Friday, March 20, 2015

Rhode Island Red: The Nanette Hayes Mystery Book 1 by Charlotte Carter

Rhode Island Red: The Nanette Hayes Mystery Book 1.  Charlotte Carter. Open Road Media Mystery & Thriller.  January 2015. 179 pp. e-book. ASIN #: B00QN352W4.

One can picture Nanette playing sultry jazz tunes outside of anywhere she can park in Manhattan, New York.  Although she’s a French major, she knows she’s not a very good jazz musician but she worships the music of the greats, especially Thelonious Monk and others of his ilk.  Her life is difficult as people leave little change in her sax case but is about to become terrifying after she decides to let a fellow sax player named Sig come home with her.  He tells her he’ll help her find all the hot spots where she can earn a great living and maybe they can even jam together for the public.  Whatever is she doing taking a white man home to her apartment, a stranger at that?

The next morning, Nanette awakens to find Sig dead on the floor of her living room.  A rough, tough black cop verbally works over Nanette believing she is the murderer but having no proof.  He leaves but promises to return and so he does many times in the course of this mystery.  After he leaves the first time, Nanette finds $60,000 socked up in Sig’s sax case.  In the pages that follow with Nanette attempting to decide whether to turn over the money to the police, keep the money, give it to acquaintances in need, she begins to unravel the twisted connections of those connected to Sig.  Nanette gets a bit battered up in the process of her journey.

These scenes involving Sig’s girlfriend, other musicians, etc. are very moving and work very well in drawing the reader into total immersion in this all too brief story.  In fact, even though Nanette is a ball of fear-filled nervousness, her determination to continue to the source of this crime causes many tension-ridden moments right up to the dramatic solution of this horrific crime!

The term “Rhode Island Red” is the heart of this well-crafted thriller, a story that is intriguing and highly recommended reading for readers who love a story in which to lose one’s self.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Accidental Empress: A Novel by Allison Pataki

The Accidental Empress: A Novel.  Allison Pataki. Howard Books. February 2015. 512 pp. hb. ISBN#: 9781476790220.

Elizabeth or “Sisi” is the 15 year-old Dutchess of Bavaria who is about to travel to Germany with her sister, Helene who is betrothed to marry the Emperor Franz Josef who is the ruler of Austria, Russia, Germany and Italy. One huge problem follows: the Emperor is controlled by his mother, who is the sister of Sisi and Helene’s mother.  The second is that Sisi falls in love with Franz and he with her.  Helene, on the other hand, is timid to the point of rudeness and has no wish to marry the Emperor.  We learn that eventually after an interminable amount of time full of Helene’s failures that Franz insists he marry the younger sister. It’s the first time the Emperor bucks his mother’s will and so begins Sisi’s journey into the world of Empress, a role for which she’s little equipped in spite of her aristocratic background.

The reader expects to read like a fairy tale come true but such is not to be the case.  Instead we find Sisi and Franz happy only in their marital bed, but the rest of Sisi’s life is full of court protocol and control by her mother-in-law, Sophie.  Sisi knows little of Franz’s rule or the thorny issues he faces with wars, threat of wars, rebellions, financial problems etc. 

One issue, however, engages Sisi’s interest and it is that one that will determine the course of her future happiness after Franz realizes she is more capable than he initially realized.  That is the rebellion in Hungary and their desire for independence from Germany and Franz’s control.  The latter part of this novel moves out of the family debacle and control issues focus to begin the part of Sisi’s life that earned her the fame that she richly deserved and which she holds to this day.

The Accidental Empress: A Novel is great reading about courtly life from 1853 forward and about the internal and external, complex crises that occur out of the public eye but which hold political significance for all whom royalty ruled.  Loved this novel and highly recommend it as notable historical fiction!

Lady of Asolo by Siobhan Daiko

Lady of Asolo.  Siobhan Daiko. Fragrant Books.  November 2014. 242 pp. paperback and e-book. ISBN #: 9781503109780.

Fern is staying with her Aunt in Asolo, Italy in 1989.  Fern’s a painter and loves walking about the town sketching beautiful or historically interesting scenes.  But something is deeply amiss, as she keeps hearing a strange yet familiar voice calling, “Lorenza!” Add to that she keeps smelling burnt wood and even occasionally seeing the same which appears and then just as mysteriously disappears.  As Fern had just lost her fiancĂ© in terrible accident, this is not helping her to regain composure and peace.

Almost immediately Fern begins to have moments where she is having blacking out spells and during them is living the life of Cecilia, a young lady-in-waiting who serves at the court of Queen Caterina Cornaro in the year 1504 in Venice, Italy.  While there Cecilia falls in love with an artist, Zorzo, with whom she begins a passionate affair.  Back in 1989, Fern receives help from her Aunt’s friend, Luca, who immediately finds Fern fascinating and then more than engaging but Fern is cool to his hints of more than friendship between them. 

