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Criminally Cocoa–disappointing

Criminally Cocoa

by Amanda Flowers

Criminally CocoaI have read books in two different series by Amanda Flowers and generally find her plots intriguing, her characters interesting, and her writing style excellent. Criminally Cocoa, except for the kitschy title, was disappointing. Normally I like the rare cozy mystery that doesn’t revolve around a murder. No murder here, but no plot success either. Flowers and her characters kept strolling through the same territory with two themes (Amish girl in the big city and the success or failure of a new cooking show) over and over again. Fortunately this book is a novella. Otherwise, I would have broken my own rule for my book world and not finished the book. I did complete it, but only so I could write a proper review.

I would like to extend my thanks to and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 2/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: Novella in the Amish Candy Shop Mystery Series

Recipe for Bailey’s Easy Easter Birds’ Nests included.

Publication:   February 26, 2019—Kensington Press

Carnegie’s Maid–sacrificing for family

Carnegie’s Maid

by Marie Benedict

Carnegie's MaidCarnegie’s Maid, a work of historical fiction, attempts to explain what could have caused Andrew Carnegie, a ruthless businessman, to become a philanthropist and founder of the Carnegie Libraries. As a former impoverished Scottish immigrant, he fights his way to the top echelons of America’s monied, sometimes stepping on the backs of other immigrants to get there. Author Marie Benedict has created a lady’s maid from Ireland who is on a mission to support her Irish Catholic Fenian family. Her Clara is hard-working, smart, and focused. An opportunist, she takes the place of another Clara becoming a lady’s maid rather than a scullery maid making herself privy to the family’s secrets and business machinations.

As seen in Benedict’s other excellent work of historical fiction, The Other Einstein, the novel Carnegie’s Maid demonstrates the author’s intensive research and attention to detail. As I read I found myself wishing for a main character based on an actual person as in The Other Einstein. I assume the details and records of Carnegie’s life are just too sketchy to provide such a character. Benedict has taken the immigrant culture of the times, the certainty that Carnegie’s mother would have had a lady’s maid, the mystery of Carnegie’s altruism, and his delay in marriage as the basis for her fictional Clara. There is much more supposition in this book, but it is well written and not outside the realm of possibility.

I enjoyed the tale with its details about the difficult lives of the Irish both in Great Britain and in the United States. It paints a picture of the U.S. as a very difficult land of opportunity, with no handouts, and even fewer options for women. Gender, ethnic background, religion, money, family, and education all play a role in the highly stratified, unofficial class systems of the time.

I would like to extend my thanks to and to Sourcebooks Landmark for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction

Notes: by the author of The Other Einstein

Publication:   January 16, 2018—Sourcebooks Landmark

Memorable Lines:

“These Catholic Irish running from the havoc wreaked by their famine and pouring onto American shores are not like the hard-working Protestant Irish who immigrated in earlier years. This new Catholic crop is rough and uneducated, and they’ll destroy the fabric of this country’s shaky democracy if we let them, especially in these days of Civil War unrest, just like they did back home in Scotland when they stole factory jobs away from Scottish men and women. An Irish Catholic servant might suffice as a scullery maid but not as my personal maid.”

For whom was I crying? for all the immigrants like the Lambs, who came to America seeking a better life but settled instead for a soot-infested home and dangerous work in the mills and gave thanks for it?

For the first time, I realized how alike my situation was to that of Mr. Carnegie. Although the scale was quite different, the stakes were not. The well-being of both our families rested on our success.

Smoke and Mirrors–P.T. Barnum’s American Museum

Smoke and Mirrors

by Casey Daniels

Smoke and MirrorsP.T. Barnum’s American Museum, stocked with the odd, unusual, and exotic from around the world, is the setting for the mystery Smoke and Mirrors by Casey Daniels. It’s the fall of 1842 in New York City when we are introduced to the fictional heroine Evangeline Barnum, a sister of Phineas T. Barnum.

Although Evangeline lives in a time of severe restrictions on women in the United States, thanks to her forward thinking brother, she works at the museum with many responsibilities. She has more freedom to pursue her investigations than most women would have. Problems begin with the appearance of an old family friend, Andrew Emerson, soliciting her help. Evangeline turns him away because his presence could cause the discovery of secrets she has worked hard to hide. The plot becomes ever more complex as Evangeline becomes involved in a murder, attempts on her life, and the disappearance of young ladies in New York City.

This was a fascinating book of historical fiction. It is well researched, has interesting characters, and provides a different perspective on the lives of the “human oddities” in live exhibits. These are the kinds of people, like the bearded lady, that one used to commonly find in fair exhibits, but are hopefully not exhibited as freaks anymore.

I would like to extend my thanks to and to Severn House for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Notes: #1 in the Miss Barnum Mystery Series

Publication:   November 1, 2017—Severn House

Memorable Lines:

Her words were not light and airy, more like a cloud that foretells a coming rain; not so threatening in and of itself—not at that moment—but simply a reminder that there is a chance there are darker things to come.

It was difficult to explain how such groups of people made me feel. In the museum, whether I was talking to one or one hundred, I was at ease. Yet in such social situations, when I was expected to talk of nothing more interesting than the weather or the latest fashions from Paris, I often felt awkward and tongue-tied.

The more mysterious a thing, the more likely it is that people will pay money for it.


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