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Thursday, September 24, 2020

Review - A Murderous Relation

I reviewed the first book, A Curious Beginning (click here), the third in the series A Treacherous Curse (click here),  and the fourth in the series A Dangerous Collaboration (click here).  I am just now getting around to reviewing the newest release in this exciting series.  

Deanna Raybourn

Copyright: March 2020 (Berkley) 320 pgs

Series: 5th in Veronica Speedwell Mysteries

Sensuality: Period adult conversations

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical amateur sleuth

Main Characters: Veronica Speedwell

Setting: 1888, London England

Obtained Through: Library Find

Book blurb: "Autumn 1888. Veronica Speedwell and her colleague Stoker are asked by Lady Wellingtonia Beauclerk to stop a potential scandal so explosive it threatens to rock the monarchy. Prince Albert Victor is a regular visitor to the most exclusive private club in London, and the proprietress, Madame Aurore, has received an expensive gift that can be traced back to the prince. Lady Wellie would like Veronica and Stoker to retrieve it from the club before scandal can break. 

Worse yet, London is being terrorized by what would become the most notorious and elusive serial killer in history, Jack the Ripper—and Lady Wellie suspects the prince may be responsible.  

Veronica and Stoker reluctantly agree to go undercover at Madame Auroreʼs high-class brothel, where a body soon turns up. Secrets are swirling around Veronica and the royal family—and it is up to Veronica and Stoker to find the truth, before it is too late for all of them."

Veronica is larger-than-life, incredibly ahead of her time, stubborn, and highly intelligent with a sharp tongue and wit. In other words - incorrigible and great fun.  Stoker (Mr. Ravelstoke Templeton-Vane) is her sleuthing partner.  He is cranky and reclusive, and believes Veronica is the woman for him, even if she doesn't believe in romantic love or marriage.  Tiberius, Stoker's estranged brother, only has a small part in this outing - but it is enjoyable.  Lady Wellie has more page time in this book and she is hard to like but you begin to understand the weight on her shoulders.  Journalist J.J. Butterworth has a significant role in the story and is a welcome addition. Prince Albert Victor, who has been the subject of a few Ripper theories since around the 1970's, is portrayed well for such a controversial historical figure. Mr. Pennybaker, one of Stoker's taxidermy clients, is a breakout character.

The setting of Victorian London is always so real you can smell the coal smoke in the air.  Madame Aurore's scandalous brothel is atmospheric and titillating without being crass.  The fear over the Ripper murders becomes palpable, and for a brief moment Veronica believes she may have passed the evil incarnate on a foggy street in her adventure.  Very well done.

The plot is revealed as the adventure progresses and brings back a villain from an earlier book to reprise his plot against the throne.  The story veers and swerves as events develop and Veronica with Stoker by her side keep up the chase.  The pacing is well maintained throughout. 

The climax provided delicious tense moments like I adore.  This series sets a high bar for exciting climaxes and this book held up the tradition.  The wrap-up answered many questions and tied up remaining threads.  You will have to read it to find out about Veronica and Stocker's personal relationship - my lips are sealed.

Overall, this is yet another great Veronica Speedwell adventure placing the character in the stratosphere of unique and bar-setting heroines.  I particularly enjoy the characters, although the plots continue to be full of twists and turns.  It's the characters that endure long after the reading.  This isn't a Ripper story, the infamous serial killer is background only which is very effective.  With that said, she gives homage to the victims giving their lives context.

Rating: Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author and series on your watch list.

Here is a wonderful interview with the author about this book at The Poisoned Pen bookstore.  Remember those?

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Sunday, September 20, 2020

Catching up

Hello fellow readers.  A lot has happened in just the past six months!  A pandemic, the U.S. west coast and Colorado are on fire, shootings, demonstrations with some flare ups, and oh yeah - there is a meteor I heard headed for the Earth.  And if that were enough, it is a contentious election year in the US.

Boy, oh boy.  That is a lot going on and a lot of stress-making factors.  Aren't you glad you love to read?  Reading, the healthy escapism, to the rescue.  I know I have been reading quite a lot.  Some guilty pleasures in there too (The Nikki Heat novels that tie into the old Castle series - I know I am really behind the times on that!)  Also, re-reading Discovery of Witches.

