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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.

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.

Commentary on the Commenting Process

Today, I removed a post I had made some months ago, a review for a lovely children’s book called Abigail the Whale. I got some favorable responses, and for those I was grateful. But I also got a massive quantity of spam messages. Today, regretfully, I have deleted the Abigal review to turn off the spam machine on this post. For those who really care about the book, I am re-posting the review, below.

Review: Abigail the Whale. Written by Davide Call. Art by Sonja Bougaeva. Owlkids Books

I requested this book from NetGalley because it deals with a pre-teen girl and her anxieties, particularly around her body image. I am a licensed psychotherapist, and I know from years of experience how sensitive girls of this pre-teen and early teen age can be about themselves, and their body image in particular. In the story Abigail’s swimming teacher helps her with her problems through creative visualization technique. I use this very approach–visualization and mindfulness– with my patients, so I looked forward to reading the book.

Indeed, the book offers evocative pictures and conveys the idea of Abigail gaining self-confidence through her thought processes. For that, I can highly recommend it for girls of this particular age group. Abigail is a fortunate girl, to have a caring and wise teacher to guide her. The teacher helps Abigail to learn that “we are what we think”, and urges her to “Try it!” Abigail is a bit skeptical at first, but she is a brave and adventurous girl. She tries her hand at thinking, finding key words such as “light” and “water.” She also learns that whales can do pretty amazing things, like swimming and high diving. She finds that she is actually a–SUPER WHALE!

Good for Abigail! She finds that what she thinks is important, and she can help herself with her life’s challenges. It is very empowering to people of all ages to learn the power they possess to make a difference in their lives and in the lives of others.

 

This is an excellent, attractive and helpful book. I highly recommend it.

My thanks to author, artist, publisher and NetGalley for making a copy of this fine book available for me to read and review. My thanks also to Allison MacLachlan of Owlkids for resolving a question I had.

Blog Tour Review: A Death by Any Other Name: A Mystery, by Tessa Arlen. St. Martin’s Press Minotaur Books.

I am very pleased to be a part of this Tessa Arlen blog tour, reviewing A Death By Any Other Name.

 

This is the second Tessa Arlen mystery I have reviewed that features Lady Montford and her housekeeper Mrs. Jackson, having read and reviewed the previous book, Death Sits Down to Dinner, in March 2016. Written in the style of my favorite Golden Age mysteries, Arlen’s books are richly told tales set in an important historical background.

The book starts with a list of the Dramatis Personae–a feature I have always enjoyed as it gives one a small preview and also can serve as a handy reference for the reader as the plot thickens.

The relationship between Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson is, officially, noble lady and capable housekeeper. Unofficially, they are comrades-in-arms as they pursue the mysteries that they encounter. Arlen manages this role-juggling act for our two leading characters very convincingly.

Tessa Arlen has chosen as the time line for this book the momentous days as the world teeters on the edge of the dangerous precipice that will become known as World War 1. This serves to heighten the drama for the reader, as we are in possession of of a historical perspective that Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson have not yet acquired.

Set against this looming event, the story takes the two ladies to a earnest effort in aid of a cook erroneously considered responsible for the poisoning death of a visitor to her employer’s household. With her professional reputation shattered, her expectations for a successful life are in jeopardy.

Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson find themselves drawn into the world of the Hyde Rose Society, which is about to entertain an important guest persuaded somewhat reluctantly into a judging of tea roses. There is no shortage of intrigue and interesting characters in this story. Once again Ms. Arlen shows herself adept at sprinkling the scene with a tasty selection of best-quality red herrings. In the midst of the drama of the little rose society, and with a world war in the wings, we are thoroughly entertained by this well-drawn story.

As the title suggests, we find, as do our two leading ladies, that a rose by any other name . . .well, you know the rest. The solution is inventive and surprising.

As in Death Sits Down to Dinner, we are furnished with an afterword providing a wealth of historical background for the fictional account we have just enjoyed.

My thanks to author, publisher, and NetGalley for providing an advance copy to read and review and to Shailyn Tavella of Minotaur Books for inviting me to participate in this blog tour.

Review: The Death of Downton Tabby by Mandy Morton

In my previous review of The No. 2 Feline Detective Agency, I ended by promising to read and review a subsequent book in this relatively new series. This review fulfills that commitment.

