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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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Thursday, May 9, 2019

Review - Murder on Trinity Place

My introduction to this series was the 17th book, Murder on Amsterdam Ave (click here).  Since then I have been slowly going back to the beginning and reading the early books.  We have been fortunate to also have several guest posts and an interview by the author. (guest post here, interview, and another guest post here).  Read on to find out more about the newest in this long running series.

Author: Victoria Thomspon

Copyright: April 2019 (Berkley) 332 pgs

Series: 22nd in Gaslight Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy

Main Characters: Sarah Malloy, formerly Sarah Brandt a midwife

Setting: 1900 (Victorian Era), New York City

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review (Netgalley)

From the book cover:  "The year of 1899 is drawing to a close. Frank and Sarah Malloy are getting ready to celebrate the New Year at Trinity Church when they notice Mr. Pritchard, a relative of their neighbor, behaving oddly and annoying the other revelers. Frank tries to convince Pritchard to return home with them, but the man refuses and Frank loses him in the crowd. The next morning Sarah and Frank are horrified to learn Pritchard was murdered sometime in the night, his body left on Trinity Place, the side street near the church.

The police aren't too interested in the murder, and the family are concerned that the circumstances of the death will reflect badly on Pritchard's reputation. To protect the family from scandal, Nelson asks Frank to investigate. Frank and Sarah delve into Pritchard's past and realize there may have been a deadly side to the dawning of the new century."

Sarah used to be more involved in the actual investigations, but has taken a bit more backseat role except for questioning the society ladies.  Maeve is her young nanny for their children who has become a part of the family.  Frank Malloy had newly inherited fortune and retired from the police force.  Frank has started his own investigation business as a gentleman of means now.  Gino, formerly worked with Frank Malloy on the police force but now works with him as a private investigator. Black Jack Robinson was introduced in Murder in the Bowery (Book 20) and is part of a subplot as well as providing inside information into the gambling syndicates.  He is a fantastic secondary character and I loved him so much I am getting book #20 right away to read his introduction.  Suspects range from members of the extremely dysfunctional society family to a rough gambling syndicate owner. The characters all have mixed good and bad in them making them layered and complex.

New York's early years are always fascinating to me and it is seamlessly interwoven throughout the story.  Autos were just becoming more mainstream and that is included in the story as Frank has purchased one and all the issues that come with it.  

The plot is interesting as you follow Sarah and Frank piecing together what an earnest, albeit sanctimonious, milk dairy business man like Mr. Pritchard could have done to get himself killed.  Subplots involve Maeve and Gino seeming to have a growing attachment and a disgraced society girl checks into Sarah's clinic for unwed mothers and Sarah has a plan for her future - if she has her way.

The climax is a race against time to save a life, always thrilling.  I particularly liked the car chase with a car that can go as fast as ten miles an hour and how that is considered so fast! The wrap up is heartwarming and perhaps my favorite part of the entire book.  

This seemed like a lighter mystery than some of the prior books in the series.  Which only means it is perfect if you don't want a heavy murder mystery.  The subplots have some to do with that.  I wish to see Sarah getting more involved again, even though she is married now.  A solid addition to a dependably entertaining series.  Never disappoints.

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


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Monday, May 6, 2019

Author Guest Post - Victoria Thompson

Our guest today is Victoria Thompson, author of the bestselling Gaslight Mystery Series and the Counterfeit Lady novels. Her latest Gaslight Mystery, Murder on Trinity Place, releases on April 30.

Victoria Thompson is the bestselling author of the Edgar ® and Agatha Award nominated Gaslight Mystery Series and the Sue Grafton Memorial Award nominated Counterfeit Lady Series. Her latest books are Murder on Trinity Place and City of Secrets, both from Berkley. She currently teaches in the Master’s Degree program for writing popular fiction at Seton Hill University. She lives in Illinois with her husband and a very spoiled little dog.

Party like it’s 1899!

