Review: Of Spice and Men by Sarah Fox + Giveaway

Review: Of Spice and Men by Sarah Fox + GiveawayOf Spice and Men by Sarah Fox
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Pancake House #3
Pages: 256
Published by Random House Publishing Group on November 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Lights. Camera. Murder? Wildwood Cove’s star turn is soured by a sneaky killer in this delicious cozy mystery from the USA Today bestselling author of The Crêpes of Wrath.

Bonus content: includes original recipes inspired by the Flip Side Pancake House menu!

With a Hollywood film crew in town to shoot a remake of the horror classic The Perishing, the residents of Wildwood Cove are all abuzz. Even Marley McKinney, owner of The Flip Side Pancake House, can overlook the fact that the lead actress, Alyssa Jayde, happens to be an old flame of her boyfriend. After all, the crew loves Marley’s crêpes—so much so that Christine, the head makeup artist, invites her onset for a behind-the-scenes tour. But when Marley arrives, the special-effects trailer is on fire . . . with Christine inside.

The cops quickly rule Christine’s death a murder, and Alyssa a suspect. Marley’s boyfriend insists that the actress is innocent, but when Marley sticks her nose into the complicated lives of The Perishing’s cast and crew, she discovers more questions than answers. It seems that everyone has a hidden agenda—and a plausible motive. And as the horror spills over from the silver screen, Marley gets a funny feeling that she may be the killer’s next victim.

Sarah Fox’s addictive Pancake House Mysteries can be enjoyed together or à la carte: THE CRÊPES OF WRATH | FOR WHOM THE BREAD ROLLS | OF SPICE AND MEN

My Review:

One of the things that makes cozy mysteries so cozy is that they are often set in small towns where there are lots of quirky and interesting characters and everyone knows everyone else’s business. One of the dilemmas of cozy mystery series set in small towns is that sooner or later the reader starts to wonder why anyone would continue to live in place where the odds of becoming either a murder victim or a murder suspect are so disproportionately high.

Could there be any remaining residents in Midsomer County who have not been involved in murder at some point? Or Cabot Cove?

In Of Spice and Men, the third book in the Pancake House mystery series, the author has solved the problem by bringing a film crew to the tiny town of Wildwood Cove. This is the kind of thing that really does happen, and lives in the town’s memories for decades after.

(If you are ever in tiny Micanopy, Florida they still have plenty of memorabilia from the local filming of the 1991 film Doc Hollywood on display)

The movie being filmed in Wildwood Cove is the remake of the cult horror classic The Perishing (apropos title, all things considered!), and the little coastal town has plenty of Victorian houses to use as stand-ins for the creep-o-rama. The film shoot is a lot of excitement for Wildwood Cove, but things get a bit too exciting when our amateur sleuth, Marley McKinney, finds the first victim in a burning trailer on set.

Marley tried to rescue the woman, but she was already dead when Marley found her. And even though Marley couldn’t have saved her, she still feels guilty that she didn’t. That’s enough to get Marley started on the case, even though, as usual, the sheriff would rather she resisted her impulse to conduct yet another amateur investigation.

When Marley discovers that the heroine of the movie is her boyfriend’s ex, that said ex is the prime suspect in the murder, that she expects Brett to “take care of things” with his uncle the sheriff, and that, most unnerving of all, Brett seems to be going along with her demands, Marley sees red. And green. Particularly as Brett keeps defending the woman, refusing to admit that she had both opportunity and motive.

After a lot of soul searching, Marley decides that solving the murder is the fastest way to get Allison Jayde out of her life – whether by landing her in jail for good or absolving her so that she doesn’t need Brett’s help. And who can blame her?

But the deeper that Marley digs, the more complicated the case gets. There are too many people who might have had a motive to kill the victim, and even more people who had a motive to pin it on the selfish and shallow Allison Jayde.

As Marley frequently complains, she has way more questions than she has answers. Right up to the moment she finds herself face-to-face with the murderer, and suddenly it all makes sense.

Unfortunately for Marley, it also makes sense for the murderer to make sure that she can’t reveal what she’s figured out to anyone else. Ever.

Escape Rating B: In the end, that I am still following this series boils down to the fact that I like Marley as the main character. Not just that she’s both plucky and nosy, but also the way that she has taken on the changes in her life and made a new life for herself in a new place with new (and interesting) people.

It takes as much courage in real life to immerse yourself in new surroundings with new people and especially take on the ownership of a business as it fictionally does to poke her nose into murder.

I like just how grounded Marley is, and how responsible she is. She genuinely does care about her town, her friends and her business – and occasionally that caring gets her into trouble.

It is interesting that all of the crimes she has poked her nose into, at least so far, have touched on her life directly in one way or another. Her first time out she was investigating the death of the cousin who left her the Flip Side Pancake House (The Crepes of Wrath). In her second “case” she investigated the death of a local misanthrope because Marley herself was the prime suspect (For Whom the Bread Rolls). Now in her third “case” she’s looking into the murder in order to get her boyfriend’s ex out of town as fast as possible.

No one’s circle of acquaintances in real life is quite this murder-prone, but it does make for quirky mysteries.

The case that Marley is stuck in this time has a lot of twists and turns. And this time out the victims, suspects and witnesses are all outsiders, so Marley has a difficult time finding out who wants to do what to whom. There’s plenty of drama (and melodrama) both onscreen and off, and Marley has her hands full sorting out what is real and what is make believe.

But she’s likeable and always fun to watch. Enough so that I’m looking forward to her next adventure.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Review: The Ninja’s Illusion by Gigi Pandian + Giveaway

Review: The Ninja’s Illusion by Gigi Pandian + GiveawayThe Ninja's Illusion (Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery, #5) by Gigi Pandian
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery
Series: Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt #5
Pages: 288
Published by Henery Press on October 3rd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A fabled illusion performed by a stage magician who claims to possess real supernatural powers. A treasure from the colonial era in India when international supremacies vied for power. A phantom trading ship lost over 200 years ago. And a ninja whose murderous intentions in present-day Japan connect the deeds of a long-dead trader who was much more than he seemed…

When Jaya travels from San Francisco to Japan with her stage magician best friend Sanjay—a.k.a. The Hindi Houdini—for his Japanese debut, she jumps at the chance to pursue her own research that could solve a tantalizing centuries-old mystery.