But I have been reading a good bit of mysteries too!  I have been tending towards historical mysteries.  I catch myself talking like Victorian era ("They know not what they say, me thinks" was part of a FB post!)  Sadly, I haven't been keeping up with my reviews though.  I hope to start doing better on that.

Since I am still staying home, I am trying to write again.  That got completely sidetracked with everything.  So I am beginning on the fourth Resort to Murder cozy mystery.  Here is a little teaser, it is set at a wellness resort outside Santa Fe.  Sadly, I haven't been able to do first hand research on this.  But I am enjoying getting back into a writing routine.  

Share if you have been reading more during this crazy time and if there are a few guilty pleasure titles in the mix.  :-)  Stay safe folks.

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Sunday, September 6, 2020

Announcement: Join My Writing Class

I am teaching a class on pre-planning your novel.  For those who aren't an outline plot person but want a little structure to maneuver within.  

Check it out and join me!!!  
Prices $30- $40

This is a different approach rather than plotting. It is based on a combination of story and character arcs and 8 plot points with key scenes all novels will benefit from having. 

This method provides built-in aspects of pacing to keep from the dreaded sagging middle and some character development scenes in the process of loosely planning your novel. 

This process is a hybrid between full plotting and "pantsing" that gives a modicum of a road map with complete flexibility to adjust on the fly.  It works for all genres and can be employed at any time in your writing process.

Start date:  Sep 28, 2020 at 6:00 AM
End date:  Oct 25, 2020 at 5:00 AM
Registration end: date Sep 30, 2020

Week 1: Introduction of story arc, 8 plot points, and exercise
Week 2: Deep Dive of 8 plot points and exercise
Week 3: Introduction of character arc, key scenes, and exercise
Week 4: Deep Dive of key scenes and summary review.

I am looking forward to seeing you in class!!!

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Thursday, July 9, 2020

Review - Murder In Belgravia

This is the first in a new historical mystery series and I wanted to start at the beginning. 

"A high-profile murder propels a unique crime-fighting team into the dark environs of London’s underworld—and on a terrifying quest to track a ruthless killer."  Find out what I thought of this new series in the historical mystery genre.

Author: Lynn Brittney

Copyright: March 2019 (Crooked Lane Books) 282 pgs

Series: 1st in Mayfair 100 Mysteries

Sensuality: TW domestic abuse and child prostitution discussed

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical police with amateur sleuths

Main Character: Chief Inspector Beech, head of a special task force

Setting: 1915, London

Obtained Through: Publisher via Netgalley for honest review

Book Blurb: "London, 1915. As World War I engulfs Europe, a special task force is formed in the affluent Mayfair district to tackle the city’s thorniest crimes against women. When the bobbies and Scotland Yard come up short, there’s only one telephone number to dial: Mayfair 100.

An aristocrat has been murdered, and his wife, a witness and possible suspect, will only talk to a woman. With the blessing of London’s Chief Commissioner, Chief Inspector Beech, a young man invalided out of the war, assembles a crew of sharp, intrepid, and well-educated women to investigate. But to get at the truth, Beech, Victoria, Caroline, Rigsby, and Tollman will venture into the the city’s seedy underbelly, a world where murder is only the first in a litany of evils." 

Trigger warning, the initial setup for the murder is the victim having brutally attacked his pregnant wife and all appearances make it seem she or her maid killed the brute.  First impressions prove to be wrong and it gets complicated from there.

Chief Inspector Peter Beech is an openminded police detective who has the vision of women aiding the police and heads up the unique team.  Victoria is a female lawyer who at one point had been "dating" Beech, but that ended and now they attempt working together.  Caroline is the female doctor on the team.  She is waiting for Beech to see her as more than a friend.  Rigsby is the younger male of the team and the handsome one that women seem to flutter eyelashes at despite a scar from the war.  Tollman is an older and grizzled policeman that knows more about the goings on in London and who to talk to than most anybody else alive.  Tollman takes Rigsby under his wing and begins mentoring him.  Lady Maud is Victoria's mother and provides a large house as the team's headquarters.  Billy Rigby's mom, Elsie, and his Aunt Sissy provide some comic relief and are gems in the story.  

The setting of London provided a sad and seedy backdrop punctuated with brief moments in society houses.  This does have a grittier side with some subject matter, but it also displays compassion (particularly Tillman and Rigby) for those struggling.  There isn't gore, but some harsh realities of life at that time presented with sensitivity.  Also, the first world war with air attacks from Zeppelins and the tensions of the suffragette movement pepper throughout the story.  The British Suffragettes were more confrontational than in America.

