Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Black Coffee by Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot Book Seven)


Publication Date: December 8, 1930

Length: 193 pages

I had already read and reviewed October's Read Christie book, Murder On the Orient Express, and so I went looking for a new one to tackle. This cover and title looked interesting and I read that it was orginally a play that Christie struggled to finish writing. So I thought I'd give it a try and see exactly what "black coffee" meant. It was definitely not one of her books that I'd seen anywhere else. I also thought it was fitting to post a murder mystery review on Halloween. And I am wanting to read every Poirot mystery at some point too. 

Our story begins with the scientist Sir Claud Amory realizing a secret formula he has been working on has been stolen from his safe. It is top secret and has the potential to be extremely dangerous in the wrong hands as it is the formula for an atomic explosive. Turning to Poirot for help, he summons the members of his household together and tells them that when the lights go out in the room they are gathered in, there will be a one minute time limit in which the thief can return the stolen documents. If they are returned, nothing will be done to the person who stole them. If they are not returned and Sir Claud finds out who has stolen them, they will be prosecuted.

Gathered in the room are Claud's sister Caroline, his niece Barbara, his son Richard and his wife Lucia, his secretary Edward Raynor, and one Dr. Carelli, a friend of Lucia's. All proclaim their innocence and shock at Sir Claud's accusations and insist they don't know anything about the stolen documents. The lights go out and when they come back on, Sir Claud himself is dead and the envelope he left beside him for the thief to put the documents in is empty. Richard remembers Sir Claud commenting on the bitter taste of his coffee and when Poirot arrives and investigates, he discovers the drink was indeed poisoned. 

Poirot begins his careful, trademark interviewing of the members present, sparing no one from suspicion. As he learns more about the family, especially Lucia, he begins to unravel secrets that involve blackmail, spies, and hidden identities. Everyone has motive to want Sir Claud dead and Poirot himself will eventually become the target of the thief, putting his life in jeopardy. 

I enjoyed Black Coffee and in fact did guess correctly as to who the murderer and thief were. I did not see the twist concerning Poirot's welfare so that was a fun little side scene in the story. This wasn't a terribly long or complicated case but it did involve a unique backstory for one of the characters and showcased Poirot's compassionate side as he works to clear the name of one he feels strongly to be innocent despite the person's insistence of guilt in some of their life choices. 

If you are looking for a quick, engaging mystery to brighten your week this is a good one. Nothing too heavy here, but there is the usual Christie charm and clues to piece together. Happy Halloween everyone!

Friday, October 27, 2023

Voyager (Outlander Book 3) by Diana Gabaldon


Publication Date:  January 1, 1994

Length: 870 pages

This week I finished my third read of this book. I have wanted to read and review all the Outlander books for my blog eventually but this one is especially important to me as it is my favorite of the series. This book is magical.  The first three Outlander books are the best but Voyager has it all. Battles, time travel, sea voyages, Pirates, plague, exotic islands, and witchcraft. And that's only the beginning of the unique storylines and settings found between the covers. I already know someday I will read it again, which sounds crazy because I can't think of another book I've read four times. But it is also 870 pages and every time I think I will be bored and remember everything I am proven wrong. It just never gets old for me. 

The story begins with Jamie's perspective of the Battle of Culloden and his miraculous survival. In the first two books of the series it feels as though one is waiting forever to get to this moment and it makes the opening of the story so satisfying. We see him go from Scottish warrior, to fugitive, to prisoner, and indentured servant in the first parts of the story and this timeline is overlapped with his time traveling wife Claire's life back in 1960's Boston. She is trying to raise their daughter, Brianna, with her husband Frank, failing miserably in her grief over losing her 18th century life with Jamie and believing he has died on Culloden Moor. Although her life as mother, and eventually, doctor is rewarding in its own way, Claire can never escape her ghosts, and she and Frank pretend, for Brianna's sake, to get along in their shaky marriage.

