Tag Archives: tasha alexander

The Inheritance

the-inheritance

Title:  The Inheritance (Charles Lenox Mystery 10)
Author:  Charles Finch
Publisher:  Minotaur
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-1-250-07042-5

Book Summary:
After a quiet holiday in the country with his family, Charles Lenox returns home early when he receives a cryptic note from an old friend.  Gerald Leigh and Charles were unlikely friends at Harrow; Charles was a fairly “by-the-book” student while Gerald scoffed at the rules and eventually left school early.  Charles was from a well-to-do family; Gerald’s attendance at Harrow was paid for by a mysterious benefactor.  Although different, the two boys found common interests and deep, respective friendship, and the search for the identity of Gerald’s mysterious benefactor was Charles’ first, albeit unsuccessful, foray into detecting.

Gerald’s note is choppy and distracted, but Charles feels compelled to help.  His intent for assistance turns into alarm when Gerald fails to appear to meet as promised.  Charles deduces some potential places that he may be hiding out and when he finds Gerald, he is discovers two shocking things.  One, Gerald has been bequeathed another, more substantial bequest, and someone is trying to kill him.

Committed to helping keep his friend safe and finally solving his first case, Charles plunges into the scientific world of the Royal Society.  In the years since he left Harrow, Gerald has established a name for himself through his scientific discoveries; is it someone from his present, or from his past, that is trying to kill him?  Further demanding of his time, Charles’ detective agency is on retainer for smaller cases in Parliament.  A recent rash of thefts has proven elusive and dangerous.  With his quintessential English stoicism, Charles strives to help both his friend and his country.

Book Commentary:
With the tenth book in the Charles Lenox series, author Charles Finch has something that few authors of long-running series can claim: he maintains consistent quality stories.  I find that with some authors who have a dozen or more books in a series, there are a few that just don’t maintain my interest or have a consistent quality.  All the Charles Lenox stories are excellent, and I think the main reason is the character of Charles Lenox.  He is an intelligent, charismatic protagonist with a refined, calm demeanor.  That is not to say he is perfect; at times, he is arrogant, aristocratic, and flawed.  He is human, from his flaws to his attributes; he is also very likable, someone I would like to have tea and an intelligent conversation with.

The series relies on diverse plot-lines with some adventure, but bottom line is that the protagonist solves the cases through good, old-fashioned detecting. I don’t want to insult them by calling them “quiet” stories because author’s witty and elegant writing style keep the reader fully engaged, but he doesn’t feel the need to always include some grandiose, cliff-hanging escapade in order to solve the case.

I also enjoy the subtle history lessons that author weaves into the story.  He discusses how advent of the telegraph brought both progress and problems to Parliament and how the English custom of driving on  the left came about.

The secondary characters of Edmund, Jane, Dallington, and McConnell reappear in each book to help maintain the consistency of the plots and help to ground Charles into the life of a gentleman.  I look forward to their appearance in each story; their own personal growth and development as characters further influences and defines Charles’ own personality.

Who might like this book:
This series would appeal to anyone who likes a classic English mystery.  The author’s grasp on history is similar to how Tasha Alexander weaves together events, customs, and principles of England in the late 1800’s.

DO NOT even think about not reading this series in order.  It is a great one to get hooked on because there are so many!!  Here is the series in order:
A Beautiful Blue Death
The September Society
The Fleet Street Murders
A Stranger in Mayfair
A Burial at Sea
A Death in the Small Hours
An Old Betrayal
The Laws of Murder
Home By Nightfall

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Four NECESSITIES FOR A GOOD MYSTERY SERIES on Friday

mysteries

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?

A Terrible Beauty

a-terrible-beauty

Title:  A Terrible Beauty (Lady Emily 11)
Author:  Tasha Alexander
Publisher:  Minotaur Press
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-1-250-05827-0

Book Summary:
Following the heartbreak of Jeremy, Duke of Bainbridge, as seen in The Adventuress,  Lady Emily decides a change of scenery would be best for her friend.  In an attempt to lift his spirits, Lady Emily and husband Colin Hargreaves, whisk Jeremy off to a holiday in Greece.  They are joined by Emily’s good friend Margaret.  A lover of all things Latin, Margaret and Emily plan lively debates and entertaining excursions.  The friends will stay on the island of Santorini at Emily’s villa, left to her by her deceased first husband, Lord Philip Ashton.

