Sunday, December 31, 2023

Death On a Winter's Day by Verity Bright (A Lady Eleanor Swift Mystery Book 8)


Happy New Year's Eve 2023!

Publication Date: 
November 19, 2021

Length: 286 pages


Lady Eleanor and the gang go to Scotland! I have enjoyed this series so much and love that I'm ending the year with this review. 

I had intended to do so much more on my blog in December but man it has been a heck of a month! Between teaching at an elementary school (where Christmas is intense!), to being sick twice with colds and sinus infections, to all the family obligations and celebrations I just haven't had much time to blog or read. But that's okay. I read when I could and read what I loved. And that's the point, right? So I'm happy to share my thoughts on this delightful cozy mystery. 

Lady Eleanor and her butler Clifford travel to Castle Ranburgh in the Scottish highlands to celebrate Christmas with friends, Baron and Baroness Ashley. And when extra staff is needed, the whole group gets to tag along: Mrs. Trotman, the cook, Mrs. Butters, the housekeeper, and Polly, the kitchen maid. Even Gladstone the bulldog gets to go as another guest of honor. Though the castle is a bit primitive and the festivities a bit hampered by infighting among the guests, Eleanor is determined to enjoy herself. When an obnoxious American, Eugene Randall ends up murdered during a party game, she realizes she is smack in the middle of another crime to solve. Everyone has motive, including the footman and the hosts.

When Baron Ashley is arrested for the murder, Eleanor knows she must try to help clear his name. But is she absolutely sure he's innocent? His wife seems to be adamant that he is and just for good measure she enlists her love interest, Inspector Hugh Seldon to help her with some of the evidence. She will have to work fast to find the real killer and all while trying not to be too distracted by her feelings for Seldon and her desire to honor his request that she stay safe and quit putting herself in harm's way.

My Thoughts:

Being partial to all things Scottish this was one of my favorites of the series so far. I loved everything about it. From the location, to the colorful characters, to the incorporation of Christmas traditions, and the new hints into Eleanor's background and her mysterious absent parents. 

The murder mystery was well done too and I only figured out half of the answer. The last couple of chapters with an intense chase scene were fun and exciting and I learned some things about sailing and the topography of the area they are in. 

The next in the series looks fun as it centers around the murder of a visiting member of the royal family. Looking forward to more adventures in 2024 with Eleanor, Clifford, and Gladstone.

Friday, December 29, 2023

The Road To Runnymede by David Field (The Medieval Saga Series Book 6)


Publication Date: 
January 16, 2023


215 pages

This is the second David Field book I've read this year and he is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. His books have that perfect balance I love between straight, dry history facts and overly romantic fiction in too many modern historical fiction books today. And while I am happy his books are so inexpensive to buy and free to read with Kindle Unlimited, I'm starting to think he is selling himself short and needs to charge more! 


This is the sixth book in his seven part series about the Norman conquest through the reign of Henry III and his son Prince Edward, who eventually becomes Edward I. I reviewed book seven last month, The Conscience of a King, which was about Simon de Montfort. I decided to back up and read about King John, who I honestly know little about, having run across very few historical fiction books devoted to just him and his reign. The book incorporates a fictional character, Hugh, Earl of Flint, to guide the narrative and shows his service to John along with the real person of Ranulf, Earl of Chester. The two cousins endure many hardships and abuse as they try to carry out King John's demands and also care for their much neglected families, who suffer loneliness and worry for their men who are usually far away from home and involved in the next brutal battle. 

When the story begins, Richard the Lionheart is still alive and ruling as well as taking advice from his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine and it seems as if there is no reason to believe this world of strong leadership will not go on for some time. Hugh, having been on crusade with Richard, is happy and content serving his King who he respects deeply and holds in much esteem. When Richard dies young and unexpectedly, Hugh's world drastically changes with the ascension of his younger brother John to the throne of England. 

John and Richard are as different as is possible and Hugh learns quickly that taking advice and self-restraint are not qualities the new leader possesses. Seeing everyone as a possible threat, John seems to work overtime to alienate even his most loyal supporters of which Hugh and Ranulf try to be. As the barons of the day are overtaxed, over committed to endless wars across the channel in France, and treated with disdain at every turn, things become perilous for Hugh as he tries to support John, while seeing the writing on the wall of a coming showdown between the King and his subjects. 

