Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Conspiracy in Belgravia

A Conspiracy in Belgravia (The Lady Sherlock Series) by [Thomas, Sherry]

A Conspiracy in Belgravia (Lady Sherlock Series #2)- Sherry Thomas
Berkely/Penguin Group
Release Date: September 5, 2017

Rating (Out of 5):

Synopsis: Being shunned by Society gives Charlotte Holmes the time and freedom to put her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. As “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, she’s had great success helping with all manner of inquiries, but she’s not prepared for the new client who arrives at her Upper Baker Street office.
Lady Ingram, wife of Charlotte’s dear friend and benefactor, wants Sherlock Holmes to find her first love, who failed to show up at their annual rendezvous. Matters of loyalty and discretion aside, the case becomes even more personal for Charlotte as the missing man is none other than Myron Finch, her illegitimate half brother.
In the meanwhile, Charlotte wrestles with a surprising proposal of marriage, a mysterious stranger woos her sister Livia, and an unidentified body surfaces where least expected. Charlotte’s investigative prowess is challenged as never before: Can she find her brother in time—or will he, too, end up as a nameless corpse somewhere in the belly of London?

In late Victorian England, it's not always easy to be an independently minded woman.  Charlotte Holmes has managed thanks to her good friend Mrs. Watson and Charlotte's alter ego, "Sherlock" Holmes, invalid consulting detective.  But things become complicated when Lady Ingram, wife of her good friend Lord Ingram, comes to "Sherlock" asking for help finding her first love: Charlotte's illegitimate half-brother.  Mysterious coded messages, dead bodies turning up where least expected, and a woman who is convinced her father's housekeeper is trying to poison her all help to muddy the already murky waters.  Can Charlotte sort out this tangled web before getting caught in it herself?

This sequel to A Study in Scarlet Women picks up right where the first book left off.  Readers who haven't read Study first (or who read it only when it came out last year) will have a little trouble catching up, as Sherry Thomas doesn't remind us of anything specific that happened in Study while alluding to it often.  I would definitely recommend reading (or re-reading) Study before starting Conspiracy. That said, Conspiracy is both a good mystery and a very complex one- and clearly a bridge book to what will come next. Conspiracy involves plenty of codes, deceit, and impersonations to ensure the reader understands that the shadowy figure of Moriarty is directing an endless number of minions for sinister purposes we can only guess at- but that Charlotte will no doubt soon face.  There are times when these confused me as much as they were supposed to confuse the police and I actually re-read the book as soon as I'd first finished it to try and make more sense out of some of it. (It helped that the second time I read it nearly in one sitting, where the first time had been more piecemeal). 

I enjoyed Thomas' continued ability to weave multiple stories together.  A seemingly unconnected case of poisoning becomes as integral to the story as the main case of Charlotte's missing brother, Myron Finch, and not just tossed into the book to show that "Sherlock" had multiple cases at once. Both Mrs Watson and Charlotte remain strong characters and I loved that Mrs Watson is still an integral part of the team and clearly important to Charlotte, instead of being taken for granted as her male counterpart in Doyles' books often seemed.  I was disappointed at the brief role given to Inspector Treadles in Conspiracy.  His role (investigating several murders that connect back to Moriarty) seemed forced, the few scenes with him both jarring to the rest of the narrative and making him a rather unlikeable and shallow person. His scenes came across more as the author not wanting readers to forget about him completely while not really having anything useful for him to do. Hopefully he'll come across better later in the series.

Overall, Conspiracy is not as good as Thomas' first Lady Sherlock book, but it keeps you drawn into the world and the characters.  While the extra obscurity surrounding much of the main mystery mean its sometimes hard to follow, I get the feeling Conspiracy is setting the reader up for a major conflict with the mysterious Moriarty revealing him(her?)self very soon.    

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Tale of 2 Kitties

A Tale of Two Kitties (Magical Cats) by [Kelly, Sofie]

A Tale of Two Kitties (Magical Cats)- Sofie Kelly
Berkley/Penguin Group
Release Date: September 5, 2017

Rating (out of 5):

Warning: Potential Spoilers Ahead!

Synopsis: With a well-placed paw on a keyboard or a pointed stare, Kathleen’s two cats, Hercules and Owen, have helped her to solve cases in the past—so she has learned to trust their instincts. But she will need to rely on them more than ever when a twenty-year-old scandal leads to murder…
The arrival of the Janes brothers has the little town of Mayville Heights buzzing. Everyone of a certain age remembers when Victor had an affair with Leo’s wife, who then died in a car accident.

Now it seems the brothers are trying to reconcile, until Kathleen finds Leo dead. The police set their sights on Leo’s son and Kathleen’s good friend Simon, who doesn’t have much of an alibi. To prove her friend innocent, Kathleen will have to dig deep into the town's history—and into her sardine cracker supply, because Owen and Hercules don't work for free...


