Murder in a Cornish Alehouse (Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries #3) by Kathy Lynn Emmerson

The third book in this Elizabethan-era mystery series fills in some history for our main character, Rosamond Jaffrey. (Books 1 and 2 in the series, Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe and Murder in the Merchant’s Hall, were previously reviewed here and here.)

Murder in a Cornish Alehouse front cover (Severn House)

THE PLOT: Rosamund and her husband Rob are finally enjoying some happy marital time when Rosamund gets word that her stepfather has died. Although she had never reconciled with her mother or stepfather after eloping with Rob, Rosamund sets off for Cornwall to pay her respects. Her mother, who is both wacky and wildly unpleasant, claims that her husband was actually murdered, not just killed in a horseback-riding accident.

Rosamund doesn’t believe it at first, but a few of Walsingham’s agents are flitting around, and pirates are mentioned. Then a second murder takes place, and Rosamund is on the case. Is piracy the problem, or are pirates actually working for the Crown? Is there a Catholic uprising in the works? And why do Rosamund and Rob keep getting pulled back into Walsingham’s spy network despite a desperate desire to get out?

MY TWO CENTS: I have to admit, I don’t think I’d recommend this book as a stand-alone read. Although the mystery part is only covered in this book, you just get a lot more out of it if you’ve read the other books. You probably get even more if you’ve read the “Face Down” mysteries featuring Rosamund’s stepmother, but I still haven’t gotten around to those. (I DID, however, find the short story in which Rosamund and Rob eloped. It’s called “Any Means Short of Murder” and can be found free on Kathy Lynn Emerson’s website, or this handy link here.) 

I was a little confused by all the characters, which makes it difficult to try to figure out who the murderer is. I don’t know why I had a hard time in this book; I haven’t had difficulty following the other two mysteries. But every time I picked it back up, I had to think, “Now wait, WHO is this guy again?” I also felt that the ending was rushed. Suddenly, it was just over with very little wrap-up. Maybe it will lead directly into Book 4?

Although I enjoyed it, I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first two books. I tend to think this is more of a “middle story” and a stepping stone to the next adventure. I wonder if we’ll see some of these characters in expanded roles later (I don’t want to elaborate, because…murder mystery.)

COVER NOTES: This cover is totally different from the headless woman covers of the first two books. I usually hate it when series covers go a completely different direction midstream, but I really like the Cornish alehouse! Maybe the headless woman covers tended to make readers think these books were more romantic historical fiction, so this is an attempt to break that perception.

BOTTOM LINE: A must-read if you’re following the series as Rosamund and Rob are continuing to develop. But I wouldn’t recommend reading it before the other two in the series, or as a stand-alone. Start with Book 1, Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe

TEACUP RATING: Three-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in hardcover and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Murder in the Merchant’s Hall (Mistress Jaffrey Thriller #2) by Kathy Lynn Emerson

Murder in the Merchant’s Hall is the second book in Kathy Lynn Emerson’s new series, which is also connected to her “Face Down” mystery series. I enjoyed Book 1, Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe, previously reviewed here. (This author also wrote the “Secrets of the Tudor Court” series as Kate Emerson. Book 6 in that series, Royal Inheritance, was reviewed here.)

***NOTE: This review contains spoilers for Book 1. ****

 

Murder in the Merchant's Hall Front Cover (Severn House Publishers)

Murder in the Merchant’s Hall Front Cover (Severn House Publishers)

THE PLOT: Having successfully brought her husband Rob home safely from Russia, Rosamond is trying to get back to normal life. Rob has returned to studies at Cambridge, and Rosamond has been released from the service of Walsingham. But then she receives an urgent summons from Lady Susanna Appleton and returns home to reconcile with her estranged stepmother. Rosamond learns what the summons was really about: her childhood friend Lina has been accused of murdering her brother-in-law, Hugo.

Hugo, a fabric merchant, had been trying to force Lina to marry a wealthy Italian silk merchant, Alessandro Portinari. A neighbor had warned Lina that Portinari had the “French pox,” so she was fighting with Hugo about the marriage the night she later found him stabbed to death. Lina’s sister, Isolde, found Lina standing over Hugo holding the knife, so she’s certain her sister is the murderer.

