Archive | November 2016

Review: Murder at Cleeve Abbey by Anita Davison. Aria.

cleeve-abbeyApparently this is the second book to feature the intrepid Flora Maguire.

After some earlier adventures, Flora’s world is now good. Married to Bunny Harrington, she is setting into married life. Her biggest challenge is dealing with her over-dramatic, demanding mother-in-law.


But Flora’s happy world is torn when she receives word of her father’s sudden death in an accident at Cleeve Abbey, where he has been butler for many years to Earl Trent.


Flora and Bunny receive an invitation to Cleeve Abbey to attend to her father’s funeral. But once there, Flora becomes uneasy about the circumstances of her father’s death. She senses that people are hiding things, and she come to suspect that her father’s death was no accident.


Flora goes forward step by step in her search for the truth, supported by her husband. The process involves careful investigation, and Flora moves toward the truth. But she does not realize until it’s almost too late that she has stumbled on some dark truths, and her own life is in danger.


This is a well-constructed, detailed story that puts setting and characters before us in intriguing fashion. Indeed, I find I liked this book so well I have already purchased the first book in this series, to get more of the back-story. I have a feeling we’re going to hear a lot more from Flora.


My thanks to author, publisher and NetGalley for providing this advance copy for me to read and review.

Review: Death Comes to the Fair by Catherine Lloyd. Kensington Books.

deat-fair-cropThis is the latest of the series set in the lovely village of Kurland St. Mary   Catherine Lloyd writes as Jane Austen might if she had decided to turn her hand to mysteries.


The story starts out with the annual village fair, while plans for Lucy Harrington’s forthcoming marriage to Sir Robert Kurland are underway. But first, Sir Robert gets his first taste at being a judge of the local produce for the year. He duly inspects the entries and picks the most attractive in each category. He doesn’t expect the flurry of dissent that meets his choices. It seems that he has picked the local verger, Mr. Ezekiel Thurrock, as first in many categories, thus making him getting more first prizes than any other contestant in the last twenty or so years.


While the village is stirred up about this latest happening, Ezekiel’s brother Nathaniel also arrives to visit. Before long, Sir Robert and Lucy discover that the Thurrocks are not well liked in the village. That is made very plain when Ezekiel is found dead, having been struck in the head by a stone gargoyle. At first considered an accident, as Lucy and Sir Robert get further into this it looks less and less like an accident.


Added to the drama is the presence of the Turner sisters, known as healers and wise women. Ezekiel is found to have an ill-wishing charm on him, and the Turners are under closer scrutiny. When Nathaniel Thurrock is found dead of an apparent heart attack not longer after is brother’s death, the plot thickens considerably.


This is a well-constructed story that takes us into the realm of past history, past wrongs never avenged, suggestions of witchcraft. While Lucy and Sir Robert get caught up in these events, Lucy also has to answer to her father’s displeasure for unseemly conduct of an unmarried woman.


Has some two-century-old curse come to pass? Or is there some more recent explanation for the deaths of the two Thurrocks? And are Lucy and Sir Robert going to be able to go forward with their wedding?   Answering these questions makes for an absorbing read that is most satisfying and clever in its plot and characterizations.


My thanks to author, publisher, and NetGalley for making an advance copy available for me to read and review.

Review: Miss Seeton Plants Suspicion by Hamilton Crane, Heron Carvic. Farrago.

seeton-suspicionIt’s a busy time in Plummergan, Miss Seeton’s little village. There is an upcoming annual pantomime to plan for; Miss Seeton is trying to figure out the correct way to plant her garden bulbs. Nigel Colveden and his friends have tickets to the Prom concert, and he asks his mother’s help in decorating a special umbrella (borrowed from Miss Seeton) for the occasion.


The pair known as The Nuts (Erica Nuttel and Norah “Bunny” Blaine, are busy planning their all-natural diet. They decide to go on a little picnic to gather beechmast. Now we are used to these ladies foreseeing all kinds of bad events, but this time they happen on the real deal. The police know that there was a grisly murder last year referred to as “The blonde in the bag” which is pretty self-explanatory. The police are also edgy that this killer might strike again. He does, and it’s Erica and Bunny who find the dreadful bag stuffed with parts of a second blonde.


