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 fiancĂ©, 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.