Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Dress in the Window by Sofia Grant

It's release day for Sophie Littlefield's historical novel, The Dress in the Window, written under the name Sofia Grant. The character-driven book takes readers back to the period from 1948 to 1952, a time when women who lost men in the war had to find a way to make a living and survive, while learning to be harder and stronger than they had planned.

In 1948 in Brunskill, Pennsylvania, a former mill town, three women struggle to make a living. Jeanne Brink lost her fiancé in the war, and she's now living in the attic of the house owned by her sister's mother-in-law, Thelma. Jeanne's sister, Peggy, is widowed with a young daughter, Tommie, named after her late husband. Jeanne, a talented seamstress, alters and makes dresses for other women. Some of those dresses are based on Peggy's designs. And, Peggy, who finds work in a department store, has bigger dreams. She wants to work in advertising or fashion design. But, those are wild dreams that would take her out of the mill town where she grew up.

For a while, Jeanne and Peggy are a team, but the family needs conspire against them. Although Thelma finds a way for the group to keep the house and make more money, her plans tear about dreams, and the family unit. And, suddenly the two sisters find themselves with different needs and desires.

The Dress in the Window is a bittersweet novel. None of the characters are perfect, but all three women are striving to find some sort of success, some sort of happiness in a world without the men they loved. At times, they take desperate measures. But, it's a time when women were sometimes forced to take desperate measures in order to survive and make it in a world where men held the power.

Grant, who has written novels about women taking control of their lives, and finding their own strength and power, addresses a forgotten period in The Dress in the Window. In some ways, she has taken on the story of forgotten women, those left behind by the war, forced to fight their own battles. As I said, it's a bittersweet story.

The Dress in the Window by Sofia Grant. William Morrow. 2017. ISBN 9780062499721 (paperback), 384p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - The publicist sent me a copy of the book so I could participate in the blog tour on release date, with no promise of a favorable review.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Murder at Chateau sur Mer by Alyssa Maxwell

Don't make the same mistake I did. If Alyssa Maxwell's Murder at Chateau sur Mer sounds interesting to you, go back and start at the beginning of the series, not with the fifth book. I have an excuse. I was reading it for a review. But, you've been warned that it's best to start at the beginning and get to know the characters. It's not that you can't start with this one. It's fine, but I was so intrigued that I wish I didn't know what had happened in the previous books.

In the 1890s, Newport, Rhode Island was an enclave for the Four Hundred, the wealthy who dominated society. Emma Cross is a less-well-off cousin of the Vanderbilts. She has to work to keep Gull Manor, the house she inherited from her great aunt. She takes in "less fortunate sisters". Emma is a society reporter for the local newspaper. She's covering a polo match when she overhears snippets of conversation about U.S. Senator George Wetmore, conversation that sounds threatening. When a young woman tries to approach Mrs. Wetmore during the match, Emma's curiosity is aroused. And, when a police detective friend, Jesse Whyte, calls in the early morning, and asks Emma to go to the Wetmores' house, Chateau sur Mer, she's even more curious. That same young woman from the polo match has been found dead at the foot of the stairs at the Wetmores'.

Mrs. Wetmore asks Emma to investigate, but she never intended Emma to pry into her family life and secrets. But, Emma is even more interested in the life of the victim. When she finds the victim was a prostitute, she follows the clues into a brothel, knowing none of the men in her life would get answers there. It's just the first place Emma goes that scandalizes society, and results in changes to her own life. But, she's driven for a passion for the truth. Who killed the young woman? Who wanted to ruin Senator Wetmore?

Murder at Chateau sur Mer is a fascinating historical mystery with a cast filled with recognizable names. Emma herself is an attractive narrator who understands the gifts she's received because of her family connections, and the lack of support for the victim. It's a mystery of class and division, an intriguing story of the haves and have-nots during the Gilded Age.

Don't do as I did. Go back, and start with Murder at the Breakers if you like American historical mysteries.

Alyssa Maxwell's website is www.alyssamaxwell.com

Murder at Chateau sur Mer by Alyssa Maxwell. Kensington. 2017. ISBN 978149703323 (hardcover), 304p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - I received a copy to review for a journal.


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Have You Heard? - Charlaine Harris' Living Dead in Dallas

Thank you to Sandie Herron for another audiobook review!

Living Dead in Dallas
https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51Ckqs0f-9L._AA300_.jpgSookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mystery Book 2
Written by Charlaine Harris
Narrated by Johanna Parker
Unabridged Audiobook
Listening Time: 8 hours and 52 minutes
Publisher: Recorded Books (5/8/2008)
Originally published by Ace Books as a PBO on 3/26/2002

Telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse lives in Bon Temps, Louisiana and works at Merlotte’s Bar and Grill.  While Sookie works the late shift at the bar, Detective Andy Bellefleur ties one on, and they must call his sister to pick him up since he cannot drive home drunk.  Upon arriving at Merlotte’s the next day, Sookie finds the cook Lafayette very dead in detective Andy Bellefleur’s car which had been left at the bar.   It looks as if Lafayette’s bragging about a sex party he’d attended has gotten him into trouble.  Who are the people who hosted this party, and who else attended?  What are they hiding?

