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Death in Daylesford
by Kerry Greenwood
The inimitable and exquisite Phryne Fisher, lady detective, stars in a new Phryne Fisher mystery. In Death in Daylesford, there are two main plots as Phryne is invited to visit a spa that helps soldiers recovering from shell shock with an end to soliciting her financial support. She and her constant companion, the very sweet Dot, enjoy a vacation in the area where there are many mysteries that find their way to Phryne’s attention.
Back at home in St. Kilda, a girl is found dead in the water. Jack Robinson has been assigned a temporary post in another town, and an incompetent detective inspector is taking his place. Dot’s boyfriend Detective Sergeant Hugh Collins recruits Phryne’s household to assist in his investigation. Phryne’s adopted daughters Jane and Ruth along with Tinker, a helpful youth Phryne has taken in, use their respective strengths to uncover the secrets that led to the girl’s death.
This is an intricate and well-played mystery with multiple surprises and twists along the way. Given that there are so many issues to be resolved, it is amazing how Phryne sorts through the mysteries which range from minor quirks to multiple murders that occur in plain sight of crowds of people. Yet no one sees anything.
In Daylesford there is a local bumbling officer whose “talents would be taxed to the limit by remembering his own name and address, or the number of digits on his extremities.” There is also a quite competent inspector brought in to work on the murder cases, and he respectfully solicits Phryne’s help and their collaboration, although dangerous, is successful.
Although sexual encounters of various types are referred to, they are not displayed in the book. Phryne is an unusual woman for her time. Her wealth allows her the freedom to challenge conventional norms while her background helps her understand the dark, seamier side of life.
There are a lot of characters in this novel, and at times I had to refer back to refresh my memory. The setting changes back and forth between storylines, but at no time do the two overlap.
I have enjoyed all the Phryne mystery novels and the movies made from them under the title Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. This book exceeded my high expectations for another complicated plot with a creative, sophisticated sleuth.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Notes: 1. #21 in the Phryne Fisher Series, but could be read as a standalone.
2. There are references to various sexual preferences.
3. Set in Australia, it contains lots of Australian terms if you enjoy dabbling in linguistic differences.
Publication: June 1, 2021—Poisoned Pen Press
“To save time and fuss I may as well tell you that your fame precedes you. And while I’m not gonna play Dumb Cop to your Aristocratic Detective, I need a result here and I’d be a fool if I didn’t use whatever help you can give me.” He blinked, and put his massive head on one side, looking now like a kookaburra eyeing off an unattended sausage at a barbecue.
“You do realize that the front door doesn’t lock, don’t you?” Al grunted. “S’orright, though. We got a dog. Burglars are scared of Bluey.” “Why is that, sir?” “On account of gettin’ slobbered on a lot. Nuthin’ worse than an overenthusiastic dog when yer tryin’ to rob a house.”
Now the smugness was unmistakable. Kelly could feel the conceit rising in the insolent young man like yeast in a bowl of dough.
The Girl at the Last House Before the Sea
by Liz Eeles
The third book in the Heaven’s Cove series is quite powerful and touching. Freya’s life seems full and satisfying. She has a husband and a job as a caregiver—until her life falls apart and she loses both. Struggling to get her feet on the ground again, she accepts an offer from her half-sister Belinda to come to Heaven’s Cove to interview for a position as the full-time carer for the eighty-three year old Kathleen, a proud and independent woman who is harboring a powerful secret. Freya has secrets from her own past as does Belinda who is known as the town fixer and gossip. Despite their biological relationship, the sisters hardly know each other.
Kathleen’s son Ryan, a widower, has a guilty secret of his own that makes him suspicious of Freya. He locks himself away from most society focusing on the task of caring for his mother and his daughter Chloe. Chloe is struggling with the death of her mom, their move to a new town, fitting in with new friends, and the hormones of a typical twelve-year old girl.
Freya is a talented listener and people open up to her and tell her their secrets. Unfortunately, along with sharing their pasts, people often insist that Freya not speak of their disclosures with anyone. That request is not usually an issue as Freya is not a gossip. In The Girl at the Last House Before the Sea, however, things spoken in confidence can conflict with well-meaning promises Freya makes to various family members. She is honoring their wishes and motivations, but the secrets can still hurt if and when they are revealed.
Freya finds that Kathleen has lied about never having been to Driftwood Cottage on the cliff; the little cottage, now a B&B, holds both an attraction and a revulsion for Kathleen. What could have happened in Heaven’s Cove to draw Kathleen to move there after the death of her husband? Freya wants to help, but the request needs to come from Kathleen herself.
