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Monday, May 13, 2024

Musings - Online Book Clubs

Online book clubs are big ever since Oprah exploded the idea back in 1996 and the phenomenon brings joy to my heart.  It helps to have a big name behind the book club to get exposure thus Reese Witherspoon and Good Morning America's book picks are successful.  But now we have a plethera of online book clubs to meet most every need.

The structure of an online book club typically includes: 
  • A reading schedule or deadline
  • Regular discussion sessions
  • Sometimes may even include guest appearances by authors  
The deadline ensures all members are at the same point in the book during discussions. Such structure can motivate regular reading while knowing there will be discussion promotes consistency and looking for deeper meaning while reading.  

The online factor makes it more convenient for today's busy people.   Discussions can take place in live video chats, discussion boards, or a comments section.  Technology allows authors to join these discussions and provide their insights into the book and a special opportunity for members to interact with the creators of the books is an added bonus.

Let's get into a few of the myriad online book clubs available.

Of course I have to feature the mystery book club: 

Murder and Mayhem Book Club uses the Fable app and features a "variety of exciting mystery and thriller titles over time, from classics to hot topics."  (Find them here

Big Library Read (click here).  first Global ebook club that utilizes Libby app for reading the book with no waiting to check out the book and the discussion.  It is the largest online book club with 1000+ participating.  On the website is the "Join the Discusson" tab where you answer the questions and then read other's responses. 

The Heavy Hitter Big Names:
  • Oprah Book Picks that Oprah has personally picked is a newsletter you join (click here) and then the disccusion takes place on Goodreads (click here)  
  • Reese Witherspoon  features books with a woman at the center of the story.  (click here)
  • Good Morning America Book Club takes place mostly on Instagram (click here)
  • Jimmy Fallon Book Club is back - follow @FallonBookClub on Instagram for the scheduled book and join the conversation (click here)
  • Los Angeles Times Book Club uses their newsletter to organize and communicate book picks and solicit recommendations. This is specifically for Southern California because they tend to arrange for a live author event with tickets because they get stars like LeVar Burton and Dean Koontz. (click here
  • Read With Jenna Book Club (Today Show) (click here)

Notable and Popular:
Teen Banned Book Club at NYPL
selecting young adult books that have been challenged or banned from schools and offering them free nationwide via digital access. The book club also hosts the authors for an event. (click here)  

NoName's Book Club featuring books written by POC with active chapters in 14 cites for incarerated. (click here)

Subtle Asian Book Club  
created in 2020 with the goal of uplifting Asian voices and storytellers. You can read along with the monthly book chosen, join on social media, and watch videos of their live author interviews. (click here)

Mocha Girls Read
Monthly book club of Black women who love to read. They currently have chapters in 14 cities across the U.S. Starting in 2024, anyone can join “an IG Live every first Saturday of the month at 5 pm PT.  (click here)

The Stacks Book Club
Began as a podcast that chats all about books, and added a monthly book club! The book chosen for the month is discussed on the podcast the last week of the month with a selected special guest. (click here

Between Two Books Book Club
with a vibrant online community of avid readers. The unique aspect of this club is that it features book recommendations from various artists, writers, and directors, allowing members to explore diverse voices and perspectives.  book discussions take place on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, where we feature readings and Q&As with authors. (click here)

Others you may find interesting: 

Rebel Book Club (Non-fiction) based in UK for live and virtual meetings. (click here)

Beth's Book Club is a subscription based community of thousands of women reading together all around the world. They set about creating a platform that would offer members plenty of community, fun, learning and self-care opportunities. They discuss the book of the month via Facebook, have a bookswap, and a newsletter. (click here)

Ladies Lit Squad (click here)

Girlfriend Book Club from AARP (click here)

Andrew Luck Book Club He's the quarterback for Indianapolis Colts (click here)

Addicted to YA Book Club on Goodreads (click here)

The History Book Club (Goodreads) (click here)

That is just a few, there are scores more of every type imaginable.  Share yours in the comments.  Let me know if you found one of these particularly good for you and you joined.

Thank you for reading this blog and please recommend to friends and family who will enjoy it.

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Friday, May 10, 2024

Review - Speculations In Sin

I think I've probably read a few more than I've reviewed, but here is the one prior in this series I reviewed: 

3rd: Death in Kew Gardens (click here

Author: Jennifer Ashley

Copyright: Mar 2024 (Berkley) 319 pgs

Series: 7th in Below Stairs Mysteries

Sensuality: Adult topics, mild romance

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Amateur Sleuth, Cozy Historical

Main Character: Kat Holloway, a Cook for the Mayfair household  

Setting: 1883. London, England

Obtained Through: Publisher via Netgalley for honest review

 Book Blurb:  "Kat Holloway is distressed to learn that Samuel Millburn, husband of the woman who looks after her daughter, has been accused of embezzling funds from the bank where he works as a clerk. The accusation is absurd, and Samuel’s wife fears that her husband will not only lose his post but be imprisoned. Kat vows to uncover the truth.

