Book Reviews: A Strange Scottish Shore by Juliana Gray and The Gardener’s Secret by Jamie Cortland

A Strange Scottish Shore
Emmeline Truelove #2
Juliana Gray
Berkley, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-425-277089
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Scotland, 1906. A mysterious object discovered inside an ancient castle calls Maximilian Haywood, the new Duke of Olympia, and his fellow researcher Emmeline Truelove north to the remote Orkney Islands. No stranger to the study of anachronisms in archeological digs, Haywood is nevertheless puzzled by the artifact: a suit of clothing that, according to family legend, once belonged to a selkie who rose from the sea and married the castle’s first laird.
 
But Haywood and Truelove soon realize they’re not the only ones interested in the selkie’s strange hide. When their mutual friend Lord Silverton vanishes in the night from an Edinburgh street, their quest takes a dangerous turn through time, which puts Haywood’s extraordinary talents—and Truelove’s courage—to their most breathtaking test yet.

After Miss Emmeline Truelove sets off by train to Scotland to join her employer and colleague, Max Haywood, the late Queen Victoria appears, not an unusual occurrence, to warn her that she’s being followed, no surprise to Emmeline. Then, her friend and would-be suitor, Marquess Frederick Silverton, boards the same train and chases after the stranger who jumps off. Clearly, we’re off on an adventure.

An odd man named Hunter Spillane later disappears after attacking Emmeline and Max at a house party in Scotland. When James Magnusson, Earl of Thurso, shows them a box found in a castle’s ruins, the mystery deepens and yet holds a hint of their own recent past. Affairs of the heart and Emmeline’s visions of her deceased father and the late Queen add to the mystery they must solve without undue attention from others.

In a blend of mystery and fantasy, people literally come and go through centuries in a time-traveling kind of vortex as the puzzle begins to come clear and a beautiful woman named Helen tells an incredible tale. The story itself is highly entertaining but it’s the various characters who really engaged me and kept me turning pages. Now, I need to find the first book and do some catching up.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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The Gardener’s Secret
Jamie Cortland
World Castle Publishing, June 2017
ISBN 978-1629897318
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When Vince Giardini is believed to have perished in a plane crash over the Rockies, his beautiful wife, Dannie, becomes the target of handsome and charismatic, Eddie Haywood who is a psychopath with a borderline personality disorder. After discovering she needs a gardener and a handyman to care for her mansion on AIA, he applies for the position.

As his fascination with her intensifies, he vows to make her his one way or another and he begins to stalk her. Danni knows she is being stalked, especially after the break-in. Alone, without Vince, she has no one to save her from Eddie’s devious plans except her friends, Sal Catalano, her husband’s partner and Peter Langley.

A plane crash sets the tone for this tale that drips menace on the page, particularly when Eddie Haywood sets his sights on Danni Giardini. Eddie is the kind of man who makes women shudder, not only because we know what he is but also because of his public persona that keeps his nature hidden. It’s the kind of facade that we fear because it’s so easy to not really see the monster beneath.

Occasional inconsistencies pulled me out of the story such as the time when Danni rushes to meet her friend, Lainey, because she’s late for their lunch date but she stops at a coffee shop and reads part of the newspaper. Also, Danni can be annoying, with a sense of entitlement that comes from being rich and bored. Another example is when Sal, Vince’s partner, flies from Denver to Palm Beach hoping to give the bad news to Danni before the airline does. Why on earth would anyone do that, knowing a telephone call is almost certainly going to reach her first? As it turns out, there was no help for it since she was away from her home and her phone but he didn’t know that. There’s also a scene in which a pregnant woman drinks wine and there’s no indication from her or the man with her that this is just a once a week thing.