Figuring out the who-done-it isn't easy and information is revealed throughout the investigation in order to get any idea of what took place the fateful night of the murder.  The women are aware of their limitations within society in general but in dangerous situations as well.  There are a few subplots at work in the story that keep the pace moving and interest up.  

The killer reveal was rather cut and dry as the police on the team close in on guilty parties, but it still provided a twist or two that made it satisfying.  The wrap-up was heartwarming and paved the way for the team to continue for another case.

I love this new series.  If you like the Sebastian St Cyr series but want something a little less grim, this is for you!  It is just a bit "gritty" without being gory or explicit and had some comedic lighter moments as well.  It does acknowledge the grim realities of life and crime.  The characters are well done and there are layers to their exchanges that make the story rich and memorable.  This leaves plenty of room over the series for the characters to develop and surprise the reader.  The mystery was complex enough to get my interest and keep it throughout.  

Rating:  Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list 

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Thursday, July 2, 2020

Review - And Dangerous To Know

I have been following this series since the first book "A Useful Woman" (click here), and the second book "A Purely Private Affair" (click here).  The third book released and I am finally getting around to my review of it. 

Author: Darcie Wilde

Copyright: Dec 2019 (Kensingon) 352 pgs

Series: 3rd in Rosalind Thorne Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy Mystery

Main Character: Rosalind Thorne, former heiress now on the outskirts of society

Setting: Early 1800s (Regency,) London

Obtained Through: Publisher via Netgalley for honest review

Cover Blurb: "When the ladies of the ton of Regency London need discreet assistance, they turn to Rosalind Thorne--in these mysteries inspired by the novels of Jane Austen.

Trust is a delicate thing, and no one knows that better than Rosalind Thorne. Lady Melbourne has entrusted her with recovering a packet of highly sensitive private letters stolen from her desk. The contents of these letters hold great interest for the famous poet Lord Byron, who had carried on a notorious public affair with Lady Melbourne's daughter-in-law, the inconveniently unstable Lady Caroline Lamb. Rosalind is to take up residence in Melbourne House, posing as Lady Melbourne's confidential secretary. There, she must discover the thief and regain possession of the letters before any further scandal erupts.

However, Lady Melbourne omits a crucial detail. Rosalind learns from the Bow Street runner Adam Harkness that an unidentified woman was found dead in the courtyard of Melbourne House. The coroner has determined that she was poisoned. Adam urges Rosalind to use her new position in the household to help solve the murder. As she begins to untangle a web of secrets and blackmail, Rosalind finds she must risk her own life to bring this desperate business to an end..."

Rosalind still reminds me of a proper British version of True Grit's Mattie Ross.  The Bow Street runner, Adam Harkness, is smart and surprisingly compassionate.  Lady Melbourne's family are all unique characters and raise suspicions.  Alice and George Littlefield are the break out characters.  They are dear friends of Rose's who lost their fortunes but took to newspaper employment to make their way in life and stay close to Rose. Then their is Devin Winterbourne, a Duke, and early suitor of Rose's from before her family became destitute.  He is an interesting character and I have warmed to him over the course of the three books.

The plot was interesting with the "naughty letters" from Lord Byron that could cause destruction of reputations and a marriage, then the murder added in made this a tantalizing story.  Plus the growing relationship between Rosalind and Harkness with Devin Winterbourne, the Duke of Casselmain, renewing his offer of marriage from years before makes the story fly by.

The setting of London is always expertly painted by Ms. Wilde and transports the reader.  The climax provides some delicious tense moments that I enjoyed and the wrap-up had me wanting the next book immediately. 

This series was inspired by the Jane Austen novels and that is can be seen on every page.  I find the "cop boyfriend" very cliche, but the author raises class tensions between Rose and Harkness as well as high society's fanatical avoidance of even a hint of scandal, so being chummy with a cop is out-of-the-question and introduces a forbidden element to their attraction.  It becomes harder in this book for Rosalind (Rose) to deny she has developed some feelings for Harkness.  This has become one of my "go to" historical mystery series and has never failed to entertain me. 

