Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wonderful Post-Civil War Love Story

A Waltz at Midnight by Crista McHugh 5 stars

After the Civil War, a brother and sister from the south are forced to take refuge helping at their aunt’s boarding house in New York in exchange for a place to stay. Susanna Parkwell hates their circumstances, but does her best to carry out her duties and keep the rich northern girls who are boarding there happy. She goes above the call of duty when one of the boarders, Charlotte, begs Susanna to help her break it off with an unwelcome suitor by crafting a letter to him, but signing Charlotte’s name. Susanna’s cleverness in her reply backfires, though, and Theodore Blakely becomes more determined than ever to court “Charlotte.” How will Susanna get out of this one without upsetting Charlotte and keeping her own heart from getting broken?

This premise of this novella sounded interesting to me from the beginning, but I never imagined how much I would love this story! While it was short, the history and the setting seem extremely realistic and the characters are well-developed and come alive through the telling of the story. It is a romantic story that while aimed at adults, would be interesting and suitable for young adults who enjoy historical romances.

The turn of events that lead to a break-up letter becoming a true courtship through heartfelt letters is entertaining and romantic. It is ironic that Susanna only feels able to be herself and pour out her true feelings about marriage and the war when she is pretending to be someone else. This fact of course complicates things when Susanna feels she has met her soul mate in Teddy.

I absolutely love the sweet ending of this story! My only criticism is the conclusion could have been drawn out a little more to allow the reader to savor the resolution. Because of the short length of the story, you don’t get to see the fallout of the decisions made by Susanna, Teddy, and Charlotte. However, based on what is said, I was left happy and satisfied with the book’s ending.

I received this book from NetGalley, through the courtesy of Carina Press, in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Holiday Wishes

I hope everyone had a very, Merry Christmas. I had a great Christmas Eve with my immediate family and then a wonderful dinner Christmas Day with extended family.

I am happy to say that I received the book on my list "V is for Vengeance" by Sue Grafton for Christmas and I have already finished it! It was an excellent book on its own merits and a wonderful addition to the series. Kinsey Millhone hasn't lost her independence or her intelligence this time around. This series is as wonderful as ever and I loved this book. The only bad thing is now I'm finished and since this book just came out, I'm assuming I will have an all too long of a wait for "W" to be published!

I hope everyone else had a nice Christmas. Happy Holidays and Happy Reading!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Recovery

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I had a great day with family for a delicious dinner and then woke up early for a day of shopping on Black Friday.

Do you plan on taking advantage of any Cyber Monday sales? Any booklovers on your shopping list or looking for something new for yourself? Here are a few great series that would make great gifts for the readers on your list or a nice way to treat yourself.

*  Sue Grafton - Kinsey Malone series -Kinsey is an intelligent, independent PI in California. This is my all-time favorite mystery series, and I have been reading the series for years. If you haven't read any of the books in this excellent, well-written series, start at the beginning and work your way through the alphabet. My favorite is "C is for Corpse", but the lastest installment V is for Vengeance on my own Christmas list.

* If you are already a fan of Grafton and looking for something similar, you may want to try Sara Paretsky's VI Washawski series, Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone series, or Linda Barnes's Carlotta Carlyle series.

* If you prefer books featuring amateur sleuths, then here are few series you may enjoy:  M.C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin novels (although she does go into the PI business in the later installments), but the style is far from "hard-boiled". Former London PR expert Agatha moves to an English village and infuriates many of the local residents, but has a knack for solving murders. Mary Daheim's Alpine Series featuring Emma Lord series also has a main character that has left the big city for life in a small town. Emma has taken over a small newspaper in the small town of Alpine, Washington and gets personally involved investigating murders she's writing about. Emma's latest adventure, The Alpine Winter, comes out this month.       

* My favorite British mysteries include any of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot books, but also Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse, Emily Brightwell's Mrs. Jeffries Victorian mysteries, and  Deborah Crombie's Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James series. (Duncan and Gemma are Scotland Yard partners as well as life partners).

* Alexander McCall Smith has several series, but my favorite is the #1 Ladies Detective Agency Series featuring Botswana's Precious Ramotswe and her assistant Grace Makutsi. These aren't traditional mysteries, but are wonderful stories featuring a wise detective. Any of the books in this series would make a wonderful gift for any reader on your list.

Happy Shopping and Happy Reading!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thanksgiving Treat for Margaret Maron fans

If you are a fan of Margaret Maron, then you will want to treat yourself to her newest novel.

