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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Review - Murder at a Scottish Castle

Traci Hall is the USA Today bestselling author of over fifty books across an array of genres, from cozy mysteries to contemporary seaside romances, YA, and nonfiction. She is also the co-author of the Salem B&B Mystery series as Traci Wilton which I have reviewed a few of those.  

This is my first Scottish Shire of hers and I will have to go back to the beginning of this series because I love books based in the UK. Although this isn't the first book in the series, I had no problem jumping in and feeling at home with the story, characters, and setting. 

Author: Traci Hall

Copyright: Jan 2024 (Kensington Cozies) 305 pgs

Series: 5th in A Scottish Shire mystery series

Sensuality: mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy, Amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Paislee Shaw, owner/operator of Cashmere Crush Sweater & Yarn Shop

Setting: Modern day, Nairn, Scotland

Obtained Through: Publisher for an honest review, Netgalley

Book Blurb:  "With the summer days getting shorter in the seaside village of Nairn, the annual bagpiping competition at Ramsey Castle promises to be quite the end-of-season blowout. Paisley has snagged a special invitation from the dowager countess, who wants to showcase her cashmere goods in the castle gift shop, and she’s brought her son Brody, Grandpa, and their black Scottish terrier Wallace.

There’s a fierce rivalry between Robert Grant, the Earl of Lyon, and last year’s winner Jory Baxter, with Grant loudly vowing to show up the blowhard Baxter and claim clan bragging rights. But the reigning champion has barely put the reed to his lips when he turns red and collapses, soon to take his dying breath. DI Zeffer suspects foul play."

MY Thoughts:

  Paislee Shaw is a single mother also caring for her grandfather while running her own small business.  She is resilient and has little time nor extra money which is why getting to sell her hand knit sweaters at the castle is a big opportunity.

Her best friend, Lydia, is married and trying to help Paislee date more.  Hamish McCall, Fordythe High Primary's headmaster has gone on two dates with Paisley and is a good guy, steady and dependable.  Detective Inspector Mack Zeffer seems to like Paislee but it is a really slow burn there.  Her son Grady is a good kid and Grandfather is a little eccentric but loves her dearly.  I was afraid Robert Grant, the Earl of Lyon, and head of the Castle would be offered up as a romantic interest, but thankfully that wasn't the direction since he is a suspect.  Sorcha, the dowager countess and Robert's mother, is working hard to bring extra income into the castles accounts since it is expensive to keep and she seems genuine.

The castle and the town of Nairn are charming and you get a bit of insight into the Great Highland Bagpipe (GHB) and other styles of bagpipes.  I thought it was interesting.  This comes in with rumors that the murdered man had cheated at the prior year's competition to win--only how do you cheat at bagpipes?  Plus how do you kill a person in front of everyone during a competition?

The pacing was full with Paislee trying to investigate per Sorcha's request, run her shop, knit special orders, deal with a sudden major home repair, go on a date with Hamish, and deal with a car failing her. 

The killer reveal was a bit scary and unexpected, well done there.  All in all this was full of interesting characters and a good mystery.  A good escape in this story and immersive setting.

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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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Review - Death at a Scottish Wedding

I started with the first book in this new series:

1) An American in Scotland (click here)

The second book is released featuring a deadly wedding held in a Scottish castle.  Talk about a great setup for murder!

Author: Lucy Connelly

Copyright: January 2024 (Crooked Lane Books) 265 pgs

Series: 2nd in A Scottish Isle mystery series

Sensuality: mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy, Amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Emilia McRoy, American ER Doctor, now all purpose country physician and coroner

Setting: Modern day-- Sea Isle, Scotland

Obtained Through: Publisher for an honest review, Netgalley

 Book Blurb:  "Finally feeling like Sea Isle, Scotland is becoming her new home, American doctor Emilia McRoy is delighted when she is invited to a wedding at Morrigan's Castle. Her friends have warned her that it's a three-day party and it's bound to get wild, not to mention the impending snowstorm. Constable Ewan Campbell, owner of the castle, ensures their safety with the blizzard. What he didn’t ensure, is that all of his guests would survive the night alive. When Emilia explores the impressive castle, she finds a dead man [ex-boyfriend of the bride who wasn't invited] in one of the turrets.

 The snowstorm hits and the local police can’t reach the castle until it lets up. With no one able to leave, the family insists they carry on with the wedding, which makes Emilia's job as the coroner a bit easier—the suspects are in one place­––and complicated because the killer has Emilia in his sights. The fact no one claims to know the victim isn't helping. Why would someone no one knows be murdered at a castle in the middle of nowhere?

It’s up to Emilia to uncover the mystery who the victim is, so the killer doesn’t get away Scot free."