The Nuts, while horrified and shocked, are also secretly anticipating the justifiable attention they will get from the press for this latest crime. But the police, and the press (Mel Forby in particular) decide to keep the lid on this latest crime in hopes of catching this person before another murder occurs.


Of course Miss Seeton’s trademark drawings show some bizarre images that puzzle her. But she goes forward with her life in the village, not realizing that the killer has decided that Miss Seeton is an obstacle and must go. Miss Seeton goes missing, and the police fear the worst. But it all works out, thanks to Miss Seeton’s unique style.


One thing I especially liked about this book was the extended scene at the Prom concert. Music was an important element in some of the earliest Miss Seeton books, and it’s quite nice to see Miss Seeton exploring her musical side again. I don’t know of anyone else who could reduce Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” to dah-diddle-dah-diddle-dah-dah-dah pom.

My thanks to author, publisher, and NetGalley for providing an advance copy for me to read and review.

Review: Dancers in Mourning (A Campion Mystery) by Margery Allingham. Ipso books.

dancers-in-mourningAlbert Campion is no stranger to odd situations and settings. But he thinks he may have met his match in this one. Invited backstage to meet musical star Jimmy Sutane, he is told by the harried Sutane of a series of pranks that are getting on his nerves. He asks Campion to take a look and give some advice.


Invited to the Sutane home, Campion finds it, as one character says, “a rum ménage for a decent house.” The characters are theatrical and unsettling; the atmosphere is strangely charged. When a surprised Campion finds himself romantically drawn to Sutane’s lovely wife, Linda, he quietly decides it’s time to make a quick and graceful exit. But before he can do that, one of the characters dies suddenly, and Campion now feels he must remain.


We are so accustomed to Campion meeting bizarre circumstances with aplomb; it’s a bit unnerving for us (and him) to view his loss of sang-froid. Also, he realizes that the central characters simply do not realize the seriousness of the situation they find themselves in–until it escalates in unmistakably sinister ways.


Allingham weaves a baroque spell in this story, and the unsettling atmosphere is encapsulated in the words she has left us. Even I, as the reader of a story written many years ago, found myself feeling ill at ease as I continued to read in a state of edgy fascination. Campion continues his reluctant way through a tightly choreographed pavane for dead dancers, dreading what he sees as the ultimate result. Any chance he could be mistaken?


My thanks to Camilla of the Allingham Estate for making a copy of this fine book available for me to read and review.

Review: Victoria: A Novel of a Young Queen, by Daisy Goodwin. St. Martin’s Press

victoriaApparently this is a companion piece to the upcoming PBS/Masterpiece presentation.


When I think of Queen Victoria, my mind’s images are those of a small, chubby woman, in early pictures appearing with her consort, Prince Albert, later with cozy family views with her many children. Still later, visions arise of the widowed Queen draped in mourning for all the years after the passing of her beloved husband. I remember the Shirley Temple movie, The Little Princess, which gave us Hollywood’s take on the Queen in her latter years.


But this book gives a different view: the eighteen-year-old girl who never knew her father and led a sheltered life under the watchful eyes of her mother and Sir John Conroy, her mother’s companion. This was a lively, talented girl who was an adept pianist, still cherished her childhood dolls, was devoted to her little dog, Dash, and enjoyed wearing the latest fashion and hairdos. I always was under the impression that Victoria’s Queenship came on her suddenly–but it appears that it was evident for some years that she was the only legitimate heir to the throne. Given that, she was given scant preparation for such a task. It seemed, at least in this story, that Victoria’s mother and Sir John thought they would have an easily led girl who would bend to their will. Thankfully, young Victoria was made of sterner stuff. Perhaps their first important clue was the young queen’s decision to adopt the name “Victoria” rather than her first name Alexandrina (hence the childish nickname “Drina” which Victoria also soon put a stop to).


