Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Top Ten Tuesday: Cozy Reads


It's time for another Top Ten Tuesday hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week's topic is "Cozy Reads." I don't find myself reading lots of cozy books unless they are mysteries and some of these might seem a little severe to some to qualify but I guess cozy is dependent sometimes upon the reader's taste. I like to get lost in series books with ongoing storylines and feel I'm getting to know the characters well. Hopefully some of these are cozy reads you'll want to try.

1. Christmas Mysteries Series by Anne Perry

These books are great to read any time of year, not just at Christmas. You get a good mystery with engaging characters set in a charming location. It is not unusual for her to include some history along with it so you come away feeling a little more educated. Perry is always superb with authentic dialogue and atmosphere too. She ends every book with a feeling of resolution and a celebration of Christmas Day. I've read all but 3 of the 17 volumes and love them all. 

2. Eleanor Swift Mysteries Series by Verity Bright

This is a wonderful series that is light hearted and easy to read with characters that have an ongoing storyline from book to book. There is a fun mystery to solve set in a quaint English village and a butler similar to Mr. Carson from Downton Abbey. The heroine of every book is Eleanor Swift, a sharp, witty heiress who tries to make everyone around her feel special. I've read the first 3 and am excited to read Book 4 over Christmas break. 

3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Who doesn't love this book? Okay, maybe my husband but he doesn't count! The witty conversations, charming atmosphere and love story of Elizabeth and her Mr. Darcy always make for a cozy read. I've only read it once but want to do a re-read someday. It had to kind of grow on me because at first it felt a bit boring. Once I was hooked though it became one of my favorite cozy stories. 

4. Tales From the Highlands Series by Martha Keyes

I've read the first in this series and it was very unique. Set in Scotland in the 1700's right after the Jacobite rebellion these are simple to read yet have a bit of an Outlander vibe to them. Very clean and wholesome but with adult storylines these make a good bridge for a teen girl not yet ready for full adult literature. I don't find many books set during this time period that aren't bodice rippers and Keyes does a superb job with descriptions of the setting, clans, and castle life without resorting to constant romantic interludes. I'm looking forward to Book 2. 

5. Jubilee Trail by Gwen Bristow

I just love Bristow books and really need to do a re-read of this one. It is the story of character Garnet Cameron's journey from New York to California during the 1840's Gold Rush and American West settlement period. Although marketed as books for teens I think any adult will love the history and setting of them. I learned a lot about this time period and the romance and danger with a happy ending give it a cozy vibe. There are trials and tribulations along the way to be sure but you come away feeling satisfied and content.

6.Murder She Baked Mysteries by Joanne Fluke

I've read the first 3 in this series and once you've read one you kind of get the idea but somehow I keep coming back for another when I'm in the mood for a cozy story and baked goods! Hannah Swensen and her bakery are the epitome of a cozy read and combined with her penchant for finding dead bodies, juggling romance between the town dentist and the town police detective, and fabulous recipes at the end of chapters you can't go wrong if you just want to chill with a story and glass of wine. You'll want to keep the recipes and try them out too.

7. Miss Marple Series by Agatha Christie

I've surprisingly only read one Miss Marple book, A Caribbean Mystery but found it to be the perfect cozy read. She is a sharp lady who is underestimated by those around her sometimes and I enjoyed her character much more than the arrogant Poirot. The setting of the Caribbean made it extra cozy for sure but I suspect her other books feel the same way. 

8. Savannah by Eugenia Price

I've yet to finish this book but started it years ago as a teen. The setting of Savannah along with the story of orphan Mark, his mentor's wife Eliza, and beautiful Caroline Cameron is one to get lost in. Price is great at creating the feel of 1800's Savannah, Georgia and giving some history along the way. It is book one of a series so there is an ongoing storyline to look forward to and I think qualifies as a cozy way to spend your time.

9. Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson

This is the first novel in the series and takes place in early turn-of-the-century Manhattan. It is similar to Anne Perry mysteries and if you are into the storyline of midwives and childbirth you will be sure to love it. Sarah Brandt delivers babies and tries to help the forgotten of the city who need her help. They might not sound cozy but I think they are the perfect read for a rainy day mystery.

