Archive | April 2017

Review: The Spring Cleaning Murders: An Ellie Haskell Mystery, by Dorothy Cannell , Random House Publishing Group – Alibi

This is vintage Cannell, apparently first published in the 1990s. It’s Spring Cleaning time, and Ellie is motivated to do her seasonal duty. The book is sprinkled with what appear to be Helpful Hints from an earlier book on household management. It hearkens back to the days when all good housewives did do a thorough spring cleaning. Reading the chapter heading hints, I don’t know how people did these things back in the day. Our foremothers were certainly a hardy lot.

Anyway, Ellie runs into problems fairly early on in her project. For one thing her faithful Mrs. Roxie Malloy gives notice, apparently so she can go be live-in help for her son and his wife, supermodel Vanessa, and their new baby. Rose. Before she goes, Mrs. Malloy tells Ellie about the Chitterton Falls Charwoman’s Association (CFCWA) and Ellie soon encounters ladies of this organization willing to take up where Mrs. Malloy left off. But it’s not a good season for charwomen; before too long, three of them are dead under suspicious circumstances.

It remains for Ellie to solve the mysterious deaths as well as the unsettling absence of Mrs. Malloy. Along the way, she is helped by her husband Ben, cousin Freddy, and her 3-year-old twins, as well as their aged gardener. Dorothy Cannell tells this story with her trademark mixture of wry humor and touching humanity

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

Review: Murder Between the Lines by Radha Vatsal. Sourcebooks Landmark

This book takes us to New York /City in 1916, where there were a great many historical threads at work. The heroine of the story is pretty, dark-haired Capability “Kitty” Weeks, age 19 (20 in May), who is pursuing a daring (for the time) position as a journalist for the New York City Sentinel (writing for the Women’s Page, of course). Kitty is a gently-raised young lady living with her affluent and prominent father. She walks a fine line between maintaining her place as a young lady while her enquiring mind and courageous spirit urges her toward learning more about her world. She lives with her father, Julian Weeks; her mother had died when Kitty was just an infant and her father had placed her in the care of excellent boarding schools in Switzerland. Now out of school, she still lives with her father and tries her best to be a dutiful daughter while pursuing her lively interests.

Kitty’s current assignment from her editor, Helena Busby, is to write a feature article on the prestigious Westfield Hall, reputed to be one of the finest girls’ academies in the country.

Kitty herself had ten years’ experience in boarding school in Switzerland, and is attentive and receptive to Miss Howe-Jones, headmistress of Westfield. She is pleased to meet Georgina, the head girl, and also has an encounter with Elspeth Bright, aptly named student deep into scientific studies. But this visit is soon followed by tragedy when the brilliant Elspeth is found dead, apparently having frozen while sleepwalking. This unnerving turn of events gets Kitty’s attention, and she soon finds herself drawn into several threads of inquiry.

In the course of this story, we learn a great deal about New York, and indeed the United States, in 1916–and the notable ways our worldview has changed over the past century. We are reminded of important topics and how time has changed our society in ways we have forgotten. Women suffrage we now take for granted and fail to recall the valiant efforts of many courageous women who fought the good fight to secure this for all of us. The pioneering efforts of Margaret Sanger are addressed. We learn that past president Theodore Roosevelt noted that in 1916 the U.S. Navy was ranked 17th in the world; Teddy thought it would be well for our Navy to be second only to that of Great Britain (!).   We also discover the critical importance of batteries in submarines. This is quite obviously a meticulously researched and informative book that also manages to draw us into the world of young Kitty Weeks. There is much food for thought here, clothed in an engrossing and appealing story.

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

Coming May 5: Special BLOG TOUR with more about this book and a solve-the-mystery puzzle.

Review: A Perfect Manhattan Murder: A Nic & Nigel Mystery #3, by Tracy Kelly. Midnight Ink.

Oh well, this book is just a lot of fun. It calls up remembrances of the Nick and Nora Charles and the Thin Man movies with William Powell and Myrna Loy. Things have changed a bit, of course. The leading couple are named Nicole (“Nic”) and Nigel Martini; we aren’t in the1930’s any more, and that trim little terrier Asta has morphed into Skippy, a bullmastiff sometimes mistaken for a small pony. But the setting is still Manhattan, and the insouciant repartee of the characters is as witty as ever.

 

The play’s the thing, it’s been said and that is true of this story in more ways than one. Nic and Nigel’s friend Harper’s new play has just debuted on Broaway, and a festive celebration is underway. The mood is somewhat soured by the Harper’s obnoxious husband Dan, a prominent critic. Nic does find three positive qualities to Dan: he was intelligent, could be charming when he wanted , and had excellent taste in scotch. This last point may be the most important.

 

Dan’s lukewarm review puts a damper on things. But that point is eclipsed when Dan turns up dead, leaving Harper a widow with an infant daughter and a possible suspect in Dan’s demise.

