Friday, June 30, 2023

Murder in Venice by Martha Bond (A Lottie Sprigg Cozy Mystery) Book One

Publication Date: February 16, 2023

Length: 202 pages

Cozy mysteries have become my go to when the news gets to be too much. There are so many series to choose from now and tons set in the 1920's. The covers are always bright and colorful and just draw me in. You can't be in a bad mood when reading one....they are just fun! They can often be read in a day or two and don't require a ton of concentration which is a good thing when I am super busy. This latest series by Martha Bond has our heroine Lottie Sprigg hopping from one beautiful city to another and she always manages to find another murder to solve. 

In Book One Lottie moves from maid to companion for the wealthy, world traveling Mrs. Moore, who is following a very eligible bachelor, Prince Manfred of Bavaria, throughout Europe, hoping to snag him and his money for herself. They are staying in Venice and Lottie is in awe of her luck....exploring the beautiful city and gaining the attention of the bellboy, Stefano. When Lottie and Mrs. Moore are invited to the opera by famous singer, Amedo Moretti, they accept, hoping to run into the Prince. After the opera they dine with Moretti and have a lovely time. 

Unfortunately, later that evening Moretti is murdered and found floating in the Grand Canal outside the hotel where both Lottie and Moretti are staying. Everyone is baffled, including the local inspector, as Moretti didn't seem to have many immediate enemies. Lottie becomes attached to Moretti's little dog, Rosetta, and feels she owes it to her to find her owner's killer. With the help of Stefano, they begin to work together with the scant clues they have.

As Lottie watches and explores the city around her and talks to those staying in the hotel she begins to see Moretti might not have been the person she originally thought. He has some personal history which might explain his demise. When another man, Colonel Pickering, who was seen meeting with Moretti just hours before his murder is also killed, Lottie just knows the deaths are related. 

More determined than ever to solve the two mysteries, she must be careful not to be targeted herself and also must deal with the wrath of the Inspector who doesn't want her interfering. Add to that a separate case of an apparent dog snatcher on the loose and a frightening, masked shadowy figure prowling the streets of Venice, dubbed the Plague Doctor, Lottie is now taking real risks. Can she find the culprit before either she, Stefano, or Rosie are one of the next victims?

This was an enjoyable read and I really liked Lottie's character. She is smart and kind without being too naive. She is deferential to her employer but realistic enough to know when to stick up for herself. Her interaction with Stefano is cute and they have a nice budding romance going. Her talks with and about Rosie the dog are a nice touch and the descriptions of Venice make you feel like you are there on the river with them. 

It is stretching things a bit to call this book "historical" as it honestly could have been set in modern times. There were very few details that made if feel like the 1920's but that didn't take away from the story. The mystery was good, though not especially intricate, although the villain was kept decently hidden until the end. If you read it for pure fun, you won't be disappointed. I will continue with the next book and love how we get to visit a new, exotic city with Lottie  each time.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

They Do It With Mirrors by Agatha Christie: A Miss Marple Mystery, Book Six (Read Christie 2023 June)


Publication Date: 1952

Length: 187 pages

I really wanted to finish this book to find out why the title was They Do It With Mirrors. When I learned the reason behind it I thought, "oh why didn't I think of that before!" It seems so obvious now. But that is why Agatha Christie is so popular...she always keeps you guessing and wondering right until the end. 

Jane Marple is visiting with her childhood American friend, Ruth Van Rydock, who lives in London. Ruth is very concerned about her sister Carrie Louise, who lives at Stonygates, a Victorian mansion which also serves as a home for wayward juveniles whom Carrie Louise's husband, Lewis, feels can be rehabilitated with enough care and guidance. 

