Welcome to Hell…Bay!


Title: Hell Bay By Will Thomas 

Publisher: Minotaur Books 304 pp. October 2016

Genre: mystery, English historical, series, fiction

4.5 stars

Author:  This is the 8th in the Barker and Llewelyn series written by Will Thomas, an author from Oklahoma. I have avidly followed this historical mystery series, eagerly awaiting each installment. I have never been disappointed from Some Danger Involved to the last Anatomy of Evil and would recommend reading them in order. This is not the usual gritty crime ridden streets of Victorian London tamed by Barker, but a well written closed room mystery with personal development.

Story line: Private enquiry agent extraordinaire and scotsman Cyrus Barker agrees to his least favorite assignment, security. A secret conference at the private estate of Lord Hargrave on a remote island, Godolphin, off the coast of Cornwall will negotiate a new treaty with France. The cover story for the gathering is a house party–an attempt to introduce two unmarried sons to potential mates. Nothing like a little intrigue to determine true colours.

But almost immediately Lord Hargrave is killed by a sniper, and the French ambassador’s head of security is stabbed to death. Trapped in the manor house with no means off the island, Barker and his Welsh assistant, Thomas Llewelyn, must determine which among them is the killer(s) while also uncovering family secrets and motives. It has a satisfactory ending, with rapid page turning!

Read on:  If you like Sherlock Holmes, or manor house mysteries.

Quotes:

Everything was falling into chaos everywhere. Standards were no longer being met, and so they lowered the standards, rather than getting at the root of the problem, which was lazy boys.

Quite probably, he died feeling no pain whatsoever, which, considering how much he had inflicted on others during his many years, doesn’t exactly seem fair.

We all make mistakes, of course, even the best of us. Some of us are famous for them. 

We’re like that, Cyrus Barker and I: chalk and cheese. If something interests one of us, it probably won’t interest the other.

One cannot go anywhere without being questioned about everything. One is asked about one’s relatives, one’s political views, private history, and personal references. One engages in small talk. Do I look like the sort of person who enjoys engaging in small talk?….If I have to endure a week of sweetmeats and polite conversation, I’m liable to set back Anglo-French relations all by myself.”

The colonel smiled, revealing a full set of ivory teeth that had looked better on the elephant.

To my mind, nothing said that we were staying in an actual castle more than the fact that the dining table seated twenty. It was not a number of tables put together, or even two smaller ones abutted, but one table…

“The bullet passed right through my hand,” Fraser said. “That will not improve my rheumatism.” We were impressed. The man at seventy-three was making jokes about having just been shot.

Nobody ever talks about a brooding Pole or a brooding Chinaman, but Scotsmen are known for it. It was good that the weather was too warm for a fire to stare into or there would be no word from him all day.

You work for a man for six years and then one day he hands you a death sentence. I recalled the Llewelyn luck: everything bad that can happen to one probably shall, and yet one will not die from it, as that would end the torment too quickly.

No self-respecting Scotsman would be without his skean dhu.

She could have given the sun lessons in how to shine.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. 

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TagManII

Title: Presumption of Guilt by Archer MayorPublisher: Minotaur books 305 pp (Sept 2016) 

Genre: mystery, thriller, fiction, series, Joe Gunther. 4.5+ stars

Author: Archer Mayor is a bestselling author of the 27-book police procedural series featuring VPI detective Joe Gunther. After graduating from Yale he wrote historical non fiction. In addition to his writing, Mayor is a death investigator for Vermont’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and a longtime detective for the Windham County Sheriff’s Office. Mayor integrates his actual police experiences which adds depth, detail, and authenticity to his characters and provides rich multilayered plots. He won the New England Independent Booksellers Association Award for Best Fiction–the first time a writer of crime literature was honored. He has also been cited for Excellence in the Arts by the State of Vermont. 

