‘Tyringham Park’ by Rosemary McLoughlin

tp rmclSTORY: The country estate of Tyringham Park is the epitome of wealth and privilege. Home to the Blackshaws, it finds itself the backdrop to tragedy.

It is a beautiful day in 1917, and Tyringham Park is in an uproar after Victoria Blackshaw, an innocent toddler, disappears without a trace. The feverish search for Victoria soon uncovers jealousies and deceits that both the upstairs and downstairs inhabitants of the grand estate have fought for years to keep hidden.

As time passes, Victoria’s disappearance casts a long shadow over all of their lives. Charlotte, the Blackshaws’ less-favored eight-year-old daughter, finds herself severely impacted by the loss of her sister. Charlotte’s greatest wish is to escape the con­fines of the estate, but Tyringham Park and its many mysteries may never release their hold on her. Like all those at Tyringham Park, she is caught in a web of passions and secrets, trysts and betrayals that seems to ensnare everyone connected to this once great house.

REVIEW: 1917 – Tyringham Park, Ireland

Little Victoria Blackshaw, age 22 months, has been taken out for a stroll in her pram by her mother, Lady Edwina.  Thinking she was sleeping, her mother left in to go to the stables.  When she returned, Victoria was gone.  Fearing she had wandered over to the river and drowned, everyone searched for her but she was never found.

Victoria’s older sister, Charlotte, was left to bear the brunt of her mother’s temper.  Her mother felt she was ugly and could never measure up to Victoria.  Charlotte’s nurse Dixon was completely hateful to Charlotte and had been the same way to Victoria.  She hurt Charlotte, screamed at her and made her life miserable.  Charlotte’s mother, Edwina, did not care and her father, Lord Waldron Blackshaw, spent his time at the War Office in London.  The man did nothing but drink and was constantly drunk.

In the meantime, Edwina gives birth to Harcourt, son and heir.

Charlotte was left devastated at Victoria’s loss; totally ignored by her family; and mistreated by her nurse.  As time passes, we see the different stages that Charlotte goes through in her life to make some meaning of it. As far as her mother is concerned, she can never do anything right.  Lady Edwina is evil personified in her life-long treatment of her.  As a child, Charlotte is a very accomplished horsewoman. Later on, she becomes a very talented artist.

Charlotte falls in love with Lochlann Carmody, the friend of her younger brother, Harcourt.  Both young men are attending medical school to become doctors.  One night, when Lochlann is partying at Tyringham with Harcourt, they get drunk and Charlotte becomes pregnant by Lochlann.  Appalled at what he did, Lochlann agrees to do the right thing and marries Charlotte.  They then head to Australia where Lochlann will be the physician at a small hospital in a remote area of the country.

Their marriage is not a loving one but Lochlann tries all he can.  Charlotte faces difficult ordeals one of which requires Lochlann to make a very difficult decision.

This saga is an amazing story that includes both upstairs and downstairs characters.  Another Downton Abbey type book.  I was mesmerized as I read it and even though it was nearly 500 pages long, I did not want to see the book end.  I hope readers will enjoy this novel as much as I did.

Connie for b2b

‘Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman’ by Tessa Arlen

doadg taSTORY: Lady Montfort has been planning her annual summer costume ball for months, and with scrupulous care. Pulling together the food, flowers and a thousand other details for one of the most significant social occasions of the year is her happily accepted responsibility. But when her husband’s degenerate nephew is found murdered, it’s more than the ball that is ruined. In fact, Lady Montfort fears that the official police enquiry, driven by petty snobbery and class prejudice, is pointing towards her son as a potential suspect.

Taking matters into her own hands, the rather over-imaginative countess enlists the help of her pragmatic housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, to investigate the case, track down the women that vanished the night of the murder, and clear her son’s name. As the two women search for a runaway housemaid and a headstrong young woman, they unearth the hidden lives of Lady Montfort’s close friends, servants and family and discover the identity of a murderer hiding in plain sight.

In this enchanting début sure to appeal to fans of Downton Abbey, Tessa Arlen draws readers into a world exclusively enjoyed by the rich, privileged classes and suffered by the men and women who serve them.Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman is an elegant mystery filled with intriguing characters and fascinating descriptions of Edwardian life—a superb treat for those who love British novels.

