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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Review - Cocoa Conspiracy

Thanks for all the participants in the Mid Winter's Blog Hop.  Here are the winners for the book giveaway:   Kara D, kswederski, Jenna C, SHartl, Mona, Michelle @ The True Book Addict.  You will be notified by email to supply me with your mailing address. 

Today I review one of the books in that was available in the giveaway.  I reviewed the first in the series (click here)  and I interviewed the author (click here).  This was the second book in the new series and often the second book is difficult to match or top the debut book.  Read on to find out how well this second venture in this new historical mystery series faired after my rave review of the first novel.

Author: Andrea Penrose

Copyright: December 2011 (Signet) 336 pgs

Series: 2nd Lady Arianna Regency Mysteries

Sensuality: mild period innuendo

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy Mystery

Main Character: Lady Arianna, newly married to Alessandro de Quincy, Earl Saybrook

Setting: 1814 London, English countryside and Vienna

Obtained Through: publisher for an honest review

Arianna is purchasing a special book on Chocolate for her husband Saybrook when she is accosted by a man insisting he must have the book. Arianna doesn't shrink from the man even when he pulls a knife, but manages to come away unscathed and with the book. When wrapping the present she finds papers have been secreted in the book that appear to involve treason. This discovery propels Arianna and Saybrook to the Congress of Vienna that brings together dignitaries from around the world. Their mission is to prevent an assassination attempt that could upset the power structure of Europe.

There is plenty of suspense and intrigue in this book as Arianna even goes undercover at one point. I literally could not put the book down. There is the political tension and suspense of spying added to the suspense of Saybrook and Arianna learning to really trust one another's motives which doesn't come easy to either. I love both of these characters. Saybrook is dark and dangerous, closed off and Arianna is used to living by her wits on her own.

Will they stop the assassination and learn to trust each other fully? Will the enemy they crossed paths with in the first book finally be identified and brought to justice? With their personal enemy in the government finally leave them alone? While this book stands on its own fine, there are some threads from the prior book that are woven into this one to allow a running subplot (think something along the lines of Sherlock's nemesis Moriarty.)

The final confrontation is exciting and the wrap-up sets up another adventure to tease the reader. I am already anxiously waiting for the next book in the series.

Again I say that this book is a higher caliber than is hinted at by the artwork and blurbs. The period detail is seamlessly woven to paint a vivid backdrop. The characters effortlessly draw the reader into their world and drama. The plots are nicely crafted for maximum effective.

I truly believe this series is one of those undiscovered gems that will steadily garner a large fan base with each new addition to the series.

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Review - I am Half-Sick of Shadows

There is snow here in the Rocky Mountains. Hot cocoa with a fun book is the perfect mix.  I am jumping into the Flavia de Luce momentum with the holiday offering.  Join me and a rascally eleven year old chemist for a 1950s English Estate murder mystery.  The  Mid-Winters Eve Blog Hop is below this entry, just scroll down.

Author: Alan Bradley

Copyright: November 2011 (Delacorte Press) 320 pgs

Series: 4th in Flavia de Luce Mysteries

Sensuality: N/A

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy Mystery

Main Character:  Flavia de Luce, eleven year old budding chemist

Setting: 1950s at Bishop’s Lacey at the family English Estate, Buckshaw

Obtained Through: Library

This was my first Flavia book and it stood on its own just fine with only hints at previous Flavia outings.  Eleven year old Flavia believes in Santa and her older sisters Ophelia and Daphne try to spoil that vision for her. So Flavia sets out a scientific experiment to prove he "does so" exist.  In her eleven year old clinical mind, she only needs to capture Father Christmas as he tries to slide down the chimney.  Flavia is mixing up buckets of industrial strength-bird lime based-sticky substance that she will line the chimneys with to capture St. Nick.  She is also mixing up some fireworks that she plans as a surprise for the Bishop's Lacey townspeople.

In the midst of Flavia's bird-lime-glue and fireworks preparations, her father Colonel de Luce has let Buchshaw Estate to a film company during the holiday for some much needed cash to maintain the estate.  This brings a movie company and silver screen star Phyllis Wyvern to Buchshaw over the holiday.  The town's Vicar convinces the star to do a scene from Romeo and Juliet to help raise money for the crumbling church building.  Half of Bishop's Lacey ends up in Buchshaw for this charity performance, and subsequently is snowed in overnight as well.  While the house has multitudes camped out on the floors a murder is committed, thus providing scores of suspects.  Flavia is first on the scene to discover the murder and she is determined to figure out the killer before the police who trudge in and further cloister the townspeople to Buckshaw.

