Tag Archives: c. s. harris

Four NECESSITIES FOR A GOOD MYSTERY SERIES on Friday

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I think by now it is pretty clear that I love a good mystery series.  It probably started back in my Trixie Belden days, although I did read a fair amount of Nancy Drew as well.  When I was in college, I worked at a small bookstore in Geneva, Illinois.  There I got hooked on the Anne Perry mysteries.  I read a lot of different things in college for fun, but Anne Perry’s books truly solidified my love of series mysteries.  I branched out and read other authors, and the rest, as they say is history.

I currently have about fifty mystery series that I follow regularly; over the years, there have been some I have let go for a variety of reasons and I am always on the lookout for a new series.  For me, there are certain details that keep me engaged in a mystery series.  So for my completely biased opinion, these are my necessities of a good mystery series.

Four NECESSITIES OF A GOOD MYSTERY SERIES on Friday

Interesting, plausible protagonist
Although I have read a lot of true crime novels, a good mystery for me is rooted in the characters.  I think that any good series must maintain strong, consistent characters to stabilize the continuity of the series.  It is what ties each book to the previous one and it is what the reader follows from book to book.  When a new release of a favorite author comes out, it feels like catching up with an old friend and visiting about what has happened since the last time we met.

I am not picky about the gender of my protagonist.  I love the female Lady Darby in Anna Lee Huber’s books and Amory Ames in Ashley Weaver’s series, but I find Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston and C. S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr just as engaging.  The key, and I know I have said it before, is that context in which the protagonist encounters a crime must be believable, it must be consistent, and it must be evolving.  I love a good cozy mystery but after a while, multiple deaths in a small town or at a certain ski resort; well, I don’t think I would put that on a place to visit!

Inquiry agents like Charles Lenox in Charles’ Finch’s series or Derek Stone in Kate Carlisle’s Bibliophile mysteries, police detectives like Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James in Deborah Crombie Scotland Yard series, or even judges and attorneys like Verlaque and Bonnet in M. L. Longworth’s Provencal mysteries all have realistic reasons to encounter, and more importantly, be involved in, solving crimes.

Cozy mysteries are very entertaining and enjoyable, but they don’t have the same sustainability as something that is more grounded.  A good cozy writer should know when to quit and move on to a new series.

Historical setting
Not everything I read has a historical setting but it is definitely a huge plus in what makes a series my favorite.  Yes, I love the simpler time, the fascinating couture, the social customs and limitations, but honestly, the very best part is the lack of technology, specifically the internet.  Historical crime solvers must rely on their ingenuity and inquiry skills.  Now I am not discrediting modern detectives, but I truly love watching characters fit different pieces together.  I know that much of the detecting work could be completed a lot faster with modern tools, but what’s the point of a 50-page mystery!  I often think “why don’t they just look it up online” when I am reading a historical mystery before I remember that isn’t an option.

With characters spending days traveling by horseback or coach or waiting for letters to arrive, the tension of the story builds.  The reader often is sidetracked by the minutia of daily life and seemingly unimportant details; this adds depth and personality to the story and enables the reader to have a stronger grasp on the setting and characters and how they are woven together.

There is also something exotic and mystical about a historical setting; the grittiness seems darker and more threatening while the society and lifestyle creates a more glamorous and opulent feel.  I’ve always felt I that I was born in the wrong decade; reading historical mysteries helps me to channel my inner dreams.

Fun, quirky secondary characters
Remember, it is all about the characters for me.  Mystery books provide great opportunities for secondary characters to pop up over the course of a series.  These characters provide rich ambiance for the time period or foils for the different personalities of a protagonist.  They have the feel of that “crazy Aunt Edna” or “cousin Steve” that we all have in our families; the topic of holiday table conversations with details of their grand adventures, disasters, or both.  I think these characters add a dimension to the story to remind the readers that crime doesn’t occur in a bubble; life still goes on all around which is often what both helps and interferes with the solving of a crime.

Some of my favorite secondary characters are Bonnie Brock in the Lady Darby series, Sid and Gus in Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy mysteries, and Oscar in the Witchcraft mysteries by Juliet Blackwell.  Sometimes these characters are integral to the development of the plot, sometimes they create obstacles that interfere with the progression of the inquiry, and sometimes they just add a diversion of spice and humor to a darker theme.

Just a hint of romance
Okay, call me a hopeless romantic but I like a bit of a love story in my mysteries.  I like the tension between two characters when they aren’t sure who they can trust, and then how it builds to when they discover that must trust one another.  Relationships often cloud judgement and perception and this added depth creates more conflict in a story and therefore makes it more suspenseful for the reader.  I don’t ever want a relationship in a mystery book to take away from the mystery itself, but a good author with meld the two with thought and purpose.

I like how some relationships grow over the course of the series, like C.S. Harris’ Sebastian and Hero, Tasha Alexander’s Emily and Colin, or Julie Spencer-Fleming’s Russ and Clare.  In contrast, I enjoy how Ashley Weaver’s Amory and Milo stories jump right into an established marriage.  Then of course there is Brad Parks’ Carter Ross and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum; who knows if they will ever settle down!  What does Keanu Reeves’ character say in the movie Speed:  I have to warn you; I’ve heard relationships based on intense experiences never work.  Ah, love . . .

Any other mystery buffs out there?  What are the “must-haves” for your favorite series?