The first book of the Gaslight Mystery series was set in 1896, and after 22 books, we were approaching the end of 1899, so I thought it would be fun to show the turn of that century. Remember all the hoopla surrounding the most recent “turn of the century” in 1999? Y2K had many of us in a panic with predictions that computers would somehow cease working when the date rolled over to the year 2000. Planes would fall from the sky. Elevators would plunge to the basement. Life as we know it would end. Then the date rolled over and nothing happened! Except for lots of parties and celebrations for the beginning of a new century.

Y19HUN?

What, I wondered, was going on in anticipation of 1899 becoming 1900? Surely, people were excited and perhaps a bit apprehensive about something in those days, even though they didn’t have any computers back then to malfunction.

So I researched it and guess what? In 1899, people had decided that the new century didn’t really start in 1900. They felt that 1900 was actually the last year of the Nineteenth Century! They did celebrate New Year’s Eve that year, but no differently then they had all the other 99 New Year’s Eves of that century. The big celebration for the beginning of the new century was held on New Year’s Eve 1900. What a disappointment! But…

Human Beings will always be contrary.

Human nature being what it is, not everyone agreed about this, and some people still thought 1900 was the first year of the Twentieth Century. Would those people try to convince everyone else they were right? Of course they would! And would they be annoying when then did so? Yes, indeed. Perhaps even so annoying someone would want to murder them! Which is how Murder on Trinity Place begins. A man who has been trying to convince people they are wrong about the start of the new century is found dead on New Year’s morning. Was someone so annoyed with his arguments that they murdered him? Or was something else going on?

Frank and Sarah are on the case.

Frank and Sarah Malloy are asked to solve the case by their very superstitious neighbor, Mrs. Ellsworth, because the victim is the father of her new daughter-in-law. (Can we all take a moment here to lament the fact that the English language has no easy way to describe your relationship to your child’s in-laws? “My daughter-in-law’s parents” is so unwieldy. But I digress.) Since Mrs. Ellsworth once saved Sarah’s very life, they cannot refuse, and they begin an investigation that leads them to some very surprising places.

Did you believe all the hype about Y2K? Did you stay up to make sure your computer would still function after midnight? Or did you think it was all a big hoax?

**********
Murder on Trinity Place


The devil's in the details when a respected man is found murdered near historic Trinity Church, in the exciting new novel from the national bestselling Gaslight Mystery series...

As 1899 draws to a close, Frank and Sarah Malloy are ready to celebrate the New Year--and century--at Trinity Church when they notice Mr. Pritchard, a neighbor’s relative, behaving oddly and annoying the other revelers. When Frank tries to intervene and convince Pritchard to return home with them, he refuses and Frank loses him in the crowd. The next morning Sarah and Frank are horrified to learn Pritchard was murdered sometime in the night, his body left on Trinity Place, mere steps from the incident. Frank and Sarah must search Pritchard's past for a link between the new crimes…and old sins.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 
Thank you Ms. Thompson for guest posting.  Y2K was a very real issue in my job at the time (Department of Defense) and we had many contingencies in place which actually were used.  It wasn't a hoax in our case.



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Thursday, May 2, 2019

Review - Death of a New American

Today I review the second book in a new historical mystery series set in the Gilded Age.  Although I didn't read the first in the series, that didn't effect the immersive experience of this novel.  If you aren't typically a historical mystery fan, this novel just might change your mind.  The author joined us for a guest post (click here) as well discussing the Gilded Age.

Author: Mariah Fredericks

Copyright: April 2019 (Minotaur) 304 pgs

Series: 2nd in Jane Prescott Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy, Amateur Sleuth

Main Character: Jane Prescott, ladies’ maid Jane Prescott to the Benchley family

Setting: 1912 (The Gilded Age), Long Island New York

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review (NetGalley)

From the book cover: "In 1912, as New York reels from the news of the Titanic disaster, ladies’ maid Jane Prescott travels to Long Island with the Benchley family. Their daughter Louise is to marry William Tyler, at their uncle and aunt’s mansion; the Tylers are a glamorous, storied couple, their past filled with travel and adventure. Now, Charles Tyler is known for putting down New York’s notorious Italian mafia, the Black Hand, and his wife Alva has settled into domestic life.