 Rating:  Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Review - Buried in the Stacks

This is a new series for me and I am jumping in without exposure to the prior books in the series.  That presented no problem for me in understanding the backstory and history.  If you love cozy mysteries, check out my review of this newest in the Haunted Library series.

Author: Allison Brook

Copyright: Sept 2019 (Crooked Lane) 336 pgs

Series: 3rd in Haunted Library Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild 

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy Mystery with friendly ghost touches

Main Character: Carrie Singleton, librarian

Setting: Modern day, Clover Ridge Connecticut

Obtained Through: Publisher ( Netgalley) for honest opinion

Cover blurb:  "Librarian Carrie Singleton is building a haven, but one of her neighbors is misbehavin'. Can resident spirit Evelyn help Carrie catch the culprit who made her a ghost?

In winter, the Haunted Library is a refuge for homeless townspeople. When a group purchases a vacant house to establish a daytime haven for the homeless, Carrie offers the library as a meeting place for the Haven House committee, but quickly learns that it may be used for illegal activities.

As the new Sunshine Delegate, Carrie heads to the hospital to visit her cantankerous colleague, Dorothy, who had fallen outside the local supermarket. She tells Carrie that her husband tried to kill her--and that he murdered her Aunt Evelyn, the library's resident ghost, six years earlier.

And then Dorothy is murdered--run off the road as soon as she returns to work. Evelyn implores Carrie to find her niece's killer, but that's no easy task: Dorothy had made a hobby of blackmailing her neighbors and colleagues. Carrie, Evelyn, and Smoky Joe the cat are on the case, but are the library cards stacked against them?"

Carrie is a character I related with.  She is settling in and loves her job, reasonable and smart.  She sees and talks to the library's resident ghost, Evelyn Havers, who had worked at the library and died in the parking lot.  Evelyn is a nice lady but has all the same personality and opinions as when she was alive.  Dylan Avery is her boyfriend and a private investigator away working a case. I don't have much to go on since it was mostly phone calls with him and never a description.  Smoky Joe is Carrie's cat but he roams the library whenever she is at work and gets fat off all the food patrons slip him.  He steps up to protect Carrie in the climax!  BFF Evelyn is getting married and preoccupied so Carrie is facing the sleuthing by herself.  Sally the Library Director brings in a touch of the political side of running the library.

The plot moves along and reveals in bits and pieces as you read.  The pace keeps moving with the subplots of the homeless in the library and solving the bigger problem of suspected illegal activity at Haven House meant to help the homeless.   

The climax springs forward as the killer reveals him/her self to Carrie and provides a nicely done climax where even Smokey Joe gets his claws out. 

This is a classic cozy with plenty of local color and town characters with a good mystery to figure out.  I like Carrie and will likely back and start from the beginning just to see how Carrie and Dylan got together.   Highly recommended for cozy fans.  It reminded me of a younger take on the Cat Who mysteries with the town and characters.  I am pleased to have discovered it.  I would have liked a description of Dylan to get an image of what he was like, though.

Rating:  Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list

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Monday, June 8, 2020

Review - Penny for Your Secrets

“No sooner are Verity Kent and her dashing but troubled husband, Sidney, back from solving a mystery in Belgium (Treacherous Is the Night) than they are confronted with one at home in London…Touching details of the Kents’ struggle to overcome Sidney’s anguish add to the stellar mystery here, making this a great read for fans of the series and for all who enjoy Downton Abbey–era fiction.”  —Booklist

Of all the mysteries available, I tend to default to historical mysteries often.  Today I review the newest in the Verity Kent mysteries.  Previously I reviewed book one "This Side of Murder" (click here), I read book two "Treacherous Is The Night" but didn't review it at the time.  Now I am reviewing the third in this series.

Author: Anna Lee Huber

Copyright: Oct 2019 (Kensington) 336 pgs

Series: 3rd in Verity Kent Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild and innuendo

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Amateur Sleuth with espionage touches

Main Character: Verity Kent, former Secret Service Agent married into money.

Setting: 1919 London England

Obtained Through: Publisher ( Netgalley) for honest opinion

Cover blurb:  "The Great War may be over, but for many, there are still obstacles on the home front. Reconciling with her estranged husband makes Verity sympathetic to her friend Ada’s marital difficulties. Bourgeois-bred Ada, recently married to the Marquess of Rockham, is overwhelmed trying to navigate the ways of the aristocracy. And when Lord Rockham is discovered shot through the heart with a bullet from Ada’s revolver, Verity fears her friend has made a fatal blunder.

