Kensington Books

Book Review – Murder on Black Swan Lane (A Wrexford & Sloane Mystery) by Andrea Penrose.

3 out of 5 stars

I would like to thank Kensington Books for providing me with a free electronic ARC of this book, via Netgalley, in exchange for an open and honest review.

Well, what can I say, it was a historical novel set in the Regency era, it was a sort of cosy crime mixed into historical crime and… as those are my three favourite things to look for in fiction, how could I not have enjoyed ‘Murder on Black Swan Lane’?

Add that it is the first in a very promising new series ‘A Wrexford & Sloane Mystery’ and all in all I was a totally satisfied reader. Yes some may expect me to have graded it higher if I liked it so much, but let’s just say I am pacing myself and hoping the books in the series just get better and better so my score can rise, rather than fall – as it has done with recent series I read.

I feel the other reason I didn’t score it higher is I couldn’t quite decide what genre I would describe it as… Regency era adventure? Historic Crime? Cosy crime? It was all three in places – and very good at all of them – but I just need to find one that suits my personal categorisation of works best. Not a fault with ‘Murder on Black Swan Lane’ or the author. Simply down to me and which of these genres attracted me the most. Yeah, no, that doesn’t make sense to you does it? But it’s how I feel, and my blog so my right to confuse you. 😉

Let’s get into reviewing the book properly. The characters were well written and there was proof that research of the Regency era had been undertaken to bring the work to life. I will state here that I am a HUGE fan of Marion Chesney’s Regency novels (not just the romance ones) and so will admit her vivid descriptions of that time period do colour my imagination and will mean I compare other works to hers…So ‘Murder on Black Swan Lane’ was good… but just not as descriptive for my liking. But I am picky and we all know it.

I enjoyed the changing between characters so we got the story from both sides – both the male and female protagonists. It was clear and very easy to discern who was telling the story at the time, unlike other books that attempt this style of narration. And I thoroughly enjoyed that it wasn’t a romance hidden in a cosy historical crime! Yes there was attraction and even I was wondering where it was leading… but the story stuck to the crime and solving them and all in all satisfied me more than any marriage and HEA ever could.

Though I am sure the possibility may end up being there later in the series… not that I would mind that either. 😉

The characters were all well-defined and easy to tell apart – something not all authors can pull off when there are multiple people at play. And there was just the right amount of red herrings and padding out of the storyline to keep me interested and not be distracted by feeling the tale was going off tangent.

Yes I eventually guessed the whodunit before they did… but it took me a while longer than normal and I do love an author who can make me keep guessing rather than spoon feeding me the answer right off and think they are being tricky in hiding it. Not with ‘Murder on Black Swan Lane’! No, it was the perfect balance of crime, adventure, historical padding, friendships and red herrings. A very enjoyable story.

Would I recommend this book to others?

Yes I would, but again I would be confused who to suggest it to. As in, those who enjoy Regency Era tales may like it… but as so many Regency books are all about the romance, maybe they wouldn’t? Would cosy crime lovers enjoy it? I mean, I love a good cosy crime, but most cosy crimes need to be set in modern times to be classified as such.

Then there is the whole Historical Crime lovers… they might not feel there was enough history involved to truly make it meet their criteria. It’s all so confusing.

So I will just say – I am a lover of all three genres and I enjoyed this book so I would recommend it and hope for the best! 😉

 

Would I buy this book for myself?

Yes I would. I am already looking forward to any new books in the series and will be following Ms Penrose on Amazon just to ensure I know when they come out. ‘Murder on Black Swan Lane’ is definitely a cosy, historical, Regency crime book for me, and so will any further novels in the ‘A Wrexford & Sloane Mystery’ series!

In summary: a very enjoyable crime fiction book and the start to a very promising new series!

Until nexttime,

Janis.

Book Review – The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman.

5 out of 5 stars

I would like to thank Kensington Books for granting my wish and allowing me to read an electronic ARC of this book, via Netgalley, in exchange for an open and honest review.