As the city visitors adjust to the rhythms of the household, and plan Louise’s upcoming wedding, Jane quickly befriends the Tyler children’s nanny, Sofia―a young Italian-American woman. However, one unusually sultry spring night, Jane is woken by a scream from the nursery―and rushes in to find Sofia murdered, and the carefully locked window flung open.

The Tylers believe that this is an attempted kidnapping of their baby gone wrong; a warning from the criminal underworld to Charles Tyler. But Jane is asked to help with the investigation by her friend, journalist Michael Behan, who knows that she is uniquely placed to see what other tensions may simmer just below the surface in this wealthy, secretive household. Was Sofia’s murder fall-out from the social tensions rife in New York, or could it be a much more personal crime?"

Jane Prescott is one of those characters you fall in love with quickly and by the end want to spend more time with her.  She is brave, a mixture of worldly with a touch of innocence remaining, and navigates the class structure with intelligence and grace.  Her own backstory is fascinating.  Louise Benchley is the young lady Jane serves as a ladies' maid.  Louise, being married in part for her money, starts as awkward and a push over, but by the end she has come into her own and gains some steel - which I wanted to cheer over.  
Michael Behan, a journalist, is a mixed bag.  At times he seems unscrupulous to get a story, but at other times seems to want the truth. You might be tempted to think he would be a romantic interest for Jane, who often challenges him and his reporting, but that isn't likely.  Charles Tyler, uncle to the groom and guardian, is the police chief who is waging a war against the rising Italian mafia while also controversially embracing Italian immigrants and hiring several on his staff at work and home.  Charles' wife, Alva Tyler, had been a wild and free spirited society girl more at home on safari - until she had a children and settled down.  She is a character you like and yet wonder about simultaneously.  Sophia, the victim, was so well portrayed in her few scenes that you stand with Jane wanting to see justice done in her murder.

The rich and privileged Long Island mansion is the setting for most of the story with a few scenes in New York city.  All of which take the reader back in time to Little Italy of the city and the era's gilded glory with its tarnished realities.

Was Sofia letting a mafia hit-man or kidnapper in through an open window and got killed in the process?  Because that is the quick conclusion and the plot revolves around Jane seeing major problems with that scenario and searching for answers.  There are subplots of Charles Tyler and the Black Hand plus the nation recovering from the Titanic tragedy intermixed with the rampant prejudice against Italians and woman's suffrage.  All of which immerse the reader in the era.  Once I had read the first few chapters, I was hooked and I raced through the book.

The killer reveal was tearful and a shock as what happened dawns on you, with an added touch of flirtation with danger.  It will stay with me a long time and it was handled brilliantly for maximum effect. The finishing chapter was longer than most wrap-ups, but well worth it.

This book is a gem and I find myself wanting to go back and read the first, A Death of No Importance, in the series while I wait for the third to be published.  Even with the serious topics touched on in the book, there is a hilarious scene that sticks with me as much as the emotional killer reveal.  The writing style is smooth and flowing. I can't recommend this book highly enough!

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



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Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Author Guest Post - Mariah Fredericks

Please welcome Mariah Fredericks to the blog today.  Mariah Fredericks was born and raised in New York City, where she still lives today with her family. She is a graduate of Vassar College with a BA in history. She has written several novels for young adults; her novel Crunch Time was nominated for an Edgar in 2007. A Death of No Importance was her first mystery for adults (Jane Prescott Mysteries) set in the Gilded Age.  Her second in the series, Death of a New American, is just released and I will be reviewing shortly.

Writing About the Gilded Age
People sometimes ask what drew me to the Gilded Age as the setting for a historical mystery series. Was it the opulence? Edith Wharton? The elaborate facial hair?

My answer would be yes…and no. Like any devotee of period drama, I relish the spectacle of the past. But for me, the mansions of Newport, the Poiret gowns, and Tiffany lamps are only truly fascinating when you look at the cruelty that existed alongside the beauty. The Gilded Age is an astonishingly violent time; a few decades after the Civil War, Americans are still slaughtering one another in large numbers through assassination, anarchist bombings, and working conditions that cost tens of thousand of workers their lives in tragedies like the Triangle Factory fire and the Ludlow Massacre.