Adding to the drama is Portinari’s handsome nephew, Tomasso, who was also romancing Lina. But was his affection real or feigned? How does Portinari fit into the story? Why was Hugo insisting that the marriage take place? And why is Walsingham’s own henchmen warning Rosamond and Rob to stay away from the investigation?

MY TWO CENTS: I enjoyed this second book in the series even more than the first. The various factors in the case come to light slowly, leaving the reader to wonder what twists are coming next. In addition to the mystery is the growing relationship between Rosamond and her young husband. Rosamond married him when they were both 16 so she could take control of her inheritance, which left some bad feelings in the families. While Rob and Rosamond seem to enjoy “married life,” one wonders if eventually the friendship between them will become real love.

Rosamond acts for more like a liberated woman of the 21st century than someone living in 1585. She constantly protests Rob’s concern for her as trying to “control” her as any other husband would, or trying to “save” her when she’s perfectly capable of taking care of herself. While I applaud the independence, it’s eventually a bit off-putting and wearying to the reader that Ros SO often mistakes aggression for independence. Hopefully she will eventually learn that she can be independent and still have a real partnership with her husband.

As far as the mystery, it definitely kept me guessing. I was focusing on a different suspect entirely until close to the end.

BOTTOM LINE: An Elizabethan whodunit with some twists and turns and without an obvious conclusion. I’m very much enjoying these mysteries and plan to check out the “Face Down” mysteries that precede theme when I get the chance.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The book is on sale now in hardcover and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Virgin’s Spy (Tudor Legacy #5) by Laura Andersen

The “Tudor Legacy” series continues in this second book of the second trilogy. I sound like a broken record on this blog, but if you like Tudor historical fiction and haven’t given these a try, you should. The ripple effect of the alternate reality is captivating.

****SPOILER WARNING:**** This review will include spoilers for the first trilogy books, The Boleyn King, The Boleyn Deceit (reviewed here), and The Boleyn Reckoning (reviewed here); and also the first book of this trilogy, The Virgin’s Daughter (reviewed here).

The Virgin's Spy Front Cover (X)

The Virgin’s Spy Front Cover (Ballantine/Random House)

THE PLOT: While The Virgin’s Daughter primarily focused on Lucette, the daughter Minuette and William (also known as King Henry IX), this volume focuses mostly on Stephen, the oldest son of Minuette and Dominick Courtenay.

Stephen is the reliable, dutiful older son, the one who will one day be Duke of Exeter. He heads off for military duty in Ireland, where he learns some hard truths about combat, loss, and betrayal. His extended recovery brings him back to England, but guilt and a need for revenge shape his future. He volunteers to go undercover as a spy for Walsingham, but he may not realize the full cost until it’s too late.

Meanwhile, younger son Kit is trying to put some much-needed space between him and Anabel, the Princess of Wales. He knows full well that Anabel has to marry royalty, despite whatever affection lies between them. He heads with his family to Spain to visit Anabel’s father, King Philip, and his new wife…Mary, Queen of Scots. Kit’s twin sister, Pippa, carries some secrets of her own.

Anabel is left to be courted by the Duke of Anjou and King James of Scotland, but Anabel’s mother, canny Queen Elizabeth, throws a shocking curve into the proceedings.

MY TWO CENTS: One of the reasons these books succeed is because they follow a true path of how history might have progressed if one certain event had changed (Anne Boleyn giving birth to a surviving son). This means that the story is often gritty and unpleasant even when the reader wants everyone to get a happy ending. For example, poor Stephen really goes through the wringer in this book, and he also makes some terrible decisions. You understand why, even while you’re thinking, “No, Stephen, DON’T!” I was definitely engaged in Stephen’s story.

I also wish there could be a happy outcome for Kit and Anabel, but I just don’t see it happening. There can’t be a situation where Kit becomes king consort to Anabel’s queen.

I’m really interested to see what happens to Their Most Catholic Majesties, Philip and Mary. It would seem that war is on for the last book in the trilogy, but Philip may be reluctant to harm his own daughter.

 BOTTOM LINE: Critical development took place in this volume, and I wish The Virgin’s War would be here sooner than July 2016. I also hope Laura Andersen is planning to continue the story, or maybe tackle another period of history with an alternate twist.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups

ON SALE DATE: The Virgin’s Spy is available now in paperback and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Virgin’s Daughter (Tudor Legacy #4) by Laura Andersen

Yay, the alternate reality of the “Tudor Legacy” series continues! If you aren’t familiar with this series, but it seems appealing to you, you need to start with the first trilogy: The Boleyn King, The Boleyn Deceit (reviewed here), and The Boleyn Reckoning (reviewed here).