 

It’s up to Nic and Nigel to put things right, and as it turns out the play is the key to the whole thing. This book is thoroughly entertaining and delightful to read. For those who are interested, there are some excellent cocktail recipes at the end.

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

Review: Murderous Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall: A Honeychurch Mystery, by Hannah Dennison. St. Martin’s Press Minotaur Books

This is a riveting story with roots several centuries back, in the English Civil War.   It starts with Kat Stevens trying to set up her new antiques business in the twin carriage houses of Honeychurch Hall. She and her mother Iris are also involved in preparations for an upcoming historical recreation event. But there is a serious glitch in the process when a skeleton is unearthed near the recreation site. From this discovery, a tale unfolds of treachery and star-crossed lovers of two rival families.

 

At the same time Iris, who guards her identity as best-selling author Krystalle Storm, is distressed when the only copy of her latest manuscript goes missing. This could ruin Iris’ reputation with her publisher, and also might expose her secret. Intrigue grows in the village with sudden deaths, unexplained thefts, eerie happenings, and a number of romantic entanglements, historic and current. It all makes for a lively and entertaining story with ghostly undercurrents.

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

BLOG TOUR: The Summer House Party, by Caro Fraser

 

 

Review: The Summer House Party by Caro Fraser. Head of Zeus. Ltd.

 

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy, Mr. Gershwin’s song informs us. This story begins in summer of 1936 when the days are gloriously hot, clothes are loose and light, and life becomes a little simpler. The seeds of this epic five-part story are sown in the elegant country house party in England between the two world wars,

Part One of the book concerns the 1936 house party and its immediate aftermath. Sonia, wife of famed artist Henry Haddon, is hosting a house party for a varied group of individuals. We first meet handsome young Dan Ranscombe, godson of Sonia and Henry, who accepts the invitation to stay at their spacious country home and meet a number of agreeable people. Dan was especially keen to enlarge on his acquaintance with Meg, Sonia’s niece. There were also Paul and Diana Latimer, brother and sister, quite wealthy and eminently social. Dan himself is Cambridge-educated and working as a local journal’s art correspondent, a job he finds marginally interesting and low paying. There is an older couple, poet Gerald Cunliffe and his fussy wife. Two other younger guests are Eve Meyerson, whom Dan knows as a fellow journalist, and a protégé of Sonia’s, Charles Asher. Once at the Haddon home, Dan meets Avril, Sonia and Henry’s 6-year-old daughter, and the lovely sixteen-year-old Madeleine, daughter of an old friend of Sonia’s, who serves as a general caretaker and nanny for Avril.

The interplay of characters evolves into an array of dramas that no one had envisioned at the start. Notably, the party ends abruptly with the sudden heart attack and death of Henry Haddon. That certainly puts an end to the party, but it is just the start of events kindled during the hot days of August.

The remaining four parts recount events of a ten-year period from 1936 to 1945. The characters of the house party are transformed by their experiences, but parallel to the individual stories is World War II with all its drama and tragedy, changing individual lives as it changes the society surrounding them as the years go by.

To go too far with description starts to become a spoiler. Suffice to say the story is intriguing and multifaceted, as we view these characters playing out the drama with its lifelike mixture of romance, heartache, tragedy, heroism, accomplishment and growth. The recounting is rich in atmosphere and detail, making for an absorbing reading experience.

Review: Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs, written by Susan Schaefer Bernardo, illustrated by Courteney Fletcher Independent Book Publishers Association IBPA) Members

As a licensed psychotherapist who has worked with children for many years, I know how utterly essential it is for children to feel loved. This book conveys the concept of love with a lyric beauty that is difficult to describe. It uses the child’s innate capacity for seeking knowledge by asking questions, and those questions are answered in ways that are concrete and symbolic, multifaceted and specific.

The pictures are charming full of color and movement. I would highly recommend this book for any child, particularly those who are feeling in need of comfort, security, warmth and safety.

I read this on a Kindle format, but this is one book I would recommend best used in hardcover form, to fully appreciate the visual delights it has to offer and to feel the substantive presence of a “real” book.

My thanks to authors, publisher, and NetGalley for making this copy available to read and review.

Two Allingham reviews: The Fashion in Shrouds, and The Tiger in the Smoke Both by Margery Allingham. Ipso Books.

The Fashion in Shrouds, by Margery Allingham.  Kindle Edition

 

I am such a fan of Allingham’s books, and it is always a pleasure to read one. But it

is not so easy to write a review, as I find myself feeling inadequate to do her writing the justice it deserves. Once I’ve said her writing is masterful, what can I add?

 

This book is notable for the return of Amanda Fitton, previously met as a flame-haired teenager in Sweet Danger. It is six years later; she is now Lady Amanda, she has completed her education and she is an engineer at Alandel aeroplane company. Quite a strong identity for a young woman at the time this book was written.