Title: Three-Day Town
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Pub Date: November 21, 2011
ISBN: 9780446555784

MY RATING:  4 1/2 stars.   My Review:

It’s 1942 in New England and everyone is having fun at a gathering of Stillwater College professors and students. A student who has been ridiculed by one of the art history professors impulsively steals a “vulgar” artifact from his desk.

Skip to present-day North Carolina and Dwight Bryant and Deborah Knott are leaving for their long over-due honeymoon. They are taking the train to New York City and will be staying in a condo that belongs to Dwight’s sister-in-law. Kate has asked Dwight and Deborah to deliver a small, but heavy package on behalf of an elderly friend, Jane Lattimore. This favor of delivering what turns out to be a small sculpture leads them to Jane’s grand-daughter NYPD Homicide Detective Sigrid Harid. Soon, the couple is dealing with Sigrid in a professional capacity when the sculpture is stolen and there is a murder in the condo building. Things really heat up when it’s discovered that the murder victim had a few secrets of his own. Deborah and Dwight want to help recover the stolen sculpture and help solve the murder, but will Detective Harid accept their help?  

“Three-Day Town” is a wonderful book for Margaret Maron fans. Newer fans of the author will be most familiar with the Judge Deborah Knott series. Deborah is such a likeable character and it’s even better now that she has married Sheriff Dwight Bryant. It’s been a year since the two were married, but Deborah is still in awe of the happiness she has found when she fell in love with her long-time friend Dwight. As Deborah puts it, “It was like taking a second look at a chunk of glass and discovering a diamond.” They are a loving couple and interesting investigative team.

If you are new to both series, enough background information is given to follow the storyline and enjoy the story. Deborah has a huge family, but the author provides a family tree diagram at the beginning to help sort out all her brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and other relatives. Long-term fans of Ms. Maron will rejoice to see Sigrid Harid back in action. This is the first time since 1995 that Sigrid has been featured in a novel. Sigrid may be a little hard for readers who haven’t read the prior books in this particular series to connect with, but those familiar with the character will enjoy seeing her again.

The story alternates between Deborah and Sigrid’s point of view. There couldn’t be two main characters created by the same author that are so different. Both are intelligent, strong, and great investigators. However, Deborah is outgoing, friendly, and has a large circle of friends and relatives. On the other hand, Sigrid is reserved, introverted, and a loner with just a few close friends. It’s interesting to see the two characters interact when trying to solve the robbery and murder cases in this novel. Deborah uses humor to try to lighten some of the situations that occur, but Sigrid barely cracks a smile. While they don’t end up best friends, they do get along and each woman seems to gain respect for the other. While I miss seeing Deborah in the courtroom and in her Southern hometown, it is interesting to see her in a completely different setting. Sigrid’s chapters read like an excellent police procedural as she and her team of detectives work to get to the bottom of the unusual case.

This is an excellent novel for old fans of Maron and those that are new to the author. If you enjoy Deborah and Sigrid, then you will definitely want to check out earlier installments in both series.

I received this book from NetGalley through the courtesy of Grand Central Publishing in exchange for a fair review.

If you are a fan of Maron's Deborah Knott series and are looking for a little more Southern flavor, try these other great Southern authors:
* Anne George
* Toni L.P. Kelner
* Charlaine Harris

Giving Thanks

It's almost time for Thanksgiving already and it seems like the summer just ended. Like every year, this one has had ups and downs, but I have a lot to be thankful for. Great family, great friends, and great books! ;)

If you need something to kick-off your Thanksgiving, here are a few titles that will get you thinking about turkey and pumpkin pie (well, pie anyway).

  • "Turkey Flambe" by Nancy Fairbanks -- Features Culinary Food writer Nancy Blue
  • "Turkey Day Murder" by Leslie Meier -- Stars Part-time reporter and full-time mom Lucy Stone
  • "Murder She Wrote-A Fatal Feast" by Donald Bain/Jessica Fletcher
  • "Lemon Meringue Pie Murder" by Joanne Fluke - Hannah Swensen make delicious desserts for her cookie shop, juggle two great boyfriends, and investigates murders
This ought to get you hungry for Thanksgiving and give you great cozy mysteries to enjoy by the fire.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and safe travels for all those visting family and friends away from home.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Halloween! Halloween is a wonderful holiday for kids who get to dress up and be someone else for a night and get candy on top of it! For adults, some do still dress up for costume parties or even to give out candy. If you haven't had the chance to wear a costume, you can still get away from real life and get lost in a book.