When she discovers the bank is involved in shockingly murky business dealings, Kat realizes she’s treading in dangerous waters. She turns to her confidante and handsome suitor, Daniel McAdam, for help. To exonerate Samuel, Kat and Daniel may have to expose the unseemly financial dealings of prominent aristocrats and government officials, and even those working to bring down the royal family. Kat will risk everything to protect the man who has sacrificed so much for her daughter, even if it means endangering herself and the friends she has come to love."

MY Thoughts:

Superlative cook Kat Holloway struggles being a single mother at a time when it is unacceptable.  Flirty Daniel McAdam is courting Kat. He has a eighteen year old son who often is looking out for Kat on Daniels request.  There relationship is adorable and makes a little progress.  Also, we get a glimpse into Daniel's rough past before he became the dear he is now.

Joanna Millburn, wife of accused Samuel, is the woman who takes care of Kat's daughter, since Kat could lose her job if her employer knew she had a daughter.  That was the old mentality and because Samuel could go to prison, Joanna and Kat's daughter could be homeless.  Grace, Kat's daughter, is a delightful child who understands the situation and tries to be of help all around.

Lady Cynthia, sister-in-law of Kat's employers, assists in the investigation and maybe moreimportantly in helping Samuel obtain legal representation.  Mr. Thanos is a brilliant mathematician who also helps with the investigation. 

The plot has several twists to figure out what all was happening with the murder and the embezzeling.  The pacing kept me turning the pages. The climax was tense and had some thrilling moments which I so appreciate.  The wrap-up was heartwarming. 

This is an excellent historical cozy that never fails to entertain. It has a solid mystery with plenty of heart and spunk that I recommend.

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

Thank you for reading this blog and please recommend to friends and family who will enjoy it.

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Friday, April 26, 2024

Review - The Mystery Writer

I have only read one other book by author Sulari Gentill (Edgar Award nominee) and now for my second.

The Woman in the Libary (click here

What is a better topic for mystery fans than a mystery author who is caught up in a murder mystery!? That is the short version of this book plot.  Read on to find out my thoughts on the newest Sulari Gentill book.

Sulari Gentill

Copyright: March 2024 (Poisoned Pen Press) 400 pgs

Series: Standalone

Sensuality: Mild, adult situations, TW: old rape case discussed

Mystery Sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth, Traditional Mystery, Literary thriller

Main Character: Theodosia Benton, early twenties naive aspiring author 

Setting: Contemporary, Lawrence, Kansas

Obtained Through: Publisher via Netgalley for honest review
Book Blurb:  "When Theodosia Benton abandons her career path as an attorney and shows up on her brother's doorstep with two suitcases and an unfinished novel, she expects to face a few challenges. Will her brother support her ambition or send her back to finish her degree? What will her parents say when they learn of her decision? Does she even have what it takes to be a successful writer?

What Theo never expects is to be drawn into a hidden literary world in which identity is something that can be lost and remade for the sake of an audience. When her mentor, a highly successful author, is brutally murdered, Theo wants the killer to be found and justice to be served. Then the police begin looking at her brother, Gus, as their prime suspect, and Theo does the unthinkable in order to protect him. But the writer has left a trail, a thread out of the labyrinth in the form of a story. Gus finds that thread and follows it, and in his attempt to save his sister he inadvertently threatens the foundations of the labyrinth itself. To protect the carefully constructed narrative, Theo Benton, and everyone looking for her, will have to die."

MY Thoughts:
Theodosia is flat as the main character and I've seen it suggested that was so the reader would cast themself as Theo, but it just made her seem like a blank canvas for a lot of the book.  Her main characteristic is incredibly naive.  I felt for Gus, Theo's brother, trying to be big brother and protector while giving Theo space to be herself and then when everything goes to crap he is trying to save his little sister.  Gus was well developed and I could relate to him.  Cormack (Mac) Etheridge is a good friend of Gus and a private investigator that gets involved. Mac comes from a wacky, conspiracy theorist, survivalist family that play into the storyline as well.

Very clever concept for the story and ultimate villain. Kudos there.  The pacing is well done and once the murder occurs the tension is pretty constant with plenty of action to keep the story moving at a good speed.  Kept me turning the pages. I like the writing style in general but at one point I was a bit confused with jumps between Theo's point-of-view and Gus' without any break or notice.  

I thought interspercing the conspiracy theory message board discussions throughout really showed how such wild conjecture played into and was manipulated in the scheme of things.  In this current atmosphere that was a spot-on element.

