Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Arsenic with Austen by Katherine Bolger Hyde

Katherine Bolger Hyde's debut mystery makes me regret that I don't know Austen better. Each chapter of Arsenic with Austen begins with a quote from one of the novels. If I was more knowledgeable, I'd probably have been more familiar with the direction the story took. I was impressed with some aspects, surprised by the ending, and not surprised by the culprits. I also have the feeling I missed some major points by only knowing a couple of Austen's books.

Emily Cavanaugh hadn't been back to Stony Beach, Oregon in thirty-five years. As a teenager she spent summers there, met and lost the love of her life. Now, at fifty-one, she's a widowed professor, and the heir to her great-aunt Beatrice's estate. In other words, Emily inherited the house called Windy Corner, $6 million in cash and assets, and most of the property in the small community. Her uncle's nephew, Brock, inherited a small portion of the estate. And, it seems, even at Beatrice's funeral that a quarter of the town was united behind the mayor and Brock in wanting Emily to sell out to developers.

But, Emily still loves Stony Beach, the town she saw as a refuge. She loves the library in Windy Corner. As she questions Beatrice's housekeeper and some of the shopkeepers, she starts to grow suspicious. Aunt Beatrice's death seems a little too fortunate and a few people seem a little too eager to get on Emily's good side. When Emily joins forces with Sheriff Luke Richards, the man she once loved, the two start poking at suspects who are a little too slick for comfort. And, one more death convinces Emily and Luke that Beatrice was somehow murdered.

It's refreshing to have an amateur sleuth in her fifties instead of a young woman. Emily is a mature woman with a history, and a kind heart. That kind heart leads to a couple surprises in the book, including the ending. It is surprising that she's an English professor who is a Luddite, unfamiliar with computers or Netflix. Most cozy mysteries have victims that are not well-liked, and the amateur sleuth has a host of suspects to sift through. The victims in this book are likable characters, and the reader regrets their deaths as much as the sleuth does. It makes sense that Emily would want to find the killer.

If you're looking for a mature sleuth with an adult relationship with an old boyfriend, a kind and not eccentric character, try Arsenic with Austen. And, if you are a lover of Jane Austen's writing, tell me what I missed.

Katherine Bolger Hyde's website is

Arsenic with Austen by Katherine Bolger Hyde. Minotaur Books. 2016. ISBN 9781250065476 (hardcover), 312p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One and Two - J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

By now, everyone knows that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play written by Jack Thorne, based on a new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Tiffany and Thorne. And, people are seeing it in London, the book has been out several weeks now, and no one can really be surprised. But, I'm not going to give anything away, if I can help it. I may not have grown up reading the Harry Potter books, but I loved Harry and the world Rowling created. I never wanted to know what happened until I had the chance to read the book.

Everyone knows Harry Potter survived the first seven books, or there wouldn't be an eighth story, nineteen years after the events in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Rowling has written that Harry married Ginny Weasley and had three children. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the story of the middle child, Albus. And, oh, he's a middle child, thinking his father doesn't love or understand him the way he loves and understands the oldest boy or the only girl. Before Albus even gets to Hogwarts, he's scared of the expectations that will come from being the son of Harry Potter, who is now the Head of Magical Law Enforcement. But, at Hogwarts, Harry was famous. And, as a middle child, Albus feels the weight of the expectations. Who will his friends be? What house will he be in? What will Harry's son become?

The latest Harry Potter is a story of fathers and sons, the past and the present, and how they influence each other. It's a play that collects the legendary stories of Harry Potter, and twists them around, showing them from another viewpoint. If the characters and world don't seem quite as developed as in Rowling's books, it's because it's a rehearsal script with brief descriptions to set the scene. And, as in any play, the actors who play those parts will bring the characters to life.

