. B. Fletcher, Jessica has published over 40 books from The Corpse Danced at Midnight to The Corpse Danced Alone.

§ She celebrated publication of The Corpse Danced at Midnight at a costume party put on by her publisher Preston Giles in the pilot for the series during which, of course, someone is murdered and Jessica ends up cracking the case. (The episode was called The Murder of Sherlock Holmes).

§ The books gave Jessica a romantic interest in Chief Inspector George Sutherland of Scotland Yard, who’s introduced in the very first book in the series, Gin and Daggers. But the closest she ever came to a love interest in the TV series was Preston Giles, a flirtation that lasted only until Jessica revealed him as the killer in the same episode. In a subsequent episode years later, Giles is murdered himself. (Sutherland returns in Murder in Red!)

§ Jessica left Cabot Cove for a time to teach criminology at New York’s Manhattan University where she lives in Manhattan at the Penfield House Apartments, 941 West 61st St. She ultimately gave up the position because she missed Cabot Cove too much.

§ The Murder, She Wrote series boasts more books than either Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes (4 novels and 56 short stories) or Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot (45 novels).


§ Speaking of Agatha Christie, Angela Lansbury also played her famed sleuth Jane Marple in the 1980 film The Mirror Cracked.

SPOILER ALERT! A number of the factoids above are drawn from A Time for Murder, #50 in the Murder, She Wrote series that will be published this coming November and will introduce Jessica as a younger woman, twenty-five years in the past, for the first time ever in books or television!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I don't know about you, but I still watch an episode occasionally.  This was great information and fun to get back into the Murder She Wrote world.  

Here is an episode to watch...staring a very young George Clooney!  So many stars were on the show.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8k1kbODS5s








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Monday, July 8, 2019

Guest Post - Allison Montclair

Please welcome Allison Montclair to M&MM.  She grew up devouring hand-me-down Agatha Christie paperbacks and James Bond movies. As a result of this deplorable upbringing, she became addicted to tales of crime, intrigue, and espionage. She now spends her spare time poking through the corners, nooks, and crannies of history, searching for the odd mysterious bits and transforming them into novels of her own.

The Marriage Bureau Idea
For the past two and a half years, I have been living in 1946. I am the author of The Right Sort of Man, the first of a new mystery series set in post-war London, featuring Miss Iris Sparks and Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge, the proprietors of the Right Sort Marriage Bureau.

This came about when Keith Kahla, my editor at St. Martin’s Minotaur, alerted me to the existence of a real-life marriage bureau that was set up and run by women beginning in 1939. The idea of a marriage bureau was a novelty, and a business founded by women was even more so. It was not a time and place with which I was overly familiar, but I am someone who likes diving headlong into eras in search of the odd and the obscure, so the prospect of tackling this was intriguing.

I knew immediately that I wanted to shift the time to the period after the war. I didn’t want to have a war-time setting, with our intrepid heroines sneaking around after curfew, tiptoeing through the Blitz and so forth. The post-war period was a fascinating time, particularly for women in England. Many had taken over for the men in a variety of settings, and while some would cede their new lives to the lads returning from demobilization, enough did not or resented the prospect so as to mark another step in the long march to women’s equality. There was also a shift in the political climate of the country, which brought in Clement Atlee and a Labour Party government, and of European politics in general with the Cold War picking up where the shooting war had left off.

I wanted both of my ladies to have come through the war damaged. Not much is written about the aftermath on the women of WWII. Many British women died for their country, and many more lost loved ones. I wanted Iris and Gwen to find each other as friends, and for their fledgling business to be a source of strength and healing. And when it is threatened by the murder of one of their clients, allegedly by the man they had set her up with, for them to draw on hitherto unsuspected resources in finding the truth.

The research has been great fun. Rationing, a fact of life back then, played a major role in this first book, and the myriad ways it affected daily life were fascinating. I have also enjoyed learning about the fashions of the period, and how designers worked within the limitations placed on the amount and types of fabric used, the ornamentations, and so forth. I also learned that no man knows the meaning of the word “peplum,” but all women do!

