Book Review: Three Shots to the Wind (Chloe Jackson, Sea Glass Saloon Mystery #3) by Sherry Harris

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Cozy mystery
Publisher: Kensington
Publication Date: March 29th, 2022
Pages: 304, mass market paperback
Source: NetGalley

DEAD EXES TELL NO TALES

Saloon owner Chloe Jackson appears to have a secret admirer. She’s pouring drinks at the Sea Glass Saloon in Emerald Cove when an airplane flies by above the beach with a banner reading I LOVE YOU CHLOE JACKSON. She immediately rules out Rip Barnett. They are in the early stages of dating and no one has said the L word. Then a bouquet of lilacs—her favorite flower—is delivered to the bar, followed by an expensive bottle of her favorite sparkling wine. It couldn’t be . . .

Sure enough, her ex-fiancé from Chicago has flown down to Florida for an accountants’ convention. But is he trying to mix business with pleasure and win her back? Unfortunately he’s not in a hotel conference room, he’s floating facedown in the lake next to her house, clutching a photo of Chloe. Who murders an accountant on a business trip—it just doesn’t add up. When Rip becomes the prime suspect, Chloe is determined to find the secret murderer. But if she isn’t careful, it may be closing time and lights out for her.

The Chloe Jackson series just keeps getting better. This time, Chloe’s ex-fiance turns up dead, and Chloe finds there was a lot she didn’t know about her seemingly mild-mannered ex.

Chloe has settled in nicely to her new life in Florida. She’s part owner of the Sea Glass Saloon, and is building strong relationships with the residents of Emerald Cove. She’s a great character, and her motivations and actions feel real. There’s also a good amount of humor.

This is a great cozy series and I hope there are many more cases for Chloe.

Book Review: Under Lock & Skeleton Key (Secret Staircase Mystery #1) by Gigi Pandian

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: March 15th, 2022
Pages: 352, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

An impossible crime. A family legacy. The intrigue of hidden rooms and secret staircases.

After a disastrous accident derails Tempest Raj’s career, and life, she heads back to her childhood home in California to comfort herself with her grandfather’s Indian home-cooked meals. Though she resists, every day brings her closer to the inevitable: working for her father’s company. Secret Staircase Construction specializes in bringing the magic of childhood to all by transforming clients’ homes with sliding bookcases, intricate locks, backyard treehouses, and hidden reading nooks.

When Tempest visits her dad’s latest renovation project, her former stage double is discovered dead inside a wall that’s supposedly been sealed for more than a century. Fearing she was the intended victim, it’s up to Tempest to solve this seemingly impossible crime. But as she delves further into the mystery, Tempest can’t help but wonder if the Raj family curse that’s plagued her family for generations—something she used to swear didn’t exist—has finally come for her. 

Who better than a magician to unravel a locked room mystery?

Tempest Raj has returned home after nearly dying in her last magic show in Las Vegas. She can’t prove sabotage, but thinks her former assistant set her up. To Tempest’s surprise, her father’s crew find the body of her former assistant walled up in a property they are renovating. The only problem is, that section hadn’t been touched in decades, so it was impossible for her to be there. Tempest and her friends (including Sanjay, from Pandian’s Jaya Jones series) must unlock the mystery before Tempest becomes the next victim.

Tempest has had a rough go of it. She’s broke, has had to move back home with her father and grandparents, and may be sued by the venue where she used to perform. On top of that, she may be being haunted by her mother, who disappeared years ago, possibly due to the family curse.

Tempest is a likeable heroine and you’ll root for her. She’s not quite as fierce as she thinks she is, but she’s real and strong and has a good support system in her family and friends. She’s also lucky to have friends and family who share her interest in magic and puzzles. I was frankly jealous of her living space.

The story is well-written, and the action flows naturally. There are the requisite number of red herrings, and not too many potential villains. Like Tempest, once the reader figures out what made the crime impossible, the who and the how will follow.

Be sure to eat something before you read, as the food descriptions will make you hungry. Luckily, Pandian includes recipes in her books!

4 out of 5 magic stars – highly recommended.

Book Review: The Mystery of the Sorrowful Maiden (A Laetitia Rodd Mystery #3) by Kate Saunders

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Fiction Mystery
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication Date: December 7th, 2021
Pages: 336, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

In the spring of 1853, private detective Laetitia Rodd receives a delicate request from a retired actor, whose days on the stage were ended by a theater fire ten years before. His great friend, and the man he rescued from the fire, Thomas Transome, has decided to leave his wife, who now needs assistance in securing a worthy settlement. Though Mrs. Rodd is reluctant to get involved with the scandalous world of the theater, she cannot turn away the woman in need. She agrees to take the case.

