A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 6 @nancyjcohen @JSpencerFleming @MinotaurBooks @CharlesFinch @BevLongBooks @HarlequinBooks @SusanSpann @SeventhStBooks

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two…

Easter Hair Hunt
A Bad Day Hair Mysteries #16
Nancy J. Cohen
Orange Grove Press, March 2020
ISBN 978-09997932-7-5
Trade Paperback

Marla Vail is visiting Tremayne Manor to do her hairstyling thing for Blinky Morris so she’ll be ready for the Easter egg hunt but, after the hunt when Marla is helping to look for unfound eggs, she finds something else, a dead body dressed as a bunny. When it’s discovered that Blinky is missing, the very pregnant Marla jumps right in to investigate,  as fans will expect. Her poor husband, homicide detective Dalton, is right by her side, knowing full well he can’t stop her.

Marla is a character that becomes more appealing with each adventure, largely because she’s an intelligent woman who takes things in stride and doesn’t continually do stupid things. Dalton is her equal and recognizes how good she is at sussing out the facts and following leads; he long ago gave up trying to keep her out of investigations and the pair make a good team. This time, they’re dealing with a plethora of clues and suspects and the twists and turns abound. I’ve followed this series from the beginning and I’m already anticipating the next book because Ms. Cohen never lets me down 🙂

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2020.

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Hid from Our Eyes
A Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mystery #9
Julia Spencer-Fleming
Minotaur Books, April 2020
ISBN 978-0-312-60685-5
Hardcover

It seems like years since the last Clare and Russ story because, well, it has been and when I first heard about this one, I was SO excited. I’m not the least bit surprised that Ms. Spencer-Fleming is still at the top of her game.

Three different but very similar cases over a period of many decades have involved three police chiefs but Russ, the current chief, was once accused of the second killing. As this third case ramps up, Russ is under enormous pressure to find the killer before suspicion focuses on him again. Are the three cases really connected in some way or could there be a copycat killer? Who were these young women and why were they targeted or is it possible one or more were, in fact, not murdered?

Russ’s wife, an Episcopal priest and mother of a new baby, has her own issues going on but of course she’s going to help Russ and she brings a lot of intelligence and creative thinking to this case, as she always does. The personal lives of Clare and Russ are given as much weight as the investigation, enough so that I felt like I was seeing old friends again but that didn’t take anything away from the mystery of these three deaths. Leads take them in all directions and I was forced—forced, I tell you!—to stay up late into the night to keep reading. An intriguing plot and great characters make for a story I can heartily recommend but readers new to the series will enjoy it more by starting with the first one.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2020.

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The Vanishing Man
A Charles Lenox Mystery #12
Charles Finch
Minotaur Books, January 2020
ISBN 978-1-250-31137-5
Trade Paperback

In this second prequel, Charles Lenox has recently become known as the young man who bested Scotland Yard in a perplexing case and he’s called upon by the Duke of Dorset to help with an art theft. It seems a second painting was left behind and the Duke is concerned the thieves will return and, if they do, it’s possible a family scandal will be revealed as well as an enormous secret involving a priceless artifact. It isn’t long before there are other crimes and Lenox must delve into long-kept secrets that threaten the family as well as himself.

Fortunately, Lenox has the assistance of his friend, Lady Jane, who once again proves herself to be an intelligent ally, and a coterie of secondary players who bring real depth to the story. This particular adventure drags a little here and there but it’s still an engaging puzzle, especially the question of why the more valuable painting really means so much to the Duke. Mr. Finch brings Victorian London and its people to life again and I really do think this is one of the very best series with the setting and time period.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2020.

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Ten Days Gone
An A.L. McKittridge Novel #1
Beverly Long
MIRA, February 2020
ISBN 978-0-7783-0958-1
Mass Market Paperback

Hunting a serial killer is no doubt one of the most difficult things a police department may ever have to do but, this time, detectives Rena Morgan and A.L. McKittridge are also faced with the nearly impossible task of preventing a fifth murder once the likely victim has been identified. Tess Lyons already suffers psychological damage from previous events and is anything but ready to understand her present danger. Meanwhile, leads in the case are sketchy at best and the detectives are caught up in a cat and mouse game with few obvious answers until they find a petition signed by all four of the murdered women. Figuring out why the petition and the ten day intervals are important may be their best chance to stop this killer.