Wow! What a book! I mean, seriously addictive and so full of emotions! As some people know, I’m not usually a fan of Literary Fiction but I sometimes get in the mood to give it another go and hope the book I read is worth it. ‘The Life She Was Given’ was definitely worth it! I want to go on about how certain areas of the book made me feel, but I am concerned mentioning them would be one great big spoiler…

So I will just say some of the full circle moments were heart aching and so well written I needed a tissue! I am not a crier! Well, except for those animal ads, you know the ones. 😉

But, yes, this was a brilliantly well-written tale told in two halves about the one family. Parts of it set in the 1930’s and parts of it set in the 1950’s and  – although I’m not an expert –  I do feel some good, solid research went into writing in both eras and in both locations – one a manor house/ horse farm, and the other a travelling circus.

The stories are woven so well together, linking in subtle ways that the story runs seamlessly. Sometimes when you get two different stories running in the same book they are very disjointed and hodge podge. Not in ‘The Life She Was Given’. No – seamless writing!

What can I say about ‘The Life She Was Given’ without giving anything away? Well, it is a very emotional journey through both eras, the characters are well written and I found myself connecting with them to enjoy the ride (even through the sad bits) and boy was it addictive! My kids were told to fend for themselves on Saturday (they are 12, 10 and 8 so can do the basics) as I simply HAD to keep reading!

The only issues I found with this book – and it has absolutely nothing to do with the author, which is why I didn’t mark it down in my score – is that the eBook formatting was blocky and jumbled in places. New paragraphs starting mid-sentence, the title and page number of the book appearing mid page… EBook formatting can be a pain at times and one little glitch and cause a whole series of issues… But as it was an ARC I read I merely assumed that Kensington Books would have it all sorted and that the final version will be perfect.

Would I recommend this book to others?

Yes I would. Lovers of historical fiction and literary fiction, even women’s fiction, are going to enjoy ‘The Life She Was Given’. I was raving over it so much my 12 year old wants to have a read… but I feel – despite her above average levels of maturity and intelligence – that I wouldn’t recommend it to her. Yes teen girls like to adventure into this genre but their raw, developing emotions might get a little too hurt in reading this. It’s not a horror book or a completely sad tale… but there are moments where you may want to just put the book down for a moment and hug the cat or child or something.

 

Would I buy this book for myself?

Tough call. I mean, I did love it and am still walking off the book hangover it’s given me. But my underlying aversion to literary fiction does make me baulk at going out and buying my own copy. What a miser I am being! It is an amazingly heart felt and emotional roller coaster of a book – wow I can’t believe I was just that corny – but, yeah, some books touch you in such a way they are better as library books than ones you personally own.

As in, they are kept offsite and away from you, but you have access to them when you want to feel the way they make you feel… does that make sense? No, no I don’t think it does! But it’s how I feel. Love the book, not too sure I would want to possess it as it needs to be free. LOL! Ignore me, it’s Monday and my Crio Brü mug is in the wash.

 

In summary: A brilliant, well-written literary fiction that is going to tug at the heart strings while keeping you wanting more. Highly recommend.

Until next time,

Janis

Book Review – Knot What You Think by Mary Marks.

4 out of 5 stars

I would like to thank Kensington Books for providing me with a free electronic ARC of this book, via Netgalley, in exchange for an open and honest review.

‘Knot What You Think’ is the 5th book in the ‘A Quilting Mystery’ series and just as wonderful and entertaining to read as the other four. I have been a fan from near the beginning. I think I stumbled across the 2nd or 3rd book in the series on Netgalley, loved it so much I went to Amazon and bought the first books of the series and have never looked back. I am officially a fan!

And this book has not let me down. Another mystery, another dead body and one of Martha’s friends accused of being the murderer. I do love how the characters have evolved and grown with the series. No rehashing the same cookie cutter ideas each time. Many cosy series seem to do this and the characters make the same mistakes and do the same crazy things each book and seem surprised they get the same end results. But this is not the case with Martha et al. Oh no! They’ve been learning as they go and can officially now run rings around the police force also trying to solve the case. It’s wonderful that they know they really shouldn’t be doing what they do… but let’s just try this idea anyhow and hope for the best. A lot of chutzpah there Martha! 😉

But it’s not all about crime and dead bodies; there is still that interesting underlying description of LA that I simply can’t read elsewhere. Never having visited that city I can’t say it makes me know where I am… but I do like the way it does still link the reader to a real place and it somehow makes me feel more part of the story by letting me know where everything is.