The second book is written and turned in. The writing of the third has commenced, and I have been signed for a fourth. I look forward to see what happens to Iris and Gwen next.

And I look forward to 1947!
~ ~ ~ 
THANK You Allison.  I will have a review coming shortly to this unique new mystery series, so stay tuned.



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Monday, June 17, 2019

Author Guest Post - Kate Carlisle

Kate Carlisle is the New York Times bestselling author of two ongoing series: the Bibliophile Mysteries featuring San Francisco bookbinder Brooklyn Wainwright, whose rare book restoration skills uncover old secrets, treachery and murder; and the Fixer-Upper Mysteries, featuring Shannon Hammer, a home contractor who discovers not only skeletons in her neighbors' closets, but murder victims, too. Hallmark Movies & Mysteries has brought the Fixer-Upper Mysteries to TV in a series of movies starring Jewel and Colin Ferguson. A native Californian, Kate worked in television production for many years before turning to writing.

9 Things You Definitely Don't Know about James Bond Author Ian Fleming

The Bibliophile Mysteries are modern-day murder mysteries that are motivated by a rare book in the care of bookbinder Brooklyn Wainwright. Before writing each book, I do a lot of research and learn fascinating information about the rare book in question, its author, and the times in which the book was published. The most fun part for me is that the themes of the present-day story reflect those of that rare book. For example, while Brooklyn was working on a first-edition of Journey to the Center of the Earth, she found a body in a wine cave (Ripped from the Pages). When she found an 18th-century cookbook and journal, the murder victim was a celebrity chef (A Cookbook Conspiracy).

In my latest Bibliophile Mystery, The Book Supremacy, Brooklyn finds a signed first-edition James Bond novel in a book stall in Paris. She's on her honeymoon with her devilishly handsome British security expert husband, so of course the book she finds has to be The Spy Who Loved Me. Most of the action in the story takes place in a San Francisco spy shop, echoing the fun, fast-paced James Bond themes.

I include as many juicy details from my research as I can without bogging down the story, but invariably there are tidbits I just couldn't work in. Here are 9 things you definitely don't know about James Bond author Ian Fleming. (Unless you're a member of my mailing list, in which case you know a few of these because I like to share interesting research facts in my newsletters. You can join at KateCarlisle.com.)

1. The original M in his life was his Mum, whom he called M. (One senses a snotty teenager's sneer.)

2. John F. Kennedy became a superfan after meeting Ian Fleming at a party in Washington DC. Not long after, JFK listed From Russia with Love as one of his top 10 favorite books for a piece in Life magazine, propelling the James Bond books to the bestsellers lists in the US.

3. Fleming also wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Clearly, he was always into unique cars loaded with gadgets.

4. The name of the character James Bond came from an American ornithologist because, Fleming said it was the dullest name he could think of. (Why he couldn't just make up a boring name, I don't know.) FYI, "dull" is not the criteria I used when naming Brooklyn Wainwright.

5. Fleming was 31 when he joined Naval Intelligence. His codename was 17F. Which does not possess quite the same cachet as double-0-7.

6. He started writing the first draft of Casino Royale, the first James Bond novel, in February 1952 and finished it in March. I confess, it takes me longer than a month to write a book, which is why I only release two per year. (One Bibliophile Mystery and one Fixer-Upper Mystery.)

7. A true bibliophile, Fleming founded a literary journal exclusively dedicated to book collecting, The Book Collector, which is still published today.

8. Fleming wrote a short story called "James Bond in New York," but instead of doing any top secret spy missions while in the Big Apple, Bond visits his favorite shops and restaurants. (Sounds exciting, doesn't it?) Fleming did this as a concession to American publishers who didn't want to publish his book of essays titled Thrilling Cities because Fleming was somewhat less than thrilled with NYC.

9. Fleming wrote all of his James Bond books at his home in Jamaica, which he named GoldenEye, after one of the operations he oversaw in British Naval intelligence during WWII.

