Book Review: Death Sits Down to Dinner by Tessa Arlen—and a Giveaway!

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Title: Death Sits Down to Dinner
Series: A Lady Montfort Mystery #2

Author: Tessa Arlen
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: March 29, 2016
Genre: Historical Mystery

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Death Sits Down to DinnerDeath Sits Down to Dinner
A Lady Montfort Mystery #2
Tessa Arlen
Minotaur Books, March 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-05250-6
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Filled with deceptions both real and imagined, Death Sits Down to Dinner is a delightful Edwardian mystery set in London.

Lady Montfort is thrilled to receive an invitation to a dinner party hosted by her close friend Hermione Kingsley, the patroness of England’s largest charity. Hermione has pulled together a select gathering to celebrate Winston Churchill’s 39th birthday. Some of the oldest families in the country have gathered to toast the dangerously ambitious and utterly charming First Lord of the Admiralty. But when the dinner ends, one of the gentlemen remains seated at the table, head down among the walnut shells littering the cloth and a knife between his ribs.

Summoned from Iyntwood, Mrs. Jackson helps her mistress trace the steps of suspects both upstairs and downstairs as Hermione’s household prepares to host a highly anticipated charity event. Determined to get to the bottom of things, Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson unravel the web of secrecy surrounding the bright whirlwind of London society, investigating the rich, well-connected and seeming do-gooders in a race against time to stop the murderer from striking again.

It would be difficult to find an historical period that’s more interesting than the Edwardian Era, particularly in England. This is a time when injustice could be found everywhere and, yet, progressive moves were being made in areas like women’s suffrage, child labor and racist attitudes and it’s the last period of a certain gentility before the first global war, just a few years away. Aeroplanes have brought an excitement not seen since the early days of the automobile and class differences are beginning to fade ever so slightly.

Lady Montfort is a progressive lady herself with an eye for ferreting out secrets when crime is afoot but she understands her limitations due to society’s class restrictions and enlists the assistance of her housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, in keeping an ear to the ground belowstairs. These two ladies proved themselves in a previous situation and, if anything, have become even more adept at getting to the truth.

Clementine and Edith have become favorites of mine in the sleuthing world, most especially because of their high regard for each other. Each has particular abilities to offer and a good deal of intelligence and they find ways to work together within the confines of their society. Tessa Arlen has a fine hand with her characterizations and with settings that are truly vivid in their evocation of 1913 England. Secondary players are every bit as engaging and I particularly appreciate the author’s inclusion of a cast of characters.

As for the mystery itself, red herrings are in plentiful supply and, although Ms. Arlen certainly plays fair, the final denouement is as unpredictable as a mystery fan could wish. This second entry in the series is another winner and I’m already craving the third.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2016.

About the Author

Tessa ArlenTESSA ARLEN, the daughter of a British diplomat, had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Cairo, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She came to the U.S. in 1980 and worked as an H.R. recruiter for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, where she interviewed her future husband for a job. DEATH OF A DISHONORABLE GENTLEMAN is Tessa’s first novel. She lives in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

For more information please visit Tessa Arlen’s website. Read Tessa Arlen’s blog at Redoubtable Edwardians. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Subscribe to Tessa Arlen’s Newsletter.

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To enter the drawing for a print
copy of Death Sits Down to Dinner,
leave a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn on Sunday
evening, April 3rd, and the book
will be sent after the tour ends.
Open to residents of the US.

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Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Waiting On Wednesday (23)

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event that
spotlights upcoming releases that I’m really
looking forward to. Waiting On Wednesday
is the creation of Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:

Continue reading

Book Review: Dark Energy by Robison Wells

Dark EnergyDark Energy
Robison Wells
HarperTeen, March 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-227505-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

We are not alone. They are here. And there’s no going back.

Five days ago, a massive UFO crashed in the Midwest. Since then, nothing—or no one—has come out.

If it were up to Alice, she’d be watching the fallout on the news. But her dad is director of special projects at NASA, so she’s been forced to enroll in a boarding school not far from the crash site. Alice is right in the middle of the action, but even she isn’t sure what to expect when the aliens finally emerge. Only one thing is clear: everything has changed.

