Sunday, August 20, 2023

Stacking the Shelves #11


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 just love Kindle credits. My family (or me) is always wanting something on Amazon and I have it delivered on Thursdays and receive credits which get me new books! It's a win win. This book was free with my Kindle credits and I read a wonderful review on Between the Lines book blog about another book in the series, which got me interested in this first book. So thanks Cathy at that blog for suggesting it. The cover, setting, and time period drew me in. How many books are historical mysteries set in the 1930's in Sri Lanka? Very unique.

This was a Book Bub find and while I didn't buy it yet (because I'm cheap and it's not on sale!) I thought it looked interesting enough to download the sample. My rule is that I read a sample and if I make it all the way through and still want to know what happens, I buy or borrow it and read it. This is a series some of my fellow book bloggers have covered in reviews. It's book one of the Crispin Guest Mysteries and I think the time period is pretty unusual. He is a former knight, living in London in the middle ages around the year 1380. Not a lot of stories with that hook so I might need to give this one a try.

I am always looking for books that take place during the period of the Crusader states. They are hard to find. This one is during the very exciting period of Saladin, Richard the Lionheart, and the epic battles for the recapture of the Holy Land. 

The publisher synopsis says "Pillars of Light is a powerful and moving novel about the triumph of the human spirit against all the odds. It will delight fans of Philippa Gregory, Ken Follett and Diana Gabaldon." That is enough to sell me on it. I'm still trying to finish Penman's Lionheart so this one may have to come after. But I didn't want it to get away.

Friday, August 18, 2023

The Malabar Hotel Mystery: An Ellie Blaine 1920's Mystery (Book Six) by E.M. Bolton


Publication Date: March 27, 2023

Length: 181 pages

I am always looking for mysteries or historical fiction set in India, preferably prior to WW II. I find the setting exotic and fascinating and I love to see differences in British and Indian culture depicted. So this cover, title, location was one mystery I wanted to try. I knew going in it was short and probably wouldn't have time to delve deeply into more than a cute mystery but since I've joined the cozy mystery reading challenge it fit the bill. I'm having a very busy week starting school so short books are very welcome right now! This is book six and I haven't read anything else in this series but it's the only one set in India so I tried it first. 

Ellie Blaine is worried about her friend and love interest Dr. Richard Lindley. He is missing in Cochin, India and she has left England to go and search for him. She knows it is not like him to have quit writing her and is sure he has met with foul play. When she arrives, her suspicions are confirmed by what she finds in his hotel room. His watch, a gift from Ellie is found among his belongings, and as he promised her he'd never remove it, she feels certain this, along with mysteriously unfinished letters detailing a supposed crime he was involved in, are odd clues that point to something sinister befalling him. 

As she talks with hotel staff and his hospital colleagues, Ellie is unsure who is being candid and who is possibly withholding information. Her friend Georgie arrives, and having worked on previous cases with her before, begins to search with Ellie. The two women encounter some perilous situations which are designed to throw them off the trail, but stick to their intuition and continue. Is Richard guilty? Did he leave on his own? Or is there more to the story?

The first half of the book was the best. Descriptions of the city and its surroundings looked promising and I liked the way the characters spoke to each other, the dialogue sounding a lot like an old movie. Hoping the culture and atmosphere would continue throughout the book I kept going and I also thought the mystery would intensify and become more involved. Unfortunately, I found that about a third of the way through things started to fade out. It began to feel like a book that could have taken place almost anywhere at anytime. It was as if the author forgot it is supposed to be a historical mystery set in another country during another time. The mystery part was just okay, but not terribly exciting. 

This book felt somewhat amateurish and being so short at less than 200 pages, it rambled more than it should have. By the time the resolution happened I'd already figured out the gist of it so the excitement just wasn't there. Some cozy mysteries have that extra thing that makes them cute and also contain a little depth. This one just didn't have enough there to make me care about Ellie and Georgie. It had a good premise but didn't deliver. Maybe the other books are better and they take place back in England. I'm not sure if I'll read another one but I am always willing to try an author twice just to be sure.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Can't Wait Wednesday: The Royal Windsor Secret by Christine Wells


For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa  at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring The Royal Windsor Secret by Christine Wells. Besides having a beautiful cover and intriguing title that made me want to stop and check it out, the premise is very original. The idea of a secret love child between the Prince of Wales and a scandalous woman? Who grows up an orphan in Cairo at the famous Shepheard's Hotel? Fascinating idea. Happy Reading! Hope you've found a book you can't wait for this week :) 

September 12, 2023

Historical Fiction/Women's Fiction

Description courtesy of Net Galley

Could she be the secret daughter of the Prince of Wales? In this dazzling novel by the author of Sisters of the Resistance, a young woman seeks to discover the truth about her mysterious past. Perfect for readers of Shana Abe, Bryn Turnbull, and Marie Benedict. 