Queries and Conundrums: BBA Update!

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I know that it is Friday and that is usually a FOUR ON FRIDAY, but it is also April 15!!.  If you remember about a month ago, I had a bit of  a crisis; my to-be-read pile was reaching critical mass and my book buying was out-stretching my reading time.  I challenged myself to read 10 books FROM MY TO-BE-READ pile and here is the update! 

I did it and I must admit that it was quite cathartic.  My shelf looks more manageable and I finally got to read some books that had been sitting there a while.  Some I liked, some I loved, and some I gave 50 pages to and said I’m done.  Here’s the list of what I read and what I thought.

Death and the Brewmaster’s Widow by Loretta Ross
Book 2 in the Auction Block series.  I liked the first book and I really enjoyed the second!  Check out my commentary here.

Black and Blue by Emma Jameson
Book four in the Lord and Lady Hetheridge series.  I enjoyed book 4 more than books 2 and 3, and I think the series is on the right track.  Indications are that there will be a book 5.

A Heart for Milton by Tracy Brasure
A “what-happens-next” after Elizabeth Gaskell’s Victorian novel North and South.  It is always a risk when author tries to write a sequel to another author’s work.  I enjoyed North and South a great deal, but this book didn’t hold my interest.  I finished it because I was curious to see this interpretation as to how the characters’ lives played out.

Two Birds with One Stone by Sigrid Vansandt
A charming cozy mystery set in the village of Marsden-Lacey, England.  A predictable “least favorite villager gets killed” plotline but some very enjoyable characters with a unique tie to the past and a famous English author.

The Quick by Lauren Owen
Not sure I can count this one; I only made it about 130 pages.  The cover author recommendation was from Deborah Harkness, who I love, so I picked it up.  The story started out really good and I was curious to see this author’s interpretation of vampires, but the story got very convoluted and the author included scraps of chapters and unclear references.  I think if I had given it another 100 or so pages, the story would have worked itself out but I wasn’t invested enough to follow through with it.

When Falcon’s Fall by C. S. Harris  (Not on my “to-be-read pile, but moved to the front of the queue when it arrived!)
Sebastian St. Cyr’s 11th story: absolutely wonderful!!  I also just saw that the author recently was contracted to write at least three more in the series.  See me doing my happy dance!!  My commentary is here.

Deadly Scandal by Kate Parker
A new series by the author of the Victorian Bookshop series, one that I really enjoy.  This one is set in 1930’s London between the time of the two great wars.  Check out my review here.

Moonlight over Paris by Jennifer Robson
A love story with rich historical roots set in Paris.  The cover caught my eye and I thoroughly enjoyed the story.  Beautiful story about a young woman who, while lying near death following a nasty engagement break-up and life-threatening case of scarlet fever, vows that if she recovers, she will not dwell on the past and instead will embrace her future.  Helena Parr travels to her aunt’s house in France and begins to study art.  There she makes friends with an eclectic group of artists and meets and falls in love with an American reporter.  This is a slightly different look for the “Lost Generation” following World War 1 but Ernest and Hadley Hemingway, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald all make an appearance.  I really enjoyed the beautiful story; more of a “coming of life” rather than a “coming of age” story, but included some breath-taking descriptions and a rich historical feel.

A Scone to Die for by H. Y. Hanna
A cozy mystery series set in a teashop just outside of Oxford, England.  Uh, yeah!  Fun start to a new series.  An obnoxious and loud American tourist is murdered following an altercation in Gemma Rose’s tearoom.  Gemma, her intrepid employees including a cat named Muesli, and four nosy ladies from her community worked together to try to solve the case before someone shuts down her shop for good.  Kind of predictable but very fun.

Portrait of a Dead Guy by Larissa Reinhart
Cherry Tucker has grown up in the small town of Halo, Georgia.  As she tries to establish herself as a portrait artist after years studying at a respectable art school, the town isn’t quite ready to let go of her past.  When Dustin Branson is murdered and Cherry is asked to paint a death portrait, she discovers more about death and art than she would ever want to know.  A little predictable but some very eccentric and entertaining characters.

Time of Fog and Fire by Rhys Bowen (Not on my “to-be-read pile, but it was a library book that I had been on the wait list for)
Concerned after she caught a glimpse of her husband in a movie news reel and a cryptic letter, Molly Murphy book 16 takes Molly and young son Liam on a grand adventure to San Francisco.  Check out my review here.

A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders
London book editor Sam Clair is used to dealing with temperamental authors and prickly lawyers, but it is Kit Lovell’s new book that dishes on the latest fashion industry scandal that pushes Sam out of her comfort zone.  Detective Jake Field and Sam’s mother, an accomplished and fearsome attorney, join forces with Sam to uncover the mysterious disappearance of author Kit and his novel.

I’ll See You in Paris by Michelle Gable
As she is packing for a trip to England with her mother, Annie discovers a book that her mother had hidden about real life Gladys Spencer-Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough.  As her mother’s business deal takes more time than expected, Annie begins to read the book and embarks on a quest to understand the Duchess and her life and the people who cared for her.  Although I enjoyed the author’s previous book A Paris Apartment more, there was a plot twist that took me so completely by surprise that I was engrossed in the plot so much that I had to finish the story.