The climax occured fairly quickly in terms of number of pages, but I think it worked well. I will say that I figured who the villain was shortly after the murder but even with that I thought the suspense was built plausibly.  In this case the wrap-up supplied explanations for all the myriad things that occured, giving the full picture of events.  

I have to say that author Sulari Gentill has a knack for developing pretty unique storylines, but this one had some fantastical elements that some might find a little over-the-top, but I enjoyed it tremendously.

Overall a wonderfully entertaining mystery that I recommend.

Rating:  Excellent - A fun read and enjoyable story throughout

Thank you for reading this blog and please recommend to friends and family who will enjoy it.

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Friday, April 19, 2024

Review - Murder In Westminster

 "Perfect for readers looking for a darker twist on Bridgerton, this first in a vibrant, inclusive historical mystery series from an acclaimed author Vanessa Riley portrays the true diversity of the Regency-era, as an aristocrat whose skin color and notorious family history have left her with few friends she can rely on is named as the prime suspect in a murder case…"

Author: Vanessa Riley

Copyright: Aug 2022 (Kensington Books) 338 pgs

Series: 1st in Lady Worthing Mysteries

Sensuality: Adult topics, otherwise mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical cozy

Main Character: Lady Abigail Worthing, Scottish & Jamaican, is married to a Lord who stays at sea 

Setting: 1806, London England

Obtained Through: Library

Book Blurb:  "Discovering a body on her property presents Lady Abigail Worthing with more than one pressing problem. The victim is Juliet, the wife of her neighbor, Stapleton Henderson. Although Abigail has little connection with the lady in question, she expects to be under suspicion. Abigail’s skin color and her mother’s notorious past have earned her a certain reputation among the ton, and no amount of wealth or status will eclipse it.

Abigail can’t divulge that she was attending a secret pro-abolition meeting at the time of the murder. To her surprise, Henderson offers her an alibi. Though he and Juliet were long estranged, he feels a certain loyalty to his late wife. Perhaps together, he and Abigail can learn the truth. . . . Abigail, whose marriage was not a love match, knows well how appearances can deceive—and how treacherous London’s high society can be. Yet who would have killed Juliet, and why? Taking the reins of her life in a way she never has before, Abby intends to find out—but she may uncover more danger than she ever imagined . . ."

MY Thoughts:

Abigail, Lady Worthing, joins the ranks of historical amateur sleuths giving us a mixed race young woman who is a delight but a little bit of a troubled soul. I found her a woman of substance that I would love to sit with and have deep coversations.  Cousin Florentina is a math minded wiz and Abigail's closest friend.  Mr. Neil Vaughn, her godfather, thinks of her and Florentina as his own children and seems a mysterious man who is protective of those he loves.  The next door neighbor, Stapleton Henderson, the recent widower, has the most obvious motive to kill but Abigail finds herself investigating alongside him. He holds everything inside and is hard to figure out.  To lighten things a little is Teacup, Abigail's terrier that only lets Abigail touch him, until Henderson.

There are plenty of suspects as Juliet Henderson had several men and she had more secrets than lovers.  This had a good twist to make this a wonderful mystery. The climax was well done and the wrap-up left me stunned.  Kudos on that.  It left me wanting to immediatedly jump into the next book which is a goal of every author but not often achieved.  I'm a fan and will be reading the second shortly.

Have you read this book?  Share your thoughts in the comments please.

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

Thank you for reading this blog and please recommend to friends and family who will enjoy it.

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Monday, April 15, 2024

Espionage Play Review: Rubicon

Rubicon World Premier program
Today I'm reviewing a play rather than a movie, and a spy play based on a true story!  It's a brand new play I saw in Denver at it's world premier.  That's right, it's new and I wanted to share it with all of you.  

There are books about Elizabeth (Betty) Pack--nee Thorpe ("The Last Goodnight: A World War II Story of Espionage, Adventure, and Betrayal" by Howard Blum and "Cast No Shadow" by Mary S. Lovell), but no splashy movies.  That's why this play felt important to me.  FYI: No nudity, I'd rate it PG13

Play Blurb:
"Starting in the years leading up to World War II, the plot follows Elizabeth “Betty” Pack as she transitions from society wife and mother to steely, seductive agent for British and American Intelligence.  As missions take her from Madrid to Warsaw to Washington, Betty uses her charm, beauty, and intellect as tools of espionage, leveraging her sexuality to influence global affairs.

Overflowing with intrigue and wit, Rubicon is an engaging portrait of an unsung heroine and the sacrifices she makes to change the course of the war. It addresses the stigma attached to choosing professional determination and personal agency over traditional gender expectations. It’s a work that’s suspenseful, alluring, and surprising all at once."