10. An Untamed Land by Lauraine Snelling

I was excited to find this series because it centers around my husband's native North Dakota. It is the story of a family who leaves Norway to find a home in New York City, only to find themselves journeying on to the town of Grand Forks. Lots of history and atmosphere is to be found here and is a great cozy read about the prairie life and all the sacrifice that went with it. 

Friday, November 25, 2022

The Royal Stuarts by Allan Massie

Publication Date: December 20, 2011

Length:  384 pages

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


I find very few books about Scottish Kings and Queens and even fewer that focus exclusively on the Stuarts. I've had this book in my Kindle for awhile and it is one I want to share because of the subject matter. Outlander made me obsessed with all things Stuart so this one was a must read.


Drawing on superb research, Massie covers the origins of the Stuart family running all the way from the 13oo's to the Jacobites of the 1700's. He starts with the background leading up to the first real Stuart King, Robert II from 1370-1390. Massie has a lot of ground to cover and divides the book into 17 chapters each title one of the Stuart monarchs. Each one is given a nickname describing his assessment of their reign and the reader can quickly navigate between them to get a general overview of the major points of their rule. He starts in Brittany in the 1100's as not much is known about them before this time period. Moving on to Robert II we get more information covering the 300 plus years of rule in Scotland by the Stuart family. 

If one is looking for detailed policy decisions or history of the common Scottish man or woman you won't find it here, nevertheless it does present an intriguing look into the lives of the kings, queens, and nobility, how they interacted with England and it continues the story of the Stuarts after the rule of Queen Anne, allowing for the always colorful story of the displaced Jacobite Kings and their waning influence. 


I really enjoy books like this that give a quick overview of subject matter divided into easy to read chapters with a "just the facts" approach. The chronological timeline allows for understanding by someone who doesn't have an in depth grasp of Scottish history while giving adequate coverage of each monarch. Massie includes personal stories enough to keep you wanting to know more. Examples include that Robert III was a chronic invalid and became lame after he was kicked by a horse, a little dog  hidden in the folds of Mary Queen of Scots' dress as she was executed, and detailing James II's nervousness and anxiety as he was forced to flee into exile. 


There isn't much to speak of negatively with this book. I'd have loved for the biographies to have been a bit longer and I'm sure he skimmed over many major historical happenings in order to cover such a huge time period, but overall I think this book did as it probably intended: giving a snapshot of each royal Stuart. If you are needing more you'll want to find an individual biography of that particular person.

RECOMMEND? OR NOT?:  Yes, absolutely! It is one you can pick up and read anytime, or skim through to find the subject you are most interested in. I recommend reading it all the way from page 1 to the end though, as it is written in order to grasp the full account of each ruler as he or she relates to the one before and the one after. 


Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I'm Thankful NOT To Be- Classics Edition



Today I'm participating in Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl book blog. I've wanted to do this for awhile but hadn't found the time. I love the idea of posting top ten lists each week and while I may not get to all of them, it's still fun to try! This week in honor of Thanksgiving the topic is Thankful Freebie. Here is my top ten list of characters I'm thankful not to be. I loved this idea and have to give credit to Cindy at The Speedy Reader blog for this creative idea. 

1. Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca 
by Daphne Du Maurier

The creepy, clingy, obsessed head housekeeper of Manderly was not a happy lady. I was glad she didn't win in the end. 

2. Melanie Hamilton in Gone With the Wind
by Margaret Mitchell

I always felt sorry for poor Melanie. She's too sweet and compliant....she gets taken advantage of left and right and then dies in the end. I can't help it...I always preferred to be Scarlet!

3. Oliver in Oliver Twist
by Charles Dickens

This one almost needs no explanation. How can you not feel compassion and pity for this poor kid? It's a hard story to get through for sure. Happy ending...but tough getting there.

4. Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck

He has the weight of the world and his family on his shoulders. Tom means well but can't seem to ever get it right or catch a break. It's a tough life for him.