Who Glares Wins by Camilla Chafer
This is the second book in the Lexi Graves series.  I read the first one and I’ll be the first to admit it is kind-of fluff, guilty pleasure reading.  However, after reading the second book, I am hooked.  Lexi is a very likable character with a wry sense of humor and a knack for adventure.  Although the series isn’t written quite as tight as the Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum books, I find Lexi a more believable and realistic character.  Her mistakes are human and her personality has more depth and less caricature.  I found myself rooting for her success, without hoping for a disaster.  I will most likely check out the next in the series.

Poldark: Ross Poldark by Winston Graham
I love watching period dramas on BBC almost as much as I love reading them, so of course I am obsessed by the new Poldark series.  Starring Aidan Turner . . . yeah, that’s enough for me . . . Poldark tells the story of Ross Poldark, who once arriving home after fighting in the Americas, discovers that his father has died, his love is engaged to his cousin, his family homestead lies in decay and disuse, and his prospects are lean.  He commits himself to starting a new life for himself in his home of Cornwall.  This book is the first in a series of twelve books about the generations of the Poldark family.  The story is a bit dry but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it as a companion to the television series.  It filled in some gaps and it was fun to note differences with the production.  It reminded me a bit of North & South how it provided enough detail about the mining industry of Cornwall and its influence on the people who lived there, without bogging the reader down in the technical aspects.  I am looking forward to reading more of the series.

 

SO . . .  actually I read 15 books!  One was an additional purchase and one was a library book, but look how nice my to-be-read shelf looks!  Of course to celebrate my accomplishment, I went out and bought 4 new books!

 

Four BOOK BONUSES on Friday

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Four BOOK BONUSES on Friday
So a few weeks ago, I did a Four on Friday about BOOK HOOKS.  That got me thinking about what is inside the book.  Obviously, the best part is the story itself (hopefully!!) but I love when there are extra surprises.  It is like getting a Chick-fil-A with an extra pickle or a piece of cheesecake with an extra dollop of whipped cream . . . can you tell that it is lunch time?  It is something beyond the expected.  Here are four BOOK BONUSES that get me particularly excited.

Family Trees
I love when an author puts in a genealogical tree to show how all the characters in a story are related, especially when it goes back a few generations.  Now, I am not talking about a “cast list.”  Honestly, if an author has to put a list of characters and who they are at the beginning of the book, there are either too many characters or they aren’t well represented in the story and that just does not bode well for the book.  A family tree is especially interesting when a story covers several generations or the plot references back to previous generations.  I love to see how all the characters are inter-mingled and related and appreciate that “a-ha” moment when I get how everything works together.

Maps
I love, love, love maps!!!  Seriously, in a previous life, I think I was a cartographer on a sailing vessel that traveled through uncharted territories.  I am a visual person and a map helps me to see where the characters are and where they are going.  I think it can help clarify the plot and move the story along if the reader can visualize the progression of movement of the action by looking at the locations on a map.  Deborah Crombie’s Kincaid/James novels always have a map on the inside cover of the book for the particular part of London in which the story is based.  It is also helpful to have a map when an author creates a fictitious land: John Flanagan’s Rangers Apprentice series includes maps to show the reader the layout of the countries.   And of course, who doesn’t love Tolkien’s detailed maps of Middle Earth.

Author Notes
As I read a lot of historical mysteries and novels, I enjoy when an author includes the research behind the events in the story.  C. S. Harris does an amazing job with her Sebastian St. Cyr books as she relates the events to the history and the politics of the time.  Her protagonist has a unique ocular condition – not going to explain it, you must read these books!!  She detailed in one book the science and history behind the condition; it was fascinating.  I think the historical and research background really adds depth and credibility to the story.  It is one thing to have a great plot, but when that plot is interwoven into real historical events, the circumstances and conflicts that the characters face become much more real.

Chapter Titles
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I have a bit of a quirky sense of humor.  I love when authors title their chapters.  Erin Hart’s Nora Gavin series includes lines from Irish folklore and history and Darynda Jones’ Charley Davidson chapter titles are sayings found on t-shirts.  I love when an author can have fun with the story but also create even more anticipation by having unique chapter titles.  My all-time favorite has to be Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books.  I mean who does not want to read “just one more chapter” when the title is “We Take a Zebra to Vegas.”  Any wonder why I can’t put books down!?

How about you?  What book bonuses trigger your fancy?

When Falcons Fall

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Title:  When Falcons Fall (Sebastian St. Cyr 11)
Author:  C. S. Harris
Publisher:  Penguin Random House
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-0-451-47116-1

Book Summary:
Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, his wife Hope, and their infant son Simon have traveled to the peaceful Shropshire village of Ayleswick-on-Teme to pay their respects to the family of a friend.  At the same time, Sebastian hopes to gain some more insight and answers to the secrets of his own mysterious heritage.

Emma Chance is a young widow who has also traveled to Ayleswick in search of answers to her own ancestry, but when she found dead along the banks of the River Teme with an empty bottle of laudanum by her side, the Constable quickly rules it suicide.  Archibald Rawlins, the Squire of Ayleswick, has only recently risen to the title following his father’s death; he is inexperienced and young but feels that there is more to the widow’s story.  Having discovered that Sebastian worked at times with Bow Street and had some success in solving murders, Archie asks for his assistance at the disapproval of the constable.

When Sebastian views the young woman’s body, he immediately knows that it was murder.  However, the more Archie and Sebastian dig into the woman’s life, they quickly discover that she is not who she was said to be and her death could possibly have international implications.

