Monday, September 28, 2020

Death of A New American (A Jane Prescott mystery) by Mariah Fredericks

Death of a New American (A Jane Prescott mystery) by Mariah Fredericks
ISBN-10 : 1250252350 - Paperback $11.99
Publisher : Minotaur; Reprint Edition (March 17, 2020), 320 pages.
Review copy courtesy of Minotaur Books and NetGalley.

The blurb: In 1912, as New York reels from the news of the Titanic disaster, ladies’ maid Jane Prescott travels to Long Island with the Benchley family. Their daughter Louise is to marry William Tyler, at their uncle and aunt’s mansion; the Tylers are a glamorous, storied couple, their past filled with travel and adventure. Now, Charles Tyler is known for putting down New York’s notorious Italian mafia, the Black Hand, and his wife Alva has settled into domestic life.

As the city visitors adjust to the rhythms of the household, and plan Louise’s upcoming wedding, Jane quickly befriends the Tyler children’s nanny, Sofia―a young Italian-American woman. However, one unusually sultry spring night, Jane is woken by a scream from the nursery―and rushes in to find Sofia murdered, and the carefully locked window flung open.

The Tylers believe that this is an attempted kidnapping of their baby gone wrong; a warning from the criminal underworld to Charles Tyler. But Jane is asked to help with the investigation by her friend, journalist Michael Behan, who knows that she is uniquely placed to see what other tensions may simmer just below the surface in this wealthy, secretive household. Was Sofia’s murder fall-out from the social tensions rife in New York, or could it be a much more personal crime?

My review:  I'm always up for a mystery and I'm delighted with Mariah Fredericks' Jane Prescott series. In Jane Prescott we get a close look into the lives of Fifth Avenue society during the Gilded Age. Jane works as lady's maid to Charlotte Benchley, the daughter of a wealthy inventor. The Benchleys have nearly unlimited wealth but need the help of tastemakers to navigate society. Jane's previous employer had been related to everyone in society either by birth or marriage. Jane's education, intelligence and discretion have won her the friendship and appreciation of her employers and their friends. So, when a suspicious death occurs, Jane wants to clear suspicion from people that she cares about. Her investigations take her upstairs and downstairs in Fifth Avenue mansions. It is a delight to follow Jane Prescott into the homes and streets of New York during the Gilded Age in Death of a New American.

About the Author: MARIAH FREDERICKS was born and raised in New York City, where she still lives with her family. She is the author of several YA novels. Death of a New American is her second novel to feature ladies’ maid Jane Prescott.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Ellie Alexander's Without A Brew (4th out of 4 Sloan Krause mystery)

 Without a Brew (Sloan Krause #4)

Without A Brew (4th out of 4) by Ellie Alexander
ISBN-10 : 1250205778 - Hardcover $26.99
Publisher Minotaur Books (November 10, 2020), 304 pages.
Review copy courtesy of Minatour Books and NetGalley.

The blurb:
While one couple staying with them seems completely smitten, a flashy group arrives in the evening demanding rooms. Sloan and Garrett are less than impressed, but agree to rent to them anyway. The night takes a turn when brewery patron Liv Paxton finishes her frothy pint and, with no previous plan for an overnight stay in Leavenworth, eagerly takes Sloan up on the offer of sanctuary from the snow—until she has a strange run in with some locals and the other guests. Sloan could be imagining things, but when Liv's room is found trashed the next morning, a hateful message painted on her car, and Liv herself is nowhere to be found, Sloan is convinced another mystery is brewing. With many of the potential suspects hunkering down under Nitro's roof, she knows her co-workers and friends won't be safe until she serves up the killer a hoppy pint of justice.

My Review:

I've have fallen in love with Ellie Alexander's writing and her two mystery series set in fictional small towns in the Pacific Northwest.  The Bakeshop Mysteries and the Sloan Krause mysteries transport you to communities and towns that I would love to visit for their climate, the friendliness of the inhabitants, the absence of crime (except as relates to these mysterious murders) and the delicious food available.  In the way that I'd escape to St Mary's Mead, I am happy to spend hours in Leavenworth, Washington with Sloan Krause and her Krause family and Garrett and her Nitro workplace family.  

From the earlier mysteries, it is clear that while Sloan and her husband have separated, the Krause holds Sloan close and she remains an important part of the brewery and the town. In #3 of the series, Beyond A Reasonable Stout, Sloan learns about her mother and that the Krauses had known her  biological family.  Sloan is upset at Ursula and draws away from the Krauses as she learns more about her past.  But there is only so much that you can push away family and in Without A Brew we return to the mystery of Sloan's past and try to heal the breach with her mother-in-law and close friend Ursula.  