What's It About?:
  It's about a charming, beautiful, and intelligent multi-lingual woman whose father is a Marine Corps officer and mother is a Senator's daughter in the heart of the Washinton DC political scene who gets recruited to spy.  She is completely unconventional for the time and looked down upon by many because of it, but they can't fault her results.  She is what many might call a "free spirit" and others just call "promiscuous" but she gains important information in her work for first MI6 and then the precursor to the CIA leading up to and during WWII.  Because of her parents, she is completely comfortable working in the aristocratic world of international diplomatic society and she is adept at seduction to get secrets, but it all comes at a personal cost.

"Wars are not won by respectable methods" Betty Pack

Written by Kirsten Potter
Directed by Chris Coleman

Starring (most played multiple parts):
Carolyn Holding at Betty Pack
Geoffry Kent as Beaverton
Kate Forbes as Lady Chilton
Aaron Blakely as Arthur Pack 
Pomme Koch as Senator Gerald Nye and Antonio
**This play was developed at the 2022 New Play Summit (Denver Center Theatre Company)

Being so very new there aren't many reviews yet.

“There’s a slinky elegance to Rubicon. The [stage] design is spare but evocative and the show moves with a fluid ease, finding the tension, sexual frisson or coy playfulness of a scene.” – The Denver Post

"Rubicon is an engaging story well told in a sleek production that does Potter’s script justice. Wartime spawns a thousand stories, but so many of them are tales of men. Here, we get an up-close look at a woman who knew her power and how to use it."  Alex Miller, On Stage Colorado

  • Photo-by-Jamie-Kraus-Photography
    Rubicon is the act that commits someone to a particular course; point of no return.
  • Betty's memoirs are now in the archives of Churchill College, Cambridge.
  • Betty was labeled "The Blond Bond" by Time Magazine, only she's not fictional.
  • One of Betty's missions was to steal the Vichy ciphers (the books that held the codes to the enigma machine used by the Nazis) at extreme risk to herself.  She did it, too.
  • Director Chris Coleman created the position of “psychodramaturgy” where Barbara Hort, a psychologist, offers psychological insights into the characters for the actors.
  • Betty's official code name was Cynthia.
  • Betty was refered to as the "Minnesota Mata Hari" and the "greatest unsung heroine of the war."
  • The world premier was extended for another week because it was so popular.
Photographer unknown
My Thoughts:
I loved this play.  The first act was the build up to her becoming a spy, so it was a little slow, understandable though.  But after she was recuited by MI6 the story took off.  

The comedic touches were great, keeping what could have been a depressing commentary on how she was regarded to a breezy feel at times.  You begin to see it how Betty did--there were far bigger issues at hand to be so sensitive.  

The play brings out the sacrifices she made for the sake of winning the war (not being part of her child's life much at all).  Occasionally, you see that she's scared, but determined to do her part to stop Hitler.  It also showed how closely she played it to the wire, at one point juggling two men at the same time to get critical time sensitive information.  The play shows she was a force, a great spy, a wounded and misunderstood woman, intelligent enough to know what would happen if she were caught but daring enough to pull it off anyway.  

The ending was like the rug being pulled out from under me.  I truly hope this play gets plenty of attention and is picked up by other play houses because it's just too good to not have more aclaim and attention.   Be looking for it.

Thank you for reading this blog and please recommend to friends and family who will enjoy it.


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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Review - The Never Game

I am a fan of Jeffrey Deaver, I just have sooo many books to read that his tend to get pushed aside.  I have been watching the new TV show "Tracker" and I wanted to read at least the first in the series that inspired the show.  I've only reviewed two prior books of his, although I've read more of the Lincoln Rhyme books than shown here.  

 The Burning Wire: Lincoln Rhyme (click here

XO: Kathryn Dance (click here)  

Author: Jeffery Deaver

Copyright: Mar 2019 (G.P. Putnam's Sons) 413 pgs

Series: 1st in Colter Shaw Mysteries

Sensuality: Adult topics, intimacy-no details

Mystery Sub-genre: Contemporary Detective

Main Character: Colter Shaw, rewardist with a heart 

Setting: Contemporary Silicon Valley, California

Obtained Through: Library

 Book Blurb:  "The son of a survivalist family, Colter Shaw is an expert tracker. Now he makes a living as a “reward seeker,” traveling the country to help police solve crimes and locate missing persons for private citizens.

“You’ve been abandoned. Escape if you can. Or die with dignity.”

Hired by the father of a young woman who has gone missing in Silicon Valley, Shaw's search takes him into the dark heart of America’s cutthroat billion-dollar video-game industry. When another person goes missing, Shaw must ask: Is a madman bringing a twisted video game to life?

Encountering eccentric designers, trigger-happy gamers, and ruthless tech titans, Shaw soon learns that he isn't the only one on the hunt: someone is on his trail and closing fast...."