While striving to prove Ada’s innocence, Verity is called upon for another favor. The sister of a former Secret Service colleague has been killed in what authorities believe was a home invasion gone wrong. The victim’s war work—censoring letters sent by soldiers from the front—exposed her to sensitive, disturbing material. Verity begins to suspect these two unlikely cases may be linked. But as the connections deepen, the consequences—not just for Verity, but for Britain—grow more menacing than she could have imagined." 

Verity and newly returned husband Sydney are back.  I particularly enjoy Verity's character and find her a great heroine.  There is an appearance from Max, Sydney's former commanding officer and briefly an interested suitor of Verity's. This book we have more on Verity's loyal maid and housekeeper Sadie.  Also, we have the addition of Nimble, a battle scarred (literally) former serviceman of Sydney's who becomes his valet.  I really enjoy these two characters and would like more of them.

The setting is mostly in England with a trip for questioning.  The period details are vivid and encompassing so I felt transported in time. It is just after WWI, when a generation has been stripped of their innocence and over indulges in drinks and parties to dull the hardships, horrors, and mourning they have endured. 

The pacing seemed slow in spite of there being two murder investigations.  I contribute this, at least in part, to there being no sense of urgency, no ticking clock or hurry to stop a killer but rather a mindful pursuit of the culprit that felt endless.

The two mysteries are solved and there isn't a nail biting killer reveal.  There were a few brief moments of struggle that ended in a flash.  I personally much prefer a heart pounding reveal but that isn't always how it works out.  There is a manipulator behind the mystery that will likely appear again as a powerful enemy.

I found this book a mixed bag overall.  I particularly appreciate that this takes place right after World War I, which truly is the Forgotten War. But, Verity working through marital problems as they get to know each other after being separated by the war just doesn't work for me.  I find myself wanting the trope of a romantic interest which would at least provide a little light-hearted break, but rather we get tension between the two.  Relationships in the story can put some zing into the plot, but instead this just drags the whole story down in my opinion.  I appreciate the light shining on PTSD of the returning soldiers, I just don't need it as a recurring tension between Verity and her husband.  I also grow weary of hubby having such a hard time with accepting Verity worked as an agent and was in danger when he was getting shot and bombed. I feel there is an unspoken double standard in this book in hubby's suspecting Verity was unfaithful while he was gone because soldiers in war are notorious for sexual escapades (live it up when and where you can for tomorrow you might die sort of idea). Besides the fact she had been notified he was dead.  If it seems like this is mostly about Verity and hubby Sydney, that is what stayed with me from the story and not the mystery.  The mystery seemed to be a backdrop for Verity and Sydney to go through their personal issues.

I will provide a caveat that this is my opinion and I recognize that there are many others who found this book a wonderful outing in the series.  I'm just saying it didn't strike the right notes for me and why.  If you enjoy Downton Abbey and a lot of drama, this could be for you.

Rating:  Good - A fair read with minor flaws. Maybe read an excerpt before buying. 

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Monday, April 27, 2020

Review - Witches Protection Program

This is a paranormal police procedural novel with a unique concept.  Read on to see what I thought.

Author: Michael Okon (Michael Philip Cash)

Copyright: Sept 2019 (WordFire Press LLC) 202 pgs

Series: 1st in Witches Protection Program Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Paranormal Police Procedural

Main Character: Wes Rockville, disgraced police officer

Setting: Modern day, Manhattan NY

Obtained Through: Publisher, via Netgalley, for honest opinion

Book cover blurb: "Wes Rockville, a disgraced law-enforcement agent, gets one last chance to prove himself and save his career when he's reassigned to a 232-year-old secret government organization.

The Witches Protection Program.

His first assignment: uncover a billion-dollar cosmetics company's diabolical plan to use witchcraft for global domination, while protecting its heiress Morgan Pendragon from her aunt's evil deeds. Reluctantly paired with veteran witch protector, Alastair Verne, Wes must learn to believe in witches...and believe in himself. "

Wes Rockville is stubborn and has a problem with authority but overall has potential.  Wes is pushed and challenged to accept a different reality.  Alastair Verne is the sort of authority figure Wes fights but must rely on for this last chance. 