I'm drawn to the Sloan Krause mysteries because of the relationships in the Krause family.  But as Without A Brew is a murder mystery,  Ellie Alexander goes far beyond the family drama.  Nitro is led to open their B&B earlier than they'd hoped.  Their soft opening brings them a strange mix of guests.  When one of their guests is found dead, Sloan and Garrett are led to investigate the murder. They uncover more than one motive and several potential suspects.  With more bravery than sense, Sloan undertakes to test the alibis and narrow down the suspects.  Without A Brew delivers the sense of community, delight in food and drink and an engaging mystery. 

About the Author:  ELLIE ALEXANDER is a Pacific Northwest native who spends ample time testing pastry recipes in her home kitchen or at one of the many famed coffeehouses nearby. When she's not coated in flour, you'll find her outside exploring hiking trails and trying to burn off calories consumed in the name of research. She is the author of the Bakeshop Mysteries, including Meet Your Baker and A Batter of Life and Death, as well as the Sloan Krause mysteries.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

ISBN-10 : 0593129466 - Hardcover $27
Publisher : Ballantine Books (April 21, 2020), 288 pages.
Review copy courtesy of Ballantine Books & NetGalley.
Kyuri’s roommate, Miho, is a talented artist who grew up in an orphanage but won a scholarship to study art in New York. Returning to Korea after college, she finds herself in a precarious relationship with the heir to one of the country’s biggest conglomerates.
Down the hall in their building lives Ara, a hairstylist whose two preoccupations sustain her: an obsession with a boy-band pop star, and a best friend who is saving up for the extreme plastic surgery that she hopes will change her life.
And Wonna, one floor below, is a newlywed trying to have a baby that she and her husband have no idea how they can afford to raise in Korea’s brutal economy.
The blurb: Kyuri is an achingly beautiful woman with a hard-won job at a Seoul “room salon,” an exclusive underground bar where she entertains businessmen while they drink. Though she prides herself on her cold, clear-eyed approach to life, an impulsive mistake threatens her livelihood.

Together, their stories tell a gripping tale at once unfamiliar and unmistakably universal, in which their tentative friendships may turn out to be the thing that ultimately saves them.

My Review:  Sometimes reviews mention that a book doesn't read like a debut novel.  If I Had Your Face is complex, riveting and combines the stories of women's friendships with several dark mysteries.  It's different from many of the books I've read lately and isn't easy to characterize as a mystery or a thriller even though the story has many unexpected twists. 

Regardless of how it can be characterized, I loved it.  I was drawn to the book by the beautiful cover and an affinity for Asian American writers but this is turned on its head.  Though the writer is Asian American, the book is about South Korean women living in Seoul.  The stories of these women and their experiences are shaped by where they live.

If I Had Your Face ties together the lives of a group of young women living in a centrally located condo-office building in Seoul. 

Kyuri is a beautiful young woman who works at a top ten "room salon" that boasts of having the top 10% of beauties to entertain wealthy Korean businessmen.  As one of the top earners, Kyuri receives expensive gifts from her recurring clients.  

Her neighbor Sujin dreams of looking like Kyuri and earning the large sums that top room girls bring home every night.  Sujin believes that a face like Kyuri's will free her to a different life altogether.  The prevalence of plastic surgery comes across clearly as author Frances Cha describes the procedures Sujin has already undergone and those that she has been saving for, coveting, hoping will differentiate her from the other girls in her situation.  Sujin had grown up in the Loring Center  - a place for orphans and disabled individuals.

Sujin's hometown and girlhood friend is Ara.  Ara has a disability that occurred after her birth although we're not sure what happened or the extent of it.  We do know that her disability is known to strangers and that they treat her differently. Ara feels singled out and her disability affects how she works at the hair saloon.  Despite the disability, Ara is talented. Though Ara is not an orphan, she feels disconnected from her parents and avoids returning home for the holidays. She prefers to spend her time and emotions on friends like Sujin.

Miho is an orphan who had been with Sujin in the Loring Center.  But Miho has given special treatment and attention at the Loring Center because of her talent in art and her unusual beauty.  Through the Loring Center, Miho was able to win a scholarship to New York University and this opportunity led Miho to meet and befriend the rich and powerful children of chaebol owning families.  

Miho works for Ruby's gallery and spends her time with Ruby and her longtime boyfriend Hanbin.  When Miho returns to South Korea, she lives with Kyuri and in the same floor as Sujin. Miho has a special fellowship at a university and spends her time with Hanbin and on her art.

Miho, Sujin, Kyuri and Ara opt to live on the cheapest floor - the 4th floor of the building.  Four is considered an unlucky number since it resembles the character for death in Chinese.  Above these young girls lives Wonna, a married woman, who watches their comings and goings with some envy. 

Frances Cha shows us both the lives that these women present and the lives that they keep hidden.  The way that Cha reveals the secret desires and pain of each of the five women is so skillful and carefully done that I couldn't stop reading.  If I Had Your Face takes us to another side of life in South Korea and we learn to appreciate the friendships and trials that these young women face.   If I Had Your Face was so different from what I had expected from the cover and I am grateful to the publisher and NetGalley for making this available. I recommend it highly!