Imagine what it must have been like to suddenly be the Queen of Great Britain! That is exactly what Daisy Goodwin has done here. Her enthralling vision of the life of the young Victoria held my attention from the start. Indeed, I found it hard to put the book down. I felt the determination of this teenager as she struggled to be her own person and to be a queen in very public circumstances. I had not known of the importance of her first prime minister, Lord Melbourne, to the early portion of her reign. I also did not know of Victoria’s admiration for Elizabeth I, but it makes sense that she would be drawn to her only real Royal example of a young Queen on her own in a troubled and highly political world.


I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is vividly imagined and believable, and left me with a great appreciation for the qualities of this woman who held the British throne for so many years.  My thanks to Daisy Goodwin, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley for making an advance copy of this book available for me to read and review.

Review: Maya, written by Mahak Jain, illustrated by Elly MacKay. Owlkids Books.

maya-iiMaya is a beautiful book, lyrical and poetic. Maya is an anxious little girl who has lost her father and lives with her understanding mother.  It is nighttime in the city, and the lights have gone out for the third time in a week.

In the dark, Maya’s heart is filled with fear. But her understanding mother tells her a wonderful story about a monsoon and a banyan tree. The tree, growing from the waters, housed many creatures in its branches: a peacock, a tiger, a monkey, a snake, even an elephant. The banyan tree, by draining the waters of the flood, saved the people and the creatures from the monsoon, gave shelter, and banished fear.


After hearing the story, it was time for sleep. But while her mother slept, Maya could not. Her heart was filled with fear, trembling at the sounds she heard–until she remembered her mother’s story. Encouraged by her mother’s thoughtful caring, and remembering also how her father told stories that she loved, Maya looked with fresh eyes on the creatures of the night. The story helped Maya to see that what she had feared was actually benign and reassuring. In the warmth of her mother’s story, and her father’s memory, Maya felt her fear float away.


As a psychotherapist working with children and their families for almost thirty years, I found much to treasure in this book. Parents need to remember always how important they are to their children. Storytelling is still a time-honored and welcome way for parents to impart knowledge and understanding to their children, and to strengthen their family connections.


My thanks to Allison MacLachlan of Owlkids Books for making a copy of Maya available for me to read and review.

Review: Miss Seeton Goes To Bat, by Hamilton Crane, Heron Carvic. Farrago

miss-seeton-batWhen I first saw the title, for one silly moment I envisioned Miss Seeton in the world of baseball. But then I remembered, this is England, and the national pastime is not baseball, but cricket!


Miss Seeton, fresh from her adventures in Scotland (see Miss Seeton Rocks the Cradle) could use a little time to catch up with herself. However, duty calls: the Plummergen cricket pavilion is in urgent need of refurbishing, and Miss Seeton is called upon to help. For a few awkward moments the dear lady is thinking she may be called upon to join the local cricket team. But no–of course not! But Lady Colvedon thinks it would be splendid if Miss Ess could come up with a nice art piece depicting the local cricket activity, which could then be used as the central item in a fundraising raffle for the Plummergen cricket pavilion.


Miss Seeton’s sigh of relief is almost audible. Thankfully, the art project sounds doable, and Miss Seeton obligingly girds herself for her part in the community effort.

But being Miss Seeton, it’s not quite so simple. For one thing, there are some new players in this story. Young Nigel Colvedon’s affections are captured by the lovely Miss Annabelle Leigh. Those of us who know Poe are put on alert by this name, without quite knowing why. It also happens that Miss Leigh is quite a talented artist. The other new character is Admiral Leighton, a retired Royal Navy man who soon becomes Sir George Colvedon’s friend.


It helps, in reading this story, if you know something about cricket–which I don’t. The author puts best effort into making the cricket activities understandable for the layman. Suffice to say, the match between the teams of Plummergen and Murreystone (arch rivals for at least three centuries) forms an absorbing grand finale of the book. The cricket match itself is richly described and well attended by all, including most residents of both villages and a lot of Miss Seeton’s Scotland Yard colleagues. As it turns out, they are all needed. Once again, Miss Seeton’s restless hands produce drawings that are key to the solution.

As always, my thanks to author, publisher, and NetGalley for making an advance copy of this book available to read and review.