The big city setting fits this paranormal concept well and gives it a large scope. The setup of the paranormal world existing alongside the mortal world is well done.  The climax is a chase and showdown that gives some good tension.  The plot had just enough depth to keep my interest and turning the pages.  It sets up well for an ongoing series.

This is like the Men In Black of the paranormal world.  I enjoyed the book and will look for the next in series. 

Rating:  Excellent - a fun read! If you like creative paranormal mysteriess, buy this now.

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Saturday, April 4, 2020

Review - Prologue to Murder

This is the second novel in this series but my first one.  I had no trouble with understanding the back story and enjoying this one.  Sadly, this had been on my TBR pile for a little while plus taking time for me to finally review it.  

Author: Lauren Elliott

Copyright: April 2019 (Kensington) 336 pgs

Series: 2nd in Beyond the Page Bookstore Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy mystery, cozy amateur sleuth

Main Character: Addison Greyborne descendant to town founder and owner of bookstore

Setting: Modern day, Greyborne Harbor

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest opinion

From book cover: "Gossip columnists love a bold-faced name—but “Miss Newsy” at Greyborne Harbor’s local paper seems to specialize in bald-faced lies. She’s pointed a finger of suspicion at Addie after librarian June Winslow never makes it home from a book club meeting. And when June’s found at the bottom of a steep flight of stairs, Addie’s not only dealing with a busybody, but a dead body.

It’s a good thing the guy she’s dating is the police chief. But both the case and her love life get more complicated when a lanky blonde reporter from Los Angeles shows up. She’s trying her hardest to drive a wedge between the couple . . . as if Addie doesn’t have enough problems dealing with angry townspeople. Despite all the rumors, Addie doesn’t know a thing about the murder—but she plans to find out. And the key may lie in a book about pirate legends that June published. Now she just has to hunt down the clues before she becomes a buried treasure herself . . . "

Addison Greybourne is a mixed bag.  She could be viewed as strong with a side of funny, although I found her a bit over-the-top emotionally.  Chief of police Marc Chandler is kind-of her boyfriend and she sure gets jealous like there is more there between them.  Chief Chandler seems lacking in critical character detection for a cop when it comes to his ex-wife Lacey.  Addison's BFF and Marc's sister, Serena Chandler is naive and easily used by Lacey.  All of which makes for a tense ride for Addison as she tackles ongoing gossip in the paper and suspicion of her involvement in June Wilson's murder.  Lacey, the shallow and conniving complication in Addy's life, is a memorable part of the overall story as the character you love to hate.

Too often novels set at sea side don't feature the beach or ocean much.  The use of pirates and local pirate history really cemented the setting into the story.  The climactic scene also strongly features the location to great effects as well.

You can't have a pirate or treasure tale without an  exciting race to find the treasure.  In this case it all becomes part of the killer reveal.  It could have been cheesy, but it ends up exciting and well executed.

The pirate lore and lure of treasure was handled quite well and is probably my favorite aspect to this story and brought the entire novel to life.  I had a rough time with the personal drama going on and Addison's often juvenile reaction to it all. 

Rating:  Good - A fun read 

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Saturday, March 21, 2020

Review - City of Scoundrels

Today I review the newest in the Counterfeit Lady historical mysteries.  Previously I reviewed the first in the series -- "City of Lies" (click here)  and the second book "City of Secrets" (click here).  The timing of this book is uncanny since it features the pandemic of 1918.  So how is the series doing now that we are into the third book?  Let's find out.

Author: Victoria Thompson

Copyright: Nov 2019 (Berkley) 336 pgs

Series: 3rd in Counterfeit Lady Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Amateur Sleuth, historical caper

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

Setting: 1917, Washington DC

Obtained Through: Publisher (via Netgalley) for honest opinion

From the book cover: "Elizabeth Miles finds herself in a position no con can help her escape. Her beloved fiancé, Gideon Bates, is awaiting his turn in the draft to fight in the Great War. Elizabeth is finding it hard to think of anything else, but Gideon has thrown himself into his work, preparing wills for soldiers before they ship out. Corporal Tom Preston is part owner of Preston Shoes, a company that is making footwear for the army, so he has a rather large estate. He needs a new will, however, because he has just been secretly married to a woman whom his family would never approve. He wants to make sure she and their unborn child are provided for if he does not return.