REVIEW: The country estate, Lyntwood, home of Lord and Lady Montfort, is running smoothly as Clementine Elizabeth Talbot, the Countess of Montfort, is planning her yearly summer costume ball.

Ralph Cuthbert Talbot, the 6th Earl of Montort, is a good husband, father and well-respected employer. However, he is not actually looking forward to the ball as it not one of his favorite things.

They have 3 children, son, Harry, who lives on his own, plus two daughters, Althea and Verity who no longer live at home.  Their cousin, Teddy, will also join the family for the ball.  When his parents passed away, he came to live with, and was raised by, his uncle’s family.

Each person employed by the estate knows his/her job and place in the scheme of things. Housekeeper, Edith Jackson, oversees the running of the estate and meets daily with Clementine to make sure that meals, etc. are perfectly planned.  George Hollyoak is the butler and major domo and is a stickler for seeing that things are done correctly.  Mrs. Thwaite is the Cook and while her dishes are sublime, her garrulous nature can be rather irritating.  The family is very lucky to have in their employ Mr. Thrower, Head Gardner, and Ernest Stafford, Gardener.  Their talents are extraordinary in keeping the grounds and flowers in pristine order.

The ball is going nicely until Teddy is found murdered.  When the police become involved in investigating the murder, each person attending the ball and everyone in the house is questioned in depth.  On the same night, two young women vanish from the estate leaving many questions to be solved.  The questioning extends the time that all the guests and family members are asked to stay at the estate and becomes quite wearying for all concerned.

Clementine, Lady Montfort, and Edith, the Housekeeper take an unusual step by secretly sharing information that may help to solve the murder.

The characters in this novel show great creativity on the author’s part.  Just think of it as an episode of Downton Abbey with the ability to get to know the people both upstairs and downstairs.  I found the mystery to be extremely well written and one that the reader may not easily solve on their own.  Lots of twists and turns kept me glued until the last page.  This is a wonderful story of the Edwardian times that I will remember for a long time.

Connie for b2b

‘A Potion to Die For’ by Heather Blake

aptdf hbSTORY: (Magic Potion Mystery #1) 

Trouble is brewing …

As the owner of Little Shop of Potions, a magic potion shop specializing in love potions, Carly Bell Hartwell finds her product more in demand than ever. A local soothsayer has predicted that a couple in town will soon divorce—and now it seems every married person in Hitching Post, Alabama, wants a little extra matrimonial magic to make sure they stay hitched.

But when Carly finds a dead man in her shop, clutching one of her potion bottles, she goes from most popular potion person to public enemy number one. In no time the murder investigation becomes a witch hunt—literally! Now Carly is going to need to brew up some serious sleuthing skills to clear her name and find the real killer—before the whole town becomes convinced her potions really are to die for!

REVIEW: Carly Hartwell grew up in the town of Hitching Post, Alabama.  The town got its name for being the wedding capital of the south.  She and her cousin, Delia, inherited a legacy from her great grandparents that allows them to have certain powers.  Carly uses her powers to make potions to help and fix people.  Delia has chosen to make potions to put a hex on people.  Carly runs a shop called Little Shop of Potions and Delia runs a boutique called Till Hex Do Us Part.  Unfortunately, they never were good friends.

Carly’s parents run a wedding chapel in town.  Her three spinster aunts, who happen to be triplets, each own an Inn in town.  These three quirky women are known as the Odd Ducks.  Carly lives in her grandmother’s old house which is in dire need of renovation. Carly was twice engaged to marry Dylan, a cop in town, but each time one or both got cold feet at the altar.

One morning, Carly opens her shop to find a dead man inside with one of her potion bottles in his hand. When Dylan and others come to investigate, people wonder if perhaps Carly could have murdered him. While she was told to close the shop for a few days and not interfere in the investigation, Carly’s sleuthing skills kick in and she and her best friend, Ainsley, begin investigating who could have killed this man and why.

Come for a fun time as Carly takes us through town and introduces us to all the wonderfully developed characters from her friends at the Deja Brew coffee shop to her nutty Aunt Marjie who doesn’t hesitate to shoot at anyone who trespasses on her property.  Let’s not forget Carly’s cats, Roly and Poly who love nothing more than to beg for belly rubs.

