Death Comes to the Fair by Catherine Lloyd

deathfair.jpgAn ancient grudge turns to murder in a quiet English village, 1817.

Book 4 in the Regency series finds the spirited rector’s daughter Lucy Harrington and her protective fiance Major Kurland preparing to marry. While judging vegetables at the local fair, Lucy warns him to be diplomatic in his choice of winners. His refusal leads to a storm of outrage among the villagers, who are furious when the verger at the rectory wins.

It isn’t long before Lucy literally trips over the verger’s dead body in a tragic accident. Lucy grows suspicious when they discover a cursed charm by the body and they soon realize that the death was actually murder. While trying to uncover the killer, Lucy must deal with the unpleasant cook who shares her father’s bed, and the frustrating delay in her nuptials. The village’s darker side begin to surface and the couple themselves are placed in grave danger as another body is found.

The murderer’s reasoning is somewhat weak and the couple lose a little of their previous fire, but it’s a light, enjoyable read.

Thanks to NetGalley for the 30-day ebook loan.
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A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

perilous.jpgThe second book in Deanna Raybourn’s new series is a romantic suspense with elements of mystery. Her prose and story-telling is excellent, very beautifully rendered, so that even if you’re not a big fan of the smoldering chemistry between the protagonists, you’ll stick around for the writing.

Set in England in 1887, Veronica Speedwell is a butterfly collector with a secret past and a passion for observing. She’s a cross between Flavia de Luce, Sherlock Holmes and a romance heroine. She habours a not-yet-consummated longing for the handsome Stoker, who may look like ruffian but acts not at all like one.

Veronica is asked to do the impossible – clear an artist convicted of murdering his pregnant mistress in one week before he hangs. Caught between the royalty and attractive but morally questionable artists, Veronica and Stoker have their work cut out for them.

If you’re a mystery lover, then the murderer will likely be obvious in the first few chapters. There are certain things you just know how to look for. But how Veronica and Stoker discover and trap the killer remains an interesting and satisfying read.

(Review of book #1, A Curious Beginning)

30-day ebook loan courtesy of NetGalley.

Behind the Lines by WF Morris

behindlines.jpg“Her eyes were shining like stars – stars in the mist.”

A moving account of a kindly, decent soldier who accidentally kills a cowardly senior officer. Instead of trying to explain, he makes a run for it, leaving behind friends and his ambulance-driving fiancee.

He ends up living among the deserters. Not unlike the military, the deserts have their own code and pecking orders. Rawley goes from a decent officer to an unkempt but decent deserter, filthy and ragged.

Between scavenging and run-ins with the military, the casual moments of horror are made all the more stark. When Rawley runs into his financee again, she wants to have the honeymoon before they are drawn apart. But Rawley is “clinging to decency” by the barest thread in refusing. She says “two weeks of happiness out of – perhaps a whole lifetime. It seems such a little to ask of life.”

But the ending, so poignant, is well worth the read.

Thanks to NetGalley for the 30-day ebook loan.

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley

flaviaIf you like snarky protagonists in Gothic mansions with a passion for crime solving, you will love Flavia de Luce. This is the 8th book she features in, complete with beautiful phrases and lovely title. You don’t need to read the earlier books, but you’ll miss out on a depth of character if you don’t.

Flavia is a precocious 12 year old girl living with her cold British father, resentful elder sisters and brooding loyal manservant. She’s a passionate chemist and believer in science. She loves her bicycle Gladys and her chicken Esmerelda more than she loves her family, but occasional hints of sentiment poke through.

“The de Luce blood is stronger, after all, than sentiment.”

The mystery in this installment is the death of an old woodworker, which Flavia solves while trying to cope with her father’s desperate illness, the death of Esmerelda and overly enthusiastic newcomer Carla. A light mystery compared to some of her others, but the book has plenty of action and a sad ending.

Thanks to NetGalley for the 30-day ebook loan.

A Proposal to Die For by Vivian Conroy

todieforA Proposal to Die For is a combined romance and mystery with the winning Lady Alkmene Callender. It goes quickly and is easy to read, with Lady Callender proving to be an enjoyable narrator. I like that she’s bored and this inspires her investigation, rather than thinking herself special.

From the book’s description: ‘With her father away in India, Lady Alkmene Callender finds being left to her own devices in London intolerably dull, until the glamorous Broadway star Evelyn Steinbeck arrives in town! Gossip abounds about the New York socialite, but when Ms Steinbeck’s wealthy uncle, Silas Norwhich, is found dead Lady Alkmene finds her interest is piqued. Because this death sounds a lot to her like murder…’

It should include the romance angle, since this features quite heavily in the book. There’s a mysterious reporter in the tall, dark and intriguing category. Lots of flashing looks and sizzling arguments.

The mystery of Mr. Norwhich’s death is a prominent part of the story. I love the setup for the crime and the host of suspects. The murder proves to be fairly straightforward and has few twists, but I enjoyed the book and would give the next one a try.

30-day ebook loan courtesy of NetGalley.

A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

Sherlock.jpg

A Study in Scarlet Women is a compelling take on Sherlock Holmes, probably quite distant from what Doyle would ever have imagined for his detective. Especially since he didn’t even want to keep writing Sherlock Holmes and was forced by public demand to revive him from an early death.

