Book Reviews: The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas and Twinepathy by C.B. Cook @sherrythomas @BerkleyMystery

The Art of Theft
The Lady Sherlock Series #4
Sherry Thomas
Berkley, October 2019
ISBN 978-0-451-49247-0
Trade Paperback

Once upon a time, Sherry Thomas created the first of a retelling of the Sherlock Holmes adventures and, my word, what a charming series this is so far. Charlotte Holmes and Mrs. Watson are a delightful pair and they channel the original Holmes and Watson with a feminine aplomb that makes Sherlock himself much more accessible.

Charlotte is a successful detective, having solved numerous cases, but she’s going to have to become something of an art thief this time. The target is a particular very valuable painting but it’s the documents secreted on the back of the painting that she needs to obtain; if she can’t do so, her client will be ruined. Charlotte recruits her usual partners in crime, so to speak, and the merry band sets off to attend a masked ball and art sale at a certain chateau in France. Charlotte is the true brains of the group but she couldn’t pull this off without the able assistance of Stephen Marbleton and Lord Ingram, not to mention her sister, Livia, and the pragmatic Mrs. Watson.

There’s a great deal of fun to be had in this latest tale but the reader who’s new to the series should probably start with the first book, A Study in Scarlet Women, to enjoy the books to the fullest. If you’re like me, you’ll fall head over heels for Charlotte and company.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2020.

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Twinepathy
IDIA #1
C.B. Cook
CreateSpace, July 2016
ISBN 978-1535201551
Trade Paperback

Twin sisters Brooklyn and Albany have always hidden their telepathic abilities, believing they’re alone in the world in that sense, until a small child shows up on the doorstep, a child who seems to be suffering from total amnesia. Before they can even begin to come up with a plan—although they instinctively know they need to hide the child from their older brother and parents for the moment—two strangers appear literally out of thin air and the world as they know it changes in an instant.

It turns out that superheroes do really exist, with various powers as Data and Blaze explain; Data is a glorified mind reader and is the head of a secret agency of superheroes, the International Defense and Intelligence Agency, while Blaze specializes in teleportation and illusion. Before this first meeting is over, the sisters have code names, and they’ve learned that the little girl, dubbed Maddie, is not the first victim of memory loss. Now, Albany and Brooklyn set out to solve the first mystery—who is Maddie and what is her story?

Twinepathy is a fun tale for anyone who enjoys superheroes and adventure mixed in with a puzzle and I recommend it for a few hours of entertaining distraction from our all too real world.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2020.

Teeny Reviews: A Christmas Revelation by Anne Perry and How the Finch Stole Christmas by Donna Andrews

A Christmas Revelation
Christmas Novella #18
Anne Perry
Ballantine Books, November 2018
ISBN 978-0-399-17994-5
Hardcover

I stopped reading Anne Perry‘s books a few years back when they started getting so much longer than I care for but I’ve remained a fan of her stories about William and Hester Monk and Thomas and Charlotte Pitt plus a myriad of wonderful secondary characters. When this novella came along, I decided I needed to touch base again, so to speak, and I’m glad I did.

This episode is set in and around Hester Monk’s clinic where a young boy has found a family of sorts with a volunteer and a bookkeeper. When Worm sees a woman being abducted, he goes to Squeaky, the bookkeeper, for help and, against his better judgement, Squeaky jumps in. What the pair learns about the woman puts a real twist on things but, bottomline, the mystery surrounding the woman takes a back seat to the growing relationship—and mutual caring—between a child who’s had to grow up too fast and a rather crotchety older man. It’s a sweet story in many ways.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2018.

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How the Finch Stole Christmas
A Meg Langslow Mystery #22
Donna Andrews
Minotaur Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-11545-4
Hardcover

When Meg Langslow’s actor/professor husband decides to put on a production of “A Christmas Carol”, it becomes a family affair with the twins and Meg actively involved but it’s the actor Michael hired to play Scrooge who becomes the star of his own self-important, drunken show. Meg follows him, hoping to find out who’s supplying alcohol to Malcolm and also accidentally discovers an illegal exotic animal trafficking operation. Naturally, Meg and her animal devotee family have to get involved but finding a dead body wasn’t part of the bargain nor did they expect Malcolm to be pegged as the killer. And is the killing connected to the smuggling outfit or something else entirely? Meanwhile, a rescue group has Gouldian Finches being fostered everywhere and more are coming.