About the Author:  Frances Cha is a former travel and culture editor for CNN in Seoul. She grew up in the United States, Hong Kong, and South Korea. A graduate of Dartmouth College and the Columbia University MFA writing program, she has written for The Atlantic, The Believer, and the Yonhap News Agency, among others, and has lectured at Columbia University, Ewha Womans University, Seoul National University, and Yonsei University. She lives in Brooklyn. 


Thursday, September 17, 2020

Ellie Alexander's Beyond a Reasonable Stout


Beyond a Reasonable Stout (#3 of 4 A Sloan Krause mystery) by Ellie Alexander

ISBN-10 : 1250766109 - Mass Market Paperback $7.99
Publisher : Minotaur Books (September 29, 2020), 304 pages. 
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

The blurb:  In the Bavarian village of Leavenworth, Washington, the tourists are gone and the local villagers prepare for the upcoming winter light festival. Soon the German-inspired shops and restaurants will be aglow and visitors will return to the northern Cascades to drink warm mulled cider and peruse the holiday markets. Until then, Sloan Krause and her partner in crime Garrett Strong are experimenting with a new line of “hoppy holiday” craft beers at their brewery.
But the low-key vibes at Nitro are suddenly disrupted by a local political scandal: City Councilmember Kristopher Cooper is running for re-election on a platform of making Leavenworth dry―until, just before election night, Kristopher turns up dead. Now, with every beer-related businessperson in Leavenworth coming under suspicion, it’s up to Sloan to find out who the guilty party really is…before someone else gets tapped for murder.

My review: I am one of those readers that is reasonably comfortable starting a book in mid-series. if I like the characters and first book I find, I will go back and read all the books in order.  Honestly, if I find a book and an author that I like, I hunt down their backlist.  Ellie Alexander is one of the authors that I'd learned about through the publisher and NetGalley.  In the days of browsing bookstores and libraries, I likely would have found her books and loved them.  

Sloan Krause had grown up in the system as a foster child. She has mostly painful memories of her childhood but much of this is the distant past. She's built a family and strong friendships in the small town Leavenworth. It's Germanic town with German-inspired shops and architecture and families that immigrated from Germany. Sloan married into the Krause family and they've given her the stability and love that she wanted growing up. Even as Sloan and her husband separated, her ties to her in-laws are unharmed. 

While Sloan's life centers around her teenage son, her family and her love for brewing beer, she seems to be the glue/part of the center of the town. She knows how to keep a secret and is often the confidante of many other citizens. Her desire to help puts her in a strange position and she is more than willing to dive into a mystery.  

In Beyond  a Reasonable Stout, Leavenworth faces a strange challenge with the upcoming elections. A City Councilmember and candidate Kristopher Cooper is running on the platform of turning the town known for its beer and Octoberfest into a dry town.  When Kristopher Cooper is discovered dead so many are relieved and under suspicion.  Sloan finds herself drawn into the investigation and we follow her along as she balances the pressures of work, family and solving the latest murder.  Ellie Alexander combines an engaging character with a fairytale of a town and delicious food and beer to give us people that we care about and a place we'd love to move to and then mixes in a suspicious death. I'm hooked and certain that you will be too!

About the Author:  ELLIE ALEXANDER is a Pacific Northwest native who spends ample time testing pastry recipes in her home kitchen or at one of the many famed coffeehouses nearby. When she's not coated in flour, you'll find her outside exploring hiking trails and trying to burn off calories consumed in the name of research. She is the author of the Bakeshop Mysteries, including Meet Your Baker and A Batter of Life and Death, as well as the Sloan Krause mysteries.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Angel's Share by Ellen Crosby

ISBN-13 : 978-1250164858 - Hardcover $26.99
Publisher : Minotaur Books (November 5, 2019), 369 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

The blurb: When Lucie Montgomery attends a Thanksgiving weekend party for friends and neighbors at Hawthorne Castle, an honest-to-goodness castle owned by the Avery family, the last great newspaper dynasty in America and owner of the Washington Tribune, she doesn’t expect the festive occasion to end in death.

During the party, Prescott Avery, the 95-year old family patriarch, invites Lucie to his fabulous wine cellar where he offers to pay any price for a cache of 200-year-old Madeira that her great-great-uncle, a Prohibition bootlegger, discovered hidden in the US Capitol in the 1920s. Lucie knows nothing about the valuable wine, believing her late father, a notorious gambler and spendthrift, probably sold or drank it. By the end of the party Lucie and her fiancé, winemaker Quinn Santori, discover Prescott’s body lying in his wine cellar. Is one of the guests a murderer?
As Lucie searches for the lost Madeira, which she believes links Prescott’s death to a cryptic letter her father owned, she learns about Prescott’s affiliation with the Freemasons. More investigating hints at a mysterious vault supposedly containing documents hidden by the Founding Fathers and a possible tie to William Shakespeare. If Lucie finds the long-lost documents, the explosive revelations could change history. But will she uncover a three hundred-year-old secret before a determined killer finds her?

