Book Review: A Promise Given by Michelle Cox—and a Giveaway!

A Promise Given
A Henrietta and Inspector Howard Novel #3
Michelle Cox
She Writes Press, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-63152-373-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Anxious to be married, Henrietta and Clive push forward with their wedding plans despite their family differences, made worse now by Oldrich Exley’s attempts to control the Von Harmons. When the long-awaited wedding day arrives, there is more unfolding than just Clive and Henrietta’s vows of love. Stanley and Elsie’s relationship is sorely tested by the presence of the dashing Lieutenant Harrison Barnes-Smith and by Henrietta’s friend Rose―a situation that grows increasingly dark and confused as time goes on.

As Clive and Henrietta begin their honeymoon at Castle Linley, the Howards’ ancestral estate in England, they encounter a whole new host of characters, including the eccentric Lord and Lady Linley and Clive’s mysterious cousin, Wallace. When a man is murdered in the village on the night of a house party at the Castle, Wallace comes under suspicion―and Clive and Henrietta are reluctantly drawn into the case, despite Clive’s anxiety at involving his new bride and Henrietta’s distracting news from home.

Delicately attempting to work together for the first time, Clive and Henrietta set out to prove Wallace’s innocence, uncovering as they do so some rather shocking truths that will shake the Linley name and estate forever.

Following their Chicago wedding, Henrietta Von Harmon and Clive Howard leave tumultuous family issues behind, heading for a honeymoon in England at the ancestral Howard estate, Castle Linley, but their romantic interlude is affected by current events. It’s 1935 and the lingering effects of World War I can be seen and felt along with financial troubles stemming from the Great Depression but it’s a murder in the nearby village that shocks everyone.

Detective Chief Inspector John Hartle quickly suspects Wallace Howard, Clive’s cousin. Formerly a police detective, Clive is drawn in by his fondness for Wallace to investigate with Henrietta’s help; meanwhile, she’s trying to accustom herself to the trappings of British society and then receives unwelcome and distracting news from home regarding her family. The two are very surprised when they discover why Wallace has been so secretive but this knowledge may not lead to Wallace’s being cleared.

To me, this installment focused too much on the romance elements and even provided more, er, details than I cared to know while the mystery kind of took a back seat. Still, the setting is delightful, the nods of appreciation to Pride and Prejudice are fun and I particularly enjoyed seeing the beginnings of a brand new private investigation agency.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2019.


To enter the drawing for a trade
paperback copy of A Promise Given,
leave a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn on the evening of
Thursday, July 11th. This drawing is
open to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Titans by Victoria Scott

Victoria Scott
Scholastic Press, February 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-80601-5

Guilt is a heavy burden, even more so when you’re a teenager with two sisters and are part of a family teetering on the edge of losing everything. That’s life for Astrid Sullivan. Both her dead grandfather and her dad turned family stability into chaos because of their gambling addictions. With her father laid off and jobs for blue collar workers almost nonexistent, her family is falling apart and about to lose their home..again. Older sister Dani is escaping by spending all her time with a boyfriend, while Mom deals with stress by sneaking out at night and taking care of the neighborhood gardens. Home life stress is exacerbated because everyone’s avoiding talking about it.

Astrid and her best friend, Magnolia, who aspires to become a small businesswoman by selling her artful hair decorations, started hanging out near the racetrack when they were thirteen and have spent the past five years watching the mechanical horses, called titans, race. Astrid is a math whiz and spends part of her racetrack time using that skill to calculate how jockies could better run a race.

When she and Magnolia help an older man who is dizzy and weak while at the races one afternoon, little do they know that it’s the start of an adventure of a lifetime. Rags, the man they helped, and his friend Barney, have a secret. They have an early model Titan, one with artificial intelligence, something the newer 3.0 models don’t have. When the announcement that one rider will receive an entry into this year’s race series with the $50,000 fee waived, the men ask Astrid if she’s interested. Is water wet? Heck yes, she’s interested, especially with a $2 million prize up for grabs.

How they get a horse that has been sitting unused for years, into shape, how Astrid and Magnolia get mentored in social skills, what pitfalls are involved as the races get more competitive and how her choice affects her family life, make this an incredible read. Teens (and adults) who love a great adventure yarn with lots of action will devour the book. I could not put it down.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, January 2016.

Book Reviews: The Cypress House by Michael Koryta, The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh, and On Borrowed Time by David Rosenfelt

The Cypress House
Michael Koryta
Little, Brown and Company, February 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-05372-3

Death and corruption haunt this tale about a World War I veteran during the Depression who has a unique ability to see whether a person faces an imminent demise because of a trace of smoke in his/her eyes. Arlen Wagner in the late 30’s was a supervisor at a Civilian Conservation Corps (“CCC”) camp and was transferred to another in the Florida Keys along with several others from his detachment.  On the train he saw the sign of death in his fellow passengers and tried to warn them of impending danger, but only 19-year-old Paul Brickhill listened to him.

The two abandoned the train and found themselves at an isolated inn on the Gulf Coast, The Cypress House (a euphemism for a casket).  There they discovered a different kind of danger: a corrupt judge and a sheriff who ruled the area by sheer terror, allowing drugs to be imported from Cuba at a boat landing located near the inn.

The eerie but fascinating tale follows the efforts of the two men, along with Rebecca Cady, who runs the inn, to survive not only the massive 1935 hurricane which caused severe death and destruction, but the human forces that ruled the area.  Written with an excellent eye for describing life during the Great Depression, the novel also exhibits a deep view of human emotions, as Arlen, while wishing to depart as fast as he can, refuses to abandon Rebecca or Paul.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2011.


The Attenbury Emeralds
Jill Paton Walsh
Minotaur Books, January 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-67454-0

I have a confession to make:  I never read any of the Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane mysteries.  As a result, I suppose, I can approach this novel without any prejudice about the originals written by a legendary author, the redoubtable Dorothy L. Sayers.  And I can firmly state that I have been remiss and must hasten to correct my past negligence.

The author undoubtedly undertook a dream assignment:  to bring closure to the series with this concluding work, bringing Lord Peter full circle to recount his first “detective” assignment and finally bringing the ultimate mystery successfully to a conclusion. Initially, Lord Peter undertook to find the missing Attenbury Emeralds which seemed to disappear during an engagement party.  This novel, however, traces further mysteries surrounding the gems through several decades before, during and after World War II.

I have, of course, no way of knowing how authentic the tone of the book or development of the characters is compared to the originals, but I suspect they are completely compatible.  The dialogue, deliberately stilted to simulate upper crust English society, is really touching, and, of course, the interaction between Peter and Harriet poignant.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2011.


On Borrowed Time
David Rosenfelt
Minotaur Books, February 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-59836-5

This is a potboiler of a novel, the author’s third standalone.  He is remembered most fondly for his Andy Carpenter series and admired for his home for sick and injured dogs.  He has now turned his creative self to a sort of sci-fi mystery in which journalist Richard Kilmer lives in both a real and a fantasy world.

Without giving the plot away, it is safe to say the story relies on the reader to suspend disbelief in some ways.  Richard is set up to believe what someone wants him to in order to prove the success of an experiment in mind manipulation.  On the other hand, it becomes quite obvious that the more he is channeled in a specific manner, the more he acts contrary to direction, somewhat opposite to what one would expect.

In any event, the novel progresses to almost a soap opera type of conclusion, detracting, in my view, from an otherwise over-all pretty high standard.  That is not to say that I have a better idea, or that the ending is not warranted, at least on the level of what went before.  That said, the book is, for the most part, good fun, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2011.