Story line: I have been a fan since the publication of his first novel, and yes, I have them all. In hardback. Living all over the world, each book gave me a fresh current look at home. There is always an excellent ensemble of characters, well loved with growth and scars. It helps to read these in order as each character has an extensive backstory. New faces and the next generation are intriguingly present here. I especially like the realistic, often witty dialogue, the relevant and timely well researched multilayered plots, with a lack of gratuitous sex or violence. Vermont is warmly depicted, Vermonters occasionally hilariously so. Every book is a solid, engaging page turner. I highlighted 50 quotes I wanted to share. It was a fast read, but also had an abrupt ending. I tried to turn the last page three times, expecting, wanting more. I loved Krunkle’s role and the return of TagMan. I’m glad some peace has found Joe.

Read on:

John Sandford Virgil Flowers series, Craig Johnson Walt Longmire series, Dick and Felix Francis, Kathy Reichs, Susan Hill

Quotes:

“Brattleboro? That’s a bar town, not a city. They should call it Dodge and have done with it. We’re going to Keene.”

You’re the flatlander. Bright lights’re like oxygen to you.”

And that meant not just “away,” as many Vermonters called the world beyond their borders.

“Can’t we rule it a suicide?” Willy asked now, looking down at the calcified finger with the ring, still trapped in place. Predictably, Lester laughed, Sam rolled her eyes, and Joe answered evenly, “Probably not, but I like the creative thinking.”

This is sounding like a modern Agatha Christie novel, although I doubt she would’ve used a nuclear reactor as a setting.”

Because to her, Dan Kravitz would forever be his own alter ego: not the menial everyman with an eerie ability to keep clean, but rather what the papers had coined “the Tag Man” a couple of years ago.

Didn’t they do that in a Columbo episode?”

In 1967 and ’68, homicides jumped from four a year to around twenty. The hippie counterculture, the Vietnam War protests, the interstate coming through, unemployment … The population jumped sixty thousand, because of urban flight, at the same time about twenty-five hundred farms went belly-up. This state was reeling, and I’m barely touching the surface.”

“The mere fact you just said so’ll make it happen, oh fearless leader,” Willy said resignedly. “That is the way it works.”

“You are a sweetheart. Never hesitate to call. If I’m in the middle of a gunfight or something, I’ll phone you right back.”

“It’s AA. It’s anonymous.” “It’s Vermont, stupid. There’re twelve people in the whole state. Everybody knows everybody else. Who else was there?

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley, as well as purchased hardcover.

Cozy books for cool nights

Title: All the Little Liars by Charlaine HarrisPublisher: Minotaur Books 240 pp, October 2016

Genre: mystery, cozy, series, Aurora Teagarden, fiction, 

3.5 stars

Author: I don’t think this author needs any introduction after the urban fantasy Southern Vampire HBO TrueBlood mystery series. Although as I have said before, I like her earlier mysteries more, and love the current Midnight Texas series. Harris is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and the American Crime Writers League. She is a member of the board of Sisters in Crime, and alternates as president of the Arkansas Mystery Writers Alliance.

Story line: This is the 9th installment but 13 years after the previous mystery. There are many expected changes but it remains comfortably familiar. Recently, many well established authors have had minor but glaring errors in their books which is more than a little disappointing. As an easy read, it is simple to ignore them, but they are annoying. Roe is always a charming librarian, and we want to catch up with what happens next with an old friend, however fictional. She’s back from her honeymoon, her 15 year old half brother Phillip is now living with them, but mysteriously disappears, and then a body is found. It’s a typical cozy in that the amateur detective solves the case that stymies police and FBI. This wasn’t the best read as I missed the wit and intelligence of Roe, but it was short and has an obvious progression. There are evidently 4 HallMark movies starring Candace Cameron Bure, which might explain the new, and forthcoming, books.The first two films, based on the second and first book premiered in 2015 on the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries Channel. The third film is based on the third book Three Bedrooms, One Corpse while the fourth film is The Julius House (2016).

Read on:  If you like cozy mysteries. her fans won’t be disappointed.