Cleo Davenport has heard the whispers: the murmured conversations that end abruptly the second she walks into a room. Told she was an orphan, she knows the rumor—that her father is none other than the Prince of Wales, heir to the British throne. And at her childhood home at Cairo’s Shepheard’s Hotel, where royals, rulers, and the wealthy live, they even called her “The Princess.”

But her life is turned upside down when she turns seventeen. Sent to London under the chaperonage of her very proper aunt, she’s told it’s time to learn manners and make her debut. But Cleo’s life can’t be confined to a ballroom. She longs for independence and a career as a jewelry designer for Cartier, but she cannot move forward until she finds out about her past.

Determined to unlock the truth, Cleo travels from London, back to Cairo, and then France, where her investigations take a shocking turn into the world of the Parisian demi-monde, and a high-class courtesan whose scandalous affair with the young Prince of Wales threatened to bring down the British monarchy long before anyone had heard of Wallis Simpson. 


Friday, August 11, 2023

No Graves As Yet: World War I Book 1 by Anne Perry

Publication Date: August 26, 2003

Length: 384 pages

Anne Perry is one of my favorite authors. I can always turn to one of her books if I'm going through a reading slump and need to jump start my interest in books again. I have been reading her Thomas Pitt, William Monk, and Christmas mysteries for over 20 years. I don't know why I took so long to read this first book in her WWI series because I've had this book for years. At first I thought it wasn't a mystery but it is. Also, it combines some history of the war which is always a plus. So I'm glad I finally decided to give this a try.

Joseph Reavley is a Cambridge professor who has enjoyed a so far idyllic life along with this brother, sister, and parents, all who are oblivious in the summer of 1914 just how much their world is about to change. He receives shocking news that his parents have been killed in what appears to be an automobile accident and his brother Matthew who is in the intelligence service, lets him know that their father had planned to deliver an important document that could greatly impact England and the world. His father, being a retired member of Parliament, was in a position to see that the information ended up with those who could protect the nation from further harm and ridicule. 

As Joseph and Matthew begin to investigate the car crash they realize it was likely foul play and find the timing very questionable. They hesitate to share their findings with anyone, including their sister as they don't want to alert the wrong people to their discoveries before they've had a chance to determine what happened. Simultaneously, one of Joseph's promising University students, Sebastian, is killed and his death also begins to appear suspicious. Not knowing it all might be related, Joseph, trying to work through his personal grief at all the tragedies, while sleuthing, along with the realization that the world is on the brink of war, is cracking apart. He doesn't know who to turn to for help, who to believe, or what to do but he knows something is terribly wrong, close to home, and with the nation and the world as well.

This book was very different from any of Perry's previous ones. She still has the mystery to solve and spends time in the characters' heads, showing them pondering through deep questions and trying to make sense of things but this book felt more like historical fiction than crime. Knowing it is part of an ongoing series that sees each year of the war and the Reavley siblings part in it means I realized that it is a family saga as well. The actual mystery felt a bit more like drama than suspense as Joseph and Matthew talk to friends of the family and officials about what everyone thinks might have happened.

I can see the positives in the book and I can appreciate Perry trying something new, but I'm not sure this series is for me. I was hoping for a bit more history with the war thrown in and the way it developed felt like it dragged, rehashing the same thoughts over and over again. Some of the way the characters behaved was also a little melodramatic, with too much agonizing over what to do next. There wasn't the feel of a "detective" that you get with the Pitt and Monk novels, nor was there the Christmas spirit that runs through her holiday books. Reading the comments I know some people really love this series and have become attached to the characters so I'm sure it continues to improve. I also thought the resolution was very far fetched. It was surprising to see the answers behind it all because it really stretched the imagination to think it could be true. 

I'm not sure if and when I'll read the next book in the series, Shoulder the Sky. I already bought it on sale so I have it and will probably tackle it eventually. But this will go last on my list for her series for me. The others are worth your time first if you are looking to start reading her works.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Can't Wait Wednesday: The Kingmaker's Women by Julia A. Hickey


For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa  at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring The Kingmaker's Women by Julia A. Hickey. I am drawn like a magnet to anything Wars of the Roses and the daughters of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, are never a boring topic. This book focuses on Warwick's wife, Anne Beauchamp, and her daughters, Isabel and Anne Neville, exclusively and delves into whether or not they were pawns in their father's war games or women who used their own wiles to exert influence over their situation. It looks fascinating. Happy Wednesday reading everyone!