I loved this book. Its plot includes a part of history that affected many families painfully but is now thankfully in the past. The plight of the various characters is moving. The sadness and agony Kathleen suffers is heart-wrenching, but there is also hope in the book as secrets are laid open and the air is cleared. The final upset in the book comes from a surprise source, and the denouement is particularly satisfying.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Bookouture for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Women’s Fiction, General Fiction (A), Romance
Notes: #3 in the Heaven’s Cove series, but could be read as a standalone. Although there are a few minor characters who overlap from the first two books, the plot is self-contained.
Publication: February 28, 2022—Bookouture
But today, a sea view was just what she needed, because the endless movement of the water was calming. Life might disintegrate into an unholy mess but the waves would roll on.
Freya spent some time inspecting the photos, which were of the village from decades ago and people long gone. The pictures were fascinating and made her realize that her current problems were merely a blip along the way of life.
Secrets held power—the power to surprise or delight, to hurt or harm—because they were so often bound up with primal emotions.
Second Chance at Sunflower Ranch
by Carolyn Brown
Jesse Ryan returns to Honey Grove, Texas, after twenty years of touring the world following his dreams as a medic in the Air Force. His father’s MS diagnosis hastens his homecoming as his father Sonny now clearly needs help in running the Sunflower Ranch, especially since his father’s longtime friend and foreman is retiring.
Jesse grew up on the ranch after he and two other foster children were adopted by Sonny and Pearl, so he has no trouble with the cowboy aspects of his new life. What he didn’t expect was to be working closely with Addy, his best friend from childhood who stopped communicating with him shortly after he left for his first tour of duty. Addy and her nineteen year old daughter Mia are living and working at the ranch as Addy, a nurse, manages Sonny’s healthcare. Jesse finally does the math and figures out his relationship with Mia while he and Addy are determining what their own adult relationship will be.
Addy is a strong, smart woman. Mia goes through a rebellious period. Jesse takes on responsibilities wherever he is needed. Sonny and Pearl face the MS diagnosis with the love that has held them together through the years. This is a character driven plot that moves quickly with some surprises along the way. There are some gossipy women, a mean local family, and a jealous, confused doctor who complicate the plot, but the Ryan family is one you would want to know, maybe even be a part of. The author of Second Chance at Sunflower Ranch introduces Cody Ryan, a doctor, and Stevie O’Dell, a veterinarian, at the end of this book; they will be the focus of Texas Homecoming, the next book in the series.
Category: Women’s Fiction, Romance
Notes: 1. #1 in The Ryan Family Series. I started reading this series with the second book in the series which could be read as a standalone, but reading Second Chance at Sunflower Ranch actually enhanced my enjoyment of Texas Homecoming (read review here) after the fact. My recommendation: read this series in order.
2. Clean romance, but does use “d—n” frequently as a slang expression.
3. At this point in the series, the theme of the series is “second chance” romance, but there are many other common themes as well regarding family relationships, work ethics, values, etc.
“If I’m honest, I’ve always loved him for more than a friend. That’s probably why I can’t seem to last in a relationship with anyone else. I can’t give them my heart when he’s got it in his pocket.”
…her mouth was set in a firm line. Her light brown ponytail swung back and forth like a frayed flag in a hard Texas wind, and her hands were knotted into fists.
“Change is good for folks. It keeps us on our toes so we don’t get to taking life for granted…”
Secrets at the Last House Before the Sea
by Liz Eeles
Called home from her life in sunny Spain by her mother’s sudden death, Rosie returns to the chilly English coast and Driftwood House, her family home. Rosie never felt like she fit in when she was in high school where the popular kids called her Weirdo Rosie Merchant.
In Secrets at the Last House Before the Sea, we learn that some of her former classmates have matured and some remain bullies. Liam, the high school lothario was dumped at the altar. Belinda is the local center of information, i.e. the town gossip. Nessa, formerly called Loch Nessa Monster, was rarely seen during her high school years because her mum was terminally ill. Nessa is the survivor of a bad marriage with a little girl and is employed at a hardware store. The little town is full of characters who all want to know of Rosie’s travels and when she will be leaving again.
Most of the plot centers around secrets her mother had kept from her. It seems she didn’t know her mother as well as she thought she did. There were many life changing repercussions from these secrets. To delve into the plot further would disclose too many spoilers.
Rosie is a hard-working, determined, likable character. She changes and grows in the story. Liam is a reluctant love interest. What would be the point? Rosie will be retuning to Andalusia, her two jobs, and her boyfriend as soon as she sorts out her mother’s affairs.
