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: The Inheritance by Jacqueline Seewald—and a Giveaway!

The Inheritance
Jacqueline Seewald
Intrigue Publishing, December 2016
ISBN 978-1-940758-50-3
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Jennifer Stoddard is a 35-year-old widow who has just found out she is the sole heir of her grandmother’s estate, located in the midwest town she grew up in. But there is a catch; she must live in the house for two years before she can claim the estate and someone doesn’t want her there. The threats begin soon after her return. A rifle shot whizzes through her car window, her brakes are tampered with, and her tires are slashed. Police Chief, Grant Coleman, is called upon to investigate. Unfortunately, the history between Jen and Grant from high school causes them to mistrust each other. However, Grant is a professional and intends to do his job. Together they explore who might want to drive Jen out of the house, while trying to understand their feelings of anger, mistrust and desire for each other. With Jen’s life on the line, will they be able to put the past behind them to work together and save her and her son’s lives?

We’ve seen this premise before, that of someone having to fulfill usually difficult conditions in order to receive an inheritance. The differences with this particular story lie in the questions that immediately arise in the reader’s mind, starting with wondering why Jen had to learn through an attorney that her grandmother had passed a month earlier. That in itself isn’t the puzzle—that sort of thing isn’t unheard of—but, in this case, the attorney got Jen’s address from her mother so why didn’t the woman tell her? And, if her grandmother played such a large role in her youth, why did Jen essentially cut her out of her life?

Those questions and more are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when Jen returns to her hometown and accepts the challenge of the will. The mansion is in dire need of repair and she hires a contractor, Rob Coleman, who turns out to be the brother of Grant Coleman who broke her heart in high school. Unfortunately, Grant is the police chief and has a distinctly hostile attitude towards her. When it starts to look like someone really doesn’t want her in town, that attitude is going to cause problems of its own.

Along with the mounting tension of the attacks, there’s an enjoyable sidestory involving Jen’s visiting friend, Maryann, and Rob. These are two likeable characters I couldn’t help rooting for and they helped lighten the suspense. That suspense builds and builds until a dramatic ending that held even more surprises. All in all, The Inheritance is a finely-crafted story that held my attention from the very first page to the last.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2017.

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Book Reviews: Mrs Pargeter’s Public Relations by Simon Brett and Desperate for Death by Judy Alter

Mrs Pargeter’s Public Relations
A Mrs Pargeter Mystery #8
Simon Brett
Crème de la Crime/Severn House, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-78029-092-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It is her characteristic generosity rather than her love of animals that finds Mrs Pargeter supporting her friend, Jasmine Angold, at a charity reception for PhiliPussies, whose worthy aim is to rehabilitate stray cats from the Greek island of Atmos into caring English homes. But the evening is to have unexpected consequences. At the event, Mrs P is taken aback to meet a woman who claims to be the sister of her late husband, the much-missed Mr Pargeter.

This surprising encounter leads to unwelcome digging into past secrets, the discovery of a body in Epping Forest, an eventful trip to Greece – and unexpected danger for Mrs Pargeter. In the course of her investigations, she learns the true nature of charity and the dubious skills by which Public Relations can make evil look good.

The Mrs Pargeter series is beguiling and delightful and this particular installment is no exception. Once again, the very wealthy and very kind widow finds herself in the midst of a puzzling crime and perhaps more.

Mrs Pargeter is always ready to help worthy causes with her money and her time but the latest, a cat rescue program, doesn’t really speak to her as she’s not particularly fond of cats. She agrees to go to a fundraiser because it’s important to her friend, Jasmine Angold, and Mrs Pargeter is all for supporting friends and those who are good to her, people such as Gary, her driver-on-call, and a security expert, Parvez. She found both in her late husband’s little black book full of experts in all sorts of activities. These experts were all connected in one way or another to her husband’s, er, illegal enterprises and while Mrs Pargeter would just as soon not know anything about said enterprises (to the point of not allowing anyone to mention them), she certainly appreciates the resulting wealth and the contents of the little black book.

When a very expensive necklace disappears from the charity auction, Mrs Pargeter is intrigued but even more so by the out-of-the-blue appearance of Rochelle Brighouse, a sister-in-law she never knew existed. Now, she has two mysteries to look into, the theft and this rather unpleasant woman, and she begins with a few questions to Gary and Parvez but is stymied by their surprising unwillingness to talk.