August 30, 2023 (The publisher may have changed the date according to Amazon)

History/Middle Ages History

Description courtesy of Net Galley

They were supposed to be pious, fruitful and submissive. The wealthiest women in the kingdom, Anne Beauchamp and her daughters were at the heart of bitter inheritance disputes. Well educated and extravagant, they lived in style and splendour but were forced to navigate their lives around the unpredictable clashes of the Cousins’ War. Were they pawns or did they exert an influence of their own?

The twists and turns of Fate as well as the dynastic ambitions of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick saw Isabel married without royal permission to the Yorkist heir presumptive, George Duke of Clarence. Anne Neville was married to Edward of Lancaster, the only son of King Henry VI when her father turned his coat. One or the other was destined to become queen. Even so, the Countess of Warwick, heiress to one of the richest titles in England, could not avoid being declared legally dead so that her sons-in-law could take control of her titles and estates.

Tragic Isabel, beloved by her husband, would experience the dangers of childbirth and on her death, her midwife was accused of witchcraft and murder. Her children both faced a traitor’s death because of their Plantagenet blood. Anne Neville became the wife of Richard, Duke of Gloucester having survived a forced march, widowhood and the ambitions of Isabel’s husband. When Gloucester took the throne as Richard III, she would become Shakespeare’s tragic queen. The women behind the myth suffered misfortune and loss but fulfilled their domestic duties in the brutal world they inhabited and fought by the means available to them for what they believed to be rightfully their own.

The lives of Countess Anne and her daughters have much to say about marriage, childbirth and survival of aristocratic women in the fifteenth century.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Blood On the Tiber by B. M. Howard (The Gracchus and Vanderville Mysteries Book Two)


Publication Date: August 10, 2023

Length: 401 pages

Thank you to NetGalley for an ARC of this book.

This book takes place during the era after the French Revolution and before the pinnacle of the Napoleonic Wars. It is not a time period covered as commonly in historical fiction and the setting being Italy it is even more obscure. I had not read book one in the series yet but you don't have to as the author gives enough background on the characters to understand the story.

Felix Gracchus has been suffering from malaria and has awakened in the French embassy realizing how ill he has been and frustrated at his slow recovery. He is grateful to the nurse who has treated him throughout his condition and wants to find her to thank her. She has been difficult to locate and unbeknownst to Gracchus, this will resurface later as he becomes involved in a mysterious case involving a family inheritance. 

Gracchus is glad to find out his friend and younger former colleague, Lieutenant Vanderville has been assigned to the Embassy and will be infiltrating the group of rebels who are deemed Patriots to the revolutionary cause running underground in Rome and keeping an eye on their often violent activities. The two men are as different as night and day but have an underlying respect for each other due to prior involvement in a case. 

As Gracchus continues to recover and get out more, he and Vanderville are often in the company of Joseph Bonaparte, the brother of Napoleon and ambassador of the French Republic to Rome. They get to know Joseph's wife, mother-in-law, sister Caroline, and sister-in-law, Desiree and accompany them in certain settings. Also often present at dinner or events is Cardinal Cesarini, an ambitious man in charge of the Pope's police unit, who will use every advantage to get ahead in the political, religious world of Rome. 

When Gracchus is mysteriously attacked and works to find out who is behind it he is drawn to the home of a strange, reclusive widow, living in squalor in a home on her stepson's property, who also happens to be the Cardinal himself. The woman tells him the story of how she came to be at the mercy of him and that she wants Gracchus to help her retrieve a painting which will reveal clues to an inheritance she says rightfully belongs to her own biological children and herself. Initially, Gracchus believes he can help the woman and that the case is intriguing, but not especially dangerous. As things progress, he realizes it goes much deeper and darker than he ever imagined. He will need his friend Vanderville and a lot of skills to unravel the detailed story and to get to the bottom of the twisted truth.

The level of historical detail and vocabulary is impressive in this novel. I found myself having to slow down a bit and concentrate the way I might in a classic book. Having read a lot of quick, cozy mysteries lately, it is challenging to pick up a story such as this and find I'm needing to even re-read parts and look at the cast of characters to keep everything straight. This is not light reading for sure. The descriptions of Rome and the underground revolutionary movement are well done and informative in a way I'd never seen in another book, making this one of the most unique historical mysteries I've read yet. 