Quotes:

Robin was nothing if not suspicious; since he was a mystery writer, that came naturally.

I was learning about living with a writer. I had loved Robin’s crime novels long before I’d ever met the man and loved him, too.

I appreciated the fact that the library was so relevant to the lives of the people it served.

But I’d always been a printed-word person. I loved holding an actual book. I loved turning the pages. I loved carrying a novel around with me, getting it out of my purse at lunch to read for a few minutes in the break room. I had never been able to fathom what people did with their free moments, if they didn’t read. But I’d become increasingly aware that this attitude aged me, made me more like seventy-six than thirty-seven.

There were more people we could have called, but abruptly, we circled our wagons and spent the rest of our night reading.

Every town has a boy like Clayton, I suppose.

A row of casserole dishes cluttered the table. Friends had brought food. That proved we were in a crisis.
Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley.

Austenesque?

Title: The Ill-Kept Oath by CC AunePublisher: Wise Ink Creative Publishers (Sept 2016) 416pp

Genre: mystery, paranormal, YA, historical fantasy, Victorian, fiction, 

3.5 stars

Author: From Amazon’s author page: ” Aune’s ramblings have led her through 49 states—nine of which she has called home—plus a fair number of countries. She has been a journalist and a contributor for the companion book to PBS’s 2000 series In Search of Our Ancestors. Currently, she directs the blog One Year of Letters, which explores the internal landscape of writers. The Ill-Kept Oath is her debut novel. This is the first of a planned series, with the second Talisman Keepers installment in rewrite.”

Story line: I received an advance copy but after a few chapters found it didn’t meet my expectations. It was less paranormal/ fantasy and more scattered romance. I put it aside for more compelling reads, until rainy, snowy weather held me housebound. Then, grasping the central characters, and melodramatic teen writing, it was a quick read. The two heroines Josephine and Prudence, write to each other from their respective abodes, Stanistead House, a country estate, and London during the Marriage Mart Season. Both are interested in obtaining husbands, both have received an inheritance of Talismans, and both find themselves involved in intrigue. Prudence Fairweather and her brother Edward were taken in by Lord Middlemere, who has a daughter of similar age Josephine Weston. All three were raised in ignorance of their blood legacy, as per the Oath. Prudence,18, has limited options because she is poor, but she is pursued by Underwood (dull but wealthy) while she is interested in the unreliable William MacNeal. There is of course an evil socialite. Lady Josephine, 16, is interested in Robert Quimby, a young military man who is socially beneath her. Meanwhile, there are trolls rampaging in the countryside and magic escaping in candlelit ballrooms.

There is some interesting historical detail (the costume and waltzes) with dark magic being slowly revealed. Good character development bodes well for the continuation of this series. I would have preferred to read the series together as I felt much was unexplained in volume one, lose ends abound, and we still don’t know what kind of magic to expect. The story feels incomplete. Also, who is the target audience?

Quotes:

Normally, Prudence would never challenge authority, but her guardian, having conjured this evocative subject, might as well have touched a spark to gunpowder. Curiosity gave way to burgeoning wonder.

“They possessed a rare set of talents called the Inheritance.”

She’d spent six weeks in London undergoing this transformation. Gone was the country girl who climbed trees and rode bareback; gone forever her girlhood spent in the idyllic hills of the west. Until now, she had directed no thought toward her future. Love might have found her in Wiltshire…

“Shall we rely on social calls to open the right doors? My heart may not be so sanguine with the purposes of a Season, but I have accepted it as a necessary rite of my passage. I’ve been in London already one quarter of a year but not one event have I attended.”

She was doomed to be perceived as an immature child, and the keepsakes seemed to make matters worse. Edward’s point about her reputation had been perfectly valid, however cruelly stated, but the dangers were worse than he could possibly imagine.

Middlemere squeezed the bridge of his nose. Two decades ago, he had postulated that Talismans could, even without ritual, awaken a Keeper’s instincts.