My Thoughts:

Throughout the story of the facts of John's reign, the attempts to restore his lands in France, and his interaction with the Welsh and Scots, is the side story of Hugh and his wife Edwina and their children. Geoffrey, Hugh's son, who will also factor in the next book, is anxious to prove himself and learn the art of being a squire, then a knight in the King's service. He is sent at the age of fifteen to train on the Earl of Chester's estate and bears witness to the brutality of the day in situations beyond his control. The personal stories of Hugh's family members serve to keep the story from becoming too dry and give the reader someone to root for. 

As I read this book I realized that it is a great place to start if you have very little knowledge of the time period. But it is also a great recap of events that are easily forgotten. I found myself wishing I'd read it before tackling some of Sharon Kay Penman's work because Field's books are much shorter and to the point, at only 250-300 pages each. You will not get the detailed, intricate backgrounds of each character or the exhaustive research in Penman's novels, but you will definitely come away with sound information and understand the why, who, and what behind the chosen subject. 

Field has done his homework and he even adds some things I hadn't read about before. His description of the storm which led to the loss of the crown jewels at the end of story was superb and he explains things so effortlessly that even the Great Charter (Magna Carta) was made interesting, something I'd always been a bit bored by. He did a wonderful job of making me understand how John went from being totally in control to being forced to agree, albeit with his fingers crossed, to demands from barons who dared to defy him. 

I love that Field didn't start writing and publishing until he retired from his work as a lawyer. I think to become an author in your 70's is amazing! I am pretty sure I read he'd written a lot before then but hadn't published his work until later. He is doing a great service by giving us these books about English and Australian history, written in an entertaining, readable style for all. I will definitely be reading more. I'd like to start the new year with his book about Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, The King's Commoner, because I don't know much about that story. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Can't Wait Wednesday: Murder In Masquerade by Mary Winters (A Lady of Letters Mystery Book 2)


For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring Murder In Masquerade by Mary Winters. This is a new cozy mystery series begun this year starring female sleuth Amelia Amesbury. Something about the synopsis intrigued me, especially the part about her being a Victorian countess who writes a secret advice column for a London paper. I thought that sounded like fun. She hobnobs with royalty while falling into solving murder mysteries. 

I'm always happy to promote new authors too and although this author has written two other series under a different name, this is her first series under her name, Mary Winters. I hope you found something you can't wait to read this week!

February 20, 2024

Historical Mystery/Cozy Mystery

Description courtesy of Amazon books

Extra, extra, read all about it! Countess turned advice columnist Amelia Amesbury finds herself playing the role of sleuth when a night at the theatre turns deadly.

Victorian Countess Amelia Amesbury’s secret hobby, writing an advice column for a London penny paper, has gotten her into hot water before. After all, Amelia will do whatever it takes to help a reader in need. But now, handsome marquis Simon Bainbridge desperately requires her assistance. His beloved younger sister, Marielle, has written Amelia's Lady Agony column seeking advice on her plans to elope with a man her family does not approve of. Determined to save his sister from a scoundrel and the family from scandal, Simon asks Amelia to dissuade Marielle from the ill-advised gambit.

But when the scoundrel makes an untimely exit after a performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto, Amelia realizes there’s much more at stake than saving a young woman’s reputation from ruin. It’s going to take more than her letter-writing skills to help the dashing marquis, mend the familial bond, and find the murderer. Luckily, solving problems is her specialty!

Friday, December 22, 2023

A Christmas Legacy by Anne Perry (The Christmas Stories Book 19)


Publication Date: November 9, 2021

Length: 192 pages

I now have only one more Anne Perry Christmas book to read. I plan on reading and reviewing it this summer for Christmas in July. And that will be it. Perry passed away earlier this year so there will be no more being published. I've been reading these every holiday season for a long time and they are always a nice way to spend a weekend. This book was unusually short, I'd call it more of a novella actually. But it was heartwarming, and a cozy read.

It is the year 1900 and Gracie Tellman is content and happy with her family of five: police husband Samuel and their children, Charlotte (called Charlie), Tommy and Victor. Former maid and co-sleuth to her revered employers Charlotte and Thomas Pitt, Gracie has made a good life for herself, much owed to the love and kindness of the Pitts who treated her as one of their own.

Unexpectedly, a former friend's daughter, Millie visits Gracie and shares a disturbing story of happenings in the household she is employed in as a kitchen maid. Various items are disappearing and Millie is afraid she will be suspected and dismissed. With only her job and good name standing in the way of homelessness and maybe prostitution on the streets of London, Millie is desperate to make sure the crimes are solved before she or any of her fellow workers are destitute. 