This storyline develops over a period of twenty years. Gabaldon masterfully switches back and forth through the first third of the book between their two centuries, letting the reader in on each of their lives in detail, weaving memories with current situations all of which lead them to a joyous, tumultuous reunion and ultimately, a test to see if they are still made for each other. Jamie and Claire are reunited but what makes the story so realistic and unique is that the challenges they face seem to worsen and test them instead of a world of romantic nostalgia where they just live happily ever after. Both have changed dramatically, while still retaining deep love and connection, but with the maturity that comes with age and life experience. Jamie has a somewhat shady past and occupation,  and Claire struggles to fit back into the world of long ago, having had to create such a different life after she traveled back through the stones in the previous book. All of this takes place while mourning what they have lost over the last two decades and feeling guilt for certain choices they have had to make.

As we settle in for the second half of the book things become a bit more stable between Jamie and Claire, but not with their lives. Starting from Jamie's ancestral home, Lallybroch in Scotland, they end up halfway across the world, looking for one of Jamie's kidnapped relatives. Plague, pirates, and pursuing British officers are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their troubles and with a displaced Chinaman and young married couple in tow, Claire and Jamie find themselves struggling to manage it all without losing each other again. We are taken on a wild ride from the island of Hispanola, where we meet a strange, befuddled priest, to Jamaica where we meet not one, but two characters from the past. Finally, they are blown off course to a new life which will begin in the next book, Drums of Autumn. 

I don't want to give away too much of the details because I find half the joy of Voyager is in the not knowing, or in my case, not remembering, all the tiny, moving parts throughout the novel. There are so many surprises, coincidences, and exotic settings that it makes your head spin at times. Just when you think you've figured things out, another side story is thrown in. I especially love the atmospheric surroundings created in Jamaica, and when I visited the island in 2019, I re-read the section of the book in which they travel there. It had been described perfectly, and I even toured Rose Hall, a real plantation that is mentioned, although it is slightly different from the one used in the story. The small bits of history, including the Maroons of the island made me want to research more on my own, and to appreciate the people I met in Jamaica all the more. 

The hardest part of reading Voyager for me is when it ends. I feel like the first three Outlander books are their own story. When we reach book four a new chapter in Jamie and Claire's lives begins and for me, it just never feels quite the same as before. I love all of the series books in their own way, but the world created in Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, and Voyager will always stand out as a cut above. The heart of the story never returns quite as much as it did before so I'm always a little sad to see it go. Luckily these books are so long and detailed they never get old and you can always start again at the beginning, knowing you will likely pick up some new detail you missed the last time.  

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Can't Wait Wednesday: A Christmas Vanishing by Anne Perry (Christmas Novel Book 21)


For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring A Christmas Vanishing by Anne Perry. She passed away earlier this year and  I'm sad to think it is her last holiday story. I have read almost all of her Christmas novels and am a twenty plus year fan of her Monk and Pitt series. This story will be extra special this holiday season for all of her lifelong fans. 

November 7, 2023

Historical Mysteries/Holiday Mysteries

Description courtesy of Amazon books

Mariah Ellison, Charlotte Pitt’s grandmother, accepts her longtime friend Sadie’s gracious invitation to spend Christmas with her and her husband, Barton, in their picturesque village. But upon arrival, Mariah discovers that Sadie has vanished without a trace, and Barton rudely rescinds the invitation. Once Mariah finds another acquaintance to stay with during the holiday season, she begins investigating Sadie’s disappearance.

Mariah’s uncanny knack for solving mysteries serves her well during her search, which is driven by gossip as icy as the December weather. Did Sadie run off with another man? Was she kidnapped? Has someone harmed her? Frustratingly, Mariah’s questions reveal more about the villagers themselves than about her friend’s whereabouts. Yet in the process of getting to know Sadie’s neighbors, Mariah finds a kind of redemption, as she rediscovers her kinder side, and her ability to love. 

It is up to Mariah to master her own feelings, drown out the noise, and get to the bottom of what occurred, all before Christmas day. With the holiday rapidly approaching, will she succeed in bringing Sadie home in time for them to celebrate it together—or is that too much to hope for?

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Stacking the Shelves #18


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 wanted to read Georgette Heyer for awhile now and see her reviewed positively by so many of my fellow bloggers. This book particularly interests me due to the focus on the Napoleonic Wars period so I'm thinking it's a good place to start. I have borrowed a copy from the Libby App and started today. I am very confused by some of the initial conversation but that hopefully will iron itself out as I continue with the book. Also, I'm going to probably swap it out for one of the classics on my Classics Club list that just isn't doing it for me. If you've read this one, did you like it?