5. Marley in A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens

As a child I felt so sorry for poor Marley. I'm glad he tries to pass on the knowledge of what NOT to do in life but I always felt bad he's stuck in the underworld. 

6. Napolean in Animal Farm
by George Orwell

There's something pathetic about a character who can't see how oppressive he's become. You can't help but feel sorry for those who abuse others because they have become so evil. 

7. Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen

This one is meant to be funny. I just love the Father in this book and how long suffering he is with his wife. But would I want to be him in that house of chattering women? Nope :) 

8. Daisy in The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This character just comes across as an empty headed fool who uses those around her and won't take responsibility for her actions. I wouldn't want to be Daisy as she grows older and looks back on her life. 

9. Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment
by Feodor Dostoevsky

Watching the character try to justify his horrible crimes is frustrating. It is humbling to see him come to terms with what he has done. 

10. Gilbert in Anne of Green Gables
by Lucy Maud Montgomery

I always felt a little sorry for poor Gilbert.....always chasing dramatic Anne. Sometimes I wanted to tell him to go find someone more sensible and worthy of his adoration.  

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Murder In Mesopotamia (A Hercule Poirot Mystery) by Agatha Christie


Publication Date: July 6, 1936

Length:  288 pages

My Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐☆


Okay so I fully admit this reason is pretty pointless but I loved the title and the cover. That's the honest truth. Having read the first Elizabeth Peters book set in Egypt amid an archaeological dig site and loved it, I figured this book might have that same flavor. I wanted to read another Poirot mystery since my last review was Miss Marple. So when I saw this book for a great price I had to buy it! Some of Christie's books just don't appeal to me due to the setting and I'm pretty picky about which ones I will try. Also, this one doesn't seem to be super well known (at least I'd never heard of it) and I wanted to review a book not as renowned. 


Our story begins with a foreword written by a Dr. Reilly, M.D., which is designed to seem like an introduction to the actual story, written by the main character, Nurse Leatheran. At Dr. Reilly's prompting, Miss Leatheran has been asked to recount the events in Iraq on a University archaeological dig that led to the deaths of two people as he believes her to have "professional character of the highest." Amy Leatheran opens her story by explaining how she came to be in Iraq. She is asked by a Dr. Leidner to care for his wife, Louise, who seems to be a nervous sort. As Amy gets to know Louise's story she learns that she was previously married to a man named Frederick Bosner, who supposedly died in World War I and Louise is distraught because she inexplicably seems to be receiving death threats from him. 

We are introduced to the many colorful characters who are residing with the Leidners and are part of the dig. It is observed that they seem to be overly polite and tolerant with one another but as the story develops there is an obvious undercurrent of tension, seemingly caused by their direct relationships with Louise. She is not what she seems at first glance. When Louise turns up dead in her bedroom, struck by a heavy object, all are suspects, including Amy. Enter Poirot, who just happens to be in Iraq and is able to lend his services to investigate the murder. 

He begins with his usual wit and insight, noticing inconsistencies and unusual, behind the scenes details that most would miss. As more information comes to light about the threats to Louise's life and her husband's supposed death in the war, Poirot unravels a strange story of switched identities and and when a second death occurs, he has to find the cause quickly before anyone else falls victim.


I enjoyed this mystery because it really kept me guessing. I found myself completely stumped and when I finished the book I realized that the subtle details Christie adds throw you off track. You are steered in one direction only to pull back at the end and see that it wasn't that way at all. I thought the slow reveal of Louise as at first odd, then neurotic, scheming and seductive, and then finally, the victim was good character development. The narration of Amy as the outsider who witnesses it all was an interesting take. And then of course the funny little quips from Poirot are always good for a laugh. The ending was a little far fetched, but then, it is fiction.


I am getting used to Christie's style a little more. She is all about the detective side of the mystery story, not so much personal stories. So the part I didn't like is what I usually don't care for in her books.....its' very clinical and clues oriented. But now that I realize that I'm expecting it and so going in I knew that it would feel more like a puzzle than a tale. There is no involved plot with historical details and intricate, personal, back stories but that's okay because that is not the kind of novel she writes. So honestly, not a lot to complain about. Good setting, lots of twists, and a satisfying ending. 