Philip left for a hunting trip to Africa right after the couple was married and died abroad, victim of poisoning.  Perhaps it is the impending trip to the island that Philip was so fond of, Emily is haunted by thoughts of her first husband exacerbated by strange occurrences that plague her mind.  First, an unsigned postcard arrives addressed to The Viscountess Ashton, a name she has not used in over five years since her marriage to Colin.  Then, Philip’s journal entry of the night of their engagement is pulled out of its hiding place and put in plain sight.  Finally, Emily is sure that she has seen the ghost of her dead husband both on the boat to Greece and hiding behind a column in the ruins.

When the friends arrive in Santorini, the housekeeper shocks them with the news that the Viscount Ashton is there.  Although his face had aged by time and the sun, Philip is who Emily remembers.  He recounts a fantastic tale of an escape from near death by poison, of wandering through the plains of Africa, a rescue by a kind-hearted traveler, and a renewed passion for archaeology.

As overwhelmed by confusion as Emily is, her husband, once Philip’s best friend, is beset with grief and guilt at the possibility that he had left his friend for dead.  The couple is also unsure how his arrival will affect the status of their marriage and more importantly the legitimacy of their children.

The conflict mounts as they discover that Philip has been pursued by an illegal antique artifacts dealer who is convinced that he is in possession of a piece of Achilles’ helmet.  An expert and scholar on Achilles, Phillip is convinced of the authenticity of the artifact that he discovered but distraught at how it was stolen from him moments after its unearthing.  The tension rises as dead bodies, mysterious conversations, and haunting clues follow as Emily and Colin must work together to prevent more loss and to salvage their marriage.

Book Commentary:
Oh, how I loved this book!!!  I have been reading Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily series for years but I think this one might be my favorite.  She hearkens back to the adventure and uncertainty of Colin and Emily’s first escapes together; there is a sense of a simpler time as they struggle to grasp hold of what they know and hold most dear.  At times the reader isn’t sure if he can trust Emily’s perceptions as she is often clouded by pain, guilt, and fear.

I really enjoyed the development of Colin’s character; he always seems to be so in charge and in control.  In this novel, we see a break in the calm, cool exterior.  His obvious love for Emily and his genuine compassion for his friend present conflicting emotions and he at times seems a bit lost.  I think this adds a great deal of humanity to his character; the dimension of his raw emotions and his true sense of integrity and honesty create a disjointedness and vulnerability that makes the reader enjoy him even more.

Philip’s character is the most fascinating in the story.  We are reminded how time distorts memories and we can’t always trust what Colin remembers about his friend.  Emily interaction with Philip prior to his departure to Africa consisted only of their courting and very brief marriage; she knows him only through the journals that he left behind.  Philip too has created idolized memories of Emily and their relationship.

Throughout the novel, I felt a sense of heartbreak for these characters and the conflicting emotions that they must be facing.  At the same time, the tension of the stolen artifacts and the ensuing violence build to a very climatic ending.

Who might like this book:
I know that I have mentioned this before, but Tasha Alexander’s biography indicates that she was an English major “in order to have a legitimate excuse for spending all her time reading.”  You have to respect an author who loves reading as much as she does!

This story further capitalized on Emily’s (and the author’s) love of Greece.  The descriptions of the sites visited and the historical details provide a feel of a travelogue, meshed with an exciting story.

Read the series in order.  You will do a disservice to yourself if you miss any of the previous adventures.

And Only to Deceive
A Poisoned Season
A Fatal Waltz
Tears of Pearl
Dangerous to Know
A Crimson Warning
Death in the Floating City
Behind the Shattered Glass
The Counterfeit Heiress
The Adventuress

Death Wears a Mask

death-wears-a-mask

Title:  Death Wears a Mask (Amory Ames 2)
Author:  Ashley Weaver
Publisher:  Minotaur Books
Publication Date:  2015
ISBN:  978-1-250-09612-8

Book Summary:
After capturing a murderer and almost being killed herself at Brightwell, Amory Ames is enjoying some quiet time at home.  Her relationship with husband Milo seems to have arrived at a comfortable truce and she is hoping that his playboy ways have been calmed.  Amory accepts an invitation for she and Milo to attend a dinner party at the home of the Barringtons.  Mrs. Barrington was a friend of Amory’s mother and Amory is a bit surprised at the attempt at a renewed friendship after years apart.  At the party, it becomes apparent that Mrs. Barrington has more need of Amory that just her presence.  She pulls Amory aside as they progress into dinner, fiercely whispering to her that she should watch the guests.

Because of Amory’s success at Brightwell, Mrs. Barrington reveals to her that a number of her expensive and sentimental jewelry pieces have gone missing.  Through careful research, she is able to eliminate the staff as suspects.  Coincidentally, all the thefts have occurred on days when she has hosted dinner parties and all these dinner parties have included the same guests.  Amory and Mrs. Barrington work together to lay a trap the next evening at a masquerade party given by one of the guests, Lord Dunmore.  Lord Dunmore is charming and handsome and has almost as rakish a reputation of Milo.  Mrs. Barrington plans to wear a paste version of an expensive sapphire bracelet to entice a theft and to then catch the villain in the act.