Carrie's health has been failing lately and Ruth is concerned that she is in danger from someone on the premises although she can't exactly pinpoint how or why. Living there with Carrie is her granddaughter, Gina and her husband Wally, Carrie's daughter Mildred (not Gina's mother though), her two stepsons Alex and Stephen who often visit her, and a rather strange young man named Edgar Lawson. Edgar is an employee of Carrie's husband Lewis Serrocold but is troubled with delusions of being the son of a famous man, often changing who that man is daily. Most of the family and staff are not concerned and consider him harmless. Also present is Carrie's long time assistant and nurse, Miss Bellever. She is devoted to Carrie and suspicious of anyone interfering with her daily routine to care for her. 

As Miss Marple observes the people and surroundings, an unexpected visitor arrives. Carrie's stepson from a previous marriage, Christian Gilbrandsen, who is the trustee of the money his father accumulated. Christian is adoring of Carrie and very protective of her. That evening after dinner, Lewis and Edgar go into Lewis's office and an argument breaks out between them. The guests of the house are able to hear what is going on behind the locked door and when a gun is fired, think the worst, assuming Edgar has finally snapped and shot Lewis. Lewis emerges unharmed but not long after it is discovered that Christian has been shot and killed in another room while in the middle of typing something at his desk. Coincidence? Miss Marple thinks not and she realizes that Ruth has been on to something in her worry over dangerous happenings in the mansion. She begins to suspect Carrie's health problems and the murder are related and has to use her sleuthing skills to find out what is going on before anyone else is harmed.

I enjoyed the psychological mystery in this story. Edgar's delusions, Gina's strange relationship with her two stepbrothers, and the way Carrie Louise seemed to always have a naive, childlike view of everyone in spite of the threatening circumstances. I was completely wrong as to who the murderer was and the why behind it. I guessed at some events correctly though with regards to who might be related to another in a different way than originally presented. 

It was also interesting to see how the handling of the juvenile deliquency community was viewed a hundred years ago. Stonygates is a place where Lewis and the doctors there are toying with the idea of reform, something new in that time period. This was a radical departure from the typical feeling of the time that criminals needed punishment, not understanding, and the novel shows the clash of opinions on this subject.  I felt it was very modern of Christie to weave it into the narrative. 

While I did enjoy this book, I am finding the Miss Marple mysteries to be a bit bland compared to Poirot. He is just a more engaging character for me so I'm looking forward to next month's Read Christie book, Evil Under the Sun.

Friday, June 23, 2023

A Place Called Freedom by Ken Follett


Publication Date: August 28, 1995

Length: 407 pages

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐☆☆

I have only read two of Follett's books, Fall of Giants and The Pillars of the Earth. I enjoyed both although the former more so. This book is a stand alone novel and not part of a series like he is known for so I thought it would be a good departure from his other works. Plus, it was written before the others and I was curious to see what his earlier work was like. 

Mack McAsh is a poor, downtrodden Scottish coal miner living on the hope that one day he can be free to live his own life away from the hardships of his small Scottish village. Unfortunately, it seems the law in Scotland in the year 1767 states that once a child begins working in the mines they are property of the owner of the mines for life. When Mack finds out the law has changed he presents his side in church to the powers that be and the townspeople and so begins his struggles with the wealthy mine owners, the unscrupulous Jamisson family.  Frustrated and sure he must get away or die in this miserable situation, Mack decides to leave his village and his twin sister and strike out on his own, promising Esther he will return for her. Having lost their parents years ago, Mack is all she has but she agrees to wait for word from him and continue in the mines alone. 

Mack escapes and travels to London, hoping to earn enough money to send for his sister. He quickly finds that life is not any easier in a large city where he is supposedly "free" to make his own decisions. Taking odd jobs and staying with new friends proves to be challenging and disheartening and soon Mack finds himself engaging in anything that will keep him afloat. Prize fighting, clearing coal from ships...nothing is off limits to survive and through his determination and burgeoning leadership qualities he finds himself becoming someone the poor workers around him look up to. When he realizes they are being conned out of most of their earned wages by degenerate mob bosses, Mack decides to form his own group of workers who just want to be paid what they are worth. This proves his undoing when it angers those who have run the docks for years their way and do not take kindly to the upstart stranger. 