While I admire the author's research and writing, I wasn't thrilled with the ending. It was a bit macabre for my taste.  I guess I like my mysteries to end on a more pleasant note. Again, maybe that comes from reading too many cozy mysteries, but readers should know that this isn't for the faint of heart! It is gritty and dark and shocking when you get to the conclusion. 

Overall I'd say this book was well researched, articulate, and interesting but I probably won't be reading another in this series due to the graphic nature of it. It just wasn’t my style. 

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Stacking the Shelves #10

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 was excited to join Kindle Unlimited for free for three months! This book is one I really wanted to read but didn't want to buy just yet. So now I have it ready to go with my trial membership. If I read fast enough maybe I can finish the others in the series too. The first one, Murder In Venice, was a cute cozy mystery and I love anything set in Cairo. This is book three but I like this setting more than book two's Paris so I'm probably going to read it first. 

There are so many series that take place during the Second World War that when I find one surrounding World War I it is refreshing. From what I've read of Harrod-Eagles she is solid with her research and an entertaining storyteller. I'm not sure how much of this one will focus on the actual history versus romance (which I'm not big on) but it looks like it could be a good one. There are six books total which cover the entire war period. 

This book looks very original. It's another one I have access to through Kindle Unlimited. It takes place in a setting I'd never heard of...Farallon Island off the coast of California in 1859. Also, the main character is a teacher to the lighthouse keeper's children and that relates to me as I begin my 20th year in education this Monday. Hoping it is as good as the cover promises :) 


Friday, July 28, 2023

Murder At Marble House by Alyssa Maxwell (A Gilded Newport Mystery: Book 2)


Publication Date: September 30, 2014

Length: 336 pages

This is the second book in the Gilded Newport Mystery Series and the second one I've read. I love this time period and all the beautiful mansions and scenery described by Maxwell. The Gilded Age is not covered nearly enough in novels in my opinion and I don't know why as it is such an amazing time in history. These cozy mysteries are a great fit for those of us interested in glimpsing the lives of the rich and the societal norms that governed their daily lives. 

Emma Cross is living her life as  independently as she is able, being a distant Vanderbilt relative in 1890's Newport, Rhode Island. Her parents have left her and brother Brady to fend for themselves, providing monetarily, but little else. Emma is a reporter for the local paper, although she chafes under the restrictions doled out to her by the mostly male staff and is relegated to writing puff society pieces. She longs for more serious articles and is always looking for an angle to get her noticed and taken as a "real" reporter. 

When her cousin, Consuelo Vanderbilt calls her distressed and begging for help, Emma rushes to the family's mansion, Marble House to find Consuelo distraught about being given in a promise of marriage to the soon to be arriving Duke of Marlborough. Consuelo's mother, Alva Vanderbilt is unsympathetic to her daughter's unhappiness and bewildered that she isn't grateful for the chance to marry royalty. Emma is privy to a gathering in which a fortune teller, Madame Devereaux, is called in to read the future of Consuelo and other society ladies present at the mansion. Alva hopes Madame Devereaux will convince Consuelo that all is well and the right decisions are being made. Unfortunately, all goes awry when she doesn't give the answers sought and ends up murdered, strangled with a silk scarf on the veranda. Horrified by the turn of events, everyone is stumped as to why anyone would want to kill the fortune teller. Emma smells something rotten and as a reporter is eager to investigate. 

Shortly thereafter, Consuelo disappears and no one knows where she has gone. Frantic to find her, the search begins as all fear the murder and Consuelo's absence are somehow related. When another society woman staying with the Vanderbilts is also killed, real terror sets in that they might not be able to keep everyone safe and find out what has happened to Consuelo. Emma, her brother Brady, and her love interest, Derrick Andrews, a wealthy newsman himself, all work to follow the few clues and discover what is going on.

I enjoyed this story more than book one. I think part of it was I had to get used to the writing style, (I mentioned in my first review of Murder At the Breakers, that I felt the author had a bit too much of a 21st Century "voice") but I was more prepared to  accept the way Emma is presented in her time. There was a definite attempt to show the realism of Consuelo and Emma, one forced to marry, and one trying to marry without losing all her independence. This time around Emma seems more authentic in that she is realizing she loves Derrick and might possibly need to come down from her rather lofty perch of having absolutely no one to answer to, yet no love to grow old with either. 

The mystery was fun and there were lots of twists along the way. I did begin to suspect who early on but was kept in the dark as to the how and the why. So it was a great ending in that I thought the back story of the murderer and how things transpired was pretty interesting. 

What made this book best though was the real history, real historical characters like Alva and Consuelo, and the ending afterword in which Maxwell explains some events surrounding the real Consuelo Vanderbilt and how she was able to weave true events into the story. I love when authors are able to do this effectively, imagining what they might have done, but also staying fairly true to historical facts. 