When Rochelle makes her agenda known and Mrs Pargeter realizes her husband’s reputation is at stake, she’s mobilized to do something about it. Add to that a murder connected to the cat rescue and our intrepid sleuth is soon doing what she does best.

 Mrs Pargeter is a woman wedded to fighting for good and against evil and this crime caper is as entertaining and full of dry humor as one could wish despite a bit of silliness (it’s puzzling why Brits would feel compelled to rescue cats from Greece when there are plenty of needy felines at home). She also is an unusual sleuth with her vast wealth and her ability to call on some of her husband’s very capable associates with their particular talents. All in all, it’s really easy to be charmed.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2017.

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Desperate for Death
A Kelly O’Connell Mystery #6
Judy Alter
Alter Ego Publishing, January 2016
ISBN 978-0-9960131-7-8
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Just when Kelly’s life has calmed, she faces yet another of life’s puzzles. Except the pieces in this one don’t fit. First the apartment behind her house is torched, then a string of bizzare “accidents” occur to set her off-balance. Who is stalking her? Where does the disappearance of a young girl and her disreputable boyfriend fit in? And why are two men using the same name? Is the surprise inheritance another part of the puzzle? At a time when she is most vulnerable, Kelly can’t make the pieces fit. Before Kelly can get the whole picture, she helps the family of a hostage, rescues a kidnap victim and attends a wild and wonderful wedding.

Most of the time in a cozy, I get irritated with the love interest who’s a cop and he demands that his lady, our amateur sleuth, stay out of his business. This time, I’m irritated because Mike, the cop in question, blows off Kelly’s suggestion that the fire in her unoccupied guest house might have been set by someone out for revenge against him, a convict perhaps. Instead, he wants Kelly to think of someone who’s out to cause her trouble while he’s off doing his thing. Sure, she’s gotten involved in murders and other nefarious activities but surely any cop must know he’s a prime target. Weirdly, while dismissing any connection he might have, he also tends to disregard Kelly’s thinking about the case.

On the other hand, Kelly has a few other things on her mind.

My favorite character is definitely Keisha, Kelly’s completely indispensable assistant who’s flamboyant, nosy and very intuitive, not to mention streetsmart. I didn’t care for others quite so much, including Kelly and Mike, but the story was engaging. The action was a bit choppy but that actually kept things moving and the various leads and hunches gave me plenty to think about before all became clear.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2017.

Book Review: Child’s Play by Merry Jones—and a Giveaway!

childs-playChild’s Play
The Elle Harrison Series #3
Merry Jones
Oceanview Publishing, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-60809-191-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Since her husband’s murder two years earlier, life hasn’t been easy for Elle Harrison. Now, at the start of a new school year, the second grade teacher is determined to move on. She’s selling her house and delving into new experiences―like learning trapeze.

Just before the first day of school, Elle learns that a former student, Ty Evans, has been released from juvenile detention where he served time for killing his abusive father. Within days of his release, Elle’s school principal, who’d tormented Ty as a child, is brutally murdered. So is a teacher at the school. And Ty’s former girlfriend. All the victims have links to Ty.

Ty’s younger brother, Seth, is in Elle’s class. When Seth shows up at school beaten and bruised, Elle reports the abuse, and authorities remove Seth and his older sister, Katie, from their home. Is Ty the abuser?

Ty seeks Elle out, confiding that she’s the only adult he’s ever trusted. She tries to be open-minded, even wonders if he’s been wrongly condemned. But when she’s assaulted in the night, she suspects that Ty is her attacker. Is he a serial killer? Is she his next intended victim?

Before Elle discovers the truth, she’s caught in a deadly trap that challenges her deepest convictions about guilt and innocence, childhood and family. Pushed to her limits, she’s forced to face her fears and apply new skills in a deadly fight to survive.

I first encountered the work of Merry Jones almost four years ago and, at the time, I thought there were flaws in The Trouble with Charlie but I still found the tale intriguing and looked forward to future books. Next for me came In the Woods (a different series) almost two years later and, while I didn’t care for that one as much, I didn’t give up on Ms. Jones. Something about her books kept drawing me back and, to my mind, that says a lot about an author’s ability to engage a reader.

Now comes Child’s Play, third entry in the first series and my interest in Ms. Jones has been paid off in spades. This book is the one I consider to be her breakthough novel and I’m truly glad I had the opportunity to read it.