This book is fabulous and I got such enjoyment out of reading it and laughing at all the fun characters in town.  It’s a terrific novel with a good mystery and lots of humor, and I am delighted to have found a new author.

Connie for b2b

Complimentary copy provided by the author

‘One Potion in the Grave’ by Heather Blake

oping hbSTORY: (Magic Potion Mystery #2)

Carly Bell Hartwell’s love potions are always in demand in Hitching Post, Alabama, the wedding capital of the South.…

When Katie Sue Perrywinkle walks into the Little Shop of Potions, Carly is surprised and delighted to see her old childhood friend. Katie Sue fled her hometown and a troubled family over a decade ago. But she’s not back for a social visit. She’s come to settle a score with Senator Warren Calhoun, who is in town for his son’s high-profile wedding.

But before Katie Sue has a chance to voice any objections, she’s forced to forever hold her peace. After finding her friend dead, Carly vows to find her murderer. Were the corrupt Calhouns willing to go to any lengths to avoid a scandal? Did Katie Sue’s family take the term “bad blood” to a whole new level? And why did the bride-to-be come to Carly for a love potion? As Carly gets closer to the truth, a killer is planning a very chilly reception.…

REVIEW: To introduce readers to The Magic Potion Mystery Series, here is some background:

Carly Hartwell grew up in the town of Hitching Post, Alabama.  The town got its name for being the wedding capital of the south.  She and her cousin, Delia, inherited a legacy from her great grandparents that allows them to have certain powers.  Carly uses her powers to make potions to help and fix people.  Delia has chosen to make potions to put a hex on people.  Carly runs a shop called Little Shop of Potions and Delia runs a boutique called Till Hex Do Us Part.  Unfortunately, they never were good friends.

Carly’s parents run a wedding chapel in town.  Her three spinster aunts, who happen to be triplets, each own an Inn in town.  These three quirky women are known as the Odd Ducks.  Carly lives in her grandmother’s old house in dire need of renovation.  Carly was twice engaged to marry Dylan, a cop in town, but each time one or both got cold feet at the altar.

A high society wedding is planned in Hitching Post at Carly’s Mama’s wedding chapel.  Landry, the son of the wealthy Senator Warren Calhoun, is marrying his girlfriend, Gabi.  Many of the townspeople are very excited at having these important folks in town and are busy trying to get a look at them.

When Carly’s old friend, Katie Sue Perrywinkle shows up at her shop incognito, Carly is very happy to see her and astounded at the changes in her.  It turns out Katie now goes by Kathryn Perry and has achieved her dream of becoming an MD.  She does not want anyone to know she is in town because there is bad blood between her and some members of her family.  In addition, she was in town because of the Calhoun wedding and she had a “score to settle.”  But when Katie’s body is found on the rocks below Lover’s Leap, it is assumed she jumped.  Did she jump or was she pushed?  Who wanted her dead?

Once again, Carly dons her sleuth hat and begins her own investigating.  As she gets to know the Calhoun family, clues begin to surface about why Katie Sue was killed, things heat up and Carly finds herself in danger.

This second novel of the series is really great.  Once again, the characters of the town keep us laughing at their antics while everyone is nosily trying to solve this crime.

Connie for b2b

Complimentary copy provided by the author

‘Queen of Hearts’ by Rhys Bowen

rb qoh1STORY: Lady Georgiana Rannoch, thirty-fifth in line for the British throne, knows how to play the part of an almost royal—but now she’s off to Hollywood, where she must reprise her role as sleuth or risk starring in an all-too-convincing death scene

My mother, the glamorous and much-married actress, is hearing wedding bells once again—which is why she must hop across the pond for a quickie divorce in Reno. To offer my moral support, and since all expenses are paid by her new hubby-to-be, Max, I agree to make the voyage with her.

Crossing the Atlantic, with adventure in the air and wealthy men aboard, Mother all but forgets about Max and matrimony—especially when movie mogul Cy Goldman insists on casting her in his next picture.

Meanwhile, I find myself caught up in the secret investigation of a suspected jewel thief. Lucky for me, the lead investigator happens to be my dashing beau, Darcy!