Then there are the love and romances happening… some coming to the final commitment, some budding and new, some… well, some just all over the place making me want to shake someone by the shoulders and demand they just make up their damned mind! And that final line in ‘Knot What You Think’? Oh Ms Marks, talk about leaving your fans hanging and dying for more!

Let’s not forget my two favourite parts – besides the mystery – within this book. The quilting and the wonderful sharing of the Jewish Faith. I am a hand crafting nut with a passion to learn about how other people follow their faith and so simply adore both these parts of the tale… and would feel rather sad and lonely if they were left out.

All in all this is a wonderfully well rounded mystery/ cosy crime. It has a good balance of everything that keeps it entertaining and keeps we crime sleuths guessing. Well, actually I figured out the whodunit early on (bane of my existence that I do this) but I still needed to know the why and didn’t get that until the end. And all my questions were answered nicely without the book seeming to need to rush to finish or just stop. Which I hate in mysteries/ cosy crime stories. They tell you the who and why and then – the end. Any loose threads are left flapping in the breeze. But it didn’t happen with ‘Knot What You Think’. A true quilter knows how to deal with loose threads and tuck them all neatly away before displaying the final perfect piece.

Would I recommend this book to others?

Yes I would, though I would strongly advise they read the first four books in the series before reading this one. It’s not a stand-alone novel, refers back to their other adventures quite a bit and I really feel the reader would be missing out and doing both themselves and Ms Marks an injustice if they didn’t read all five books in order.

Would I buy this book for myself?

Yes I would. I already own the other books in the series (bought via Kindle) and would be more than happy to add book 5 to my list when I can. I just had a bit of a buying splurge though so give me a few months. 😉 Owning the electronic ARC of a book is one thing, but putting your money where your mouth is and paying for a copy – because you respect the author – is totally another thing. Where possible I always pay for a copy of books I enjoy simply to give the author the credit and reward they deserve.

In summary: A fantastic follow on book to an already highly entertaining mystery series. Highly recommend!

Until next time,

Janis.

Book Review – No Charm Intended (A Cora Crafts Mystery) by Mollie Cox Bryan.

No Charm Intended

2 out of 5 stars

I would like to thank Kensington Books for inviting me to review this book for them; I obtained it as a free electronic ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an open and honest review.

Okay, from my score you might guess I didn’t exactly enjoy this book and I really really want to apologise to Ms Cox Bryan here and now as I don’t want her to think my review is all mean and nasty. As what I’m about to say is meant as constructive criticism and not some bitchy attack or spiteful meanness. If you don’t agree with what I’m about to say, please remember the magical mantra: “Pfffft, what would SHE know!”

We good? 😉

So… I am going to state again that the copy of the book I read was an ARC and that I was invited by Kensington to read it… I did not go out of my way to seek it down and pick on it. In fact, when I initially saw it in Netgalley I skipped past as I wasn’t too sure how I’d go as I’d read the first book, felt it had some jitters and issues I was willing to put down to first book in the series stage fright and try again. I mean, I simply love the setting, the house, the concept of craft retreats. If this was real and in my area I would be there every other day… if it wasn’t for all the murders. 😉

And I am also going to blame the fact it was an ARC on a lot of the flaws I found… ARCs are not the finished product; they are going to contain clangers. And I will also state here and now that it is my firm belief that these clangers were all sorted out before the finished book was published… Well, it is my firm hope they were.

I am not going to painstakingly list and nit-pick each issue I found. I mean, there was the usual wrong word used (or left out completely) and, hey, I am a typo Queen so never judge people on that.

But when people’s names are spelt a few different ways depending on where in the book they are mentioned… I do get a bit huffy. Then when people change who they are (we swapped from Jane to Cora at one point then back again)… this is poor editing. But – it was an ARC!