And in case you knew all of those, here's an interesting Fleming-related fact about Sting, the rock-star frontman for The Police: Sting wrote 'Every Breath You Take' while vacationing at Fleming's estate in Jamaica—at the same desk. The lyrics certainly do sound like they're the soundtrack for a spy novel.

Every breath you take

Every move you make

Every bond you break

Every step you take

I'll be watching you

Did you catch "bond" in there? Do you think that's a coincidence? I don't.

To help celebrate the release of The Book Supremacy and its spy shop setting, I'm giving away handy little Bibliophile Mystery magnifiers, with lights and styluses. (Styli?) The giveaway will start on June 13. Join my mailing list so I can email you a reminder when the contest starts or, if you're reading this after June 13, head over to the Secret Room at KateCarlisle.com to see if the contest is still running.

So tell me, was I right when I said you definitely wouldn't know these facts about Ian Fleming? What is your opinion of James Bond? Do you get that view from the books, the movies, or both?

ABOUT THE BOOK SUPREMACY:


In the latest in this New York Times bestselling series, San Francisco book-restoration expert Brooklyn Wainwright investigates a mysterious spy novel linked to a string of murders...

Newlyweds Brooklyn and Derek are enjoying the final days of their honeymoon in Paris. As they're browsing the book stalls along the Seine, Brooklyn finds the perfect gift for Derek, a first edition James Bond novel, The Spy Who Loved Me. When they bump into Ned, an old friend from Derek’s spy days, Brooklyn shows him her latest treasure.

Once they're back home in San Francisco, they visit a spy shop Ned mentioned. The owner begs them to let him display the book Brooklyn found in Paris as part of the shop's first anniversary celebration. Before they agree, Derek makes sure the security is up to snuff—turns out, the unassuming book is worth a great deal more than sentimental value.

Soon after, Derek is dismayed when he receives a mysterious letter from Paris announcing Ned’s death. Then late one night, someone is killed inside the spy shop. Are the murders connected to Brooklyn's rare, pricey book? Is there something even more sinister afoot? Brooklyn and the spy who loves her will have to delve into the darkest parts of Derek's past to unmask an enemy who's been waiting for the chance to destroy everything they hold dear.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

THANK You Ms. Carlisle for joining us today!  I loved the James Bond  tidbits. Can't wait to read the book.


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Saturday, June 1, 2019

Review - Lost Books and Old Bones

From the author of multiple mystery series, Country Cooking School, Farmer's Market, Dangerous Type series comes the third in a new series comes The Scottish Bookshop Mystery Series.  I reviewed the debut book in the series, The Cracked Spine (click here) and the second book, Of Books and Bagpipes (click here).  Here is a rundown of the third book in the series.


Author: Paige Shelton

Copyright: April 2018 (Minataur) 320 pgs

Series: 3rd in Scottish Bookshop Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy

Main Characters: Delaney Nichols, Expat and new employee at The Cracked Spine specializing in hard-to-find books and artifacts

Setting: Modern day, Edinburgh Scottland

Obtained Through: Library

From the book cover:"Delaney Nichols, originally of Kansas but settling happily into her new life as a bookseller in Edinburgh, works at the Cracked Spine in the heart of town. The shop is a place filled with curiosities and surprises tucked into every shelf, and it’s Delaney’s job to research the rare tomes and obscure artifacts that people come to buy and sell. When her new friends, also students at the medical school, come to the shop to sell a collection of antique medical books, Delaney knows she’s stumbled across a rare and important find indeed. Her boss, Edwin MacAlister, agrees to buy the multi-volume set, perhaps even to keep for his own collection.

But not long after the sale, one of Delaney’s new friends is found murdered in the alley behind the Cracked Spine, and she wonders if there is some nefarious connection between the origin of these books and the people whose hands they fell into. Delaney takes it upon herself to help bring the murderer to justice. During her investigation, Delaney she finds some old scalpels in the bookshop’s warehouse— and discovers that they belonged to a long-dead doctor whose story and ties to the past crimes of Burke and Hare might be connected to the present-day murder. It’s all Delaney can do to race to solve this crime before time runs out and she ends up a victim on the slab herself."