My Review:
This is the first Lucie Montgomery book that I've read and I plan to read the 9 that came before it!
The book is set in a small wealthy Virginia town full of the first vineyards of America and families that have held their farms/land since before the US was a nation. The Montgomery family and the Averys (billionaire relatives by affinity) and many of their longtime neighbors have had their homes and estates in this town for over 300 years.
Honestly, I'm just counting the years until we've paid off our mortgage, so this sort of longtime ownership of huge fertile tracts of land is exotic and fascinating to me.
The mystery in this case involves a murder but also the rumored existence of papers taken from the White House hundreds of years ago. There is a tie to the freemasons and to President Madison and a hidden treasure. The characters are easy to like and the mystery is fascinating. Overall, The Angel's Share is a delight of a read with the bonus that it makes you want to explore small towns in Virginia.

About the Author: Ellen Crosby is the author of the Virginia wine country mysteries, two mysteries featuring international photojournalist Sophie Medina and MOSCOW NIGHTS, a standalone. THE ANGELS' SHARE, her latest book, is #10 in the wine country series. Look for two more books in that series in early 2021 and 2022. Before writing fiction, Crosby--who has lived in England, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and the former Soviet Union--worked as a freelance reporter for The Washington Post, an economist at the US Senate, and Moscow reporter for ABC Radio News. Visit her website at and follow her occasionally on Facebook at EllenCrosbyBooks, sometimes on Twitter at @ellencrosby--but mostly on Instagram at ellencrosbyauthor. She also writes a very occasional (but interesting) newsletter.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

An Act of Villainy (#5 of 7 Amory Ames Mysteries) by Ashley Weaver

ISBN-10 : 074902383X - Paperback $7.29
Publisher : Allison and Busby (May 23, 2019), 352 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the Brooklyn Public Library. 

The blurb: Walking through London's West End after a night at the theatre, Amory Ames and her husband Milo run into old friends, the wealthy investor and former actor Gerard Holloway and his wife Georgina. When Holloway invites them to the dress rehearsal of a new play he is directing, Amory readily accepts. However, she is shocked to learn that Holloway has cast his mistress, actress Flora Bell, in the lead role. Furthermore, the casual invitation is not what it seems-he admits to Amory and Milo that Flora has been receiving threatening letters, and he needs their help in finding the mysterious sender. Despite Amory's conflicting feelings-not only does she feel loyalty to Georgina, but the disintegration of the Holloways' perfect marriage seems to bode ill for her own sometimes delicate relationship-her curiosity gets the better of her, and she begins to make inquiries.

My Review:
I've been catching up on the Amory Ames mysteries this week, but I hadn't read them in order. I've read the first and the last in the series and am slowly going backwards.

In An Act of Villiany, Amory and Milo have been getting along better. There haven't been as many sightings of Milo with glamorous women and Milo seems to be more protective of Amory. Unfortunately, Milo's friend Gerard Holloway has started an affair with ingenue actress Flora Bell and he's written and produced a play for her to star in. Amory finds this unsettling and doesn't much enjoy having to socialize with the new girlfriend Flora knowing that Georgina, the man's wife is home heartbroken.

Gerard and Flora call Amory and Milo in to investigate poison pen letters sent to Flora. Amory tries to convince Flora and Gerard to call in the police but Flora refuses to file any official complaints. Then, unexpectedly on opening night and during the celebrations, Amory discovers Flora Bell murdered. Amory and Milo are thrown into the crime scene and find themselves investigating at great personal danger.

I thoroughly enjoyed An Act of Villany and Ashley Weaver's writing style. The language is fluid, charming and reminiscent of the lightness and turns of phrase of Wodehouse. 

About the Author:  Ashley Weaver is the Technical Services Coordinator for the Allen Parish Libraries in Louisiana. Weaver has worked in libraries since she was 14; she was a page and then a clerk before obtaining her MLIS from Louisiana State University. She lives in Oakdale, Louisiana.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

150 Food Science Questions Answered by Bryan Le

150 Food Science Questions Answered: Cook Smarter, Cook Better
150 Food Science Questions Answered by Bryan Le
ISBN-10 : 1646118332 - Paperback $17.99
Publisher : Rockridge Press (July 21, 2020), 198 pages. 
Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program and the publisher.

The blurb:

Cooking isn’t just an art, it’s a science―150 fascinating food facts to make you a better cook

Does cold water come to a boil faster than warm water? Why does fat taste so good? What makes popcorn pop? Most of the processes that occur during cooking are based on principles found in biology, chemistry, and physics. 150 Food Science Questions Answered is an intriguing look into the science of food, from the eyes of a food science Ph.D. candidate and recipient of the James Beard Legacy Scholarship.

Learn food science―how controlling heat, moisture, acidity, and salt content can magically transform the way flavors are developed and perceived. Understand the food science behind the few hundred milliseconds that creates our sense of taste. With increased knowledge will come increased mastery, no matter what you’re cooking.