Despite content and editing flaws of this sort, the tale moves along, building suspense about the missing man, the one who wants to do harm and, eventually, a murdered woman. Tension rachets up a few chapters in and, for the rest of the book, the main thing that threw me off was something that I expect might be more common in romance books than in the genres I’m used to. I can’t say what it is without spoiling but it had to do with the interactions of certain characters and, since I rarely read romance per se, I’m not holding it against The Gardener’s Secret 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

Book Review: A Death by Any Other Name by Tessa Arlen

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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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leave a comment below. The winning
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Book Review: Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman by Tessa Arlen

Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman

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Title: Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman
Author: Tessa Arlen
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: January 6, 2015
Genre: Historical Mystery

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Death of a Dishonorable GentlemanDeath of a Dishonorable Gentleman
Tessa Arlen
Minotaur Books, January 2015
ISBN 978-1-250-05249-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Lady Montfort has been planning her annual summer costume ball for months, and with scrupulous care. Pulling together the food, flowers and a thousand other details for one of the most significant social occasions of the year is her happily accepted responsibility. But when her husband’s degenerate nephew is found murdered, it’s more than the ball that is ruined. In fact, Lady Montfort fears that the official police enquiry, driven by petty snobbery and class prejudice, is pointing towards her son as a potential suspect.

Taking matters into her own hands, the rather over-imaginative countess enlists the help of her pragmatic housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, to investigate the case, track down the women that vanished the night of the murder, and clear her son’s name. As the two women search for a runaway housemaid and a headstrong young woman, they unearth the hidden lives of Lady Montfort’s close friends, servants and family and discover the identity of a murderer hiding in plain sight.

The Edwardian era has long been a favorite of mine as it is with many historical enthusiasts and even more people have been drawn to it by the popularity of Downton Abbey and the earlier Upstairs, Downstairs. Despite the glaring class differences in existence at the time, I think much of its appeal comes from the perception that it was such a peaceful, prosperous time just before the darkness to come and it seems to offer a sense of innocence that would never return. Perhaps that innocence is what really draws us to it.

Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman evokes that ambience with its beautifully-drawn setting and characterizations, down to the details of dress and gardens but its really the characters who make this not only a terrific period piece but also a cracking good mystery. The Countess, Clementine, and Mrs. Jackson, her housekeeper, could not be more different in station and personality and, yet, they have one thing in common, the desire to see justice done and to preserve the honor of the family. I found each character to be richly drawn but it’s these two women who really carry the story even while they find a way to make their collaboration work despite the gulf between their positions in life and Mrs. Jackson’s reluctance to cross those social barriers.

As for the mystery, the disreputable Teddy’s death leads to a plethora of secrets and proving Harry’s innocence turns out to be far more complex than Lady Montford and Mrs. Jackson could possibly have foreseen although they were sure from the beginning that the police were on the wrong track. Almost as unsettling is the disappearance of two young women and, when the truth comes out, life at Iyntwood will be a little tarnished.

All in all, I truly enjoyed this country house mystery and am already looking forward to A Party for Winston, due out next year. Ms. Arlen is an author I want to see more from.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2015.

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.

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Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Book Review: Manor of Secrets by Katherine Longshore

Manor of SecretsManor of Secrets
Katherine Longshore
Point, January 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-56758-9
Hardcover

Katherine Longshore’s Manor of Secrets is a well-written historical novel for young adults. The novel is reminiscent of Downton Abbey in that it takes place at a grand manor in Great Britain and we get to experience the drama of the wealthy upper-class upstairs and their servants below.

Lady Charlotte Edmonds is young, beautiful, sheltered, and bored. She looks with dread upon the life that her mother Lady Diane has planned out for her – as the wife of stiff and one-dimensional Lord Andrew Broadhurst. Charlotte secretly writes stories and imagines running off with dashing footman Lawrence.

At the same time, kitchen maid Janie Seward wonders if there is more to life than the Manor’s kitchen. She has the passion and skills to move ahead, but knows that she can only get so far. “Be content with your station in life”, as Lady Diane likes to point out to daughter and maid.

Then Charlotte’s long-lost aunt Lady Beatrice appears and sets a whole series of unexpected events in motion. Let’s just say that both Lord Broadhurst and Lawrence are not what they appear to be. The same is true for several other characters in this novel. Both Charlotte and Janie have to make life-changing choices towards the end.

Since I am interested in feminist issues, I appreciated Longshore’s nod to the women’s suffrage movement. She researched her time period well and crafted an entertaining Downton-esque piece of young adult literature.

Reviewed by Anika Abbate, June 2014.