A.L. and Rena are a well-matched partnership, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and they complement each other in their search for a wily killer. The pacing is a little slow but Ten Days Gone shows promise and is the first in what I hope will be a long-running series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2020.

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Ghost of the Bamboo Road
A Hiro Hattori Novel #7
A Shinobi Mystery
Susan Spann
Seventh Street Books, November 2019
ISBN 978-1-6338-8550-9
Trade Paperback

Even in 16th-century Japan, a list of agents, in this case the shinobi agents of Hiro Hattori’s own clan, can cause deadly problems if it falls into the wrong hands. Hiri needs to warn his clan that a rival warlord is in possession of the list so he travels to a small village where he believes a fellow agent to be on a mission. Accompanied by Father Mateo, the Portuguese Jesuit he protects, along with their housekeeper, Ana, and Hiro’s cat, Gato, he sees that the agent is missing. Hiro and Father Mateo are then drawn in to the investigation of multiple murders that are believed to have been caused by a ghost in the eerily half-deserted village but the situation becomes even more pressing when Ana is accused of stealing from the inn’s proprietor. And where is the missing agent?

Ms. Spann never fails to entertain me and educate me as well since her stories are full of medieval Japanese history. I love the primary characters and their interactions with each other; for instance, Gato always manages to get in the thick of things but Father Mateo can only suffer around him, being highly allergic. The two men have grown to be quite fond of each other (not that they would say so) and the priest accepts the shinobi’s protection as gracefully as he can manage while Ana is irascible and, yet, attentive. The author has a way with words and conveys the times and the setting vividly, so much so that I can practically smell the tea served in the teahouse. My only regret after reading this entry is for the too-long wait for the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2020.

Book Review: A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman @Difreeman001 @KensingtonBooks

A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder
A Countess of Harleigh Mystery, #1
Dianne Freeman
Kensington Books, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-4967-1687-3
Hardcover

Frances Wynn may have been born American, but as the widowed Countess of Harleigh, she is highly placed in English society. Her marriage was not for love. Her mother wanted a title for her daughter, and the impoverished Wynns wanted American money to keep the estate afloat. Still, when her husband dies in another woman’s bed–right under Frances’ nose, so to speak–a situation is set in motion. To the heir’s and his wife’s dismay, as soon as her mourning year is over, Frances buys a house in town and vows no more money will be paid into the estate’s upkeep.

But then a letter is sent to the police which accuses Frances of being complicit in her husband’s murder. Murder? And then, in the upper-crust London homes where Frances visits, expensive items begin disappearing. Lily, Frances’ younger sister arrives from America to become an English debutante, and quickly becomes involved with several young men. Could one of them be the thief?

Inspector Delaney of the Metropolitan Police begins questioning Frances’ innocence, and her neighbor, with whom she has a history, becomes her defender. Together, the three attempt to unravel the mysterious goings on. But then a man is murdered in Frances’ back garden and Lily may have been kidnapped.

Still the question looms: Was Countess Harleigh’s husband murdered?

Freeman has penned a Victorian mystery with excellent, well-developed characters, and set them into an amusing plot. This story comes to a satisfactory conclusion, leaving the characters to continue on to yet another intriguing tale.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, January 2020.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Five Days, Five Dead: A China Bohannon Novel

Book Review: A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder by Dianne Freeman

A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder
A Countess of Harleigh Mystery #2
Dianne Freeman
Kensington Books, July 2019
ISBN 978-1-4967-1690-3
Hardcover

Lady Frances Wynn, Countess of Harleigh, has been doing a little matchmaking. Her sister Lily is almost engaged to Leo Kendrick, a match Lade Frances approves of, although she would like them to wait just a bit longer to announce their engagement. Her cousin Charles Evingdon has been discreetly seeing Mary Archer, a local widow with society connections although apparently little to no money. Lady Frances is encouraging the match; Charles is that geeky, clumsy cousin with minimal social skills who could do much worse than the widow Archer. This match, however, has come to naught; Charles informs Lady Frances that he and Mary Archer will not suit and won’t say why. This isn’t really a problem until Inspector Delaney arrives to ask Lady Frances why Mary Archer is in possession of information she shouldn’t have. He, for obvious reasons, decided that Charles is a suspect in Mary Archer’s murder. So Lady Frances needs to clear Charles (he is her cousin, after all), as well as niggle out how Mary Archer came to have such intimate details about the Harleigh family finances.