Mother’s movie and Darcy’s larceny lead everyone to Cy’s Hollywood home, where the likes of Charlie Chaplin are hanging about and there’s enough romantic intrigue to fill a double feature. But we hardly get a chance to work out the sleeping arrangements before Cy turns up dead—as if there wasn’t enough drama already…

REVIEW: Lady Georgiana (Georgie) Rannoch, is a cousin to His Majesty and thirty-fifth in line to the British throne.  So, you would think she lives an easy life, right?  Not so much.  Actually, she spends most of her time with relatives and now she is staying with some elderly ladies in their large home.  Although she is eating well, she is completely bored.
When her mother arrives unexpectedly, she is whisked away to go with her on a sea voyage to New York and then on to Reno.  Her mother is well known as a movie star from the silent movie past who has retained her figure and her beauty.  Her current husband is a wealthy American man living on a ranch.  This is not the life her mother desires.  So, she is off to Reno to get a quickie divorce from him so she can marry another man with whom she has lived. Her mother is notorious for never sharing money with Georgie which leaves her constantly having to scrimp.
Georgie’s long time boyfriend, Darcy O’Mara, is always on one government mission after another which means their time together is rather limited.  When Georgie meets up with him on the ship, she is delighted but told that he is working incognito now on a secret mission.
We follow Georgie and her sullen and rather uncouth maid, Queenie, along with her mother to New York where they shop for some clothes before leaving on the last leg of their journey. It is a real boon to Georgie when her mother agrees to buy Georgie some well-needed clothes.
After a train ride to Reno, they realize that they have arrived in a dusty, sparse city which is quite unappealing.  By the time her mother has set up residency for her six-week period to get her divorce, they meet Cy Goldman of Goldman Pictures in Hollywood.  Familiar with Georgie’s mother, he insists she go to Hollywood to act in a movie he is making.  It would be the first talkie movie for her.
Hollywood finds Georgie enjoying the nice weather and meeting many well-known movie stars.  When they are all invited to a weekend holiday at Mr. Goldman’s huge mansion high on a cliff, things turn tragic and Mr. Goldman is murdered.  This is where Georgie again dons her sleuth’s hat and works to solve the mystery.
Once again, Rhys Bowen has penned another great Royal Spyness Mystery.  I am a huge fan of them and love the characters.  There are lots of chuckles and the book is sprinkled with well-known people such as Charlie Chaplin and the well-known and disliked Mrs. Simpson.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and look forward to even more from Ms. Bowen.
Connie for b2b

‘The Book Stops Here’ by Kate Carlisle

kc tbshSTORY: You never know what treasures can be found in someone’s attic. Unfortunately for bookbinder Brooklyn Wainwright, some of them are worth killing for.… 

Brooklyn Wainwright is thrilled to be appearing on the San Francisco edition of the hit TV show This Old Attic as a rare-book expert and appraiser. Her first subject is a very valuable first-edition copy of the classic children’s story The Secret Garden, which is owned by a flower vendor named Vera.

Once she hears what her book is worth, Vera is eager to have Brooklyn recondition it for resale. But after the episode airs, a furious man viciously accosts Brooklyn, claiming that Vera found the first edition at his garage sale, and he wants it back—or else. Brooklyn is relieved that she’s put The Secret Garden in a safe place, but Randolph Rayburn, the handsome host of This Old Attic, is terrified by the man’s threats. He confides in Brooklyn that he fears he is being stalked. He doesn’t know who might have targeted him, or why.

In the days that follow, several violent incidents occur on the set, and Brooklyn is almost killed, leaving both her and her security expert boyfriend, Derek, shaken. Is someone after Brooklyn and the book? Or has Randolph’s stalker become more desperate? And then Brooklyn visits Vera’s flower shop…and discovers her dead. Is the murderer one of the two obvious suspects, or is something more sinister—even bizarre—going on? Brooklyn had better find the clever killer soon or more than her chance at prime time may be canceled…permanently

REVIEW: When professional bookbinder, Brooklyn Wainwright, is offered a short-term position as a rare book appraiser on the TV show “This Old Attic,” she couldn’t be happier.