With the colorful autumn leaves of historic Kyoto falling around her, Jaya soon loses sight of what’s real and what’s a deception. A mysterious ninja attempts sabotage on Sanjay’s trick, along with Japan’s most controversial magician, Akira. Ancient folklore blurs the lines between illusion and reality when a magician’s assistant appears to be a kitsune, a mythical fox spirit. As tricks escalate to murder, Jaya and her friends must unravel secrets hidden in the ancient capital of Japan, before one of their own becomes the next victim.

My Review:

The Ninja’s Illusion is a lovely piece of misdirection and stage management, much like the trick that Jaya Jones’ best friend Sanjay, the “Hindu Houdini”, performs onstage as part of his magic act.

And it’s great fun to read.

This is a cozy mystery, and much of the fun, and the mystery, revolves around Jaya and her group of friends. Her best friend Sanjay has come to Japan to work with an ultra-famous Japanese magician on a trick that is famous for its impossibility – the Indian Rope Trick. But someone is stalking both Sanjay and Akira, so there is clearly much more going on than meets the eye.

Jaya, a respected historian and increasingly well-known treasure hunter, comes to Japan to support Sanjay. And to assist a Japanese historian who has unearthed a historical mystery that relates to Jaya’s area of expertise, the history of the Dutch East India Company.

But when Sanjay’s mentor is killed in a brutal attack, Jaya’s historical research takes a definite back seat to the need to figure out who killed Akira, and why. Because if it’s all about the secret of his marquee trick, then Sanjay may be next on the killer’s list. But if the trick isn’t the motive, then what is?

When Jaya finds that her original historical research leads right back to Akira and the trick that can’t be done, she has a difficult time separating the threads of her research from the increasingly desperate attempts to find something that Akira left hidden.

If all the clues from both puzzles point to the same mystery, then what is the real mystery after all? And can Jaya and her friends figure out the solution before it’s too late?

Escape Rating B+: The Ninja’s Illusion is the fifth book in the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt series, and I had a great time with it. I have not read the previous books in the series, which begins in Artifact, and there were references to events from previous books that flew a bit past me, but I still had a terrific time with this one. Enough of a terrific time that I went back and bought the first four. I can’t wait to see how we get to this point, and the ways in which Jaya’s friendships with the other characters have developed over the series.

One of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much is that it feels like a bit of an homage to the late Elizabeth Peters’ Vicky Bliss series. While Vicky Bliss was a librarian rather than a historian, she also spent much of her madcap career hunting for mysterious historical artifacts and treasures, and was surrounded by a very similar cast of “irregulars” including an elderly mentor (Sebastien in Jaya’s life, Herr Professor Anton Z. Schmidt in Vicky’s) and an on-again, off-again lover who is as much thief as he is adventurer (Lane Peters for Jaya and John Smythe for Vicky) as well as a supporting cast of friends and fellow researchers. While there are plenty of differences, the feeling of Nancy Drew jumping out of the frying pan into the fire and falling in love with someone completely impossible feels very familiar. And as Elizabeth Peters is sadly no longer with us to continue the Vicky Bliss series, it is very, very nice indeed to have a read-alike that looks like it has the legs to keep going.

The historical piece of the puzzle also reminds me of the historical setting of the Shinobi Mysteries by Susan Spann. So if the historical parts of this puzzle sound as fascinating to you as they did to me, take a look at Claws of the Cat, the first book in Spann’s series. That one of Akira and Sanjay’s stalkers in The Ninja’s Illusion is costumed as a shinobi, or ninja, makes the link between the two just that much closer.

Magic is at the heart of this story. Not magic like in Harry Potter, but magic like in stage magic. David Copperfield. The hand is quicker than the eye. Illusions, misdirection, smoke and mirrors. Jaya spends most of the case distracted. Some of her distraction is internal, she’s trying to resolve a sudden confusion in her relationships with and between Sanjay and Lane. So she’s not thinking on all cylinders, and she’s away from home and missing her usual resources, like her librarian best friend Tamarind Ortega, who definitely reads like “one of us”, librarians, that is.

Jaya is also distracted by the endless distractions offered by what begins as two cases, Akira and Sanjay’s stalker, and her historical research into a Dutch East India Company ship of the 1790s that managed to lose itself in history by flying a false flag. Things continue along the paths of confusion for quite a long time, as just because the two cases are coming together it does not mean that there is a single perpetrator, or even a single motive, for all events.

This case is like the old story of the blind men and elephant. Each person seems to be grasping a different part, and drawing different and equally erroneous conclusions about the nature of the elephant and the case.

So if you like madcap adventures with likable characters and multiple mysteries to solve, The Ninja’s Illusion will provide not a very good time, and that’s no illusion.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Review: The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd + Giveaway

Review: The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd + GiveawayThe Shattered Tree (Bess Crawford, #8) by Charles Todd
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Bess Crawford #8
Pages: 304
Published by William Morrow on August 30th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

World War I battlefield nurse Bess Crawford goes to dangerous lengths to investigate a wounded soldier’s background—and uncover his true loyalties—in this thrilling and atmospheric entry in the bestselling “vivid period mystery series” (New York Times Book Review).
At the foot of a tree shattered by shelling and gunfire, stretcher-bearers find an exhausted officer, shivering with cold and a loss of blood from several wounds. The soldier is brought to battlefield nurse Bess Crawford’s aid station, where she stabilizes him and treats his injuries before he is sent to a rear hospital. The odd thing is, the officer isn't British--he's French. But in a moment of anger and stress, he shouts at Bess in German.
When Bess reports the incident to Matron, her superior offers a ready explanation. The soldier is from Alsace-Lorraine, a province in the west where the tenuous border between France and Germany has continually shifted through history, most recently in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, won by the Germans. But is the wounded man Alsatian? And if he is, on which side of the war do his sympathies really lie?
Of course, Matron could be right, but Bess remains uneasy—and unconvinced. If he were a French soldier, what was he doing so far from his own lines . . . and so close to where the Germans are putting up a fierce, last-ditch fight?
When the French officer disappears in Paris, it’s up to Bess—a soldier’s daughter as well as a nurse—to find out why, even at the risk of her own life.