Lady Frances and her next-door-neighbor George Hazelton have had interactions, social and private, in the past. They are once again working on the same case. Mary Archer has been supplementing what little income she had by writing a local gossip column, Miss Information. George’s political connections are such that Inspector Delaney has been required to pass all the gossip column research to George for perusal and discreet intervention. George, having other problems on his plate, delegates that task to Lady Frances and, in the interest of speed, her household. All sworn to secrecy, of course.

Freeman seems to have done her research. London, during the summer, is fairly somnolent in terms of high society and the events that revolve around aristocrats. This means Lady Frances has fewer people on her suspects list, and more time to deal with all the questions that arise during her investigations. Freeman has built a good supporting cast for Lady Frances, and the new introductions bode well for future entries in the series. George Hazelton features prominently, as one might imagine, and his mixed messages do their best to keep Lady Frances in a tizzy. In the meantime, Charles finds his own match, and there is plenty of opportunity for another Countess of Harleigh mystery in the future.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, June 2019.

Book Review: The White Dress by Denise Buckley

The White DressThe White Dress
Denise Buckley
Strategic Book Publishing and Rights Co., November 2014
ISBN: 978-1-62857-506-4
Trade Paperback

The author of this enthralling historical novel is English. The novel begins in 1886, but its style is slightly off and definitely modern. “Nellie listened to see who had arrived and recognized Master Edward’s cousin Abigail. Nellie listened intently to the conversation when she heard Master Edward’s voice.” Direct, straightforward, many many short declarative sentences.

The novel deals with highly emotional sometimes turbulent incidents for which the almost neutral tone seems to work quite well. The plot is fairly simple but laded with more than a few twists and surprises. A young prostitute grabs an opportunity and steals an infant girl from a briefly untended carriage on the street of Ulverston, Lancashire, England. The baby grows up, has many adventures and the details of her parentage are ultimately resolved. The novel is a coming-of-age love story that looks with a critical but loving eye at the conditions of the lower classes in early Twentieth Century England and at the relationships of the classes during that period.

One is instantly drawn to Nellie and many of the other characters amid a desire to see them all succeed, something not possible, of course. Nellie’s personality develops in foreseeable steps as she dodges calamities and strides resolutely into her future. It is the ways in which she deals with both adversity and success that makes it necessary for us to continue reading to the elusive end.

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: A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn and See Also Murder by Larry Sweazy

A Curious BeginningA Curious Beginning
A Veronica Speedwell Mystery #1
Deanna Raybourn
NAL/New American Library, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-451-47601-2
Hardcover

I didn’t want to leave the world Deanna Raybourn created for this book. Her writing is sumptuous.

It’s 1887 in a small English village. Veronica Speedwell has just buried her aunt, the last of her family. She’s free to return to traveling the world, collecting butterflies for fun and profit. But hours after the funeral, her house is burgled. A stranger approaches her warning of danger and offering help. She is suspicious, but when he says he knew and loved her mother, she can’t just walk away. Veronica was a foundling. She must learn more about him, and her parents.

The stranger leaves her in London, with Stoker, a reclusive naturalist, and a promise of revelations to come. What comes is news of the stranger’s murder. Veronica and Stoker embark on literal and figurative journeys of discovery that involve a surreal circus, kidnapping and old, dangerous secrets. Their relationship begins in mistrust. Veronica is intensely independent, in the vein of the great Victorian women explorers. Stoker is deeply damaged, estranged from family and society. Gradually, as danger tests them over and over, they begun to understand and appreciate each other.

I found their journeys fascinating, the ending satisfactory in several ways. May this be the first of many books about this couple.

Reviewed by Marilyn Nulman, October 2015.

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See Also MurderSee Also Murder
A Marjorie Trumaine Mystery #1
Larry D. Sweazy
Seventh Street Books, May 2015
ISBN: 978-1-63388-006-1
Trade Paperback

A fascinating idea, an unusual location, an investigator with an interesting profession, and some odd characters all combine into the potential for a truly outstanding mystery novel. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite come off, due to an occasional wandering focus.

The author has chosen to concentrate on the mental meanderings of the principal character caught up in a tangle of competing emotions and relationships. Marjorie Trumaine is a professional indexer for a big East Coast publisher. Her life revolves around details and accuracy. The publisher sends her galleys of upcoming books and her responsibility is to check and double check facts and the consistency of facts. Publishers are unhappy when reviewers point out that the killer’s red getaway sedan on page five somehow morphs into a green dump truck on page twenty.