Anybody who hasn’t read a Meg Langslow book needs to run right out and remedy that omission but, please, start with the first one in the series. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on a lot of the humor and the family dynamics. Plus, you won’t get the full effect of Spike 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2018.

A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 3

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…

 

Deep Cover Jack
The Hunt for Reacher Series #7
Diane Capri
AugustBooks, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-940768-70-0
Trade Paperback

If you’ve never tried any of the Jack Reacher books by Lee Child, you need to read at least one before you tackle this series because this is all about the “other side” of the equation, the law enforcement folks who think they need to apprehend Reacher because he’s such a horrible person, a desperately wanted man. Well…our FBI Special Agents, Kim Otto and Carlos Gaspar have learned a few things by the time we get to this seventh book and they’ve picked up a little help along the way from other interested parties but they haven’t yet caught the man. Will they this time when they head for Houston? Hmm…if you know Jack, you know their chances are on the slim side but will they at least get close?

This is an intriguing, entertaining companion to the Jack Reacher series and, yes, Lee Child himself speaks highly of it. Oh, and before you think these must be the most incompetent agents ever if they’ve been chasing him through seven books, think again. Try it, you’ll like it 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Stalking Jack the Ripper
Stalking Jack the Ripper Series #1
Kerri Maniscalco
jimmy patterson, September 2016
ISBN 978-0-316-27349-7
Hardcover

As you might surmise from the name of the publisher, this is “presented” by the megawatt author James Patterson himself and, if I do say so, this is a good ‘un. Audrey Rose Wadsworth loves to spend time in her uncle’s lab learning medical stuff but gets drawn into a serious criminal investigation, that of the gory deaths of some women of ill repute. With the assistance of Thomas Cresswell, apprentice to her uncle, Audrey Rose really wants to get justice for these poor women as well as bring a killer to justice but the stakes get even higher when the long arm of the law reaches out to someone close to her.

I like the Victorian era, young adult mysteries and the Jack the Ripper case (plus I love the cover) so trying this was a no brainer for me. Mounting clues and hair-raising theories lead to a horrifying discovery but, throughout it all, Audrey Rose maintains her intelligent, thoughtful focus even if she can’t be completely objective. The next case for this young lady and the charming if annoying Thomas, Hunting Prince Dracula, involves another string of killings while Audrey Rose studies forensic medicine in Romania and I can hardly wait to dive in.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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March of Crime
A Murder-By-Month Mystery #11
Jess Lourey
Midnight Ink, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5263-1
Trade Paperback

This cozy series has been fun and frothy since the beginning and I continue to like them a lot, especially because they never seem to get stale, if you know what I mean. They have plenty of humor along with tension and Mira Ross might as well be called the Jessica Fletcher of Battle Lake, Minnesota, since people seem to drop like flies in her vicinity. No wonder this mild-mannered librarian has aspirations of being a private eye!

One thing that intrigues me about cozies is the myriad ways authors find to present a dead body without offending sensibilities and I think Ms. Lourey has outdone herself and everyone else this time. Lifesize dolls are kind of creepy anyway (to me at least) but when one turns out to be an actual corpse sitting proudly right next to Mira, well I ask you, how could she NOT want to snoop? Mira and her assorted crew of cronies and nemeses are soon hot on one trail or another and I chortled all the way to the end.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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The Enemy Within
Scott Burn
Scott Burn, August 2016
ISBN 978-0-9978429-1-3
Trade Paperback

There have been people throughout history who have had visions of the future, some believable, many more not so much, but I had to have a lot of sympathy for the 17-year-old Max who has been seeing hellfire and damnation at the apparent end of the world. In his situation, I’m not sure I wouldn’t at least consider his way of ending these horrific sights that just won’t stop but one thing that would prevent me from  doing such a drastic thing is my own suspicion that I’d bungle it. And he does, landing himself in an institution.

Three other boys have found each other but know that they’re missing one and can’t do what they’re supposed to do without him. Who are they? Suffice it to say, there’s a new unclaimed satellite in orbit and things are about to get very unsettling for us and for our survival on this planet.