The Virgin's Daughter (Random House)

The Virgin’s Daughter Front Cover (Random House)

****SPOILER WARNING: This review will contain spoilers for the first three books.****

THE PLOT: Like the first trilogy, this new trilogy takes place in an alternate reality where Anne Boleyn gave birth to a legitimate, living son after Elizabeth. Unfortunately, Henry IX, known to his family and friends as William, pretty much self-destructed from rage and jealousy, and tried to take his two former friends, Dominic and Minuette Courtenay, with him. After his death, his older sister Elizabeth becomes queen and marries Philip of Spain.

Twenty-two years later, Elizabeth is the target of the Nightingale Plot. She is divorcing Philip and fighting to make sure their daughter, Anne Isabella (or Annabel to her family), stays the Protestant heir to the English throne. Elizabeth turns to her oldest friends, Dominic and Minuette Courtenay, and their children for help. Of course, Minuette’s oldest daughter, Lucette, is also Elizabeth’s niece through William, and her mind is Tudor-sharp like her aunt’s. Walsingham sends Lucette to spy on the Courtenays’ old friends, the French LeClerc family. One of Renaud’s two sons is the Nightingale mastermind, but which one? Nicolas, the respectable, wounded widower, or Julien, the reckless charmer?

In the meantime, Lucie’s brother, Stephen, is sent to help guard the imprisoned Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, and may be falling under her influence. The last two Courtenays, twins Pippa and Christopher (Kit), are Princess Annabel’s best friends. But can they keep her safe? And what hope does poor Kit have when he realizes he’s in love with Anne, even as suitors start to compete for her hand?

MY TWO CENTS: If you’re familiar with my blog, you know I love Tudor nonfiction and fiction…and I especially love these books! I’m just amazed at how the author has created this parallel world, and how decisions she made in the earlier books are addressed again here. (Example: Guildford Dudley didn’t marry Jane Grey, who never tried to usurp the throne from Mary Tudor, who was never a legitimate heir because Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn was never invalidated. But Guildford did marry and have a son, who is one of Elizabeth’s favorites, like his uncle Robert before his execution.) The author must have TONS of notes on the ripple effect each historical change has on so many other factors.

As far as characters, I liked Lucette even more than I did her mother, Minuette, in the earlier books. Lucie is a perfect blend of the best of the Courtenays and the best of the Tudors, yet still makes mistakes. For example, she’s so intelligent and quick at puzzles, yet the mastermind still stays one step ahead of her. I liked the other Courtenay offspring as well, and can’t wait to find out what Stephen does next, how Pippa develops, and if Anne and Kit can have a future.

I could complain that I figured out where the Nightingale Plot was ultimately headed, but I think the ride was and will continue to be enjoyable. Also, the ending showdown was suspenseful enough to keep the reader guessing. After all, Andersen did prove in the first trilogy that anyone is expendable.

My one tiny gripe, which is a really tiny stupid gripe, is…the title. In this reality, Elizabeth was married for 20 years to Philip and bore his child, so she was never really “The Virgin Queen.” I realize that the title will attract those interested in Tudor historical fiction, but it kind of doesn’t make sense with the plot. Very, very small point, though.

BOTTOM LINE: I love how Laura Andersen is careful to pull all the relevant threads into her world and make it a realistic “what if” scenario. I enjoy these books so much, and can’t wait for the next one, The Virgin’s Spy.

TEACUP RATING: Five out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available May 26, 2015, in paperback and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe by Kathy Lynn Emerson

Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe is the beginning of a new series from Kathy Lynn Emerson, but also a bridge from a previous series. I had never read any of her Lady Appleton/”Face Down” mysteries, but I had read her “Secrets of the Tudor Court” series, written as Kate Emerson. (Book 6 in that series, Royal Inheritance, was reviewed here.)