 

Ms. Morton has a particular talent for creating tantalizing tales with timely hook-ins, and, since I have been a devoted fan of the PBS series, Downton Alley, I was immediately taken in by the title The Death of Downtown Tabby.

 

Hettie Bagshot and her faithful assistant Tilly are now heading a successful detective agency whose services are retained to provide organization and security for the upcoming literary festival featuring prominent authors including the renowned Downton Tabby.

 

Hettie, Tilly, and their friends work diligently to set up a successful show, and all looks to be in splendid shape for a memorable event.

 

Memorable it proves to be, but not quite for the reasons originally envisioned. Due to a series of unfortunate events, the outcome is more decidedly macabre than was anticipated. The show, however, is a rousing success that one that enhances the reputation of the little feline agency.

 

Ms. Morton seems to have the parameters of her all-feline world well in hand. Once again, we are pleased to witness the eventual positive outcome for Hettie and Tilly although there certainly is a downside for some of the participants. This makes for a lively and quite entertaining story with a refreshing new view.

Review: The No. 2 Feline Detective Agency: A Hettie Bagshot Mystery, by Mandy Morton; St. Martin’s Press Minotaur Books.

Oh my! Where to start? Like quite a few others, I’m a big fan of cat detective stories and have several favorite authors in this area including Rita Mae Brown, Lilian Jackson Braun, Carole Nelson Douglas, and Shirley Rousseau Murphy.

 

All these noted writers feature cats that have humans attached to them in some way; the principal characters do their sleuthing in a world of humans. This book is different. These are two hard-working felines residing and working in a society populated entirely by cats. It’s as though your favorite feline detective writer decided to channel Lewis Carroll (for the through-the-looking-glass qualities of its imaginative world) and Alexander McCall Smith (whose No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency surely provided the inspiration for this book’s title and central pair).

 

The furry detectives, feisty Hettie Bagshot and her loyal but arthritic assistant Tilly Jenkins, are endearing. Reduced to living in a back room and garden shed at a modest rent of two pounds a week, they are clawing for their lives. The goal of their fledgling detective agency is simply to make enough to pay the rent and buy themselves some food.

 

Their big chance comes with a call from Marcia Woolcoat, matron of the Furcross home for slightly older cats. The haughty Marcia has a problem–not so much a missing persons case as a missing bodies case. Their search for solutions takes them into the world of hut cature with some rather macabre findings. How Hettie and Tilly manage to solve this thorny problem and raise their standard of living makes for fascinating reading. The premise (and the puns) are a bit outrageous, but the book is surely laugh-out-loud funny at times.   I liked it so much I ordered another in the series, The Death of Downton Tabby (!). I’ll let you know how that goes. But this book is great fun.

 

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

Review: For Whom the Bread Rolls: A Pancake House Mystery by Sarah Fox. Random House Publishing Group – Alibi

When I reviewed Ms. Fox’s previous book, The Crepes of Wrath, last July, I predicted there would be more. I was right, and For Whom the Bread Rolls is the proof.

 

Once more we have young, spirited Marley McKinney, now an established business owner of the flourishing Pancake House in the seaside town of Wildwood Cove.

 

But there’s trouble in paradise: Marley’s business is the target of vandalism (red paint thrown on the windows) and harassing telephone calls. She knows who is causing this malicious mischief, a disgruntled woman named Ida Winkler. Marley is not one to take this sort of thing quietly, so she sets out to confront Ida with a view to persuading her to cease and desist.

 

The good news is that Marley’s vandalism problem is soon resolved. The bad news is that Ida is found dead and Marley becomes a murder suspect. (means, motive, and opportunity all present)

 

As already noted, Marley is not one to sit quietly and wait. She decides to discover the truth about Ida’s death and also clear her name before her business, her life, and her good name are affected by bad publicity.

 

Marley is aided in her endeavors by her friends and her handsome boyfriend, Brett. She is also kept entertained by her fluffy orange cat Pancake, as well as a rescue puppy that wins her heart; Brett adopts the puppy.

 

Marley runs into other problems in her search for justice. A blackmailer has targeted several people in the little village, and someone is dumping hazardous waste on the beautiful beach. Marley needs the help of all her friends to clear her name, solve the problems, and–oh yes–stay out of danger (not too successful at this last point). Once again the author takes us on a lively journey.

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