I'll be reviewing the television series based on this book shortly, but for now let's focus on the books that lead to the show. 

MY Thoughts:

Colter Shaw was raised by a paranoid schizophrenic father (formerly history, political science, and humanities professor) who was a survivalist and a medical school professor mother.  He graduated from the University of Michigan in law and interned at a law firm, but he couldn't stand working in an office.  Colter and his siblings were raised on roughly 1,000 acres in Sierra Nevada foothills living off the grid.  His father ingrained in the children his list of "nevers" such as: 

Never antagonize beast or man.

Never adopt a strategy or approach without assigning percentages.

Never assign a percentage until you have as many facts as possible and many more.

Colter has a team backing him: Teddy and Velma Bruin, who watch his actual home while he's traveling in a Winnebago and find him reward jobs, plus he has a private investigator, Mack whose last name is not yet mentioned . They are introduced and we get a little bit about Teddy and Velma but they aren't developed much yet.  Local cop LaDonna Standish was a gem I enjoyed.

The plot is finally crafted with plenty of red herrings to lead you down to the wrong person.  The setting of Silicon Valley shows the wealthy in sharp contrast to those struggling to get by pay check by pay check.  I have to say this character and the pacing kept me fully engaged.  

The climax was thrilling and nail biting.  Perfection.  The writing style is detailed where needed and efficient when needed.  Some chapters are flashbacks to Colter's growing up and that is doling out peeks into his non-traditional upbringing and a mystery involving his father.  This will be an ongoing theme in the next book, apparently.  I'm a fan of this new series and will be going to the next in the series.

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

Thank you for reading this blog and please recommend to friends and family who will enjoy it.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Musings - Library of Congress, What Is It?

 It's National Library Week, so it seems fitting to take a look at the Library of Congress.

What the heck is it?  

It is the U.S. National Library, but it's primary mission is research inquiries made by members of Congress.   

It also houses and oversees the United States Copyright Office.  Additionally, the library also administers the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, an audio book and braille library program provided to more than 766,000 Americans.  The sheer size and variety of it's total collection makes it the world’s largest library.

The library now consists primarily of three buildings. The main building dates from 1897. In 1980, it was renamed the Thomas Jefferson building. This is where you will want to head if you’re visiting Washington, D.C.  There is also the John Adams Building, the James Madison Memorial Building, and the Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation.

Photo credit: Sharon Odegaard
An interesting bit of trivia, there was so much emphasis on the exterior architecture during the planning that they neglected plans for the interior.  An interior designer was brought on board and he made it just as impressive, if not more so.

The Library of Congress is open to the public, although only high-ranking government officials and library employees may borrow from the materials.  You can apply for a "reader card" but you can't take items out of the building.  Remember, it is primarily a research institution.

It was first conceived of by James Madison in 1783.  Before Washington D.C. was set as our Capitol and "in the years after the Revolutionary War, the Philadelphia Library Company and New York Society Library served as surrogate congressional libraries whenever Congress held session in those respective cities." Wikipedia  It was in April 1800 that the seat of our government was officially declared to be Washington D.C. and thus they needed a library to serve their needs for research.  The same decree that made D.C. the location of our government provided money for the purchase of books necessary for the nation's representative leadership to conduct research, as well as a place to house them.  It started with just 740 books and 3 maps.

Photo credit: Sharon Odegaard
Thomas Jefferson was deeply involved in the organizing of the libarary.  But in the war of 1814 with England, several government buildings were burned including the library of Congress with many of the then 3000 books burned.  It wouldn't be the only time it had a serious fire.  Thomas Jefferson's personal library of 6,487 books (including a two-volume translation of the Qu'ran) was purchased to restock the library.  Thank you TJ!  There is a wonderful round shelving display that contains Jefferson's library pictured here. 

In 1865, the Library was in the process of procurring a new fire-proof building when the Smithsonian's Castle experienced a fire that spurred the Smithsonian to donate their non-scientific books (40,000 in total) to the Library of Congress.  

At this writing the Library of Congress has:

- More than 32 million catalogued books and other print materials in 470 languages     

- More than 61 million manuscripts

      - The largest rare book collection in North America  

- The rough draft of the Declaration of Independence 

- Over 1 million U.S. government publications 

1 million issues of world newspapers spanning the past three centuries 

                --33,000 bound newspaper volumes 

  --500,000 microfilm reels 

      U.S. and foreign comic books—over 12,000 titles in all, totaling more than 140,000 issues  

- 1.9 million moving images (as of 2020) 

- 5.3 million maps 

- 6 million works of sheet music 

- 3 million sound recordings 

- More than 14.7 million prints and photographic images including fine and popular art pieces and architectural drawings 

- The Betts Stradivarius Violin

- And the Cassavetti Stradivarius Violin

Yes, they have 15 million digital objects, the majority are available via their website.  They continue to digitize the collection.