Head Librarian Kathleen Paulson has a reputation for solving crimes before the police do. What people in her little town of Maryville Heights don't know is that she gets a lot of help from her two cats Owen and Hercules.  So when she stumbles into a long running family drama and then into a dead body, many of her friends want her to solve the murder and make the problem go away.  Owen and Hercules may never have met Leo Janes while he was alive, but they certainly seem interested in helping him now that he's dead!

A Tale of Two Kitties lived up to the feeling of its blurb: a cute, fun, cozy cat mystery.  I hadn't realized before starting Kitties that this is the latest in a series by Sofie Kelly, but found quickly that while she may often refer to things that happened in other books, we don't need to have read the rest of the series to jump right in here.  Owen and Hercules (I enjoyed that she admits Hercules is named after Kevin Sorbo's Hercules, since I enjoyed that show too!) are magical mystery cats with special abilities.  Owen can (literally) disappear from sight and Hercules can walk through walls.  Both cats seem to understand what is said to them and both seem to have an instinct for crime solving and pushing hints Kathleen's way.  No one else knows the cats can do this, but she's worrying about the time when she has to admit it to her boyfriend Marcus (a police officer who only believes in facts) since his kitten seems to be displaying the same talents.  I liked that while Kathleen occasionally wonders how the cats can do what they do (who wouldn't?) she accepts their abilities as just one of those things, therefore the reader does as well.

I did have trouble keeping many of the secondary characters straight, which got a little confusing until I decided it didn't matter and just didn't try to remember who was who.  This was probably something that someone who has read the other books in the series would not have had trouble with.  Kathleen herself in often not a deep or well drawn character, but for this book I didn't necessarily feel like it mattered, although it would have been nice. She's the kind of person that others talk to, that complete strangers feel comfortable sharing secrets with.  As someone in the library field myself, I can assure you that this happens more often than a skeptic might think.  And it is certainly convenient for a civilian trying to solve a murder! I was a little disappointed in the solution itself.  The killer is the most logical person who the characters never suspected, and the motive felt pretty weak and thin.  It was the kind of motive that made you wish for more character development so that you could feel like it was more satisfying conclusion than it actually was.     

Fans of Rita Mae and Sneaky Pie Brown's Mrs Murphy series and Lilian Jackson Braun's The Cat Who series definitely need to start reading Sofie Kelly's Magical Cats books!  Those of us who enjoy a quick, fun mystery will also enjoy A Tale of Two Kitties, especially as a nice summer/fall read.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Bean to Bar Chocolate

Bean-to-Bar Chocolate: America's Craft Chocolate Revolution: The Origins, the Makers, and the Mind-Blowing Flavors by [Giller, Megan]

Bean-to-Bar Chocolate: America's Craft Chocolate Revolution: The Origins, the Makers, and the Mind-Blowing Flavors- Megan Giller
Storey Publishing, LLC
Release Date: September 20, 2017

Rating (out of 5):

Synopsis:Author Megan Giller invites fellow chocoholics on a fascinating journey through America’s craft chocolate revolution. Learn what to look for in a chocolate bar and how to successfully pair chocolate with coffee, beer, spirits, cheese, and bread. This comprehensive celebration of chocolate busts some popular myths (like “white chocolate isn’t chocolate”) and introduces you to more than a dozen of the hottest artisanal chocolate makers in the US today. You’ll get a taste for the chocolate-making process and how chocolate’s flavor depends on where the cocoa beans were grown — then turn your artisanal bars into unexpected treats with 22 recipes from master chefs.


Bean-to-Bar Chocolate is a glimpse into the surprising new trend that's hopefully coming to an area near you soon: craft chocolate.  Like beer and coffee, Megan Giller believes chocolate is getting ready to have its artisan moment.  Small companies or individuals experimenting with making their own chocolate- flavors, consistencies, etc.  Like with coffee, much of the focus seems to be not only on making interesting flavors, but working closely with the farmers growing the plants.

Generously sprinkled throughout the book are recipes ranging from "easy" to "advanced" for you to try at home from some of the master chefs in the chocolate world. Many of them looked not only doable for a non-chef like me, but also quite delicious!  

One of my favorite parts of the book was a section at the end "The History of the World in Chocolate".  While I would have loved more about the early history chocolate played among people, that wasn't the focus of this book.  The section however, gave some interesting highlights (Mesoamericans domesticated and drank chocolate more than 38 centuries ago!) on humans and chocolate, and there was a brief "Etymology of Chocolate" on some of the original words and meanings of the word itself.  Giller includes a useful glossary of chocolate terms (we finally get a useful definition of what the chocolate percentage on labels means), as well as short lists of chocolate co-opts, farmers, and bean-to-bar chocolate makers America for those interested in tasting what they're reading about.