MY Thoughts:  Emelia is still recovering from the death of her husband and is finding Scotland healing her grief.  Best friends Mara, Angie, and Abigail are the besties we all wish we had.  Constable Ewan, the wealthy laird and constable is the potential romantic interest.  This is an extreme slow burn of a romance with some head-butting between them with obvious chemistry, I hope the author will give us a bit more in the next installment because the few hints that Ewan may like her are few and stiff.  I can see Ewan waiting to see if she is going to stick around before becoming invested in her, but throw us readers something to hang onto.

The castle is a great setting, but I wish it's atmosphere had been punched up a wee bit because I love a creepy gothic atmosphere.  All the Scottish wedding traditions are a great touch and added so much to the sense of place.  

The plot is a classic stranded with a murderer premise with the investigation trying to answer why the victim snuck into the wedding, who helped him to get into the castle, and who killed him... and is attempting to kill the bride and stop Emelia in her gathering of evidence.  All these questions have many possible answers that seem all over the place and thus confusing the investigation.

The pacing did seem a little off at times. The second in a series is always tough and the stranded setting is challenging to keep enough movement and sense of urgency.  I was still interested and kept turning the pages, though.  For me some of the wedding guests' personalities started to grate on me--as if I were stuck there with them!

Rating:  Excellent - A fun read! 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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Sunday, February 18, 2024

Review - The Mayfair Dagger

 The tagline for the book is: "A witty, feminist mystery set in the heart of nineteenth-century London, this daring adventure featuring an intrepid woman detective will thrill fans of Deanna Raybourn and Katharine Schellman."  Since I love both those authors, I couldn't wait to read this book.  It is available for preorder now with a release date of April 2024.

Author: Ava January

Copyright: April 2024 (Crooked Lane Books) 304 pgs

Series: Mayfair Dagger Standalone? Series?

Sensuality: mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy, Amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Albertine Honeycombe passing as a Countess

Setting: 1894, London England

Obtained Through: Publisher for an honest review, Netgalley

 Book Blurb:  "Albertine Honeycombe never wanted a husband and certainly not the one with fifteen children that her cousin, Aubrey, is trying to marry her off to. She reinvents herself as Countess Von Dagga, a private detective aiding the upper echelons of women in society. As the Countess, she is a married woman, with a conveniently absent husband who doesn’t exist, which allows her far more freedom than being single.

When Lord Grendel, from whom she has recovered blackmail letters, is murdered, Albertine is suspect number one—having been the last person to see him. And when the Duke of Erleigh comes looking for her utterly fictitious husband, she realizes she has landed herself in hot water, without a tea bag. When Albertine also becomes the prime suspect in her fictional husband’s death, things are looking grim.

Unless Albertine can prove who murdered Lord Grendel and clear her name, her choices are stepmothering enough small children to start a school or hanging from the end of Her Majesty's rope."

MY Thoughts:  Albertine Honeycombe, aka Countess Von Dagga, is determined, smart, a bit naive, and kind hearted.  She is still grieving the death of her beloved brother while trying to make her own way as a detective.  Her best friend and maid, Joan, is a hilarious flirt.  Spencer Sweetman, Duke of Erleigh, is a Scotland Yard Detective who investigates her.

The mystery wasn't that complicated but provided the background for laugh-out-loud situations, romance, and a young lady with good intentions learning some hard lessons about navigating the world she was unprepared for. I know there are those out there that don't like much emphasis on the romance part of mysteries, so take note that this has a stronger romance element than most.  It is still a mystery, but it has a strong romantic element.  

The killer seemed pretty obvious even with a few red herrings, but the journey was worth it since I became vested in Albertine. I was hooked early and read this pretty fast for me.  It kept my interest through the entire book.  The climatic reveal was tense and different from any other reveal I've read. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and hope this will be a series.

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

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

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Saturday, February 10, 2024

Review - Death in D Minor

     Hallmark has filmed Gethsemane Brown in the new Haunted Harmony Mysteries staring Tamera Mowry-Housley.  So far there is just one movie, but I'm hoping for more as Ms Mowry-Housley brings a bubbly aspect to heroine Gethsemane.

I reviewed the first book in the series Murder in G Major (click here).

Author: Alexia Gordon

Copyright: July 2017 (Henery Press) 238 pgs

Series: 2nd in Gethsemane Brown Mystery series

Sensuality: mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Paranormal Cozy, Amateur Sleuth

Main Character: Gethsemane Brown, African-American famed classical musician and conductor now teaching classical music and orchestra at boy’s school

Setting: Modern, town of Dunmullach on Southwest Ireland Coast

Obtained Through: Library

Book Blurb:  "Gethsemane Brown, African-American classical musician and expatriate to an Irish village, solved a string of murders, led a school orchestra to victory in a major competition, and got used to living with a snarky ghost. She can rest easy over the Christmas holiday. Right? Wrong. 