Delaney Nichols, an American in Scotland is on the case when an acquaintance is murdered in the alley behind the bookstore.  Delaney's boss, Edwin MacAlister, remains just as secretive as before, and fellow bookstore employees Rosie and 19-year old Hamlet give the story warmth.  Tom is the bartender from across the street and the romantic interest who has to deal with an old girlfriend now a reporter dragging Delaney's name through the papers.  Elias is a cab-driver who is also Delaney's landlord who makes a good side kick. 

The local medical school in Edinburgh is used often as a setting and it works well for atmosphere.  There is no clear motive or any one suspect that stands out, so the investigation leads the reader along clue by clue and kept my interest.  A tense and suspenseful killer reveal topped it off and the wrap up was touching.

I consider this the best of series so far with a cleaver plot and interesting characters.  

Rating: Excellent - Loved it, it had a good grip on me! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list.



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Monday, May 27, 2019

Review - City of Secrets

This is the second novel in a new series by the bestselling author of the Gaslight mystery series with midwife Sarah Brandt and Detective Frank Malloy.  The first in the series, City of Lies, I reviewed (click here).  I finally got to reading this second in the series and I wasn't disappointed.

Author: Victoria Thompson

Copyright: Nov 2018 (Berkley) 320 pgs

Series: 2nd in Counterfeit Lady Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild with adult topics

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical cozy, historical amateur sleuth

Main Characters: Elizabeth Miles, smart and cunning con-artist using her skills to help people

Setting: 1917, Washington DC

Obtained Through: Library

From the cover: "Elizabeth Miles knows that honesty is not always the best policy when it comes to finding justice.

Elizabeth has discovered that navigating the rules of high society is the biggest con of all. She knows she can play the game, but so far, her only success is Priscilla Knight, a dedicated young suffragist recently widowed for the second time. Her beloved first husband died in a tragic accident and left her with two young daughters—and a sizable fortune. While she was lost in grief, Priscilla’s pastor convinced her she needed a man to look after her and engineered a whirlwind courtship and hasty marriage to fellow parishioner Endicott Knight. Now, about nine months later, Endicott is dead in what appears to be another terrible accident. 

Everyone is whispering, but that is the least of Priscilla’s troubles. She had believed Endicott was wealthy, too, but her banker tells her she has no money left and her house has been mortgaged. He also hints at a terrible scandal and refuses to help. 

Priscilla stands to lose everything, and Elizabeth is determined not to let that happen. But, as always, Elizabeth walks a fine line between using her unusual talents and revealing her own scandalous past. Elizabeth soon discovers that Endicott’s death was anything but accidental, and revealing the truth could threaten much more than Priscilla’s finances. To save her new friend’s future—and possibly her own—Elizabeth, along with her honest-to-a-fault beau, Gideon, delve into the sinister secrets someone would kill to keep."

Elizabeth Miles grew up in a family of con men and was taught how to grift and con so she would be able to take care of herself. Although she is reformed, she knows justice sometimes has to be dished out in unconventional ways.  Anna Vanderslice is a sweet and gentle lady who met Elizabeth when she was imprisoned with the suffragists demonstrating and looks up to her.  Mrs Bates is an older lady who takes Elizabeth under her wing and knows she isn't a legitimate society lady.  Gideon Bates, Mrs. Bates son and a lawyer, is Elizabeth's fiance.  His uptight lawyer side thought he could handle how Elizabeth grew-up and her shady past.  But, this outing forces him to face if his following the letter of the law and her bending of the law are compatible. These characters shine and draw you in.

Victoria Thompson always does an incredible job of bringing the early 1900s New York to vivid life.  She excels in this series at highlighting the social environment.  Such as referring to The Etiquette of Today by Mrs. Ordway that Elizabeth is studying to navigate the multitude of society rules.  Plus the lengths that are taken to keep any of the harsh realities of life from touching society women.

The initial plot quickly deepens and a ruthless, manipulative, and cold blooded killer is closer than Elizabeth could have imagined.  The story moves along at a quick pace I found it near impossible to put down.