RECOMMEND? OR NOT?   Yes, it is a good one. Especially if you are already a Poirot fan. I think the added touch of the location in the Middle East made it unique and different from some of her other books. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

My Top 10 Favorite Series Books of 2022


Don't you just love books that are part of a series?  The idea that you have another waiting to read when you already love a book and all its characters so much is a comforting feeling. At least it is for us bibliophiles, although occasionally I hate the pressure I feel to finish them all. That's just never gonna happen!  I thought this week I'd list my top 10 favorite series books of 2022. I could probably do this post several times a year because I'm always starting new ones. What are your favorite series books?

Wonderful cozy mystery series set in 1920's England. Eleanor, her beloved butler Clifford, and her trusty bulldog, Gladstone solve mysteries while charming everyone  in the quaint village of Chipstone. I have read the first three in this series and can't wait to read the next Christmas themed one soon. These just make you feel happy.

Thomas and his wife Charlotte mingle with the upper class in their stately drawing rooms and  tackle the dark underworld of Victorian England in this gripping series. I am up to book 9 and am always eager to read the next one. Perry provides plenty of suspense, history, and authentic dialogue, making you feel like you've been transported to the 1800's. 

William Monk and Nurse Hester Latterly risk danger and societal discord to unravel the clues to multiple murders in Victorian England. I have read the first 15 in this series and they are all amazing. I think I enjoy them even more than the Pitt series because they are even grittier and so authentic with the depiction of Victorian society.  She has stopped writing them for now to concentrate on her newer books but I hope she will continue with them someday. 

This series is a true historical fiction literary feat covering in great detail the lives of Empress Matilda and her heirs, Henry Plantagenet and his sons with Eleanor of Aquitaine. I have read the first three books and am looking forward to tackling the last two covering the life and crusades of Richard the Lionheart.

A totally different spin on Richard and the Crusades from the Penman books. Told through the eyes of a squire, turned knight of Richard the Lionheart, Ben Kane's series is amazing and he transports the reader to the time with great depictions of battles and political intrigue. Not as romantic as the Penman Plantagenet series or as detailed but a very entertaining read on its own. I have only read the first one and would like to read the next two in 2023.

Set in the late 1800's these Victorian age mysteries add a level of clever, witty dialogue that takes them up a notch from your typical cozy mystery. Amelia Peabody is a lady of her age while also maintaining an independent spirit. The first one is set in Egypt and is so delightful. I can't wait to continue this series that adds interesting, exotic locations to a suspenseful whoodunit plot. 

Though billed as a romance author her stories have a layer of history and political intrigue that make them much more than the standard bodice ripper. I've learned a lot about Scotland and England during the middle ages and the border wars that caused frustration on both sides. She has penned a prolific number of these books which I don't think she gets enough credit for. There is wonderful research that goes into each one. 

Join everyone's favorite Monk, Brother Cadfael as he solves crimes in Shrewsbury. England during the years of the Anarchy. These are great for a quick read between longer books although they do pack a lot into each one so plan to concentrate. Clever, with a subtle, underlying humor, Peters keeps you guessing throughout and you will learn a bit about the politics of the day in 1100's England and Wales. 

Be transported from the 1940's to the 1740's and become swept up in the Jacobite cause of Scotland. An amazing series, it will hook you and make you want to know these characters as if they were real people. I have read all the big books twice and am making my way through them a third time. They are so long and detailed you will always learn something new each time you re-read them.