And it’s that contrast that makes the Gilded Age a wonderful time to set a murder mystery. So much rage! So many possible motives!

One of the most famous crimes of the Gilded Age was the murder of Stamford White, who was shot by the unhinged Harry K. Thaw. Thaw claimed he had killed White in order to avenge the ravishment of his wife, Gilded Age beauty Evelyn Nesbit. It was a sensational trial, pitting a wealthy famous family against a wealthy famous architect. The country was riveted by the lurid vision of the secret lives of great men, especially Nesbit’s testimony of how White had “seduced” her when she was just a teenager. It had sex, scandal, and celebrity, and the rich guy got off lightly, serving his shortened sentence in a mental asylum under fairly luxurious circumstances.

At first glance, the White murder doesn’t seem to have much to do with labor strife—until you look at the economic arc of Evelyn Nesbit’s life. Solidly middle class, the Nesbit family fell on hard times when Evelyn’s father died. Her mother went to work at a department store. 14-year-old Evelyn and her 12-year-old brother also worked there, doing twelve hour shifts, six days a week. It didn’t take the family long to figure out Evelyn’s face and body could earn much better wages, first as an artist’s model and then as chorus girl. This led to the attentions of wealthy men, notably Stamford White. And one evening when Mrs. Nesbit had agreed to be elsewhere, White took Evelyn to his apartment, drugged her and raped her. She would continue with White for a time before marrying a mentally unstable man who beat her with a rawhide whip, shot one man and attacked another. After the trial, the Thaws divorced. While Nesbit would eventually build a life teaching art in California, she was often economically insecure, battling addictions to alcohol and morphine, and attempting suicide in 1926. There are easier ways to make a living.

The Jane Prescott novels are told from the perspective of view of a servant, someone close to power but too powerless to be worth noticing. And so she hears and sees a great many things. Jane is an excellent maid: loyal, intelligent, and resourceful. She appreciates the beauty of the Poiret gowns. But she also sees what she calls “the tarnish, the wrinkles, and the dirt.” And when the Stamford Whites and Harry K. Thaws commit crimes, she takes the side of their victims.

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THANK YOU Ms. Fredericks for sharing with us.  The Gilded Age is a cautionary era and it is good to remember it.  We tend to romanticize it because of the massive wealth and forget about all the horribly downtrodden.  Which makes for a great setting for murders!


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Monday, April 22, 2019

Author Guest Post - Julia Buckley

Julia Buckley is a Chicago mystery author. She writes the Writer's Apprentice Series and the Undercover Dish mysteries, and is soon to launch a new series with Berkley Prime Crime. A DARK AND STORMY MURDER was recently named "a noteworthy traditional mystery" by WRITER'S DIGEST, and her novels THE BIG CHILI and CHEDDAR OFF DEAD have both been translated into Japanese.   She lives near Chicago with her husband,  four cats, and a mischievous Labrador named Digby. She has two grown sons. She is a lifelong reader and a writer since around age six, when she started a notebook of poems.  Please welcome her to the M&MM.



The Story of Wally
We’ve all visited those lovely little resort towns that sit on lakes or rivers and make wonderful escapes when we’ve had too much of urban life. In my Writer’s Apprentice novels, Blue Lake is just such a town, and like any real vacation escape, its streets are lined with storefronts. Every one of these doors leads to new stories, fascinating lore, interesting people.

One of the first places Lena London discovered when she came to town in Book One (A Dark and Stormy Murder) was a hardware store called Bick’s. In the slightly musty lobby of this eccentric and whimsical place stands a giant Grizzly bear who holds a sign that says “Bick’s is Best.” For a year, Lena walks in and out of Bick’s to pursue various purchases or to mail letters in the ancient post office at the back of the store, but only in Book Four (Death Waits in the Dark), does Lena learn the story of the Grizzly. His name was Wally.