Milo is amused by Amory’s involvement but deems it more necessary to visit his club to discuss the purchase of a fine Arabian horse than attend the party.  Unsure about Milo’s motivation and true intent, Amory arrives at the ball alone and the stage is set.  Lord Dunmore takes great interest in Amory and when she slips on the stair and sprains her ankle, he is quick to whisk her off her feet and take her to a bedchamber to examine her foot.  When Milo catches Amory with Lord Dunmore, he is nonplussed.  However, the scene becomes dire when a shot is heard, and the body of Mrs. Barrinton’s nephew is found with the stolen jewels in his pocket.

Inspector Jones from Brightwell has been reassigned to Scotland Yard and once again asks for Amory’s insight on the guests.  Amory agrees to help but quickly is overwhelmed by romantic conflicts, hidden agendas, and secret pasts.  Milo also has seemed to take the opportunity to revert back to his old ways.  Amory is unsure of who and what to trust because of the masks that people wear.

Book Commentary:
What a fantastic series!!  This is book two and the setting has switched to the elite of London.  Post World War I has invited a time of opulence and grandeur and the characters seem to have a life of lavish and leisure.  However, dark secrets of betrayal, financial loss, and violence are hidden just below the surface.  I really enjoy how the author describes this Golden Age while still laying the foundation of how the world will change in just a few short years.  I look forward to watching how these conflicting themes will play out in future books.

I absolutely love the character of Amory.  She is smart, refined, and elegant but her underlying sensitivity and humanity drive her actions.  She definitely knows her role in society and her marriage and doesn’t outwardly rebel against the norms but she knows how to work the system behind the scenes.  I appreciate her motivation in helping others as opposed to using the events just as a diversion.  Once again, Milo is an enigmatic character; we see a bit more of who he is but there is still more brewing under the surface.  I had a prediction as to what his character motivation was based on the first book and I was wrong; however, the author does provide some clues and I hope that more will be discovered in future books.

Who might like this book:
I have been reading a lot of books about World War I and the Golden Age right afterward; it is fascinating time in history and the series has set itself well into the manners and enigmas of the upper echelons of society.  In some ways, Amory reminds me of a more “modern day” version of Lady Emily from Tasha Alexander’s series; they are both strong, intelligent women who understand the norms and customs of society but also how to use them to their advantage.  Milo and Colin, however, are as different as can be!

You must read the first book, Murder at Brightwell, first.  It is just wrong to read this series out of order.  I am thrilled that the new Amory book, A Most Novel Revenge, is set for release on October 11, 2016.  As further endorsement of this series, unlike the first two books, I am not waiting.  I’m splurging on the hardback!!

 

Amy Snow

Amy Snow

Title:  Amy Snow
Author:  Tracy Rees
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster
Publication Date:  2015
ISBN:  978-1-5011-2837-0

Book Summary:
In 1831, Aurelia, eight-year-old daughter and only child of Lord and Lady Vennaway, once again disobeys her governess and rushes out to play in the newly fallen snow on her family’s English estate.  Headstrong and spoiled, but also compassionate and inquisitive, Aurelia is shocked to discover an abandoned infant left in the snow.  Although her parents disapprove of the child, they are unwilling to deny anything to their only child.  And so, Amy is raised in the household.  She spends most of her time below stairs and out of the Vennaway’s sight, but Aurelia is ever diligent and stops in very frequently to be with Amy and comfort and guide her.  As Amy grows older, she provides a comforting balm to Aurelia’s flighty personality.  Grudgingly, the elder Vennaway’s allow Amy into the schoolroom to take lessons with Aurelia when the tutor recognizes the effect Amy has on the young heiress.

Although Amy has Aurelia’s love and devotion, life at Hatville Court is challenging.  She helps the servants with the chores, but Amy learns quickly that it is best that avoid all contact with Lord and Lady Vennaway.  She isn’t able to make a connection with the servants, because they think she is above them.  The bond however between the girls is as close as sisters and eventually, Aurelia makes Amy her personal companion.

Aurelia’s parents push for a marriage which would eventually give them the heir they so desire, but these plans are cancelled when Aurelia is discovered with a terminal illness.  Amy serves Aurelia in her final days as a nurse, but immediately following her death, funeral, and reading of the will, the Vennaways make it clear that Amy is to leave Hatville Court.  Prior to her departure, Amy is secretly visited by Mr. Clay who presents Amy with a letter from Aurelia that he was charged to deliver to her before she left Hatville.  Even in death, Aurelia is taking care of Amy and sets her on an adventure that would change her life.