I guess what really got me was the way people were one place then suddenly another with no explanation. Holed up way out in the boonies and then in a bed and breakfast. At school but asleep at home? The days and time of days kept swapping about too and, yeah, I got a little frowny at that level of lack of editing/proofing, even for an ARC.

Also, the black and white world the characters seemed to live in. It was either this or that. Nothing else. People were either this way or that way – no grey in between. All depressed people just can’t be trusted, especially around children as they are a risk. Quick, tell my kids! I am a risk despite my Zoloft! And the main characters also came across as quite shallow would go from totally emotionless to OTT emotions and reactions to things within a paragraph and then back again. Anxiety and abuse issues are okay and natural as they have them, but other forms of mental illness or physical issues are alien and negative?

I honestly almost put this book into my DNF (Did Not Finish) pile four or five times as it was just a big jumble of a mess. One moment it would be going well and then all the jumping about, black and white, clanger filled writing would be back. As with the first book, it was almost as if two people were writing this book and only one of them was actually a decent writer.

The story jumped about and, although I guessed the ‘bad guy’ pretty much right away, the end of the book held no true explanation or reasoning behind it. More that the whole crime side of the book sounded like a good idea at the time, but that it wasn’t executed that well and seemed to clash with the cosy craft side. It was like two ideas smooshed together and they didn’t mix as well as possible or hoped.

And this is where Ms Cox Bryan, all her friends and fans will now be hitting the dislike and cussing me. Just don’t get the effigies alight if you are in a total fire ban area okay? 😉 I am so sorry to be so critical of ‘No Charm Intended’ and I feel it got to me so much as the setting, characters, story concept, etc is perfect for the cosy crime/ mystery genre. I guess I am just grumpy as I see so much potential and talent ruined by some poor editing, quite frankly, sloppy writing. Please forgive me.

Would I recommend this book to others?

I am really torn here as I just don’t know. The first book in this series had a few issues, but rather than those issues being resolved and improved upon in the second book, they’ve gotten worse. So as much as I see a LOT of positives and potential in not just ‘No Charm Intended’ but the whole ‘A Cora Crafts Mystery’ series… I don’t think I could personally face another book in this series and so just don’t know if I could safely recommend them to others.

Would I buy this book for myself?

Pretty sure we all know the answer to that question. If it was of the same quality as the ARC I received, then no I wouldn’t. I just pray the final edit was smoother and all the jumbled, sketchy nature of the story was smoothed out.

In summary: A series that has potential but not one I can see myself returning to to find out.

Until next time,

Janis.

Book Review – House of Silence by Sarah Barthel.

House of Silence

3 out of 5 stars

I would like to thank Kensington Books for providing me with a free electronic ARC of this book, via Netgalley, in exchange for an open and honest review.

When it came to ‘House of silence’ I wasn’t too sure what to expect as it seemed to be a women’s fiction more than a mystery… but it ended up being a bit of both and that suited me just fine.

It was a wonderful, well-paced story containing relatable characters. I could also feel the research and passion for the story about this real life house that Ms Barthnel put into the book. To me, that made it all the more engrossing to read. When the author is loving what they are writing, you can tell and you often then start to fall in love with it too. Or maybe this was just me? If it was, I don’t care! I enjoyed it, I was entertained, I felt for the heroine and was glad she got the ending she did. The book also left me wanting to learn “what happens next?” and any novel that does that get a gold star from me. 🙂

Would I recommend this book to others?

Yes I would. Though I would find myself trying to explain that it’s not your typical mystery/ thriller… not even a cosy. It’s more of an adventure mystery. I mean, yes the mystery was still there… but I felt ‘House of Silence’ was almost more a coming of age tale as it was a mystery. Yeah, that about makes it as clear as mud, right?

But I would still recommend it as, unlike other books written in this era, ‘House of Silence’ is believable and well written. So lovers of this era who like a tale of a women coming of age as well as solving a few things along the way will enjoy this book.

Would I buy this book for myself?

Honestly, I’m not too sure. I mean, I did enjoy it and could possibly see myself wanting to re-read it again in the future… but I can’t say it grabbed me enough to want to buy it today. If that makes sense? Right now it is more of a library book level where I liked it and might return to it again. But I feel I would like to read more from the author before I would purchase it.