But, we all know Harry Potter, don't we? Or, do we? Let's see him through the eyes of a middle child, challenging his father, as young men do, challenging his father's legend. But, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is still a Harry Potter story. Those of us who remember the lessons of the books will remember lessons of love and friendship. Those qualities created the legend of Harry Potter. And, the legend lives.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne. Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic, Inc.), 2016. ISBN 9781338099133 (hardcover), 325p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Monday, August 22, 2016

Spoiling Other Books

I finished Louise Penny's A Great Reckoning yesterday. When I read Louise's new book, I always block off a day to sit down and absorb it, to sink into the atmosphere. And, I don't review it for a few days so I have time to think about it. Louise Penny's Gamache books are the only ones that I handle this way. Then, the next book or so are spoiled for me. In fact, I texted my sister.

I said, "The best book of my year is over. I might as well give up books and go to New Orleans and Chicago and Ireland and New York." Linda said she can't read Louise's books when it's hot and sunny. "She needs dark and cold." My response was, "This is a book that starts with November's first snowfall, and goes into a winter of the soul."

I've loved Louise's books since Still Life. I'm not always this crazy about them. There were several in the series that didn't excite me. But, A Great Reckoning isn't one of those.

I'll review it later, but it's a review I have to write carefully so I don't give away spoilers. I never read reviews of Penny's work until I've read the book, and already tonight I saw a summary that gave away too much. I'll be careful so I don't spoil it for anyone.

In the meantime, do you have an author who spoils other books for you? Who do you read, and then close the book, knowing you have to wait another year?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Curious Minds by Janet Evanovich & Phoef Sutton

I'll admit I haven't read books in all of Janet Evanovich's series. But, it didn't come as a surprise when a car blew up in her latest book, Curious Minds. This time, though, she's moved into a higher price range. Evanovich and co-author Phoef Sutton blew up a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow. Most of the rest of this fun caper was a surprise, though.

Riley Moon has degrees from Harvard Business and Harvard Law. She's representing the prestigious mega-bank Blane-Grunwald when she shows up at Mysterioso Manor, home of the uber-wealthy eccentric Emerson Knight. But, he only wanted to speak to Gunter Grunwald, and Riley had to admit the man was missing. Their drive back to the bank to confront Gunter's brother only convinces Riley that Emerson is nuts. Her boss asks her to work with Knight, expecting her to report back to him. Instead, Riley ends up in a chase across country, one involving gold, "Cammo dudes", and a senior citizen hot-wiring a car.

There's so much more to this enjoyable caper, though. Let's just say it's a story involving national security at the highest levels. However, it's the contrast and relationship between Emerson Knight and Riley Moon that makes the story successful. Riley's a little uptight, trying to make it in the financial world. But, at heart, she's still a Texas girl, daughter of the retired county sheriff, and the girl who could outshoot her four brothers. She's the perfect assistant for Emerson Knight. "physically a ten, but intellectually he was a certifiable fruit basket". Riley's opinion after she's known him a little longer? "His rigid confidence bordered on arrogance, and was flat-out annoying. It was tempered by an honest simplicity that was charming." Emerson turns out to be an adventurer with lots of money, who launches himself (and Riley) into danger with no more than a basic plan.

Looking for a caper with two attractive heroes, and a couple admirable sidekicks? Looking for greed on a grand scale? Check out Curious Minds by Janet Evanovich and Phoef Sutton.

Janet Evanovich' s website is
Phoef Sutton's website is

Curious Minds by Janet Evanovich & Phoef Sutton. Bantam Books. 2016. ISBN 9780553392685 (hardcover), 323p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Sequel Disappointment

I didn't have as much reading time as I thought I would today, so I didn't finish the book I'm reading. And, I have to admit it's an easy read. Have you read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child yet? I have mixed feelings. I don't mind the stage directions and the fact it's a play. As I mentioned here before, I like to read plays. What I'm having problems with is the next generation. Like so many books in which favorite young characters grow up, I prefer to read about them in their youth. I don't really want to see Harry, Hermione, Ron and Ginny as adults. Think about your favorite books about young people. None of the sequels were as good as Little Women. Frankly, Alcott married Jo off to the wrong person, and all kinds of readers were disappointed. And, I read a comment recently about Peter Pan. It really wasn't as much fun after Wendy grew up. I can think of several other books off the top of my head that are the same. Although The Velveteen Rabbit really did get to become real because the boy grew up.