My Review:

The red herrings are much tastier, and much more substantial, than any of the meals described in this tale of Paris nearing the end of World War I. Rationing seems to have made all the food unpalatable, even if it is still served with as much French flair as ever.

Although the meals are often described with unloving detail, they are far from the point of this story.

Bess usually finds herself investigating murder in the midst of warfare – a time and place where it can be difficult to distinguish between one and the other. But this does not start out as a murder investigation, and it takes some surprising, and frequently twisted turns to get from the one to the other.

It’s the early fall of 1918, and it is beginning to look like the end of the war is at hand. Unfortunately, one of the ways that the end is being signified is for all of the forces, Allied and Central Powers alike, is to shoot off as much of their remaining ordinance as fast as possible. This war seems to be going out in a long and protracted series of very big bangs.

As a nursing Sister, Bess and her colleagues are busier than ever. Exhaustion dogs their every step. So when Bess spots a soldier who might be out of place, everyone above her in the chain of command is frankly just too damn tired to do anything about it. Until Bess unexpectedly finds herself with several days of medical leave in Paris.

That out-of-place soldier is a wounded Lieutenant in the remains of a French uniform that seems to have had all of its identification removed. While it is not completely unknown for a lost Allied soldier to find himself behind a different ally’s lines, there is one other notable thing about the man who calls himself Lieutenant Philippe Moreau. While unconscious, he speaks fluent and unaccented German. Is Moreau a German spy, or is he merely from the contested Alsace-Lorraine region, where residents were forced to use German since the end of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870?

When Moreau disappears into seemingly thin air, Bess’ instincts are aroused. Whatever Moreau is, he seems to be taking great pains to hide himself from his commanders.

Bess, wounded in a sniper attack, is sent to Paris to recuperate. She’s not wounded enough for a ticket back home, but the wound in her side becomes infected. She needs surgery and rest for healing. She’ll get neither in a forward aid station.

Bess, as usual, finds herself in the middle of multiple unfolding dramas while she is supposed to be resting in Paris. It is lucky for Bess that the mantra of “a change is as good as a rest” proves true, because rest seems to be the one thing she doesn’t get.

Under orders from her father, the Colonel Sahib, Bess has multiple officers, whether convalescent or not, instructed to keep her safe and out of trouble. Instead, Bess co-opts one after another in her search for the truth about Philippe Moreau. Only to find that nothing she has heard is true, and that there is murder at the heart of it all.

Escape Rating B+: I always enjoy a visit with Bess and her world. World War I is an endlessly fascinating period for historical fiction and historical mysteries. Bess’ perspective on her world is different for her time and place without being anachronistic. Being a nurse gave Bess much more agency and a considerably more active role in her world than she would normally have had. At the same time, she faces just enough restrictions because of her gender and class to remind us that her world was still very different from ours.

Unlike many of her previous books, in this story Bess finds herself somewhat at sea. She is a patient in the convalescent home rather than staff, and people look in on her, and attempt to look after her, much more than is usual (or comfortable) for her. Nurses clearly don’t make any better patients than doctors do.

At the same time, she is cut off from most of her usual resources. She is in France, and although she does speak the language tolerably well, she does not speak like a native and can’t hide in plain sight the way she does in England. Likewise, the powerful forces that she is able to bring to bear in England or even in her British Army nursing station are not available to her here. Here mother’s network of social contacts, and her father’s tremendous pull within the British Army are of no help to her on French soil.

She has no one she can trust the way that she does Simon Brandon, her father’s aide-de-camp and her own friend. Bess trusts Simon both in the sense that he will not betray her confidences and also in the sense that he knows her well enough not to stand in her way, and most importantly not to treat her like a delicate flower in need of his solicitous protection. Whatever Simon is or will be to Bess (and I do wonder) he knows her, likes her and respects her just as she is. A rare commodity for a woman who often steps out of what is defined as her sphere.

Bess begins by looking for a man who may be a spy, or possibly a deserter. She uncovers, as she so often does, a hidden cesspool that leads to an old murder. But as Bess is so often completely at sea during this case, the readers are a bit as well. The less she understands, and the more difficult a time she has putting things together, so do we.

But as her war draws towards its close, I can’t help but wonder what comes next for Bess. Wherever she goes and whatever she does, I can’t wait to read what happens next!

THE-SHATTERED-TREE-large-banner448

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Review: The Crepes of Wrath by Sarah Fox

Review: The Crepes of Wrath by Sarah FoxThe Crêpes of Wrath (A Pancake House Mystery #1) by Sarah Fox
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley, Random House Chatterbox
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Pancake House #1
Pages: 240
Published by Alibi on August 16th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

In the debut of a delightful cozy mystery series, Sarah Fox introduces a charming new heroine who finds herself in a sticky situation: stacking pancakes, pouring coffee, and investigating murder.
When Marley McKinney’s aging cousin, Jimmy, is hospitalized with pneumonia, she agrees to help run his pancake house while he recovers. With its rustic interior and syrupy scent, the Flip Side Pancake House is just as she pictured it—and the surly chef is a wizard with crêpes. Marley expects to spend a leisurely week or two in Wildwood Cove, the quaint, coastal community where she used to spend her summers, but then Cousin Jimmy is found murdered, sprawled on the rocks beneath a nearby cliff.
After she stumbles across evidence of stolen goods in Jimmy’s workshop, Marley is determined to find out what’s really going on in the not-so-quiet town of Wildwood Cove. With help from her childhood crush and her adopted cat, Flapjack, Marley sinks her teeth into the investigation. But if she’s not careful, she’s going to get burned by a killer who’s only interested in serving up trouble.

My Review:

This is a very cute start to a new cozy mystery series. On the one hand, it’s a bit light and fluffy, sort of like the pancakes at The Flip Side Pancake House. On that other hand, the red herrings are savory enough to be served at one of the dinner options in beautiful Wildwood Cove.