But please remember I am a book diva these days as I just have so many I fear losing track of them all and so have started restricting how many I buy and how many I merely borrow. It’s a great read so please don’t let my opinion on whether I’d own it or now sway your decision.

In summary: An entertaining read and definitely something to enjoy over the weekend while relaxing on the couch.

Until next time,

Janis.

Book Review – Lady Lost by Jane Goodger.

lady-lost

2 out of 5 stars.

New disclaimer due to new Amazon rules: I was gifted a free electronic copy of this book by Kensington Books, via Netgalley. I am not obligated, nor being forced, to post a review – I’m doing it of my own free will as I enjoy reviewing.

On advice from Amazon, and based on their emailed reply I can say – “My review is given voluntarily and the Author/publisher does not require a review in exchange for the book, or attempt to influence my review.”

My Review:

Okay, from the score you can tell I wasn’t a huge fan of this book… and I do plan on explaining my reasons to you too. But I want to start off by pointing out three things:

I read the entire book – that says something. I didn’t just give up in disgust as I have done with so many other works of late.

I am perfectly imperfect and know some readers find my own writing leaves a lot to be desired. Whether that be my books or my blogs. 😉

I am not an expert on the era in question, nor a world leading critic – so please feel free to mutter to yourself ‘What would she know’ if you don’t agree with me. 🙂

Now that is all sorted, here comes the dreaded constructive criticism as to why I was not a fan of this book. Firstly it was the third book in a series – not something mentioned on Netgalley – and I am never a fan of books mid-series. I do believe they are all stand-alone works, but still… not a fan of mid-series books.

Also, I really did find ‘Lady Lost’ came across more as a fan-fiction work than an actually well written piece. Meaning, the author is someone who is a fan of the historical romance and so felt that alone would give them the experience to write an historical romance… it did not. It really came across as a horrid mish mash of cultures, ideologies and eras. Half the time it was as if we were still in the Georgian (Regency) era and then we would suddenly be transported to Victorian era ideologies and technologies and then into the 21st century and back again. Really gave me a headache that it wasn’t planned and mapped out that well.

Perhaps it is because I do read a lot of work from the two former eras that were written in those eras? Perhaps it’s because the modern works I do read were well researched and the stories fleshed out to set the appropriate scene, use the correct terminologies and – mostly – stick to the ideologies and principles of those eras… Maybe I am just being a picky book snob? All I can say is the writing style and its hit and miss fan-fiction approach got to me in the end and lowered the score.

I also found the constant hot and cold approach rather annoying. I mean, every single page seemed to chop and change between the negative “get them out” to “I need them to stay” mantra that I started to wonder if the leading man was bi-polar (not that that condition was known as that back then). Doing it occasionally throughout a romance story, to keep it spicy and that desire, intrigue and anguish drawing the reader on – that’s good. Chopping and changing every single page? Dull, annoying and frustrating (but not in the good frustrating one reads a romance book to get).

There was no true emotional attachment to the work. It was as if the author knew all the right boxes to tick, but couldn’t be bothered putting their heart and soul into it and fleshing it out (pardon the pun) more to help the reader connect too. It could be from a lack of life experience to help add the needed emotions, it could be from lack of experience in writing this genre outside of fan-fiction, it could be me being a nit-picky so and so… There just was something there that was lacking to the point I just could not connect with the work, but was determined to finish it as Kensington Books usually provide such good quality works. This one, for me, was severely lacking.

Would I recommend this book to others?

No I wouldn’t. There are far better modern written historical romances out there to have people waste their time on this one. Sorry.

Would I buy this book for myself?

Again, no I wouldn’t. And again I feel I must apologise. But there was just so much lacking in this book that I feel disappointed to have read it.

In summary: Not the best historical romance, more a fan-fiction style work and not something I would recommend.

Until next time,

Janis.

 

Book Review – Death Among the Doilies by Mollie Cox Bryan.

death-among-the-doilies

2 out of 5 stars.

I would like to thank Kensington Books for providing me with a free eBook ARC, via Netgalley, in exchange for an open and honest review.