Inside 150 Food Science Questions Answered you’ll find:

  • Can you control garlic’s intensity by the way you cut it?―Garlic’s signature burn is released when its cell walls are cut into. Whole garlic will impart mild flavor; garlic crushed into a paste will deliver the strongest punch.
  • Does alcohol burn off when cooked?―Quick processes like flambé eliminate only about 25% of alcohol, while long-simmering can remove almost all of it.
  • Does searing a steak seal in the juices?―No, but it does develop delicious flavors through a process called the Maillard reaction.

Learn food science and you’ll be on your way to truly understanding the chemistry of cooking.

My review:
I've been cooking more with the covid pandemic and our family's eating habits have changed over the last few years.  For health reasons, we've become vegan and I've had to unlearn how I used to cook and learn new habits.  

I was particularly interested in Bryan Le's 150 Food Science Questions Answered: Cook Smarter, Cook Better for several reasons: 1) his blog Science Meets Food relays helpful and interesting information with beyond the basic glossing over. He gives scientific reasons for everyday cooking knowledge. 2) Brian Le's credentials as a James Beard Legacy Scholar and his PhD background in Food Science at University of Madison Wisconsin and 3) Personable young Asian American scholar writing his first book.  4) the tagline he uses "Cooking Isn't Just an Art, it's a Science"  had me hooked.
I recommend his book for adults, college students learning how to prepare their own meals, and smarter teens and kids because it is chockfull of practical information that can help you cook better, eat healthier and  thus improve your day to day life.   

There is far too much to name, but here are some of what you'll find inside 150 Food Science Questions Answered. These were particularly helpful for me:

-Does adding oil to cooking water keep pasta from sticking? - because I never add enough water, I'm always rushing to cook the pasta and can't be bothered to heat up as much water as the recipes and instructions say. 

-Why do foods brown (the Maillard reaction)? Why do foods brown (caramelization)? Can you increase browning? - because we've been roasting vegetables regularly and I love the brown bits.

-Is oil really necessary in cooking? - because my dietitian suggested I substitute water for oil when cooking.

-What are emulsions? Why are emulsions prone to breaking? Does it matter what thickener I use?

-What factors can affect the way we experience flavor? Are taste and flavor the same thing?

-Is there a scientific reason why certain foods and flavors complement each other?

-Why does salt make food taste so good? Does it matter what kind of salt I use? 

-What makes fat so tasty? 

-Is terroir really a thing in food and wine?

-Can a marinade infuse a food with flavor?

-What gives black pepper its punch? What gives ginger its heat and spiciness? Why is Saffron so highly prized? What gives nutritional yeast its distinctive flavor?

-Is it better to use herbs fresh or dried? When should I use lemon zest versus lemon juice?

-What is the difference between tender and tough cuts of meat and how they cook?

-Does it matter whether you cook bacon in a cold or hot pan?

-Should I bring meat to room temperature before cooking it?

-Why does meat stick to a hot pan?  Why does meat dry out?

 -Does temperature matter when beating egg whites?  

 -What cauess the shell to stick to my hard-boiled egg when I try to peel it? 

-Can I substitute milk for half-and-half or heavy cream and vice versa? 

-Why do some cheeses have strong aromas and others don't?  Why doesn't the mold in blue cheese make you sick?  Can I freeze cheese?

-What happens when fruit ripens? Does putting a banana with an underripe fruit help make the fruit ripen faster?

-Why does my tongue tingle when I eat pineapple?

-Is there any real difference between red, white and yellow onions? How do onions and garlic transmit flavor to a dish?

-Does the way you cut garlic affect how strong it is in a dish? Why does the flavor of garlic but not chilis mellow out when cooked?

-Do beans get tough if you add salt or tomatoes to them at the beginning of cooking?

-Is there really a difference to between adding potatoes to cold water versus adding them to boiling water?

-Why does bread harden when it gets stale but cookies and crackers get soft?

-Does it matter where I bake my cake in the oven?

-Why does honey crystallize?

-Do I really have to cook my steak well done to be safe?

-How does e.coli end  up on romaine lettuce and other produce? Can the dirt on my mushrooms make me sick?

-What keeps fermented and pickled vegetables from going bad?

-Can I still eat a potato if its skin is green?  Are apple seeds and peach pits poisonous?

-Can peanut butter ever go bad?

-Is it safe to reuse oil after frying and cooking?

-Is MSG safe to eat?

-How seriously should I take expiration dates?  

-Should I store my bread in the fridge? Why do vegetables wilt in the fridge? 

-What is freezer burn? Why does ice cream sometimes develop ice crystals in the freezer?  What's the best way to defrost meat - on the counter, in the fridge or under running water?


 Intelligent, science based and interesting, 150 Food Science Questions Answered is a keeper and a good book to share with friends and family.  It would make a good gift as well. 