I don’t make a habit of guessing at authors’ motivations in writing particular books but I have to do it this time. I could be—probably am—dead wrong but I think Robison Wells had tongue planted firmly in cheek when he wrote Dark Energy. How else to explain the truly creative idea behind the story and the inclusion of more diversity than I’ve seen in a while with actions and behaviors that not only would never happen but no thinking individual would believe they could? Just as an example, after the aliens have been here only a few days, two are brought to a boarding school to live. Yeah, right. If you believe they wouldn’t end up in a lab somewhere, I have this bridge I’d like to sell…

Here’s the thing, though—I DON’T CARE how unrealistic and illogical it all is. I quite simply love this book and I applaud Robison Wells for coming up with a twist I absolutely never saw coming and, yet, it made perfect sense if you believe in life out there (and I do). There’s a lot of humor here (never slapstick, just normal) as well as shades of fear and a terrific roadtrip. The ending is actually a bit too rushed and I wish it hadn’t seemed quite so easy but I’ll still be including this in my favorite books read in 2016.

I also fell in booklove with all the major characters and I have to say that, for an adult male, Mr. Wells does a darned good job of writing teen dialogue, especially the girls. Leaving the whole alien thing aside, I really did connect with Aly, Rachel and Brynne and the latter two’s immediate acceptance of Aly is credible because of her connection to the crash site. An exciting time like this is exactly when teens would forego their natural snottiness towards a newcomer. They’re also very cool girls 😉

Kurt is no schlock, either, and I appreciated the lack of insta-love. The attraction is certainly there but the author lets nature take its course, thank heavens. And then there’s Aly. My goodness, I like this girl. She’s smart, brave, snarky and rebellious but she and her dad have a relationship we could all wish for and their mutual trust is, well, awesome.

So, put aside your need for credibility and just enjoy Dark Energy for what it is. If you’re like me, the only thing that will really nag at you is the title—I have precisely zero idea what it’s supposed to mean but, then, who cares?  😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2016.

Book Review: All Fall Down by Ally Carter

All Fall DownAll Fall Down
Embassy Row #1
Ally Carter
Scholastic Press, February 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-65474-6
Hardcover

Ally Carter, the New York Times bestselling author of the Gallagher Girls and Heist Society series, turns her hand to this young adult thriller, set in a foreign embassy. Combining the exotic setting with a mystery, the central character is Grace Blakely, a sixteen year old who saw her mother murdered several years ago. She is consumed by the idea that she will find the killer and make him pay for his crime. Considered “troubled” by her school and her family, Grace doesn’t want to be in Adria, a country on the Mediterranean Sea, but her father is a career Army Ranger and her brother is at West Point. She has nowhere else to go but to live with her grandfather, who is the ambassador to Adria.

On her second day at the embassy, she crashes into the Russian ambassador and gives him a bloody nose and black eye. Grace spends most of her time sneaking out of the embassy and exploring the neighborhood. She discovers secret underground passages between some of the embassies, and meets some of the teens who live in the other embassies. They party on the beach outside of the deserted Iranian embassy. There’s Noah, who lives at the Israeli embassy, his twin sister Lila, Rosie from Germany, and Megan, another American. Alexi, a Russian teenager who lives at the embassy next door, is keeping watch on Grace. He says her brother asked him to keep an eye on her, but Grace doesn’t like to be spied on.

When Grace attends a diplomatic ball at the palace, she sees the Scarred Man, the person she believes killed her mother. Her attempts to discover his identity put her in danger. Although Grace is no Jason Bourne, there’s a lot of action and intrigue, with teens as the stars in this thriller. The plot twists and turns and a surprise ending ties it all up nicely. This series should appeal to both teen and adult readers.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, January 2016.

Book Reviews: Secret Sisters by Jayne Ann Krentz and Focused on Murder by Linda Townsdin

Secret SistersSecret Sisters
Jayne Ann Krentz
Berkley, December 2015
ISBN 978-0-399-17448-3
Hardcover

I’m a JAK/AQ/JC fan so I pre-ordered this book at my local independent bookstore and, yay, got it early. Read it, read it again. As in all her books, the mystery is well plotted, the characters are fun to be with and the settings–this one an island off the coast of Washington state, are beautifully described. Yes, I am a fan. But only because she is so good.

Almost two decades after a terrible crime, hotel owner Madeline returns to its scene, the derelict hotel in which she grew up. There she finds Tim, the old friend who summoned her, dying on the lobby floor, his head bashed in. Madeline barely escapes the killer. Frightened and angry, determined to find answers, she calls Jack, her hotel chain’s head of security, and Daphne, her secret sister who saved her life long ago, to help.