The ghost has disappeared, her landlord's about to sell her cottage to a hotel developer, and her brother-in-law is coming for a visit—with one day’s notice. She scrambles to call her spectral roomie back from beyond and find a way to save the cottage from certain destruction. But real estate takes a backseat when her brother-in-law is accused of stealing a valuable antique. 

Gethsemane strikes a deal with a garda investigator to go undercover as a musician at a charity ball and snoop for evidence linking antiques to a forgery/theft ring in exchange for the investigator’s help clearing her brother-in-law. At the party, she accidentally conjures the ghost of an eighteenth-century sea captain, then ends up the prime suspect in the party host’s murder. With the captain’s help, she races to untangle a web of phony art and stolen antiques to exonerate herself and her brother-in-law. Then the killer targets her. Will she save herself and bring a thief and murderer to justice, or will her encore investigation become her swan song?"

My Thoughts:

    Gethsemane never gives up, as she has to deal with complications from all parts of her life in this outing. She shows her metal and her emotional stamina throughout everything.

    Gethsemane is joined by her brother in law, Jackson Applethwaite.  But many of the familiar villagers from book one aren't revisited and the potential romantic interests aren't advanced any with this addition.  If you don't care much for the romance aspects of cozy mysteries then this will likely suit you.  I will be moving on to the third book in the series in short order to see if any likely suitors make any headway.

     This outing has music, murder, art of various kinds, and a new ghost-Captain Lochlan, Captain of The Hesperus, all interwoven with charm and humor throughout.

     The dramatic climax on board a train is harrowing and shocking (a quick death is a bit horrible, but not dwelled on).  It was a great tense climax as I like them, so kudos.  

Overall an easy and entertaining read with a solid mystery and suspenseful moments highlighting the capable heroine.

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.

     Here is the trailer for the Hallmark Movie adaptation of the first book in the series.

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Monday, February 5, 2024

Musings - How do Bestseller Lists Work?

You see the stickers claiming "bestseller" on books all the time, yet often that hasn't been an indication of a book I found enjoyable at all.  I thought this might be interesting to delve into, but from my research I came across some surpising information.  

I didn't do an exhaustive study, so if you have additional information, please leave a comment.  The name "bestsellers list" can be a bit deceptive depending upon the list.  So what exactly do best seller lists measure?  It depends on the list.

New York Times Bestseller
Although this one may have the most name recognition, it isn't really a measure of what is a national bestseller.  It can create a bestseller because appearing on the list can increase book sales by 57% for a debut author and 13%-14% average for established authors, but it isn't a list of what book is selling best across the nation. Why, you ask?  Because they only gather data from a select few bookstores and online retailers (ones they consider important-and not Amazon, Target, or Walmart that's for sure).  The brick-and-mortar independant bookstores are given more weight in their sales and not many if any discount stores.

William Blatty, the noted author of the wildly popular book, The Exorcist--you might have heard of it, sued the NY Times because no matter how many copies of The Exorcist sold they weren't showing it on their list.  Now he had sold far and away enough to have appeared on the list, but nope.  He stated that their decision cost him exposure which equals sales and therefore money.

In the trial the NY Times countered with saying their list was an "editorial product".  In other words its up to their opinion, or judgement, of what's worthy to be on their list.  It was more along the lines of a popularity contest than actually based on sales numbers. Rather surprising, huh?

The NY Times administration has even stated that those independant bookstores they do get data from somehow have more discerning readers and that's why they are so restrictive in who they poll.  It sounds to me it is rather elitist.  If you can't afford hardback or such and get ebooks, depending upon where you purchase it, it may not get counted at all in their listing, or will be weighted as not as important of data if they even like that book at all.  Also, purchases made by libraries don't count, either.

Why, oh why is this such a prestigious "bestseller" list when it is all their opinion??

USA Today Bestseller 
Gets their data from Nielsen BookScan and covers print and ebook sales, but not audio.  At one point they just reported whatever was selling, whether that was a soduku book or maps (remember those), but now they "curate" the listing and remove extraneous things.   

So in many ways this list is more indicative of what we expect in a bestseller list.  But it doesn't provide the full picture, only 75% to 85% of book sales are covered and only counts certain retail sales.  It doesn't count sales to libraries which have their fingers on the pulse of what's popular in books for their communities, plus this doesn't necesarily count non-bookstore sales like gift shops and specialty shops, and doesn't include independant books stores that have older sales software that doesn't report to Nielsen automatically.  Still, compared to the other lists, this is the closest we are likely to get a list of the actual top selling print and ebooks.

Publisher's Weekly Bestseller
This is the publishing industry's standard to track even competitor publishing company's sales, so you would expect it to be very accurate.  You would be wrong.  They use Neilson BookScan as well so it is very similar to the USA Today list except it doesn't include ebooks (say what!).  That's correct.  But ebooks account for roughly 18% of all books sales so that is a significant ding and makes this list considerably less an indication of a bestseller. 