About the Author:  BRYAN LE is a Ph.D. candidate in Food Science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is the VP of digital and social media for the Institute of Food Technologists Student Association and manages, edits, and writes articles for their official blog, Science Meets Food. Le is a recipient of the James Beard Legacy Scholarship from the James Beard Foundation.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Murder at the Brightwell (#1 of 7 Amory Ames Mysteries) and A Deception at Thornecrest (#7 of 7 Amory Ames Mysteries) by Ashley Weaver

Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver

ISBN-10 : 125004636X - Hardcover $27.99
Publisher : Minotaur Books; First Edition (October 14, 2014), 336 pages. 

The blurb: Amory Ames, a wealthy young woman questioning her marriage to her notoriously charming playboy husband, Milo, is looking for a change. She accepts a request for help from her former fiancé, Gil Trent, not knowing that she’ll soon become embroiled in a murder investigation that will not only test her friendship with Gil, but also will upset the status quo with her husband.

Amory accompanies Gil to the luxurious Brightwell Hotel in an attempt to circumvent the marriage of his sister, Emmeline, to Rupert Howe a disreputable ladies man. There is more than her happiness at stake, however, when Rupert is murdered and Gil is arrested for the crime. Matters are further complicated by Milo’s unexpected arrival, and as the line between friend and foe becomes less clear, Amory must decide where her heart lies and catch the killer before she, too, becomes a victim.

My Review:  I admit that I'd read the first in the series after reading a later Amory Ames novel.  I'd enjoyed Ashley Weaver's writing and her depiction of the wealthy, privileged and discontented Amory Ames as an amateur sleuth.  In Murder at the Brightwell, Amory is young, beautiful and disillusioned with her gorgeous and glamorous husband Milo. They've been married for five years and her husband's escapades and adventures with other women has filled the society pages and scandal sheets.  Amory has been holed away either in their luxurious London flat or their large estate but largely on her own while Milo travels to expensive locations to gamble, party, socialize, etc.

After the romance cooled, Amory has been left to wonder if she'd made the wrong choice and if she should have married her longtime friend and fiance Gil.  Amory had ended the engagement soon after she met Milo and feels guilty about the way she treated Gil all those years ago. Gil comes to Amory to ask for her help in dissuading his younger sister from marrying a beautiful young man much like Amory's Milo.  Gil has seen the different articles and photos of Milo with glamorous women and still holds a torch for Amory.  Though he doesn't expect Amory to leave Milo for him, he hopes that spending time together will rekindle their old love or at least to help persuade his beloved sister of the danger that comes with marrying the dangerous society playboy type. 

For Amory, it seems strange that just as she is talking to Gil again, her husband returns from his own adventures in Monte Carlos. Amory resents Milo's adventures and welcomes the chance to take some time away, to help Gil after having hurt him in the past and to help his younger sister that she knew. So, Amory joins Gil's group of friends at the luxury hotel resort the Brightwell.

At the Brightwell, Amory finds a mix of characters, many catty society women, some staid and socially ambitious couples, the younger sister with her glamorous and cold fiance, a respected theater actor, Gil and, unexpectedly, Milo Ames. There are various delicious meals, awkward moments, flirtatious men but there is also the sudden and violent death of the young fiance.  Amory is desperate when Gil is arrested and she finds herself working to find the identity of the killer.  

Milo and Amory dance around each other while Gil hovers in the picture.  As Amory tries to sort through her emotions and balance what she wants and needs, she is quite easy to like. I found myself enjoying Murder at the Brightwell very much! I'm determined to read all of Ashley Weaver's Amory Ames mysteries.  The language and characters are a delight!

A Deception at Thornecrest (Amory Ames #7)

ISBN-10 : 1250159792 -Hardcover $27.99
Publisher : Minotaur Books (September 8, 2020), 288 pages.
Review copy courtesy of #NetGalley and the publisher. 

The blurb: Amory Ames is alone at her country house Thornecrest, enjoying her last few weeks of peace and quiet as she prepares for the imminent arrival of her baby. Her husband, Milo, is in London on business, and Amory is content to catch up on her correspondence, organize the nursery, and avoid the well-meaning if rather overbearing company of the ladies in the village as they prepare for the Springtide Festival. But then a woman appears on her doorstep, claiming to be another Mrs. Ames, Milo’s wife.

Amory's marriage has had its ups and downs in the past, but her faith in her husband has been restored, and Milo has been nothing but thrilled about becoming a father. Though the alleged second Mrs. Ames seems earnest, Amory is convinced she must be mistaken, a belief that Milo confirms upon his homecoming. However, when another unexpected visitor arrives at Thornecrest, secret identities and whirlwind romances appear to be becoming par for the course.

It's not until the day of the festival, when Milo's stable hand Bertie is found dead, that the strange characters appearing in town begin to seem more sinister, and Amory is determined to uncover the killer in the crowd.

