Reading Fanatic Reviews

Historical Mysteries

Death of a Dowager by Joanna Campbell Slan

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Death of a Dowager*

Jane Eyre Rochester, Amateur Sleuth

I am a massive fan of Jane Austen fan fiction, but I do not think I have ever read any Bronte sister fanfiction. This book is told from the perspective of Jane Eyre Rochester, a few years after her marriage to Edward. Love and their infant son have transformed their lives, but repairs are desperately needed at the manor house, and Edward’s sight continues to worsen. The Rochesters go to London and are caught up in a variety of machinations, including a political intrigue involving the new king and a murder that happens when Jane visits a woman for tea. Unfortunately, one of Jane’s good friends is a suspect. This pulls Jane in so she can attempt to clear her friend.

I thought the author actually did a pretty decent job, in parts, in mimicking the tone and voice of the original Jane Eyre novel. Jane is a fascinating character in many ways, and I like the way that she looks at the world; trying to exist within high society is not easy for her, so it is fascinating to watch events from her perspective. I think it is odd that the author has chosen to place this book at the tail end of the Regency Era as the original Jane Eyre was written in the late 1840s, clearly and definitely part of the Victorian Era. Perhaps she wanted to use some political intrigue from that time of transition to the new king, which wouldn’t have been the same at all, of course, in the Victorian era. I found the political intrigue plot more interesting than the murder plot. As mystery plots go, it was relatively easy to follow and figure it out. I think the author needed a few more red herrings and twists and turns to make the mystery plot more engaging. But the political intrigue, as well as the interactions between Jane and those around her, kept me turning the pages. Frankly, though, I wish we had seen more of Mr. Rochester. All in all, I would say that if you enjoyed the original Jane Eyre and can forgive the author for inappropriately using the Regency Era, you will most likely enjoy this tale.

A Perfect Deception by Alyssa Drake

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A Perfect Deception*

Darker than Your Typical Historical Romantic Mystery

I read a fair amount of historical romantic suspense and mystery, but this story is definitely a cut different from most. Most of the romantic historical mysteries I have read have been ones in which the suspense or mystery is rather light. Yes, it adds interest to the story and keeps the pages turning, but the main thrust is the romance and how the suspense affects that. This book is completely different, as the evil in this book is overarching in nature, not just a side interest. I could tell this right off the bat with the way the prologue started with such a graphic, violent scene. I’ll admit that I had a hard time following parts of this book, but that is probably because I haven’t read either of the previous books in the series. I didn’t realize when I signed up for this book at my favorite book review site that it was an installment of an episodic series. I still was able to figure things out, but it would have been easier if I had read the other books. The author is able to keep the tension and conflict ramped up through the entire book. There are some surprisingly graphically violent scenes in this book; I wasn’t expecting that, and so I am saying so in this review so others may see it and steer clear if they don’t like to read that. The book is well written, both the violence/mystery aspect and the romance. I found the heroine, Daphne, a particular delight as she provided a spot of levity in what can sometimes be a pretty dark book.

BTW, I am not a fan of the covers in this series. Too reminiscent of the old “bodice-ripper” style romance covers. And they don’t really give an idea of the suspense, which is so crucial.

Time Tourist Outfitters, Ltd. by Christy Nicholas

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Time Tourist Outfitters, Ltd.*

Time Travel Medical Thriller

How fun to combine a medical thriller with time travel! I love the protagonist, and I so appreciate that the author chose to use an older one. In these days of the popularity of magical academies and dystopian worlds, younger people seem to be the stars the most often (and the older generations often the villains). I actually think authors miss out by not at least experimenting with older characters in novels. An author could give such a character a great background (more time for the character to have done cool stuff in his or her life), which can greatly really enhances the story as it does here. The times and places traveled to in this book were so fun to visit. It is clear that the author did some excellent research. I felt like the book was a bit repetitive in places. It could have used some tightening in general. But all in all, I found this book to be an engaging read.

The Poison in All of Us by Connie B. Dowell

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The Poison in All of Us*

History, Mystery, and Murder

In a strange coincidence, I just read a mystery that had a suffragist as a potential murderer. Now, this book has one as the victim. This book felt so well grounded in history, and the author made it feel like it might have actually been lived. World War I, or as it was known then, the Great War, had just wrapped up, the suffragist movement was in full swing, and the Roaring Twenties were at the doorstep. This book manages to convey all of these elements of the time, yet the author didn’t weigh the story down with too much explanation of anything all at one time. Instead, facts and ideas were related in a way that seemed natural between characters. I loved that one of the heroines was very modern in her love of motorcycles and fast driving. The fact that she even liked to tinker with it reflects the changing roles of women that were happening at the time. The mystery is a solid one, and the solution did come as a bit of a surprise to me, which I like. The author’s writing style was very enjoyable. I didn’t feel like she did a big info dump at the beginning, which can be so common in any historical book. Rather, the backstory was slowly revealed as characters interacted; I thought this was well done. She actually also described things well, showing rather than telling, and I felt I could visualize what was going on. I like that, as I am a very visual reader. The book is short, but unlike many short mysteries, I didn’t feel like this book suffered from its brevity. All in all, I really enjoyed this historical slice-of-life mystery and look forward to others in the series.

