Monday, June 25, 2018

Murder at the Mansion by Sheila Connolly

Murder at the Mansion, the first Victorian Village Mystery, is evidence of Sheila Connolly's expertise. It's obvious she knows her way around a Victorian house, and knows the way to research history. It's also obvious this isn't Connolly's first cozy mystery. She avoids some of the most irritating tropes that are often repeated in the first book in a series. Murder at the Mansion is all the more enjoyable because it doesn't include stale elements.

Katherine Hamilton was successful in her hospitality job at a Baltimore boutique hotel, but a foreign conglomerate bought the hotel. Now, she's out of a job, but she does have a very lucrative severance package. When her best friend from high school comes calling, Kate can afford to listen.

Lisbeth still lives in Asheboro, Maryland, and the town's in trouble. The small town of around 1,000 bought the old Barton house. Now, after a storm, they don't have the money to repair businesses or the Barton place. Lisbeth has been authorized to ask Kate to look at the town. Does she have any ideas to help? She doesn't tell Kate, though, that her old nemesis, Cordelia Walker, is on the town council. And, Cordelia has ambitious plans of her own.

It's been years since Kate really looked at Asheboro. Now, she sees a town with little history and little future. But the Barton house is another matter. She falls in love with the Victorian house, and she's interested in learning its story from Josh Wainwright, a history professor and caretaker for the property. Is the house the key to saving Asheboro?

Maybe. But, first Kate has to save herself. She and Josh are leaving the house when they find Cordelia's murdered body on the stoop. Kate has a couple good reasons to want the woman dead. It turns out, though, that most people in town feared and hated Cordelia. Now, Kate has to stay out of the way of a killer while she pours over research material in order to save her hometown.

I enjoyed Sheila Connolly's Murder at the Mansion for all the things she doesn't do. Her character didn't leave her job under a cloud. She didn't catch a lover cheating. She doesn't immediately return home and become torn between two men as she decides who she loves. Instead, Kate Hamilton is a business person who takes a professional view of the town's request. She researches the house and the town. She's aware of her lack of skills and expertise as a detective. She turns to a professional for help when she needs it.

There's a strong sense of place in Murder at the Mansion, and I can already tell it will only grow more atmospheric as the series goes on. The historical elements are fascinating. Fans of Connolly's Museum mysteries will enjoy the appearance of Nell Pratt from that series. The first in Sheila Connolly's new series is just right.

Sheila Connolly's website is www.sheilaconnolly.com

Murder at the Mansion by Sheila Connolly. Minotaur Books, 2018. ISBN 9781250135865 (hardcover), 304p.

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


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Travellin' Shoes by V.M. Burns

V.M. Burns is the author of the Mystery Bookshop series. I enjoyed the first one. But, she really brings a community and characters to life in her first RJ Franklin mystery, Travellin' Shoes.

After a car accident, police detective RJ Franklin is on administrative leave from the St. Joseph, Indiana, Police Department. He can't sleep so he's out running at 2 a.m., and ends up at the house fire where the victim is the choir director at First Baptist Church. That's a little too close to home for RJ. His beloved godmother, Mama B, is a fixture at the church and a force to be reckoned with in the African-American community. When RJ's boss begs him to come back to handle the case, he knows Mama B will be a fount of knowledge. She is. She knows all the gossip, and she doesn't think much of the dead man, Thomas Warrendale.

The pastor, Reverend Hamilton, has a few questions about the victim as well. There's money missing from the church, but he wanted to handle it without bringing in the police. With Warrendale dead, it's time to confess his worries to RJ. As RJ and his partner, Harley, investigate, they learn the attractive owner of two local beauty salons was also missing money. And, the dead man had been her CPA until she realized there was money gone. A local bank could only admit they thought something odd was happening, but they couldn't find out what.

Maybe it had something to do with Thomas Warrendale, who wasn't Thomas Warrendale. He was actually from Cleveland, with another name, where he lived with his wife and worked as a CPA. What was a runaway CPA doing in St. Joseph, Indiana working as a choir director? The case just becomes more convoluted. And, RJ's investigation isn't helped by his attraction to Paris, the owner of the beauty salons. But, hard work by RJ and Harley, along with a few break-ins and Mama B's neighborhood knowledge, will close the case.

Travellin' Shoes combines the best of a cozy mystery with a police procedural. It has a wonderful cast of spirited characters. RJ and Mama B are standouts. She offers the wisdom, neighborhood gossip, and sometimes, the humor in the book. There are even a few recipes. But, there's also diligent work on the behalf of RJ and Harley, plodding work that needs to be done. And, they're dealing with other cases at the same time. As I said, I liked the first in Burns' other series. I loved this one.

V.M. Burns' website is www.vmburns.com

Travellin' Shoes by V.M. Burns. Camel Press, 2018. ISBN 9781603816892 (paperback), 248p.