I intended to read only a chapter or two, but polished off the book in one sitting. There’s so much to love about the book, especially the feminine, food-loving Charlotte Holmes with a brilliant mind who gives herself the name Sherlock. The book’s concise characters, rapid pace and innumerable twisted threads gathered expertly together make this an excellent read. The mystery’s ending is rather dark, though handled with discretion.

Personally I was disappointed by her passion for Lord Ingram, though it is well written. I was hoping for Charlotte to prove as unusual in her love affairs as she is in habits. There’s something winning about the juxtaposition of a brilliant, daring mind with a fondness for baked goods, love of ruffles and a quotient of chins she allows herself.

I look forward to reading the next installment in the series. This is a NetGalley read that I decided I needed to purchase at my local bookstore!

Take Six Girls by Laura Thompson

Takesix.jpgIntriguing look at the Mitford sisters in the shadow of WWII

The Mitfords traced their heritage back to the Norman Conquest and it was only due to an accident with the eldest son that their father became a Baron. Six daughters and a son must have been incredibly worrying, a real-life Pride & Prejudice trying to get them all married off. The girls grew up in country houses, barely schooled and disciplined yet always under strict supervision.

The sisters emerge as complicated and immensely flawed humans. Take Six Girls is a great book for anyone wishing to learn more about them or the atmosphere of late 1920s through 1930s England. There are eerie shadows of current affairs; the schism of political leaders, the famous for fame scandals, the plague of racism.

As nonfiction, it pulls heavily from many sources and feels well researched. But the story itself is also enjoyable, as the Mitford sisters emerge one by one — unique, but all with a consistent strain of Mitfordism. You can argue, as the book does, that the Mitford girls are products of their time and rebelled against it in remarkable ways, again for their time. Though they are remarkable, I found them narrow minded and self-centered. (Although I can’t exactly argue with the beautiful writing of Love in a Cold Climate…)

30-day ebook loan courtesy of NetGalley.

The Mirror Crack’d by Agatha Christie

The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side by Agatha Christie

A bold, clever murder spirals into desperate measures. 

A clever Agatha Christie that’s lamentably too short, The Mirror Crack’d is almost like two stories. One is the classic mystery and the other is a dissertation of sorts on growing old, especially after WWII.

Set closer to the 1950s, Miss Marple is far less mobile and relies on the help of the annoyingly kind Mrs. Knight. Mary St. Mead is modernising, but not always for the better, as the townhouse style development shows. Like the last Poirot case, Miss Marple is definitely struggling with the physical indignities of growing old while her mind is still razor sharp.

The mystery itself is extremely clever, a classic Christie, where golden age Hollywood meets 1950s England. An innocent woman is poisoned by mistake when a beautiful, tragic actress was the intended victim. Who tried to kill Marina – her apparently devoted husband? The cool young secretary almost certainly in love with the husband? Or one of a slew of jilted lovers, ex-husbands or cast-off children?

This wasn’t my favourite book by Christie. My main complaint is how short it is – we don’t get as much chance to really dig into motives and personalities. The stakes could’ve been raised and the characters better explored with more length.

But there’s always the brilliant puzzle, so painfully obvious in retrospect, to buoy an otherwise decent read.

Crossing the Horizon by Laurie Notaro

cover87970-medium.pngIncredible true stories of the women who dared to fly, fighting for a spot in history.

Inspired by true events, Crossing the Horizon is the heartbreaking and lovely story of women fighting for a spot in history against tremendous odds. In the 1920s, before Amelia Earhart made history with her solo flight, each of these women wanted to be first.

Elsie was the fierce daughter of an English peer who was sucked out of a plane during a loop maneuver and managed to hold on to a wire until the pilot could land. Mabel was the beautiful cigar girl who married into wealth, determined to be first. Ruth was the epitome of the new American girl – brave, cheerful and feminine – saving her beauty pageant earnings to learn flying.

Despite a few bits being dry, the stories captured me and I soon fell in love with Ruth and Elsie. Frances Grayson wasn’t one of the main characters but her exploits were included. I found Mabel to be spoiled and whiny, but I cried as I read about Ruth and Elsie’s daring flights. Inspiring and delightful!

Thanks to NetGalley for the 30-day ebook loan.

The Darkness Knows by Cheryl Honigford

thedarknessA 1930s radio star is thrown together with a private eye when she’s next in line for murder.

Starting out as a secretary, ambitious Vivian lands an high-profile role on the radio show The Darkness Knows. After a platonic date with her smoldering co-star Graham, she discovers the body of Marjorie, an established star that nobody liked. The only thing worse than finding the dead body is discovering she’s named by the killer.

She’s protected by a handsome dark horse, the private eye Charlie Haverman, like a classic if somewhat kinder Philip Marlowe. The two of them end up in compromising and dangerous situations (sometimes both at the same time) in their quest to uncover a killer. Everyone’s keeping something back about the murder, even the private eye. And Viv’s dealing with the ongoing threat of her jobs being yanked away, especially with the equally ambitious Frances fighting her for every role.

The setting of Chicago in the 1930s is well captured without overwhelming. Vivian’s got gumption and she’s determined to have a career in an era where women were expected to work only until they got married. She isn’t perfect, but her flaws only serve to make her more human.

The mystery angle was well done and there were plenty of red herrings. The murderer was not obvious but seemed to come a little out of nowhere, I thought there could’ve been a few more clues thrown in.

Definitely looking forward to the next book, I hope to see more of 1930s Chicago and slowly learn more about Vivian and Charlie.

30-day ebook loan courtesy of NetGalley.