Marjorie Trumaine lives quietly in a small North Dakota town where she does her work and goes about life. A neighbor and his wife are butchered and the sheriff discovers a possible clue. It’s an amulet clutched in the hand of the deceased, covered with odd markings. The sheriff hands over the amulet to Marjorie Trumaine in the hopes her investigative skills will provide answers, including who murdered the couple.

Trouble begins almost immediately. Immersed in the investigation, Marjorie begins to see lurking shadows and hears strange noises. People she once saw as friends and good neighbors, she now looks at with tinges of fear and suspicion.

The first person narrative is clean and precise and readers will develop clear images of life in small North Dakota towns late in the previous century. Perhaps too many images. Eventually, of course, Marjorie discovers the truth about the amulet and the murders while adroitly avoiding the killer’s attempt to stop her.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2015.
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: A Spark Unseen by Sharon Cameron—and a Giveaway!

A Spark UnseenA Spark Unseen
Sharon Cameron
Scholastic Press, September 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-32813-5
Hardcover

A Spark Unseen, the sequel to The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron, takes us to Napoleon III’s Paris in 1854. In the opening, Katherine realizes she must leave Stranwyne Keep, her Uncle Tilly’s estate in Devonshire, England to protect him and his amazing inventions.

Fortunately her grandmother had a house with hidden rooms in Paris and Katherine wants to hide Uncle Tully there from the British and French governments and anyone else who may come looking. She is also determined to search for Lane who went to Paris at the conclusion of The Dark Unwinding and has since been reported dead.

It is an exciting read and in plot and character, it is just as charming as the first novel. All of the surviving characters from the first novel return and we get to know the main ones and their background stories even better. It’s an easy book to keep reading and forget about everything else.

The setting is where I found A Spark Unseen to fall short. I loved Stranwyne Keep and Uncle Tully. There is much less of him in this book. As Katherine misses Stranwyne Keep, I was constantly reminded how much I missed it too. Perhaps there’s reason to hope we will have more of the delightful Stranwyne Keep in future sequels.

Reviewed by Constance Reader, October 2014.

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To enter the drawing for a pre-publication copy of
A Spark Unseen by Sharon Cameron, leave a
comment below. The winning name will be drawn
Thursday evening, February 5th. This drawing
is open to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Review: The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron—and a Giveaway!

The Dark UnwindingThe Dark Unwinding
Sharon Cameron
Scholastic Press, September 2012
ISBN 978-0-545-32786-2
Hardcover

The Dark Unwinding begins like this: “Warm sun and robin’s egg skies were inappropriate conditions for sending one’s uncle to a lunatic asylum.”

Katherine Tulman is a seventeen-year-old orphan living in 1852 London with her Aunt Alice and cousin Robert, the heir of Uncle Tully’s entailed estate. Katherine clearly understands why her widowed Aunt Alice is sending her to Stanwyne, an isolated estate in the countryside. She is to assess her uncle’s mental stability and then recommend his commitment to an asylum so that the inheritance can pass to Robert.

What Katherine finds at Stanwyne is unexpected and full of surprises. One of the most charming aspects of this novel is the estate itself. Although I would enjoy describing it here, I’m sure you will have much more fun reading about it along with Katherine as she discovers Stranwyne’s many quirks and peculiarities. Uncle Tully is another of the novel’s charms. He is a character I will not quickly forget. This is a very visual novel and would make a delightful movie.

I had a lot of fun trying to guess along with Katherine, attempting to piece together seemingly unrelated elements as they occur and figuring out the central question here – what is going on? I could make little sense out of it and when I thought I was beginning to understand, I was usually wrong. Lots of pleasing surprises in this one.

The only caveat here that I will offer is to encourage the reader to read The Dark Unwinding quickly, over a brief period of time, in just a few days. Then, I think you will find the pace of the novel and its conclusion quite enjoyable. And if you enjoy it as much as I did, you will be happy to know that there is a published sequel, A Spark Unseen.

Reviewed by Constance Reader, April 2014.

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To enter the drawing for a hardcover copy of
The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron, leave a
comment below. The winning name will be drawn
Sunday evening, February 1st. This drawing
is open to residents of the US and Canada.

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Come back on Monday, February 2nd, for
the review of the sequel, A Spark Unseen,
and a giveaway of a pre-publication copy.