But what starts out as a simple matter of negotiation becomes complicated when a body is discovered in the burnt husk of the old theater. Soon Mrs. Rodd finds herself embroiled in family politics, rivalries that put the Capulets and Montagues to shame, and betrayals on a Shakespearean scale. Mrs. Rodd will need all her investigatory powers, not to mention her famous discretion, to solve the case before tragedy strikes once more.

For readers of the Grantchester Mysteries, The Mystery of the Sorrowful Maiden is the charming third mystery in Kate Saunder’s series about Laetitia Rodd, the indomitable lady detective.

The Mystery of the Sorrowful Maiden is the third outing for Laetitia Rodd. Her clergyman husband’s death left her to earn her living, and she has embarked on a career as a private detective.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the series to date, and this story is no exception. Laetitia is asked by a neighbor, who is a retired actor, to assist in making a divorce settlement between a fellow actor and his wife. As it turns out, Laetitia’s brother is representing the husband, and welcomes her assistance. Not Laetitia’s usual fare, but it’s a paycheck, if either party truly has any money to spare.

But old sins cast long shadows, and the discovery of the body of a man who disappeared ten years ago plunges Laetitia into a murder investigation and crosses her path with that of Inspector Blackbeard once again, who, while willing to assist Laetitia, is still somewhat dismissive of her conclusions.

Laetitia is a well-drawn character. She is consistent and readers will cheer her on as she works to keep her independence and her modest living as a working woman in the mid-1800s. Her brother swoops in on a semi-regular basis, and we don’t know a great deal about him, his wife, or their ever-increasing brood of children.

Inspector Blackbeard, who is also widowed, may or may not become a love interest. For now, it’s enough to see them gain respect and understanding of each other, and assist each other in investigations.

Now, while I enjoyed it, I will say I figured out the motive well ahead of Laetitia, and honestly, as a clergyman’s wife, she should have seen this type of scandal before. Her naivety as a bit surprising, and caused the book to drag a bit. It’s not quite as strong as the first two in the series, but I still highly recommend it and am impatiently waiting for the fourth book.

Book Review: A Counterfeit Suitor (Rosalind Thorne Mysteries #5) by Darcie Wilde

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Fiction Mystery
Publisher: Kensington
Publication Date: November 30th, 2021
Pages: 304, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

Among the ton of Regency London, one breath of scandal can be disastrous. Enter Rosalind Thorne, a young woman adept at helping ladies of quality navigate the most delicate problems—in this charming mystery series inspired by the novels of Jane Austen…

It is every mama’s dearest wish that her daughter marries well. But how to ensure that a seemingly earnest suitor is not merely a fortune hunter? Rosalind is involved in just such a case, discreetly investigating a client’s prospective son-in-law, when she is drawn into another predicament shockingly close to home.

Rosalind’s estranged father, Sir Reginald Thorne—a drunkard and forger—has fallen into the hands of the vicious scoundrel Russell Fullerton. Angered by her interference in his blackmail schemes, Fullerton intends to unleash Sir Reginald on society and ruin Rosalind. Before Rosalind’s enemy can act, Sir Reginald is found murdered—and Fullerton is arrested for the crime. He protests his innocence, and Rosalind reluctantly agrees to uncover the truth, suspecting that this mystery may be linked to her other, ongoing cases.

Aided by her sister, Charlotte, and sundry friends and associates—including handsome Bow Street Runner Adam Harkness—Rosalind sets to work. But with political espionage and Napoleon loyalists in the mix, there may be more sinister motives, and far higher stakes, than she ever imagined… 

Rosalind Thorne, a “useful woman,” is back in A Counterfeit Suitor by Darcie Wilde. Having recently rejected a duke’s proposal, and having lost her housekeeper because of that choice, Rosalind is a bit adrift. Fortunately, her friend Alice is there to ground her, as she faces the greatest threat yet to her hard-won freedom.

Women of that era were rarely independent. Even if they built solid lives for themselves, it could be taken away by the courts and given to a male relative. So when Rosalind’s felon father escapes from her sister’s caretaking and is taken in by her enemy, she is understandably knocked for a loop. This happens at the same time as she is trying to organize a charity ball and help an anxious mother keep her daughter from possibly eloping. There are undercurrents there that threaten to sweep Rosalind away.