Here we have a dark, disturbing study of the repercussions our actions can have years after the fact, tangled with the impact a troubled home life has on children, sometimes leading to dire events. Elementary school teacher Elle Harrison has to cope with a memory disorder but she remembers Ty Evans well enough, a young man recently released from detention after serving his time for killing his abusive father. When people connected to Ty’s past and present begin to die, Elle can’t help wanting to believe Ty when he insists he’s not the killer but she can’t forget his past nor completely trust him. With continually rising tension and plenty of twists and turns, Elle’s nerves go on high alert but certain truths that come to light are way beyond what she ever anticipated.

I have to say some readers will probably find Child’s Play a bit too violent and emotionally wrenching but I appreciated how Ms. Jones handled some very disturbing topics including the horrifying aspects of true psychosis. For anyone looking for a riveting book you won’t want to put down, this is a fine candidate.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2017.

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An Excerpt from Child’s Play

I was the first one there.

The parking lot was empty, except for Stan’s pickup truck. Stan was the custodian, tall, hair thinning, face pock-marked from long ago acne. He moved silently, popped out of closets and appeared in corners, prowled the halls armed with a mop or a broom. In fourteen years, I couldn’t remember a single time when he’d looked me in the eye.

Wait—fourteen years? I’d been there that long? Faces of kids I’d taught swirled through my head. The oldest of them would now be, what? Twenty-one? Oh man. Soon I’d be one of those old school marms teaching the kids of my former students, a permanent fixture of the school like the faded picture of George Washington mounted outside the principal’s office. Hell, in a few months, I’d be forty. A middle-aged childless widow who taught second grade over and over again, year after year, repeating the cycle like a hamster on its wheel. Which reminded me: I had to pick up new hamsters. Tragically, last year’s hadn’t made it through the summer.

I told myself to stop dawdling. I had a classroom to organize, cubbies to decorate. On Monday, just three days from now, twenty-three glowing faces would show up for the first day of school, and I had to be ready. I climbed out of the car, pulled a box of supplies from the trunk, started for the building. And stopped.

My heart did triple time, as if responding to danger. But there was no danger. What alarmed me, what sent my heart racing was the school itself. But why? Did it look different? Had the windows been replaced, or the doors? Nothing looked new, but something seemed altered. Off balance. The place didn’t look like an elementary school. It looked like a giant factory. A prison.

God, no. It didn’t look like any of those things. The school was the same as it had always been, just a big brick building. It seemed cold and stark simply because it was unadorned by throngs of children. Except for wifi, Logan Elementary hadn’t changed in fifty years, unless you counted several new layers of soot on the bricks.

I stood in the parking lot, observing the school, seeing it fresh. I’d never paid much attention to it before. When it was filled with students, the building itself became all but invisible, just a structure, a backdrop. But now, empty, it was unable to hide behind the children, the smells of sunshine and peanut butter sandwiches, the sounds of chatter and small shoes pounding Stanley’s waxed tiles. The building stood exposed. I watched it, felt it watching me back. Threatening.

Seriously, what was wrong with me? The school was neither watching nor threatening me. It was a benign pile of bricks and steel. I was wasting time, needed to go in and get to work. But I didn’t take a single step. Go on, I told myself. What was I afraid of? Empty halls, vacant rooms? Blank walls? For a long moment, I stood motionless, eyes fixed on the façade. The carved letters: Logan School. The heavy double doors. The dark windows. Maybe I’d wait a while before going inside. Becky would arrive soon, after she picked up her classroom aquarium.

Other teachers would show up, too. I could go in with them, blend safely into their commotion. I hefted the box, turned back to the car. But no, what was I doing? I didn’t want to wait. I’d come early so I could get work done without interruption or distraction before the others arrived. The school wasn’t daring me, nor was I sensing some impending tragedy. I was just jittery about starting a new year.

I turned around again, faced its faded brown bricks. I steeled my shoulders, took a breath and started across the parking lot. With a reverberating metallic clank, the main doors flew open. Reflexively, I stepped back, half expecting a burst of flames or gunfire. Instead, Stan emerged. For the first time in fourteen years, I was glad to see him. Stan surveyed the parking lot, hitched up his pants. Looked in my direction. He didn’t wave or nod a greeting, didn’t follow social conventions. Even so, his presence grounded me, felt familiar.

