MINI-REVIEW: Jennifer Ashley’s DEATH IN KEW GARDENS

Death_Kew-GardensDeath In Kew Gardens, number three in Ashley’s Kat Holloway Below Stairs mysteries and, at least in its first half, the best one yet (I’d still recommend you read the first two, I loved’em). As you know, I don’t read mysteries for the “puzzle-mystery-solution”, or for the criminal’s motive or psychology, but the detecting main character and, in Ashley’s series’ case, her marvelous detecting team of “below stairs” maids, butlers, housekeepers, and mysterious policeman/detective/government agent Daniel McAdam (man of many roles and disguises) and his friends. Of all the mystery series I read, I love Ashley’s for her protagonists and friends, who help Kat Holloway, an inspired cook by profession, solve crimes and bring justice. Kat is talented, smart, beautiful, and kind. In Death In Kew Gardens, Kat’s kindness sets off the novel’s mystery. As Kat shops with her mercurial, temperamental, and hilarious cook’s assistant, Tess (I loved her!), she accidentally knocks over a passerby, Mr. Li, whom she then helps up. That night, Mr. Li knocks on the Rankin house kitchen door, where Kat cooks for the Bywaters and their niece and her friend, Lady Cynthia, and gifts Kat with a box of aromatic tea. Continue reading

What Else I’ve Been Reading

Benway_WelshCanada Day has always meant one thing: reading time! As I’m released from professional duties for a good six+ weeks every year that very day, I settle in for hours of daily glorious reading, snatching one book, moving to another, reading several simultaneously. This year, I was sadly foiled in my summer reading plans by a necessary PD excursion, a full week of my hols, folks. Hence, why I’m only getting into the swing of reading all the things when it’s nearly Bastille Day.

Willig’s Summer Country, at a wopping 480 pages, took all my attention and two books I’ve been reading since mid-June fell by the wayside. Now that I’ve finally settled into a routine, I finished them and will make a few comments about them here. One was Robin Benway’s Far From the Tree, a teen novel, which I read for professional reasons, but which I enjoyed immensely. The other was a historical murder mystery I struggled to like, Kaite Welsh’s The Wages of Sin … and sometimes loved. Continue reading

Adventures In Knitting & How Not to Read a Book

Why_Kill_InnocentAll this week, I thought “How the mighty are fallen” and “pride cometh before a fall” … as I struggled to finish one book, just ONE, C.S. Harris’s thirteenth Sebastian St. Cyr historical murder mystery and part of my favourite series EVER; romance, mystery, history — it has it ALL and you should read it from its glorious beginning, 2005’s What Angels Fear, to its … well, whatever volume Harris is at. (Book 14 is out, Who Slays the Wicked, but I have to await the paperback to afford it. I try not to think about it.)

As I’ve spent the last two posts waxing on and on about the freedom to read whatever I feel like, leaving the ARC TBR behind, blah blah blah … I imagined luxuriating (it would be positively sybaritic, I thought, smirking) in my reading and went on a Amazong ordering frenzy (good thing is, I now have copies of Kate Ross’s Julian Kestrel series, which I’ve wanted to read for years). Sadly, I’d forgotten how work, taking out the garbage, and making my lunch sandwich take time! Also, sleep, many a morning I woke to the alarm bells and ereader screensaver staring at me.

Mit_2More time suck resulted when I revived my love of knitting (the only reason I stayed sane during grad school) and struggled with mastering the art of the fingerless glove and “the horror, the horror” of double-pointed needles. My spare half hour to catch up with the shitstorm found nightly on CNN (I really should stick to the staid CBC and our staid Canadian politics, but I can’t resist that KA-BLAM of *BREAKING NEWS*) was spent contorting fingers and flailing knitting needles to produce one awkward, misshapen Fingerless Thing with Inelegant Protuberance (aka thumb gusset) … (pictured here as I writhe in neo-knitter’s shame). Mit_1

And so, my drib-drab reading of C. S. Harris’s always-magnificent St. Cyr mysteries. Continue reading

Worlds In My Head

Reading_1Since my last post, I’ve been giddy with reading possibilities. I picked up one book and set it down, swiped e-reader “cloud” pages, and flitted from book to book like a bee unable to settle on a flower. Now that I was free of my ARC schedule, I was going to read all the things. Except I didn’t. Work was fraught and till about mid-week, I was preoccupied with an important meeting I’d been pulled into. Without my steady ARC reviewing schedule, I was gleeful, but book-fickle.