Beautiful photographs combined with Giller's casual, conversational style of writing and enthusiastic, unapologetic love of all things chocolate make makes Bean-to-Bar Chocolate not only educational but fun to read.  Anyone interested in the story of chocolate, small scale industries, and learning about the process of going from the cacao tree to the chocolate bar will enjoy this book. 

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Once a Rebel

Once a Rebel (Rogues Redeemed) by [Putney, Mary Jo]

Once a Rebel (Rogues Redeemed #2) - Mary Jo Putney
Penguin Random House (Zebra)
Release Date: August 29, 2017

Rating (out of 5)

Synopsis: As Washington burns, Callista Brooke is trapped in the battle between her native England and her adopted homeland. She is on the verge of losing everything, including her life, when a handsome Englishman cuts through the violent crowd to claim that she is his. Callie falls into her protector's arms, recognizing that he is no stranger, but the boy she'd once loved, a lifetime ago.

Lord George Gordon Audley had been Callie’s best friend, and it was to Gordon she turned in desperation to avoid a loathsome arranged marriage. But the repercussions of his gallant attempt to rescue her sent Callie packing to Jamaica, and Gordon on a one way trip to the penal colony of Australia.

Against all odds, Gordon survived. Finding Callie is like reclaiming his tarnished soul, and once again he vows to do whatever is necessary to protect her and those she loves. But the innocent friendship they shared as children has become a dangerous passion that may save or destroy them when they challenge the aristocratic society that exiled them both . . .


Best friends George Audley and Callista Brooke try to escape their horrid childhood homes by eloping at age 16.  When that plan fails Callista is married off to a friend of her father and moves to his home in Jamaica.  She's told George died.  Resigned to her new life, she tries to make a difference in Jamaica- including trying to convince her husband to free his slaves.  One of those things he 'means to get to', it does no one any good when he drops dead before registering a new will.  Callie leaves with her husband's two illegitimate children by a slave and their grandparents.  They work hard to build a new, free life in Washington D.C. and seem to be succeeding- until the British invade!

George (now going by Gordon) never got along with his father or 2 older brothers, but when his father charges him as a horse thief and sends him to Botany Bay for the attempted elopement with Callie, he doesn't bother to keep in touch after gaining his freedom.  Gordon leads an adventurous life, often getting himself into dangerous circumstances- like nearly being shot as an alleged spy during the Peninsular campaign. He considers himself a problem solver who helps people who can't help themselves and it is in that spirit that he agrees to travel to America to try and find a widow and reunite her with her English family before she's hurt in a war zone.  He's shocked when the widow turns out to be Callie! Their easy friendship picks up as if they'd never been apart, but through the trials and dangers of escaping the British bombardment of Washington D.C. and Baltimore, they begin discover deeper emotions. And that may be the only thing that gets them through returning to England.

Once a Rebel goes where few historical romances I've read have gone before- America during the War of 1812.  More specifically, the burning of Washington D. C. and the navy's bombardment of Baltimore.  I found Mary Jo Putney's weaving of fiction and fact seamlessly blended in a wonderful style that brought the dangers of war to a very human, and imaginable, level.  Callie and Gordon are wonderful, three-dimensional, realistic characters who have learned that the world isn't always a good place, but they haven't allowed that to harden them against the possibility of love and future happiness.  They come to realize that this is the right time and the right place for their relationship to flourish, and they are perhaps a stronger couple now than they would have been had they eloped all those years ago.  Once a Rebel is also unusual in that most books including battles the hero (and often the heroine) purposefully engage in the fray in some fashion.  But here we see the fighting only from the perspective of civilian by-standers. What were the civilians doing in Baltimore to prepare themselves for possible invasion?  What was it like to listen to the bombing of Fort McHenry all night, without knowing what the outcome was until the sun rose the next morning?  Between Callie and Gordon's experience and a brief cameo by her lawyer Francis Scott Key, the emotional poignancy of the Star-Spangled Banner took on a whole new meaning for me.

Of course, there are more problems for Callie and Gordon to get through than a simple war, and Putney does an excellent job of showing the personal and emotional impact each problem and change has on them both.  Both Callie and Gordon have to question their definition of themselves, of family, of love, and what they are wiling to do to protect those things.  In facing each of the challenges that come their way, we watch them grow and develop in relatable ways, and grow as a unit, facing problems together- which is often something that doesn't happen until the very end in romances.

 Like its predecessor Once a Soldier, Rebel is an engaging and well-written story with great characters.  An especially excellent sense of time and place and history brings wartime America to life in all the best possible ways.  A must read for Mary Jo Putney fans, and historical romance fans in general!   

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.