Is her death somehow tied to Lucien Bonaparte, brother to Napoléon, who has sought asylum along with his family at the local estate of Northcott Abbey?  What about the deaths of two other young women that were ruled suicide in the past fifteen years?  Why is Hannibal Pierce in town?  Pierce was a former captain in the dragoons who now works for the king’s cousin, Charles, Lord Jarvis, who also happens to be Hero’s father.  Could the secrets of Sebastian’s own troubling ancestry be tied to the murder?  More murders occur and the truth may be the link between the past, the present, and the future.

Book Commentary:
I have been waiting for this book since March 2015 . . . when Sebastian book 10 was released!!!  I love this series! Although definitely part of the aristocracy, Sebastian’s past as a soldier defines his need for justice and restitution.  His own questions about his past and his previously-thought-dead mother drives his insatiable curiosity and quest for answers.  His intense personality is at times contradicted by his passion for his wife and son and his sense of honor.  He is truly a complex and flawed human but the reader is drawn to his compassion and loyalty and accepts his frailty more than he does.  I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the growth and depth of this character develop over the course of eleven books.  The author has done an amazing job at truly allowing the character to grow and done so by seamlessly allowing it to occur with the varied plotlines.

This is the first novel to not be set in London, and although I missed the presence of Paul Gibson and Hendon, this story line allowed Sebastian to serve as a mentor to young Squire Rawlins.  As the setting and all the characters are completely new, the reader feels to be making the discoveries right along with Sebastian.  Although Jarvis is not in the story, his presence is definitely made through the character of Hannibal Pierce and it becomes clear that Jarvis’ power and control is all-encompassing.

I also really enjoyed watching how Sebastian and Hero took on the roles of husband and wife and mother and father.  Traveling with an infant is not easy at any time in history and it was fun to watch their roles adapt to both their personal and professional needs.  Once again, Hero is a strong sounding board to Sebastian’s inquiries while still doing some investigating on her own.  I really liked seeing her in a maternal role as well.

Not all of Sebastian’s ancestry questions are answered, but there is progress made.  I can’t wait to see what is revealed in the next story.

Who might like this book:
This is definitely one of my top two most favorite historical mystery series.  They are very well plotted and the characters are engaging.  The story lines tend to be a bit darker than some of the mysteries I read and there is a great deal of historical research.  I find that I have to concentrate a lot on how the history is evolving, along with the plotline.  I think I enjoy the seediness of the stories because they almost have a “true crime” feel . . . set in Regency England.  I can’t recommend these books enough!

If you haven’t read any of the series, start them in order.  Secrets are revealed along the way and you don’t want to spoil anything by reading out of order!!

What Angels Fear
When Gods Die
Why Mermaids Sing
Where Serpents Sleep
What Remains of Heaven
Where Shadows Dance
When Maidens Mourn
What Darkness Brings
Why Kings Confess
Who Buries the Dead

Four BOOKS TO PACK on Friday

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Four BOOKS TO PACK on Friday
Yesterday, my friend and fellow blogger at SmartGirlsRead posted a meme from Good Reads about choosing which book to read next.  She commented how appropriate it was as she was trying to pick which books to pack for an upcoming trip.  As I am also getting ready to head out for Spring Break, I started to think about which books I was planning to pack.

I honestly think I spend more time choosing which books to pack than which clothes!  There are strict guidelines and criteria for every travel adventure and the books chosen must meet those standards.  I usually put out a pile of books on the bed and evaluate each: hardcovers are cumbersome and heavy in a carry-on, library books are ripe for getting left or lost, and ebooks . . . well, that is a completely different blog post!  Anyway, as I look at the stack, I realize that there are four main types of books that I pack for a trip.

The one I’m currently reading
This is the book that I intended to finish prior to the trip.  You know, the one that just has about 50 pages left and I am going to sit down and finish it as soon as I finish packing . . . folding laundry. . . cleaning out the fridge.  The one, despite my best intentions, does not get finished.  I can’t wait the three days, five days, or week until I get home to finish it!  Then I will be busy unpacking . . . doing laundry . . . restocking the fridge.  You get the picture.  It doesn’t matter how many pages are left; it has to get thrown into the carry-on bag and most likely will be completed in the waiting area before I even board the flight.

The one I can’t wait to read
This is the one I’ve been saving.  The one that I’ve put aside special for the trip.  The one whose anticipation gets me just as excited as the trip itself.  When I was young, my mom would purchase books for us whenever we traveled.  She quickly realized that I would read them before the trip, and she started to wrap them and they couldn’t be unwrapped until the vacation started.  For me, as soon as the car was backing out of the driveway, the spine would be cracked open and I would start reading.  The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree because I have to do the same with my own children!!  I often remember these books as I remember the trip:  California 1983 – Trixie Belden 12:  The Mystery of the Blinking Eye, New England 2009 – C. S. Harris’ What Angels Fear, Austin 2014 – Deborah Harkness’ The Book of Life.  See what I mean.

The one I’m not sure about reading
This is the book that involves a psychological game with myself.  This is the book on my shelf that either I am not sure that I want to read or that I am afraid to read.  For whatever reason – a new author, a major plot twist, an uncomfortable conflict – I am apprehensive about starting this book.  My thought is that if it is with me, I will be forced to try it.  I may like it, I may not; but I will try it because I have it with me and there are no other options.  This way, I have found books that I have loved and books that I have given 50 pages to and said forget it.  For some reason, books are easier to let go of without guilt when you are on vacation!

