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.

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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 Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen

The first Julie Klassen novel I read was The Dancing Master, reviewed here. I liked it well enough to want to read more Klassen, and The Secret of Pembrooke Park was a great follow-up.

Secret of Pembrooke Park Front Cover (Baker Publishing Group)

Secret of Pembrooke Park Front Cover (Baker Publishing Group)

THE PLOT: When the Foster family loses almost all their money, Mr. Foster blames his oldest daughter, Abigail. Abigail had recommended that her father invest in her uncle’s banking firm, which has failed. To make up for it, Abigail has her family use her dowry to fund a season for her younger sister, Louisa…even though Louisa seems to have stolen the affections of Abigail’s childhood friend and crush, Gilbert. In the meantime, the Fosters are offered a temporary home at abandoned Pembrooke Park on the condition that they fix the place up. While Louisa and her mother stay in London, Abigail and her father travel to Pembrooke.

Abigail finds that intrigue abounds at Pembrooke. Why was it so hastily abandoned? What happened to the former owners? Who is leasing it to the Fosters? Is there really a secret treasure room? Who is sending Abigail anonymous diary passages? What does the local parson William Chapman and his family know about the secrets? Why does William’s sister choose to be almost a recluse? And does Abigail really want Gilbert back once he grows disenchanted with her sister, or has she developed real love for William?

MY TWO CENTS: First, let me say that this author gets the very best covers. Love the appropriate clothes, and the colors are striking. LOVE IT.

Second, even though Julie Klassen is a Christian writer, I feel like the reader isn’t overwhelmed with Christian messages; there is an appropriate amount of religion for the time period. While there is more religion in this book than there was in The Dancing Master, that’s kind of a given since William is a parson. Non-Christians who are looking for a clean regency mystery/romance will still enjoy it. Klassen books might even appeal to a broader audience than traditional romances do. I think a lot of people still enjoy a simple romance that doesn’t border on erotica, and this fits the bill.

Finally, there is definitely a gothic element to this book, between the midnight creakings that disturb Abigail, the mysterious cloaked figure, and more than one fire. I would say this is more of a mystery than a romance, as evidenced by the book’s title.

BOTTOM LINE: A bit of gothic mystery, a bit of romance, and not too preachy for a Christian writer. If you’re a fan of Jane Austen, you’ll probably like this book regardless of your religious beliefs.

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

ON SALE DATE: The book will be on sale in eformats on November 25, 2014, and in paperback on December 2, 2014.

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

The Firebird’s Feather by Marjorie Eccles

 

The Firebird's Feather Front Cover (Severn House Publishers)

The Firebird’s Feather Front Cover (Severn House Publishers)

What drew me to request The Firebird’s Feather: A Late-Edwardian Mystery? To start with, the cover, this awesome cover. LOVE the hat, the jewelry, that hint of the dress. Having the hat pulled down over her eyes adds to the “mystery” theme. WHAT is going on in this woman’s mind? What was she up to? Second, “Late-Edwardian” basically means the period right before George V’s coronation, so 1911. A wee little bit before the beginning of Downton Abbey, for those interested; think Mary Poppins. The question is, did the book live up to its cover?

THE PLOT: Lydia Challoner was born in Russia, emigrated to England with her father, and married into London society. Her daughter, Kitty, is about to debut in society, but Lydia is shockingly murdered while riding in Hyde Park. Who could have killed her, and why? Her husband Louis, Kitty’s father, is acting suspiciously, and his gun is missing. Kitty’s aunt Ursula is a society matron, and her two children (Kitty’s cousins) are both rebels: son Jonathan runs a socialist newspaper, while daughter Bridget is a burgeoning suffragette. Could the socialists or suffragettes have had anything to do with the murder? Are the socialists tied into Lydia’s Russian ancestry? What about Bridget’s friendship with Kitty’s maid? Louis’s business partner, Paul Estrabon, is a slimy character, and his wife, Fanny, was Lydia’s best friend and gambling partner. Do gambling debts factor into the murder? Finally, Lydia had a boy toy named Marcus. What’s his deal? What is he really after? Is the upcoming coronation of George V involved? Detective Chief Inspector Gaines and Detective Sergeant Inskip investigate the various suspects and their motives.