Wally, in life, had been a fixture at the Riverton Zoo, a couple hours from Blue Lake. Beloved by all of Riverton and by zoo visitors from far and wide, Wally enjoyed a long life and formed a loving bond with his caretaker. When the bear died of old age, his keeper asked to have Wally preserved in the hopes of keeping some part of his majestic bear alive for posterity. The man received permission and Wally became a work of taxidermy, similar to the fellow pictured here (from Wikimedia Commons). Through a series of events that are made clear in the book, Wally makes his way to Mr. Bick, and for years he has stood guard in the lobby of Bick’s Hardware. Lena learns this information and feels neglectful—she has passed Wally so many times, but she had never learned his story.

With each door she enters in Blue Lake, Lena learns more about the people—and the animals—who populate her town.

In the latest installment, she also learns a great deal about the past. Her employer, the suspense novelist Camilla Graham, is confronted by a woman who threatens to reveal “Graham family secrets” if Camilla does not come clean. Unfortunately, Camilla has no idea what the woman means, and everyone in the Graham family is dead. She and Lena must come together to find out secrets from the past before someone sullies the family name of Camilla’s dear deceased husband, James.

As they search, they find dark secrets—and death.

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THANK You Ms. Buckley for joining us.  This is her second guest post with us, check out her prior post about Mary Stewart (click here).

Here is a short interview with Ms. Buckley:  https://youtu.be/blp2GSCGHV0


Part 2 of the interview
https://youtu.be/RE_dVxDfaI8


Part 3 of the interview
https://youtu.be/d3WzMaudX4s




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Saturday, April 20, 2019

Review - Death Waits in the Dark

I have reviewed a few of the prior books in the series including Book 1, A Dark and Stormy Murder (click here), book 2, Death in Dark Blue (click here), and a an author guest post (click here).  Here is my review of the new addition to the series.  

Writer's apprentice Lena London is back and better than ever when her friend bestselling suspense novelist Camilla Graham needs help solving a town murder that hits a little too close to home...

Author: Julia Buckley

Copyright: April 2019 (Berkley) 304 pgs

Series: 4th in Writer's Apprentice Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy

Main Characters: Lena London, new writing assistant to a best-selling author

Setting: Modern day, Blue Lake Indiana

Obtained Through: Publisher (Netgalley) for honest review

From the book cover: "It's summertime, and Lena and Camilla are busy working away while a town vandal runs amok. Things get even more complicated when Jane Wyland pays Camilla a not-so-friendly visit and gives her an ultimatum: reveal Camilla's husband James's family secret, or she will. Lena assures Camilla that nothing will come of the woman's threats, since the family has no secrets to hide.

When Jane Wyland is later found dead, they're convinced that whatever secret she was planning to expose led to her death. With Lena's assistance, Camilla is determined to solve the case before the finger points at her..."

Our heroine Lena is back to contend with a murder that touches her and Camilla's world. Her boyfriend Sam is back and they are a cute couple, Policeman Doug Heller is still a significant character that I enjoy, BFF Allison and hubby John make a few appearances, Cliff Blake is a new addition of Sam's reunited brother, Isabelle Devon is an old high school friend of Lena's that moves to Blue Lake, and of course the animals - Lena's cat Lestrade and Camilla's German Sheperds Rochester and Heathcliff.   

What happened several decades before prompting a young girl to leave town and her sister to be murdered when she starts digging into the past is the main premise.  There is a bit of the question "How well do we really know even our closest friends... or a spouse?" that fuels the undercurrents.  The pacing was definitely page turning and gripping as danger swirls close to Lena.

The climax was harrowing and exciting, so I am delighted with it.  The wrapup is actually poignant and well done, making Lena more dimensional.

I enjoyed this outing in the series a great deal and highly recommend it to fans of the series and even to those new to it.  There was only one hiccup and that was an emotional side to Lena that is accentuated through the tensions of the story that seemed off.  Perhaps that was just me, so you will have to judge for yourself.  Overall this book is a great stand alone and fourth book in the series. 

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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Author Guest Post - Jennifer David Hesse

I have read and reviewed two of Jennifer David Hesse's Wiccan Wheel cozy mystery series, the 3rd Yuletide Homicide (click here) and the 5th Mayday Murder (click here).  I am tickled to have her guest post today about featuring an often misunderstood belief system in her cozy mysteries.