Many of these facts about the Library of Congress I didn't know until I did research for this piece.  I hope this was as fascinating to you as it was to me.  I hope to visit there someday.

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Saturday, April 6, 2024

Review - The Secret of the Lost Pearls

 This series and characters started with Berkley as the Rosalind Thorne Mysteries.  But Berkley suddenly discontinued many of their mysteries, so author Darcie Wilde went to Kensington and they continued the books with the same characters as the Useful Woman Mysteries.  Here are my prior reviews of the Berkley books.

1) A Useful Woman (click here)  

2)  A Purely Private Matter (click here)  

3)  And Dangerous to Know (click here

5)  A Counterfeit Suitor (click here)  

Guest post 2016  (click here

Guest post 2017  (click here)  

Author: Deanna Rayburn

Copyright: Dec 2022 (Kensington) 406 pgs

Series: 1st in A Useful Woman Mysteries

Sensuality: Adult topics, nothing explicit nor violence

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Amateur Sleuth

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

Setting: Early 1800s (Regency,) London

Obtained Through: library

 Book Blurb:  "Rosalind Thorne may not have a grand fortune of her own, but she possesses virtues almost as prized by the haut ton: discretion, and a web of connections that enable her to discover just about anything about anyone. Known as a “most useful woman,” Rosalind helps society ladies in need—for a modest fee, of course—and her client roster is steadily increasing.

Mrs. Gerald Douglas, née Bethany Hodgeson, presents Rosalind with a particularly delicate predicament. A valuable pearl necklace has gone missing, and Bethany’s husband believes the thief is Nora, Bethany’s disgraced sister. Nora made a scandalous elopement at age sixteen and returned three years later, telling the family that her husband was dead.

But as Rosalind begins her investigations, under cover of helping the daughters of the house prepare for their first London season, she realizes that the family harbors even more secrets than scandals. The intrigue swirling around the Douglases includes fraud, forgery, blackmail, and soon, murder. And it will fall to Rosalind, aided by charming Bow Street officer Adam Harkness, to untangle the shocking truth and discover who is a thief—and who is a killer."

MY Thoughts:

I really like Rosalind ever since the first book and I love the developing relationship with Bow Street runner, Adam Harkness.  They have such a sweetness between them.   Alice Littlefield, Rosalind's best friend, is now her roommate and leaves clutter around, so they now need a bigger place to survive together. Things are changing for Rosalind and she is hesitant to embrace it all.

Rosalind is challenged with this case and feels out of her depth a time or two.  But she persists and still figures out the intricacies with her eagle eyes.  The plot is a winding road and not easy to pin down what is really going on behind the scenes as every member of the household seems to have secrets.  The pacing kept me reading as something was being revealed or another twist that kept it interesting.    

Although the killer reveal wasn't a gripping or harrowing scene, I enjoyed it as all the pieces were put into place.  The wrap up took care of the final hanging thread.

I love the writing style, the interesting characters, and the twisty plot.

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

Thank you for reading this blog and please recommend to friends and family who will enjoy it.

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Friday, March 29, 2024

Review - To Slip the Bonds of Earth

 Amanda Flower is the author of "An Amish Candy Shop" mysteries, "An Amish Matchmaker" mysteries, "Farm to Table" mysteries, "Emily Dickinson" mysteries, and "Magical Bookshop" plus "Magic Garden" mysteries which I've reviewed.  She is a USA Today bestselling and Agatha Award-winning author of over thirty-five mystery novels. She currently writes for Penguin-Random House (Berkley), Kensington, Hallmark Publishing, Crooked Lane Books, and Sourcebooks.  

Of course using an actual historical figure is a high wire act but practically nobody remembers the sister of the Wright Brothers and that is what appealed to me about this book.

Author: Amanda Flower

Copyright: Mar 2024 (Kensington Books) 282 pgs

Series: 1st in Katharine Wright Mysteries

Sensuality: mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy Mystery

Main Character: Katharine Wright, sister to the Wright brothers and school teacher 

Setting: 1903, Dayton Ohio

Obtained Through: Publisher via Netgalley for honest review

Book Blurb:  "December 1903: While Wilbur and Orville Wright’s flying machine is quite literally taking off in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina with its historic fifty-seven second flight, their sister Katharine is back home in Dayton, Ohio, running the bicycle shop, teaching Latin, and looking after the family. A Latin teacher and suffragette, Katharine is fiercely independent, intellectual, and the only Wright sibling to finish college. But at twenty-nine, she’s frustrated by the gender inequality in academia and is looking for a new challenge. She never suspects it will be sleuthing…

Returning home to Dayton, Orville accepts an invitation to accompany Katherine to a friend’s party. Nervous about leaving their as-yet-unpatented flyer plans unattended, Wilbur decides to bring them to the festivities . . . where they are stolen right out from under his nose. As always, it’s Katharine’s job to problem solve—and in this case, crime-solve.