When Rosalind’s father is murdered, suspicion falls on her family, including her courtesan sister. Complicating the investigation are Rosalind’s feelings for Bow Street detective Adam Harkness, who is assigned to investigate the case. 

Wilde has written a wonderful mystery within a mystery for Rosalind to unravel. Bonapartists, blackmailers, forgers, and gamblers all combine in a knotty puzzle. It’s also good to see her interactions with Alice, and her childhood friend, Sebastian Faulks. Most of all, though, it’s good to see her start to examine her feelings for Adam, and admit to herself, and others, that she cares for him.

Book Review: Murder in an English Glade (Beryl and Edwina Mystery #5) by Jessica Ellicott

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Fiction Mystery
Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation
Publication Date: October 26th, 2021
Pages: 304, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

American adventuress Beryl Helliwell and reserved Brit Edwina Davenport may seem an unlikely pair, but they have reinvented themselves in the lean years following World War I as private enquiry agents. Now they’ve been engaged to stage a faux investigation–until murder makes it all too real… 

When a member of the Walmsley Parva upper crust, Constance Maitland, seeks to hire Beryl and Edwina for a sham investigation into an alleged dalliance by her sister-in-law Ursula to quell potentially scandalous accusations by an unstable cousin, it is with mixed feelings that they agree to pose as guests at her home, Maitland Park. Edwina is uncomfortable with the ruse, but Beryl is eager to escape tension with their feisty housekeeper and hobnob with bohemians as the Maitland family hosts an artists colony.

But when the painter suspected of having an affair with Ursula is found strangled beside his easel in a glade, the pretense turns into a genuine murder enquiry. With Maitland Park overrun by artists, every guest–not to mention family member–is now a suspect.

Beryl and Edwina must determine if they are dealing with a crime of passion or if there are more complex motives in play, which may include the family cigarette business, cutthroat artistic competition, or secrets from the war years. In any case, the intrepid sleuths will not leave until they have smoked out the real killer…

Beryl and Edwina are ostensibly investigating a case of adultery at an artist’s colony when one of the accused is found dead in Murder in an English Glade.

Beryl and Edwina are an odd couple that complement each other well. Beryl is (slowly) learning to temper her brashness and conviction that she knows the best way to manage things, and Edwina is opening up to even more change, both personally and professionally. Edwina even agrees to pose as an artist’s model in this book, so she’s come a long way in this fifth book in the series. 

This one was more reminiscent of Christie, with the artist’s colony, the possible adulterers, an eccentric poor relation, and a group of girl guides, one of whose precociousness may well get her killed. Even though many of the elements are familiar, Ellicott makes them seem fresh. I didn’t start suspecting who the killer was until fairly late in the novel. 

We learn a bit more of Beryl’s backstory and what she did during WWI. She and Edwina suffer a small misunderstanding that ends up strengthening their friendship and business partnership. Simpkins isn’t as present as much as he is in some of the other books, but he gives Beryl some food for thought, and helps her in her character growth.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read and I highly recommended it.

Book Review: Chapter and Curse (Cambridge Bookshop #1) by Elizabeth Penney

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Cozy Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: September 28th, 2021
Pages: 320, paperback
Source: NetGalley

In Chapter and Curse, Molly Kimball is used to cracking open books . . .but when a poetry reading ends in murder, she must use her skills to crack the case.

Librarian Molly Kimball and her mother, Nina, need a change. So when a letter arrives from Nina’s Aunt Violet in Cambridge, England requesting their help running the family bookshop, they jump at the chance.

Thomas Marlowe—Manuscripts and Folios, is one of the oldest bookshops in Cambridge, and—unfortunately—customers can tell. When Molly and Nina arrive, spring has come to Cambridge and the famed Cambridge Literary Festival is underway. Determined to bring much-needed revenue to the bookstore, Molly invites Aunt Violet’s college classmate and famed poet Persephone Brightwell to hold a poetry reading in the shop. But the event ends in disaster when a guest is found dead—with Molly’s great-aunt’s knitting needle used as the murder weapon. While trying to clear Violet and keep the struggling shop afloat, Molly sifts through secrets past and present, untangling a web of blackmail, deceit, and murder.

Chapter and Curse is the first book in the new Cambridge Bookshop cozy series by Elizabeth Penney, who also has several books out in her Apron Shop series.

