.

.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Lady of Ashes - Christine Trent

Lady of Ashes by Christine Trent

First Paragraph(s):

I killed a man today, and although I didn't mean to do it, I must confess that it wasn't unpleasant at all.
     I suppose some might call it murder, but is it really murder if the victim deserved it?  If he was especially irritating?
     Unfortunately, most societies frown upon this thing called murder, so I suppose I shall have to reinvent myself.  Again.  If only one could declare the deceased an obnoxious bore or an unrepentant fool and be done with it, there wouldn't be quite so much fuss.

My Thoughts:

After completing Christine Trent's new book, No Cure For the Dead, I decided that I needed to try her series featuring a Victorian era woman who is an undertaker by profession.  Yes, this author does research some interesting and dark aspects of that most famous era.  In Lady of Ashes, we are introduced to Violet Morgan and her husband, Graham.  Actually, these two make a very brief appearance in No Cure For the Dead, which takes place a few years before.  Graham Morgan is the proprietor of Morgan Undertaking, a family business.  And Violet definitely has an affinity for the care and concern that is necessary to work with families who are grieving - plus deal with dead bodies.  I was caught up in the historical detail of Lady of Ashes.  Christine Trent has definitely done her research on Victorian society.  There is an Author Note at the end of the book which points out more info about events and also tells what she changed to fit her story.

I did like Violet Morgan a lot.  Graham Morgan - not so much.  I learned all kinds of things about not only the customs for funerals and mourning in the 1800's, but there was a lot of talk about other historical events at the time.  The reader learns about the American Civil War and how the British government viewed that conflict.  Violet meets Prince Albert at one point and makes a positive impression on him.  After Albert's death, she is summoned by Queen Victoria and required to help with his funeral.  There are also anonymous diary entries included that are written by a killer, but who?  The book was a little long, but I barely noticed.  I'm looking forward to continuing the series which has six books.  The next is Stolen Remains and I suspect it will be appearing on my Kindle soon. 

Blurb:

Only a woman with an iron backbone could succeed as an undertaker in Victorian London, but Violet Morgan takes great pride in her trade. While her husband, Graham, is preoccupied with elevating their station in society, Violet is cultivating a sterling reputation for Morgan Undertaking. She is empathetic, well-versed in funeral fashions, and comfortable with death's role in life--until its chilling rattle comes knocking on her own front door.

Violet's peculiar but happy life soon begins to unravel as Graham becomes obsessed with his own demons and all but abandons her as he plans a vengeful scheme. And the solace she's always found in her work evaporates like a departing soul when she suspects that some of the deceased she's dressed have been murdered. When Graham's plotting leads to his disappearance, Violet takes full control of the business and is commissioned for an undertaking of royal proportions. But she's certain there's a killer lurking in the London fog, and the next funeral may be her own.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Waiting on Wednesday - Wild Fire



I'm posting a 'soon to be released' book on Wednesdays.  These will always be books that I am particularly looking forward to.  I'll be linking up to 'Can't-Wait Wednesday' hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings and plan to take part in this each week.

This year I've caught up on author Ann Cleeves books featuring Vera Stanhope.  I now need to read her Shetland series.  The book I'm waiting on this week is the 8th (and I understand, the last) in that series:




Publication Date:  September 4th

When the Flemings—designer Helena and architect Daniel—move into a remote community in the north of Shetland, they think it's a fresh start for themselves and their children.

But their arrival triggers resentment, and Helena begins to receive small drawings of a gallows and a hanged man. Gossip spreads like wildfire.

A story of dysfunctional families and fractured relationships, Inspector Jimmy Perez's eighth case will intrigue series fans and Shetland Island newcomers alike.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

No Cure For the Dead - Christine Trent

No Cure For the Dead by Christine Trent

First Paragraph(s):

Some said I must have been possessed by a demon to take on the position as superintendent at the Establishment for Gentlewomen During Temporary Illness.  On exhausting days like this, I was in total agreement.
     Shaking out my hat and gloves on the stoop outside the Establishment, I determined that the smuts swirling through the London air in a never-ending cloud of ebony flakes were the most repellent thing I'd ever encountered.  They say it's even worse once winter sets in.  I had been out for a mere hour to visit my family's banker, and in my short walk to and fro had accumulated enough coal dust in my hat and on my gloves and shoulders to form a diamond.