Fern begins to slip back and forth in both lives.  The timing of these transitions appears too frequently and frenetically which therefore strains credulity.  Also we see how Cecilia is avoiding the lusty but repulsive advances of a rich suitor, Ludovico.  Living the glorious life of wealth and pleasure can be Cecilia’s destiny if she rejects Zorzo who lives in a world of poverty as a starving but sexy artist.

Their future eventually will collide with that of Fern and Luca.  The reader has no problem with this journey, especially enjoying the beautiful descriptions of the places where Fern and Cecilia reside.  The author creates a sense of vulnerability in Fern where the reader yearns for her healing from the tragedy in her own past.  All in all, In My Lady’s Shadow is a historical romance that comes to a dramatic end with a lot of repetition and going nowhere between the beginning and that perilous finale!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Traveling Tea Shop: A Novel by Belinda Jones

The Traveling Tea Shop: A Novel.  Belinda Jones. Penguin Group (USA). March 2015. 368 pp.  ISBN#: 9780425279601.

Laurie Davis gets a phenomenal opportunity – the chance to travel up the New England coast with the famous TV cooking star, Pamela Lambert-Leigh, the star of Tea Time With Pamela.  They are both British and totally enchanted with CAKE!  No, it’s not your average, store-bought, boxed style cake but hand-crafted, beautifully decorated and scrumptious-tasting cake, doughnuts, cupcakes or muffins! Yummy!

Laurie’s job is to canvas the best of these bakeries or shops in New York, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The planned new cookbook will cover each creative space, baking process and a description of what it’s like to taste each unique specialty cake in every location. Laurie will be both assistant director arranging visits and tour guide in the surrounding area of each location they visit. Sounds like a dream vacation, doesn’t it?  Not quite!

Pamela has insisted that her feisty mother, Gracie, be their driver for the project.  Gracie is no doddering, elderly lady but a feisty mother and grandmother.  She had a graced marriage, a fact that inspires Laurie who doesn’t exactly have the greatest love history.  Gracie will be driving a double-decker British bus; only Laurie doesn’t realize that Gracie drives every automobile like she’s competing at the Indianapolis 500 final competition!

Add to the mix that Pamela’s daughter, Ravenna, will be accompanying the group.  Ravenna is a very young woman a/k/a obstinate super-brat, to summarize, so nasty that if it were not for Laurie’s wise, sassy and funny responses, this reader would have quit reading; but Laurie saves the day and engages the reader so cleverly that one wants to keep flipping the pages to see if there’s a chance at redemption for this terror of a daughter.  In many other ways, Ravenna also triggers Laurie’s thoughts about her own troubled relationship with her own sister.

So what mouth-watering, standard or exotic cake will make you determined to travel?  This novel absolutely makes one want to go to each site to see the intriguing and beautiful area and test each delightful dessert?  Although this is a novel, the places and desserts are obviously well-researched and actually exist in reality!  No, it’s not a romance but just a lovely romp in which one gets to visualize and taste the best that New England has to offer!

Highly recommended reading, traveling and tasting!

The Reluctant Midwife: A Hope River Novel by Patricia Harman

The Reluctant Midwife: A Hope River Novel.  Patricia Harman. Harper Collins Publishers. March 2015. 432 pp.  ISBN#: 978006235824.

Nurse Becky Myers and her former employer, Dr. Isaac Blum, travel back to their origins in a small West Virginia town.  They are almost penniless and Blum bears the appearance of a mentally challenged individual who just stares and is totally dependent on Becky to feed, dress and change him on a daily basis.  Her own marriage has fallen apart as her husband was obviously suffering from what we now know is PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, a violent aftermath of his war experiences.  Later he finds comfort elsewhere and Becky is left with nothing.

Add to this stark scenario the fact that it is the 1930s and the Great Depression in America is at its height when there are no jobs to be had and no food for daily sustenance.  The people in Becky’s world survive by sharing the little they have and the bond that establishes is deeper than even family in many instances.  Becky and Blum find a home in an old home abandoned by Becky’s friend Patience, who is now married and a practicing midwife.  Becky herself is a nurse but dreads practicing childbirth outside of the accepted venue of a hospital and even then she’s not so fond of that part of nursing.  She’s more comfortable assisting Patience as she used to do with Blum.  But necessity will draw out her skills and her ability to do what she hated. 

This is the story of Becky and Blum, who represented a wounded America struggling to survive disaster on a daily basis.  She will deliver children, medicate an asthmatic boy in crisis, set fractured bones and more.  Every scene is exciting, tension-ridden, and laced with first uncertainty and then care and compassion.  Healing is mental and emotional for all involved and even Blum occasionally comes out of his almost catatonic state.