When it comes time to review Harry Potter and the Curse Child, I may actually like the story itself. As I said, though, it's just tough to see Harry as an adult.

What do you think about sequels to books about youth? I started to ask about sequels to favorite books, but that's a whole other subject when it comes to mysteries. I'm not talking about mysteries. I'm talking about books featuring young people. Maybe Alan Bradley is smart in keeping Flavia de Luce young.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Winners and a Bibliophile Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Malice at the Palace will go to Nancy H. from Dodgeville, WI. Susan B. from Seattle, WA won A Most Curious Murder. The books will go in the mail tomorrow.

I'm getting ready to write a newspaper column dealing with books about books. That makes it the perfect time to give away hardcover copies of Kate Carlisle's Bibliophile mysteries. If you're not familiar with her books, Brooklyn Wainwright is a book restoration expert. Ripped from the Pages is set in Sonoma where Brooklyn has moved temporarily to her parents' while her apartment is being renovated. The community excavates caves, hoping to use them for their wine business. But, they find a room, treasures including rare books, and a body. And, the treasures reveal secrets about French winemakers who fled the Nazis.

The drawings of John James Audubon are featured in Books of a Feather. When she's at the Covington Library's special exhibit featuring Birds of America, the president of the National Bird-watchers Society asks Brooklyn to repair one of Audubon's lesser known books. When a friend offers her another rare book to restore that same evening, Brooklyn's having a great time. But, the party is ruined when she finds a body in the library.

Which book would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win Ripped from the Pages" or "Win Books of a Feather." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, Aug. 25 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Secrets of Nanreath Hall by Alix Rickloff

Alix Rickloff has written historical and paranormal romances, but Secrets of Nanreath Hall is her first historical novel. It's a disturbing, fascinating story of a mother and daughter. But, it's the daughter's story, the atmospheric depiction of World War II, that brings the story to life.

In alternating chapters, Rickloff tells of Lady Katherine Trenowyth and her daughter, Anna Trenowyth. As a young woman, passionately in love, and wanting to be an artist, Katherine fled from her family estate at Nanreath Hall in Cornwall. Her story is set prior to and during the Great War, but it's Kitty's story up until her death when Anna is young. In contrast, Anna's story is set against World War II, but the war itself is essential to Anna's story. Seventeen years after her mother's death, Anna has survived the collapse of France, and barely survived when the ship she was on was strafed and hit a mine. She's part of the Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment. After her recuperation in the hospital, she's assigned to work in a convalescent home. Anna Trenowyth is sent to Nanreath Hall in Cornwall.

While Katherine's story is one of love and loss, Anna's is the story of the search for a family, a history she never knew. "The Trenowyth family never recovered. Scandal, debt, injuries, death." What part did Katherine play in the rumor that the Trenowyths were cursed? Anna knows nothing about her mother's past, but will discover family members who don't want her and secrets they want hidden.

Katherine and Anna are both strong, interesting women. But, it's the background of Anna's story that is vivid and heart wrenching. Rickloff's account of World War II deals with the role played by all the British. She writes of the suffering of the nurses such as Anna, who dealt with PTSD, who heard the cries of the dying, who lost friends. Nanreath Hall is bombed in the course of the book. She brings the convalescent home, the bombed out London streets, to life. Anna's memories and her reaction to them, are usually not portrayed in books about the war. We read about PTSD in the soldiers. But, we seldom read about the nurses and volunteers who saw so much. In Anna, in her cousin, Hugh, we see the suffering of the survivors.

Secrets of Nanreath Hall is a compelling, atmospheric story. Rickloff vividly portrays the time period in a story that is heart wrenching when describing the war.  It was a war that changed British society forever, and it's reflected here. There are complex, flawed characters in this book, fascinating characters. But, for me, the agonizing stories of the survivors, the people fighting their memories, are the pieces of this book that linger.

Alix Rickloff's website is

Secrets of Nanreath Hall by Alix Rickloff. William Morrow. 2016. ISBN 9780062433183 (paperback), 400p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received a copy of the book to participate in the blog tour.