I took a breath, reminded myself that the school was just a school. That I was prone to mental wandering and embellishing. And that children would stream into my classroom in just three days, whether I was ready or not.

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About the Author

Merry JonesMerry Jones is the author of some twenty critically acclaimed books, both fiction and nonfiction. Her work has been translated into seven languages. Her previous Elle Harrison novels have been THE TROUBLE WITH CHARLIE and ELECTIVE PROCEDURES. Jones lives with her husband in Philadelphia.

Catch Up with Merry online:

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01/26 Blog Talk Radio w/Fran Lewis
01/26 Review @ Just Reviews
02/01 Review/showcase @ Books, Dreams, Life
02/02 Review @ Wall-to-wall books – Giveaway
02/03 Review/showcase @ CMash Reads
02/04 Showcase @ The Pen and Muse Book Reviews
02/05 Review @ Book Babble
02/06 Review @ Buried Under Books – Giveaway
02/07 Interview/showcase @ BooksChatter
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02/09 Showcase @ Mythical Books
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02/20 Guest post & Review @ Jersey Girl Book Reviews
02/21 Interview @ Writers and Authors
02/22 Interview @ Jean BookNerd – Giveaway
02/23 Review @ Books Direct
02/23 Review @ JBronder Book Reviews
02/24 Review & Guest post @ Blog Rockin Book Reviews – Giveaway

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Book Review: Teetotaled by Maia Chance—and a Giveaway!

teetotaledTeetotaled
Discreet Retrieval Agency Mysteries #2
Maia Chance
Minotaur Books, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-072214
Hardcover

From the publisher—

After her philandering husband died and left her penniless in Prohibition-era New York, Lola Woodby escaped with her Swedish cook to the only place she could―her deceased husband’s secret love nest in the middle of Manhattan. Her only comforts were chocolate cake, dime store detective novels, and the occasional highball (okay, maybe not so occasional). But rent came due and Lola and Berta were forced to accept the first job that came their way, leading them to set up shop as private detectives operating out of Alfie’s cramped love nest.

Now Lola and Berta are in danger of losing the business they’ve barely gotten off the ground―work is sparse and money is running out. So when a society matron offers them a job, they take it―even if it means sneaking into a slimming and exercise facility and consuming only water and health food until they can steal a diary from Grace Whiddle, a resident at the “health farm.” But barely a day in, Grace and her diary escape from the facility―and Grace’s future mother-in-law is found murdered on the premises. Lola and Berta are promptly fired. But before they can climb into Lola’s brown and white Duesenberg Model A and whiz off the health farm property, they find themselves with a new client and a new charge: to solve the murder of Grace’s future mother-in-law.

I’m not a strong fan of fiction set in the Roaring Twenties but, every now and then, I come across an author who just does it right, if you know what I mean. I had “met” Maia Chance before with a very different series and knew from that one that I would almost certainly love this book (I haven’t read the first one) and indeed I do.

While Lola does indulge in a bit of wallowing in self-pity—who wouldn’t, considering the circumstances?—she’s a woman who’s not afraid to step out of her society comfort zone when it becomes obvious she needs to make a living. With one sleuthing case under their belts, Lola and Berta have enough confidence to take on a second retrieval which is a good thing if they want to pay the rent and have a cocktail or two, not to mention fulfill Lola’s craving for sweets. Unfortunately for a mother-in-law-to-be, that retrieval turns into a murder investigation and Lola and Berta may or may not be up to the job.

These two very different ladies are a hoot and, as often as not, they come across clues because they sort of stumble their way there, not because they’re really good at what they do (although it must be noted that Berta is probably the more intelligent of the duo). There’s a lot of humor here but also a darned good cozy mystery, one that kept me entertained from beginning to end.

Although there’s a vast difference in wealth, readers who are drawn to Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher and her faithful companion, Dot, will also love Lola and Berta and enjoy the heck out of their adventures. Maia Chance has a fine touch and creates characters and plots filled with humor and more than a bit of pizazz; I am most certainly a fan of Lola and Berta 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2016.