The old crime, which seemed over and done, turns out to be connected to the new crime and to several influential people in the island community. Madeline and Daphne know only part of their own story. The two who knew the whole, Madeline’s grandmother and Tim, are dead. A mysterious briefcase is missing. Are the answers buried so deeply that no one can find them? If so, why is someone trying to kill Madeline and her friends?

I know I’ll read this book again, happy to keep company with the characters and explore the island and its complex secrets.

Reviewed by Marilyn Nulman, December 2015.

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Focused on MurderFocused on Murder
A Spirit Lake Mystery #1
Linda Townsdin
CreateSpace, February 2014
ISBN 978-1495403088
Trade Paperback

Britt Johanssen has moved home to Spirit Lake after a disastrous sojourn on the west coast where she fell in love, was abused cheated on, and divorced her husband and became an alcoholic. Now she’s home again in tiny Spirit Lake, a little resentful and still a sharp reporter photographer. Skiing in Northern Minnesota, she stumbles across the body of a local woman named Isabel Maelstrom, daughter of a local big-wig resort owner.

Britt, now employed at the small local news bureau, seizes on the murder as a way to get wider attention for the bureau and her skill. But the more she delves into the murky relationships of the aptly named Maelstrom family and resort, the more dark undercurrents and questions appear. Meanwhile the sheriff, Dave Wilcox,seems to be moving the case at a glacial rate. Temperatures fall and the snow piles up as Britt pursues leads that inevitably trap her in ever broadening danger.

The story broadens and broadens into a very nasty world-encompassing plot that gradually touches nearly everybody in Britt’s Spirit Lake family. Well-written in a straight-forward style, this novel will satisfy suspense thriller readers of a wide range of interests.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Accidents Happen by Louise Millar

Accidents HappenAccidents Happen
Louise Millar
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, June 2013
ISBN 978-1-4516-5670-1
Trade Paperback

Kate Parker is trying to recover from a series of traumas, and feels she’s not doing a very good job of it. A number of years previously, her parents were killed in a car accident while travelling to her wedding reception, and then more recently, Kate’s husband Hugo was brutally murdered. In an effort to cope, Kate has relocated from London, England to Oxford, in order to be nearer to her in-laws so they can assist with caring for her ten-year-old son, Jack. The family dynamics are difficult, however, and Kate is becoming less and less sure that this was a good idea, as Hugo’s parents and sister constantly seem to question her decisions and her parenting skills. As if all of that wasn’t enough, Kate’s semi-detached house has been broken into more than once, and various valuables have been stolen, leaving her even more insecure and panicky.

Not surprisingly, Kate is struggling to maintain any sense of normalcy and safety. She has become obsessive-compulsive, unable to tear herself away from studying all sorts of statistics, in an attempt to regain the feeling that she is in control. The result is that she is nearly paralyzed with fear from the mountains of information about accidents and deaths that she can’t tear herself away from. Kate can barely leave her house, take public transit, enter a store, or ride her bike. Even worse, she has become so overprotective of young Jack that their relationship is close to the breaking point.

When Kate meets a visiting professor, Jago, who has written a book on statistics and is interested in the field of OCD, she gets the first glimmer of hope she’s had in a long time. Jago offers to assist her by carrying out various experiments designed to challenge her into stepping outside the rigid boundaries she’s created for herself. The fact that Kate finds Jago physically attractive helps her decide to accept his assistance. Although Jago makes her nervous, Kate finds it more and more pleasurable to be around him.

Unfortunately, this was when the book stopped working for me, and I became unable to really believe in the way events were unfolding. Although the level of tragedy Kate had experienced caused me to feel very sorry for her, I couldn’t believe that she would go along with Jago’s odd suggestions, or that a professor would be carrying out such unethical experiments.

While Millar is skilled at creating a tense and ambiguous atmosphere, the novel veered into areas that began to seem unbelievable to me, particularly as Kate was described as being a competent, intelligent woman who had helped her husband build a highly successful renovation business. I thought Millar did a good job in her descriptions of the way Kate was experiencing the aftermath of trauma, but ultimately couldn’t go along with the plot that explained how Kate began to find her way back to health. Readers who particularly like taut psychological suspense might enjoy this book more than I did, however, as Millar consistently evokes a very paranoid, unsettling sensation. If you are reading to get creeped out, this book should do it for you – but if you are reading for authentic characters and plot, it probably won’t.

Reviewed by Andrea Thompson, February 2016.

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