Of course, the author has other plans for Rosie. I think you’ll enjoy watching the story unfold. There are several major plot and character surprises. Even the antagonists experience turn arounds that will have readers smiling happily at a very satisfactory conclusion.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Bookouture for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Women’s Fiction
Notes: #1 in the Heaven’s Cove Series
Publication: February 18, 2021—Bookouture
Tea, the British answer to everything from disappointment to grief to crashing guilt.
…it would be good to feel…something. Something positive, rather than the sadness, humiliation, anger and anxiety that had become the four horsemen of his personal apocalypse.
The village was still shrouded but higher up, on the cliffs, the fog had been burned away by the sun, and Driftwood House was now an island in a sea of mist that swirled far below her.
A Pretty Deceit
by Anna Lee Huber
In the aftermath of The Great War, there are many “walking wounded.” This category refers to soldiers with physical wounds, of course. Also included are those psychologically affected, unable to relate to others, even those they love most. Waking or sleeping, the horrors of the war remain with them. Their families have suffered as well. Many have lost sons, fathers, brothers, and husbands either through death or trauma. Women are living in limbo or trying to raise children on their own. All of these injured are touched on as we witness the struggles of the characters in A Pretty Deceit. The protagonist, Verity Kent, is a high society woman married to a war hero. You would think the couple would be happily “living the life” after the war. They harbor secrets, however, as each individually worked for intelligence services, and their past efforts continue to disrupt their current lives.
Verity has a penchant for solving mysteries, and in this historical novel by Anna Lee Huber, Verity is called on by her family to investigate her aunt’s missing possessions as well as the disappearance of a maid. Her husband’s influence is solicited to encourage the government to provide reparations to Verity’s aunt for damages that occurred when Air Force officers were billeted in her home. As the couple tries to help, a murder is discovered on the estate, and Verity is called on to clear the murder victim’s wife. In the middle of these investigations, the couple is asked, unofficially, to investigate a wealthy businessman with connections that rise high in the government. He rarely dirties his own hands but has many minions willing to do his bidding.
I have read two more books in this series, and A Pretty Deceit is my favorite so far. Well written, as all of the books in this series are, this novel is outstanding in background, pace, and character development. We meet Reg, Verity’s cousin who was blinded in the war. We also see her current interactions with two men who had a romantic interest in Verity during the war. Verity is well aware of her attractiveness and is not afraid to subtly use it to achieve her ends. The position and influence of a woman in this time period is well demonstrated by the reactions of characters to women in accordance with class status and race. This historical fiction is a piece worth reading.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Notes: #4 in the Verity Kent Series, but works well as a standalone
Publication: September 29, 2020—Kensington Books
For all that Aunt Ernestine would be horrified at such conduct in others, she was remarkably oblivious to the fault in herself.
Compassion need not be a restricted commodity, especially not during a time when everyone was still struggling to right themselves after the topsy-turvy years of the war.
He was a cunning manipulator, making people question even those things they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt to be true, and exploiting people’s best and worst natures to convince them to do things they would never have dreamed themselves capable of.
The Last Agent
by Robert Dugoni
Oddly, I have watched many more spy movies than I have read spy books. Robert Dugoni’s The Last Agent is a great pathway for me into the world of spy novels. It is part of a series in that Charles Jenkins is the main character in the series that bears his name. Although the characters are important to the story, appreciating the book is not predicated on having read others in the series. This book is a fine example of a story that is so engaging, so complex, that the plot stands on its own merits.
Charlie Jenkins is a retired spy, forced out by his own organization. He tries to enjoy rural life with his much younger wife and two young children. When opportunity knocks at his door, however, Charlie answers with minimal hesitation. This assignment is especially appealing because it gives him the chance to help Paulina who sacrificed herself so that he could return to his family. An extremely strong double agent mentally, she is questioned relentlessly with physical and psychological torture by Russians who want to know the identity of certain assets.
Charlie is supposed to engineer her escape from an impenetrable prison and see her to the U.S. and freedom. She is in an extremely compromised physical condition and is heavily guarded. Getting her out would take a lot of skill and planning along with a dose of good luck. The Russians want her information badly and have the advantage of Putin’s extensive “Big Brother” network of cameras. Fortunately, Charlie has support from his handlers with assets all over Europe and a huge bank account that gives him leverage with a former Russian agent.
There are so many intricate steps in achieving the various goals along the way. Not everything goes smoothly so a lot of improvisation is required. Hideous weather both hinders and helps. Disguises and unusual means of transportation are called into play. I guarantee this book is a page turner that will keep you reading way past “lights out.”