Molly Kimball and her mother move to her mother’s home country of England to help Molly’s aunt with her bookshop. During a poetry reading at the bookshop, Molly discovers the body of one of her aunt’s friends. The police suspect her aunt, so Molly starts investigating. 

The characters are engaging and the writing is so good that I didn’t mind that I figured out the motive and the murderer before we got too far into the book. The characters are more than focus than the mystery, and that’s perfectly fine, as I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them and hope for more books in the series.

Book Review: Narwhal’s School of Awesomeness (Narwhal & Jelly #6) by Ben Clanton

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Juvenile fiction
Publisher: Tundra Books
Publication Date: September 7th, 2021
Pages: 88, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

Dive into four new stories about Narwhal and Jelly becoming substitute teachers! The two best friends come across an enthusiastic school of fish one morning. Unfortunately, Mr. Blowfish, their teacher, has come down with a cold, and class will have to be cancelled . . . until Professor Knowell (Narwhal) and Super Teacher (Jelly) volunteer to help out! The first subject is Wafflematics, in which Narwhal and Jelly calculate the number of waffles needed to feed the class. That’s what we’re chalking about! Next up is a super-fun science scavenger hunt, followed by a game of Tag! You’re Awesome! at recess. Narwhal’s teaching methods may be unconventional, but with Jelly’s help, the two teach (and learn) with their trademark positivity and humor. Before they know it, the day is over . . . but what grade will Narwhal receive from Jelly?

I have been out of school for, well, quite a while now, but I would absolutely attend Narwhal’s School of Awesomeness. In this, Ben Clanton’s sixth outing for Narwhal and Jelly, they save the day and become substitute teachers when Mr. Blowfish catches a cold, leaving his fishy scholars adrift. 

Professor Knowell (Narwhal) schools the fish (sorry, couldn’t resist) in WaffleMatics. Who wouldn’t love math if it came with waffles and syrup? There’s also an exciting science scavenger hunt. The school of nine fish are adorable, and kids will pick up lots of new vocabulary words from them. 

While this is geared toward younger elementary school children, adults will also appreciate the humor and the artwork. 

Book Review: King Bullet (Sandman Slim #12) by Richard Kadrey

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: August 17th, 2021
Pages: 320, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

The incredible finale of the page-turning, high-octane Sandman Slim series filled with an explosive ending and intense kick-ass action from New York Times bestselling author Richard Kadrey.

It’s been three months since Stark stopped a death cult and a potential ghost apocalypse, and he’s at loose ends. His personal life is a mess. His professional life isn’t much better. And the world…well, the world is going to shit. L.A. is gripped by a viral epidemic that has everyone wearing masks and keeping their distance from each other. But what’s even more frightening is the Shoggot gang and their leader, King Bullet, who revels in the city’s collapse.

Who is King Bullet? No one knows. He seemingly came from nowhere with nothing but a taste for mayhem and an army of crazed killers who follow his every command. What king wants seems simple on it face: Chaos. Destruction. A city in flames. But there’s more to the king and his plans for L.A. and what Stark discovers will change Heaven, Earth, and Stark himself forever.

King Bullet is the final novel in the Sandman Slim series by Richard Kadrey. Over the last dozen years, Kadrey has taken us to Heaven, Hell, and all over Los Angeles, which, depending on your point of view, be an equally infernal realm. Stark, AKA Sandman Slim, AKA Lucifer (for a brief spell) has conquered many foes, but this time, he may be up against an enemy he can’t defeat.

A virus is plaguing LA, turning the infected into Shoggots, who consume their own flesh and mutilate themselves. They are led by King Bullet, whose agenda seems to be to cause as much chaos as possible. But is this a means to some other end? 

This didn’t feel like a finale. I had a pretty good idea early on as to how Stark would end up, and I was mostly right. But Kadrey left enough dangling threads that I think, and hope, that he’ll either spinoff a series for one of the other characters, maybe Brigitte or Candy and have some incarnation of Stark have at least a cameo. That said, if this is truly Stark’s last outing, it was a great ride. Everyone (well, everyone who is still alive) is featured, and Stark’s angst about all the choices which have led him to this point is well-considered without being maudlin.

Book Review: Yours Cheerfully (Dear Mrs. Bird #2) by A.J. Pearce

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: August 10th, 2021
Pages: 288, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

London, November 1941. Following the departure of the formidable Henrietta Bird from Woman’s Friend magazine, things are looking up for Emmeline Lake as she takes on the challenge of becoming a young wartime advice columnist. Her relationship with boyfriend Charles (now stationed back in the UK) is blossoming, while Emmy’s best friend Bunty, still reeling from the very worst of the Blitz, is bravely looking to the future. Together, the friends are determined to Make a Go of It.