During this time we are introduced to new characters in the form of Cora, a pickpocket who preys on wealthy, unsuspecting gentlemen and her sidekick, Peg, a young girl of thirteen who is living on the streets and working alongside Cora. As Mack becomes fond of both, he finds them becoming a family of sorts and feeling responsible for them. Through many twists of fate, Mack is targeted by the former mine owners, the Jamissons, who do business in London and have realized they can make his life miserable. Sentenced on a trumped up charge to deportation to the American colonies, Mack finds himself, Cora and Peg on a ship, chained like cattle and bound for Virginia to work on the recently acquired Jamisson tobacco plantation. Although not much more than a slave and  unsure of the future, Mack is nevertheless hopeful that he will be able to eventually begin a new life in America. 

Upon arriving in the colonies, Mack, Cora and Peg find themselves in constant survival mode and doubt they can break away from their miserable lives. Things are at least as bad, if not worse than they were working in the coal mines of Scotland.  The beautiful Lizzie Hallim, a childhood friend is the mistress of the plantation, making Mack both elated and frustrated because his feelings for her run beyond that of the propriety expected of them. Lizzie, newly married to the youngest Jamisson, is hopeful that her marriage and life in the colonies will prove to be more fulfilling than the one she left behind in Scotland. Both Mack and Lizzie find themselves growing closer as disillusion and hardships grow, and they eventually will have to make choices that put them both in danger and possibly, in love.

This book has such a great premise, written in three parts, moving from Scotland to London and ending up in Virginia. The characters get to experience life just prior to the American Revolution and have adventures that take them into the western frontier. Reading the synopsis it sounds like such a great, absorbing story and it is in a lot of ways. Follett is known for sticking to historical facts and I appreciate that as one of my biggest peeves in modern novels is the way a perfectly good history story is ruined with inaccuracies which people come to believe as facts. I learned things about Scottish coal mining, London street life, and the running of a tobacco plantation as well as how it must have felt to have traveled beyond civilization at that time in America. So in that respect, it was a solid read.

The reason I am only able to give it three stars is that the character development, dialogue, and personal romantic storyline is sorely lacking. This is clearly an early attempt by Follett and nothing close to his later work. It almost reads like a YA novel but with the occasional foul language (which I don't care for in any book) and semi-graphic sexual scenes it can't be listed as that either. I found myself getting really absorbed in the history and action only to be yanked back into silly conversations between the characters and choppy, awkward prose that felt like a teenager was writing it. When an author is trying something new I'm sure there is a learning curve and clearly this is true here because it is nothing like his later books. It doesn't put me off reading the rest of the Century trilogy or trying his other stuff but be warned if you are expecting the depth of his more recent books you might be surprised and give up on this one. 

I am not sorry I read it though because it really was informative and interesting as far as the time period goes. To me, reading new parts of history and learning are never a waste of time so it was one I decided to keep going with and finish.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Can’t Wait Wednesday: A Wild and Heavenly Place by Robin Oliveira


For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring A Wild and Heavenly Place by Robin Oliveira. It looks unique and takes place in Seattle which is neglected in much of historical fiction. Hoping the romance part is not too much as I'm not a big fan of those but the description seems to indicate it will have a pioneer spirit feel to it. I realize February is still quite a ways away so when the release date gets closer I'll have to remember to revisit and maybe republish this post!

February 6, 2024

Historical Fiction/Romance

Description courtesy of NetGalley

Hailey MacIntyre seems conjured from the depths of Samuel Fiddes’s loneliness. Caring for his young sister in the tenements of Glasgow, Scotland, Samuel has known only hunger, while Hailey has never known want. When Samuel saves Hailey’s brother from a runaway carriage, a friendship begins. Through secret meetings and stolen moments, they learn the topography of one another’s innermost thoughts. Then the City of Glasgow Bank fails in 1878, destroying the only life Hailey has known. Her bankrupt father impulsively moves the family across the globe to Seattle, a city rumored to have coal in its hills and easy money for anyone willing to work for it.