As she sets out to uncover the thief among their circle of friends, Katharine soon gets more than she bargained for: She finds her number one suspect dead with a [screwdriver] lodged in his chest. It seems the patent is the least of her brothers’ worries. They have a far more earthbound concern—prison. Now Katharine will have to keep her feet on the ground and put all her skills to work to make sure Wilbur and Orville are free to fly another day."

MY Thoughts:

Katharine is a mixed bag for me: she is smart and determined, but she also tends to be bossy, impulsive, and managing everybody which rubbed me the wrong way a few times.  The historical Katharine was said to be very charming and the character could have used a dose of charm to help me warm up a bit to her.  This story was a slow burn and it wasn't until around half way that I felt the story actually took off. There were a few instances where Katharine would ignore what she just learned that was a motive for murder and focus on a completely different motive. 

The plot was initially about finding the missing airplane plans filled with notes, but somehow Katharine decides that the murder and the missing plans must be connected so if she solves the murder, she will then find the plans.  That was illogical to me since there was no evidence to suggest they were related. I would have been satisfied with her just investigating the murder to clear her student without the plans being thrown in the mix.  Perhaps that is just me, though.

The climax wasn't my favorite, but the culprit reveals themself.  The wrapup was satisfactory and unusual. The writing style served the story well. 

I did appreciate the confronting of a few social problems of the era found in the town.  I also appreciated shining a spotlight on the Katharine Wright who was a tremendous celebrity in her time alongside her brothers, and perhaps eclipsed them.  The story seemed to force its way in a few instances and it made those parts awkward.

Rating: Good - A fun read. It was good -- it wasn't great. It wasn't for me, but I would recommend based on certain tastes. Maybe read an excerpt before buying.

Here is a short video on Katharine Wright, it's fascinating.

Thank you for reading this blog and please recommend to friends and family who will enjoy it.

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Friday, March 22, 2024

Review - The Last Templar

  The Templar Knights are a fascinating rabbit hole and there exist a multitude of theories about what happened to all their wealth after they were sytematically hunted down and eliminated by the French king. There are as many theories about why this militant monastic order of the Catholic Church seemed to wield so much power/sway over the Vatican.  Most think they held something over the church as blackmail.  This book presents an idea I hadn't ever considered as to what the leverage they held could be.

  I read one prior book by Raymound Khoury featuring a character also in this book as well:

Rasputin's Shadow (click here)

  Find out what I thought of this book by bestselling author Raymound Khoury.

Author: Raymound Khoury

Copyright: Jan, 2006 (Berkley) 554 pgs

Series: 1st in Templar Thriller Series

Sensuality: Adult topics, some violence with slight detail, PG-13+

Mystery Sub-genre: Thriller

Main Character: Tess Chaykin, archaelogist 

Setting: Contemporary. New York and international

Obtained Through: Library

 Book Blurb:  "In 1291, a young Templar knight flees the fallen holy land in a hail of fire and flashing sword, setting out to sea with a mysterious chest entrusted to him by the Order's dying grand master. The ship vanishes without a trace.

In present day Manhattan, four masked horsemen dressed as Templar Knights stage a bloody raid on the Metropolitan Museum of Art during an exhibit of Vatican treasures. Emerging with a strange geared device, they disappear into the night.

The investigation that follows draws archaeologist Tess Chaykin and FBI agent Sean Reilly into the dark, hidden history of the crusading knights—and into a deadly game of cat and mouse with ruthless killers—as they race across three continents to recover the lost secret of the Templars."

MY Thoughts:  

This book has a unique idea as an answer to what the Templars had in their possession to use as leverage against the church and it's a creative idea I never would have considered, but is plausible.  Now this very premise will open the book up to criticism before it is even read because the concept that the christian church has had something to hide, and still does, for the sake of a "what if" story will enrage some.  I found it unusual and a great story idea.

The primary main character is archaeologist Tess Chaykin and she was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art when many jeweled and expensive artifacts were stolen and, although terrified, she is struck by one robber who was only there to steal one geared object: an ancient Templar decoder.  The secondary main character, FBI agent Sean Reilly, believes Tess maybe onto a key to the whole robbery.  A third character, the villain, is a Catholic Church agent and will stop at literally nothing to keep Tess and Agent Reilly from the truth.  Another key character is a mentor of Tess's who is obsessed with the Templars.   And thus begins this tale of secret codes and Templar vs Catholic Church intrigue brought into modern day.