The one for the flight home
I very intentionally pick a book that I plan to read on the flight home.  It is almost always a fluff book that requires little to no brain-power, an author or plot-line that I know I will enjoy, and one that can be completed easily within the flight timeframe.  I know that when I get home, reality will hit me in the face and my reading time will become non-existent.  If I don’t finish the book on the trip home, it won’t get finished.  This is my detox downtime reading before the transition back to real-life.  These are my guilty pleasure books that will make me laugh-out-loud but won’t remember days later.

As an additional note, I usually budget a book a day.  I rarely complete that, but as you know, one must be ready for a zombie apocalypse . . . or a delayed flight . . . so it is best to be prepared!   Yes, this makes my suitcase heavy, and yes, I will sacrifice shoe space for books.

So, what kind of books to you pack for travel?

Queries and Conundrums: Help BBA!

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My name is Kristin and I think I need help.  I am officially starting the first chapter of Book Buyers Anonymous.  I seriously need some intervention.  After my book funk, I took stock of the books on my to-be-read shelf.  See above – exhibit A.  I am currently reading 2 books and have 44 on my to-be-read pile and . . . husband of mine, turn away please . . . have two on order from Amazon.  I think I have a problem!!

What is it about a book that ignites such a need to own it!?  I reread the synopsis of every book on the shelf . . .  yes, I know I should be reading the books themselves . . . and I still want to read all of them!  I have 4 non-fiction books, 11 young adult books, 15 fiction books, and 14 mysteries.  Of the mysteries, two of them are part of a series that I started a while ago, two are seconds in a series, four are the first in a brand new series, and one is . . . cough, cough . . . a Christmas mystery.

There is that feeling when a new book comes out or I read the synopsis of a book, that really excites me and I just have to have it.  I think I feel I might forget about it or something.  I really have great intentions of reading everything I purchase right away, but life does interfere.  Those darn kids like to eat!  What is up with that?!  So, I have decided to make a commitment to my TBR pile.  I will stop neglecting those lovely books and dedicate the next six weeks to them.

My challenge to myself is to finish 12 books on my TBR pile by April 15.  I read fast and I read a lot; I just need to commit myself to pulling these books off the shelf to read.  One caviat though – I will not stop buying more books . . . did I mention that C.S. Harris’ newest Sebastian St. Cyr comes out tomorrow!  I will however attempt to avoid any other new purchases.  Please note the word “attempt;” this is me we are talking about!

Side note: don’t you love how I use my weights for book ends!  I am glad that something is getting good use of them!

I will keep you posted on my progress.  Anyone else out there ready to take the challenge and whittle down your own TBR pile?

Four FAVORITE BOOK SETTINGS on Friday

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Four FAVORITE BOOK SETTINGS on Friday
I have to admit that I am Buzz Feed Quiz junkie.  You know, the ones that have you answer questions to determine which Disney Princess you are, which Hogwarts House you belong in, and which decade should you have lived in.  In order, Belle (no surprise there), Gryffindor (I wish I was that brave), and the 1950’s (pencil skirts and cocktail hour all the way!).  I recently saw one that “determined” your book interests based on travel preferences, and it got me thinking about settings.  I went through my list of all my favorite mystery writers . . . of course I have a list . . . and not too surprisingly, there was a lot of overlap of locations.  An honorable mention list must include New Orleans, Washington DC, and New York, but here are the four that made the final cut.

The United Kingdom
Big surprise there!  Obviously London – past and present – is number one of my list.  I have been an Anglophile forever, and although I have only had the opportunity to travel to the UK once, I love the juxtaposition between old and new, ancient and modern.  The history combined with all the cultural influences makes the setting full of literary opportunities.  With such a rich history, mysteries can be set in so many different time periods.  I love to read about the social customs and class mores that are indicative to each era.  Some of my favorite authors include maps of historical London and it is fascinating to see what has changed and what has stayed the same.

I love to read about modern London in Deborah Crombie’s Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James New Scotland Yard adventures, Regency London through the eyes of C. S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr, and Victorian London’s Charles Lenox series by Charles Finch.

Of course, the great thing about the UK is that you can include Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.  My favorite mystery writer, Anna Lee Huber, sets her Georgian Lady Darby series in Scotland.  A modern day Wales is seen in Elizabeth Dunnett’s Penny Brannigan series and Rhys Bowen’s Evan Evans mysteries.

San Francisco
You have probably also noticed my love of San Francisco.  Ah, if money were no object . . . actually, it is an object, just one I don’t have a lot of!  Once again, it is a city with a lot of history and diversity.  With influences from the West and its role in the American Gold Rush and westward expansion history, there is a wealth of potential for conflict and personality.  The cultural and ethnic enclaves within the city are so vibrant that they are also individual and unique settings within the larger city.

I love Juliet Blackwell’s witchcraft series that is set in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco; the author does a great job at describing the tone and feel of this vibrant neighborhood.  Kate Carlisle is another favorite author of mine; her stories are set all around the heart of the city but she also travels up 101 across the Golden Gate Bridge to the wine country as well.  I just discovered Nancy Herriman’s novel of Old San Francisco set post Gold Rush and I look forward to more in that series.