Samuel’s days are haunted by Hailey’s parting words: Remember, Washington Territory. Armed only with his wits, he determines to follow her, leaving behind everything he has ever known in search of Hailey and a chance to make a better life for his sister. But the fledgling town barely cut out of the wilderness will test them all in ways unimaginable.

Poignant and lyrical, A Wild and Heavenly Place is an ode to the Pacific Northwest, to those courageous and resilient enough to chase the American Dream, and to a love so powerful it endures beyond distance, beyond hope.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Stacking the Shelves #7


Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Reading Reality. It's a place to showcase any books I have purchased, borrowed, or been lucky enough to have been given an advance copy of. Hope you find something that looks interesting to you or that jogs your memory of something you want to read. Enjoy your reading this week :)

I am really enjoying this book and can't wait to write my review for it, hopefully later this week. It is one of Follett's first books and so I got it for a steal price. A fast paced read, it is hard to put down!

This is one of the books available with my Amazon Prime first reads account. It is the June historical fiction pick so if it's free, why not? It is listed as number one in women's historical fiction right now so I'm willing to try it. 

On sale for only $1.99 I grabbed this one up on my Kindle. I haven't read anything by this author yet but have seen several titles that intrigued me. This one is about Cecily Neville, Duchess of York and I'm always up for anything about the Wars of the Roses.

What books have you collected this week? What are you reading that you enjoy?

Friday, June 16, 2023

Outlander Books: Ranked


The day we've waited for is here! It's the premiere of Outlander Season 7 on STARZ and I can hardly contain my excitement! After many production glitches and Covid restrictions, the show is back on track with a whopping 16 episodes for its fans. This season is based on the book An Echo in the Bone and it is one of my favorites. We will go inside more of the American Revolution and see many new characters added to the storyline. 

In honor of the day I have chosen to rank all the Outlander books in the order I love them best. Enjoy....whether you have read them all or not! Happy Outlander premiere day!

"The Big Books"

1. Voyager- Book 3

Always my favorite...I love the Battle of Culloden, Jamie and Claire's reunion, and the voyage to Jamaica. On my third re-read of it now.

2. Dragonfly in Amber- Book 2

The story of Claire and Jamie's political activities in Paris and the addition of Roger and Brianna make this one a close second to Voyager for me.

3. Outlander- Book 1


Even though I ranked this third in my level of enjoyment, it is still amazing.. and the original that started it all.

4. An Echo in the Bone- Book 7

The American Revolution takes center stage in this volume as well as a new cast of characters I love.

5. Written in My Own Heart's Blood- Book 8

Time Travel is featured more in this one and that is one of the main parts of the books I love. Also, more of the war and my absolute favorite last page of the whole series.

6. Drums of Autumn- Book 4

I really did enjoy this book but felt it had some areas that dragged. It is a great depiction of their move to the American colonies though and that along with the Roger and Brianna storyline has it ranking ahead of some of the others on my list. 

7. Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone- Book 9

This volume wrapped up numerous loose ends from the previous one and her fans waited seven years for it. So I enjoyed finally getting to catch up with the Fraser clan after being so patient. But it felt like a series of choppy short stories so it wasn't as satisfying an epic as I had grown accustomed to with these books.

8. The Fiery Cross- Book 5

Oh The Fiery Cross....this book has been rehashed so many times in Outlander circles as to whether or not it is downright terrible, repetitive, and wordy or whether it is a masterpiece of life on the "Ridge." If you are a fan of the books you know exactly what I am talking about! Having read it twice now I have decided it is both. And my second re-read really did make me a little more of a fan. Yes it could have been pared down, but that isn't Gabaldon's style. And if you really savor it and don't expect constant drama and action it can be a nice break from all the crazy travel of the other books. 