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



Saturday, June 23, 2018

Peril & Prayer by Olivia Matthews

If you didn't meet Sister Lou (Louise) LaSalle in the first mystery in the series, Mayhem & Mass, there's no reason you can't pick up the second cozy. Olivia Matthews gives enough backstory in Peril & Prayer to make it easy for a new reader to pick up the book. Sister Lou is a strong, determined character, driven by her faith and a willingness to serve the small Briar Coast, New York community.

After the previous murder investigation, Sister Lou promised her nephew, Chris, that she wouldn't get involved again. But, Sister Marianna is enough to make anyone consider murder. The confrontational sister even argues with resort owner Autumn Tassler over a menu. There's a reason Sister Barbara, the prioress, put Sister Lou on the retreat planning team. The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Hermione of Ephesus will hold their Advent retreat at Briar Coast Cabin Resort. Or, they'll hold it there if Sister Marianna can stop fighting with Autumn. Sister Lou has to step in to offer compromises.

When Autumn is murdered, two disgruntled deputies target Sister Marianna for the crime. Despite her promises, Sister Barbara asks Sister Lou to investigate. Chris' boss at the college, Sister Valerie, asks him to step in and investigate because the murder inquiry bothers some of the college donors. And, reporter Shari Henson's boss at the newspaper puts her on the story, but warns her to try to get along with the sheriff's department. Shari has to take deep breaths and learn from Sister Lou's example. The murder brings the trio of amateur sleuths back to investigate. Sister Marianna may have a temper, but Sister Lou thinks Autumn's ex-husband's second wife, her cousin, or her business partner might have motives.

We all have pet phrases we tend to repeat too often. Better editing could have caught a few of Matthews' repetitions. But, Sister Lou and her friends make up for the overuse of descriptions and phrases. They're a likable group of characters who are still getting to know each other. While Shari hides her past from an inquisitive Chris, Sister Lou has a few quirks too. She drives her car too fast, and has accumulated a few tickets, but she still yearns to drive a sports car. She runs five miles six days a week with a fellow sister, and speeds up when she's troubled. But, she's a determined sleuth. She's determined to find justice for the victim, and peace for the community.

Matthews second Sister Lou mystery, Peril & Prayer, might be appreciated by those who enjoy Christian or Amish mysteries. Or, try it if you're a fan of Murder, She Wrote.

Olivia Matthews' website is AuthorOliviaMatthews.com

Peril & Prayer by Olivia Matthews. Kensington, 2018. ISBN 9781496709400 (paperback), 368p.

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

Note: Once the religious, nuns and sisters, started wearing street clothes, it didn't come as a surprise to know they jog. However, I'm showing my age by saying nuns still wore long habits when I first started at the Catholic school, and I was shocked, just shocked, to learn they went swimming.


Friday, June 22, 2018

Winners and A Little Humor

Congratulations to the winners of the last giveaway. The signed copies of Dorothea Benton Frank's By Invitation Only will go to Caryn S.C. of St. Louis, MO, and Virginia D. from Tempe, AZ. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

Everyone could probably use a little humor right now. I'm giving away three books. The sleuths and supporting casts in these books have been compared to the crazies in Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books.

Down the Aisle with Murder is an Otter Lake mystery by Auralee Wallace. Here's the summary. "Some wedding stories are so bizarre that you can’t even make them up. Take Erica Bloom’s latest case of an Otter Lake bride whose BFF is MIA at the time she’s supposed to perform her duties as maid of honor. ..only to be found DOA. Erica and her security team—minus her beloved Grady, who’s on vacation, trying to stay out of town business and has a no-nonsense sheriff covering for him—have followed every possible lead to find out what really happened to the young woman. Is her death the result of a bachelorette party gone wildly wrong? Or did someone with cold feet snap—and turn into a cold-blooded killer? These are the questions that must be answered for the nuptials, which at the eleventh hour receive a dramatic makeover, to go off without a hitch…before ’til death do us part."

I'm also giving away two of Carolyn Haines' Sarah Booth Delaney mysteries. The first is a paperback, Sticks and Bones. "Private investigator Sarah Booth Delaney and her friends are celebrating New Year’s Eve at the party of the year, a smashing Winter Garden party at the Prince Albert Hotel. It’s a dazzling success…until Frangelica “Sister” McFee walks through the door.  Sister’s latest book is a memoir about the death of her mother and brother many years ago. Now a film about the book is in the works, and a film crew has descended upon Zinnia, Mississippi, to tell the complete tale. When the film crew realizes there may be more to the story behind the scenes—and between the covers of Sister’s book—they hire Sarah Booth to find out what really happened all those years ago. But soon Sarah Booth realizes that someone is desperate to keep a long-buried secret…and will do whatever it takes to make sure no skeletons come out of the closet."