If you're looking for a mystery, there are a few good Halloween-themed mysteries. Here are a few good ones you could try:

Halloween Party by Agatha Christie
Murder She Wrote:  Trick or Treachery by Jessica Fletcher/Donald Bain
All Hallows' Evil by Valerie Wolzien
Wicked Witch Murder by Leslie Meier
The Seventh Witch by Shirley Damsgaard (Technically not a Halloween mystery, but there are plenty of witches. Very suspenseful.)

If you're looking for something a bit more scary to get in the "spirit", here are a few of the scariest books I've read that are well-suited for Halloween.

Salem's Lot by Stephen King
It by Stephen King
Ghost Story by Peter Straub
The Exorcist byWilliam Peter Blatty
The Shining by Stephen King

Hope this gives you some ideas for a new book to try. Have a Happy and Safe Halloween!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Marcia Muller's latest Sharon McCone mystery

I have been ready Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone series for several years. I was fortunate enough to get an advance copy of her lastest book in the series:

City Of Whispers
Marcia Muller
Grand Central Publishing
ISBN: 978-0-446-57333-7
Rating: 4 Stars
It has been one year since San Francisco Private Investigator Sharon McCone was hospitalized in a near coma, and she is slowly getting her stamina back and learning to live with the after effects. Sharon receives a cryptic E-mail from her troubled half-brother Darcy Blackhawk asking for help, but Sharon doesn’t know how to reach him. While searching for Darcy, Sharon finds a dead body at a location her brother has been seen, but there is no sign of Darcy. It’s murder and this case seems to be connected to an unresolved murder of a young heiress, but what Sharon really wants to know is do either of these cases have anything to do with Darcy and where is he?

“City of Whispers” is the latest installment in the long-running Sharon McCone series. Sometimes an ongoing series like this one can get stale, but this book shows there are still interesting tales left to tell about Sharon’s adventures. The story is told from alternating points of view: Sharon, Sharon’s nephew Mick Savage, and Darcy. This keeps the story moving, builds suspense, and keeps the reader interested in what is going to happen next. I was intrigued about what was really going on with Darcy and the two murder cases.

Sharon’s point of view of the investigation makes up the backbone of the book. Sharon is the main character, so it is always interesting to see the case through her eyes. Sharon is a complex character. She is independent, but is learning to deal with her new health-related limitations. She can be prickly, but is a caring person and continues with her search for Darcy, who she doesn’t necessarily like, but keeps looking because he’s family and it’s the right thing to do.

Having a number of the chapters told form Mick’s point of view works well. Mick is impulsive, smart, and likeable and adds some needed fun into the series. He and Sharon have a bit of a role-reversal in this book with Sharon doing some of the computer research and Mick investigating in the field. They seem to gain a new appreciation of what the other one contributes to the agency, and the reader gets to see them in new situations.

The few chapters told by Darcy are helpful in the overall story since the reader gets to experience what he is thinking and feeling. However, because Darcy is so disoriented, either from drugs or mental illness, his chapters are confusing and sad. While these chapters play an important part in the book, they are often challenging to understand, and a bit frustrating.

Many of the important supporting characters from prior books are included, but aren’t present throughout the entire book. Sharon’s friend, former assistant, and now sister-in-law Rae is a favorite character of mine due to her intelligence and outspoken manner. She shows her usual spunk, but makes too brief of an appearance in the book. Rae’s housekeeper Mrs. Wellcome makes some very insightful and helpful observations about some of the people involved in the investigation. Her curiosity, along with her eavesdropping skills, would make her an interesting addition to future investigations. Fan’s of Sharon’s husband Hy Ripinsky may be disappointed to see he isn’t involved a lot at the beginning of the story, but will be glad to see he plays an important role toward the end.

There are a few political comments in the book, and some come across better than others. Opinions in reference to 9-11 flow smoothly and fit in with the subject being discussed. Others, such as criticism of a specific TV network, seem random and don’t add to the story.
In spite of this, I enjoyed this installment and look forward to upcoming books in this series. I have followed the series for several years, but new readers would also be able to enjoy the book. However much of Sharon‘s back story and details about the many wonderful supporting characters aren‘t included in this book and require reading some of the earlier books in the series. If you aren’t familiar with Marcia Muller, but enjoy Sara Paretsky or Sue Grafton, then you will want to add “City of Whispers” to your reading list.

This book was provided to me by NetGalley, courtesy of Grand Central Publishing, in exchange for an honest review.