This was such a fun story with aliens and other cool science fiction-y stuff. Technically speaking, this is Young Adult but I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good apocalyptic story full of adventure and mayhem, not to mention some pretty appealing characters. I hope we’ll see more of Max before too long.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore
Matthew Sullivan
Scribner, June 2017
ISBN 978-1501116841
Hardcover
Narrated by Madeleine Maby
Simon & Schuster Audio, June 2017
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

As a former bookstore owner, I naturally had to read this and, while I enjoyed it, I also had some reservations. The Bright Ideas Bookstore is a strange sort of place, attracting some rather odd people called the BookFrogs, some of whom seem to spend all their waking hours just hanging out, rarely buying anything. And, since Lydia Smith was Joey Molina’s favorite bookseller, you have to wonder why he would commit suicide in the bookstore, leaving his supposed favorite to find him.

But so he does and he leaves all his worldly goods to Lydia leading her to puzzle over certain things that pique her curiosity, not only because she thought Joey was a nice young man but also because she seems to have an odd connection to this mystery, a connection that takes her back to a most unpleasant murder-tainted past.

The ebook of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore grabbed my attention despite my initial reluctance and I decided I wanted to try listening to the tale. Narrator Madeleine Maby has a pleasing tone with identifiable vocalizations and I do think the audio edition helped evoke emotions a bit more easily than the written version. Bottomline, while the rampant dysfunction in these characters’ lives made me somewhat unsettled, the mystery itself was engaging.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

Book Review: Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond by Jayne Barnard—and a Giveaway!

Maddie Hatter and the Deadly DiamondMaddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond
Jayne Barnard
Tyche Books, September 2015
ISBN 978-1-928025-33-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Miss Maddie Hatter, renegade daughter of a powerful Steamlord, is scraping a precarious living as a fashion reporter when the story of a lifetime falls into her lace-gloved hands.

Baron Bodmin, an adventurer with more failed quests than fingernails, has vanished in circumstances that are odd even for him.

While he is supposedly hunting the fabled Eye of Africa diamond in the Nubian desert, his expeditionary airship is found adrift off the coast of England. Maddie was the last reporter to see the potty peer alive. If she can locate the baron or the Eye of Africa, her career will be made.

Outraged investors and false friends complicate her quest, and a fiendish figure lurks in the shadows, ready to snatch the prize . . . at any price.

I stopped reading steampunk a while back, mainly because I got tired of it and I felt as though each one was pretty much the same as the last. Then, one fine day, Jayne Barnard offered me a copy of this book for review and I was immediately drawn in by the title and by this oh-so-wonderful cover. Is that not one of the best covers you’ve seen in a while? And, OMG, the bird! Tweetle-D aka TD is one of the most charming birds I’ve ever come across even if he is made of brass and, quite frankly, Maddie’s snooping would have gotten  nowhere without this very special little sparrow.

Like any intelligent, forward-thinking young woman of her day, Maddie has no intention of writing about fashion for the rest of her career but she needs a miracle to propel her into something more exciting. That miracle kind of falls into her lap when the eccentric Baron Bodmin disappears during his expedition to Egypt in search of a fabulous jewel and his airship is found floating aimlessly without its pilot. Maddie is literally on the spot in Cairo and this is her chance but she has to be very circumspect in her investigations lest her society parents catch wind of her decidedly improper activities.

Keeping the proper rules of conduct in mind as much as possible but allowing for a few daring “missteps”, Maddie and her wonderful TD set off to get the scoop and solve the mystery while they’re at it. How could she possibly predict the twists and turns this inquiry will bring about as a missing person case becomes murder?

Egypt was another lure that enticed me to read Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond. Years ago, many more than I like to think about, I spent a week in Egypt and was completely captivated by the country and its people and it’s one of a handful of foreign lands I really want to visit again. In today’s climate of unrest and violence, that’s not likely to happen, so I enjoy Egypt vicariously through books such as those written by Elizabeth Peters. That love of Egypt was only one of the reasons I wanted to read this book, though, and Ms. Barnard reeled me in with one of the most delightful tales I’ve read in a while. It’s a lovely mix of mystery, science fiction, humor, froth and adventure that can be found in the best steampunk and I can’t wait to read Maddie’s next exploits. Write faster, please, Ms. Barnard!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2015.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy of
Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond
by Jayne Barnard, leave a comment
below. The winning name will be drawn
Thursday evening, November 26th.
This drawing is open to residents
of the US and Canada.