There isn't a traditional killer reveal or killer confrontation.  Rather, once Elizabeth has figured out who is behind everything it becomes clear that it will be nearly impossible to turn person(s) responsible over without destroying the widow and her children in the process.  What results is a creative "Leverage" style climatic show down. The wrap up was heart warming and I loved it.

I appreciated the Leverage style climax.  Leverage was a TV Show where a band of cohorts act as modern-day Robin Hoods, pulling off elaborate scams  against the greedy and the corrupt.  It fits beautifully with Elizabeth and her particular talents.  Gideon and his personal growth were spot on for his character and I am very pleased with the chemistry between him and Elizabeth.  I can't think of a single improvement possible.

Rating:  Near Perfect - Couldn't Put it down and can't wait for the next. Buy two copies, one for you and one for a friend.



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Saturday, May 25, 2019

Review - The Hollow of Fear

I have been a fan of this new series that re-imagines the Sherlock mythos since the debut, A Study in Scarlet Women (click here) followed by the second book, A Conspiracy in Belgravia (click here).  Charlotte is presented with the highest stakes yet that challenge her considerable intellect as the murder strikes too close to her personal world.  

Author: Sherry Thomas

Copyright: October 2018 (Berkley) 336 pgs

Series: 3rd in Lady Sherlock Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild with innuendo and adult topics

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy, Historical suspense

Main Characters: Charlotte Holmes, disgraced upper class woman who creates the Sherlock Holmes identity

Setting: 1886 Stern Hollow England, Lord Ingram's Estate

Obtained Through: Library Find

From the book cover: "Under the cover of "Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective," Charlotte Holmes puts her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. Aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, Charlotte draws those in need to her and makes it her business to know what other people don't. 

Moriarty's shadow looms large. First, Charlotte's half brother disappears. Then, Lady Ingram, the estranged wife of Charlotte's close friend Lord Ingram, turns up dead on his estate. And all signs point to Lord Ingram as the murderer.

With Scotland Yard closing in, Charlotte goes under disguise to seek out the truth. But uncovering the truth could mean getting too close to Lord Ingram--and a number of malevolent forces..."

Charlotte Holmes is blond, pretty, very feminine, too fond of sweets, and far too intelligent for the time period. She considers how much dessert to eat based on how many chins she has at the moment.  Her sublimated feelings for Lord Ingram are tested as she must come to his rescue and keep him from a death sentence for a murder he didn't commit.  Her disguise is both brilliant and hilarious at times.

Lord Ingram Ashburton, a long time friend who accepts Charlotte for who she is, has been set up but good for murder.  His feelings for her plus any personal issues around his strained marriage may unintentionally get aired as she is undercover in his household.  Mrs. John Watson, a retired stage actress who has become her unique and talented sidekick aids as usual.  Inspector Robert Treadles even comes out from London with his superior to investigate and his loyalties and prejudices alike are tested. Mrs Watson's niece, Miss Redmayne, joins the team for a cameo performance.  Charlotte's sister, Olivia, is even in the thick of story as she ends up at a neighboring estate that has a problem causing all the guests to relocate to Ingram's estate.  Olivia's character is developed more than before and the reader becomes more invested in her and the rarely heard of third sister Bernadine.

Stern Hollow England, Lord Ingram's Estate, is a beautiful setting now tainted by murder.  The setting hints that all is not as the surface appearance makes you believe. Excellent use of the setting.

The plot has many twists and deceptions upon deceptions. Because of this and the character development, it is near impossible to put down.  I am a slow reader and read it in about 36 hours.  Once you get to the killer reveal, you are left with your mouth open and stunned.  Yes, stunned.  Excellent final twist.  The wrap up leaves you aching for the next installment.  

The attraction between Lord Ingram and Charlotte gets new complications in this novel. The writing style is superb and contains a sophisticated handling of the plot to prevent revealing too much too soon. I highly recommend this novel.

Rating: Near Perfect - Couldn't Put it down. Buy two copies, one for you and one for a friend.


