Shunned and Dangerous is the third in the Amish Mystery series by Laura Bradford. Claire Weatherly left the corporate world behind and used her nest egg to purchase Heavenly Treasures, a gift shop that sells Amish-made goods in Heavenly, Pa. While on an outing to a local corn maze, Claire happens upon the body of Harley Zook, a kind-hearted Amish man who unfortunately made a few enemies. She quickly calls handsome detective Jakob Fisher, who has been shunned by the Amish community for leaving to pursue a career with the police force. Unfortunately, the man most upset by Jakob’s shunning is his father, Mose, who has become the prime suspect. Claire is determined to help Jakob and begins to investigate on her own. Soon other suspects emerge, and Claire finds herself unraveling a puzzle as complex as a corn maze.
Shunned and Dangerous is a cozy mystery with plenty to keep the reader enthralled. Bradford creates a plucky heroine and pleasant, friendly supporting characters, including her good friend Esther, a young Amish woman who works in her store and makes hand-made gifts to sell. Bradford is familiar with the Amish way of life and includes cultural tidbits about the community that the reader may not know. The mystery is solid, with enough clues and suspects to keep a reader guessing. The novel is quaint and light, never gory or shocking, and readers looking for a gentle read for a warm spring day need look no further. Readers who enjoy this may want to also read Hearse and Buggy and Assaulted Pretzel, the first two novels in the series.
The Mangle Street Murders is the first in the Gower Street Detective series by M. R. C. Kasasian. London before the turn of the century could be a dismal place. Luckily, London has personal detective Sidney Grice. Grice is pompous, arrogant, irascible and overly fond of drinking a perfectly brewed cup of tea. He will take anyone’s case for a price. March Middleton has lost her immediate family and is sent to live with Sidney Grice as his ward. March is kinder and gentler than the great detective and is keen on getting involved in his cases. When a woman of limited means comes to Sidney’s office to hire him to clear the name of her son-in-law, Sidney and March find themselves with a curious mystery that becomes more complicated at every turn. Sidney is unwilling to allow a woman to take part in an investigation, but March holds fast and quickly begins to assist with the case. Will March’s kind demeanor be able to withstand the arrogance held by Sidney Grice?
Grice is an even ruder version of the famous Sherlock Holmes, and Kasasian pokes fun at the famous detective with this similar character. March becomes the female Watson and, as the story is told through her narrative, she holds her own as an interesting and compelling character. The mystery itself is well thought out and complex enough to keep any mystery lover guessing. Kasasian is good at detailing life in 1880s London, and readers who enjoy a mystery rich in historical detail will not be disappointed.
Leila Meacham’s Somerset is a stirring family saga covering 150 years in the lives of the Toliver and Warwick families who are looking to make their way in the newly formed communities in Texas. Simon Toliver is determined to free himself from his South Carolina family and build his dream plantation in Texas. He is forced into a relationship with Jessica Wyndham, whose abolitionist leanings have made her a persona non grata in South Carolina. The two begin a perilous journey that will determine their future. Meacham’s story begins in the antebellum period as the plantation begins to grow and prosper, but threats of war are on the horizon. Simon and Jessica must find a way to protect their homes and families. Meacham creates memorable characters like Jessica’s best friend Tippy, a slave whom Jessica is determined to free.
Meacham wrote this novel as prequel to her first novel, Roses. Roses covers the history of the Somerset plantation from the years 1914 through 1985, introducing readers to the heirs of the Toliver and Warwick fortunes. Somerset begins in 1835 and sets the stage for all that is to come.
Leila Meacham is a new heavy hitter in the family saga, and Somerset is no exception. Grand and sweeping, it is full of tidbits of Texas history and rich with compelling characters that bring plenty of drama, action and romance. Teresa DeBerry reads the novel on the audio recording with such an authentic Texan drawl that the reader will be transported directly to the antebellum south. Fans of Belva Plain or Barbara Taylor Bradford are sure to find something to love in this novel.
Fans of Agatha Christie have much to rejoice this year, as the final five Poirot novels adapted to films by the BBC have been completed and will air in the United States later this year. David Suchet has been playing Poirot since 1989 and, in the end, will have filmed 70 episodes, including several full-length movies featuring Christie’s well-know Belgian detective.
The final films include Elephants Can Remember, based on a novel featuring Christie’s delightful recurring character, mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver. Ariadne’s goddaughter Celia’s life is shrouded in mystery as Celia's parents perished in an apparent double suicide. There could be more to the story, and as Ariadne begins to dig, she will need the help of Hercule Poirot to get to the bottom of the case.