It's time to start another Cadfael book. The last one I read was book 4, St. Peter's Fair and it wasn't my favorite but this one looks unique and interesting. I like to go in order with most series books I read so this is next. Always full of great atmosphere set in the 1100's world of Shrewsbury and Wales, the Cadfael Chronicles are fun to pick up for a quick read and great mystery. Also, they are often on sale so you can slowly collect them all for around $1.99 each. My daily Book Bub emails really pay off when it comes to Kindle books!

I read and reviewed MacLean's stand alone novel, The Bookseller of Inverness recently and really enjoyed it. This is book one in the Captain Damian Seeker series and I always hear good things about the novels. Set during the Cromwell period in London, it has been called, "the best historical crime novel of the year" by one paper and that sounds like a book I should try. Another one I got on sale for $1.99 this week thanks to my daily Early Bird Books email. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Can't Wait Wednesday: The Battles of Bonnie Prince Charlie: The Young Chevalier At War by Dr. Arran Johnston


For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring The Battles of Bonnie Prince Charlie by Dr. Arran Johnston. I love all things to do with the Jacobite period and this book delves into the personal as well as the political and military aspect of the Prince's decisions. 

While I'm not a huge fan of dissecting battles piece by piece, this book looks like one which gets into his mind and the reasons why he made the decisions he made which led to the fatal battle of Culloden. It also seems to be a somewhat sympathetic portrait of Stuart, explaining why he failed and how unprepared he was for the mission he was tasked with.

Anything offering a new perspective on an old story is always welcome. What book are you excited to read this week?

October 30, 2023

History/Scottish History

Description courtesy of NetGalley

Prince Charles Edward Stuart (1720-1788) was the grandson of Britain’s last Stuart king and the last of his line to fight for their right to the throne. Born in Rome and raised at his father’s cultured and cosmopolitan court-in-exile, the young prince grew up beneath a heavy weight of expectation and yearned for the chance to prove his worth. In 1745, just as it seemed his best opportunity had already passed, Charles threw caution to the wind and embarked on a secret and seemingly desperate expedition to Scotland. What followed is one of the most remarkable, famous, and often misrepresented episodes of Scottish history: the ’45.

This is the story of the last Jacobite rising and the charismatic but controversial prince who led it, presenting a human portrait of the Stuart prince through the words of those who served alongside him. The picture revealed is one of a humane and capable young man taking on a mission far greater than his experience had prepared him for, pushed to the limits of his abilities at a cost from which he never recovered.

Following Charles Edward Stuart over the battlefields of Prestonpans, Falkirk and Culloden, this book reveals the prince’s strengths and flaws as a commander, and the difficult relationships he had with the very people on whom his fortunes, and reputation, would depend. It is the story of how the prince faced conflicts both on and off the battlefield, weathered challenges posed by friends as well as foes, and left a legacy which remains hotly contested to this day.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Stacking the Shelves #17


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 :) 

When a book is described as perfect for fans of Anne Perry I'm always interested. This title is similar to one of her mysteries I've read, Silence in Hanover Close. It is also set during the Napoleonic Wars which I love. A returning soldier, a missing girl, and political intrigue make this mystery very enticing. I will be reading this one in the coming weeks for sure. 

I am currently reading Carol McGrath's The Stolen Crown, about Empress Matilda and the Anarchy period. This book was also on sale for me this week and is the first in the She Wolf trilogy. I do not know much about Eleanor of Provence, the wife of Henry III so I want to try this book and move on to the other two after it. I know some of my fellow bloggers really enjoy her novels so I'm looking forward to it. And such gorgeous covers too!

This book I borrowed from the Libby app to listen to on audio. I have been really enjoying Christie books in my car on the way to work. I generally don't like audiobooks but for this author they are a great fit for me. So almost all my audio listens are Christie. I had never heard of this one and as I love Poirot best, I thought I'd try it. I'm not doing the October Read Christie book because it's one I'd already read. But I just wanted to pick another to keep it going. Has anyone read this one? What did you think?