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Lola and Berta may not be Holmes and Watson,
but their deficits in experience and talent are balanced
by determination and an abundance of action.
P.G. Wodehouse fans will find a lot to like.
—Publishers Weekly

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To enter the drawing for a print
copy of Teetotaled
by Maia Chance,
just leave a comment below. The
winning
name will be drawn on Friday

night, October 7th. This drawing is open
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Book Review: Remember Me This Way by Sabine Durant

Remember Me This WayRemember Me This Way
Sabine Durant
Emily Bestler Books/Atria Books, May 2015
ISBN 978-1-476-71632-9
Hardcover

From the publisher:  One year after her husband Zach’s death, Lizzie Carter, 41 years old, goes to lay flowers on the site of his fatal accident.  Since the tragedy, she just hasn’t been the same, racked with grief and guilt and regret and . . . relief.  Even though her friends tell her she’s grieved enough for her ‘prince charming,’ her memories of a darker side of Zach that no one else knew are burned into her brain and won’t let her forget him.   But as she puts her flowers down at the roadside, she sees a bouquet of lilies at the foot of the tree.  Addressed to her husband.  She isn’t the first to pay her respects . . . but who is Xenia?  As Lizzie learns more about her husband’s past, she begins to realize that maybe she didn’t know Zach at all.  But she’s still tormented by her guilt and the memories that just won’t fade . . . because Zach doesn’t seem to be as gone as everyone thinks.  And she just can’t shake the feeling that he’s still out there, watching her, waiting to claim her as his own once again.  After all, just because we love someone doesn’t mean we can trust them . . . .

Lizzie does psychometric testing for a living; Zach is an artist, although a not-yet-successful one.  The p.o.v. alternates between that of Zach (the first page is his, and though only one page long [before the narration switches to Lizzie’s], it is quite startling, letting the reader know at once what he/she is in for.  Lizzie’s p.o.v. sections take place initially in February 14, 2013, a year to the day of Zach’s car crash, on a Cornish roadside in the middle of Cornwall and 200 miles from her home in London.  She thinks to herself “His death feels real for the first time.  I must let him go, hard as it is, because, despite everything, he was the love of my life.”  The next section, Zach’s, takes place in July, 2009.  As opposed to Lizzie’s thoughts as described above, he is thinking “She doesn’t appreciate me, that’s the problem.”

All the following alternating p.o.v. sections follow those same timelines [Zach’s last ending on the day of his car crash], wherein initially Zach has a significant other named Charlotte, overlapping with his meeting and becoming involved with Lizzie.  All who meet Zach, who is pretty much addicted to Xanax and tramadol, see him as a very handsome and charming man, although he is self-described as being “not very nice” [with which the reader wholeheartedly agrees], and “. . . People like me can’t relax.  We may roam outside the boundaries that restrict the behavior of other people, but we’re never free.”

The characters all come alive in these pages, but Zach is one of a kind, displaying love, jealousy, and vengeance, among other traits.    The ending is shocking, but thoroughly believable.  This is a book, and characters, who will stay with the reader after the last page is read, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2016.

Book Review: A Matter of Trust by Lis Wiehl with April Henry

A Matter of TrustA Matter of Trust
A Mia Quinn Mystery #1
Lis Wiehl with April Henry
Thomas Nelson, March 2013
ISBN 978-1-59554-903-7

Hardcover

Recent widow Mia Quinn is on the phone with her friend and fellow prosecuting attorney Colleen Miller when Colleen is shot. Horrified, Mia hands the phone to her teenaged son, Gabe, telling him to listen in case Colleen is able to identify her killer, even as her life’s blood bubbles away. Mia herself rushes to her friend’s aid, but she is too late.

The DA assigns the murder case to Mia, where she will be assisted by detective Charlie Carlson, a man she doesn’t completely trust. Soon the pair are working together on more than the investigation into Colleen’s death. A case of bullying has ended a boy’s life in suicide and Mia is determined to make the bullies accountable. A bond begins to form between the two, until Charlie makes a confession that undermines Mia’s trust.

Meanwhile, Mia’s husband’s death has left her and her two children in severe financial straits. Her son is fourteen, just the age to go off the rails without sufficient supervision and attention. He’s also resentful of having to watch his little sister, who has night terrors.

A lot of the story is given over to Mia just trying to keep her and her children’s life together. A teaching colleague seems thrown into the plot just to provide a romantic issue. Charlie is given a few too many flaws for his role in the story, and I fear I got a bit impatient with Mia’s ineptitude concerning anything other than her job. The writing is good, the plot intricate, the action moves right along, and I loved how Gabe came through at the end.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2015.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.