The final film will, of course, be based on Christie’s last Poirot novel, Curtain. Christie wrote Curtain in the 1940’s to give closure to the Poirot series, and the novel was locked in a bank vault and never published until after her death in the 1970s. Poirot is ailing and his body is beginning to break down, even though his mind is as sharp as ever. He returns with Captain Hastings to the scene of their first mystery together with concerns of his own. He will have to use Captain Hastings as his eyes and ears to find a devious killer who may have acted more than once in committing horrible crimes.
The final films will be bittersweet, as fans always had that next film or episode to look forward to, but now is a great time to brush up on your Christie and read the words that inspired the movies.
In Revenge Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger, we catch up with Andy Sachs, the ill-used assistant to Runway editor Miranda Priestly in the previous novel, The Devil Wears Prada. Ten years have passed, and Andy, after years of therapy, has started a rather successful magazine. In an unusual turn of events, she became reacquainted with Emily Charlton, the first assistant to Miranda and Andy’s sworn nemesis. The two women were able to put past differences aside and become fast friends. Andy is now working as a writer for a wedding blog. Emily thinks they can turn this idea into magazine gold. It doesn’t hurt that they're able to drop Miranda’s name to help them gain access to celebrities who then would let them photograph their elaborate and sophisticated weddings. Thus, The Plunge is born. In order to gain capital for the start-up costs, Emily arranges some meetings with potential investors. Andy meets charming Max Harrison, the son of a media mogul, at one of these meetings and sparks fly. Soon, Andy is out looking for a wedding dress of her own and preparing to walk down the aisle. Max’s mother makes it perfectly clear to Andy that she is not Harrison material, putting a damper on the proceedings. But Andy had faced a much bigger devil in the form of Miranda Priestly. She never realized that Miranda would play a part in her destiny.
Those who liked the first novel will enjoy catching up with Andy in the sequel, and with some of the characters from the first novel who pop up in surprise cameos. The audio version of the novel is read by Smash star Megan Hilty, and her delightful reading adds to the enjoyment of this novel.
Fans of Sophie Kinsella’s novels can always expect a charismatic, slightly flighty heroine winding up in madcap situations. In Wedding Night, the reader will be delighted to find two heroines, sisters, relaying the adventure in alternating chapters. Lottie is fully expecting her boyfriend Richard to propose to her during a romantic dinner. When he fails to do so, she is inconsolable. Her sister Fliss worries that Lottie is about to make another one of her “unfortunate choices”. This choice comes in the form of Ben, an old boyfriend she had spent some time with in Greece. Ben is also unmarried, and he and Lottie decide to tie the knot. Fliss is going through a horrible divorce and is fully aware of how disastrous a rushed marriage can be. Ben’s friend and work colleague Lorcan also desperately needs to talk to Ben about some important business matters. This prompts Fliss, Lorcan, Fliss’s son Noah and Lottie’s ex-boyfriend Richard to head en masse to a high-class resort hotel on a romantic Greek island in the hopes of preventing an almost inevitable honeymoon baby.
Sophie Kinsella is a true queen of chick lit, and this stand-alone novel is sure to please her fans. Known for her Shopaholic series, fans will recognize that character slightly in Lottie, the more flustered and impetuous sister. But Kinsella also creates a more serious, thoughtful heroine in Fliss, the wiser, more careful sister who will do almost anything to protect her sibling. The characters form a nice balance and make a great story that is also comes complete with Kinsella’s signature humor.
German author Charlotte Link creates a gripping mystery with The Other Child, her first novel translated for an English audience. In a small town nestled on the coast of Yorkshire, a young woman finishes a babysitting job and heads home. The lighted path ahead is blocked, forcing her to choose a darker and more desolate route. She never returns home. Meanwhile, a group of characters gather to celebrate the pending engagement of Gwen Beckett and Dave Tanner. Gwen, painfully shy and living at home with her father, is not the average blushing bride. Her friends and family fear that Tanner is only interested in procuring her hand to gain access to the farm and fulfill his plan to turn the farm into a bustling hotel. Fiona Barnes, an old matriarch and a close family friend, rails against the pending marriage and creates a scene at a dinner party. It is not long before Fiona is also found dead with her head smashed in, much like the young woman that was discovered earlier that week. Enter Detective Valerie Almond, a nervous detective who is unsure of her place in the police force and her ability to solve a crime. Will she be able to piece together the clues before the killer strikes again?