Manners and Monsters by Tilly Wallace

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Manners and Monsters*

Regency… and Zombies

Mercy, what a completely different read! Think Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies with a little bit of suspense, romance, and gothic and steampunk sensibilities. The women of high-society Britain have suffered from a  nasty, zombie-making affliction since the close of the Napoleonic Wars; some nasty Frenchmen created an expensive face powder that made this happen. I liked the heroine; she is a strong and smart woman in an era when that is not appreciated. The hero feels relatively weak in comparison, but he is still a fascinating character to watch. I didn’t like the information dump at the start of the book. It’s a long enough novel that the author could have started with a nice impactful action scene and dribbled in the backstory of the world little by little. Since this is essentially a zombie novel, at times it gets a little too gory for me. I like the author’s writing style, which was at times quite humorous and quite fitting for the type of book. Even though I am not one who particularly enjoys zombie literature or movies, I found this to be a fun read.

Two Scandals are Better Than One by Nancy Yeager

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Two Scandals are Better Than One*

Steamy Victorian Suspense

Luci is concerned about her missing father and goes to a gentleman’s house party—code word for a den of iniquity—in hopes of gaining information that will help her find him. She doesn’t quite realize the dangerous world she is dipping her toe into. She is surprised to find Steady Eddie there, who has been a friend of her of the family since she was a child. She had a crush on him until she realized that he was much too dull for her to truly consider as a life mate. This is why it is such a surprise to find him at this party that is only a step above a brothel. While he doesn’t recognize her at the party, he is intrigued by her scandalous persona, and he soon finds out who she really is. Once he knows what is going on, he insists on helping her figure out what’s going on with her father so he can protect her.

I so enjoyed this romantic Victorian suspense! Early on, the author did an excellent job portraying Edward as a proper English gentleman in a very uncomfortable setting; he usually didn’t go to debauched house parties; he wanted just one night of craziness. She was even able to give him speech patterns that make him sound like a toff but not so much that it sounds like unnatural speech; I think this is a hard line to straddle, but the author did this perfectly. The hero and heroine have fantastic chemistry. He is willing to put himself in harm’s way to protect her and help her figure out the mystery. The more time they spend together, the more steamy the book becomes, but the progress of their romance seemed appropriate to their characters. I love the suspense element in this plot and enjoyed seeing what the characters had to do as they became more deeply involved in the criminal underworld. The ending was very satisfying.

Luci and Edward are a delightful couple to watch as they try to unravel all that is going on while falling more deeply for each other. This is the second book I’ve read of the Harrow Five series, and I look forward to the next installment. If you like historical romance with a bit of suspense, you will most likely enjoy this book.

Between Home and Heartbreak by Jacqui Nelson

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Between Home and Heartbreak*

Fast-Paced Western Romance with Lots of Intrigue

I was not wild about the first book of the series, though I had enjoyed other books by this author. So I wanted to give the second book in the series a chance. I am glad that I did. I found this book so much more riveting than the first. The book is full of intrigue, lies, secrets, and blackmail. From the start, it is hard to know who or what to believe, but all is gradually revealed as the book goes on. The hero is hard-working, smart, and swoon-worthy (even if he isn’t the best rider or horse breaker). The heroine has quite a detailed backstory that is fully revealed over time. The initial question, whether the heroine is the girl that the hero knew back in childhood, only scratches at the surface of the deeper questions raised in this book as it moves along, which it does at a fast pace.

The author has a good command of Old West history and the western Romance subgenre. She has a way of describing items and settings that makes you feel like you can see precisely what is going on without being overly descriptive such that it overwhelms the narrative. I like how she slips in Western idioms and colloquialisms that make the text come alive.