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Thomas & Mercer for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery & Thriller (Spy)
Notes: #2 in The Charles Jenkins Series, but I read it as a standalone with no problems understanding or enjoying it.
Publication: September 22, 2020—Thomas & Mercer
His anger spiked; he couldn’t believe the agency that had allowed him to be tried for espionage now had the audacity to seek his help.
You Americans are too impatient. It is your consumerism. You want everything now. This minute. You must learn Russian patience. We must take the first step before we take the second.”
Viktor Federov knew well that Big Brother had returned to Russia, though the method of spying—once Russians reporting on fellow Russians—now employed computer technology cameras, and cell phones.
by Anna J. Stewart
The five Harrison sisters were abandoned by their father, Thomas Blackwell, when the oldest, Peyton, was eight years old leaving a hole in her heart that could not be filled. For reasons to be discovered in Montana Dreams by Anna J. Stewart, Peyton, ostensibly close to her sisters, has kept the girls’ biological roots a secret. She is the only one aware that Rudy Harrison, their devoted father and a retired Navy admiral, is actually their step-father.
Their world is turned upside down by Big E, the girls’ grandfather they never knew existed; the discovery impacted none of the girls as much as it did Peyton who has tried to fill the hole in her heart with work. Because Peyton, a Vice President in the company she works for, has a stalker, her boss has hired Matteo as her bodyguard. Big E convinces the boss that his ranch in Montana is the safest place for Peyton to be.
In many romances that include childhood family issues as part of the conflict, the background of the main character figures predominantly into the plot. In Montana Dreams, however, both Peyton and Matteo have issues, past and current, that need to be brought to the forefront and dealt with. Their secrets are unwrapped with care, and their romance is depicted with ups and downs and highs and lows that keep the reader in anticipation of possible resolutions.
The devotion Matteo has for his understandably confused six year old son is heartwarming. Well integrated into the plot are characters you might have met in the Return of the Blackwell Brothers series. Although I would love to have had the characters from that first series have more interaction in this book, I realize that would not be possible within the scope of this novel. As it is, the plot is full of twists and turns. Each one of the books in The Blackwell Sisters focuses on a different sister as each meets her welcoming Blackwell cousins and their spouses and learns about the positive sides of Montana ranch living. They also acclimate to the idea that their mother and step-father had presented a false narrative of their family to them as children. Meanwhile, the subplot of their manipulating grandfather Big E plotting to reunite his Blackwell family while searching for Thomas Blackwell, his son and the girls’ father, with Rudy Harrison, the girl’s step-father, continues on with a little progress and more clues in each book.
I would like to extend my thanks to Anna J. Stewart and to Harlequin Heartwarming for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: #3 in The Blackwell Sisters series, but the author provides the necessary support if you want to read this clean, heartwarming romance as a standalone.
Publication: October 1, 2020—Harlequin Heartwarming
She scrunched her toes in her shoes, trying to keep a hold of whatever traction she had on her life.
The very idea of stepping foot on a ranch—any ranch, let alone an isolated one in the middle of Nowhere, Montana—shot Matteo straight back to a childhood that held zero appeal.
Somehow holding his son made the pain and loneliness from his own childhood fade to where it couldn’t hurt him anymore.
Rudy’s face split into a grin so wide Big E swore he saw his back molars.
by Annelise Ryan
Mattie Winston is overcome with personal problems as well as a case with far reaching consequences. She spends her days off on a murder investigation that might prove the innocence of a man in jail for life as a convicted serial killer. In a strange twist of affairs, Mattie finds herself at odds with her husband Hurley, a homicide detective. She is fulfilling a gift to him but has misgivings about the promised present and her abilities as a mother. Hurley is jealous and suspicious. How did the loving couple get so out of sorts with each other?
In Dead Ringer by Annelise Ryan, Mattie takes the investigation of the serial murders to nearby Eau Claire, ruffling the professional feathers of the coroner and the district attorney there. Both are up for re-election, and neither is happy with the new forensic pathology program being developed in their county. Meanwhile, the morgue in Sorenson holds a druggie killed in the same manner and following the same profile as those killed years ago. It is up to Mattie to determine if there is a copycat killer on the loose or if the wrong man is behind bars.
I would like to extend my thanks to Netgalley and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: #11 in the Mattie Winston Mystery Series, but works as a standalone.
Publication: February 25, 2020—Kensington Books
My son is a constant ball of energy and inquisitiveness, a cross between two of his favorite cartoon characters: the Tasmanian Devil and Curious George.