Keyes puts a lot of solid research into these charming romance stories. They are also clean and wholesome although often tackle serious subjects. I have read the first one and have already bought the next two. She has another stand alone novel I've read as well set in Scotland. They have a charm to them I found enjoyable and you will learn some background about the time period and location. She also has several regency era novels patterned after Jane Austen.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Isabeau, A Novel of Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer (The Isabella Books Book 1) by N. Gemini Sasson


Publication Date:  September 7, 2010
Length:  428 Pages
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐☆☆

This was my second book to read by N. Gemini Sasson. I previously reviewed her book about Owain Glyndwr of Wales and it was one of the only books about him I've seen in novel form. Likewise, I haven't seen much about Isabella in fiction and honestly not much about Edward II or Roger Mortimer either. All of these people are new material for me as I don't know much about the three Edwards or the 1300's in general. Listening to the History of England podcast I'm up to this time period and their story sounded fascinating. So I thought I'd give this book a try.

Our story opens in 1308 as the young Isabella of Boulogne, France is wed to Edward II of England. She is 12, he is 23 and a new King, unimpressed with his child bride. He presents as a brooding, unattentive husband and Isabella hopes with time this will change. Edward is easily influenced by those around him who are charming and take the upper hand, as his insecurities create a neediness for someone to guide him. When a current favorite of his, Piers Gaveston, is murdered, Edward goes into deep mourning. Although they manage to produce four children, Isabella long suspects his attraction to his male favorites is beyond the normal bounds of friendship. When Edward attaches himself to yet another companion, one Hugh Despenser, she is afraid her influence over him and their children is waning with each passing day. Edward seems unconcerned for her welfare beyond what will obtain him the approval of Despenser. He is a scheming, selfish man who has no interest in Isabella other than to torment her with his plans to control Edward and the kingdom. When Isabella relies on help from Edward during a precarious altercation with the Scots, she is devastated to find he is unwilling to come to her rescue in a timely fashion and she barely escapes with her life. 

Enter Sir Roger Mortimer, a nobleman and marcher Lord who has become a battle hardened warrior leading the baron's revolt against Despenser and the King. He is captured along with his Uncle and with Isabella's help he escapes to France. As things between Isabella and Edward continue to deteriorate, her children are taken from her and put into the care of the Despensers. Isabella is ordered to France to negotiate a peace between Edward and her brother Charles. As she spends her time in France with Mortimer, Isabella finds her attraction to him growing and it is reciprocated. Soon the two devise a way to exact justice and revenge on their enemies back in England and will lead an army to depose the King. 


I enjoyed learning about the main characters in this book since I knew so little of their lives and how they came to control England through Isabella's son, Edward III. The story was engaging and historically accurate, which I love in a good historical fiction novel. Each time I researched something I found the author had done her research and stayed true to the facts. Some things had to be hinted at due to lack of proof, i.e., whether or not Edward was in fact in a sexual relationship with Gaveston and Despenser, but historians have long disagreed about this topic. It is understandable that Sasson would have Isabella arrive at that conclusion as the interactions of the men must certainly have seemed at least somewhat suspicious, even for the middle ages. The descriptions of the people, customs, dress, castles, and battles are interesting and authentic. Sasson does a good job immersing the reader in the time period and is gritty when necessary. The description of Mortimer and his Uncle during their imprisonment was difficult to read and downright depressing. But this is what makes it such an accurate depiction. The story moves along at a good pace and one is able to understand what is happening without getting too bogged down with extraneous details.


There wasn't much in the way of character development and I found myself unable to get into the mind of especially Edward and Despenser. I felt like they were very one dimensional and there wasn't enough back story as to how the two became so involved. I wanted to know more about the initial lead up to the conflict between the Despensers and Isabella specifically and I came away still not feeling much of a connection to any of them. The same can be said of all the characters although I probably felt more of an in depth knowledge of Mortimer than anyone else. The book switches back and forth in first person between Isabella's and Mortimer's experiences and although I didn't mind that it felt like I sometimes didn't get enough time with each one. Just when I'd get a good grasp into the mind of one it would switch. For this story it just didn't work well. 

RECOMMEND? OR NOT?      Yes, I still recommend it.  It is a solidly researched book about a rarely covered period. Sasson's books usually tackle these more obscure figures in history and so I want to support them. I gave it three out of five stars because I felt it was just that: not spectacular, yet worth a read. You will learn a lot and come away with an understanding of the basic facts of Isabella and Mortimer's alliance and subsequent control of England.