Sookie’s vampire lover Bill and Sookie herself have been summoned by his superior Eric who runs the vampire bar Fangtasia in nearby Shreveport.  As Bill and Sookie drive to see Eric, they quarrel, and Sookie jumps out of the car. In the dark night, Sookie is accosted by a maenad, a creature that fills her body with poison via the wounds she inflicts on Sookie’s back. The only way to save Sookie’s life is to suck the poison out, which the vampires at Fangtasia happily do.  They replenish her blood supply with their own blood which is very healing to humans.  Her payback is to help the vampires in Dallas, Texas who have requested help in dealing with trouble from a group of people who have joined together to form the Church of the Sun that in the broad sense opposes vampires completely and more specifically may be hiding a missing vampire.

Upon her arrival in Dallas, Sookie is asked to read the minds of some local human bar patrons in order to determine if they saw a specific vampire just before he disappeared.  With that knowledge, the nest in Dallas hopes to find their “brother.”  Suspecting that he is being held by members of the Church of the Sun, Sookie and another human pose as a couple interested in joining the church.  The pair is given a tour of the church but then is prevented from leaving, being introduced to vampire Godric who wants to repent his ways and “meet the sun” at dawn.  

As a church member attempts to rape Sookie, she fights back and with Godric’s help she avoids deadly attempts on her life.  Sookie escapes the church helped by a local shapeshifter.  Unfortunately, members of the church pursue them and cause an accident. Sookie and the shapeshifter are upside down and trapped in the car when more church members chase them.  

Will police arrive in time to free Sookie before church members reach her?  What happens to the shapeshifter who helped her?  Will Sookie find Bill and warn the vampire community of these church members claiming retribution?    Will the missing vampire be returned to his nest unharmed?  Will Godric meet the dawn?  And if Sookie makes it back to Bon Temps, will she discover who killed Lafayette?

Johanna Parker narrates the audiobook superbly. She conveys the many emotions presented in this second series entry.  Her reading brings the book to life and contributes realistic voices along with Sookie’s lively southern accent.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Winners and Book-Related Mysteries

Congratulations to the winners of the last giveaway. Dianne O. from Oak Park, IL will receive the ARC of Hannah Dennison's Murderous Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall. Virginia D. from Tempe, AZ won Shadow Man by Alan Drew. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

This week, I'm giving away copies of book-related mysteries. I have a first edition of Kate Carlisle's Bibliophile mystery, Once Upon a Spine. This time, bookbinder Brooklyn Wainwright's interest is a rare editor of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It's just part of the rabbit hole world of bookshops, murder, and rare books. And, while she deals with all of that, Brooklyn faces the first meeting with her future in-laws who are arriving from England.






There's family problems in Booktown in Lorna Barrett's A Just Clause, another first edition.  Mystery bookstore owner and amateur sleuth, Tricia Miles, is in for a surprise when her "ne-er-do-well father, John, comes to town - and promptly becomes a prime suspect in the murder of a woman with her own scandalous past. Even Tricia's faith in the old man is shaken when the Stoneham police break the news that her father is a known con man who has done jail time." Tricia is determined to clear the family name before another body shows up.

Which book-related mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject heading should read either "Win Once Upon a Spine" or "Win A Just Clause." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, July 27 at 5 PM CT.



Thursday, July 20, 2017

What Are You Reading?



Whatever I'm reading today, I'm reading on the plane as I fly back to Nashville from New York City. I've been on vacation for a week, spending time, as always, at Broadway shows, and visiting with a friend from Arizona.

So, you'll actually have to talk amongst yourselves, and I know you'll carry on the conversation. What are you reading or listening to today?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Have You Heard? - Charlaine Harris' Dead Until Dark

Thanks, again, to Sandie Herron, who writes the audiobook reviews here!

Dead Until Dark
https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51crs%2B5Py2L._AA300_.jpgSookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mystery Book 1
Written by Charlaine Harris
Narrated by Johanna Parker
Unabridged Audiobook
Listening Length:  10 hours
Publisher:  Recorded Books  (9/12/2007)
originally published as  PBO on 5/1/2001
Literary Awards:  2002 Anthony Award for Best Paperback Original,
2002 Dilys Award Nominee, 2001 Agatha Award Nominee for Best Novel

Charlaine Harris accomplishes a near-impossible task in this unique series as she combines elements of mystery, Southern cozy, romance, fantasy, and supernatural lore to create a new genre of novel featuring a telepath who falls in love with a vampire.  When medicine discovers that vampires are victims of an incurable virus and creates synthetic blood to meet their needs, vampires gain legal status all over the world.  Vampires have “come out” to varying degrees of acceptance.