MY TWO CENTS: The introduction quickly pulled me in, but I was somewhat jarred with the way the murder was handled. Chapter Two ends with Lydia being late to lunch and her family wondering where she is. Chapter Three begins with Kitty already trying to accept that her mother has been murdered. So readers do not see the murder, nor do they see the family receiving the news of the murder. That just seemed very odd to me. It definitely pulled me out of the reading experience, and I felt like I had to adjust my mindset significantly to continue from that point.

Another thing you may notice from my summary is that there are a lot of characters. Family members, friends, friends of friends, people who aren’t friends. The strange thing is, there isn’t a lot of interaction among these various characters. For example, Aunt Ursula seems to act as a link between Kitty and her cousins because Kitty interacts more with Ursula than she does with either Jon or Bridget. Louis interacts more with the detectives than he does with his daughter. I felt that Kitty was fairly isolated as a character, and her main interaction ended up being with Marcus. And then, although Kitty is the main character, she really wasn’t even part of the climax.

BOTTOM LINE: An interesting, readable, and different story, but it doesn’t exactly gel together completely for me. I would have preferred more character development and interaction to add depth to a good story framework.

TEACUP RATING: I give it around three-and-a-half out of five teacups. If you enjoy mysteries or are interested in the time period, give this one a try.

ON SALE DATE: The Firebird’s Feather will be available in hardcover on December 1, 2014.

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

Dark Angel by Sally Beauman

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Dark Angel E-book Cover (Open Road Media)

Every once in a while, you run across a book that makes you want to skip work, stay up all night, and just…keep…reading. You can’t stop thinking about the characters and wondering what secrets are coming next. For me, Dark Angel by Sally Beauman was one of those books.

THE PLOT: The book follows three generatrions of an upper-class English family and the very disturbed little girl they adopt, and her effect on the entire family. The story is framed by the narrator, Victoria Cavendish, who relates the story of her family…including her godmother, Constance Shawcross. Ten-year-old Constance is adopted by the Cavendish family in 1910, and spends the next 60 years manipulating, twisting, and blackmailing; essentially wrecking the lives of her four adopted brothers and pretty much everyone else in the family. She torments each brother in a different way, chooses a husband that fractures the family, and ultimately becomes guardian to orphaned Victoria. She raises Victoria with love and ferocious jealousy, keeping Victoria from the man she loves and from forming a family that would take her from Constance.

The book also centers around an accident or murder that occurs in 1910. Is it a murder? And if so, who is the murderer? Everyone had motive; some had opportunity. But how did it happen?

MY TWO CENTS: It took me the first few chapters of Victoria’s searching for Constance in New York to really get into the book, but by the time it turned back to 1910, I was enthralled. Constance is a HIGHLY damaged child who becomes an unbalanced and sometimes dangerous adult. However, she’s also intelligent and sometimes likeable, and you pity her. You can’t help rooting for her and hoping she’s punished at the same time. Make no mistake: this book is VERY disturbing. There are descriptions of child rape, horrific death, kinky sex, pornography, suicide, pet trauma…basically anything you’d find in an original V.C. Andrews series (NOT the ghostwritten messes of recent years).

The relationship between Constance and her eventual husband also reminds me of Scarlet O’Hara and Rhett Butler. Constance marries a man who understands her, the only one who really gets what a malicious, scheming lunatic she is, and yet loves her all the same. But Constance’s love for someone else, plus all her issues, just keep the couple from ever really connecting and being happy. The reader sees the marriage breaking down and thinks, “If only they’d communicated at this moment…if only she’d said…if only he…” The reader becomes very emotionally involved in the narrative.  You feel for every character.

A great portion of the action takes place in 1910, and then between 1914 and 1919, so the time period should be very attractive to Downton Abbey fans. You also see some of the “Upstairs, Downstairs” interaction between the family and their servants.

BOTTOM LINE: An absolutely enthralling book, well worth the read. Just be warned: this is a LONG book (800 pages in hard copy format), but you will not want to stop. Also, I’m glad I already have another Sally Beauman book to read, because I’m interested in checking out all her work.

TEACUP RATING: Definitely 5+ teacups. Even though I have the digital copy, I may also invest in a hard copy to have on hand. It’s just that good.

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

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