 

Besides Amanda and Albert Campion, there is a host of memorable characters in this story. Albert’s sister Valentine is a prominent fashion designer with the very successful firm of Papendeik. There is the beautiful Georgia Wells, a gifted actress who is very self-absorbed and has some difficulty distinguishing her stage world from real life.

 

We enter the world of fashion with a luncheon at the Papendeik establishment, with Albert, Val, and Georgia Wells in attendance, along with Georgia’s larger-than-life husband Sir Raymond Ramillies, her leading man, and entertainment entrepreneur, Ferdie Paul, and Alan Dell, a genius at aeronautics.

 

The drama unfolds slowly but relentlessly as the web of relationships and life events unfolds. Center stage, as befits her, is Georgia (Lady Ramillies) and her complicated story of marriages and romantic alliances. Campion, it transpires, has been hired by the father of Richard Portland-Smith to find out what happened to his son, who was engaged to Georgia and then vanished without a trace. Subsequently, Georgia married Ramillies. When Portland-Smith’s body is finally discovered, his death is ruled as a suicide. But before too long, Ramillies is also dead under suspicious circumstances. From there, the ramifications of these two deaths have impacted most of the central characters in the story.

 

Albert Campion is challenged to unravel these mysteries and untangle the complex relationships here. In the process, the romantic lives of Valentine, Georgia, Alan Dell, Campion, and Amanda are also on view. This is an intriguing tale, a puzzling mystery, and a very satisfying read despite the negative events encountered by the players.

 

The Tiger in the Smoke (A Campion Mystery) by Margery Allingham. Kindle edition.

 

This review represents quite a leap in my experience of re-reading the Allingham books. In The Fashion in Shrouds (see above), Albert Campion is a young man with an emerging reputation, not yet married. Now, in The Tiger in the Smoke, it is at least twenty years later, and “Albert” is happily married to the Lady Amanda Fitton and has a family. Familiar characters are still present, but Lugg is now doing nanny duty for the Campion children, and Stanislaus Oates is Assistant Commissioner and head of Scotland Yard. The central theme of the story is the upcoming marriage of Meg Elginbrodde and daughter of the venerable Canon Avril. Meg lost her husband Martin in the war, and now is set to marry Geoffrey, but this happy anticipation is cut short when there are indications that Martin may still be alive. Enter Scotland Yard and ”Albert Campion”.

 

I think of Allingham books as skillful constructions–she is as much an architect as a writer. Clearly, the structure is in place, and she introduces us to it in her own characteristic fashion: word by word, phrase by phrase, as she builds her edifice before our wondering eyes. We meet memorable characters masterfully sketched in indelible lines with a few sentences. We encounter exquisite descriptive passages that are poetic in their deliberate beauty.

 

Along with the breathtaking beauty of the words, we meet a tale of great and overarching evil met by goodness, even Godliness, of equal measure. The London fog (the “smoke”) is an important character-the swirling grey mists permeate nearly every scene. The villain of the piece–the “Tiger” is a man whose worst qualities are only too apparent to Oates, although Luke, the lead investigator of the piece, does not fully appreciate what his superior officer is telling him about the character known as “Havoc.” But Campion knows.

 

It seems to me that Allingham has exceeded her own high level of achievement in this tale. Here is dramatically portrayed an epic battle between the forces of good and evil–magnificent, spellbinding, and relentless. The “evil” here is the character known as Havoc, while the “good” is the Canon Avril. The story comes full circle in the climactic scene between Havoc and Avril, and ultimately resolves in an extraordinary way. It is a terrible, but ultimately satisfying.

Review: Brew or Die, A Java Jive Mystery, by Caroline Fardig. Random House Publishing Group – Alibi

When I reviewed A Whole Latte Murder, the previous book in this series, I remarked that our heroine Juliette Langley surely leads an interesting life. Having read this newest book, I would say that observation remains unchanged. Juliette is still beautiful and talented, with 2½ careers: manager of the Java Jive coffee house, solving mysteries, and dreaming of singing in the appropriate setting of Nashville.

 

There is at least one notable change here: Juliette is now a bona fide licensed private investigator. But she is still managing Java Jive and still juggling the presence of at least three interesting men in her life: her BFF Pete Bennett, police detectives Stafford and ex-fiancé Ryder Hamilton. In this story, they are all still present, but their status in Juliette’s life will change dramatically in the course of events.

 

Juliette get her first real PI case, but at the same time encounters an unexpected challenge at Java Jive with the suspicious death of barista Shane’s fiancée. Juliette certainly gets a workout in this book. Early morning baking, afternoons at Java Jive, and sleuthing at night: with this hectic schedule and sparse sleep, she remains beautiful, fascinating and energetic. Juliette manages to get herself in plenty of peril while pursuing answers to two different and challenging cases. In all this, she also finds time to write a new song, goes undercover as a glamorous bride model and as a swing shift cleaning lady.

 

Caroline Fardig has given us another wildly entertaining book to enjoy, with an appealing and feisty central character.  My thanks to author, publisher, and NetGalley for providing an advance copy to read and review.