When Tom is later reported killed, Elizabeth and Gideon learn that the new will has gone missing after Tom's bride revealed her identity to his family. Unless the new will is found and validated, the original will, which leaves everything to Tom's brother, will prevail and the wife and child will get nothing. If Tom's new bride survives, that is. Some terrible threats have been leveled against her, and Elizabeth and Gideon must figure out a way, legal or not quite, to secure Tom's fortune for his wife and child while saving her life in the process."

Elizabeth Miles can't help but revert to a good con against the heartless, greedy, and dangerous inlaws of widow Rose.  She is whip smart and resourceful and becomes a central player in the con to stop a German spy ring along the way.  Mrs Bates is an older lady who took 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 and is waiting to report for the war. 
Anna Vanderslice is a kind society girl who has become Elizabeth's best friend and whose brother, David, is Gideon's best friend.  Mr. Miles, Elizabeth's con man father, is key to the con to protect the widow Rose and get her rightful inheritance.  The relationship between the Elizabeth and Gideon is the most compelling aspect of the series

This story unfolds in the midst of WWI and the influenza outbreak know as the Spanish Flu pandemic that claimed between 50 million to 100 million worldwide.  Both the war and the pandemic draw too close to Elizabeth and those she loves.  Additionally, the American Protection League was an active all-volunteer organization utilized by President Wilson primarily to curb any anti-war activists but included identifying German sympathizers, anarchists, and labor organizations.  The APL created a fearful atmosphere.  These true historical events taking place around the story and impacting the characters makes this even more gripping and realistic.

The climax involves Elizabeth in great danger because of the con to catch German spies.  The wrapup involves the pandemic striking close to Elizabeth and Gideon's time to ship out for war.

I read this novel the end of October but am just getting to the review.  It is ironic how the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic is a strong element in this story and from the author's notes you find several actual accounts from that pandemic were incorporated into the story making it quite chilling.  The relationship between Elizabeth and Gideon is deepening on both sides and gives warmth to the characters.  The two pronged con to help Rose and also stop a German spy ring is brilliant.  This is a finely woven story that grabs hold and doesn't let go.

Rating:   Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend. 

Here is a short video about the 1918 pandemic.

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Thursday, February 27, 2020

Review - The Art of Theft

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), the second book, A Conspiracy in Belgravia (click here), and the third, The Hollow of Fear (click here).  This outing for our intrepid consulting detective sets the brilliant mind of Sherlock to the problem of a near impossible heist to help a dear friend.

Author: Sherry Thomas

Copyright: October 2019 (Berkeley) 303 pgs

Series: 4th in Lady Sherlock Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Private Investigator

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

Setting: 1886 England and France

Obtained Through: Publisher (via Netgalley) for honest opinion

From book blurb: "As "Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective," Charlotte Holmes has solved murders and found missing individuals. But she has never stolen a priceless artwork—or rather, made away with the secrets hidden behind a much-coveted canvas.

But Mrs. Watson is desperate to help her old friend recover those secrets and Charlotte finds herself involved in a fever-paced scheme to infiltrate a glamorous Yuletide ball where the painting is one handshake away from being sold and the secrets a bare breath from exposure.

Her dear friend Lord Ingram, her sister Livia, Livia's admirer Stephen Marbleton—everyone pitches in to help and everyone has a grand time. But nothing about this adventure is what it seems and disaster is biding time on the grounds of a glittering French chateau, waiting only for Charlotte to make a single mistake..."

Charlotte Holmes is blond, pretty, very feminine and frilly, too fond of sweets, and far too intelligent for the time period. Essentially the opposite of what the traditional image is of Sherlock.  Lord Ingram Ashburton, a long time friend who cares very deeply for her even if she doesn't return his feelings will assist Charlotte no matter what.  Mrs. John Watson, a retired stage actress who has become Charlotte's unique and talented sidekick is the reason Holmes takes up this cause. Charlotte's adult younger sister, Olivia, has escaped the controlling grasp of her parents for a few weeks and follows Charlotte into the scheme.  Plus, she will get some time with Mr. Marbleton who she is quite fond of.  Stephen Marbleton is in hiding from the dangerous Moriarity and takes part at great peril.

The setting is both London and the remote French country side surrounding the French chateau where the exclusive auction will take place.  The French location is wonderfully atmospheric and presents its own challenges to the heist, giving the story added stakes.