Flavia's character is brilliant and laugh out loud funny.  You believe that there just might be such an intelligent child who still maintains innocence while looking at death with a clinical eye.  She is tormented by her sisters and fantasizes revenge with various poisons to make them ill.  She misses her deceased mother and nurturing but makes the most of life with a distant father.  This character is what all the fuss surrounding the books is about.  She is a mischievous gem.  A secondary character that shines is Dogger, the family's jack-of-all-trades who served with Colonel de Luce in WWII and was a prisoner of war.  There is more to this character and I want to read more in the series just to figure out the mystery of his background.  Dogger is the hidden gem in these books.

The plot takes a back seat in honesty to Flavia and her schemes.  The premise is sound since many of the family estates in England did suffer financial hardships and ended up selling off parcels of land etc to survive.  To rent out the estate to a film company is likely.  The less likely part is the charity performance which seemed slightly contrived although not a show-stopper.  The working out of the killer seems quickly done since the murder takes place so late in the book. I felt the sleuthing was a little rushed and would have liked the clues and investigation to have given the reader more. 

The confrontation with the killer is quite dramatic for an eleven year old and places Flavia in true danger.  The wrap up was satisfying and gave a heartwarming touch for the holiday.  In spite of the main character being a child, this is definitely an adult book.  The reader is looking through an eleven year old's eyes but without her innocent interpretations which builds the suspense.  I do have to say that the first half of the book seemed slow as the pieces are lined up for the murder (much like a Christie book would do.)

I enjoyed my introduction to Flavia and the Buchshaw estate and will certainly visit again, mostly for the mystery of Dogger and partially for the humor of Flavia herself.

Here is my all time favorite holiday special - Peter, Paul and Mary from 1988 and my favorite song from it - my gift to you.

This is just for the quirky fun of it :-)

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mid-Winters Eve Blog Hop

If you are looking for the Mid-Winters Eve Blog Hop, you are in the correct place and thank you for stopping by.  We celebrate everything mystery and suspense here - no doubt you can find something of interest!  

We have six individual books available to win, with four of them having a holiday theme, one harvest and one chocolate (which is an all season subject!).

Christmas Vigil by Anne Perry
This book contains two stories in the one: A Christmas Promise and A Christmas Odyssey

The latest in the series, A Christmas Homecoming by Anne Perry which I reviewed (click here.)

Herald of Death by Kate Kingsbury (A Special Pennyfoot Hotel Mystery)  I reviewed the prior book in the series (click here)

Mrs Jeffries and the Mistletoe Mix-up by Emily Brightwell, which I reviewed a prior book in the series (click here)

Bitter Harvest by Sheila Connolly

The Cocoa Conspiracy by Andrea Penrose which I reviewed the first in the series (click here)

Entry for giveaway lasts until December 27 6:00 p.m. (MST).

I will be shipping the books to the winners. U.S. and Canadian residents only please.

How to enter:

*** First, you must be a member (follower) of this blog.***

All entries are to be in the comments for this post.  Please supply your email address and consider yourself entered.  If you want to spread the word about this blog that is appreciated, but not a requirement of this giveaway.

I will accept entries for this giveaway Wednesday December 21 beginning at midnight (MST) through to 6:00 p.m (MST) on Tuesday December 27.    

I shall notify the winner via the email address you provide to get your mailing address and have the prize sent directly to you.

IF you are a member of this blog, you only need to leave a comment with your correct email.

BECOME a member of this blog if you aren't already and enjoy the celebration of all things mystery and suspense.

At the end of this post you will find the blog hop listing to go to the next blog on the list.

Here is some music for the mid-winter feel.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday Mysteries

If you like to read books that coincide with the season or holiday I wanted to help with offering up some holiday reads.  I am hoping that readers will add other holiday mysteries in the comments.