Okay, now as there is going to be a LOT of constructive criticism in this review, which is MEANT to be helpful, not harmful… I really want to start with the good stuff.

Despite the score and despite the following constructive criticisms, I really loved this story. I was addicted to it within pages, read it every chance I got and was up late most nights with my ‘one more chapter’ mantra. The writing style drew me in, was (mostly) engaging and there was just something about the whole story idea, location and people I just clicked with. My dream home would be a craft retreat like that! In all honesty, I feel my constructive criticism is BECAUSE I loved the story so much that these issues really jarred me.

So, please, take these constructive criticisms as me trying to be helpful – this is a great story, would make an excellent series I can see myself coming back to again and again… but it really just needs a little help.

Firstly… the title had my grammar alarm bells going every time I looked at it. Maybe it is a language thing where American English and Australian English do not meet… but, to me, the title should be ‘Death AMONGST the doilies’. Or, if ‘among’ is to be used… leave off the ‘the’. ‘Death among doilies’. Sorry, but it just got to me and it what made my score so low.

Then there was the Waters family… Waters, Waters’ – correct English. Waterses’… NO!!!!! Every time I saw that I cringed. Please tell me the final edit has that all sorted out with the other editing and spelling issues I stumbled across in there. It was an ARC after all so I never expect perfection. It’s not as if I can write a blog without leaving a clanger or two myself! 😉

I also got the feeling that it was like two people writing this book, one per chapter. One being Jane and one being Cora. The writing styles were similar… but there was just something that didn’t sit well and it felt more like I was reading a fan fiction blog of multiple authors writing the one story, rather than just the one author. I have no idea if this is the case (I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time two authors wrote as one) but it’s just a feeling I got.

Part of that feeling comes from the way the characters kept changing. One moment Cora was against starting a relationship and in no way interested in men… to her being someone on heat as all the men were ‘hot’. Hell, I like a book full of ‘hot’ men… but make up your mind please!

Sometimes the sentences were short and quick, other times they were run on sentences that just seemed to be padding. I also felt it suffered from first book jitters where so much had to be fitted in to set the storyline up… it became very cluttered and over stuffed and so dragged at some points. Don’t get me wrong, one of the main reason I LOVED the whole story idea is probably from the backstory… but it just seemed to be too much too soon… and I just don’t know how you would get around it.

I also still don’t understand the whole point of the jewelled gun and how it went off… that was never followed up and came from one of the many spots of inconsistency within the story… There is a different between loose threads being left to hopefully lead into the next story, and a gun going off and leaving a hole in the kitchen cupboard the Detective doesn’t even notice.

Okay, okay, I am sure this review will be filled with unlikes and hissed and booed at enough without me going on… but I really did feel a need to explain why a story I loved so much got such a low score. Ms Cox Bryan… I loved the whole idea, concept, surrounds and people of this book. And I do hope you can forgive my constructive criticism… but there was just something not quite right with this book for me.

All in all, please realise I read an ARC of this book. So a lot of the issues I came across may have been fixed in the final edit. It is a good story, has amazingly awesome potential at being one of my next ‘must own’ series and all in all I just can’t explain my love and dislike (not hate, too strong a word) of this book.

Would I recommend this book to others?

Actually I would. As I would love to see the feedback of other crafty cosy crime loving fans. They may just look at me and tell me to pull my head in as it was great… they may see the same minor flaws that I did. I don’t know… but I found it addictive, I see great potential in it as a series and I would recommend people into crafty cosy crimes to check it out – despite the title.

Would I buy this book for myself?

 You know what? Yes, yes I would! I’ve marked Ms Cox Bryan as a favourite on Amazon so I can keep up to date and I am keen to see what happens in this series and to see whether it was just a severe case of first book jitters. See, despite the constructive criticism (which I do feel I should hand over with a box of apology chocolates for) I did like this book and would buy it… and wait for the next in the series too.

In summary: A book and series that holds a lot of potential. An excellent concept for a good crafty cosy crime… it just needed a few more finishing touches before being let out to play. 🙂

Until next time,

Janis.