Having worked on many cases with the Pitts, Gracie readily agrees to help. She takes on Millie's position, temporarily with her husband Samuel watching the children for her. Gracie pretends to be a fill in for Millie who is "sick," and works to gain the trust of the staff. As she secretly surveys and investigates, she begins to realize there is something sinister going on upstairs in the hidden part of the house. The matriarch of the family is ill and dying but is being neglected, Gracie suspects, in the hope that she will die quickly and leave the heirs with her money and home they covet for themselves. How will Gracie bring this wickedness into the light while not risking Millie's position and maybe even the lives of those who know what is happening?

I thought this book was excellent with character development. As things unfolded, I found myself rooting for the staff and the sick grandmother and feeling connected to their stories. Perry paints a great picture of compassion on the part of the workers who want to protect the old lady but also know they have to tread lightly lest they be thrown out. Gracie is her usual bright, inquisitive self, while also showing a more grown up side as wife and mother now. As usual, Perry creates the Victorian world well, adding those touches we expect from her about the goings on in a large household of the time. Being Christmas time, there is always that extra layer of holiday festiveness in the book.

My only real complaint was that I wish the story itself would have been a bit longer and detailed. The book is less than 200 pages, a perfect quick read for Christmas, but as I was enjoying it I hated to see it end so quickly. There is an unexpected twist that makes it fun though and you really do have to read carefully and all the way to the end to fully appreciate the resolution. This was one of her better Christmas stories I thought as some are dark and depressing all the way through with just a quick lift at the end. A Christmas Legacy works well with the mystery, suspense, and happy ending we all expect from these holiday books. 

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie (Miss Marple Book Twelve) Read Christie 2023 December Selection


Publication Date: October 1976

Length: 224 pages

Well I can hardly believe it but this is my last review for Read Christie 2023. I am feeling quite accomplished as it was my goal to participate and blog about at least one Agatha Christie book each month, preferably the one for the challenge, and I did this. I only had two books that I didn't get to and for those I read alternates

Gwenda Reed, newly married and looking for a place to settle down with her husband Giles, is thrilled to have found a house on the coast of England that seems to fit their life. It is called Hillside and as they settle in, Gwenda oddly discovers that she has lived there as a child. The strange coincidence is even more bizarre when she realizes she may have witnessed a murder committed in front of her as a small child. Because both her parents are dead, she has precious few people to consult as to where these memories come from and why. Giles, loving husband that he is, agrees to help her unravel the mystery, along with Miss Marple, who has been drawn into the story after meeting the couple earlier and is now visiting nearby and staying with friends. 

The murder centers around a woman named Helen. At first, Gwenda doesn't know exactly who she is. But she has a violent memory of a "Helen" being strangled and her witnessing it. The more they dig, Gwenda and Giles find out that Helen was Gwenda's stepmother and they begin to fear it was Gwenda's father who murdered her. Giles puts out an ad seeking knowledge from anyone who might know Helen's whereabouts and it is answered by her brother, a Dr. Kennedy who lives nearby. After meeting with him and others they find involved in Helen's life story, Gwenda and Giles are more confused than ever. They and Miss Marple have a lot of detective work to do to find out if Helen was indeed murdered at all or whether it was just the overactive imagination of a young Gwenda.

I really enjoyed this one. Normally I haven't been a big fan of the Miss Marple stories as I find they are a little slower paced and sometimes the detailed storyline just isn't there as much. But this one really had me guessing and I definitely did not figure out the resolution ahead of time. Even at the last second before the big reveal I was sure I knew and was completely wrong. That made  for a great ending. Miss Marple had quite a bit of involvement here and she has some great discussions about her thoughts and the why behind the crime. There were some psychological elements that made it interesting also, and family dynamics that were meant to be disturbing and shocking. It is the last novel for Christie, published after her death, and I think so far it is my favorite of the Miss Marple series.

It was a great way to end my year of reading Agatha Christie for 2023!

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Can't Wait Wednesday: The Lantern's Dance by Laurie R. King (Book 18 of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes Mystery Series)


For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring The Lantern's Dance by Laurie R. King. I read the sample for the first book and it looked intriguing. Even though this is Book 18 and I likely won't be able to read them all, I thought this was a good author and book to highlight this week. I enjoyed her style of writing and am always up for trying a historical mystery series featuring a new spin on old characters. As I looked through the series I saw several featuring historical figures that make me want to read them.  Hope you found something you can't wait to read this week!

February 13, 2024

Historical Mysteries

Description courtesy of Amazon books

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, hoping for a respite in the French countryside, are instead caught up in a case that turns both bewildering and intensely personal. 

After their recent adventures in Transylvania, Russell and Holmes look forward to spending time with Holmes’ son, the famous artist Damian Adler, and his family. But when they arrive at Damian’s house, they discover that the Adlers have fled from a mysterious threat.