The Last Van Gogh by Will Ottinger

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The Last Van Gogh*

Compelling Mystery with Historical Backstory

What a well-written page-turner! This book is essentially a quest to find the last painting that van Gogh created and weaves in the story of how it became lost. Three distinct time periods are followed throughout the narrative, Van Gogh’s time, the 1930s before World War II, and present day (2018). The author does a fantastic job keeping these threads separate so they are not confusing. He does this both visually and using the writer’s toolbox. Van Gogh’s scenes are written in italics and from an omniscient viewpoint (well done for once by a modern writer), the pre-World War II scenes are in alternating third-person viewpoints, and the modern-day sections are written in the first-person vantage point by one intimately involved in the quest.

The characters in all timelines are well drawn, and I appreciate that the bad guys are complex, not just two-dimensional villains. The pace is tight, making you not want to put the book down. I found myself wanting to get to the next sections in the three different threads. The mystery here is complex in its heart as is the quest to unravel it.

I enjoy mysteries that have a historical element like this one, and this is one of the better ones that I have read. If you enjoy mystery like that as well, you might enjoy this book.

The Viscount’s Mystery by Joyce Alec

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The Viscount's Mystery*

Mysterious Viscount and Sibling Pact

Even though this book is called The Viscount’s Mystery, we don’t meet the viscount until after 12% of the book. Instead, we meet Charlotte and her brother. She considers herself a bluestocking who would be content to remain a spinster, but her brother wishes her to marry, and in fact, insists she does so before he weds. She is tired of her brother’s interference, so they make a pact. At the next ball, she will accept dances and discussions with a variety gentleman, and if she is good to her word, he will refrain—going forward—from mentioning her unmarried state and desires for her life. If he fails in this regard, she has the right to pick the girl he will court. She very firmly believes that she will win this. She’s out walking with a friend before this ball when they happen upon a man who is being roundly beaten by two other men. At some peril to herself, Charlotte stops the assault and brings the man back to her brother’s place for treatment. The man is mysterious, not wanting to go with her, not wanting help, and not wanting to reveal his name. He does stay there for some days under her care.

What will happen with the brother and sister’s pact? Who is this mysterious injured man? What role will he play in Charlotte’s life?

I enjoyed watching the brother’s and sister’s interactions in this story. Charlotte is very determined, much to her brother’s chagrin. Charlotte and Michael, the unknown injured man, have a feisty push-me, pull-you interaction. For her, there is definitely something intriguing about the man about whom she knows so little. Perhaps his anonymity makes her more candid than she would be in another situation.

This is the third book that I’ve read by this author. While I wasn’t so wild about one of them, I enjoyed the first one that I read and this one. In particular in this book, I enjoyed Charlotte’s character. One thing does seem strange to me. All of this author’s books that I’ve seen clearly stated on the cover that they are Regency, but inside at the start of each book, she just puts 19th century England. The Regency is a very short, very specific time in English history, from 1811 to 1820. If you’re going to be as specific as Regency on the cover, why would you be no more accurate than a hundred years’ span on the inside? I just don’t get it.

That said, I enjoyed Charlotte’s story and her pact with her brother as well as her trying to figure out the viscount’s mysteriousness and his mystery.

Coven at Collington by Shereen Vedam

Coven at Callington*

Witch Wars, Intrigue, and Romance in Fantastical Regency England

Fresh from fending off an attack by hellhounds, Guard of the Green Cross–a secret arm of the Anglican Church meant to handle evil forces and entities if they rise from darkness–the Earl of Braden gets new orders from the Archbishop that are directly opposed to a central tenet of the guard’s code: do not interfere in disputes between witches and warlocks. Centuries ago witch hunts blackened the name of guards (then known as knights), so meddling is now forbidden. Braden has been tasked with retrieving the son of a warlock, who was supposedly taken by a demon, as well as destroy the coven in the area. More is happening at Callington than Braden imagined, and he is more than tempted to enlist the aid of the coven protectress, Merryn, to help figure it all out. Merryn believes that the same warlock who killed her younger brother has taken the boy.

Will Braden succeed in rescuing the boy? What exactly is going on between the warlocks and witches in Callington? Will Braden risk his position to follow what he knows is right? Will he fall for the coven protectress?

The author has done a fantastic job of creating a magical version of Regency England. I love how the first scene in Regency times a flame in a streetlight is talking! I literally did a double take to see if I was reading correctly! There are other magical elements as well, some of which are not truly explained until later. I thought the idea of having this secret group of guards under direct orders of the Archbishop of Canterbury was inspired. Braden is a complicated, fascinating hero to watch wrestle with right and wrong, on both personal and professional levels.

With elements of fantasy, the paranormal, intrigue, and romance . . . what’s not to like!

I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.

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One star = I received it as a free advance/review copy or directly from the author.

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Three stars = I purchased the book outright (sometimes for free).

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