*big breath* I thought about what I loved about reading, and it turned out to be somewhat like the comments I made in my previous post about being in church and experiencing Paschal services. What I love about it is I get to carry the book around in my head, characters, world, and concerns, while going about my everyday business of work, a sandwich for lunch, and traffic-ridden commutes. The bee-me settled on several flowers; it may not be the way forward, but bee-me is in a happy place. I thought about what worlds I wanted taking up space in my head and what worlds I could anticipate spending time in when I settle on the couch to read, post-workday.   Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Mariah Fredericks’s DEATH OF A NEW AMERICAN

Death_New_AmericanMariah Fredericks’s second Jane Prescott mystery, Death Of A New American, has a rich, layered, vivid backdrop: 1912 New York. Indeed, Fredericks’s vibrantly-rendered historical detail may be as immersive and compelling as her mystery and characters. Of the latter, her amateur sleuth, lady’s maid Jane Prescott, is eminently sympathetic: intelligent, observant, and compassionate. Jane’s lowly social status allows her the freedom to fade into the background and take in the details of the wealthy, privileged, and as aristocratic as Americans can be, families she serves. Fredericks may write about the rich and powerful, but the moral core of her mystery lies with the people of the “downstairs”. Their lives, thanks to the historical context in which Fredericks situates them, will change as social, economic, and political tides sweep over early twentieth century New York.

Fredericks has penned a novel as richly conceived historically as it is domestically. When it opens, the papers are crying the news of the Titanic‘s sinking. On the domestic front, Jane is preparing a trip to the Long Island home of the Tylers, as her mistress, Louise Benchley, prepares to marry their nephew, William. Charles, William’s uncle, is the powerful, influential, and famous-for-fighting-the-emerging-Italian-NY mafia, police commissioner. But, who is the “new American” and how and why does she die?  
Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Sherry Thomas’s THE HOLLOW OF FEAR

Hollow_Of_FearI came to this lauded series late. Have the first two on audio and once again, I’ve had to relearn that my ability to listen to audiobooks is severely limited. It took me days and days to read Hollow, buffeted as I was by day-job issues. It never offered that romance punch of happiness and rightness, but it was a worthy read nonetheless.

For those unfamiliar with Thomas’s series, she sets up her Victorian female detective as a sly critique of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Thomas imagines Sherlock Holmes as Charlotte, a cross-dressing, fallen woman amidst the puritanical strictures of Victorian England, who uses her troubling powers of detection and frighteningly incisive intellect to solve convoluted mysteries full of dastardly nemeses and plots within plots. In this third book in the series, Charlotte solves the murder of dear friend and eventual lover’s, Lord Ashburton  Ingram’s, estranged wife, Lady Ingram. An ice queen if there ever was one, found murdered in the Ash’s estate’s ice house. Continue reading

REVIEW: Beatriz Williams’s THE SUMMER WIVES

The_Summer_WivesOne of the many things I love about Susanna Kearsley’s, Lauren Willig’s, Karen White’s, and now Beatriz Williams’s writing is their fidelity to the HEA. They hybridise various forms, historical novel, romance, gothic novel, mystery, murder or otherwise, social novel, they mash it up and produce novels that never fail to end up among my year’s favourites. Like their closest predecessor, Mary Stewart, they write in the first person (which used to be a romance-rarity but not so these days), creating a young, female protagonist who moves from innocence to experience during the narrative’s course. All this can well describe Beatriz Williams’s The Summer Wives, a novel that had me in its thrall over two days, waking up at dawn today to finish it. Initially, the novel impressed me as convoluted, with a plethora of characters and three historical narrative strands, but the voice of its central character and first-person narrator, Miranda née Schuyler Thomas, offered an Ariadne ball as I made my way through Williams’s labyrinth of love, hate, revenge, and betrayal. Underlying it was the susurration of Shakespeare’s Tempest, not only thanks to the eponymous heroine, but an island with native and visiting denizens, the sea’s ever-present beauty and danger, and a mystical, outside-of-time atmosphere. I would read it, stopping for a cup of tea and a biscuit, and whisper to myself, “Full fathom five thy father lies … ”   Continue reading