Review:  I hadn't read earlier Amory Ames novels and expect that I would have enjoyed A Deception at Thornecrest even more if I was familiar with the sparring between Amory and her husband Milo. Nevertheless, this 7th in the series can stand on its own.

We have Amory, 8 months pregnant and rusticating on the Ames family estate Thornecrest when a beautiful young woman appears claiming to be Mrs Milo Ames. Amory has had to deal with all sorts of scandals and deception from her glamorous and attractive husband but their marriage had been improving. Given their history, this unexpected visitor is particularly unwelcome. 
While they later clear up the misunderstanding, we discover that Milo has an illegitimate half brother who has decided to look in on the family estate. Milo is wary while Amory is quick to welcome the new relative into their family. Milo, his half brother Darien, Amory, the brother's former lover Imogen, the brother's new love interest Marena, Marena's ex boyfriend, the Springtime Festival and a murder. 

I am very fond of amateur sleuths and Ashley Weaver's Amory Ames series is now a particular favorite. The stories are told in the first person and Amory Ames has a delightful, distinctive voice that reflects wealthy British upper crust in the 1940s. Some phrases and language remind me of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves - but our heroine is smart, courageous, emotionally vulnerable and constantly sleuthing. A Deception at Thornecrest delivers an engaging amateur detective story!

#ADeceptionatThornecrest #AshleyWeaver #NetGalley

About the Author: Ashley Weaver is the Technical Services Coordinator for the Allen Parish Libraries in Louisiana. Weaver has worked in libraries since she was 14; she was a page and then a clerk before obtaining her MLIS from Louisiana State University. She lives in Oakdale, Louisiana.

Portrait of Peril by Laura Joh Rowland

ISBN-10 : 1643854720 - Hardcover $26.99
Publisher : Crooked Lane Books (January 12, 2021)
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and #NetGalley.
#PortraitofPeril #Netgalley #LauraJohRowland #VictorianMysteries

The blurb:
London, October 1890. Crime scene photographer Sarah Bain is overjoyed to marry her beloved Detective Sergeant Barrett--but the wedding takes a sinister turn when the body of a stabbing victim is discovered in the crypt of the church. Not every newlywed couple begins their marriage with a murder investigation, but Sarah and Barrett, along with their friends Lord Hugh Staunton and Mick O'Reilly, take the case.
The dead man is Charles Firth, whose profession is "spirit photography"-- photographing the ghosts of the deceased. When Sarah develops the photographs he took in the church, she discovers one with a pale, blurred figure attacking the victim. The city's spiritualist community believes the church is haunted and the figure is a ghost. But Sarah is a skeptic, and she and her friends soon learn that the victim had plenty of enemies in the human world--including a scientist who studies supernatural phenomena, his psychic daughter, and an heiress on a campaign to debunk spiritualism and expose fraudulent mediums.
In the tunnels beneath a demolished jail, a ghost-hunting expedition ends with a new murder, and new suspects. While Sarah searches for the truth about both crimes, she travels a dark, twisted path into her own family's sordid history. Her long lost father is the prime suspect in a cold-case murder, and her reunion with him proves that even the most determined skeptic can be haunted by ghosts from the past.

My review:
In Portrait of Peril, Sarah Bain and her housemates Lord Hugh and Mick O'Reilly have returned to working for  the Daily World, the newspaper owned and published by Sir Gerald.  Sally Albert, Sarah's half sister, is now a reporter at the Daily World as well.  
But Portrait of Peril opens on the wedding of Sergeant Thomas Barrett and Sarah Bain.  Just as the ceremony ends, the celebration is interrupted by calls of murder.  As Barrett and his police colleagues rush to the scene, Sarah, Hugh, Mick and Sally rush over as journalists.  Just as Sarah's job and fearlessness caused friction between her and Thomas Barrett, her job leads to conflict with her in-laws as well.

Sarah recognizes the victim as Charles Finch, the kindly photographer and photo shop owner, who gave her a deep discount on her first set of equipment.  Sarah is determined to help find his killer. Their investigation leads towards a ghostly presence and to the victim's involvement in selling spiritualist photographs and the like.  

The police investigation and Sarah's investigation lead to seances and meetings with spiritualists and their critics.  As the investigations progress, the personal lives of Sarah and her friends deteriorates further.  While Sarah and her sister have finally found their father, Benjamin Bain remains a fugitive from the law and their meetings must be clandestine help Benjamin Bain avoid arrest.  Benjamin Bain remains the chief suspect in the murder investigation. 

Sir Gerald's son Tristan has chosen to leave England for Switzerland and Lord Hugh is devastated. He takes to spending days and nights drinking and walking London. Sarah and Barrett have grown closer, preparing for a life together despite the opposition from Barrett's mother.  

Hugh is often missing and Sally Albert is angered at Sarah's distrust of their father.    Sarah learns that the murder may have been committed by her mother not her father.  As Sarah investigates, she begins to question her own instincts -- as the daughter of a murder, is she inclined towards violent behavior herself?

