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Monday, July 22, 2019

Review - Death in Kew Gardens

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

Author: Jennifer Ashley

Copyright: June 2019 (Berkley) 304 pgs

Series: 3rd in Below Stairs Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy

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

Setting: 1881, Victorian London

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Review - The Right Sort of Man

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

Author: Allison Montclair

Copyright: June 2019 (Minotaur) 325 pgs

Series: 1st in Marriage Bureau Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Amateur Sleuth

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

Setting: Post World War II London England

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Monday, July 15, 2019

Guest Post - Jon Land and Jessica Fletcheer

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

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

THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT JESSICA

FLETCHER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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








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Monday, July 8, 2019

Guest Post - Allison Montclair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Monday, June 17, 2019

Author Guest Post - Kate Carlisle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every breath you take

Every move you make

Every bond you break

Every step you take

I'll be watching you

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

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

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

ABOUT THE BOOK SUPREMACY:


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

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

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

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

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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


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