With a crescendo of chords, Middlemere ended the concerto. Everyone applauded, whether they’d been listening or not.

“No one expected the Talismans to exert a force of their own. We called ourselves Talisman Keepers, but our power relied on more than mere objects. Most Keepers formed partnerships that made them still stronger. In the early days, they offered their services in exchange for titles and land and became much coveted by the nobility.

They would descend on our Family and examine everyone for the Trait, identifying you and perhaps Edward before drawing Mr. MacNeal into the net. What would happen to Us then is uncertain, but the Exorcist’s description still burns in my head: a magical Voiding of one’s Memory with the potential to produce unexpected Results.

“Not at all. Think of the quarrels he and I shall have. I’m far too opinionated to be a good marchioness.”

She advanced to the sideboard and poured them all a strong drink, which Prudence and MacNeal accepted with a good deal more alacrity than was strictly necessary.

Do you have any idea what the average man thinks about?” Prudence shuddered and turned bright red.

“I have learned enough to make me proud of my heritage, but if the price of happiness is never to learn another thing about the Inheritance, then gladly will I pay.” 

Read on:

If you like Gail Carriger, Alan Bradley, Seth Graham Smith Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. 

Another Forgotten Wife

Title: The Other Einstein by Marie BenedictPublisher: Sourcebook Landmarks (Oct 2016), 304 pp

Genre: fiction, historical fiction

3 to 3.5 stars

Author:  From her bio “Once a New York City lawyer, Marie Benedict had long dreamed about a fantastical job unraveling the larger mysteries of the past as an archaeologist or historian — before she tried her hand at writing. While drafting her first book, she realized that she could excavate the possible truths lurking in history through fiction, and has done so in THE OTHER EINSTEIN, the story of Mileva Maric, Albert Einstein’s first wife and a physicist herself. Writing as Heather Terrell, Marie also authored The Chrysalis, The Map Thief, and Brigid of Kildare. She is a graduate of Boston College and the Boston University School of Law, and lives in Pittsburgh with her family.”

Story line:  

This is a novel about Albert Einstein’s first wife, Mileva (Mitzi) Maric (1875-1948). She was born into a wealthy Serbian family and was extraordinarily talented in physics and mathematics; she attended all boys schools and programs where women were restricted, excluded) encouraged by her father. Einstein, a socially awkward geek promised her equality and seduced her. After their first child dies, he marries her (1903). His ‘miracle’ year was 1905 when he produced several papers he had been developing. Let’s just categorically state no man/woman works in isolation and several of his theories depend on brilliant mathematics (her forte). Two children later he starts an affair with his first cousin Elsa (marrying her (1914) as soon as the divorce was finalized, 5 years after separation). Yes Einstein appears to be something of a scoundrel, born up in several other accounts, but I was more astonished at the transformation of the brilliant mind with the potentially astounding career into a meek housewife. Moral of the story? Don’t get pregnant until you are well into your career. I have taught classes on women in science, and she has been an example (her test papers are brilliant). There is not a lot of science here, indeed, it almost is a romance novel. I enjoyed her friends and her initial outlook. The rigors of social and intellectual society were detailed and contrasted, with most women frustratingly dependent on beauty standards and husband potential. And while it was interesting and thought provoking, I thought there was too much artistic license. It is a slow paced ambitious story with reasonable characterization; It serves to remind women what is still at stake in today’s society. It left me depressed.
Quotes:

Turn the knob and push the door open, I told myself. You can do this. Crossing this threshold is nothing new. You have passed over the supposedly insurmountable divide between male and female in countless classrooms.

“Be bold,” Papa would whisper in our native, little-used Serbian tongue. “You are a mudra glava. A wise one. In your heart beats the blood of bandits, our brigand Slavic ancestors who used any means to get their due. Go get your due, Mitza. Go get your due.”

Was he truly so self-focused that he believed I withdrew my affections first? That my self-protection and the recent strengthening of my resolve happened before he cheated on me and bled me dry of my scientific ambitions?