My mother wasn’t one for praise or approval. The woman is better at finding faults than a seismologist.
“Do tell,” Brenda says, feigning high interest. She not only bats her eyelashes, she manages to look alluring doing it. I’m impressed, because whenever I try to do it, I look like I’ve got a bad nervous twitch.
by Sheila Connolly
Maura Donovan is as American as can be until she inherits a pub, house, and assorted pasture lands in Ireland from an Irish friend of her grandmother’s. In Fatal Roots by Sheila Connolly, Maura has lived in Ireland about a year and is becoming comfortable with her new country, role of ownership, and relationship with her boyfriend Mick and other new friends in the small town in Cork.
Life gets more complicated for Maura when Ciara, a post graduate student in archaeology shows up on her doorstep requesting permission to examine Maura’s early Irish fairy forts. Maura doesn’t know where her various acreages lie and doesn’t know what a fairy fort is or anything about the superstitions surrounding them. In the process of rolling out this tale, there is a grizzly discovery, Maura’s mother who abandoned her as a child comes to Cork on business bringing Maura’s half sister, and Maura makes changes to the pub so she can sell food.
Throw in Mick’s grandmother Bridgett and Old Billy who lives above the pub and you have a good basis for a plot. I liked the story, but repetition hampered the enjoyment for me. I had to hear over and over again of Maura’s background, the Irish attitude toward fairy forts, Maura’s angst about…everything—her family, her relationship with Mick, superstitions, decisions about kitchen remodeling, the student archaeologists. The plot was wrapped up nicely, and the epilogue provided emotional closure for characters that I really liked. I also enjoyed learning about fairy forts, which are a mystery in themselves and go by many names.
I would like to extend my thanks to Netgalley and to Crooked Lane Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: #8 in the County Cork Mystery Series
Publication: January 7, 2019—Crooked Lane Books
But it was beginning to seem like any time anything happened, it was like scraping off the present to see pieces of the past.
“I could show yeh, but it really doesn’t have an address.” “Neither does my place. So far it’s ‘the cottage halfway up the hill, past the yellow cottage. If you reach the piggery you’ve gone too far.’ This is all so not like Boston.”
Life was too short, with too many unexpected twists and turns, to wait for the one perfect moment, if there even was such a thing.
My Mother’s Silence
by Lauren Westwood
I find genres and categories useful up to a point. When it comes to Lauren Westwood’s My Mother’s Silence, the designator “Women’s Fiction” seems to fail. It is definitely fiction, but I think a lot of men would like it too. The subtitle is A Gripping Page-Turner Full of Twists and Family Secrets. I usually associate “gripping” in this context with a thriller, a genre which doesn’t usually attract me. I am happy to report that “gripping” in this case could be defined as a plot that draws you in more and more tightly as you progress. It is full of secrets, life altering secrets—bombshells that explode after lying dormant for fifteen years.
Skye Turner leaves the little Scottish town of Eilean Shiel to fulfill her dream of making it big as a songwriter and musician in America. She carries a heavy weight, however, as her twin sister Ginny has passed away, and it is presumed that she slipped off a cliff and drowned. Skye returns home at the urging of her brother Bill. She hopes to be able to work things out with her mum and her brother, but she arrives to find her mother in mental disarray. Things don’t add up about her sister’s disappearance or the car accident Skye was in on that same evening.
Skye is not a perfect woman, but it seems she has made a lot of decisions based on the lies was fed. She tries to uncover and untangle the fabrications and piece them together with the help of a former DCI who is renting a cottage from her mother.
This book has a Christmas setting that is incidental to the plot but provides a reason for the family to gather. Westwood weaves a web with her amazing storytelling skills. The reader needs to discover what happened to Ginny as much as Skye does. Some romance is woven into the story as old boyfriends and new are included as important threads. There are several mysteries to be solved and parts of the book can claim to be called police procedural. Without a doubt, this book is a page-turner that made me glad I escaped from my comfort zone to find a new happy place.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Bookouture for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Women’s Fiction, General Fiction (Adult)
Notes: Sprinkling of vulgar language
Publication: November 11, 2019—Bookouture
…the land doesn’t care that I once went away, or that I’ve come back again. My life is small, my little dramas and struggles unimportant against the vastness of sea and sky.
But there’s something about this land that gets in your blood. Even when I thought I might never come back, I still felt the pull of this place. No matter where I was in the world, if I listened hard enough, I could hear the whisper of home.
I can still remember what it’s like to be in a teenage strop. That feeling of isolation—that everyone else in the entire world is against you and complete morons to boot. But it’s only worth keeping up as long as there’s an audience.