My Thoughts:

No Cure For the Dead is the first book in Christine Trent's new series featuring Florence Nightingale and I enjoyed it so much!  You can read about how I acquired it and met the author at the Malice Domestic Mystery Conference here.  I used to read more historical mysteries, but have not picked up very many in recent years.  However, I was quite interested in hearing about them at the mystery conference.  And as I have a daughter who has been a nurse for 13 years, I've heard a lot about nursing as a profession.  This book was fascinating in so many ways.  It also contains an extensive 'author note' at the end to explain more.

I think sometimes we forget how very differently nurses were viewed in the 19th century.  They were considered the dregs of society for the most part and no 'decent' woman would consider calling herself a Nurse.  Florence Nightingale changed all that.  No Cure For the Dead takes place before the Crimean War and before Miss Nightingale changed nursing forever.  In this book, she has recently become the Superintendent of a sort of hospital for women.  Right away, there are problems and a dead body.  As Florence tries to formulate how she will train her staff to measure up to her standards for nursing, she is also investigating that death.  Lots of things happen - accidents - or not.  Christine Trent has included a wealth of info regarding healthcare in the Victorian Age, some of it quite odd.  As I said, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit with the characters and the setting.  And I'll be watching for the second book, while also checking out the author's other series - first book is Lady of the Ashes.  Recommended. 

Blurb:

It is 1853. Lady of the Lamp Florence Nightingale has just accepted the position of Superintendent of the Establishment for Gentlewomen During Temporary Illness in London. She has hardly had time to learn the names of the nurses in her charge when she suddenly finds one of them hanging in the Establishment’s library. Her name was Nurse Bellamy.

Florence’s mettle is tested by the dual goals of preserving what little reputation her hospital has and bringing Nurse Bellamy’s killer to justice. Her efforts are met with upturned noses and wayward glances except for her close friend and advocate inside the House of Commons, Sidney Herbert. As Florence digs deeper, however, her attention turns to one of the hospital investors and suddenly, Sidney becomes reluctant to help.

With no one but herself to count on, Florence must now puzzle out what the death of an unknown, nondescript young nurse has to do with conspiracies lurking about at the highest levels of government before she’s silenced too.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The End of Temperance Dare - Wendy Webb

The End of Temperance Dare by Wendy Webb

First Paragraph(s):

They gave her the bed by the window, the one closest to the toy box.  That was something, at least.  But the very fact that she was there at all, away from home, away from her father, her sisters, her dolls, terrified the girl.  Other children were there; she wasn't the only one.  But this did little to soothe her.
     Father didn't tell her he was leaving her here, that she'd be staying.  She thought they were on an outing together, just the two of them, something rare and wonderful.  But it wasn't an outing.  He had brought her here to leave her in this place, with all of these sick and dying people.  She'd clutched his hand as they walked through the foyer to the doctor's office, past patients with sunken eyes and ashen skin, their robes hanging loosely around them, living skeletons who had been nearly consumed by their illnesses.  She watched as one man coughed into a handkerchief, staining it bright red with blood.  She turned her face toward her father's trousers, not wanting to see any more.  Death lived within these walls; she could feel it hanging in the air, as tangible as the fog outside.

My Thoughts:

'Something wicked this way comes...' - that phrase pretty much describes this book.  I've read another book by Wendy Webb, The Fate of Mercy Alban, but it's been several years.  What I can recall about it was Gothic leaning toward horror.  The End of Temperance Dare is much the same.  Eleanor Harper is hired to replace the director of Cliffside Manor, an artist and writer's retreat, upon Miss Penny's retirement.  Soon after, Miss Penny is dead and Eleanor has to figure out what comes next for Cliffside, with very little preparation. 