Since he’d unilaterally removed my name from those papers, thereby putting the actual award out of my reach, the least I deserved was the money. 

As I took on the roles of his lover, the mother of his children, his wife, and his secret scientific partner, I allowed him to trim away all the parts that didn’t fit his mold.

I have reclaimed my intellect and my scientific passion by tutoring promising young female scientists.

Read on:

Nonfiction: Albert Einstein/Mileva Marić: The Love Letters, edited by Jürgen Renn and Robert Schulmann; Einstein in Love: A Scientific Romance by Dennis Overbye; In Albert’s Shadow: The Life and Letters of Mileva Marić, Einstein’s First Wife, by Milan Popovic; Einstein: His Life and Universe, by Walter Isaacson; and Einstein’s Wife: Work and Marriage in the Lives of Five Great TwentiethCentury Women, by Andrea Gabor. 

Memoir: Jane Hawkins Traveling to Infinity

Fiction: Paula McLain The Paris Wife, Lynn Cullen Mrs Poe


Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley.

Spooky Books

Title: The Queen’s Accomplice by Susan Elia MacNeal
Publisher: Bantam, 386 pp October 4, 2016 

Genre: mystery, cozy, English historical, WWII fiction, series

4+ stars

Author: MacNeal is the NYTimes best selling author of the Maggie Hope (#6) series. Her novels have been nominated for many awards, with her first, Mr Churchill’s Secretary winning the Barry award. Her first job was assistant to novelist John Irving, she graduated cum laude and with departmental honors from Wellesley College, cross-registered for courses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and attended the Radcliffe Publishing Course at Harvard University. Her stories are well researched, which rich historical detail. There is significant character development between books, although it seems each ends where the next begins. I enjoy reading about strong, independent, capable women and Maggie makes a fascinating seasoned spy/special agent. Her exploits vividly portray the blackout, terror, everyday life of war torn London.

Story line: We have another chapter in Maggie Hope’s wartime experiences, this one darker than most. It also represents a dark time, especially to the reader who knows three more bleak years are ahead. And darker still with the blatant rampant sexism which still exists today. There are several story lines, involving characters from previous books, so it is useful to read them in order. Primarily, Maggie is to aid DCI Durgin of Scotland Yard in tracking down a serial killer, a copycat Jack the Ripper (look up the Blackout Beast). The victims include many of the women Maggie has trained to become agents, so the hunt becomes very personal and potentially very dangerous. It is a quick intriguing read, one that is thought provoking and informative. I look forward to Maggie rescuing her half sister in Paris.

Quotes:

Something was wrong. Maggie Hope was sure, but she couldn’t yet put her finger on it…

Maggie was working as a girl Friday in a dim reception room at 64 Baker Street, one of the Special Operations Executive’s offices.

Only twenty-seven, Maggie had already performed any number of missions as an agent for SOE, but had taken a desk job in London while she was waiting for the arrival of her German half sister, Elise Hess, a Resistance worker in Berlin.

After all, she’d been secretary to the P.M. himself—as well as saving the life of the Princess Elizabeth, parachuting into Nazi Berlin, teaching at a paramilitary camp, and keeping the First Lady of the United States of America safe from scandal. How hard could managing an office be? And it was only temporary, until her half sister arrived in London and settled in.

When she’d arrived in London from Boston, four years ago, all she’d wanted to do was settle her grandmother’s estate, then return to the United States to pursue doctoral studies in mathematics at MIT, one of the few top universities to allow women as graduate students.

“It’s like … an accident of number theory. With enough data points, patterns will emerge that point to the place where the murders took place.”

“Are ye daft, woman?” Durgin exploded. “That’s the looniest idea I’ve ever heard of! We don’t use humans as live bait! This isn’t some Highland huntin’ party!”

I can’t fight everything, Maggie realized. But I can do some things. And those I’ll do to the best of my ability and strength.