Fleece Navidad by Maggie Sefton
Holiday Grind by Cleo Coyle
The Christmas Thief by Mary Higgins Clark
Dashing Through the Snow Mary and Carol Higgins Clark
Candy Cane Murder by Joanne Fluke
Gingerbread Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke
Anne Perry Holiday mysteries
A Highland Christmas by M.C. Beaton
Murder with all the trimmings by Elaine Viets
Death, Snow, and Mistletoe by Valerie Malmont
Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie
Wreck the Halls by Sarah Graves
A Holiday Yarn by Sally Goldenbaum
Crewel Yule by Monica Ferris
Mrs. Jeffries and the Mistletoe Mixup
Herald of Death by Kate Kingbury

and the one I am reading now: I am Half-sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

Join in and add to this list...what holiday mystery books do you know of?

Now for the holiday music!

Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Wizards In Winter" music and computerized holiday lights

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Review - At The End Of The Road

My neighbor Ken is back with another book review for us.  This time we look at a psychological thriller that has been described as creepy.  Let's see what Ken thought of it.

Author:  Grant Jenkins

Copyright:  Nov 2011; Berkley; 300 pages

Sensuality:  Violence, Language, May be disturbing to some readers
Mystery sub-genre:  Psychological Thriller

Main Character:  Kyle Edwards, a 10-year-old boy 

Setting:  Summer of 1976, rural North Georgia

Obtained book through:  Publisher for an honest review

Kyle Edwards is joyously riding his bicycle on a dusty, red dirt road named Eden Road.  Daddy and Mama had intended for the family to live a good life here, just like the Garden of Eden.  Only a few things scared Kyle, like the neighboring bullies, and Buddy the bull that lived in the pasture by the cornfield.  His two older brothers were caught up in their own world as teenagers do, and Kyle was more and less saddled with his younger sister, Grace.

Then the 1972 powder blue Chevy Chevelle SS comes speeding around the curve.  Kyle knows he is about to die.  The car, driven by Melodie Godwin, swerves, barely missing him, and rolls.  She emerges bloodied, gruesomely injured, yet mobile.  Melodie, a stranger to Kyle, pleads for his help.  Totally scared out of his wits, Kyle high-tails it for home instead.  He just knows she’s following him.  Hours later, he returns to the crash scene and discovers both the driver and car have disappeared.

Kyle tries to resume his normal life.  Playing treasure hunt and hide-and-go-seek in the cornfield with Grace, or following and spying on his brothers.  But deep within he senses that his and his family’s life is changing, and it’s creeping in like a cold, stark reality.  The normal childhood pranks and antics soon spiral out of control.  Among these nightmarish adventures, there is the bad encounter with the local bullies, the “play with fire” incident with Grace that gets out of hand and becomes a 100 foot wall of fire that burns 75 acres of trees, and his brothers dare him into an encounter with Buddy the bull that almost gets him nailed into the hereafter.  Mama and Daddy also have their problems.

Lurking throughout this summer is the presence of Sheriff’s Deputy Officer Dana Turpin who is investigating the disappearance of Melodie Godwin.  She’s a lady cop whose “black skin was so dark as to appear almost purple.”  She’s also tenacious and dedicated.  Then there’s the creepy, sinister man, “that man who lives across the road,” Kenny Ahearn.  He knows what Kyle and Grace have been up to.  Darkness and evil seem to surround him.  He uses threats, blackmail, and seeming entrancement to ensnare Kyle to do his cruel bidding.

Kyle has done his best to hide many of these dark events from his family and protect himself and Grace in the process.  He feels the underlying burdens of fear, guilt, and shame.  Their lives seem to be on the skids and sliding straight into Hell.

Will there ever be an end to the turmoil and mental traumas they suffer?  Will Officer Turpin find Melodie or recover her remains?  Can Ahearn’s evil be stopped?  Will the Edwards be able to escape the dark pall encompassing them?  Can they hold onto the Garden of Eden or will it be lost to them, too?  Regardless, that loss-of-innocence summer will definitely have a solid and far-reaching impact on many lives.  Perhaps they have reached or will reach the end of the road.

Readers who like horror, drama, and dark mysteries will enjoy this book.  Grant Jenkins has written a cunning, scary thriller.  It is chilling, somber, brooding, haunting, and disturbing.  He has a very colorful and vividly descriptive way of writing.  The characters, events, and action are well developed and cleverly portrayed.

The one challenge I encountered involved what I would describe as the flow and rhythm of the story.  Mr. Jenkins jumped us from present, past, and future time frames in ways that seemed, to me, to be choppy, disjointed, and sometimes confusing.

 At The End Of The Road definitely leaves a psychological impact that remains long after the book has ended. I am willing to bet that is what the author intended….and he has accomplished it well!