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Monday, May 20, 2019

Guest Author Post - Jenn McKinlay & Review: Dying for Devil’s Food

Please welcome Jenn McKinlay, the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Happily Ever After romances, the Bluff Point romances, the Library Lover's mysteries, the Cupcake Bakery mysteries, and the Hat Shop mysteries.

Developing a Character Who is a Bully



Bullies. No one likes a bully. When I started writing Dying for Devil’s Food and I knew Melanie Cooper was going to be confronted with the opportunity to face down her old nemeses, I had to think for the first time about why her school tormentors were they way they were. What made them so vicious and mean? This is Character Development 101 – figure out your character’s motivations because no one is a jerk for no reason. At least, I hope not.

Cassidy Havers and Dwight Pickard were the two students most responsible for Mel’s misery in high school. Cassidy nicknamed her “Melephant” and did everything she could to torture Mel about her weight, her looks, and her shyness. But why? Why would someone go out of their way to make another person so miserable?

I didn’t have much of a frame of reference for this because I was pretty lucky in school in that I can’t remember being bullied. Oh, sure, at six feet tall, I was teased just like the kid with the sticky out ears, the girl with the super thick glasses, and the boy who was so skinny he looked like he was made of string. But while I was teased for my height I never felt bullied, not like Mel did, so what made Cassidy so mean to her?

“Hurt people hurt people.” I read this sentence in a discussion about bullying awhile ago and it’s always stuck with me. It’s true, a person who is hurting will strike out and hurt other people. Knowing this, I thought long and hard about why Cassidy had wanted to hurt Mel so much back in high school. To my surprise, this added all new twists and turns to the plot that I hadn’t expected but was delighted to explore. I’d say more, but I don’t want to give away too much.

The other element of the story that surprised me was a surprise reconciliation with one of her former bullies. When one of her former tormentors grudgingly helps Mel track down the killer, it was an opportunity for the characters to discover each other beyond the persona of bully and victim. But after so much pain, could two people actually find friendship? Again, I can’t say too much but how does a person forgive someone for making them miserable during the most vulnerable years of their life? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Here’s a longer description of Dying for Devil’s Food to whet your appetite: Melanie Cooper has zero interest in catering her fifteen-year high school reunion, but Angie insists it's only right that they bask in the success of Fairy Tale Cupcakes--and Mel's engagement to the delicious Joe DeLaura is the cherry on top! Everything is going better than expected until Cassidy Havers, resident mean girl and Mel's high school nemesis, picks a fight. No longer willing to put up with Cassidy's bullying, Mel is ready to tell the former homecoming queen to shut her piehole and call it a night. But as Mel and Joe prepare to depart, Cassidy is found dead in the girl's bathroom, next to a note written in lipstick that points right to Mel--making her the prime suspect. Now, Mel must follow the clues to find the real killer and keep her reputation from being frosted for a crime she didn't commit.

My Review




Author: Jenn McKinlay

Copyright: May 2019 (Berkley) 297 pgs

Series: 11th in Cupcake Bakery Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy

Main Characters: Melanie Cooper, owner of the Fairy Tale Cupcakes bakery

Setting: Modern day, Scottsdale, Arizona

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review, NetGalley

Melanie Cooper faces the high school bullies of her nightmares, making her character stronger and a beacon for victims everywhere.  Angie, best friend and co-owner is a cheerleader type. Joe DeLaura, fiance and brother of Angie who is also the DA.  He escorts Mel to the reunion and makes a point of letting everyone know how lucky he is to be marrying her.  I loved him for that!  Tate Harper, Mel's other best friend and business partner who is married to Angie now stands by Mel as a fierce friend.  Uncle Stan is a police detective and provides the police connection to get information rather than the usual cop boyfriend.  I liked Stan and how it worked.  Marty Zelaznik, the spunky octogenarian counter-help, and Oz, the young tattooed pastry student that is her kitchen backup are gems for additional characters.

The plot was a basic cozy who-dunnit with a cast of suspects around the cupcake business theme.  The pacing had a little bit of a rough start for me with the drama filled reunion, but it picked up quickly. The investigation moved along smoothly and before I knew it we were at the end, so the pacing sped along.