New England
The crisp fall air.  The smell of apple pie.  The sound the pounding surf.  The sight of a dead body.  Don’t you love New England!!  Having lived in the Northeast, I quickly fell in love with the region and it truly does provide a wonderful backdrop to a great crime!  Seriously though, the history, the topography, and customs of decades old generations makes New England a great setting.

Quintessential New England towns provide the perfect setting for Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Russ VanAlstyne and Clare Fergusson contemporary mysteries that feature a small town cop and an Episcopalian priest, and for Jenn McKinlay’s Library Lovers mysteries set in coastal Connecticut.  Kaitlyn Dunnett channels a Scottish heritage in the fictitious Moosetookalook, Maine.

France
Ironically, France had never been a place I had a huge desire to visit, until I was introduced to two great mystery series sent in this beautiful and culturally rich country.  Wine, cheese, the French Alps, the French Riviera.  Seriously, what was I thinking?  Of course I would love to go there!!

Two writers that I really enjoy include Mark Pryor and M.L. Longworth.  Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston series is set mainly in Paris and I enjoy reading about both the famous and infamous stops that he visits within the city.  M.L. Longworth’s Verlaque and Bonnet series takes place in Aix-en-Provence, which is in southern France not too far from Marseille.  I really enjoy the contrast between the two geographically and culturally diverse areas.

Interesting . . . I have lived in two of these locations; perhaps it is time to move again?  As I wrote this, it got me thinking about specific places from novels that I have read that I would like to visit.  I think I see another blog post topic!  How about you?  What are your favorite book settings?

Four BOOKS I CAN’T WAIT FOR IN 2016 on Friday

Books for 2016

Four BOOKS I CAN’T WAIT FOR IN 2016 on Friday
New Year’s Resolutions are a staple of January but a much more enjoyable aspect of this month is the look at all the new books to be released in the year.  If you haven’t guessed yet, I am a bit detailed oriented.  I have a running list of my favorite authors and when they have scheduled new releases.  I search through Amazon and look up my favorite authors to watch for their latest books.  I keep a monthly schedule so I can either order the book or reserve it at the library.  As always, there are thousands and thousands of new books released each year, but these are four of the ones from some of my favorite authors that I am most excited about.

MARCH – C.S. Harris, When Falcons Fall
C.S. Harris is one of my foremost favorite authors and I absolutely love her Sebastian St. Cyr series.  I have written about this series previously in my Four FAVORITE MYSTERY WRITERS on Friday, and I feel that the series just keeps getting better and better.  Harris does an amazing job at telling a really great mystery that melds together all the beautiful and horrific elements of Regency London while creating engaging and captivating characters.  Every story is unique and allows the reader to truly become immersed in both the plot and setting.  Her characters are multi-dimensional and the reader feels that there is still so much depth to discover.

This is the eleventh book in the series and I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the characters grow and evolve.  Sebastian and Hero seem to have found a common ground and have accepted each other and parts of their pasts, but if anything holds true for this series, there is always more to come.  I really appreciate how the author is able to both keep the story and characters fresh and exciting while still making the reader feel the comfort of old friends.  This new book also takes the characters from London which may allow them some more freedom away from society’s restrictions while providing the opportunity for new encounters and situations.

APRIL – Simone St. James, Lost Among the Living
I had to smile when I put this author and book on my list.  Six months ago, I had never read anything by Simone St. James.  Although I had picked up her first book The Haunting of Maddy Clare numerous times, each time I read the back I thought that it just wasn’t for me.  I picked up her newest release The Other Side of Midnight, devoured the book in a day, purchased everything else she had written, and kicked myself for “judging a book by its back cover!”

St. James’ book are individual stories but all take place post World War I and involve a bit of paranormal and a bit of romance.  They are very gothic and atmospheric, but don’t have the creepy horror factor that my over-active imagination avoids.  I am excited about Lost Among the Living because the premise involves a woman who lost her husband during the war and her time with his family divulges secrets that indicate that perhaps she didn’t know her husband as well as she thought.  It is a bit of a divergence from previous stories and I am looking forward to see what she does with it.

MAY – Anna Lee Huber, A Pressing Engagement (ebook)
JUNE – Anna Lee Huber, As Death Draws Near
Squeak!!  What is more exciting than one new book by a favorite author?  Two!!!  One of my very top favorite authors Anna Lee Huber has both an ebook and a full novel to be released this year.  Although I often have mixed feelings about ebooks, I will never squander any opportunity for more works to be written by a favorite author!  The ebooks allow an author to tell a small part of the character’s story that really can add dimension to the series.  A Pressing Engagement hints to look at the wedding between Kiera and Gage, and as always with these two, nothing is simple.  Readers who have followed the series from the start are truly looking forward to this gift.

The series will then continue in June with the fifth novel.  I like a little romance in my mysteries.  Sometime mystery books can become so bogged down in procedurals that they lose their empathy and humanity.  By blending the real human emotions with the pressing need to find justice and security, I think gives a story a greater sense of urgency and builds the anticipation.  Sometimes when the status of the characters’ relationship changes, the series can’t maintain tension and interest.  I have no fear of this with Huber’s newest book.  She has already hinted a bit at the evolving relationship between Kiera and Gage, and I am excited to see how their new status clashes with the societal expectations of a married couple and their own individual juggling of between part of a pair while still maintaining their independence.