Book Review: The Spoils of Avalon by Mary F. Burns

The Spoils of Avalon Tour Banner

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Title: The Spoils of Avalon
Series: A John Singer Sargent/Violet Paget Mystery Book One
Author: Mary F. Burns
Publisher: Sand Hill Review Press
Publication Date: November 1, 2014
Genre: Historical Mystery

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“An artist, a writer, a murder, a mysterious tome, a dissolving time, a crime,
Arthurian legends, ancient saints books and bones. Burns’ prose drives and
is sublime, with characters and settings that live on in your mind. This is an
original historical mystery connecting the Age of Industry with the Age of Miracles.”
– Stephanie Renée dos Santos, forthcoming novel: Cut From The Earth

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Goodreads

Amazon Buy Button

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The Spoils of AvalonThe Spoils of Avalon
A John Singer Sargent/Violet Paget Mystery Book One
Mary F. Burns
Sand Hill Review Press, November 2014
ISBN 978-1-937818-28-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

The death of a humble clergyman in 1877 leads amateur sleuths Violet Paget and John Singer Sargent into a medieval world of saints and kings—including the legendary Arthur—as they follow a trail of relics and antiquities lost since the destruction of Glastonbury Abbey in 1539. Written in alternating chapters between the two time periods, The Spoils of Avalon creates a sparkling, magical mystery that bridges the gap between two worlds that could hardly be more different—the industrialized, Darwinian, materialistic Victorian Age and the agricultural, faith-infused life of a medieval abbey on the brink of violent change at the hands of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell.

First in a new series of historical mysteries, The Spoils of Avalon introduces two unlikely detectives and life-long friends—beginning as young people on the verge of making their names famous for the next several decades throughout Europe and America: the brilliant and brittle Violet Paget, known as the writer Vernon Lee, and the talented, genial portrait painter John Singer Sargent.

Writing a novel in two different time periods is nothing new but doing it really well is not so easy. The Spoils of Avalon is, to my way of thinking, a prime example of doing it oh, so very well. I was intrigued when offered the chance to read and review this because I’m fond of both the Arthurian legend and its time and the Victorian period for historical fiction and historical mysteries (not to mention pure historical nonfiction). Ms. Burns not only didn’t fail me, she gave me one of the best reads I’ve had all year.

The first thing I have to mention is the tone of the alternating chapters. By that, I mean there is no mistaking whether it’s 1539 or 1877 because the author has such a fine sense of the language and the syntax of each time and the events that were occurring, historically speaking. Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell were in the midst of destroying the monasteries in 1539 and the fear and disillusionment felt by the Abbot, the young monk, Arthur, and other abbey monks who gave their loyalty to the Church is palpable. Looking back from today, we know how Henry and Cromwell rampaged through all the church holdings, taking their wealth for the Crown and leaving the English Church in ruins. Contrasted with that time is the Victorian era and it’s industrialization and the beginnings of women’s freedoms. Violet and John speak in the mode of language you would anticipate and show the signs of modernity that would have certainly been evident in 1877 England.

The characters, primarily Arthur, John and Violet, all came to life for me. I felt the Abbot’s distress and Arthur’s devotion to the man while he was having doubts about his own future as a monk. Seeing Arthur in a teenaged role was interesting, lending a new facet to the king he was to become. John’s love of art, in this time before he gained fame, runs throughout the story and it’s his eye for detail that makes him such a good sleuth. Then there’s Violet, a woman I had not heard of before who made a name for herself as a writer in a man’s world. In Ms. Burns’ hands, Violet is incredibly engaging and intelligent with a wit that enlivens her conversations. She has joined the small group of Victorian sleuths I call my favorites.

Getting to the bottom of how Reverend Crickley met his untimely end is, of course, the core of the tale and it’s a very pleasing bit of sleuthing that John and Violet take on. Is the less-than-totally-charming Lord Parke somehow involved? The housekeeper, Mrs. Barnstable? The lawyer Wattendall? And what is the motive behind the death?

Anyone in search of a truly engaging mystery with depth of character and plot and interesting historical settings would do well to pick up The Spoils of Avalon, first in what I hope will be a very long series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2014.