Murder in the Queen's Wardrobe Front Cover (Severn House Publishers)

Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe Front Cover (Severn House Publishers)

THE PLOT: Elizabeth I has been on the throne for 25 years when Rosamond Jaffrey is tapped to become a spy for Walsingham. She’s especially motivated when she finds out that her estranged husband, Rob, is in trouble in Russia, where he went as part of the Muscovy Company. As her cover, Rosamond is accepted as a waiting woman into the household of Lady Mary Hastings, who expects to become the bride of Ivan the Terrible.

The household is invited to the Queen’s Wardrobe of Robes in Whitehall so Lady Mary can have one of the Queen’s castoff gowns. Rosamond is planning to meet the contact assigned to her, but finds that the man has been poisoned. No one seems to believe that the man was murdered and didn’t just choke to death, but Rosamund has some knowledge of herbs and poisons. From that point, she realizes that Lady Mary may be in great danger—and Rosamond herself may be as well. But who is trying to sabotage the Russian marriage, and why?

MY TWO CENTS: I really liked the Russian connection in this story. That’s something I really don’t read about a lot in novels of the Tudor era, and I found it interesting and unusual. The point of view switches occasionally from Rosmand in England to Rob in Russia. The mystery was okay; I started to figure out who was behind it all from the clues, although the motivation wasn’t necessarily clear.

I do believe I would have enjoyed the book much more if I had read the preceding stories that include these characters. I know this is starting off a new series with this character as the lead, but I did feel that readers are somewhat dropped into something they should already be familiar with. I also felt that the end was clearly a setup for the next book in the series. Although there is a resolution to the mystery, I feel like Rosamond’s personal life is far less certain.

BOTTOM LINE: Works okay as a standalone novel, but the reading experience would probably be much enriched by reading the Lady Appleton novels first. Otherwise, an engaging enough mystery set in Elizabethan England. I’m interested enough to check out those earlier books as well as any sequel.

TEACUP RATING: Between three-and-a-half and four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The book will be on sale in hardcover on March 1, 2015. (At this time, I cannot find any information about eformats, but most books do have them nowadays. There is an ISBN listed for an e-book in my ARC.)

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Marriage Game: A Novel of Queen Elizabeth I by Alison Weir

Everyone knows that Elizabeth I never married. Instead, she wielded her marriageability like a whip as part of her foreign policy for as long as she could. But were there other reasons she avoided making the commitment?

The Marriage Game Front Cover (Random House)

The Marriage Game Front Cover (Random House)

THE PLOT: The book follows Weir’s first historical fiction about Elizabeth, The Lady Elizabeth, and picks up shortly after she becomes queen. Her advisors want her to marry and secure an heir, but Elizabeth is too busy flirting with Robert Dudley and handing him accolades. Robert is already married, but his wife is ailing. Maybe if Elizabeth puts off everyone who wants her to marry a foreign prince, she can have Robert for herself once Amy Dudley is dead.

But does she really want him? Elizabeth was molested as a young girl by Thomas Seymour, and she’s skittish about physical love. She also has the past to influence her: her own mother and a stepmother executed by her father, who claimed to love them both at one time; and two stepmothers dead from childbearing. If Elizabeth chooses a husband, she may lose the power she has as queen to her husband, as husbands naturally hold dominion over their wives. If she bears a son, people may try to overthrow her in order to have a male on the throne.

The book follows Elizabeth from her coronation, through her complicated affair with Dudley and other various suitors, through the years up to Dudley’s death.

MY TWO CENTS: Reading about Elizabeth’s “marriage game” in nonfiction can get a little tedious, but Weir found a way to bring it to life in fiction by bringing Elizabeth’s emotions front and center. And this Elizabeth is extremely complicated by her (again, partly fictionalized) dealings with Thomas Seymour in Weir’s first book. While she longs for love (or, more accurately, adoration) from male admirers, she is completely unable to commit to any one man…physically or otherwise.

One could argue that this Elizabeth is a bit weaker than she should be, since she comes across as being ruled by her emotions instead of her cleverness. What history might see as craftiness in staying in the marriage market as long as she did can be explained by Weir as nerves and changeability.

BOTTOM LINE: Another successful fiction outing from Weir. I don’t know if it’s as good as A Dangerous Inheritance, but she definitely adds dimension to Elizabeth’s story.

TEACUP RATING: A solid four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Will publish in hardcover and eformats in the USA on February 10, 2015. It’s already available in the UK.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss/Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

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