The story starts out a bit in the middle, but in a good way. As events begin, Marley McKinney is taking a vacation from her job in Seattle by covering for her cousin Jimmy at his pancake place while Jimmy is recovering from pneumonia in the hospital. We don’t need to see Jimmy get sick or Marley go through her decision process about helping Jimmy out. By the time we meet Marley, she is starting to think about what she’ll do when Jimmy gets out of the hospital and back on his feet. And we see that the residents of Wildwood Cove and the regulars at The Flip Side have taken her into their hearts.

Jimmy is more her mother’s cousin than hers, and Marley has very, very fond memories of visiting Jimmy and his late wife, Grace, when Marley was young. After Grace’s death, the visits tapered off, but Marley and her mother still kept in touch with Jimmy. He was one of the few relatives they have left – and he seems to have been a really nice guy.

Past tense. Because the mystery that Marley takes it upon herself to solve is the mystery of who killed Jimmy, a man that nearly everyone in the small community seems to have loved. Jimmy’s death is tied into a second mystery – who stashed stolen goods in Jimmy’s generally unused shed?

As Marley pokes her nose into places it really doesn’t belong, we get to know the good people (and the bad people) of Wildwood Cove. While Marley spent her childhood summers here, the world has moved on and there are lots of new people in this little coastal town. Some of whom are lovely, and some of whom are, as the old saying goes, “no better than they ought to be” but in different ways.

Marley is left trying to pick through the pieces of what Jimmy left behind, and what Jimmy might have been into that could have caused his death. When the news gets out that Marley inherits both the house and the restaurant, the buzzards start circling. Some want the house, some want the business, and some just want to take back anything incriminating that might be left in Jimmy’s house.

It’s up to Marley to help the police figure out which of the many frightening events, home invasions and business break-ins have to do with Jimmy’s death and which are just their own separate nastiness.

All the while trying to figure out what her own future should be. Should she keep the home and business she has come to love – even though she knows nothing about running a restaurant and has a life back in Seattle? Or should she go back to the city, knowing that she is leaving her heart behind/

And will she have to die before she gets everything figured out?

Escape Rating B+: I think this may be one of those series where if you fall in love with the people and the place, it just works. Wildwood Cove feels like a nice place to visit, and I wouldn’t mind living there. But like every small town, at least in fiction, not every person is a gem and not everyone is someone you would want as your neighbor.

Marley is an interesting heroine because her life is completely in flux. The longer she stays at Jimmy’s and runs The Flip Side for him the more she sees how hollow and lonely her life is in Seattle. She has few connections back in the city that she misses or that miss her, while in Wildwood Cove nearly everyone has become connected to her, through the pancake house if not in other ways. She’ll be missed when she goes back to the city.

Jimmy’s death changes her life. Not just because she feels compelled to investigate that death, but because Jimmy leaves her his house, his restaurant, and most of his rather significant accumulated savings. He knew that Wildwood Cove was where her heart belonged, and he gave her enough resources to make that very nebulous dream come true. She feels both incredibly grateful and terribly guilty. She always cared, but didn’t see nearly as much of him as she feels she should have. Especially now that he is gone.

Those childhood summers were clearly the highlight of her life. It feels like the icing on a very yummy cake when her childhood crush turns up at her door, all grown up and much, much handsomer than she imagined he could grow up to be. And he’s a big part of her dilemma. She wants the chance to explore what they might have as adults, but giving up her life in Seattle for a whole lot of uncertainties is a big step that she quite reasonably isn’t ready to take, especially in the midst of all the upheaval.

Again, on my other hand, the sheer number and depth of the tragedies that Marley experienced in her past felt a bit like “piling on”. They felt over-the-top and they didn’t seem to be a big part of the baggage she was carrying, at least for the depth of the tragedies. But it may be a building block for the next book. We’ll see.

And then there’s the mystery. Or rather, mysteries. Jimmy was murdered. There has been a rash of home invasion robberies up and down the coast, and some of the stolen goods were stashed in Jimmy’s shed. Someone breaks into The Flip Side after hours, and there are multiple break-ins at Jimmy’s house. Some of this rash of crimes is probably connected, but which parts?

Although Jimmy was almost universally liked, there’s a difference between almost and universally. His neighbor wanted to drive him out of his house, so he can bulldoze it and turn it into another post-modern monstrosity. Jimmy’s supposed ex-ladyfriend wants to strip the house of all of Jimmy’s valuables that aren’t nailed down. And someone is trying to run Marley off the road, out of business and out of town.

Figuring out which crimes are connected and which are coincidental keeps the reader, and Marley, guessing until the very end. And that’s a great thing for a mystery. I am very, very curious to see how Marley and this series get on in book 2, For Whom the Bread Rolls.

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Review: The Bluebonnet Betrayal by Marty Wingate

Review: The Bluebonnet Betrayal by Marty WingateThe Bluebonnet Betraya (Potting Shed Mystery, #5) by Marty Wingate
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Potting Shed #5
Pages: 294
Published by Alibi on August 2nd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Bestselling author Marty Wingate “plants clever clues with a dash of romantic spice,” raves Mary Daheim. Now Wingate’s inimitable gardening heroine, Pru Parke, is importing a precious bloom from Texas—and she won’t let a vicious murder stop her.   Pru’s life in England is coming full circle. A Texas transplant, she’s married to the love of her life, thriving in the plum gardening position she shares with her long-lost brother, and prepping a Chelsea Flower Show exhibit featuring the beloved bluebonnets of the Texas hill country. Technically, Twyla Woodford, the president of a gardening club in the Lone Star State, is in charge of the London event, but Pru seems to be the one getting her hands dirty. When they finally do meet, Pru senses a kindred spirit—until Twyla turns up dead.   Although Twyla’s body was half buried under a wall in their display, Pru remains determined to mount a spectacular show. Twyla would have insisted. So Pru recruits her husband, former Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Pearse, to go undercover and do a bit of unofficial digging into Twyla’s final hours. If Pru has anything to say about it, this killer is going to learn the hard way not to mess with Texas.

My Review:

Another garden, another dead body. In real life, I think that people would be just a bit afraid to hire Pru Parke. She’s an excellent gardener with a top-notch reputation in her field, but wherever she plants her spade, a corpse pops up.