Here is the book trailer for the book.


Here is a little something to lighten the mood and get into the holiday mood.  This can be a fun thing to do with kids as well and a nice present to give.  

Scented Applesauce-Cinnamon Ornaments
3 cups applesauce
3 cups ground cinnamon


    Mix applesauce and cinnamon together until it is thick enough to hold a form when cut into cookie cutter shapes. Flatten the mixture on a flat surface and cut into cookie cutter shapes. 
1 1/2 cups applesauce to 2 cups cinnamon works for me to get a clay-like consistency. 
Dust hands with cinnamon for handling. You can add a teaspoon of cloves, ginger and allspice to round out the fragrance.

    Place cookie shapes on a cookie sheet to dry for 3 to 4 days depending on the size and thickness of the cookies. If using as a hanging ornament, make hole with toothpick or a straw before drying.

Use as ornaments, placeholders for a party, or as gifts.
I understand you can bake in a slow oven (350) for 2 to 3 hours, and it definitely makes your home smell delicious!
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Monday, December 12, 2011

Holiday Cookies for Charity

The holidays mean different things to different people and there are scores of holiday traditions.  For many, baking is a cherished memory associated with this time of year.  Cookies seem to be high on the list for a baking tradition.  Also part of this time of year is to remember those less fortunate than ourselves.  How about combining baking cookies tradition and helping others!

I found this great idea called "Drop In And Decorate" (click here for website).  You pick a charity that is "serving basic human needs (food or shelter) in your community, without discrimination," enlist cookie bakers, invite friends over to decorate the cookies and then donate them to the charity.  If the shelter or food pantry can't take home made food, then sell those decorated cookies and give the proceeds. I thought this was a fantastic idea that even children can join in on the fun and it spreads the holiday giving theme and encourages a holiday tradition that brings people together. 

The website has free offers to aid you and provides a "How to Host," food safety, and even decorating guidelines.  Here is a short video about the Drop In & Decorate idea featuring three different events across America.

If you want to send the something to service members actively serving then check out this informative site to find out how, but they specify letters or postcards now rather than care packages.  (click here for website.)  Or consider the Fisher House Project which provides housing for families of wounded service-members at VA facilities (click here for website.)   You could pick a Fisher House and send a care package to a family with a wounded soldier receiving treatment.

Here is a great video about the first cookie cutters I came across and wanted to share.  Whatever your holiday traditions, enjoy.

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Review - A Christmas Homecoming

The holiday season is upon us and I wanted to review a few seasonal mysteries to help get us in the singing and decorating mood.  I took this opportunity to read my first Anne Perry holiday novel.  Let's go to Whitby England and an isolated mansion.

Author:  Anne Perry

Copyright:  October 2011 (Ballantine Books) 224 pgs

Series:  9th in Victorian Holiday Mysteries

Sensuality:  n/a

Mystery Sub-genre:  Historical Sleuth

Main Character:  From the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novels:  Charlotte’s mother, and her young actor husband, Joshua Fielding

Setting:  1897 Whitby England, isolated mansion

Obtained Through:  Library
I suspect that writing a holiday murder mystery is a delicate balancing act.  A murder doesn't bring visions of sugarplums dancing and nutcracker ballet dancers.  But to write a murder mystery where a troupe of snow bound actors are rehearsing to perform a play of Dracula is a tremendous challenge.  You must not bring too much of the horror out, emphasis the human touch and magic of relationships, and still have an interesting murder to solve.  This is the challenge in Anne Perry's newest holiday release, A Christmas Homecoming.

Anne Perry's popular characters of Charlotte and Thomas Pitt lend us Charlotte's mother Caroline and her younger actor husband Joshua for this story.  The acting troupe agrees to spend the holiday with a wealthy philanthropist helping his daughter polish her play adaptation of the wildly popular novel Dracula.  The troupe is sacrificing their holiday to work on the play and present to the local folks to ensure financial support from the family in the new year.  The snow starts piling up.  And a mysterious man, Anton Ballin, claims his carriage has broken down and seeks shelter with them.  The snow gets worse and roads are blocked by downed trees and deep snow drifts. 

They continue to refine the script and rehearse it.  During this process the new guest, Anton Ballin, seems to know a lot about the the themes of Stoker's book and has an amazing ability to suggest changes that bring the script and acting alive.  Yet nobody knows who this man is.  Caroline stumbles over Ballin's body late one night, with a wooden stake through his heart.  Then the body disappears over night.  But where could it have gone?