9. A Breath of Snow and Ashes- Book 6

So many people say this is their absolute favorite book. It is my least favorite. So I'm probably not going to win anyone over who loves it. But.....although I really, really want to like this book I just don't. It has graphic depictions of sexual assault, characters I loathe like Tom and Malva and their whole story, and just an overall feel of depression. There are a few interesting moments where you find out some tidbits of information related to the whole story arc and so you can't skip it altogether but most of it for me was either boring or disturbing. I was glad to finish it and won't miss Season 6 of the T.V. series either.  

Just for good is my order of enjoyment of the Lord John books and the other side stories!

Lord John Grey Series (including novellas with him)

Other Novellas, Short Stories, and "the rest"

If you are an Outlander fan, what order do you rank the books in? 

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Can’t Wait Wednesday: Murder Wears a Hidden Face: A Gilded Age Mystery (Book 8) by Rosemary Simpson


For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring Murder Wears a Hidden Face by Rosemary Simpson. The cover drew me in and then when I read the description I thought it sounded detailed and intriguing for a mystery. Also, it is unique in that it is set during the Gilded Age but the characters travel through New York's Chinatown, which I know nothing about. So I thought maybe I'd learn a little history and culture along with a solving a good mystery. 

November 28, 2023

Historical Fiction/Mystery

Description Courtesy of NetGalley

A diplomat’s murder draws heiress-turned-lawyer Prudence MacKenzie and former Pinkerton Geoffrey Hunter away from the opulent mansions of Gilded Age New York’s high society and into the dark heart of Chinatown . . .

February 1891:

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is hosting an exhibition of Chinese art objects, timed to coincide with the arrival of a new Chinese cultural attaché, Lord Peng. Prudence and Geoffrey are invited to attend the opening ceremonies. But among the throng of dignitaries making their way through the galleries is one decidedly unwelcome and unexpected visitor—an assassin who stabs the attaché to death, then flees through Central Park.

As witnesses, Prudence and Geoffrey quickly become immersed in the case and join former New York detective Warren Lowry in investigating the murder. But there are complications. The Peng family will no longer enjoy diplomatic standing and is threatened by deportation and possible disgrace or execution in their homeland. Desperate to remain in the West, they flee into the labyrinth of Chinatown, enlisting the protection of a long-lost uncle, now the leader of one of the city’s most feared Tongs. But that alliance comes with a price; Peng’s son must become his uncle’s apprentice in crime, while his eldest daughter will be forced to marry a Tong leader she has never met.

With a killer still at large, bent on revenge for a long-ago injustice and determined to eliminate every member of the Peng family, Prudence and Geoffrey are plunged into the heart of a culture about which they know very little. Each foray into the narrow streets and alleyways of Chinatown could be their last.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Murder At the Fair by Verity Bright (A Lady Eleanor Swift Mystery) Book Six


Publication Date: June 11, 2021

Length: 316 pages

My Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐☆

This is book six in this series and this time Eleanor is going to the May Fair. She is looking forward to time with the citizens of Little Buckford and enjoying the beautiful weather. Unfortunately, she will become tangled in yet another murder. They just seem to find her!

Lady Eleanor Swift is delighted to be the special guest at the May Fair and is having a great time watching the homemade raft race. When the much beloved undertaker, Solemn John is found dead it turns into mayhem and Eleanor and Clifford, her butler, are determined to find out how and why he died. As they delve into things Eleanor clashes once again with her love interest, Detective Hugh Seldon, who wants Eleanor to leave it well alone. She agrees briefly, but then after a heartfelt conversation with Solemn John's widow she secretly renews her commitment to finding the killer. 

Strangely, an obituary appears in the local paper concerning John's death and it is not flattering of him. It appears to have been written by his apprentice, Willie Green, who has some sort of beef with his former, deceased boss and no one is exactly sure why. 

Meanwhile, Eleanor is fending off unwanted suitors and eventually becomes tangled in not one, but two more possibly related murders. Another strange obituary appears in the paper again and then she is attacked as well. Sure enough, an obituary it written about Eleanor and the ominous warning has her rattled. She and Clifford must find out what on earth is going on before she is silenced permanently. 

