Entertaining book about high NYC society. The late Dunne (he passed away just after finishing this book) really captures the insiders view of society life perfectly, mostly because he was ONE OF THEM. So, the world he is writing about was really his own world. Silly in parts and the ending was too vague for me, mostly I enjoyed this romp through the lives of people I will never be allowed (or, for that matter, want to) socialize with.
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Meet the Amlingmeyers. A pair of brothers riding the range from one grub stake to the next. Are they just obsessed cowpokes thinking about food, smokes, horses, women and more food? Nope. Old Red (Gustav) and Big Red (Otto) have other things on their mind. Like detecting. Just like that Sherlock fellow. Welcome to the world of Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith.

Old Red’s obsession with all things Holmes – read to him by his brother from Harper’s Magazine – leads them to adventure. The slightly shady outfit they have signed up with – the Bar VR – ends up having two deaths on the premises. And the foreman really does not seem to care since everyone is supposed to be preparing for the arrival of the foreign owners of the ranch. Just who is lying to whom? And just what is going on with the ranch finances and stock? And those fancy English folks might have a hand in this mess too.
Hockensmith’s characters are great fun. The story is told in Big Red’s voice and he is a perfect doubting Thomas about his brother’s detection skills. But he will stand by him as a loyal “Watson” and family member should. Old Red sometimes doubts himself – he is just an average uneducated cowboy – but he has studied his hero Holmes’ methods.
With wonderful characters and a twisty plot, this series is off to a great start. I’m eager to read the rest. A very fun read!
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There are those that say certain kinds of mystery books are cozy. I think they categorize cozies, by having amateur sleuths, lovely little towns, and having folks getting murdered “off stage”. So what happens when you have a series that has a little Minnesota town, the main character owns a needlework/craft shop, solves mysteries on the side, but the killings are not necessarily pretty. How’s getting tossed off a balcony (Crewel Yule), cut by the throat (Cutwork), and having a knitting needle pushed into your brain (Sins and Needles)? Cozy? I think not.

Monica Ferris has created a great character in Betsy Devonshire. And she has given her a interesting group of friends and neighbors. Betsy has a talent for figuring out the little things that solve cases. And she is not so sure she likes this talent. It does bother her that some of these killers are people in the community. Folks that she knows. (Now, that is why I always find these “malice domestic” books creepier – these are not strangers doing the killing!)

She’s embarked on this path by accident. She really was just intending to stay with her sister and help her in the store, while she was getting over her divorce. And then her sister was murdered. And she inherited the store and estate. So she stuck around for awhile. And got more involved with her employees and her customers.

Ferris does a nice job fleshing out the secondary characters throughout the series; it is a rare “cozy” that has a regular character that is gay. But Godwin grows and develops through the series. He becomes more than the guy who can match the right thread colors. Various members of the store’s regulars – the Monday Bunch – get their own spotlight in the books in the series.

And then there is the needlework. Cozy? Maybe. It has been considered an art form for years. This series is a great way to see how Ferris mixes it in with the mystery. One book has Betsy trying to identify a certain bobbin lace pattern, the next has her researching symbols on a church tapestry. And the store is used as a place where folks in the community can gather. Actually, I wish we had a store like Crewel World locally. These books make me want to take up my cross-stitching again! So do yourself a favor – start with the first three books in order, and then you can mix them around a bit. And discover the world of Excelsior, Minnesota. A fun series.

Monica Ferris’ mystery series featuring Betsy Devonshire:

Thai Die (2008)
Knitting Bones (2007)
Sins and Needles (2006)
Embroidered Truths (2005)
Crewel Yule (2004)
Cutwork (2004)
Hanging by a Thread (2003)
A Murderous Yarn (2002)
Unraveled Sleeve (2001)
A Stitch in Time (2000)
Framed in Lace (1999)
Crewel World (1999)

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Cara Black starts off her series with lead character Aimee Leduc in the book Murder in the Marais. What starts out as a simple and overpaid job of hunting down a encripted website, ends up becoming a case of murder. Aimee finds the body and sets in motion an investigation that goes all the way up to the top level of French politics.

The Marais is the traditionally Jewish section of Paris. And this is where the French Jews were rounded up during the occupation. Memories are long for injustices, and Aimee finds she is sifting through the history of the occupation in order to find out who would want an elderly Jewish woman murdered and who wants her to stop investigating.

This is a fast paced story but Black gives the reader enough time to get to know Aimee and her unusal background. Black hints at the fact that Aimee has secrets of her own that will be revealed in later books. Aimee is a tough character who has been trained by her recently deceased father in the art of detection. And it does not take the reader long to admire her tenacity and skill at going undercover to figure out the case. I’m looking forward to reading the next one in the series. A good mystery and a very good read.

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One of the more delightful surprises in fiction in recent years, this Keyes book was a beach read that turned out to be a little more than that. I’ve read quite a few of Keyes books before but this one is probably my favorite of hers…it’s fresh and engaging and simply delightful. Told from the POV of three London ladies: 1. Gemma, who has a neurotic mother and is still mourning the loss of her stolen-out-from-under-her-by-her-best-friend boyfriend…2. Lily, who is the best friend who stole Gemma’s boyfriend…and 3. Jojo, a literary agent who ends up representing both Gemma and Lily. I loved the way Keyes weaved all three stories together…yet giving each of the 3 enough space for us to get to know them all. Even though each change of character is marked with the ladies’ name before the chapter, towards the end, we knew each of the three enough to know whose part we were reading. A great way to tell a fun, entertaining story!