Wendy Webb provides the reader with a beautiful lakeside setting, an elegant old house (though it did have a former life as a TB sanatorium - rather creepy), an unprepared 'new head of staff' (who by the way is a little clueless in my book for a seasoned investigative reporter), and the 'fellows' - people who were accepted into the artist/writer program for a month of solitude and peace.  Hmmm....not so much peace.  I did like the tale.  And I listened to it on audio, narrated by Xe Sands.  It had a few eye-rolling moments, but I decided to go with them and remember I was reading a Gothic/horror book.  It reminded me a bit of some of the stories told by Jennifer McMahon and it also brought to mind a Stephen King TV mini-series, Rose Red.  That might give you an inkling about Wendy Webb's way of telling a story.  I'll be thinking about reading her backlist and watching for what comes next for her.  I like a good ghostly scare. 

Blurb:

When Eleanor Harper becomes the director of a renowned artists’ retreat, she knows nothing of Cliffside Manor’s dark past as a tuberculosis sanatorium, a “waiting room for death.” After years of covering murder and violence as a crime reporter, Eleanor hopes that being around artists and writers in this new job will be a peaceful retreat for her as much as for them.

But from her first fog-filled moments on the manor’s grounds, Eleanor is seized by a sense of impending doom and realizes there’s more to the institution than its reputation of being a haven for creativity. After the arrival of the new fellows―including the intriguing, handsome photographer Richard Banks―she begins to suspect that her predecessor chose the group with a dangerous purpose in mind. As the chilling mysteries of Cliffside Manor unravel and the eerie sins of the past are exposed, Eleanor must fight to save the fellows—and herself—from sinister forces.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Death of Mrs. Westaway - Ruth Ware

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

First Paragraph(s):

The magpies are back.  It's strange to think how much I used to hate them, when I first came to the house.  I remember coming up the drive in the taxi from the station, seeing them lined up along the garden wall like that, preening their feathers. 
     Today there was one perched on the frost-rimed branch of yew right outside my window, and I remembered what my mother used to say when I was little and whispered 'Hello, Mr. Magpie' under my breath, to turn away the bad luck.
     I counted them as I dressed, shivering next to the window.  One on the yew tree.  A second on the weathervane of the folly.  A third on the wall of the kitchen garden.  Three for a girl.
     It seemed like an omen, and for a moment I shivered.  Wishing, wondering, waiting...
     But no, there were more on the frozen lawn.  Four, five...six...and one hopping across the flags of the terrace, pecking at the ice on the covers over the table and chairs.
     Seven.  Seven for a secret, never to be told.

My Thoughts:

The Death of Mrs. Westaway is Ruth Ware's fourth book and I've read all of them.  And liked all of them - some more than others.  Each are standalones and each different from those before.  This book is again - different - quite Gothic with secrets and an old creepy house - with a family that doesn't get along or see each other often at all.  Years, in fact.  There is a majorly horrible old housekeeper - ancient and bitter.  Shades of Rebecca and Mrs. Danvers.  There is a death and a will and that's what brings Harriet Westaway, known as Hal, into the story.

I think that's about all I'll say about the plot.  Harriet works as a Tarot card reader on the boardwalk in Brighton.  She owes money.  She's hasn't much.  What will meeting this family bring her?  Well, you'll have to read The Death of Mrs. Westaway to find out.  I was mostly pleased with story.  Hal got a little annoying at times, but she was young and inexperienced and way out of her depth in many ways.  Some of the plot devices were predicable, but I've read a lot of thrillers and Gothics.  There was definitely an ominous feel and the setting in Cornwall and awful weather contributed as well.  I was cold all the time I was reading.  Will I be reading the next book by Ruth Ware?  Oh yes.  Just try and keep me away.  Ha!   

Blurb:

Dear Miss Westaway,

Your grandmother, Hester Mary Westaway of Trepassen House, St Piran, passed away on 22nd November, at her home. I appreciate that this news may well come as a shock to you; please accept my sincere condolences on your loss.

In accordance with the wishes of your late grandmother, I am instructed to inform beneficiaries of the details of her funeral. As local accommodation is very limited, family members are invited to stay at Trepassen House where a wake will also be held.