Or, you could win Haines' latest book in hardcover, Charmed Bones. "Zinnia, Mississippi is rife with
quirky characters, but the arrival of three sister witches—and their intention to open a Wiccan boarding school—sets the small town on its ear. And bodies begin to accumulate as a result. Faith, Hope, and Charity Harrington are sexy and smart. They’re setting up their boarding school in an old dairy—a piece of property with tremendous development potential. And they’re standing in the way of “progress,” according to some in the town.When young Corey Fontana goes missing, Delaney Detective Agency is hired to find the youth—who’s well known as a local hooligan. His mother, Kitten Fontana, who is married to the kind of land development, believes the witches have abducted her son and makes no bones about it. She’s willing to pay hard cash to find her son, especially if she can implicate the witches in his disappearance.When Sarah Booth Delaney and her partner, Tinkie Richmond, find Corey, unharmed, it is only the beginning of a series of events that include midnight dances under a full moon, love potions, and murder. Are the sister witches criminals… or victims? Do they truly have magical powers, as they claim? Sarah Booth and Tinkie must find the answer before more people are harmed."

Which book would you like to win this week? You can enter to win all of them, but I need separate entries. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject line should read either "Win Down the Aisle with Murder", "Win Sticks and Bones" or "Win Charmed Bones." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, June 28 at 5 PM CT.


Thursday, June 21, 2018

What Are You Reading?

Are you like me, and need some escape reading this week? I've been off to Australia and Paris with Charlotte Nash's novel The Paris Wedding. Just after her mother's death, a woman who willingly gave up her college education, her boyfriend, and ten years of her life to take care of her mother on their farm, is invited to her ex-boyfriend's wedding. In Paris. All expenses paid. I'm not far. She just landed in Paris. We'll see what happens. Australia and Paris are great places for escape.


What are you reading this week? Let's chat!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Cara Black's Interview

Yesterday, I posted an interview with Cara Black on Poisoned Pen's blog. Today, I'm going to link to that site, and suggest you check it out. Cara is the author of the Aimee Leduc Investigations. Her latest book is Murder on the Left Bank. The pictures she sent and the story of the art in the 13th arrondissement is so good, it's worth sharing with all of you.


Here's the link. http://bit.ly/2MEdcZ5

I hope you have time to read the interview, and check out Cara's photos.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Patchwork Bride by Sandra Dallas

Over the course of fifteen books, Sandra Dallas has placed women's relationships and quilting at the heart of her novels. Historically, quilting was a way for women to gather and tell their stories. In The Patchwork Bride, quilting is the tool a grandmother uses to illustrate to her granddaughter that she's not alone in her fears and her reluctance to marry.

Ellen and Ben are aging ranchers in Colorado in the early 1950s. With her weak heart and Ben's growing memory loss, Ellen fears it won't be long until the couple is forced to move to town. She escapes her worries by putting the finishing touches on a wedding quilt for her favorite granddaughter. June is the only one who loves the ranch. Like her grandparents, she turns to the ranch when she's troubled. When June shows up unexpectedly, Ellen is shrewd enough to guess there are wedding issues. June has run away from her wedding. She feels pressured to marry her fiance before he's sent to Korea by the army. June isn't sure she wants to be a military wife. She had been excited about the opportunities opened by her business degree. Now, she's afraid she'll just be an appendage going from base to base.

While Ellen works on the quilt, she tells June the story of another runaway bride. In fact, Nell ran away from three different men. At the end of the 19th century, she left her grandparents in Kansas and headed to New Mexico to work for her aunt on a ranch as a hired girl. It was there she learned to love the west and a cowboy she called Buddy. Although Nell desperately wanted to marry and not become an old maid, she fled New Mexico, and then left two other men before marrying the love of her life. Ellen's account of Nell's loves and troubles forces June to examine her own feelings and issues with her fiance.

The reader will quickly identify the character of Nell, and understand the direction the story is taking. However, Dallas is still a spellbinding storyteller who keeps the reader following as closely as June does while Ellen stitches together the pieces of the past. The Patchwork Bride isn't as remarkable as a couple of Dallas' earlier novels, The Persian Pickle Club or Tallgrass. (The savvy reader will catch the one reference to the women of The Persian Pickle Club.) However, it's still an enjoyable novel of the bonds between women,; friends or relatives, and the support they provide each other.

There were a few editing issues with this book. I read the actual book, not an ARC, and found there were slips when Ellen was misidentified as June. Those errors don't surprise me in an ARC. They should have been caught in the final edition of the book.

However, it's easy to overlook a couple confusing name changes. It's not as easy to overlook the beauty of the relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter as they exchange stories of the love in their lives.

Sandra Dallas' website is www.sandradallas.com

The Patchwork Bride by Sandra Dallas. St. Martin's Press, 2018. ISBN 9781250174031 (hardcover), 294p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book