The series has exciting killer/villain reveals and this was no different.  I enjoy how the Sherlock we know is turned on his head and re-imagined brilliantly. This is a historical heist as well as a cat and mouse game.  Nothing is as it seems and only the mind behind Sherlock Holmes is up to the task of seeing through the maze to the true intentions.  This can be enjoyed as a stand alone novel, but I suggest at least starting with the book just prior to this one, The Hollow of Fear, to better understand the relationship between Charlotte and Lord Ingram.

Rating:  Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list 

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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Review - Murder at Kensington Palace

My apologies for being absent the last few months.  I have many reviews to write and post because I have been reading a good bit.  I just haven't had the time to write the reviews.  Plus I was in a car accident on icy roads and totaled my car back in November.  Although I only had some bruising, the experience left me a bit unsettled and I am just now getting back to the blog.

I truly love this series.  I reviewed the first in the Wrexford and Sloane series, Murder on Swan Lake, (click here) and the second in this new series, Murder at Half Moon Gate (click here). Read on to find out how the third novel in this new historical mystery stacks up.
Author: Andrea Penrose
Copyright: Sept 2019 (Kensington) 298 pgs
Series: 3rd in Wrexford and Sloane Mystery series
Sensuality: Mild
Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy
Main Characters: Widowed Charlotte Sloane, a satirical cartoonist under the name A.J. Quill teams with Earl of Wrexford, former military man and amateur chemist
Setting: Regency era, London England
Obtained Through: Publisher (via NetGalley) for honest review
Book blurb:  "Wrexford and Sloane must unravel secrets within secrets—including a few that entangle their own hearts—when they reunite to solve a string of shocking murders that have horrified Regency London . . .
Though Charlotte Sloane’s secret identity as the controversial satirical cartoonist A.J. Quill is safe with the Earl of Wrexford, she’s ill prepared for the rippling effects sharing the truth about her background has cast over their relationship. She thought a bit of space might improve the situation. But when her cousin is murdered and his twin brother is accused of the gruesome crime, Charlotte immediately turns to Wrexford for help in proving the young man’s innocence. Though she finds the brooding scientist just as enigmatic and intense as ever, their partnership is now marked by an unfamiliar tension that seems to complicate every encounter. 
Despite this newfound complexity, Wrexford and Charlotte are determined to track down the real killer. Their investigation leads them on a dangerous chase through Mayfair’s glittering ballrooms and opulent drawing rooms, where gossip and rumors swirl to confuse the facts. Was her cousin murdered over a romantic rivalry . . . or staggering gambling debts? Or could the motive be far darker and involve the clandestine scientific society that claimed both brothers as members? The more Charlotte and Wrexford try to unknot the truth, the more tangled it becomes. But they must solve the case soon, before the killer’s madness seizes another victim . . ."
Charlotte Sloane and the Earl of Wrexford, Wrex for short, team up again for this complicated and dangerous case.  Their relationship is tense at times and the reader is in the middle of it.  The two street urchins Charlotte has officially adopted, Raven and Hawk, are being tutored while still maintaining some of their street habits.  They are a joy to watch blossoming.  This story also provides more of Charlotte's background story.

The setting of Regency London provides great atmosphere and is one of the strong aspects of the series.  I enjoy how the scientific advances of the era are spotlighted.  Add a vicious serial killer, the Bloody Butcher, to the foggy mists of London and you have Gothic gold.  The plot and subplots immediately grabbed hold of me and didn't let go though a few twists and turns.  Ms. Penrose's writing style also contributed to create a page-turning suspenseful tale.

The killer reveal lived up to the standard set by the two previous books with nail biting tension and harrowing danger.  Excellent!  The wrap up left me wishing for the next book.

I enjoy the sharp dialog between Wrexford and Charlotte and how she is respectable yet has a network of street people who feed her information.  Her character is complex and layered.  Wrexford isn't so much brooding as disinterested with the typical superficial interests of the nobility and grouchy.  The two play off each other believably and with wry humor.  The era of scientific exploration adds realism along with the visceral descriptions of everything from Newgate prison to the ball rooms.  To sum it up, this novel is another gem in the series crown.  If you enjoy historical mysteries, this isn't to be missed.
Rating:  Near Perfect - Couldn't Put it down. Buy two copies, one for you and one for a friend. 

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