REVIEW: Deanna Raybourn’s A TREACHEROUS CURSE

Treacherous_CurseDeanna Raybourn’s third Veronica Speedwell, Victorian-set mystery finds her prickly, sleuthing pair, Veronica and Stoker, where they’ve settled since book one’s conclusion: in Bishop’s Folly, setting up the Earl of Rosemorran’s museum from his vast, eclectic, esoteric collection. In A Treacherous Curse, their museological endeavours are interrupted by a mystery that tickles their adventurous spirits and curiosity, challenging and deepening their relationship. Unlike my other favourite historical mystery series, C. S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr, it is interesting to note how Raybourn’s sleuthing protagonists are not endowed with a strong sense of justice. They’re driven by a crossword-puzzle-doer’s instincts, the need to solve the quandary, or as Veronica quips, “To investigate one murder is a curiosity. To investigate two is a habit.” This is not by way of criticism. It isn’t fair to compare persimmons with pineapples, but I do like to muse on authors’ world-building and thematic choices. What gives Raybourn’s series moral impetus, at least in these initial volumes, is the revelation of our main characters’ pasts. (In A Treacherous Curse‘s case, Stoker’s is under scrutiny.) Maybe this will change in future volumes? What else informs Raybourn’s series’ moral impetus is the fierce protectiveness and loyalty that Veronica and Stoker (aka Templeton-Vane) hold for each other. There’s romance dearth for romance readers, but enough of a spark to keep me reading, for this and sundry reasons. (I am delighted that Veronica ogles Stoker’s Laocoönian body, while he exhibits near-prudish bashfulness. So much fun in those scenes!) Continue reading

REVIEW: Lauren Willig’s THE ENGLISH WIFE

English_WifeA groggy, caffeine-heavy morning for me after a night reading into the wee hours, thanks to Lauren Willig’s Gothic romance, historical mystery The English Wife. The novel opens in January 1899 in Cold Spring NY, at “Illyria,” Bay and Annabelle Van Duyvil’s country estate. Bay and Annabelle’s hermetic existence has thus far been the bane of Bay’s appearances-are-all mother, Alva. Formidable, humorless Alva is ever flanked by Janie, her mousy, silent daughter and Anne, the mouthy, flamboyant niece she took in. To Alva’s great society-loving heart, Bay and Annabelle are finally celebrating the opening of their magnificent estate by holding a costume ball for New York’s best, brightest, and finest. Until now, Bay and Annabelle’s life has been a mystery. Rumours of eccentricities and infidelities swirl around them, about them … maybe because they keep to themselves and, at least on the surface, appear to live an idyllic existence with twins Sebastian and Viola. Bay and Annabelle don’t seem to give a fig about what the “best people” think, rendering them endlessly fascinating to the society pages and ensuring Alva Van Duyvil’s frustrated, officious meddling. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Jennifer Ashley’s DEATH BELOW STAIRS

Death_Below_StairsI’m a fan of the kind of book Ashley’s written: historical setting, central mystery, a romance to follow from book to book. I LOVES’EM! My favourites are C. S. Harris’s Sebastien St. Cyr historical mysteries and Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell. 2018 is turning out to be a global crapfest in so many ways, but it’s good for having two additions to these series to look forward to. Add the time travel historical-mystery-romance of a Susanna Kearsley and life doesn’t get better. So, you’d rightly say, dear reader, where does Ashley’s fall in your category of reading bliss? Argh, must I add another series to the ones I already follow? It appears I must. Ashley’s premise captured me (and not only because I was a sucker for Downton Abbey). Her cast of characters stays pretty much below stairs, except for one compelling example and a hero who seems to be a class-chameleon.

In 1881 London, Mrs. Kat Holloway arrives at her new position as cook in Lord Rankin’s household, which includes wife Lady Emily, and sister-in-law Lady Cynthia. Kat acquaints herself with the downstairs staff: butler Davis; housekeeper, Mrs. Bowen; and recruits kitchen-maid Sinead as cook’s assistant. Before she knows it, handyman Daniel McAdam shows up too, as a house-staff member. It is immediately obvious that Kat and Daniel have a history, a flirty, attracted manner to him and a “get away, you pest, come hither, big-boy” to hers. Continue reading