Friday, October 13, 2023

Murder, I Spy: A Dora and Rex Mystery by Lynn Morrison (Dora and Rex 1920's Mystery Book One)


Publication Date: April 26, 2023

Length: 230 pages

Well, the addition of the cat on the cover was the final straw to make me want to read this book....but...really, I spotted this series a couple of times being promoted on my Facebook feed as a "cross between Downton Abbey and Miss Fisher Mysteries." So I had to see for myself if that were true. There are three books out this year and a fourth due this fall that is now available for pre-order that I featured on this week's Can't Wait Wednesday. 

Lord Reginald "Rex" Bankes-Fernsby is still trying to get his life together after his years in World War I and is haunted by all he witnessed. He feels adrift in life and unable to settle down. With money and his good name he knows he should have the world at his fingertips but can't figure out what he wants to do. When his seemingly confident, fellow soldier friend Freddie is murdered he is shocked and determined to figure out what happened. 

His first stop is to visit Freddie's latest love interest, Theodora Laurent. He is unaware that she is a notorious spy and that they have met before. A back story for another time, "Dora" knows well who Rex is but he has no idea about her identity. He is immediately smitten by her charm and perfume, having a hard time staying focused on why he has sought her out: information about Freddie. Just when he begins to make some progress in questioning her last contact with the victim, someone takes a shot at them and they are on the run together. 

For safety's sake and the investigation, Rex and Dora end up under the same roof together. As their search takes them to night clubs and warehouse docks, the two dance around their growing feelings and suspicions of each other, all the while united in their desire to catch Freddie's killer and keep his reputation intact. Will Rex find out he's met Dora before? Will Dora admit she wants him in her life after this case is solved?

I enjoyed this mystery and appreciated the way the author had us a little confused and guessing about Dora's identity and how she knows Rex already. One of my peeves with modern writers is how they spell out way too much, repeat themselves, and just generally write what I'd call more YA than adult. This book had me re-reading some paragraphs especially in the beginning to make sure I was getting the subtle hints about the two and their prior interactions. We are left hanging throughout the book as to the killer's identity and while the ending isn't a giant cliffhanger, it comes together nicely. 

Rex and Dora have nice chemistry which I can see will continue into book two and at the end it is made clear that they will be working together again (I won't spoil it by giving away more!) Their banter reminds me of an old movie and it's nice to see no bad language or inappropriate contact between the characters, making this a great cozy mystery. Looking forward to reading the next one soon.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Can't Wait Wednesday: Double Cross Dead: A Dora and Rex Mystery by Lynn Morrison (Dora and Rex 1920's Mystery Book Four)


For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring Double Cross Dead: A Dora and Rex Mystery by Lynn Morrison. I'm currently finishing up reading and reviewing book one and this is book four due out at the end of the month. These books are cute and cozy and the author does a good job of combining mystery with humor. They have been described as a lot like reading a Miss Fisher Mystery and I'd have to agree so far. This one involves the Prince and Windsor Castle which is always fun. I hope you've found something you can't wait for this week!

October 30, 2023

Mystery, Thriller, Suspense

Historical Mystery

Description courtesy of Amazon books

An enemy lurks in the prince's inner circle. He'll do anything to escape justice... even commit murder.

England, 1923. Love is in the air and all eyes are on Windsor Castle, where the royal family is celebrating a new royal engagement. When party invitations are sent to only an elite few, Dora and Rex's invite comes with strings attached.

There's a traitor hiding within the prince's inner circle. Dora and Rex, England's preeminent undercover spy team, are assigned to uncover the turncoat. Their sole lead is a tip from an anonymous informant. To get the clue, they must meet him privately during the engagement bash.

But, when they show up at the secret rendezvous, instead of a clue, they find a dead body and Rex's best friend Clark holding the murder weapon.

Has Clark turned traitor or was he framed? Can Dora and Rex work double-time to clear their friend's name and identify the real killer before Scotland Yard's leading investigator puts Clark away for life?

Friday, October 6, 2023

The King's Jewel by Elizabeth Chadwick


Publication Date:  April 18, 2023

Length: 512 pages

This is the first Chadwick novel I've read and reviewed. I have skimmed the beginning of a couple of her William Marshal books but never got around to reading them. I know they are very popular and come highly recommended by my fellow blogger friends. Nesta of Wales is definitely what I'd call an obscure topic so I wanted to try this book. Also, it is Chadwick's latest so I knew it would be one others might not have gotten around to reading yet. 