Holmes rushes after Damian while Russell, slowed down by a recent injury, stays behind to search the empty house. In Damian’s studio, she discovers four crates packed with memorabilia related to Holmes’ granduncle, the artist Horace Vernet. It’s an odd mix of treasures and clutter, including a tarnished silver lamp with a rotating shade: an antique yet sophisticated form of zoetrope, fitted with strips of paper whose images dance with the lantern’s spin.

In the same crate is an old journal written in a nearly impenetrable code. Intrigued, Russell sets about deciphering the intricate cryptograph, slowly realizing that each entry is built around an image—the first of which is a child, bundled into a carriage by an abductor, watching her mother recede from view.

Russell is troubled, then entranced, but each entry she decodes brings more questions. Who is the young Indian woman who created this elaborate puzzle? What does she have to do with Damian, or the Vernets—or the threat hovering over the house?

The secrets of the past appear to be reaching into the present. And it seems increasingly urgent that Russell figure out how the journal and lantern are related to Damian—and possibly to Sherlock Holmes himself.

Could there be things about his own history that even the master detective does not perceive?

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Stacking the Shelves #22


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 makes you remember a favorite book you need to finish. Enjoy your reading this week :)

I have recently become interested in learning more about the Hundred Years War period and am finding it very hard to find historical fiction set in that era. This series is not exactly about the war per se but takes place then. It seems like a mystery series folded into the war with the main characters solving a conspiracy while fighting major battles. I hope it's good!

This book has been on my radar for awhile. It's another in the cozy mystery genre that takes place in the 1920's but as the setting is Egypt and the pyramids I am hooked. Hoping it is a good one and well written as this author has several others that look interesting. So far the first couple of pages have been good with some historical information, which is why I love historical mysteries.

I had not heard of this author before but ran across this book and many others by her this week available on Kindle (although hard to find in the library). She wrote most of her novels in the 1940's and 1950's and they center around royals, often ones that are overlooked. This book concerns Richard II and he is definitely not a focus in much historical fiction literature. This details his life in a sympathetic way, the author convinced he has been unfairly portrayed by the Lancaster family, who stole his rightful place in the succession and were responsible for his death. It should be a unique book, but from what I've seen so far, is solidly researched. 

Friday, December 8, 2023

The Stolen Crown by Carol McGrath


Publication Date: May 18, 2023

Length: 434 pages

As someone who came late to the game in studying the period of The Anarchy between Stephen and Matilda, I am always excited to get my hands on any books set during that time. It is fascinating and exciting and a great backdrop for historical fiction. This author seems to be very popular right now and the gorgeous covers of her books really catch the eye and make you want to try them.

The story begins in 1127 at Windsor Castle. Matilda, or Maud, as she is called, former Empress of Germany, has been called home to England by her father, the current King Henry I, to take up her rightful place as heir to the throne. Having been widowed in Germany and no longer wife of the Emperor there, being female she is at the mercy of her father who insists on making her the one to inherit the crown upon his death. The barons and clergy are not thrilled, but with Maud's brother William, the only legitimate male heir having drowned years before, Maud is all that is left. They swear allegiance to her in front of Henry but this is short lived upon his death. 

Maud is also painfully betrothed to the immature Geoffrey of Anjou and the two are like oil and water. Geoffrey is several years her junior and Maud is used to the adulation and honor due an Empress from her years spent in Germany, while Geoffrey is completely uninterested in both his older wife and in taking up duties in England. He is much more wedded to France, specifically his home territory and in acquiring Normandy and its surrounding lands. 

The basic story of the Anarchy period is related chronologically from the years of Henry's death to the crowning of his grandson, Henry II. We witness the chaos of Maud's fight to regain her title and crown from her cousin Stephen, who has the support and backing of much of the nobility who see a male ruler as the only real solution. All the major players are here: Maud's confidante and trustworthy brother, Robert of Gloucester, sheriff Miles of Gloucester, and Brian Fitz Count, one of the nobility and supporter of Maud. The major battles and skirmishes, Lincoln, Oxford are recounted, as well as Maud's escape into the wintry night to Wallingford. 

We are also introduced to fictional character, the loyal Alice, and her knight love interest, Sir Jacques, who serve as the way McGrath inserts the goings on of the more common folk and their attachment to the nobles and royals in the time period. Alice and her family are entertainers, puppeteers who are loyal to Maud and her side of the fight for the crown.