Yours truly,

Robert Treswick
Treswick, Nantes and Dean, Penzance

When Harriet Westaway – better known as Hal – receives a letter from the blue informing her of a substantial inheritance, it seems like the answer to her prayers. The loan shark she borrowed from is becoming increasingly aggressive, and there is no way that her job as a seaside fortune-teller can clear her debts.

There is just one problem: Hester Westaway is not Hal’s grandmother. The letter has been sent to the wrong person.

But Hal is a cold reader, practised in mining her clients for secrets about their lives. If anyone has the skills to turn up at a strange woman’s funeral and claim a bequest they’re not entitled to, it’s her.

With only one way out of her problems, Hal boards a train for Cornwall, and prepares for the con of her life. But something is very, very wrong at Trepassen House.  Hal is not the only person with a secret, and it seems that someone may be prepared to do almost anything to keep theirs hidden…

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Stalker on the Fens - Joy Ellis

Stalker on the Fens by Joy Ellis

First Paragraph(s):

'Another bloody dead end!!'
     Detective Inspector Nikki Galena slammed the car door and glared back at the peeling paintwork of the shabby, terraced house.  'Did you see their faces?  Their body language?'
     Detective Sergeant Joseph Easter slipped his notebook back into his pocket and turned the key in the ignition.  'I didn't have to.  The atmosphere was thick enough to choke on.  But you could hardly blame them.  That bastard isn't just threatening them, he's targeting their families as well.  Think how you'd feel if something happened to one of your loved ones and you thought you could have prevented it?  I totally understand why they don't want to talk to us.'

My Thoughts:

I know I've been moving through this series at a fairly fast clip lately.  Stalker on the Fens is the fifth book  and, as usual, is full of action and crime solving.  I enjoy listening to these an audio and Henrietta Meire does a great job with the narration.  Several ongoing threads are nicely tied up before the end of the book and more new characters are introduced.  We'll see if they stick around.  There is quite a lot of info regarding alternative medicine as Nikki's friend, Helen, is involved in that.  And mandalas - which I know very little about.  I like how the author turns her research eye to different topics and includes them in the general story.  As I said, I'm a big fan of Nikki and Joseph and look forward to reading the next - Captive on the Fens.

Blurb:

DI Nikki Galena’s close friend Helen Brook is involved in a serious accident where she is trapped in a collapsed cellar. After her hard-won recovery, Helen is still getting flashbacks to a man she says was down there with her and who confessed to a murder. But no trace of this man can be found.

Then Helen tells Nikki that someone is watching her. But is all this in her friend’s imagination and part of her post-traumatic stress?

And why is Stephen Cox back in town? He’s the villain who tore Nikki’s life apart and he seems to have returned to wreak more chaos. Before long the whole town is on the verge of hysteria and her friend’s fear will lead Nikki and Joseph on a very dangerous trail.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Waiting on Wednesday - An Unwanted Guest



I'm posting a 'soon to be released' book on Wednesdays.  These will always be books that I am particularly looking forward to.  I'll be linking up to 'Can't-Wait Wednesday' hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings and plan to take part in this each week.

I've read this author's first book, The Couple Next Door, and liked it.  I have not read her second as yet, but I plan to and I'm waiting on her third.  I like the winter setting and the 'locked room' vibe.  This week, I'm waiting on:




Publication Date:  August 7th

t's winter in the Catskills and Mitchell's Inn, nestled deep in the woods, is the perfect setting for a relaxing--maybe even romantic--weekend away. It boasts spacious old rooms with huge woodburning fireplaces, a well-stocked wine cellar, and opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or just curling up with a good murder mystery.

So when the weather takes a turn for the worse, and a blizzard cuts off the electricity--and all contact with the outside world--the guests settle in for the long haul.

Soon, though, one of the guests turns up dead--it looks like an accident. But when a second guest dies, they start to panic.