In Portrait of Peril, I enjoyed learning more about Sarah Bain and Thomas Barrett.  Laura Joh Rowland gives us characters that we can care about just as much as she weaves a mystery for the amateur sleuths to solve. 

About the Author:
Laura Joh Rowland is the author of A Mortal Likeness, the second book in her mystery series set in Victorian England, starring photographer Sarah Bain. The third book, coming out in January 2019, is The Hangman’s Secret. Her other series features 17th-century Japanese samurai detective Sano Ichiro. Her work has been published in 21 countries, won RT Magazine’s Reader’s Choice Award, and made The Wall Street Journal’s list of the five best historical mystery novels. Laura holds a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Michigan. She is a former aerospace scientist, a painter, and a cartoonist. She lives in New York City with her husband Marty. Visit her website at
#PortraitofPeril #Netgalley

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Hems & Homicide (1st in The Apron Shop series) by Elizabeth Penney

Hems and Homicide (Apron Shop #1)
ISBN-10 : 1250257948 - Mass Market Paperback $7.99
Publisher : St. Martin's Paperbacks (December 31, 2019), 288 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

The blurb:
Iris Buckley is sew ready for a change. After the death of her beloved grandfather, Iris decides to stay in her Maine hometown to help out her widowed grandmother, Anne―and bring her online hand-made apron designs to real-time retail life. Her and Anne’s shop, Ruffles & Bows, is set to include all the latest and vintage linen fashions, a studio for sewing groups and classes, and a friendly orange cat. The only thing that they were not planning to have on the property? A skeleton in the basement

Anne recognizes the remains of an old friend, and when a second body shows up in the apron shop―this time their corrupt landlord, whom Anne had been feuding with for decades―she becomes a prime suspect. Now, it’s up to Iris to help clear her name. Enlisting the help of her old high-school crush Ian Stewart who, like certain fabrics, has only gotten better-looking with age and her plucky BFF Madison Morris, Iris must piece together an investigation to find out who the real killer is. . .and find a way to keep her brand-new business from being scrapped in the process.

My review:
I confess that I'd first read Thread and Dead before returning to read the first book in the series. I'd loved Thread and Dead, Elizabeth Penney and Blueberry Cove in Maine. I love cozies, Agatha Christie and these small towns, so I was quick to lose myself in Thread and Dead. and knowing the characters enjoyed going backward to find out more about the characters I'd come to care about. Blueberry Cove sounds like one of the prosperous towns in New England with millionaires' cottages that are Gilded Age mansions by any other standard. Blueberry Cove felt like a mix of Newport, Rhode Island and Bar Harbor, Maine with the delicious lobsters, the wealthy towns with high quality shops, families that have lived in the area for generations, and the emphasis on high end tourism. But beyond the memorable location, the strong female characters from Iris Buckley and her grandmother to their solid circle of friends. The camaraderie of the women and their romantic leads gives Elizabeth Penney's novel a lightness and cheer. Iris Buckley has a fondness for classic cars and the classic looks of the 20s, 40s, and 50s. She is inquisitive but unfailingly polite - an unkind neighbor might call her a snoop. Iris lost her parents in a car accident as a child and was raised by her grandparents in Blueberry Cove on a sprawling piece of land that has been in the Buckley family for generations.

At the start of Hems and Homicide, Iris and her grandmother are just starting their business. Iris's grandfather ("Papa") died a few months prior and her grandmother has decided to invest part of the insurance proceeds into their store. As they start renovating, Iris and her grandmother discover remains of someone that Grammie knew decades ago. Grammie is convinced that the dead body is one of her friends from the 70s, a beautiful young woman who they had thought moved away. As the police investigate, another dead body appears on their store premises but this time it is their obnoxious and difficult landlord Elliot. Elliot has been trying to get Grammie to sell some of her land to him and she's the one who finds the body. The police find it suspicious that Grammie is connected to both victims. Who has a motive? Who might be next? Iris, Grammie and Madison ferret out the clues and the truth - always with politeness and good taste. We get to know Anton, the Police Chief, and his early flirtations with Iris's friend Madison. In Hems & Homicide, Iris reconnects with the handsome contractor hired to handle the renovation - their early dealings are full of romantic charm. This book combines the fun and humor of a light romance with the mystery of a cozy. Like Thread and Dead, Hems & Homicide is the sort of book I'd lend or recommend to friends looking for a summer escape. I will be keeping my eye out for anything else by Elizabeth Penney. In the time of this Covid 19 pandemic, books like Hems & Homicide and #2 Thread and Dead are a special joy! Granted, her books would be fun even in the best of times.

About the Author:
Elizabeth Penney is the author of more than two dozen cozy mysteries, among other novels. She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and the owner of 2 Penney Productions. A former consultant and nonprofit executive, Elizabeth grew up in Maine and now lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where she also operates a small farm. Hems and Homicide is the first in the Apron Shop series. Visit her website to learn more.