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Thursday, August 22, 2019

Review - Murder at Morrington Hall

I'm not sure how I heard of this book, but I am so glad to have discovered it. But when I read "You will love this delightful debut novel to what promises to be a winning series... I couldn’t put it down!” from one of my favorite authors, Victoria Thompson, I had to see for myself.  Read on for my assessment of this debut novel in a new series.


Author: Clara McKenna

Copyright: Jan 2017 (Berkley) 298 pgs

Series: 1st in Stella and Lyndy Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy

Main Characters: Stella Kendrick, America Heiress, thoroughbred breeder

Setting: 1905, Hampshire England

Obtained Through: Personal find

Book Blurb:
"Spring, 1905:  Free-spirited like the Thoroughbreds she rides across the Kentucky countryside, Stella takes adventure by the reins when she’s asked to attend a mysterious wedding in rural England. But once she arrives at the lush Morrington Hall estate, her cold and ambitious father confesses that he won’t only give away his best racehorses as gifts—he has also arranged to give away his daughter as bride to the Earl of Atherly’s financially strapped son . . . 
Stella refuses to be sold off like a prized pony. Yet despite a rough start, there’s something intriguing about her groom-to-be, the roguish Viscount “Lyndy” Lyndhurst. The unlikely pair could actually be on the right track with each other . . . until they find the vicar who was to marry them dead in the library. 
With culture clashes mounting between families, a scandalous murder case hangs over Morrington Hall. Now, Stella and Lyndy must go from future spouses to amateur sleuths as they team up to search for the truth—and prevent an unbridled criminal from destroying their new life together right out of the gate "

Stella Kendrick, free spirited, proud, stubborn, and independant with scars from her father's ill treatment of her.  Mr Elijah Kendrick, Stella's cold hearted father and self-made millionaire, is uncouth and rude.  Viscount Lord Lyndhurst, Lyndy, is the intended groom who is marrying out of duty - until he meets Stella and thinks he may enjoy her company.  The Earl and Lady Atherly, Lyndy's parents, are insufferable snobs that financially have to welcome the unladylike American heiress into the family, but they make their displeasure well known.  Lord Hugh, second son of the Duke of Tonnbridge is Lyndy's best friend, and a prime suspect.  The stiff British nobility clash with brash Americans for many tense scenes throughout.

The setting of New Forest, the former royal hunting grounds for King William the Conqueror centuries prior with its legendary ponies roaming free, is an idyllic setting.  Several scenes contain Epsom Downs Derby and it brings out the excitement of the race.  It all provides the background to spotlight the differences between the rigid social rules of British upper class and the uncultured manners of the Americans of the era.

Of course the simple question of who would kill a Vicar gets more complicated as the story unfolds.  It had to be somebody who could make their way around the mansion without really being noticed much, which narrows the field of suspects.  

The climax highlights Stella's intelligence and independence to prove a point about who the killer was, which replaces a suspenseful killer reveal.  Although I love the tense and suspenseful killer reveal, this creative unveiling was quite enjoyable and well executed.

I loved the characters of Stella Kendrick and Lyndy and how they come to accept and appreciate each other.  The writing style is engaging, drew me in immediately, and had me sympathize with Stella and Lyndy.  The aspect of an unsuspecting heiress essentially being sold off is a great setup for this series - and is based on historical realities such as Consuelo Vanderbilt being in that exact situation.

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

Here is a short video about the marrying off of 
Consuelo Vanderbilt

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mk-lRsrj9Eg&list=RDQMcbBsdB8VdOA&index=2


Here is a short video about The New Forest.
https://youtu.be/7haA7ZozB-8



Thank you for joining me!


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Monday, August 19, 2019

Spotlight and Giveaway - Death in a Budapest Butterfly

Today we are featuring a giveaway for readers. Berkley publishing has graciously offered one copy of Death in a Budapest Butterfly to a lucky winner.


About the book:
"Hana Keller and her family run Maggie's Tea House, an establishment heavily influenced by the family's Hungarian heritage and specializing in a European-style traditional tea service. But one of the shop's largest draws is Hana's eccentric grandmother, Juliana, renowned for her ability to read the future in the leaves at the bottom of customers' cups. Lately, however, her readings have become alarmingly ominous and seemingly related to old Hungarian legends...

When a guest is poisoned at a tea event, Juliana’s dire predictions appear to have come true. Things are brought to a boil when Hana’s beloved Anna Weatherley butterfly teacup becomes the center of the murder investigation as it carried the poisoned tea. The cup is claimed as evidence by a handsome police detective, and the pretty Tea House is suddenly endangered. Hana and her family must catch the killer to save their business and bring the beautiful Budapest Butterfly back home where it belongs."

The book includes Chicken Paprikas, Dumplings, Stuffed Cabbage, and Dessert Crescents recipes.  I am looking forward to trying them!

Entry for giveaway lasts until August 31, 2019 6:00 p.m. (MST). U.S. entries only please.
The publisher will be shipping the book to the winners.