The coded letter starts Amy on journey that enables Amy to discover not only who she is but also who she wants to be.  Her quest takes her to various locations around England and she meets a cast a characters, including a warm and welcoming family, a cantankerous old woman, and two dashing gentleman who vie for her heart.  The end result of the clues, puzzles, and hidden signs leads Amy to a conclusion that could threaten no only herself, but Aurelia’s legacy.

Book Commentary:
What a delightful story!!  I was intrigued by the puzzles and clues that were left to Amy, and the author does a wonderful job at allowing the reader to solve the mysteries along with her.  The story is truly a coming-of-age story with a great deal of mystery and subterfuge.  The author alternates the story between Amy’s present day situation and the story of her life with Aurelia though the memories.  Although the memories often help Amy solve the clues, they also provide so much insight about Aurelia and the relationship between the girls.

Amy is an admirable character and the reader enjoys watching her growth and discovery; however, even though Amy is the title character, I felt the story was really that of Aurelia.  Her depth of compassion, rebellion, and understanding of the world around her is evident through the quest she devises and I really felt she grew into herself posthumously through Amy’s own self-discovery.

The story is rich in detail about clothing and social mores and conventions; the reader feels Amy’s own spark of surprise and delight as her knowledge of the world grows.  The story is also full of entertaining and memorable secondary characters who help Amy on her journey.

Who might like this book:
Although a completely different type of story, I was reminded of Tasha Alexander’s Lady Darby series and Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey series, in that the main characters truly learn the story of someone’s life after their death.  In all three cases, the story of the deceased character is told through letters, mementoes, and remembrances of other characters.  It is a really interesting way to tell a story.

The novel includes a wonderful interview with the author and a collection of book club discussion questions.  I really enjoyed the author’s writing style; she has one other book published called Florence Grace.  It is currently sitting in my Amazon wishlist!

That Silent Night

thatsilentnight

Title:  That Silent Night (Lady Emily Christmas Story 2)
Author:  Tasha Alexander
Publication Date:  2015
E-Book Format

Book Summary:
It is Christmastime, and Emily and Colin Hargreaves have been enjoying the holiday season at Anglemore Park, their house in the country, with their boys Henry, Richard, and Tom.  Their neighbors at Montagu Manor have been a bit overzealous in their own celebrations and invitations, so to escape yet another evening of charades and carolers, Emily and Colin have returned to their house in London for a brief respite and a bit of holiday shopping.  Enjoying a quiet evening at home, Emily and Colin’s serene time is interrupted when Emily is convinced that she saw a woman standing across the street from their home at the entrance of Hyde Park.  Amidst the snow and freezing temperatures, the young woman seems ill-prepared for the weather.  Emily rushes outside to assist the woman only to have found her vanished with no traces of footprints.  Convinced that the woman was a product of Emily’s over-active imagination and her current reading of sensational fiction, Colin is uninterested in Emily’s claim, despite the repeated re-appearance of the supposed specter.

While in London, Emily and Colin invite their new neighbors the Leighton’s to dine.  Recently returned from their honeymoon, the newlyweds are just settling into their new home but Emily is shocked at the resemblance between Mrs. Leighton and her ghost.  Although Mr. Leighton is quite affable, Mrs. Leighton communicates through stilted conversation and seems tense and uneasy. Emily is slowly able to draw the new bride out into conversation, however there is obviously something troubling the young woman.  When Mrs. Leighton disappears from her home, Colin and Emily aid in the search to find her, and Emily has to wonder if there is a ghost involved.

Book Commentary:
This is the second of the Lady Emily Christmas stories.  The first, Star of the East, was released in October of 2014.  I love these holiday novellas; there are a short treat for the holiday season and stay true to the original series.  This novella in particular provides a great opportunity for readers to get a day-to-day feel of Colin and Emily’s lives.  Their friendly banter and obvious affection help warm this seasonal story.  The plot is well-defined and very fitting of the abbreviated format.

Anne Perry, another of my favorite Victorian authors, has released a short Christmas novel every year for the past twelve years and I look forward to them each year.  Just like the first Christmas Carols of the season, these books mark the start of the holiday season for me.  I sincerely hope this also becomes a tradition for Tasha Alexander.

Who might like this book:
If you like the Tasha Alexander Lady Emily series, you will enjoy this Christmas novella.  Note that this story – along with last year’s Christmas novella Star of the East – is only available in e-book format.