AUGUST – Deborah Crombie, The Garden of Lamentations
It has been almost two years since the last Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James book.  To Dwell in Darkness was released in hardcover in September of 2014, and I am so excited to see that the next book in the series will be out this year.  The Garden of Lamentations is the seventeenth book in the series and I truly admire how the author has maintained the freshness and excitement with each new story.  The characters have evolved from working together, to being in a relationship, to being married with a family.  I love how Duncan and Gemma work on separate cases but often find that through the crimes committed or their own police partners or politics du jour, there is a commonality between the stories.

Another aspect I love about Crombie is that as an American, she seems to have such a grasp of the English culture and lifestyle.  I found that as an American reader, I notice how she highlights aspects of the English that are interesting to me as someone who doesn’t live in the UK.  I am curious if the UK readers find her stories as believable and fascinating as I do.

These are only four of the many books I am looking forward to in 2016.  What about you?  What new release of 2016 is top on your most anticipated list?

Four on Friday: BOOK SOURCE IDEAS

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Four BOOK SOURCE IDEAS on Friday
Today, let’s talk books.  Specifically where to get new ideas.  There are thousands of ways to get ideas for new books to read.  Friends give advice, some celebrity endorses it as part of his/her “book club,” your receipt from Barnes and Noble states “if you like this . . . , you might also like this . . .”  This last one always annoys me a bit; how can you understand my reading tastes based on this one purchase.  So what if I bought five Regency Era mysteries . . . it doesn’t mean anything.  And of course, it isn’t like I don’t already have a few a lot of books to read. But as I have told my husband numerous times, if there is a zombie invasion tomorrow and I can’t get to the bookstore, I need to be prepared.  Anyway, here are some of the ways I find new things to read.

Online
Let me start by saying that I am not on Goodreads.  Okay, get your shock and horror out of the way.  I have been informed by many . . . including my daughter . . . of the utter travesty of this lack of participation.  In my defense, I have looked at Goodreads and intentionally opted NOT to participate.  I akin Goodreads to Pinterest.  You know what I am talking about.  It is like a vortex that sucks you in and you can’t ever escape.  I am sure that I would like it; I am sure that I would read about lots of new and interesting things; I am sure that I would feel compelled to make comments and lists and recommendations; and I am sure that I would never get out of my bathrobe for days!  However, if your willpower is greater than mine, go for it!

There are many places online that I do use to find books.  Book blogs are a great starting point . . . I happen to like one in particular!  A wonderful woman I met at a book signing has another great blog – SmartGirlsRead.  It is nice to see what different people think and I often find that reading commentary about a book that I was interested in will help convince me to either purchase or pass on the book.  I also enjoy authors’ websites and blogs, as they often give up-to-date information that allows me to get an inside view of their stories and the writing world.

These are some of the writer’s blogs I check out on daily basis:
CS Harris
Deanna Raybourn
Jungle Red Writers

Author’s Facebook Pages
Sticking with the online theme, I love to follow different authors on Facebook.  Their posts keep me updated on new releases and background information on a variety of different topics.  Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby series is set in Scotland and she is always posting fascinating facts and photos from Scotland.  They are beautiful; albeit a bit dangerous . . . as if I didn’t want to travel there enough!  Another great thing is that they often give away advanced reading copies!!  Squeak!  I have won two!  But the BEST part of author’s Facebook pages is that they support other authors and announce new releases by friends and colleagues.  I love reading a recommendation from an author I enjoy and have gotten hooked on many new authors as a result.  And . . . at the risk of going a little fan girl here . . . I have even been able to chat with a few of my favorites; it’s very exciting!!  If I could get them to follow my blog . . . well . . . mind blown!

Catalogs
Yes, I am an old-fashioned girl and I still receive some catalogues by mail.  Two of my favorite book catalogs are Bas Bleu and Chinaberry.  Sometimes I will order a book directly from them but often I just write down the titles for future reference.  Both catalogs are also available online.   I love reading the book descriptions; they go well beyond the plot lines and delve more into what makes each book unique.  I like that the catalogues don’t just focus on new releases.  Many times I discover books that have been out for years and are being re-released; they tell classic stories that aren’t officially “classics.”  Both catalogues also have great gift ideas for book lovers; I admit to having cut out pages and just casually leaving them around for my family to see.  Bas Bleu is mostly literature for adults; Chinaberry sells books for all ages.

Wandering
All of these other ways are great, but truly my favorite way to find a new book or author is simply wandering through the bookstore.  I love to read the backs, note which authors I know and like make comments on the cover, admire the artwork, and check the publication dates to make sure I have determined which is the first in the series.  I tend to collect and pile up the books, prompting clerks to offer me baskets.  I usually go into a bookstore with a self-imposed approved purchase limit . . . then I give myself a few book leeway.  Once I have agonized, negotiated, and categorized my possible purchases, I make my choices.  Grudgingly, I put the ones that didn’t make the cut back on the shelf for another day. I love to mentally organize which book I will read first, which book I have at home that will have to be pushed back in the queue, and whether this book will be a nightstand, shelf, or purse book.  It is a very focused and serious strategy, and yes, I am a nerd, but . . . gosh, I love books!

Four on Friday: FAVORITE HISTORICAL MYSTERY SERIES

So . . . to mix things up a little, every Friday I will list four things with a common theme. Hope you enjoy and I would love to hear feedback.