Within the snowed-in paradise, something--or someone--is picking off the guests one by one. And there's nothing they can do but hunker down and hope they can survive the storm.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Winter Over - Matthew Iden

The Winter Over by Matthew Iden

First Paragraph(s):

The woman's arms were spread wide, open to the world, as though she were asking for a hug or just starting a snow angel.
     One boot--ridiculously oversized--was turned at an obscene angle.  The other, held rigidly in place by its thick plastic and neoprene, pointed toward a dishwater-gray sky.  Reflective goggles and a thick balaclava hid her face, but a delicate lattice of ice crystals framed her mouth and nostrils, a ghostly 'o' and two dashes where her once hot breath had frozen instantly in air that was forty degrees south of zero.  Ramps of snow leaned against the body's windward side, brought to rest against her by the constant Antarctic gales.  Had they not found her, she would've been buried in eight hours, maybe less, and she could've been someone else's discovery a hundred days or a hundred years from now.

My Thoughts:

This is the second book set in Antarctica that I've read recently and I liked it very much as well.  I'm rather fascinated with the idea of spending a long season in that remote and scary place.  I really can't imagine why you'd want to do that, but I do know that scientists and researchers make the decision to endure it year after year.  I also think that the 'oddness' of a place that is so extreme lends itself well to fiction - either sci-fi or mystery or a combo of both. 

I've heard the author, Matthew Iden, twice on panels at mystery conferences and he told us recently that he did indeed visit Antarctica as part of his research for the book.  He also shared a multitude of websites and blogs and other resources he tapped to tell his gripping story.  The Winter Over was a book that I did a listen/read combo.  It was narrated very well by Karen Peakes.  And it is indeed a mystery thriller, but it also slides a bit over into the sci-fi realm in my opinion - not a bad thing at all.  I liked the main protagonist, Cass, an engineer who was eager for a change in her life.  Her jobs at the facility were myriad and the description of how she went about them was interesting to me.  There was not too much about the science angle, but a lot about how people might cope with months of darkness and close quarters.  As I said, I was quite interested.  I guessed what the outcome would be, but that was fine with me.  I needed to know how things would play out.  I'll be trying other books by Matthew Iden, though this was a standalone novel.  His most recent book published is Birthday Girl.  Think I'll be picking it up soon.

Blurb:

Each winter the crew at the Shackleton South Pole Research Facility faces nine months of isolation, round-the-clock darkness, and one of the most extreme climates on the planet. For thirty-something mechanical engineer Cass Jennings, Antarctica offers an opportunity to finally escape the guilt of her troubled past and to rebuild her life.

But the death of a colleague triggers a series of mysterious incidents that push Cass and the rest of the forty-four-person crew to the limits of their sanity and endurance. Confined and cut off from the outside world, will they work together or turn against one another? As the tension escalates, Cass must find the strength to survive not only a punishing landscape but also an unrelenting menace determined to destroy the station—and everyone in it.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Shadow of Death - Jane Willan

The Shadow of Death by Jane Willan

First Paragraph(s):

Jacob Traherne, sexton at St. Anselm Church in the tiny North Wales village of Pryderi, slung his wet mop across the chancel floor and thought about rugby.  First tenor for the North Wales Rugby Choir, he hummed through his solo piece for that night's opening playoff between the Ospreys and the Dragons.  Gripping the mop in one hand, he raised his other hand like a priest blessing the congregation and belted ou the first lines to the old Welsh hymn Cwm Rhondda.

     Guide me, O my great Redeemer,
       pilgrim through this barren land.

My Thoughts:

I had a great time reading The Shadow of Death, the debut mystery by Jane Willan.  The first in the Sister Agatha series, it introduces us to the nuns at Gwenafwy Abbey and to Sister Agatha, the group's librarian who is also an aspiring mystery writer.  Filled with references to favored mystery authors and characters, a bit about the makings of the Abbey's cheese, Heavenly Gouda, some interesting up-to-date-ish nuns, a murder, and a Reverend Mother that shoots 'hoops' to relax, I definitely laughed a lot.  In between cheese festivals and drinking tea, Sister Agatha and her old friend, Father Selwyn, manage to collect clues and solve more than one problem.  I also liked the bits of philosophy scattered here and there regarding 'traditional' vs. 'contemporary' approaches to serving God and community.  I did discern the solution to the murder, but I was surprised by a few things.  And I look forward to the second book in the series, The Hour of Death, which will be published in early October. 