I started out really enjoying this book. And then about halfway through I started to lose interest. I pushed through to the end but found myself trying to figure out why I wasn't as excited to read it as it unfolded. After reading some reviews by others on Goodreads I finally realized the answer. There just wasn't the character development I wanted and one reviewer described the writing as "wooden." Sometimes it vacillated between sounding like a history book recalling facts and details, and then would try to switch to a more romantic style. It just didn't work for me. I will not say it is not worth reading but I didn't come away learning a lot of new information about the period and I also didn't really care about any of the characters involved, fictional or real. All the information was there but it just didn't flow or have that personal touch the way good historical fiction should.

Will I read another book by this author? Yes, I would like to try one of the books in her Rose trilogy. I am wondering if I read about a subject I don't know a lot about I might enjoy it better. Possibly because I've read so much on the Anarchy period in much greater detail, this book just recapped things I already knew and I skimmed through it for that reason. I rarely shut out an author after one book as I like to see if another works better. This book is a great fit for someone who is just learning about this subject and needs the background information told in an entertaining style. McGrath clearly has that knowledge and her research is solid.  It is good to know what you do learn from it is based on proven, historical facts. That is my number one reason for reading and loving historical fiction.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Can't Wait Wednesday: The Romanov Brides by Clare McHugh (A Novel of the Last Tsarina and Her Sisters)


For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring The Romanov Brides by Clare McHugh. It's about Princess Alix of Hesse and her sister Ella and their tragic fate at the hands of the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution. While I know every part of their story, having been obsessed with it all years ago, I am always up for reading another novel about the Romanovs, especially these sisters. I hope you have found something you can't wait to read!

March 12, 2024

Historical Fiction

Description courtesy of Net Galley

From the author of A Most English Princess comes a rich novel about young Princess Alix of Hesse—the future Alexandra, last Empress of Imperial Russia—and her sister, Princess Ella. Their decision to marry into the Romanov royal family changed history.

They were granddaughters of Queen Victoria and two of the most beautiful princesses in Europe. Princesses Alix and Ella were destined to wed well and wisely. But while their grandmother wants to join them to the English and German royal families, the sisters fall in love with Russia—and the Romanovs.

Defying the Queen’s dire warnings, Ella weds the tsar’s brother, Grand Duke Serge. Cultivated, aloof, and proud, Serge places his young wife on a pedestal for all to admire. Behind palace gates, Ella struggles to secure private happiness.

Alix, whisked away to Russia for Ella’s wedding, meets and captivates Nicky—heir apparent to the Russian throne. While loving him deeply, Alix hears a call of conscience, urging her to walk away.

Their fateful decisions to marry will lead to tragic consequences for not only themselves and their families, but for millions in Russia and around the globe.

The Romanov Brides is a moving and fascinating portrait of two bold and spirited royal sisters, and brings to vivid life imperial Russia—a dazzling, decadent world on the brink of disappearing forever. 

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Stacking the Shelves #21


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 makes you remember a favorite book you need to finish. Enjoy your reading this week :)

**BTW: Kindle Unlimited is offering three months for just $.99. That's a steal! I will probably cancel when the offer is up in February and it's super easy to do so if you don't want to continue to pay the monthly fee. 

It's finally December and I'm feeling very festive right now! This came free with my Kindle Unlimited subscription and although it's Book 4 of the series I might start here because it's the Christmas season. I'm always looking for good new cozy mysteries to read in between more challenging books. The series is called Lord Edgington Investigates. There are so many cozy mysteries with female leads so I like to find and promote those with a male investigator when I can. If you've read any of these let me know what you think!

This is another book I got from my Kindle Unlimited membership. It is part of a series of 10 books called John Wingate Historical Thrillers. This book was first published in 1983 and has been reissued with a more modern cover. The reviews say it is a good, solid, well researched book and I am kind of obsessed with the early Norman period right now. This is one I'm definitely putting on my TBR list. Unfortunately, if I love it I'm out of luck for more as the other books in the series are Cold War era maritime thrillers; not a subject I'm very interested in. I'm very curious as to what made this author choose to stray from his standard formula to write this one book from this period. 

I have seen this book around for a bit and it is on sale for $1.99 on Amazon Kindle this week. I've said before I'm a sucker for beautiful covers and this one is very pretty. I hadn't realized it was by a crime detective author who wrote in the early 20th Century and thought it was a new book for awhile. It was republished in 2021 for the first time in 95 years. It says it was the "mystery even Agatha Christie couldn't solve!"

This is a murder mystery set in the "dead of winter in a secluded country manor." Perfect for a January read. If you've read some of Anthony Berkeley's books leave me a comment and let me know if you like him.