IndieBound Bestseller List
The IndieBound list is compiled by the American Booksellers Association (ABA) which is data from only 550 independent bookstores.  It isn't from book sales.  It looks at what the number one selling books are from each bookstore, no matter the store's size or if it was one hundred sales or only ten sold.  It would look like: 100 stores had ABC as top seller, 125 stores had XYZ so they extrapolate MNOP is the best seller and so on. 

What this can easily reflect is what those sales people are recommending to their customers rather than a true reflection of a book's actual appeal or buzz, particularly with the small amount of bookstores providing the data and not based on the number of books by title sold.  This easily misrepresents because the book they don't think is a bestseller so they don't even list it could be a solid and consistent seller across all the stores and be #1 by number of books sold.  But they don't do their list that way.

Wallstreet Journal Bestseller 
This is prestigious for business books, not as recognized for all other categories such as adult and juvenile titles.  But their bestseller list is what we expect--based on book sales.  

WSJ gets data from Nielsen BookScan who gathers point-of-sale book data from more than 16,000 locations across the U.S.

Print-book data providers include all major booksellers, web retailers, Walmart, and food stores. E-book data providers include all major e-book retailers (except Apple). Free e-books and those sold for less than 99 cents are not included.  The combined lists track sales by title across all print and e-book formats; except audiobooks.  This along with USA Today list are closer to a realistic list of the bestselling books understanding it isn't exhaustive in the data gathered.

There you have it, some lists are more what you expect and others fall significant short.  Was any of this surprising to you like it was to me?  Any thoughts, let me know in the comments.

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Friday, February 2, 2024

Review - The Wharton Plot

Ms. Fredericks is the author of the popular Jane Prescott Mystery series.  I have only read one of the series so far.  

2nd in Jane Prescott Mysteries: Death of a New American (click here

Guest Post:  (click here)

Inspired by a true story, The Wharton Plot follows Edith Wharton (real life author who was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in fiction) as she looks into the murder of a fellow author.

I really enjoyed the Jane Prescott Mysteries by Ms. Fredericks (I should go back and read more of them now that I'm thinking of it). When I saw she had written this book incorporating a well known real life author I was intrigued.  Read on to find out what I thought.

Mariah Fredericks

Copyright: Jan 2024 (Minotaur) 285 pgs

Series:  Edith Wharton Mystery (standalone)

Sensuality: mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical mystery, Historical amateur sleuth

Main Characters: Author Edith Wharton

Setting: Gilded Age, New York City

Obtained Through: Publisher for an honest review, Netgalley
Book Blurb:  "New York City, 1911. Edith Wharton, almost equally famed for her novels and her sharp tongue, is bone-tired of Manhattan. Finding herself at a crossroads with both her marriage and her writing, she makes the decision to leave America, her publisher, and her loveless marriage.

And then, dashing novelist David Graham Phillips—a writer with often notorious ideas about society and women’s place in it—is shot to death outside the Princeton Club. Edith herself met the man only once, when the two formed a mutual distaste over tea in the Palm Court of the Belmont hotel. When Phillips is killed, Edith's life takes another turn. His sister is convinced Graham was killed by someone determined to stop the publication of his next book, which promised to uncover secrets that powerful people would rather stayed hidden. Though unconvinced, Edith is curious. What kind of book could push someone to kill?"

MY Thoughts:
Edith Wharton was a real gilded age author. She is trying to write her next book – which is over due – deciding whether to divorce her husband, and is disenchanted with New York. She decides to immerse herself in investigating the arrogant author's murder either as a diversion from her needy and troubled husband or to liven up her predictable rut.  I have to say I didn't particularly like her but neither did I dislike her.

Husband Freddy is going through some mental health issues, depression and some mania and is more like dealing with an adult child.  Edith is emotionally drained from the relationship and grabs at the excuse to investigate.  Good friends Walter Berry and fellow author Henry James and her old flame Morton Fullerton all play sidekick at different times. 

The premise is that she looks into the murder of an author because the deceased man's sister fears his about-to-be-published book will be blocked or worse changed and that he was murdered to prevent the "explosive" book from being published.  Anonymous warning notes had been sent for a few weeks before he is shot.  

I suspect the writing style was intended to be either like the time period or mimic the real Wharton's own style. Unfortunately I didn't care for the style myself with a lot of extraneous inner chatter by Ms. Wharton that some might find more literary. This also slowed down the pacing too much for me until about the last fourth of the book.  I believe Ms Fredericks is a talented author and this book will definitely be superlative to many, but it just wasn't my cup of tea with the writing style and slower pace.

It did have a tense killer reveal which I appreciated. I hadn't considered that person for the killer, so that was well done.  

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

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

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