I shared a table with author Jane Willan and others at the Sisters in Crime Breakfast I attended at Malice Domestic 30.  She and everyone else were great breakfast companions, and I was glad to get to talk with her a bit about this book.  Jane is herself an ordained minister and serves a parish church in Massachusetts.       

Blurb:

The sisters of Gwenafwy Abbey have cherished their contemplative life—days spent in prayer, reflection, tending the Convent’s vegetable gardens and making their award-winning organic cheese, Heavenly Gouda. Life seems perfect, except for Sister Agatha, a die-hard mystery fan who despairs of ever finding any real life inspiration for her own novel. That is, until the Abbey’s sexton is found dead under an avalanche of gouda. Despite the reservations of the local constable, Sister Agatha is convinced it’s murder and the game is afoot.

Armed only with the notes she’s scribbled during her favorite podcast, How to Write a Mystery Novel, as well as a lessons learned from crime heroes ranging from Hercule Poirot to Stephanie Plum, Sister Agatha leads the nuns of Gwenafwy Abbey (and her unwitting sidekick, Father Selwyn) as they begin a race against time to resolve the death of Jacob, save the Abbey, exonerate a beloved postulate, and restore the good name of their cheese.

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Dark Lake - Sarah Bailey

The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey

First Paragraph(s):

When I think back to that summer something comes loose in my head.  It's like a marble is bouncing around in there, like my brain is a pinball machine.  I try not to let it roll around for too long.  If I do, I end up going funny behind the eyes and in my throat and I can't do normal things like order coffee or tie Ben's shoelaces.  I know I should try to forget.  Move on.  It's what I would tell someone else in my situation to do.  Probably I should move away, leave Smithson, but starting over has never been a strength of mine.  I have trouble letting go.
     During the day it's not so bad.  I'll be in the middle of doing something and then my mind wanders to her and the little ball ricochets through my head and I stop talking in the middle of a sentence, or I forget to press the accelerator when the lights go green.  Still, I can usually shake it away and keep going with whatever I was doing without anyone noticing.
     It's amazing what you can keep buried when you want to.

My Thoughts:

The Dark Lake is the debut novel for writer Sarah Bailey.  I listened to it on audio narrated by Kate Hosking.  She did a good job with the story.  DS Gemma Woodstock is a young detective attached to the police in her Australian hometown of Smithson.  She has a young son, Ben, and figuring out how to be both a cop and a mother is tough.  Ben's father, Scott, is a good parent, but he and Gemma are not an ideal couple.  Rosalind Ryan, someone Gemma knew from her teenage years, is found dead in the lake.  It's the job of Gemma and her partner, Felix, to investigate the crime.  And it is way complicated with lots of family secrets and misunderstandings.

I liked this one, though it was a bit depressing.  Well, it's about murder, you might say, how could it not be depressing?  Gemma is having a tough time, though she does seem to be a decent cop.  I didn't like the fact that she is having an affair with her married partner.  Cheating is never a plus for a character in my reading.  However, I managed to endure it.  The story was intriguing with the Australian setting during the Christmas season.  The fact that it was hot and sticky and the characters kept sweating was a little disconcerting - all this while Christmas carols played.  Ha!  I did think that Gemma improved as a character and person through the story and I'm glad to see that the author will feature her in the next book (out in the US in December), Into the Night.  I'll watch for that one and consider that any bumps and rough places in this book were due to a first-time author.     

Blurb:

The lead homicide investigator in a rural town, Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock is deeply unnerved when a high school classmate is found strangled, her body floating in a lake. And not just any classmate, but Rosalind Ryan, whose beauty and inscrutability exerted a magnetic pull on Smithson High School, first during Rosalind's student years and then again when she returned to teach drama.

As much as Rosalind's life was a mystery to Gemma when they were students together, her death presents even more of a puzzle. What made Rosalind quit her teaching job in Sydney and return to her hometown? Why did she live in a small, run-down apartment when her father was one of the town's richest men? And despite her many admirers, did anyone in the town truly know her?

Rosalind's enigmas frustrate and obsess Gemma, who has her own dangerous secrets--an affair with her colleague and past tragedies that may not stay in the past.