About the Author

Mary F. BurnsMary F. Burns is the author of PORTRAITS OF AN ARTIST (Sand Hill Review Press, February 2013), a member of and book reviewer for the Historical Novel Society and a former member of the HNS Conference board of directors. A novella-length book, ISAAC AND ISHMAEL, is also being published by Sand Hill Review Press in 2014. Ms. Burns’ debut historical novel J-THE WOMAN WHO WROTE THE BIBLE was published in July 2010 by O-Books (John Hunt Publishers, UK). She has also written two cozy-village mysteries in a series titled The West Portal Mysteries (The Lucky Dog Lottery and The Tarot Card Murders).

Ms. Burns was born in Chicago, Illinois and attended Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, where she earned both Bachelors and Masters degrees in English, along with a high school teaching certificate. She relocated to San Francisco in 1976 where she now lives with her husband Stuart in the West Portal neighborhood. Ms. Burns has a law degree from Golden Gate University, has been president of her neighborhood association and is active in citywide issues. During most of her working career she was employed as a director of employee communications, public relations and issues management at various San Francisco Bay Area corporations, was an editor and manager of the Books on Tape department for Ignatius Press, and has managed her own communications/PR consulting business, producing written communications, websites and video productions for numerous corporate and non-profit clients.

Ms. Burns may be contacted by email at maryfburns@att.net. For more information please visit Mary Burns’s website. You can also connect with Mary on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads, or read her blog posts at:

www.jthewomanwhowrotethebible.com
www.literarygracenotes.blogspot.com
www.portraitsofanartist.blogspot.com
www.sargent-pagetmysteries.blogspot.com
www.genesisnovel.blogspot.com

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Follow the tour here.

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Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Book Review: The Laws of Murder by Charles Finch—and a Giveaway!

The Laws of MurderThe Laws of Murder
A Charles Lenox Mystery #8
Charles Finch
Minotaur Books, November 2014
ISBN 978-250-05130-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It’s 1876, and Charles Lenox, once London’s leading private investigator, has just given up his seat in Parliament after six years, primed to return to his first love, detection.  With high hopes he and three colleagues start a new detective agency, the first of its kind.  But as the months pass, and he is the only detective who cannot find work, Lenox begins to question whether he can still play the game as he once did.

Then comes a chance to redeem himself, though at a terrible price: a friend, a member of Scotland Yard, is shot near Regent’s Park.  As Lenox begins to parse the peculiar details of the death – an unlaced boot, a days-old wound, an untraceable luggage ticket – he realizes that the incident may lead him into grave personal danger, beyond which lies a terrible truth.

I’ve been a fan of this series since the very first book, A Beautiful Blue Death, came out in 2007. Somehow, I always know that I can count on Charles Finch to make the newest adventure just as fresh and entertaining as the one before and The Laws of Murder did not disappoint me in any way.

Scotland Yard hires Charles Lenox to aid in the investigation into the murder of one of its own, Inspector Thomas Jenkins. This is much more personal than some of his earlier cases since he had counted the inspector as a friend despite the unkind comments Jenkins had made in the newspapers about the agency and its unlikelihood of success.

The inner workings of the detective agency Charles formed with his partners—Lenox, Dallington, Strickland and DeMaire—are a real treat as we get to see more of how crime fighters did things back in the 1870’s with none of the fancy tools we have today like DNA testing, ballistics and technological gadgets such as cellphones and computers. Not everyone wishes the agency well, as seen in the territorial distrust and contempt coming from most of the Yard and the antipathy of the press, and Lenox seems to be having a bit of trouble getting back into the business of investigation after his seven years in Parliament.

As the investigation proceeds, Lenox and his partners find themselves drawn into a very shady mix of the criminal world and the highest levels of society. What could Jenkins have had to with the Slavonian Club and its dirty secrets and who is trying so hard to destroy Lenox, Dallington, Strickland and DeMaire?

Along with the principles, especially Charles, John and Polly,  I enjoyed spending time with old favorites Graham and Lady Jane in The Laws of Murder. Mr. Finch has a particular talent in both plot development and in building vibrant characters, including the city of London itself. This entry in the series is one of my favorites because it brings Charles Lenox out of the worthy but stultifying halls of the House of Lords and back into the vocation he loves, detecting. It’s nice to have him back in the thick of things.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.

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The Laws of Murder by Charles Finch
will be released on November 11th but
you could win
an Advance Reading Copy
from publisher Minotaur Books! To enter
the drawing, leave a comment below. The
winning name will be drawn Tuesday
evening, October 14th. This drawing is
open to residents of the US and Canada.