Read on:

Jacqueline Winspear Maisie Dobbs series

Nicola Upson Josephine Tey series

Rhys Bowen Royal Spyness series

Emma Jameson Marriage can be Murder

I intend to look up Sarah Sundin who evidently also writes WWII novels. MacNeal also has an excellent bibliography at the end of this book.  

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. The series available from Rochester Public Library.

The Butler Did It!- Again!

Title: Judgment of Murder by CS ChallinorPublisher: Midnight Ink Nov 2016

Genre: cozy, mystery, English historical, British mystery, Scottish barrister, 

4+ stars

It’s the 100th anniversary of Agatha Christies first published novel and cozies are all the rage again. They provide good reading and are multi-layered nuanced entertainment. The Solution depends on observation not technology and there is little graphic violence or sex.

Author:

Challinor was born in the US, educated in Scotland and England (joint Hons in Latin, French) and currently lives in Florida. She also holds a diploma in Russian from the Pushkin Institute in Moscow. Challinor is a member of the Authors Guild, New York, and writes the critically acclaimed Rex Graves mystery series featuring the Scottish barrister-sleuth. The cozy series begins with: Christmas is Murder (September 2008, Midnight Ink Books, a Kindle best seller), and continues with Murder in the Raw (2009), Phi Beta Murder (2010), Murder on the Moor (2011), Murder of the Bride (2012, a Mystery Guild book club pick), Murder at the Dolphin Inn (2013) Murder at Midnight (2014) and Murder comes Calling (2015). I particularly appreciate the understated humour and banter between Rex and and his fiancé Helen d’Arcy (schoolteacher) and have enjoyed the series more with each new book. Challinor keeps most readers guessing as she cleverly spreads suspicion and clues and red herrings. Cozy fans will enjoy this traditional series featuring a witty, charming and engaging sleuth. Her light touch makes them entertaining reads, perfect for cold winter nights. JoM will make a lovely Christmas gift.

Story Line:

An old colleague Lord Gordon Murgatroyd, the infamous Judge Murder, dies in England, but his daughter Phoebe, newly widowed, suspects foul play. Rex Graves QC develops his prosecutorial expertise to sleuth his way through possible method and probable motive and near death. His trusty likable colleague Alistair helps investigate and even saves Rex at one point. Both are caught up in another regional case with abducted girl(s), linking cold cases, murderers and suspects. Rex does like to announce the murderer in a denouement, continuing the Golden Age style. Challinor’s mysteries are a welcome and charming modern take on Agatha Christie. I felt this one was more multilayered although they remain descriptive stories. Reading enjoyment may benefit from knowledge of previous cases and character development. 

Read On:

Anne Cleeland (Shetland), Deborah Crombie, Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, MC Beaton (Hamish McBeth), Rhys Bowen (Royal Spyness), Anna Lee Huber (Lady Darby), Alexander McCall Smith (Sunday Philosophy Club), Paige Shelton  (Scottish bookshop), Sophie Hannah (Poirot)

Quotes:

The golf could wait. Murder could not.

In the event he was on a wild goose chase, he thought he might as well do some sightseeing and make the most of his sabotaged weekend.

Miss Bird had been their housekeeper since he was a boy, and she and his mother persisted in calling him by his given name, instead of its derivative “Rex,” which he preferred. Now that they were well into their eighties he had lost all hope of their changing the habit.

She spoke in the genteel tones of Morningside ladies, which Rex often thought belied a razor sharp mind that had lost none of its acuity in her advancing age.

“Well, I wish you’d just hurry up and marry the woman. You know how I love weddings.” Rex gazed at his friend in mild frustration.

I’m aboot as lethal as one of these chips.” 

Rex commended his friend’s foresight, without fully comprehending how he had been able to run with a crowbar secreted in his coat, but now wasn’t the time to ask.”

“Your mother must be so proud of you, as am I. I suppose you could go about incognito but you’re a hard person to disguise.”

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. Most in the series available from Rochester Public Library.