Maxwell also includes other minor characters like maids and gardeners and shows how their stations kept them separated from the rich and details of their lives are included so we see things from both sides. The descriptions of the mansions, clothes, and culture of the time are captivating. I will be continuing with this series as I think this book made me a fan. If you are looking for a light, quick read set during the Gilded Age with a solid mystery thrown in, you will enjoy this one!

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Can't Wait Wednesday: Murder at the Merton Library by Andrea Penrose (A Wrexford and Sloane Mystery Book 7)


For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa  at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring Murder at the Merton Library by Andrea Penrose. I have seen this series of books before and wanted to read the first one. And of course when I see "library" in the title I'm interested. This time period and cover drew me in so maybe I need to just jump in and read this one out of series order. That's hard for me but this one looks pretty intriguing. There seems to be a lot of interesting subplots and hidden agendas too. Hoping you have found something you can't wait to read this week!

September 26, 2023

Historical Mystery/Thriller

Description courtesy of Amazon books

Responding to an urgent plea from a troubled family friend, the Earl of Wrexford journeys to Oxford only to find the reclusive university librarian has been murdered and a rare manuscript has gone missing. The only clue is that someone overheard an argument in which Wrexford’s name was mentioned.
At the same time, Charlotte—working under her pen name, A. J. Quill—must determine whether a laboratory fire was arson and if it’s connected to the race between competing consortiums to build a new type of ship—one that can cross the ocean powered by steam rather than sails—with the potential to revolutionize military power and world commerce. That the race involves new innovations in finance and entrepreneurship only adds to the high stakes—especially as their good friend Kit Sheffield may be an investor in one of the competitors.
As they delve deeper into the baffling clues, Wrexford and Charlotte begin to realize that things are not what they seem. An evil conspiracy is lurking in the shadows and threatens all they hold dear—unless they can tie the loose threads together before it’s too late . . .

Friday, July 21, 2023

A Christmas Promise by Anne Perry (The Christmas Stories: Book Seven)


Publication Date: October 13, 2009

Length: 209 pages

It's time for a little Christmas in July! I only have two more Anne Perry Christmas books to read and with her recent passing, that will be all that is left. Normally I read them during the holiday season, but I was able to get this one now and wanted to go ahead with it. 

Having read several books in the Thomas Pitt series, this was an interesting backstory featuring their maid, Gracie Phipps as a young girl of thirteen and seeing her humble beginnings before she joins the Pitt household. Shortly before Christmas, Gracie finds little Minnie Maud Mudway, just eight years old, alone on a snowy street, frantic to find her beloved Charlie, a donkey that serves to pull the cart of her Uncle Alf. Charlie and Alf are missing and Minnie Maud worries something terrible has happened to them. Gracie feels an immediate instinct to help and doesn't want to leave Minnie Maud on her own. 

As the two girls start to do a little digging into what might have happened, they find that Alf didn't take his usual route and aren't sure why. It appears that whatever befell him it was something unplanned and since it is an unfamiliar path, they aren't sure who would recognize him or be able to assist them. They set out to follow the scant clues they have and eventually are given some insight into what Uncle Alf was carrying in his cart and that the mysterious object could be something sinister. It is a golden box, but what is inside is anyone's guess. How is the box related to Alf's disappearance? And how would anyone have known the different route he would take with Charlie?

Like all of Perry's Christmas novels, this one is short and has a fairly simple storyline. It also has a sweetness to it that makes it very endearing. Gracie and Minnie Maud's relationship blossoms as they work to find Alf and Gracie has a protective, mothering way with her even as she becomes exasperated with trying to protect Minnie Maud from her naive, childlike way of being too trusting with venturing out on her own to investigate. We are given insight into the home life of both girls and as always in these Victorian stories, are shown the harshness of life in 1800's London for those less fortunate. Perry has a way of depicting both the desperation of this time and place while demonstrating the resilience and scrappiness of the people. I always find myself simultaneously sad and admiring of the children in her stories. Gracie and Minnie Maud are so young but are expected to take on so much in order to survive. But this was the reality of the times. And very few adults have the time or patience to want to help them. It is made very clear how fast children had to grow up and learn to do for themselves. 

I enjoyed this story very much. The plot wasn't super detailed but there was enough to make it intriguing and mysterious until the end. And the ending is what makes her Christmas stories worth it. They can be dark and gritty but the last page will always put you in the holiday spirit. It was fun to read one in the summer for a change.