You'll see a lot of mysteries in this month's batch, because I realized I was getting behind with my series reading and losing track of which new books I had.
Murder in Chelsea, Victoria Thompson
Sarah Brandt, the daughter of one of New York's finest families, but independently working as a midwife after being widowed years earlier, has fallen in love with the small, abandoned girl, Catherine, that she has fostered since the child was dropped off at a nearby mission, so Sarah is devastated when she is told someone is asking after Catherine. When Sarah interviews the woman, it seems as if she is really concerned for the child, who she tells Sarah is the daughter of an actress and one of her older admirers. Very soon, however, the woman who has asked about Catherine is dead. Could the person who murdered her wish harm to Catherine as well? Sarah and her police detective companion Frank Molloy will have to investigate two very powerful New York families to get to the bottom of the affair.
The mystery behind Catherine's history is neatly solved in this complicated mystery, and once again Sarah's mother helps her uncover the truth, to her father's astonishment at how much his wife enjoys playing detective. But for loyal followers of this book series, there's something that occurs in this outing that will make all its fans happy, and it's neatly done, too.
The Bloody Tower, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher is back to work after the birth of her twins, doing a feature story about the Tower of London for her American readers. In the course of her research, she interviews the Yeoman Warders, visits the barracks, sees the Crown Jewels up close, and even speaks with the Raven Keeper. Since she wants to include the nightly Ceremony of the Keys ritual in her article, she receives permission to stay at a home within the Tower for the night. She misses her children and home greatly, and sneaks out early to return to them—only to nearly fall over the body of a yeoman warder on the stairs. He's been stabbed with one of the traditional weapons the warders carry.
You may find out more that you ever wanted to know about life inside the Tower of London, including secret passages in the battlements, and where different people employed at the Tower live. Two lively young women who live with their parents in the Tower add some interest, but I enjoyed most Daisy's difficulties with the twins' new Nanny, who has completely banned her and husband Alec from the nursery except at certain times. The heck with murderers; Mrs. Gilpin is the tough nut to crack in this one.
Life Guards in the Hamptons, Celia Jerome
After returning home from her hometown of Paumanok Harbor, hoping to get some work done on her latest graphic novel, Willow Tate is still restless. She's left behind a guy she likes, one who helped her save an otherworldly sea god, no questions asked, and now she's getting reports of a strange bird in her old neighborhood—not to mention brazen burglaries. When she arrives back in Paumanok, she finds the whole town angry with her (again), and a hurricane headed directly for the town—but in its heart is an evil older than time. Once again, it's up to Willow to stop the mayhem.
Ahem. I'm getting a bit pissed off at everyone from Paumanok who keeps trying to pigeonhole Willow and drag her home. I love the delightfully quirky inhabitants of the time, but lay off the woman, okay? I was also charmed by the creature Willow's Visualizer talent calls up, a half-parrot, half-fish who refers to her as "Twee." (Willow=Tree). Willow's new veterinarian lover is a keeper, and I love her Pomeranian with an attitude, her dad and his offbeat visions, and a "new" character, a haunted house that gives Willow clues in music. Just don't start the series with this book; you'll be lost. Start from the beginning with this unique urban fantasy.
Hush Now, Don't You Cry, Rhys Bowen
Molly Murphy is no more! She's now Molly Sullivan, married to Captain Daniel Sullivan of the New York police. After the Sullivans' original honeymoon was ruined, Alderman Brian Hannan invites them to spend it in a small cottage on the estate of his "summer cottage" in Newport, Rhode Island. When the Sullivans arrive, in a roaring rainstorm, there is no one to meet them and their first evening is interrupted by the Alderman's brother, who had no idea the Sullivans were invited to the mansion grounds while a family gathering was going on.
And then the Alderman is found dead at the bottom of the cliff at the edge of the lawn.
Of course Daniel asks Molly to stay out of the investigation, but this is Molly after all—and her investigation uncovers a startling family secret which someone will make sure is never made public.