No Man's land at Chelsea Flower Show 2014 By muffinn - https://www.flickr.com/photos/mwf2005/14281586381/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33304732
No Man’s land at Chelsea Flower Show 2014 By muffinn

In this fifth outing in the Potting Shed series, Pru is planting her spade in the illustrious and internationally renowned Chelsea Flower Show. It’s the kind of opportunity that no gardener could possibly refuse, even if it’s only for a few days until the real crew arrives in London. A crew coming from Pru’s former home state of Texas.

That’s Pru’s connection to the group. Someone in the Austin Rocks Garden Society (ARGS!) remembers Pru from her days in Texas, and asks her to keep an eye on their Chelsea entry until their über-organized garden club president arrives on the scene. Only to promptly get murdered in the middle of the barely-started display.

Pru finds herself and puts herself in the thick of things yet again. With their fearless leader out of the picture, the somewhat shattered ARGS members turn to Pru to keep their disaster-prone entry on track. And Pru, as usual, can’t resist attempting to solve the murder. In spite of a whole lot of stonewalling by the police Inspector who takes the case. He’s one of Pru’s husband Christopher’s former sergeants, and the position he has is Christopher’s former job. He feels the need to prove himself at any cost, including ignoring the sage advice of both his former boss and that boss’s intrepid new spouse.

So Pru sticks her nose into the investigation in spite of being warned off at every turn. And Christopher goes undercover among the garden assistants, partly to help Pru investigate, but mostly to keep that investigation from putting Pru into deadly danger, as her investigations usually do.

But Pru rushes in where angels and sensible people would rightly fear to tread. As usual. And the killer very nearly catches her.

Escape Rating B+: This series is always a real treat for both cozy mystery fans and gardening mystery fans. For anyone who is a fan of Susan Wittig Albert’s China Bayles series, the frequent references to Pru’s gardening past in Texas should make those readers feel right at home.

And for those who are new to this series, unlike most cozies this is not a series where the cast of players continues from one book to the next. Except for Christopher, almost everyone in this book is new to Pru Parke and her world. Pru is always going from one garden to another, and has new assistants and new plants to work with in every book, as well as new murders to solve.

Every trick in the rook by marty wingatePart of the fun in this particular entry is the peek behind the scenes at the famous Chelsea Flower Show. I saw a bit of it once on a trip to London, and it is a sight not to be missed if one is there at the right time. It is the ultimate flower festival, and even for someone with a black thumb (like me) the displays are beyond beautiful.

One of the other things that makes this particular mystery interesting is the scientific aspect both to the display that is being created and to the crime. There are some thought-provoking points made about the use and purposes of scientific advancement in agriculture and ecology. The questions about whether the ends justify the particular means linger after the mystery is solved.

The Potting Shed is a terrific series and I sincerely hope there will be more to come. In the meantime, the author’s other cozy series, Birds of a Feather, will be continuing with Every Trick in the Rook in January.

Great Escapes

Review: For Dead Men Only by Paula Paul

Review: For Dead Men Only by Paula PaulFor Dead Men Only by Paula Paul
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, historical mystery
Series: Dr. Alexandra Gladstone #5
Pages: 202
Published by Alibi on April 12th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Hailed as “an intriguing mixture of mystery, romance, and history” by Lois Duncan, the Alexandra Gladstone series from award-winning author Paula Paul continues as an ominous horseman heralds the emergence of a secret society, hidden riches—and a string of chilling murders.   The Temple of the Ninth Daughter sits on a hill at the edge of Newton-upon-Sea, an aura of mystery lingering over its tall, gray silhouette. Villagers whisper about the treasure housed inside, protected by local Freemasons who are bound by clandestine oaths.   Dr. Alexandra Gladstone has no time for such nonsense. Between the patients in her surgery and the rounds she makes with her faithful dog, Zack, her days are busy enough. But Alexandra has no logical explanation when the Freemasons start dying, one by one, with no sign of foul play other than smears of blood on their Masonic aprons. And what to make of reports that a Knight Templar rides through the village before each passing?   After the constable disappears in the midst of the crisis, Alexandra reaches out to her dashing, diligent friend, Nicholas Forsythe, Lord Dunsford, for assistance. Is someone after the treasure, or might a more sinister game be afoot? In order to solve this puzzle, Alexandra must somehow catch a killer who shows no remorse—and leaves no witnesses.

My Review:

The title is a clue, but one that won’t make sense to most readers, including this one, until after the murderer is caught.

In the tiny village of Newton-upon-Sea, it is the late 1800s, and the local doctor is a woman. She can’t be licensed to practice because of her sex, but, it’s a tiny and remote village and Dr. Alexandra Gladstone is all they have. That she is both the daughter and the apprentice of their previous doctor is the only thing that makes her remotely acceptable to some of her patients, even after several years of successful practice.

Alexa is lucky that no other doctor, no male doctor, seems to want to start a practice in her little village.

But Alexa doesn’t just practice medicine. When murder comes to her village, she also engages in a spot of private detecting. She’s not exactly trained at it, but a logical and intelligent mind will get a person fairly far at figuring out who done it, especially in a place where one knows most if not all of the possible perpetrators and their victims.

However, in this case, it seems like Alexa is surprised up until the very end. Breaking one’s leg, and setting it oneself, in the middle of a case will do that to even the most stalwart person.

It all begins when first one man, then a second is found dead in the local Freemason Lodge. Both men were members, and both were discovered in suspiciously similar circumstances. Posed in the exact same place and position in their Lodge, Neither body seemed to have any wounds, but both were dressed in their ceremonial aprons and both aprons had blood on them.

And both of the victims were relatively young. Certainly not nearly old enough to both suffer from heart attacks. But the local police constable dismisses any suspicion of murder and refuses to investigate. Then he decamps suddenly for parts unknown. Rumors begin to swirl – either he fears becoming the next victim, or he is the perpetrator.

The case becomes even more convoluted when rumors of an old Templar treasure buried under the Masonic Lodge resurface. And when what appears to be the ghost of a Templar is spotted riding around the village.

Events are already at a fever pitch when a young woman confesses to Alexa that she believes her father is responsible for the crimes. Her reasoning seems hysterical but plausible, until her father turns up dead in the next village. Whether he was responsible for the first crimes, or for his own death, he cannot be responsible for what comes after.