Ms. Hesse is the author of the Wiccan Wheel Mysteries, a cozy mystery series published by Kensington Books. Born and raised in Central Illinois, Jennifer earned her undergraduate degree as an English major from Eastern Illinois University and her law degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia. After an eight-year stint in New York, she now makes her home in Chicago with her husband and daughter. When she’s not writing, or working her day job as an environmental lawyer, Jennifer enjoys yoga, hiking, and movie night with her family.

“How will my books be received?”

Should authors worry about how their books will be received?

The obvious answer is: Of course! Authors all want their books to be well-received. We want to be liked, highly reviewed, and successful. Duh!

But another camp might say: Don’t worry about it. Just write your story. Tell the tale in your heart without regard for how it will be received.

There’s validity in both points of view. Writers really shouldn’t obsess over what readers will think. They have no control over it anyway.

Still, doubt and angst are very common among author types. First time authors, especially, worry about how their books will be received. For me, I had double the concern. My debut book series features a main character who practices Wicca—an often misunderstood belief system. I wondered how my books would be viewed by folks who knew very little about Wicca. Would they find it threatening or weird? Might they even find it antagonistic to their own beliefs? I’d heard of some books receiving one-star reviews simply based on the subject matter. Quelle horreur!

But that wasn’t really my biggest concern. On the flip side, and more importantly, I wondered how the books would be received by actual, real-life Wiccans.

Wicca has been an officially recognized religion in the United States since 1986. And it’s been practiced in its modern form since at least the mid-twentieth century. In a nutshell, Wicca is an earth-based religion in which practitioners recognize the divine in nature and work with the elements to connect with sacred energy. (The five lines that form a pentagram represent earth, air, fire, water, and spirit.) It’s a peaceful religion, guided by the principle: “If it harm none, do as you will.”

In fact, because it’s such a life-affirming path, where practitioners take responsibility for their own growth and actions, it can be particularly offensive to Wiccans for anyone to associate them with anything evil or negative. Yes, most Wiccans call themselves “witches.” But there’s no “devil worship” in Wicca. Satan doesn’t even exist in Wicca.

Beyond the outdated fear of “evil witches,” there’s also an unfortunate tendency for some to view Wicca as frivolous or kooky (especially in the media around Halloween time). But this form of spirituality is just as valid as anyone else’s. It’s nothing to be made fun of.

Knowing all this, I wanted to write Keli, my Wiccan heroine, as realistic as possible. And I definitely wanted to be respectful.

Luckily, I think I succeeded. I’ve released five books so far, and I continue to receive positive feedback. I’ve heard from many witches, Wiccans, and Pagans, who enjoy the books. Several have commented that it’s refreshing to see someone like themselves in the pages of a cozy mystery. And many have said that they can relate to Keli’s concerns and struggles around keeping her faith private.

As for non-Wiccans, I’m happy to say I’ve gotten positive reviews from them too. In the cozy mystery genre, authors really do need to consider their readers’ expectations. (For example, there shouldn’t be any graphic violence or overt sex in a cozy mystery. Even strong language should be kept to a minimum.) Cozy fans are in it for the puzzles and light suspense, the quirky characters and element of fun. But cozy readers are smart too. I’ve heard from many who have said they’ve enjoyed learning about a spiritual practice they were previously unfamiliar with. By the same token, some have noted they’re glad there’s not so much Wicca as to be distracting from the main story. After all, these books are first and foremost mysteries—not religious textbooks.

Of course, you can never please everyone. Some readers like more romance or humor in their mysteries; some want less. In the end, the author has to go with her gut and just tell the story that wants to be told.

Funny enough, early on I did receive one critical email from a reader. She felt it was unrealistic for a vegan to eat bar food and drink a rum and coke. Ironically, that part was probably the most realistic thing I wrote!

Of course, vegans are as diverse as Wiccans. Everyone is different. Yet we’re all human. And that’s a good thing for us all to remember.

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THANK You Jennifer for joining us today.  Thank you for your series being unique in many ways.  Variety is the spice of life, and I like variety in my mysteries.  

Jennifer can be found online at: Website || Facebook || Twitter || Instagram || Goodreads || Amazon || Newsletter




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