Four FAVORITE HISTORICAL MYSTERY SERIES on Friday
As you might have realized, I love historical mysteries. Set them in England, and I am an even happier girl! Here are four of my favorites.

Sebastian St. Cyr by C.S. Harris
Set in the early 1800’s under the decaying rule of King George III, a brilliant nobleman Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, has returned from the Napoleonic Wars disillusioned and reckless. When he is caught in a web of secrets and accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he uses the skills he learned as an agent during the war to clear his name. To his surprise, he realizes that not only is skilled at solving puzzles, he enjoys it. Joined in his adventures by a peg-legged Irish surgeon and a street urchin, he moves effortlessly through all tiers of society.

This series is the only one on my list to feature a primary male protagonist and it might be my favorite. Harris does an amazing job at intertwining the history with a very believable and complex plot. Her secondary characters have a great deal of depth and I look forward to their appearance in each novel. Sebastian’s relationship with his father, the Earl of Hendon, and Charles Jarvis, cousin to the King and the most powerful and ruthless man in English, adds to the tension in each novel; but it is his interaction with the actress Kat Boleyn and Jarvis’ daughter Hero that really defines his character.

As always, start with the first – What Angels Fear. There are ten books so far in the series; the eleventh book, When Falcons Fall has a release date of March 2016.

Lady Darby by Anna Lee Huber
In Scotland in 1830, Lady Kiera Darby is still hiding from society following her husband’s death. A cold and heartless man, Sir Anthony was a renowned surgeon with a fascination for the workings of the human body. Upon his death, a manuscript was discovered with detailed anatomical drawings of human dissections. As his lack of illustration skills were well-known, accusations flew against his wife Kiera, a talented artist. Society didn’t care that Kiera was married to Sir Anthony without her knowledge of his true purpose: to have her illustrate his anatomical book. She hides away at her sister’s estate, finding solace in painting. When a guest is murdered at a house party, Kiera must use her knowledge of human anatomy to aid Inquiry Agent Sebastian Gage. They discover a wary partnership of skills as they solve this, and future mysteries, together.

I love this series – Scotland, brogue, handsome men in kilts – seriously, what’s not to like. I really enjoy the character of Kiera, as she is a very unique heroine. I feel like each book is a step in her coming-of-age; the knowledge she possesses, albeit unwillingly, combined with society’s restrictions on woman provide a unique and clever perspective. Huber does a fabulous job describing both the city of Edinburgh and the untamed countryside of 1830’s Scotland that truly completes the mood and feel of the book. As if I didn’t already want to visit!

First book is The Anatomist’s Wife. There are three more that follow, with the novella A Pressing Engagement set to be released in May 2016, and the fifth book As Death Draws Near set for July 2016.

Lady Emily Ashton by Tasha Alexander
Set in England in the late 1880’s, Lady Emily Ashton discovers her deceased husband’s journals two years after his death. As he left for a safari expedition soon after their wedding and died abroad, Emily feels that she might be able to better understand the man she married but didn’t really know by reading his journals. What she discovers is shocking. First, her husband was a much better man that she ever gave him credit for, and second, it is very possible that his death did not occur naturally. With guarded caution, she works with her husband’s best friend, Colin Hargreaves to seek out answers, which in turn sparks more questions.

I was drawn to this book when I read that the author became an English major as an excuse to read. How wonderful is that! Alexander’s plots are complex, intricate, and very carefully crafted. Lady Emily discovers a fascination with Greek stories and art. I’ve read The Odyssey and The Iliad but these novels present a completely different viewpoint and a fascinating way to look at literature and ancient art. Alexander is also very in tune to the social mores and conventions of the time. I absolutely love Emily’s mother, who pretty much doesn’t approve of anything Emily does. The dry humor makes me think of Lady Bennett on steroids!

And Only to Deceive is followed by eight more novels; The Adventuress will be released in October 2015.

Lady Julia Grey by Deanna Raybourn
Lady Julia March Grey is a charismatic, upper class woman in Victorian England; Nicholas Brisbane is a half-Scottish, half-Gypsy inquiry agent. Their two lives intertwine when Julia’s husband Edward Grey dies of an apoplexy. Brisbane suggests that Edward’s death might have something to do with the threatening letters her husband had asked Brisbane to investigate. Julia ignores his suggestions only to discover a year later evidence of more threats. Although the case is cold, Brisbane grudgingly helps to solve the crime, and Julia’s previously ordered and understood world is shattered with new light.

I enjoy these books in the same way I enjoy the Tasha Alexander ones, but these have a little less history and a bit more sass. Julia is a naïve yet optimistic and refreshing character; I cringe at some of her mistakes but I love her feistiness and drive. As the youngest of ten siblings in the March family, her relatives always provide amusement and diversion. Her father, the Earl of March, rules his roost with a kind but firm hand; however the reader is often reminded that the term “mad as a March hare” originated with his ancestors. The stories expose some of the more shocking elements of Victorian society but do so in a way that only compliment that character development.

There are five wonderful books in this series, starting with Silent in the Grave, and four novellas. Unfortunately, Deanna Raybourn switched publishers and there is no plan for any future Lady Julia stories. Raybourn has written a few other smaller series and some stand-along books; she has a new series starting with A Curious Beginning in September 2015 about a Victorian woman with a scientific mind.