Just as Alexa begins to zero in on the killer, her own household comes under attack. Either she is closing in on the truth, or someone is afraid that she is. When she nearly becomes a victim herself, Alexa finally figures out what is really going on in Newton-upon-Sea.

medium dead by paula paulEscape Rating B+: With its references to local myths and legends, ghosts of Templar horsemen, Masonic secret rituals and old-line family ties, For Dead Men Only has even more of a Gothic feel to it than the previous entry in the series, Medium Dead.

But just as with the earlier book, the real story here is firmly rooted in Newton-upon-Sea’s here and now. All the Gothic folderol is just a way for the murderer to cover up their series of crimes. And it works on both the protagonists and the reader quite well.

Just as in Medium Dead, the story rests on Dr. Alexandra Gladstone and her assorted household, with some able assistance from Lord Dunsford, who is both a practiced barrister and the local squire. He’s also sweet on Alexa, to the consternation and growling resentment of her faithful (and large) Newfoundland dog, Zack.

Zack correctly believes that Nicholas Forsythe, Lord Dunsford, is a rival for his mistress’s affections. He only declares a temporary truce when Nicholas is needed to rescue Alexa from her latest misadventure.

Although this is book five in the series, I believe that a reader could start the series here and find everything that they need to know about the personalities and positions of Alexa’s little band of irregulars contained within this story. Personally, I have only read books 4 and 5, and even though I’m terribly curious about previous events, it wasn’t necessary to have read the earlier books to enjoy the later ones.

The story, just like Alexa herself, is very much involved in the small doings of the community. Her practice provides her both with the opportunity to hear everything that is going on, and a whole lot of distractions when she reaches the point where she has to put all the clues together.

Alexa is all too often distracted or stymied by official prohibitions against a woman doctor, or even a woman professional. And she is equally condemned by unofficial but perhaps more dangerous social opprobrium against a woman who sees and does things that such “delicate creatures” are never supposed to engage in.

The author does an excellent job of making Alexa just enough of a woman of her time to experience the slings and arrows levied at her because of her sex, while at the same time making her modern enough for contemporary readers to identify with.

Readers who enjoy the slightly later adventures of Maisie Dobbs, Bess Crawford and/or Mary Russell will find a kindred spirit in Dr. Alexandra Gladstone.

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Review: The Skeleton Garden by Marty Wingate

Review: The Skeleton Garden by Marty WingateThe Skeleton Garden (Potting Shed Mystery #4) by Marty Wingate
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley, Random House Chatterbox
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Potting Shed #4
Pages: 233
Published by Alibi on March 15th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

USA Today bestselling author Marty Wingate’s Potting Shed series continues as expert gardener Pru Parke digs up a Nazi warplane—and a fresh murder.
Texas transplant Pru Parke has put down roots in England, but she never dreamed she’d live in a grand place such as Greenoak. When her former employers offer Pru and her new husband, former Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Pearse, the use of their nineteenth-century estate while they’re away for a year, she jumps at the chance. Sweetening the deal is the prospect of further bonding with her long-lost brother, Simon, who happens to be Greenoak’s head gardener. But the majestic manor has at least one skeleton in its closet—or, rather, its garden.
Working on renovations to the extensive grounds, siblings Pru and Simon squabble about everything from boxwood to bay hedges. But when the removal of a half-dead tree turns up the wreckage of a World War II–era German fighter plane and a pile of bones, the arguments stop. That is, until a rival from Simon’s past pays a surprise visit and creates even more upheaval. It’s suddenly clear someone is unhappy their secrets have been unearthed. Still, Pru’s not about to sit back and let Simon take the fall for the dirty deed without a fight.

My Review:

garden plot by marty wingateThe Potting Shed series has been fun from its beginning in The Garden Plot to its latest outing in The Skeleton Garden. And if you enjoy cozy mysteries with a little bit of a twist, or if you are a fan of the Rosemary & Thyme TV series, The Potting Shed is a terrific place to dig up a little gardening and a little murder.

In this book, series’ protagonists have turned a new leaf on their lives. Gardener Pru Parke, transplanted to England from Texas, has come to Greenoak to work with her long-lost brother Simon on the estate’s extensive gardens. Pru’s new husband, Christopher Pearse, has taken a step back from his very stressful job as a Detective Chief Inspector for the London Police and has become a hopefully much less stressed Special Constable near Greenoak.

Pru and Christopher are also house-sitting for friends, so they think they have a year to de-stress, get comfortable and put down roots in the community. Instead, Pru and her brother Simon are constantly at loggerheads, and, as seems to be unfortunately usual, Pru digs up a dead body.

In this case, it’s literal. When she and Simon investigate why one dying tree is not thriving, they discover that the poor thing’s shallow roots are right over, not just a body, but also a crashed World War II German plane. It only takes a little bit of forensics, and some historical archives, to discover that whoever the deceased was, he wasn’t the pilot. There was plenty of newspaper coverage of the pilot’s capture a mile or two from the plane way back when.

What’s difficult is that no one seems to be able to identify the body. But when Pru starts digging into missing persons cases from the war years, she stirs up a whole lot memories, including some that would have been better off remaining buried.

Someone wants that body, or at least its identity, to remain buried, and is willing to go to any lengths to keep it that way. And whoever it is seems to be way too active to be the original perpetrator. As Pru keeps digging, as she can never resist, she discovers that just because a secret is 70+ years old, that doesn’t mean it can’t still be worth killing for.

Escape Rating B+: As with all of The Potting Shed mysteries, this book really hit the spot. And also like the earlier books, I think it would be possible for a reader who was interested in this series to just start here. Pru and Christopher move around so much, and change their circumstances so often, that the things that do carry over from book to book are easily explained within the story.

One of those things is the strained history between Pru and her brother Simon. When Pru first comes to England in The Garden Plot, she has no idea that she has a brother in England. And Simon was told that his parents were dead. When they discover each other, it is a revelation for both of them. Now that Pru is in England for good, she has taken the opportunity presented to work with Simon, so that they can get to know each other.

The secondary plot in The Skeleton Garden is all about Simon and Pru navigating the skeletons in their own closet. They both have a whole wagonload of unresolved resentments at their parents. Simon is angry that Pru got to have them, Pru is angry that they lied about Simon, and Simon is angry that the aunt who raised him also lied to him. And as Simon’s wife puts it so well, since Simon and Pru did not get the chance to negotiate all their sibling rivalry and sibling in-fighting as children, they are going through all those stages now, and all at once.