The killer reveal wasn't necessarily a surprise, since many characters had solid motives to kill the mean girl.  But, I will say the killer wasn't obvious. The reveal was suspenseful and seemed natural-to a point. The wrap-up provided some character depth to the mean-girl victim and to another bully.  

I had not read any of the previous books in the series and had no problem picking up the book and enjoying it.  Dying for Devil's Food is a light read and addresses the bullying topic from Mel's tortured memories which keeps it both at arm's length while putting a face to it.  It shows how vicious just words can be and how it devastates the spirit while keeping the story overall still breezy. I liked the boyfriend being a DA rather than a cop, nice twist on that cliche.  


Rating: Good - A fun lite read.




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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Review - Death Distilled

I reviewed the first in this series, Single Malt Murder (click here).  I was in the mood to read the next and finally got around to it in my TBR pile.  If you want an escape to Scotland at a whisky distillery, read on and see my thoughts.  

Author: Melinda Mullet

Copyright: Sept 2017 (Alibi-Random House) 240 pgs

Series: 2nd in Whisky Business Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild, some sprinkled language

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy

Main Characters: Abigail Logan, photojournalist who inherited Abbey Glen distillery

Setting: Modern day, Scottland

Obtained Through: Personal purchase

Cover blurb: "It’s been three months since Abi Logan last checked in on Abbey Glen, the celebrated whisky distillery she inherited. With her oversize wheaten terrier, Liam, by her side, Abi returns to the quaint Scottish village of Balfour. But her relaxing Highland homecoming takes a stressful turn when she unearths an unseemly bit of village history, welcomes a group of Japanese whisky enthusiasts, and becomes shepherdess to an unexpected flock of sheep—all within the first twenty-four hours. Still, nothing’s more stressful than murder. . . .

Local celebrity Rory Hendricks is the hotheaded, hard-rocking former frontman of the Rebels—and Abi’s girlhood crush. After meeting him in person, Abi can’t say no to anything he asks, like photographing his upcoming show . . . or figuring out who’s trying to kill him. Turns out someone’s been bumping off his old bandmates, with the drummer dead under mysterious circumstances and the keyboardist in a coma following a hit-and-run. Now a series of threatening messages leads Rory to think he’s next on the chopping block. And the band has a devil’s share of broken hearts and bitter disputes in their past, leaving Abi a huge batch of suspects to sift through—all before the killer takes another shot."

Abigail is a stubborn and gutsy character who is struggling with her photojournalist career versus the inherited distillary and her avoidance of dating versus her growing attraction to Grant MacEwan.  Abbey Glen manager Grant MacEwan is very reserved and a great romantic interest for Abi, although it won't be a smooth ride between these two.  Best friend Patrick Cooke  is one of those friends who always has a new job or project and gets everyone in his sphere involved.  Rory Hendricks, lead singer from rock group Rebels, claims his bad boy hard partying rocker reputation was primarily just publicity, but maybe not. Rory's adult daughter Summer has tremendous father issues and decides to seduce Grant.  Then there is the wheaten terrier Liam, a loyal and sweet friend for Abigail, probably the best relationship she has.

I love the Scottish setting of Balfour, the small nearest town, Grant MacEwan's castle-like home, and Rory's isolated house he is renting.  These each provide such a sense of place that I felt I had taken a little vacation to Scotland.  

The main plot of danger to Rory and/or his daughter Summer develops suspense and the subplots of Japanese whisky businessmen visiting the distillery, Abigail and Grant's wary attraction to each other, and Abi's adoption of a herd of sheep to save their lives, plus renovations to the pub in town uncovering local history and old mysteries kept me completely enthralled.  

The killer confrontation was blood pumping and unique.  I loved it, great job.  The wrap-up was also well done.  some threads tied up and others still in progress for the next book.  I can't wait to read the third in the series.

The story got me into a Scotland mood with its great sense of place.  I appreciate the complexities to Abigail and her life and how it isn't over the top or too drama filled.  The building towards a romance is spot on and deftly handled.  At first I wasn't enthusiastic to read it from cover blurb, but I was very quickly wrapped up in the story and couldn't put it down.  This was a great second book for the series and I am already eyeing the third.  