When the Ministry of Information calls on Britain’s women’s magazines to help recruit desperately needed female workers to the war effort, Emmy is thrilled to be asked to step up and help. But when she and Bunty meet a young woman who shows them the very real challenges that women war workers face, Emmy must tackle a life-changing dilemma between doing her duty and standing by her friends. 

Yours Cheerfully is the sequel (and hopefully not last in the series) to A. J. Pearce’s novel, Dear Mrs. Bird. Both books are set during WWII in a London-based women’s magazine publisher, and feature Emmy (Emmeline Lake) as she learns her craft and becomes a contributing editor to the magazine.

The magazine is tasked by the Ministry of Information to help recruit women to war effort work. Emmy and her best friend Bunty befriend a young mother who works in a factory, and Emmy writes a series of articles on the women and their work. She learns of the heartbreak the women face when their husbands and brothers are killed in action, and how they struggle to provide for themselves and their families on the much lower wages they earn. Childcare is rarely provided, so some of the women are forced to bring their children to work, causing the women to be fired by their uncaring male bosses.

Did I know about the issues before? Sure, but Pearce does a wonderful job in showing the connections between the various characters and how the women learned that they’re stronger together. It could easily have been maudlin, or the women too “stiff upper lip.” These are more of the “make do and mend” mindset. They love their families and their country, and want to “do their bit.” Taking the journey with Emmy to learn about a world far removed from her own was wonderful.

While Emmy is seeing another side of the war, she is also preparing to marry her fiance, before he is sent off to fight. She struggles to accept that he will no longer be in London, and will be, in her turn, doing her bit like the factory workers. 

Book Review: Silence in the Library (Lily Adler Mystery #2) by Katharine Schellman

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Historical mystery
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: July 13th, 2021
Pages: 352, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

Regency widow Lily Adler didn’t expect to find a corpse when visiting a family friend. Now it’s up to her to discover the killer in the charming second installment in the Lily Adler mysteries.

Regency widow Lily Adler has just started to feel settled into her new London home when her semi-estranged father arrives, intending to stay with her while he recovers from an illness. To placate and avoid him, she takes his place in a social visit with Lady Wyatt, a woman Lily doesn’t know. But when Lily arrives for her second visit, she finds the household in an uproar: Sir Charles, Lady Wyatt’s much older husband and a friend of Lily’s father, is dead in his library. All signs indicate that he tripped and struck his head on the mantelpiece. But when Bow Street constable Simon Page is called to the scene, he suspects that Sir Charles was murdered.
Mr. Page was there when Lily caught her first murderer, and he trusts her insight into the world of London’s upper class. With the help of Captain Jack Hartley, they piece together the reasons that Sir Charles’ wife, sons, and nephew might have wanted him dead. But everyone who might have profited from the old man’s death seems to have an
alibi. With no clear suspect, the trio nearly conclude that the death was an accident after all… until Lily receives a mysterious summons to speak with one of the Wyatts’ maids, only to find the young woman dead from poison when she arrives.
Mr. Page believes the surviving family members are hiding the key to Sir Charles’ death, and it isn’t long before Lily realizes that her father may know what it is. To uncover the truth, Lily must convince the father who doesn’t trust or respect her to help catch his friend’s killer before anyone else in the Wyatt household dies.

Silence in the Library is the second book in Katharine Schellman’s Lily Adler mystery series. The book opens with Lily returning to her London home to find her father paying an unexpected and unwelcome visit. Her overbearing father manipulates her into calling on his friend and country neighbor, Sir Charles Wyatt, to congratulate him on his recent remarriage.

Lily and her friend Jack Hartley call upon the Wyatts. Sir Charles’ son, Frank, and his nephew, Percy, are also present, and there is some unpleasantness involving missing money that Lily quickly sorts out. Sir Charles’ wife, Winifred, invites Jack and Lily to ride with her the next morning, but when they arrive at the house, they discover that Sir Charles has been murdered.

Readers may figure out the motive and “whodunnit” fairly early on, but the story is strong, and the relationships between the characters are interesting. I’m not entirely convinced of how sympathetically many of the book’s inhabitants treated the neurodivergent characters, given that this was the Regency period, but did find it believable that Lily and her friends would not be prejudiced against someone who was different in some ways.