Link creates a great atmospheric thriller with psychological intensity. She also incorporates a story within a story as Fiona recounts a situation that happened long ago during the height of World War II. Many of the characters are tremendously flawed and the cast of suspects will keep the reader engaged in solving the mystery. Fans of Ruth Rendell and P.D. James will easily gravitate to this novel and look forward to the next one.
In a rather touching tale of self-discovery amidst the landscape of the animal rights movement, Natalie Brown’s debut novel The Lovebird introduces us to a flawed character searching for change who ultimately finds it in herself. Margie comes from a troubled childhood. Her father smokes and drinks too much and seems unwilling to accept the death of his wife. It seems only natural for Margie to discover another lost and lonely soul, a professor of Latin raising his daughter after the death of his wife. Simon offers her love but also the chance to fight for the small creatures of the earth. Margie becomes vegan and an active member of H.E.A.R.T. (Humans Encouraging Animal Rights Today) and begins to perform slightly unsavory acts for the benefit of nature. But a life event changes her course, and suddenly she is thrust into the leadership of H.E.A.R.T., and her decisions will affect the course of her life forever.
The Lovebird is an engrossing character study, following Margie’s thoughts in the first person. As her story unfolds, the reader feels a deep sympathy for a character that, although often misguided, has complete compassion and care for others. The story takes an unexpected turn in the middle and readers will be surprised and delighted by Margie’s journey. Natalie Brown’s prose is thoughtful and expertly crafted, so readers who appreciate a good turn of phrase will certainly enjoy her writing. The novel is heartfelt and inspiring with an ending that readers will remember, a perfect choice for book groups.
Leave it to Joyce Carol Oates to pull together several unusual elements, well-known historical figures, a dash of the paranormal and tremendous historical detail. In her new novel, The Accursed, we meet the Slade family, who seem to be suffering the effects of a terrible curse. The daughter Annabel falls under the spell of a smooth-talking Southern gentleman named Axson Mayte, who may be more than he appears to be. Annabel’s brother Josiah will go to great lengths to protect his sister from harm. Wilhelmina Burr, their cousin, is plagued by visions of serpents while away at school. While the Slade family suffers, Woodrow Wilson, the current president of Princeton University, struggles to keep his post from a keen usurper bent on knocking him from his pedestal. But there are other figures lurking around Princeton as well. Grover Cleveland, suffering terribly from the death of his child, sees visions of her in dark hallways. Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle, is convinced that the shadowy figure he spies leaving in a carriage with a man is his wife. Murder and mysterious deaths are plaguing New Jersey. There is talk of the legend of the “Jersey Devil,” but most residents remain convinced it is only a story to frighten children. But as 1905 becomes 1906 and the strange events continue, more questions are raised as to the validity of the curse.
Joyce Carol Oates is a literary writer with a tremendous love for language, so The Accursed is not a quick read. The plot often meanders and you discover much about the characters living in the area. Many of the historical figures are not looked upon kindly and readers will see an unfavorable side to many of them. Oates creates a sinister atmospheric tone that runs through the novel, and her very detailed text offers footnotes as the narrator/historian weaves the tale. The use of diary entries and letters help to round out the novel and make it a very thoughtful read.
There is said to be a ghostly woman roaming the grounds of Ravenbank Hall in the Lake District of England on Halloween night. Just before the First World War, a woman was murdered; her face bashed in and then covered with a shroud that had frozen to the remains. Thus begins the tale of The Frozen Shroud, by Martin Edwards, a mystery featuring crime historian Daniel Kind.
Years pass since the death of Gertrude Smith, but the story remained of an impassioned love affair and a jealous wife that took her own life after murdering the young woman. In the present day, Ravenbank Hall has a new mistress, an Australian woman who managed to snag and marry the Hall’s elderly and infirm owner. Unfortunately for her, she winds up dead in the same fashion as poor Gertrude. Five years go by, and Daniel Kind is invited to a Halloween party near Ravenbank Hall, faced with many unanswered questions. Both crime cases seemed to be tied up too easily. The more recent murder may have been solved incorrectly. Will Daniel be able to find the solution before the killer strikes again?
The Frozen Shroud will appeal to a wide variety of readers. The chilling atmosphere of a sinister murder set on Halloween will give many readers chills. Written as an intriguing “whodunit”, this novel will please traditional mystery fans. The characters of Daniel Kind and Detective Chief Inspector Hannah Scarlett are also well defined and interesting, so readers who enjoy a strong protagonist will get caught up learning more about the detectives on the case. This novel is the sixth in Edwards’ Lake District mystery series.