How to enter:

*** First, you must be an email subscriber of this blog.***

All entries are to be in the comments for this post.

I will accept entries for this giveaway until 6:00 p.m (MST) on August 31, 2019. I shall notify the winner via the email address you provide to get your mailing address and have the prize sent directly to you.

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

BECOME an email subscriber of this blog if you aren't already and enjoy the celebration of all things mystery and suspense.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I have written and published three cozy mysteries - ICED (Resort to Murder #1), Nailed (Resort to Murder #2), and SPIKED (Resort to Murder #3) by Avery Daniels 


SPIKED

"Julienne needs only three things: successfully pull of a last minute wedding relocated to her resort, work out things with her stubborn ex- boyfriend, and solve the murder of a private investigator found with her business card on his dead body. The wedding she can handle, but it comes with a flirtatious brother of the bride who manages to give Mason the idea she has moved on, and the dead PI was playing with fire before he was poisoned leaving a myriad of suspects. Two suspects are part of a scandal waiting to explode and nobody wants to be in the middle of the fallout.

Can Julienne wade through the various suspects while coordinating the wedding and dealing with a handsome amorous guest before her rival on the local paper exposes her connection and thus damages the resort’s reputation? Will she and Mason find their way to each other?"

"This was a thrilling third book from Avery Daniels with Juliette once again taking the lead on another murder investigation... Avery’s writing style is very entertaining with a first-person perspective laying out well the clever plot along with various suspects with motives and twist and turns, and sharing it all with Julienne’s inner thoughts and vivid descriptions. The mystery was delightfully involved with several lines of questioning to incorporate, an insinuation of Julie’s possible involvement, and keeping the “Wow!” ending to the…end. "  King's River Life Magazine

"Another fantastic book. Very entertaining, great characters... Great mix of mystery with a bit of romance ( or almost romance)."  BookHound

"A mixture of danger, humor, and romance set in lovely Colorado Springs, the author writes a perfect cozy mystery with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. " Cheryl Malandrinos

Purchase Links:

Follow Avery Daniels  at the following:





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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Review - The Jean Harlow Bombshell

I enjoy classic movies and the golden age of Hollywood, so this concept of a biographer and researcher digging up murder mysteries was catnip to me! This first book features Jean Harlow, the first blond bombshell and sex symbol.  She died at age 26.  Mollie Cox Bryan is the author of the Cora Craft's cozy mystery series as well.  Read on to see what my thoughts on this debut book were.

Author: Mollie Cox Bryan

Copyright: May 2019 (Midnight Ink) 336 pgs

Series: 1st in A Classic Star Biography Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Amateur sleuth

Main Characters: Charlotte Donovan, research assistant to Hollywood biographer.

Setting: Modern day, New York City

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

From the book cover: "Justine Turner is a world-famous biographer of Hollywood stars. She's also Charlotte Donovan's overbearing boss. So it comes as no surprise to Charlotte when Justine requests an emergency meeting related to her latest in-progress biography. It is a surprise, though, when Justine up and dies before their urgent discussion can begin.

In the wake of such a tragedy, all Charlotte wants to do is finish the Jean Harlow biography that Justine had started. Instead, she finds herself in grave danger—stalked both online and in person by a drop-dead Jean Harlow look-alike. Together with police sergeant Den Brophy, Charlotte uncovers shocking revelations. But will these revelations be enough to catch the killer?"

Charlotte Donovan is an excellent researcher dealing with Lyme disease and a dysfunctional family that she avoids.  She also has a habit of dating cops.  Police sergeant Den Brophy is the investigating officer and provides a challenge to Charlotte's will power because she promised to stay on a police dating diet.  He makes no secret of his growing affection for her.  There are a few other characters, but mainly these two.

Although the story takes place in modern New York, the research is brought alive with a mystery surrounding Harlow's sudden illness and death, effectively bringing Hollywood's golden age into the story as a setting too.  

The plot seemed a simple premise, but the added hint of there being foul play in Harlow's death and then perhaps playing a role in the current death of the biographer was a twist.  The pacing lagged at times, but my desire to see how it would work out kept me reading.  

The climax had some good thrills, but that was the only time I really felt some immediacy and emminent danger.  The Harlow look-alike sightings seemed more an anomaly rather than something sinister.

While I appreciated the diversity of having a sleuth who is dealing with Lyme disease, sometimes that took the focus away from the mystery and created problems for Charlotte that were outside the story.  In one chapter she is dealing with symptoms and then we see her investigating without the handicap of her illness in the next chapter.  That may work for some readers, but for me it pulled me out of the story too much.  

I really liked the details of Harlow's turbulent celebrity and pre-Hollywood life.  The killer was a surprise and made me read up on her death myself. I am looking forward to the next book which I hope to see the plot better developed because it is a great premise. 

Rating:  Good - A fun read with minor flaws, good but not stellar.


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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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