An enjoyable read, Murder at the Fair is humorous and follows the rhythm of past books. Eleanor and Clifford are their usual witty selves, Clifford always a step ahead of her in both etiquette and charm, Eleanor trying to be the "lady of the manor" but finding her return to her common self more authentic. Their interactions with the staff of Henley Hall, Eleanor's inherited residence, is sweet and endearing and one gets a thorough description of what spring cleaning was like in a country manor in the 1920's. The housekeeper acquires a new contraption called a "vacuum cleaner" which she names Victor. The usual cast of characters appear and continue the coziness of past books. 

I thought this was a great way to spend what has been an extremely busy May and beginning of June for me, winding down the school year, and they are a go to if you want fun, cute recurring characters, and a mystery that has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. I'll be tackling Book 7 this fall as I like to read them in order and according to the matching seasons. If you like this type of cozy mystery you won't be disappointed in this installment!

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Can't Wait Wednesday: Matilda II: The Forgotten Queen by Joanna Arman


For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring Matilda II: The Forgotten Queen by Joanna Arman. I have always loved reading about the reigns of Henry I and II but it is hard to find anything on the wife of Henry I. Much has been covered about their daughter, the Empress Matilda, but not so much about her mother, also named Matilda. I am glad to see this subject given a whole book and hope it is informative and interesting. 

*I'm not finding it anywhere for sale in the United States yet but hopefully it won't be long.

Happy Reading!

June 30, 2023


Description courtesy of NetGalley

The wife of King Henry I and the mother of the Empress Maud is a woman and a Queen forgotten to history. She is frequently conflated with her daughter or her mother-in-law. She was born the daughter of the King of Scotland and an Anglo-Saxon princess. Her name was Edith, but her name was changed to Matilda at the time of her marriage.

The Queen who united the line of William the Conqueror with the House of Wessex lived during an age marked by transition and turbulence. She married Henry in the first year of the 12th century and for the eighteen years of her rule aided him in reforming the administrative and legal system due to her knowledge of languages and legal tradition. Together she and her husband founded a series of churches and arranged a marriage for their daughter to the Holy Roman Emperor. Matilda was a woman of letters to corresponded with Kings, Popes, and prelates, and was respected by them all.

Matilda’s greatest legacy was continuity: she united two dynasties and gave the Angevin Kings the legitimacy they needed so much. It was through her that the Empress Matilda and Henry II were able to claim the throne. She was the progenitor of the Plantagenet Kings, but the war and conflict which followed the death of her son William led to a negative stereotyping by Medieval Chroniclers. Although they saw her as pious, they said she was a runaway nun and her marriage to Henry was cursed.

This book provides a much-needed re-evaluation of Edith/Matilda’s role and place in the history of the Queens of England.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Stacking the Shelves #6


Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Reading Reality. It's a place to showcase any books I have purchased, borrowed, or been lucky enough to have been given an advance copy of. Hope you find something that looks interesting to you or that jogs your memory of something you want to read. Enjoy your reading this week :)

I have been working my way through Anne Perry's Christmas books for years now. She passed away just a few weeks ago and so she'd been on my mind lately. I thought I'd get a jump on one of the last three of these books I have left. It's a little sad to realize when I finish them, there won't be another one. I so look forward to them each holiday season. 

The fourth book in this series was on sale for Kindle but I'd rather start with the first book in a series so I got this one instead. It got good reviews for period accuracy which is important to me in historical fiction books, even mysteries. And it's based on a real person I'd never heard of ...Ela Longespee of Salisbury. Some of the reviews say it is a bit thin in the details department but I'm willing to give it a shot. I like this time period and the cover kind of drew me in.

I read Fall of Giants, the first in this series years ago and loved it. I learned so much about the lead up to World War I and even though sometimes the characters could be a bit one dimensional, I appreciate the way Follett tried hard to incorporate a ton of history. It's a great way to learn without getting bored or totally confused. I have put off reading this one because this time period seems so depressing. But it's summer and I may have the strength to finish it!