The small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana is home to Sookie Stackhouse who states that she has a disability:  she can read minds.  Most people do not accept her claim and think she is weird, crazy, or simple.  She is a waitress at the local hot spot, Merlotte’s Bar and Grill, where she has learned to suppress her mind reading disability.  Until one day a handsome man enters the bar, and Sookie knows something is different about him; she cannot read his mind no matter how hard she tries.  She is waiting on the first vampire to arrive in Bon Temps.

In quick succession Sookie saves vampire Bill from drainers who want to sell his blood.  Bill saves Sookie from the same drainers when they retaliate by beating her; and a relationship is born between the two.  They quickly fall in love despite their cultural differences.

Sookie lives with her grandmother in the old family farmhouse across the cemetery from vampire Bill Compton.  Sookie’s brother, Jason, lives where their parents had before they were killed in a flash flood.  Jason attracts women with little effort more than a smile.  He often visits Merlotte’s Bar to pick up a companion for the evening.

Merlotte’s is buzzing following the discovery of Maudette Pickens dead in her bed.  Not long after, it is buzzing again with news of waitress Dawn’s strangulation.  The local sheriff doesn’t often solve murder cases.  Now his detective, Andy Bellefleur, would have his hands full with the deaths of two loose women who liked vampires.  They had both bedded Jason Stackhouse, who becomes a prime suspect.

The community of Bon Temps is stunned with news of yet another murder.  Sookie’s grandmother has been killed following a meeting of the Descendents of the Glorious Dead featuring Bill Compton’s recollections of the Civil War.  The Sheriff thinks the murderer intended to kill Sookie, since she now loved a vampire.  Sookie’s world has crashed down around her as she mourns Gran’s death.  Who is this killer who is preying on unskilled females who like vampires?  Who will be his next victim?

Some  of the enjoyment of this audiobook is due to the many talents of Johanna Parker.  The accents given the characters are accurate and appropriate for the story.  The dialog is spot on, with the variations of “she said” fading into the background almost as if never written, letting the actual dialog sing.  The story is told from Sookie’s perspective which makes it more intimate with her narrative voice.  Ms. Parker reads so well that the story truly does come alive.  She even makes the occasional humorous side comments that really zap the reader’s funny bone.

One cannot think of the Sookie Stackhouse series of a dozen novels without considering the HBO original series “True Blood” based on them.  The TV series took the world of Sookie Stackhouse created by Charlaine Harris and twisted it and turned it into something quite different.  While the HBO series could accurately claim it was based on the books, I felt it took them and created a different world with problems and solutions far outside the range of the books, beginning with the first episode.  It is imperative that the reader understand that the books and the TV series are totally different and remove them from each other to enjoy each separately.

This review is on the first book about Sookie Stackhouse and her friends and family in a small Southern town.  I very much enjoyed the entire story, the solution to the murders, the supernatural world we enter, the world of Sookie Stackhouse and her vampire lover.  I am addicted to this fairy tale and look forward to each of the subsequent books in this enchanting series.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Arrowood by Mick Finlay

Mick Finlay's atmospheric debut mystery, Arrowood, reminds me of a television show from 2011-2012. "Copper" was about an Irish cop working in a dangerous neighborhood in New York City in the 1860s. Arrowood takes readers to the dangerous streets of South London in 1895, but it's the same gritty type of setting.

William Arrowood is an investigative agent who resents Sherlock Holmes' success. He insists to his assistant, Norman Barnett, that he's better at reading people than Holmes is. But, he still takes Caroline Consture's case, even though he knows she's lying when she asks him to find her missing brother. When Barnett and Arrowood learn the brother, Thierry, worked for the notorious Mr. Cream, they wish they had refused. A woman who knew Thierry is killed just before she can meet with the two men. Witnesses die or disappear when they know about Cream. Or, they're beaten and have their house set afire, with them in it.

As the two men investigate, they tangle with police, Cream's men, and an unknown killer. Their search puts them in danger, but also endangers those around them, including their errand boy and Arrowood's sister. Eventually, they are so caught up in plots involving Cream, the Fenians, the police, and the War Office that Barnett says, "Sometimes I lose sight of the case."

That's the problem with Arrowood. Sometimes I lost sight of the case as well. There were too many groups and people in this historical mystery, and it was hard to remember what the original case involved. Finlay does an excellent job telling the story of the working people just struggling to survive in 1895 London. But, it's hard to remember who all the working people are.

Arrowood by Mick Finlay. MIRA. 2017. ISBN 9780778330943 (paperback), 352p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.