This book is an interesting story but other than knowing one of the people in the mansion is the killer, the reader does not have the final piece to the puzzle until the very end when Caroline figures it out as well.  Why was Anton killed?  It has to do with who he really was - and that is not obvious. 

This book is stronger on the character interplay than a taught mystery which keeps it a holiday story.  I like the characters of Caroline and Joshua and would love to know them even better.  This was my first Anne Perry mystery and I am interested in reading the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mysteries after reading this.

The one wish I have is that working out the mystery and the killer confrontation with the killer would have had more time dedicated to them.  It feelt like a rushed wrap up to the mystery.  Otherwise I did enjoy the writing and the story.  The insights provided by Anton Ballin about the themes of Stoker's Dracula has brought the classic to life once again for me.

If you are looking for a light mystery that won't be too heavy for the season, this might be the ticket.

For your holiday baking here is a Cherry Chocolate Cobbler
    1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 cup white sugar
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 cup butter
    1 cup chocolate chips
    1 egg
    1/4 cup milk
    1 (21 ounce) can cherry pie filling add a little almond extract flavoring

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Coat a 2 quart casserole dish with vegetable cooking spray. Melt chocolate chips in a measuring cup in the microwave, stirring every 20 seconds until smooth. Let stand for 5 minutes to cool slightly.
    In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in butter until the dough is a uniform crumbly texture. Beat the egg into the melted chocolate chips, then stir the milk in. Pour the chocolate mixture into the dry ingredients, and stir until well blended.
    Pour the cherry pie filling in an even layer in the bottom of the greased casserole dish. Drop spoonfuls of the chocolate batter over the cherries in a random pattern.  Optional: Sprinkle the topping on now.
    Bake for 40 to 45 minutes in the preheated oven, until top crust is not doughy when lifted. Serve warm.

a little flour,
some brown sugar,
sliced almonds,
butter and
a little almond and vanilla extract.
Mix together and sprinkled over the cherry filling then bake it.

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Review - Uneasy Spirits

Today we go to San Francisco to delve into the thriving Spiritualism community which often contained con artists and rigged shows.  I reviewed the first in this series Maids of Misfortune  (click here) and interviewed the author (click here).  Take a break from the shopping madness and travel to Victorian San Francisco with me.

Author: M. Louisa Locke

Copyright: Oct 2011 (CreateSpace) 388 pgs

Series: 2nd in Victorian San Francisco Mysteries

Sensuality: Victorian mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy

Main Character:  Annie Fuller, runs a boarding house and moonlights as Madam Sibyl

Setting: 1879 San Francisco

Obtained Through: author for an honest review

Annie Fuller's father taught her everything he knew about finance and investing, now that Annie is on her own nobody  wants financial advice from a woman, so she pretends to be Madam Sibyl and has a thriving side business.  This is why one of her boarders comes to her for help to prove a seance group that has gotten control of her sister is fraudulent.  Annie begins to attend the seances and clearly sees many tricks but when a young girl is used on some clients, Annie is stumped as to how this girl does what she does. 

The more Annie attends, the more she suspects something truly sinister is going on.  Annie must be onto something because she starts receiving threats. 
The more Annie figures out the more she is in danger and the tension mounts. The young lawyer Nate Dawson who Annie met in the previous book is back and their relationship is going through some rocky spots.

Annie continues to delight as a character.  In this novel Annie faces some of her personal past ghosts and shows her inner strength.  Nate is struggling to find his place so he can make enough money to start a family.  There are missteps in the relationship and we see him grow in how he comes to understand such a liberated woman.

Victorian San Francisco is effortlessly portrayed transporting the reader.  Each chapter begins with an advertisement from the papers for seances and psychics adding to the period feel.  The politics surrounding the city is woven in as well.  This series has brought out the character of the city in this era and it is infectious.

The plot seemed to be going in one direction yet takes off in another for a twist. 
I had not anticipated the direction the plot took and was pleasantly surprised.  The young girl used by the con artists is quite a mystery in herself and I wanted to find out what her story was.  The resolution was suspenseful and harrowing.  This cozy has great characters, interesting plot, period detail, and suspense sprinkled with romance for a great mystery.  If  you like the Gaslight Mysteries by Victoria Thompson, you will most likely enjoy this series.

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