As I continue to post reviews of the books I read over the summer, I am glad to say that I managed to venture out beyond merely Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF) this past summer, reading historical as well as "cozy" mysteries. I am eagerly awaiting the third Magic Bookshop mystery by Amanda Flowers and have also read a more recent book in another series by her as well.
Murder on Union Square by Victoria Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Wow, are we actually at the 21st book in the Gaslight Mystery series?? It's a brilliant mystery series set in New York City during the early 1900s. Midwife Sarah's doctor husband was murdered four years before the series began, and when one of Sarah's patients is murdered, she meets Detective Frank Malloy, a gruff Irish cop, who, like the majority of the police force, doesn't expend time and energy on cases in which he is not "tipped" by the family. Sarah is shocked and riled by Malloy's uncaring attitude, but she later finds out that under his facade is a man mourning his wife who died giving birth to their deaf son. Sarah, whose parents are one of the wealthy "Knickerbocker" families, joins with Malloy to solve the case and many others that come their way.
This case centers on the murder of an actor (a character in a previous book in the series) at the Palladium Theater on Union Square, a man whom Malloy himself is accused of and arrested for his murder. (I'm skipping a ton of background to avoid spoilers.) The actors are quite the cast of characters, including the aging leading lady, her manager husband, the actor's shrill and grabby "fiancee" (or so she says) who first accuses Malloy who finds the body in the actor's dressing room, and several minor actresses. As the plot unfolds, another character is murdered and the mystery is solved with the assistance of a previous client (another character in a previous book). It's a wonderful whodunnit which took me a while to figure out completely, and it's certainly full of twists and turns galore.
Once again, Victoria Thompson wins us over with a delightful and compelling mystery in this wonderful series that I just can't recommend highly enough.
This Disconcerting Happiness: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Christina Morland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When Elizabeth is informed the very afternoon of the Meryton Assembly that her father is dying of cancer, she has quite the burden to bear, especially knowing that her family must leave Longbourn after her father's death because of the entail on the estate. Mr. Darcy is also struggling with familial problems in that Georgiana has been removed from his care following the debacle at Ramsgate and is extremely unhappy at Rosings Park with Lady Catherine. But being married would give Darcy the legal standing needed to gain back custody of his sister.
After several frank conversations at and following the Meryton Assembly where they meet and talk on the balcony, Elizabeth and Darcy decide to marry, thus providing for the Bennet family after Mr. Bennet's demise and hopefully regaining custody of Georgiana. But when all does not go to plan, Darcy and Elizabeth find themselves happier than they ever thought could result from a marriage of convenience.
A very different variation, focusing as much on Georgiana's growth and decisions as it does on Elizabeth's family as her father's health fails. Nothing seems to go as planned, yet This Disconcerting Happiness gives them both the strength to carry on while grieving with one another.
NOTES on Second Reading:
I found myself in tears several times as I re-read this book. It was so compelling, yet so little filled with happiness, or, at least, happiness seemed so far out of reach as to even dim one's hopes of an HEA. I appreciate that the book ended with a pale HEA which is far more realistic than most JAFF. Still, I find this book even better the second time reading it. If I could give it a 4 1/2, I would.
Lucifer's Harvest by Melvin R. Starr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This ninth chronicle of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon, was very short compared to the previous mysteries in this amazing medieval mystery series.
Hugh has been married to his beautiful Kate for several years now, and with daughters Bessie and Sybil, they live in Galen House near Bampton Castle (a day's ride from Oxford) where Hugh is bailiff to the widowed Lord Gilbert Talbot as well as surgeon to the village of Bampton.
A message arrives one day in 1370: Lord Gilbert must provide soldiers to join Prince Edward in France. Hugh assumes that he will remain behind to administrate the affairs of Bampton Castle as he frequently does when Lord Gilbert lives in his other castle, but Lord Gilbert decides that Hugh's surgical skills may be needed on the battlefield, and he is compelled to go. Kate and the girls will move to the castle to run it in Lord Gilbert's absence, with the reeve taking on the bailiff's duties.
The long trek to Burgundy, then Limoges, is difficult, especially when Sir Simon Trillowe, who resents Hugh for winning Kate from him and also burned Galen House (and had to pay for its rebuilding), joins the soldiers from the area surrounding Oxford. Hugh must watch his back for sure. I'll leave the rest for you to discover, but Hugh also meets Prince Edward (later called The Black Prince) on a few occasions.
As always, this mystery is so well-researched and shows the unromantic realism of medieval life, especially for the peasants (this time, the peasants in the French countryside). Even the cadence and structure of the characters' speech possesses a subtle medievalism that is simply superb--not overdone nor underdone.
The glossary at the beginning of each book allows the reader to learn much about medieval life, from the ingredients to medieval dishes to the name for underwear worn in this time period.