A very enjoyable installment in the Molly Murphy series, with a lot of twists and turns in the plot. I think a couple of anachronistic modern terms break in occasionally, but it's not enough to derail the storyline. I just hope Daniel gets over this Darren Stephens thing of not wanting Molly to solve crimes anymore. :-)
Black Ship, Carola Dunn
The Fletchers are moving! Once overcrowded in a small house, Det. Inspector Alec Fletcher, his wife, the former Daisy Dalrymple, Fletcher's daugher from his first marriage, and the couple's infant twins, plus the babies' nanny and several servants, are now in roomier digs in a home Alec inherited from his uncle. It needs a bit of fixing up, but the family is overjoyed—until the maid, following the family dog, discovers a dead body (well, at least Daisy wasn't the culprit this time). The family fears the victim may have ties to bootlegging, and that a neighboring family who run a fine wine shop may be involved. Will the Fletchers start their new life on Constable Crescent by getting in bad with the neighbors?
The story about the murder investigation is punctuated with a parallel story about a young man riding on a "black ship" (a rumrunner; Prohibition is in full force in the United States and bootleggers are making money buying liquor from Great Britain) being chased by Prohibition enforcers. In addtion, Lambert, the Government agent whom the Fletchers met in the United States, appears at their home looking for rumrunners. As always, Daisy, her Inspector, and his assistants Tring and Piper manage to track down the miscreant. Your interest will vary depending on your interest in Prohibition-era crime.
Grace Takes Off, Julie Hyzy
Grace Wheaton, after having been threatened and emotionally used by a thief in the previous book, has accompanied her boss, millionaire philanthropist Bennett Marshfield, to Europe, where she meets his oldest friend, an Italian art collector. But later Bennett reveals to Grace that a valuable Picasso in his friend's collection is a fake, when he knows his friend had the original sculpture in his possession years earlier, after which someone on their charter flight home tries to poison him. But even reaching home doesn't end the danger for both Bennett and Grace.
This is an enjoyable outing in the Manor House mysteries, with many suspects and red herrings, although about twenty pages from the end it becomes blindingly obvious who the culprit is. One of the things I appreciated the most was that Grace's ordeal from the previous book has not been forgotten; she reacts to several dangerous situations in the same manner as a soldier would suffering post-traumatic stress and is suspicious and quick to react. I'm glad Hyzy decided not to "reset" the character and ignore what she endured in the previous novel.
Inside the TARDIS, James Chapman
This book, originally published in 2006 and recently updated for the 50th anniversary, puts yet another spin on a Doctor Who history. Most usually follow season by season, perhaps just an episode guide, others with more elaborate guides, down to one that tracked inconsistencies in the stories, and then there are Mad Norwegian Press' mega-guides. However, this one, after chronicling how the show was conceived, examines the series by eras and how the shows changed over time, influenced by the mores, the customs, the influences, and even the politics of when they were filmed (for instance, spies were popular in the 1960s, so Jon Pertwee's Doctor was action-oriented; however, because the series was now in color, which was more expensive to film, the character remained Earthbound for most of his run because Earth-set episodes were cheaper). Of equal interest is his analysis of the changing role of the companion.
Even after reading the "mega-guides," The Discontinuity Guide, the paperback episode guides, and other series guides, I still found a lot to like about this volume, which also includes commentary on Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures.
Fear in the Sunlight, Nicola Upson
To be honest, when I saw the synopsis of this novel, I was on the fence about buying it. I loved the first book in the Josephine Tey series because it so closely reproduced a 1930s novel. The second and third books were good, but had their problems, especially aspects of the second. However, I took a chance on this one and was pleasantly surprised yet ultimately disappointed. The story is told in flashback, with Josephine's longtime friend Archie Penrose discovering that a double murder and suicide that had taken place in 1936 were not all that they had seemed. The main portion of the story takes place in Portmerion, Wales, where Josephine is meeting with Alfred Hitchcock and his wife with the object of making her book A Shilling for Candles into a film, as well as celebrating her birthday. But first one, then two brutal murders take place.
Upson carefully builds her setting and characters, so carefully that the book is half over before the actual crimes take place. It's well crafted and described, and, especially with the settings, very evocative, but one must be patient to get to the meat of the story, which builds like...well, like a Hitchcock film. Lots of talking, and revealing of secrets happen. Hitch himself, debating whether to make the jump to Hollywood, has brief flashes of appearances (mostly planning macabre practical jokes), so we don't really learn much about him. And, frankly, I'm tired of the Josephine/Marta storyline; sometimes a romance adds something to a story, this one just stalls it. I'd recommend for the atmosphere and the description, but your patience may be tried sorely aiming for the plot.