But their issues with each other also link back to the mystery that they get caught in the middle of. It all goes back to the War. The reasons why Simon’s parents left him behind in England have direct parallels in the case they unravel.

The circumstances of the long-ago murder will be familiar to anyone who watched Foyle’s War. It’s all about the things that went wrong, sometimes criminally wrong, on the homefront while the war was going on. And that includes the problems of rationing and the black market. Also, there’s a parallel between Simon’s story and that of the young woman left behind and pregnant by the young soldier that old corpse used to be.

bluebonnet betrayal by marty wingateOne of the lovely things in this particular story was the way that the past impacts upon the present, both because the war is still much closer to people’s memories in England than is in America, but also because everyone involved, or their descendants, are all still in the area. The past, as they say, isn’t even past.

This isn’t a flashback story, at least not after the opening scene. Instead, it’s all about the impacts. The events of the war are still affecting the lives of the people in the village today. Not just Simon and Pru and their unresolved issues regarding their parents’ actions during and after the war, but every single person and their descendants is still living with, or living out, their actions at that crucial time.

And that’s what made this story so much fun to read.

I’ve just discovered that there will be another book in this series! I am looking forward to seeing just what Pru and Christopher dig up in The Bluebonnet Betrayal this summer.

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Review: Death of an Alchemist by Mary Lawrence + Giveaway

Review: Death of an Alchemist by Mary Lawrence + GiveawayDeath of an Alchemist (Bianca Goddard Mysteries, #2) by Mary Lawrence
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Bianca Goddard #2
Pages: 304
Published by Kensington on January 26th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the mid sixteenth century, Henry VIII sits on the throne, and Bianca Goddard tends to the sick and suffering in London's slums, where disease can take a life as quickly as murder. . .
For years, alchemist Ferris Stannum has devoted himself to developing the Elixir of Life, the reputed serum of immortality. Having tested his remedy successfully on an animal, Stannum intends to send his alchemy journal to a colleague in Cairo for confirmation. Instead he is strangled in his bed and his journal is stolen.
As the daughter of an alchemist herself, Bianca is well acquainted with the mystical healing arts. As her husband, John, falls ill with the sweating sickness, she dares to hope Stannum's journal could contain the secret to his recovery. But first she must solve the alchemist's murder. As she ventures into a world of treachery and deceit, Stannum's death proves to be only the first in a series of murders--and Bianca's quest becomes a matter of life and death, not only for her husband, but for herself. . .

My Review:

Actually, the title should have been “Deaths of Several Alchemists”, but that doesn’t have nearly the same ring to it, does it?

And the story really does center around one particular alchemist’s death, even though the ripples from that death take down one more alchemist, and nearly kill chemiste Bianca Goddard as well. Not to mention a very unlikeable landlady, an alchemist’s daughter (not Bianca, obviously), a ne’er do well husband and a poor unfortunate bird.

Unknotting all the threads of this case while keeping herself alive and out of jail are all in a day’s work for Bianca. What makes the case potentially life-altering is the object that causes all the trouble – a formula for the elixir of life. Too many people want it. And too many people need it. But is it a good idea for anyone to have it?

Bianca’s husband John lies in a coma in their “rent”. Bianca believes that if she can manage to interpret the arcane formula and successfully brew the potion, neither of which is at all certain, she can save John’s life from the deadly “sweating sickness”. A disease that died out long before modern medical science could figure out what it was in the first place.

But she’s not the only one in dire need. So as Bianca races through London trying to secure ingredients and equipment, someone is chasing her and the precious formula. Is her mysterious stalker in search of fame and fortune, or is their need just as dire as Bianca’s?

And why are so many people dying of mysterious, or sometimes not so mysterious, causes in the wake of Bianca’s pursuit? Bianca puzzles over the medical conundrums she discovers even as she desperately searches for everything she needs to brew the potion. All the while worried that by the time she is ready to brew the elixir, the person she needs it for, the man she loves, will be beyond healing.

Bianca races against time, and against the dictates of her own conscience. If the elixir truly gives life everlasting, is it right to go against the natural order of things? There is one figure haunting London who has lived with the answer for far too long, and hopes that the elixir, and Bianca, hold the keys to his salvation.

Escape Rating A-: If churches are sometimes referred to as “smells and bells”, then the view of the English Renaissance in the Bianca Goddard series is all the smells, with no bells at all. The series takes place during the English Reformation, and the church bells are silent. But the author makes it clear to the reader that everything stinks, and those who can afford it wear masks or carry pomanders to keep the stink away from their own personal noses.

Bianca and her husband live in the middle of it all, near the Thames in Southwark. John complains all too frequently that he wants to move someplace that stinks a little less, and Bianca responds with the sensible statement that not only is this what they can afford, but that the surrounding stinks mask the stinks created by her brewing of medicinals. Which also stink.

alchemists daughter by mary lawrenceThis is, as I said in my review of the first book in this series, The Alchemist’s Daughter, life among the groundlings, where life is often nasty, frequently brutish, and generally all too short. This was a time when medicine all too frequently consisted of bloodletting and leeches, and no one knew what caused diseases or what cured them. Bianca’s brewing of medicinal potions and poultices works by observation – she sees what alleviates symptoms, and repeats the process, but the why was beyond her or anyone in the 16th century.

Bianca also applies alchemistry methods to her brewing. Her father is an alchemist, and a spiteful basty-assed nastard into the bargain. But the processes for reduction and sublimation work for medical herbs as well as whatever the next idea is to turn lead into gold.

So when Bianca needs a master to teach her better brewing methods, she is steered to Ferris Stannum, an elderly alchemist with an excellent reputation. She arrives just as he announces that he has managed to create an elixir of life, and has proven its efficacy by administering it to his formerly sick cat, who is now capering around the place in healthy feline glee.

His announcement is followed by a trail of death, as everyone who was in the vicinity of Stannum dies in mysterious circumstances, except for Bianca and the person who chases her all over London. Because someone drops the old alchemist’s formulary into Bianca’s house, and her pursuer will do anything to get it back. Including murder.