Hugh himself is a compelling character: a humble man with some faults of temper and selfishness (like all of us), he is not a confident solver of mysteries so much as he is a careful one, a quality he has learned through experience. Hugh has earned the respect of Lord Gilbert, again through a proven track record of solving mysteries in and around Bampton, but now, in the French countryside ravaged by wars, Hugh is set to solve a mystery in order to save both his reputation and his life.
A brilliant mystery series, especially for those who thrive on details of medieval life; I just wish that there were more books available in the series. I only have one more to read, and then I'll be fully caught up and will have to wait for the publication of the next Chronicle of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon.
Crime and Poetry by Amanda Flower
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A delightful first book in a delightful mystery series!! I just love the main character, Violet Waverly (a literature professor just completing her Ph.D. on the Transcendentalists, one of my favorite areas of American lit), who comes home to a small town near Niagara Falls which she had left twelve years before under a shadow of suspicion. Why does she return?
Her grandmother, affectionately dubbed "Grandma Daisy" by those who love her, told Violet that she was dying and needed her to come home. Violet drops everything and returns to her hometown to help her ailing grandmother, she is shocked to find a very healthy Grandma Daisy waiting on customers in Charming Books, her popular bookshop.
But a death in town puts Grandma Daisy under suspicion, a situation in which Violet is quite familiar. But the handsome new police chief, who happens to belong to the writers' group who meets at Charming Books each week, seems to be far more open-minded than the former chief who had railroaded Violet when she was still a high school student. Despite the new chief, Violet decides to investigate this murder on her own because of her overall distrust of the police of this small tourist-driven village.
Yet there is another mystery that Grandma Daisy reveals to Violet: a mystery that revolves around the bookshop itself. Can magic really exist in our modern world?
I found this series to be amazing. I loved the quirky characters immediately. It's so easy for "quirky" to become a cliche, but these characters truly are quirky in the best way possible. I adore Violet and her background in literature as it resembles my own, and Grandma Daisy is so wonderful! And the different villagers are warm and welcoming, except for the parents of Violet's former boyfriend, now the town's mayor, who have always seen Violet as not good enough for their son.
I'm just disappointed that there are only two books of this series so far, with a third one set to be published in February.
Prose and Cons by Amanda Flower
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This second book in the Magical Bookshop series is just as wonderful as the first. Violet is adjusting to her grandmother's revelation about the magical qualities of Charming Books and has decided to take a leave of absence from her doctoral work in Chicago. She accepts an adjunct position at the local community college while also helping Grandma Daisy at the bookshop which also contains a small apartment that Grandma Daisy refurbished as an incentive for Violet to remain in Upstate New York.
Violet is also torn between two men. Nathan, the mayor, wants to pick up their relationship right where they left off twelve years ago, despite the fact that his parents persuaded him to "throw her under the bus" during the investigation into the death of her best friend during their senior year of high school. And then there's David, the police chief who also writes children's books as part of the Red Inkers, the writers' group who meets weekly at Charming Books. But when a member of the Inkers is murdered, another member of the group is under suspicion, and again Violet feels that she must solve the mystery before her friend gets railroaded by the police as she was twelve years earlier.
A delightful setting, a compelling mystery, and quirky village characters make this second book in the Magical Bookshop Mysteries a wonderful read. I only wish that we didn't have to wait until February for the next book in the series!!
Phi Alpha Pi by Sara Marks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A very intriguing modern variation of Austen's Pride and Prejudice set in Lizbeth's final year of college in the Phi Alpha Pi sorority where she is the chapter president.
This book almost seemed more like a mystery than a straight Austen variation, for much is uncovered, especially about their housemother, Mrs. C.. whose son, Colin Collins, seeks to be tutored by Lizbeth. Of course, Wil Darcy, his friend Charlie, and Charlie's sister, Caroline, all transfer in from Tulane University in New Orleans. Lizbeth keeps her wealthy background a secret as she works with her mentor, Dr. Bennet, and with the other officers in the sorority including Jane, Charlotte, Marie, and Lydia.
It's an intriguing tale--a little awkward in places (but then, that's Darcy no matter in which era we find him)--and cleverly done. I'd give it a 3 1/2, but I'll boost it to a 4 for this review. Darcy seems a bit one-dimensional until near the end of the book, but that could be his famous "mask" protecting him from the undesirable elements at this university in Georgia, an interesting choice for Darcy and Lizbeth as both hail from the northeast.
I really enjoyed it and found it quite compelling and deeply interesting. A fun twist on Austen's classic, and very readable.
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I have a huge backlog of books I've read but have not listed or reviewed yet; that's a job I hope to tackle this week! Our library's Summer Reading Program turned out to be quite rewarding, not only in all of the books I read this summer but also in the prizes given at the drawing at the end of the program. One of my (many) tickets was drawn first, so I was able to choose a Kindle Fire 7 tablet for our daughter to use in her business (I already have a Kindle Fire 8), so that was a lovely perk.