Rating: Excellent - Loved it, it had a good grip on me! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list.


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Monday, May 13, 2019

Review - Death and Daisies

Amanda Flower is the bestselling author of the Amish Quilt Shop Mysteries, Living History Museum Mysteries, India Hayes Mysteries, Magical Bookshop Mysteries, and the new Magic Garden Mysteries.  I reviewed the first in this new series, Flowers and Foul Play (click here).  I finally got around to the second book in the series and here is my review.

Author: Amanda Flower

Copyright: Nov 2018 (Crooked Lane Books) 308 pgs

Series: 2nd in Magic Garden  Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy Mystery with magical touches

Main Characters: Fiona Knox, recently relocated to Scotland

Setting: Modern day, Duncreigan Scotland

Obtained Through: Library

From the cover:  "Fiona Knox thought she was pulling her life back together when she inherited her godfather’s cottage in Duncreigan, Scotland—complete with a magical walled garden. But the erstwhile Tennessee flower shop owner promptly found herself puddle boot-deep in danger when she found a dead body among the glimmering blossoms. One police investigation later (made a trifle less unpleasant by the presence of handsome Chief Inspector Neil Craig), and Fiona’s life is getting back on a steady, though bewitched, track. Her sister Isla has just moved in with her, and the grand opening of her new spellbound venture, the Climbing Rose Flower Shop in Aberdeenshire, is imminent. 

But dark, ensorcelled clouds are gathering to douse Fiona’s newly sunny outlook. First, imperious parish minister Quaid MacCullen makes it undeniably clear that he would be happy to send Fiona back to Tennessee. Then, a horrific lightning storm, rife with terribly omen, threatens to tear apart the elderly cottage and sends Fi and Isla cowering under their beds. The storm passes, but then, Fi is called away from the Climbing Rose’s opening soiree when Kipling, the tiny village’s weak-kneed volunteer police chief, finds a dead body on the beach. 

The body proves difficult to identify, but Kipling is certain it’s that of the parish minister. Which makes Fiona, MacCullen’s new nemesis, a suspect. And what’s worse, Isla has seemed bewitched as of late…did she do something unspeakable to protect her sister? The last thing Fiona wanted to do was play detective again. But now, the rosy future she’d envisioned is going to seed, and if she and Craig can’t clear her name, her idyllic life will wilt away."

Fiona Knox is in the midst of opening her new flower shop when a murder takes place.  Not only does she need to ferret out the real killer who is among them, she discovers more about her relationship between her family and her godfather who left her the magic garden.  Isla, Fiona's sister, has suddenly moved in after her graduation and is a spoiled and pampered character.  Things don't go smoothly between the sisters either. Hamish, the rustic, unassuming, and down-to-earth caretaker of the property is a character I simply love.  Chief Inspector Neil Craig is the cop romantic interest.  And then there are the great animal characters including a mischievous blue-eyed fox that Fiona believes (somehow, someway) is her godfather Ian, a cat who adopted Fiona named Ivanhoe, and Hamish's companion red squirrel, Duncan, that are additional magical touches.

Duncreigan and the nearby town, Aberdeenshire, are charming and picturesque, adding atmospheric and delightful Scottish touches.  The ruins of an old stone church ruins that are to be preserved also lend some creepy additions to scenes.  Nicely done overall.  

The plot is all around who would kill the sanctimonious minister, because it was a minister after all.  The pacing had plenty to keep the story moving swiftly along.  The killer reveal was wonderfully suspenseful and couldn't have been better.  The wrap up answered final questions and was satisfying on all counts.  

Although it is traditionally published, there were a number of typos and out-of-place words.  Which goes to show it isn't just self-published works. That didn't effect the story for me any.  The magical touches are just enough to make the story delightful. This was a delightful second book in the series that is fast becoming one of my favorite cozies.  I can't wait for the next book

Rating: Excellent - Loved it, a fun read that had a good grip on me! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list 


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