The government, in this devastating time, is providing jobs through the CCC or Civilian Conservation Corps.  They establish camps to which the destitute draw, a motley lot whom Beverly will eventually nurse out of several disasters, including an horrific fire that almost destroys the camp’s buildings and homes of its employees.
The Reluctant Midwife is another Hope River Mystery which immediately engages the reader and is almost impossible to put down.  The town gives more than physical shelter to its residents, including some unsavory characters, and is more about opportunities for more than survival and includes some riveting secrets laced throughout the overriding medical plot.  Very nicely crafted, Patricia Harman and strongly recommended!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe: An Elizabeth Spy Thriller and Jmistress Jaffrey Mystery by Kathy Lynn Emerson

Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe: An Elizabeth Spy Thriller. Jmistress Jaffrey Mystery. Kathy Lynn Emerson. Severn House. March 2015. 256 pp.  ISBN#: 9780727884596.

Mistress Rosamond Jaffrey is married but separated from her husband and living independently.  She is wealthy, educated and intelligent as well.  While she has no problem filling her days, she is now drawn into the service of Queen Elizabeth’s cousin, Lady Mary, in London in the year 1582.  However, she’s not there to be a semi-servant to Lady Mary but to be a spy for the Queen’s chief spymaster, Sir Frances Walsingham, a man who knows everyone’s business and shares his knowledge sparingly if at all.  Now Rosamond is to be his ears and listen to the gossip of Lady Mary and her ladies in waiting,  Rosamond is not sure what she is to hear, but it doesn’t take long to realize that it seems someone is trying to arrange the marriage of Lady Mary to the Tsar of Russia, Ivan the Terrible, a tyrant whom all fear and few trust.

The mystery deepens when several murderous attempts fall on first Lady Mary and then on Rosamond herself.  Lady Mary is believed to have succumbed to a dreaded disease when in fact she is the victim of poison.  On it goes with events conspiring against Rosamond that look like accidents but occur too frequently to be coincidence.

In the meantime, Rosamond’s husband, who is living in Russia supposedly doing busy with a Muscovy merchant company, has been distracted by the widow of an Englishman who was executed as a traitor.  The Tsar will not let this woman return to England and so she lives in dire poverty and miserable conditions.  Soon Rosamond’s husband is feeling more than pity for this young, attractive woman and he will bear some very harsh consequences for his attendance upon this woman and his plan to free her to return to England.

Rosamond at first has to mentally explore who could be responsible for attempting to harm Lady Mary and why they are trying to make sure a marriage and alliance with the Tsar never comes to pass. As in any well-thought out mystery, each character has some flaw, weakness or political connection that could provide a motive for a plot to harm the Queen’s cousin.  Rosamond herself is betrayed a few times and has to come up with some very rapid reasons for explaining her presence as a lady-in-waiting to Lady Mary.

All in all, Rosamond is a clever, ingenious sleuth who keeps the reader guessing on every page and flipping the pages to relish each engaging misunderstanding, attack, clue-ridden occasional dialogue, and violent scenes occurring to Rosamond and her husband Rob.  A splendid read that is highly recommended for all lovers of well-crafted mystery fiction.

Dreaming Spies (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes Series #14) by Laurie R. King

Dreaming Spies (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes Series #14).  Laurie R King. Random House Publishing Group.  February 2015. 352 pp. paperback and e-book. ISBN #: 9780345531797.

Holmes and Russell return to their home anticipating a quiet rest, only to have their maid alert them to a huge rock with a chrysanthemum drawn on it lying within their garden. This quickly leads to a long sea journey to Japan which is far from quiet as they wind up in the middle of what they believe to be a suspicious disappearance of a passenger, the appearance of a blackmailer, the Earl of Darley, and an NYU trained economist, Haruki Sato, who begins to give lessons to the passengers on past and present Japanese language and culture.  

So begins a long, beautiful and dangerous trip through Japan in the 1920s which ends with a phenomenal request from no less than the Prince of Japan, Emperor Hirohito’s son.  But before they agree to seek out a single volume of Basho poetry that the Prince inadvertently gave to King George V, Holmes and Russell must be tested by both Haruki and her father Sato, both trained ninjas.  Now a very suspicious offer is being made by the Earl of Darley to sell the precious book back to the Prince for an exorbitant price.  What is the true value of this volume of poems and why is the Prince desperate to get it back before his father, the Emperor, finds out what happened?

The quest takes them back to England with Russell doing a major part of the footwork and Haruki proving to be more physically vulnerable than she had bragged about earlier. Indeed even during the ninja workouts and training Russell and Holmes had endured earlier in the plot, the latter couple proved to be much more adept at throwing Japanese weapons and swordplay than either Haruki or her father Sato had believed possible. 

The suspense in Dreaming Spies… is perfectly balanced with moments of beautiful calm elicited by the sharing of the Japanese tea ceremony, the serenity of the Japanese landscape, and the partaking of delicate but tasty Japanese dishes they learn to actually love and prefer over heavy Western meals.  The criminal bribers are very clever and appear to have bested the sleuthing couple but once again the Earl and others underestimate the keen minds and skills of their pursuers.

Dreaming Spies, the 14th novel in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series, is superb detective/spy/adventure/thriller fiction!  A great read that all lovers of the Holmes and Russell adventures will relish anew!  Highly recommended reading!