The Mislaid Magician, or Ten Years After, Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
I picked up the original book in this trilogy, Sorcery and Cecelia, back when it was first published in 1988. I didn't read Regency romances, but I was intrigued with this one due to the twist: our protagonists, Kate and Cecy, are cousins living in an alternate England where magic is practiced and wizarding rivalries are common. Kate, in London for "the Season," is mistaken for the Marquis of Schofield in disguise, is almost poisoned, setting off a sequence of events ending with Kate's marriage to the aforementioned Marquis and her favorite cousin Cecy to his compatriot. Now it's ten years later, the cousins have families of their own, and the quartet is hot on the trail of a missing German professor who's been investigating the new railroads.
Back when Sorcery and Cecelia was released, a Regency/magic crossover was quite unique; now with the steampunk era, it is less so. I loved the story because I loved the Kate and Cecy characters as well as their husbands, but if you haven't read the original, the relationships will make no sense (especially the asides about Georgina, Kate's sister). You should start from the beginning if you choose to read this story.
Incidentally, I find it interesting than when Sorcery and Cecelia was first released, it was a mainstream fantasy book. Now the trilogy is being marketed to young adults.
(By the way, I just found out this is the third book in the trilogy, not the second. So I'll have to go back and read The Grand Tour as a flashback.)
How to Be a Heroine, Samantha Ellis
Eat, sleep, breathe...books. This is for everyone who has felt kinship with the literary characters they grew up with, and how they have shaped, whether or not we realize it, who we are and how we think. Ellis grew up reading the classics, from Little Women to Sylvia Plath, from What Katy Did and Anne Shirley to Cathy Earnshaw and the ladies of Valley of the Dolls, books that were sometimes far removed from her upbringing as an Iraqi Jew in London. She not only tells us of the books she loved growing up, but also how she looked at them re-reading them as an adult, and how her favorite characters in the books changed from childhood to adulthood.
Ellis has a nice breezy style that makes this an easy and enjoyable read, and it's always fun to see what devoted readers log as their favorite books. If one thing bothered me, it was Ellis' opinions of her old favorites. While I view my old childhood favorites differently than I did as a child, I don't see them as lacking as Ellis did (for example, Katy Carr). They're the products of their time and it's not their fault they don't conform to modern ideas. But that's a minor quibble in an otherwise entertaining book; readers, come forth!
Sisters in Time: Sarah's New World, Colleen L. Reece
Sarah Whyte and her brother Jack live in Leiden, Holland, with their Separatist parents, where the children have never known any other life. But the elder Whytes dislike living with the frivolous Dutch and feel their children are forgetting their English past. So they choose to take the chance of traveling to the new Colonies in the Americas.
This one is the first "Sisters in Time" that I have read, and it's a bit by the numbers. Although Sarah is supposed to be the main character, it seems she is usually reacting to someone or she's described as being sick aboard ship or looking peaked from not eating well. Jack really has all the action. In a way this is more realistic: girls' actions were so highly curtailed in the 17th century that other historical fiction that shows them breaking out of norms is highly unlikely. Sadly, it's also boring.
Incidentally, these books are Christian oriented, but the two authors I have read have tried hard to show both sides of the fence. For instance, in this one Mr. Whyte admits the Separatists [we would call them Pilgrims] were a bit unfair to the "Strangers" who have accompanied them on the "Mayflower."
Sisters in Time: Kate and the Spies, JoAnn A. Grote
Eleven-year-old Kate Milton lives in Boston, daughter of a Loyalist physician, but best friends with her cousin Colin, who is a Patriot like his printer father. The conflict between the Loyalists and the Patriots also causes conflict within her own family. Through a series of events after the Boston Tea Party, Kate ends up helping Colin and his older brother Harrison forward the cause of the Patriots. Once the port of Boston is closed and soldiers are quartered in homes, Kate's participation becomes dangerous.
This book moves more briskly than Sarah's New World, and Kate gets to make more of a contribution, whether she is involved in passing messages or just helping her father or Colin (her father's apprentice) with medical work. She even has ambitions beyond the home: she would like to go into medicine, although she knows she can only become a midwife. The books do try to show a girl exercising her independence, while staying within the strictures of the time, rather than other historicals which show girls crossing lines that would have been forbidden to them.