Books are her passion and her knowledge of old books is quite extensive.  The first book she appraised on the show is a first edition copy of “The Secret Garden.”  The owner, Vera, claims to have purchased the book in a garage sale for $3.  Vera, who owns a flower shop, is ecstatic when she hears how valuable the book is and how much more it would be worth if some moderate restoration was done.  Vera asks Brooklyn to do the work for her to which she agrees.
Soon, trouble begins to plague the members of the staff on the set.  One man is poisoned but recovers and Brooklyn is attacked in the parking lot by a big brute threatening to kill her.  But, when she discovers Vera dead in her flower shop, she truly becomes frightened.  Could these events be related to the book now in Brooklyn’s possession?
Brooklyn’s British boyfriend, Derek, owns a security company and with his background in covert operations, he insists on accompanying Brooklyn to the set for her taping.
As more characters are introduced and the big brute continues to follow her, the tension grows making Brooklyn quite worried.  Taking it upon herself to research more about “The Secret Garden” and its author, Brooklyn begins to unravel the mystery surrounding it, hopefully before she’s the next one targeted by the killer.
The story was put together well and as this novel is one of a Bibliophile Mystery Series featuring Brooklyn and Derek, I think reading the earlier novels would be helpful.  The characters are well-created and interesting, however, I don’t think that the story itself is one I would care to continue reading.
Connie for b2b

‘The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress’ by Ariel Lawhon

al twtmatmSTORY: A tantalizing reimagining of a scandalous mystery that rocked the nation in 1930-Justice Joseph Crater’s infamous disappearance-as seen through the eyes of the three women who knew him best.

They say behind every great man, there’s a woman. In this case, there are three. Stella Crater, the judge’s wife, is the picture of propriety draped in long pearls and the latest Chanel. Ritzi, a leggy showgirl with Broadway aspirations, thinks moonlighting in the judge’s bed is the quickest way off the chorus line. Maria Simon, the dutiful maid, has the judge to thank for her husband’s recent promotion to detective in the NYPD. Meanwhile, Crater is equally indebted to Tammany Hall leaders and the city’s most notorious gangster, Owney “The Killer” Madden.

On a sultry summer night, as rumors circulate about the judge’s involvement in wide-scale political corruption, the Honorable Joseph Crater steps into a cab and disappears without a trace. Or does he?

After 39 years of necessary duplicity, Stella Crater is finally ready to reveal what she knows. Sliding into a plush leather banquette at Club Abbey, the site of many absinthe-soaked affairs and the judge’s favorite watering hole back in the day, Stella orders two whiskeys on the rocks-one for her and one in honor of her missing husband. Stirring the ice cubes in the lowball glass, Stella begins to tell a tale-of greed, lust, and deceit. As the novel unfolds and the women slyly break out of their prescribed roles, it becomes clear that each knows more than she has initially let on.

With a layered intensity and prose as effervescent as the bubbly that flows every night, The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress is a wickedly entertaining historical mystery that will transport readers to a bygone era with tipsy spins through subterranean jazz clubs and backstage dressing rooms. But beneath the Art Deco skyline and amid the intoxicating smell of smoke and whiskey, the question of why Judge Crater disappeared lingers seductively until a twist in the very last pages.

REVIEW: This well-known story is one that is new to me.  I was not familiar with the disappearance of Judge Joseph Crater in August 1930 but I soon became captivated by the story.  Followers of the TV show, “Boardwalk,” would probably enjoy this novel.

During this time period, there was a lot of corruption surrounding gangsters, law enforcement officials and a group called Tammany Hall.  When Judge Crater went missing, there were three women in his life who had direct association with him and could have been his killer.  

Crater’s wife, Stella, knew he was a ladies man but spends much of her time at her summer home in Maine.  Their maid, Maria, keeps the home in New York clean and was privy to some of the shady dealings in the judge’s life.  In addition, his girlfriend, Ritzi, a showgirl, was the last person to see him alive.

The story switches back and forth among these three women and the events leading up to Crater’s disappearance and afterward.  Combined with documented facts plus the author’s supposition of what might have happened has put together an interesting puzzle that keeps the reader guessing to the end.

If you like a good mystery and are interested in the gangster life in New York in the 1930’s, this would be a good read for you.  I enjoyed it and liked how the author put a personal face to each of the women involved in this riddle.

Here is the Wikipedia background of this famous story:  

Connie for b2b