The story begins in Wales in the year 1093. Young Nesta, a Princess of the territory of Deheubarth, daughter of King Rhys ap Tewdwr, is in the stables seeing to the new colt recently birthed. Her father is off on a mission to see the hated Normans, encroaching into Welsh territory and expected home any day now. When he arrives, carried on his horse, killed in battle, Nesta's world changes forever. She and her mother, along with her brother, who is now the four year old heir to the kingdom are forced to run for the coast and only her brother Gruffyed makes it to a waiting ship to be taken off to safety in Ireland. Nesta and her mother are kidnapped by the Norman warriors, separated, and taken into the custody of foreign strangers in a foreign land, their world turned upside down. 

When Nesta begins her captivity she is treated well by the ladies of the house who encourage her to accept her fate and to try to learn the language and culture of her surroundings. Eventually, she catches the eye of Henry, brother to the King, who takes her as his latest conquest. Although he is not abusive, he is harsh and demanding and Nesta grows to hate him as she realizes she is a pawn in the game of the powerful. When William Rufus dies and Henry becomes King, her world improves when she gives birth to his illegitimate son and Henry at least provides for them in a decent manner. Throughout the years of uncertainty and separation from her family, Nesta learns to rely on herself and the circle of women she is forced to live with, also concubines of Henry who bear him many children. 

Just when she is ready to give up on another life, Nesta receives news that she is to be married off to a man who will care for her and her child and hopefully take her back to Wales, where she will be among her people. 

Alongside Nesta's story is Gerald's. He is a Norman, fighting with Henry and his men but with an affinity for the Welsh people, as he has been installed there as Castellan of Pembroke Castle, in Deheubarth. He is both loyal to his King while also feeling tied to the land he is overseeing. As he ponders his future, Gerald finds a way to have all he wishes for when he makes a bold move to approach King Henry and ask him to fulfill his wish for a family and security. 

The subject matter in this book was fascinating and I found myself researching the back stories of the main characters. Although Chadwick clearly did a lot of research for this one, she admits some of the story had to be filled in with fiction because there is just not enough on Nesta and Gerald in the record to know everything. I thought she did a great job of sticking to the facts while adding her own personal touches. I learned a lot about the time period and Wales too which I really enjoyed.

The downside of the book for me was that it started to feel more like a romance novel about halfway through. I also started to grow tired of Nesta and her complaining, even after she is given a new start. To be clear, she is traumatized and assaulted by Henry at a very young age and no doubt this influences her dark outlook on things, but some of the choices she makes are hard to reconcile with the life she is presented with. I preferred the history and adventure at the beginning and wish Chadwick had stuck to more of that than letting the story devolve into too much emotion and drama between the main characters. It just became tedious after awhile. 

I still enjoyed the book and recommend it but it didn't have the feel of a Penman or Weir historical novel. I guess I need to try one of her Marshal books as I hear such great things about them.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Can't Wait Wednesday: The Wilderness Way by Anne Madden


For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring The Wilderness Way by Anne Madden. It is set in the aftermath of the Irish famine and continues in America during the Civil War. Both time periods are fascinating and full of great history. I have not heard of this author before so I'm always happy to promote new people. If you read it, let me know what you think in a review. Happy reading this week!

December 7, 2023

Historical Fiction

Description courtesy of Net Galley

Inspired by a true story.

1861, Donegal, Ireland

Ten years ago Declan Conaghan’s father died in the Great Famine, and since then, Declan has kept his promise to keep his family out of the workhouse. But all that is threatened with the arrival of new landlord, John Adair. Adair is quick to cause trouble and fear among his tenants. When he turns them off his land, Declan has no option but to break his promise…

Declan is in despair until he receives a letter from America offering him the chance of a new life and salvation for his family. But it would mean signing up to the US Army and fighting for Lincoln. Despite knowing nothing of war, or US politics, Declan leaves behind all he knows.

Set against the wild landscapes of Ireland and the turbulent times of the American Civil War, this sweeping narrative takes us on an epic journey to understand the strength and endurance of the human spirit.