Many chapters are from the point of view of "The Last Templar", a Knight held by the church for years, tortured and starved to find out where is the item held over the church's head. Those chapters are particularly gripping and bring the trajedy of the historic Templars vividly alive.

The climax occurs during a storm at sea of "biblical" proportions. Apparently the author is a screenwriter for Hollywood and it shows in this very scary and high stakes climax.  Excellent job-kudos.  My only complaint is I would have liked a little more resolution regarding Tess and Reilly, though.

This book is well written and the Templar plot just plausible enough to make a gripping tale.  Throw in a little attraction between Tess and Reilly for some added conflict.  It is fairly fast paced with some periods of less activity to build upon the story and characters.  I found it very entertaining and a thrill ride.

I'm contemplating reading the follow up book: The Templar Salvation

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

Thank you for reading this blog and please recommend to friends and family who will enjoy it.

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Thursday, March 14, 2024

Review - A Grave Robbery

 This is one of my favorite historical mystery series and even though I have missed two books out of the nine, I always come back to this series.

1. A Curious Beginning (click here

3. A Treacherous Curse (click here

4. A Dangerous Collaboration (click here

5. A Murderous Relation (click here

6. An Unexpected Peril (click here

7. An Impossible Imposter (click here

Author: Deanna Rayburn

Copyright: Mar 2024 (Berkley) 334 pgs

Series: 9th in Veronica Speedwell Mysteries

Sensuality: Adult topics, no gore

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Amateur Sleuth

Main Character: Veronica Speedwell, an amateur entomologist 

Setting: 1889, London England

Obtained Through: Publisher via Netgalley for honest review

 Book Blurb:  "Lord Rosemorran has purchased a wax figure of a beautiful reclining woman and asks Stoker to incorporate a clockwork mechanism to give the Rosemorran Collection its own Sleeping Beauty in the style of Madame Tussaud’s. But when Stoker goes to cut the mannequin open to insert the mechanism, he makes a gruesome discovery: this is no wax figure. The mannequin is the beautifully preserved body of a young woman who was once very much alive. But who would do such a dreadful thing, and why? 

Sleuthing out the answer to this question sets Veronica and Stoker on their wildest adventure yet. From the underground laboratories of scientists experimenting with electricity to resurrect the dead in the vein of Frankenstein to the traveling show where Stoker once toured as an attraction, the gaslit atmosphere of London in October is the perfect setting for this investigation into the unknown. Through it all, the intrepid pair is always one step behind the latest villain—a man who has killed once and will stop at nothing to recover the body of the woman he loved. Will they unmask him in time to save his next victim? Or will they become the latest figures to be immortalized in his collection of horrors?"

MY Thoughts:  

Veronica is irrepresible, determined/stubborn, whip-smart, sharp tongued, a huricane, and a hoot.  Stoker (Mr. Ravelstoke Templeton-Vane) is Veronica's reclusive and cranky love and sleuthing partner who looks like a pirate but has a vulnerable heart.  They have settled into their couple status and their feelings for each other which has some tender moments.  

Fearless journalist J.J. Butterworth, the British version of Nellie Bly, joins the team again.  Detective Mornaday, often complaining and put-upon, is the only policeman they trust and though he is having a personal rough time, he jumps into the investigation.  A new addition is a golden Marmoset monkey who adores Stoker-but Rose, daughter of their benefactor, likes to dress up the monkey and put bows in her hair, which provides comedic relief throughout.  And this book has laugh-out-loud moments.

The plot is to find out the identity of this poor girl, which becomes a hunt for justice for her.  Both quests take the team on a journey with several twists.  I'm not a fast reader, but I read this quickly (for me) since I was so captivated by the story.  

Ms Rayburn digs up some of the most interesting historical tidbits and in this outing she introduces us to a funeral train which carries the coffin and mourners to the gravesite for internment.  The London Necropolis Railway was the name of the system real life train.  In this book we have an underground version, which provides a great creepy setting for a few scenes.  Fantastic job for a really macabre and chilling backdrop.  Also the world of physically accurate wax models, Anatomical Venuses, for medical training adds to the disturbing and even surreal atmosphere of the investigation.

The climatic killer confrontation was wonderfully tense and hair-raising.  I have to give kudos for every climax in this series has been unique and exciting.  Besides the creativity of a murder victim embalmed as a wax figure!  The wrap up sees things resolved satisfactorily on most every thread.

Now for a note on the writing style. Not only does Ms. Rayburn write historical fiction with accuracy but she inflects the style of speaking without loosing the reader.  I'm not one to rapsidize on beautiful sentences or turns of phrase, but she adds to the time period and Veronica's character with her writing style.

I have read most of the books in this series and I felt this was one of the top three so far.

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

Thank you for reading this blog and please recommend to friends and family who will enjoy it.

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