This is an absorbing historical mystery from what we would think of as an uncommon point of view. Bianca is an average person with above-average intelligence, getting by the best she can. In this series, we see life as she sees it, not as the nobles loftily prance over it all. Getting inside Bianca’s head is fascinating and often frightening. There is so much that we know that she can’t, and we feel for her every step of the way.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Mary is giving away a 2-book set of the Bianca Goddard mysteries as part of this tour!

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Review: Empty Nest by Marty Wingate + Giveaway

Review: Empty Nest by Marty Wingate + GiveawayEmpty Nest: A Birds of a Feather Mystery by Marty Wingate by Marty Wingate
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Birds of a Feather #2
Pages: 224
Published by Alibi on December 1st 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Manager of a tourist center in a quaint British village, Julia Lanchester finds herself with more ideas than time. Her boss is the Earl Fotheringill himself, but apart from him, she doesn’t mix well with the aristocracy. Unfortunately, toxic mold forces her from her cottage and into one of the earl’s countless spare rooms at the Hall. She tries to get a handle on her overload of work, while she finds herself arguing with dinner guests, chaffing at the sudden interest the earl’s son has in running the estate, and missing her new beau, Michael Sedgwick.

Her life goes from bad to sinister when Julia discovers poisoned sparrowhawks on the expansive estate grounds. And soon after, she finds one of the Hall’s visitors murdered—felled by the same poison. While simultaneously both spooked and angry, she still can’t keep herself from snooping, and dragging Michael along into her investigation. But will she find the culprit before her own wings are clipped?

My Review:

If you like cozy mysteries in small English towns, you can’t go wrong with either of Marty Wingate’s series. Her Potting Shed series (The Garden Plot, The Red Book of Primrose House and Between a Rock and a Hard Place) all feature an American gardener who has come to England to look for her roots and get a fresh start on her life in new surroundings.

rhyme of the magpie by marty wingateEmpty Nest and the first book in her Birds of a Feather series (The Rhyme of the Magpie, reviewed here) feature Julia Lanchester, the daughter of a famous BBC bird expert and naturalist. In The Rhyme of the Magpie, Julia is starting a new life opening a tourist information center in lovely Smeaton-under-Lyme. She’s taking up a new career to get out from under her father’s formidable shadow.

As the second book in a series, Empty Nest takes us further along Julia’s journey with established characters, while providing a new mystery for Julia (and the reader) to solve.

I’m not sure Empty Nest was quite the right title for this story. Using the birding theme, “cuckoo in the nest” might have been a better bet. Most of the various nests in this story never seem to be empty, but the person filling them is never quite who anyone thought they were.

Throughout the story, Julia is in an awkward social situation that contributes to many of the misunderstandings that are part of the story. In Rhyme of the Magpie, Julia began a romantic relationship with her father’s new assistant (and her replacement in that role) Michael Sedgwick. But in Empty Nest, Julia’s own nest is empty. Her private little cottage is suffering from a toxic mold infestation, and she has found herself living at Fotheringill Castle while the local lord, who is also her boss and her landlord, gets her cottage fixed. The problem here is that Lord Linus is none-too-subtle about his wish for Julia to become the next Lady Fotheringill, and Julia is decidedly not interested. But while Lord Linus isn’t subtle, his lack of subtlety does not feel actionable. He never does anything wrong, but he arranges events so that everyone around knows that he sees Julia as his next wife, no matter how much she protests. While this situation is increasingly awkward, it’s easy to see how Julia gets stuck. She doesn’t want to call Linus out, and yet she feels constantly uncomfortable. All too many women have been in situations that feel like this.

At the same time, Linus’ pointed preference for Julia is making a lot of other people uncomfortable and they are definitely acting on that discomfort.

The new estate agent keeps asking pointed questions about every step of Julia’s plans to bring more tourists to the village. As does Linus’ son, who returns like the prodigal, unannounced and unexpectedly. In Cecil Fotheringill’s wake come his friend Freddy Peacock and his predatory mother Isabel, Linus’ first (and very definitely divorced) wife.

Julia is on the spot, as Cecil, the new estate agent Geoffrey Addleton and Lady Isabel all do their level best, for varying reasons, to poke their noses into every single idea and decision that Julia even attempts to make. Their constant oversight makes her question her own decision-making, and leads Lord Linus to question her as well.

When Freddy Peacock dies in the house under very mysterious circumstances, the police are added into the mix – questioning everyone about their movements and their motives. And when it looks like the police are narrowing in on the wrong suspect, it’s suddenly up to Julia to figure out who really done it, before they do it to anyone else – or to her.

Escape Rating B: I found Julia’s situation at Fotheringill Castle extremely uncomfortable to read. She knows she’s gotten herself into a pickle, and can’t find a way out. Not because a bald statement won’t get her out of the castle, but because she fears that telling Linus she won’t be his wife under any circumstances in the universe feels like a sure-fire way to get fired. It may not be – he seems like a better human being than that, but it’s an all too real possibility from where Julia sits. If she just grins and bears it, her cottage will eventually be ready and they can all get out of the situation without verbalizing things that no one wants to say out loud. At the same time, once Julia discovers that it looks like no work is being done, she does finally start making noise.

The way that Julia nearly sabotages her relationship with Michael also felt all too possible. She’s not sure she’s any good at relationships, so she tries to make this one break itself before it breaks her heart. It’s good that she has friends who call her on her b.s. It’s unfortunate that the cause of her near-breakup is an old friend who is a little too full of his own b.s. – even if his duplicity is what finally breaks the case open.

There’s a lot of sad and more than a bit of crazy in the way this case is solved, and the reasons that it exists in the first place. There were a lot of cuckoos in a lot of nests, and it takes Julia quite a bit of time and energy to figure out what is behind the crime spree. The red herrings keep the reader well-diverted until the final showdown.

And although the magpies were wrong in Rhyme about the gender of Julia’s new niece, her sister’s ingenious method for finding a name for the baby is both heartwarming and funny.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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In conjunction with this tour, Random House Alibi is giving away (1)eBook copies of MRS. KAPLAN AND THE MATZOH BALL OF DEATH and THE RHYME OF THE MAGPIE

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