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A chance encounter with a book by Charles Lamb, leads to a inquiring letter written to an author, who just happens to be looking for her next project, and her curiosity leads her to the island of Guernsey in the The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows have written a book that is full of characters that we want to get to know – right away- and the format that the authors use – personal letters between characters – gives us the opportunity to be eager (and inquisitive) for the next missive.
Their letters give us the chance to examine the relationship between the characters, as it grows from being formal strangers, and moves to becoming beloved friends. They contain a lot of the minutia of life, and give the reader a bit of the background of the main writer – Juliet and what her life has been like during the war. All of the characters are experiencing the recovery of Great Britain from the war, but those on Guernsey have a special reason to be grateful after the sorrowful years of occupation.
The Literary society came about because of a special pig dinner. Special because it was being hidden from the Nazis. And as the islanders bonded over dinner and being in trouble, the society grew to be more than just a group of people talking about books. And one person, Elizabeth, seems to be the catalyst that brings them all together. When Juliet learns about their stories, she wants more than ever to bring their tale to light in a book because she is falling in love with the island too.
Filled with war stories, book references, British slang, and good humor, the authors have a definitely created a great story to tell. If you don’t like the style of the book – personal letters – you might have trouble with it. But I think it is splendid! A very good read.
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When the dead body of a stranger lies in the garden of an disheveled ancient family home, what’s an eleven year old girl with a passion for chemistry (and a unnatural knowledge of poisons) supposed to do? Solve the mystery of course. Welcome to Flavia’s world.

Flavia de Luce is 11 going on 40. She’s the neglected youngest daughter of an absent minded stamp collector in Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. With her trusty bicycle Gladys, Flavia is determined to solve this crime. When her father is charged with the murder, it becomes even more important. She doesn’t realize that the investigation will lead her to finding out more about her father’s past.

Bradley does an excellent job showing us an eccentric dysfunctional family and manages to make it seem “normal” to Flavia. And when her older sisters lock her up in a closet or tell her she was really brought home as a baby from a store, she does what any normal youngest child does. She takes revenge. She just does it a little differently, with poison ivy in a lipstick.

I’m excited that this is to be a series. There are too many de Luce family secrets that have been hinted at and need to be uncovered. As a reader, I am looking forward to seeing Flavia and her sisters growing up in this odd environment. Perfect for traditional mystery fans.

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The Arcane Society continues in Amanda Quick’s The Perfect Poison. Quick (who is Jayne Ann Krentz) has written her sixth book in the series – the third historical one. And much to this reader’s joy – she keeps the excitement in the series. (Can I tell you how many times books within a long series, have clunkers through out because the author can not keep up the quality?) Finally Quick brings us Colin’s story. Colin Jones’ talent is a difficult one – he has a talent for strategy and making connections. He sees the patterns in his head and connects the dots so that the Society and his new project, Jones and Company can figure out what is going on in the battle for the founder’s formula. He doesn’t have Miss Lucinda Bromley in his pattern however.

Lucinda has a talent for botany – more specifically figuring out what botanic ingredients have been combined to create potions for good or for evil. She’s been helping a member of Scotland Yard, with various cases that involve poisons and she discovers that one of the ingredients she has figured out was stolen from her greenhouse. She decides to enlist Jones and Company to find out who the thief is and where is her plant. She also has a bit of a reputation – she is rumored to have poisoned her fiance, and wants things handled as quickly as possible. When they meet – they end up surprising each other – with their talents and intelligence. And when Colin figures out her thief is connected to his quest – the hunt is on.

Quick once again gives us great characters, with pithy dialogue and a roller coaster ride of a plot. And she brings us an excellent subplot of an Arcane Society matchmaker in action. (It would be fun to have her again in another book!) Along the way she manages to deftly fill in more details about the Jones family, the Arcane Society, their history, and their members’ talents. I can hardly wait for the next installment! A very good read!
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Murder On the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner is a wonderful book that combines history and mystery to produce a fun work of fiction. We are immersed from the beginning in the 1889 World Exposition in Paris. The entire city is focused on the new Eiffel Tower and the exposition. The joy and the excitement of going up to the viewing platforms has visitors in a frenzy. And when someone is murdered on the platform, the case makes front page news. But who would murder a maiden aunt taking her niece and nephews on an outing? Victor Legris, a young bookseller, is on the platform with newspaper friends when this happens and wants to find the culprit. And when more people start dying after visiting the viewing platforms and the exposition, he is determined to solve the case – even as his friends are turning into suspects.

The author (really a pen name for two lady booksellers in modern France) brings to life the Paris of the time, and Victor’s occupations as bookseller and book critic. Victor is a compelling character who is trying to be modern but finds he is more conservative than he thinks he is. With a cast of interesting secondary characters, the story allows us a brief glimpse into their world. And we had a wonderful time. A very fun read.

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A sharp, methodical mystery from Canadian writer Peter Robinson. This is his first mystery featuring English cop Alan Banks…who has subsequently become a continuing character of Robinson’s. Set in Yorkshire, Banks recently made the move from London to the North of England…and is still getting used to small-town ways. Robinson does a great job of setting Banks up as a character we want to get to know better. We feel comfortable with this man and like him…because he’s human. He has flaws, bad habits and is not always Super Cop. This book deals with two crimes…one involving a peeping tom and one involving a murder. Robinson does a great job of letting Banks unfold both cases. A superb mystery with a fascinating new police character!

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